Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Centennial for an Overshadowed Landmark

It’s fair to say that the Manhattan Bridge has always stood in the shadow of a certain other East River span. When the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, connecting the two great cities of New York and Brooklyn, it was a celebration for the ages, attended by U.S. President Chester Arthur, and pretty much all of New York. At the time it was built, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, longer than any other by half, and was called the eighth wonder of the world.

On the contrary, “the most impressive thing about the official opening” of the Manhattan Bridge, “was that it was Mayor [George] McClellan’s last formal act before handing over the keys of the city to the incoming administration,” according to a New York Times article published the day after the Manhattan Bridge’s comparatively humble beginning on December 31, 1909.

New Yorkers had become accustomed to the opening of great bridges between the boroughs, it was said at the time by former Brooklyn Bridge President William Berri. It was, after all, the fourth suspension bridge over the river, the Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges having already been completed.

So it’s not the oldest and it’s not the longest, and has even been plagued by a series of structural problems. But the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission is giving the Manhattan Bridge its moment in the sun, with a week-long centennial celebration next week, complete with a parade of historic vehicles, walking and bike tours, public discussions on the history and construction of the bridge and, yes, fireworks.

For more on the bridge and the upcoming centennial events, see the rest of my article in the Eagle. Also check out the Centennial Commission web site, http://www.nycbridges100.org/

The photo at top from the Library of Congress shows the Manhattan Bridge under construction about 9 months before it was completed. The photo below was taken by Dave Frieder from the top of the Manhattan Bridge in 1997.


Monday, September 14, 2009

New Thirteen.org Series, and Other Things to Look Forward To

Apologies for my weeks of absence — end of summer blues, I suppose. Tried to squeeze in as much Prospect Park frolicking as possible. But, autumn is upon us, and among other things it means that many of the city's cultural organizations are revving up their engines again with some new exhibits and programs on the way.

Thirteen.org has sent word of a new online, mini-documentary series they launched this week, called “New York on the Clock.”

Each episode will feature an on-the-job interview with some of New York’s quintessential residents – a tugboat captain, a street artist, a location scout, a pizzeria owner...

Naturally, the series begins with a Brooklynite. Jerry Menditto oversees a crew that inspects, repairs, and operates the Cyclone Roller Coaster — one of America’s oldest and most beloved thrill rides. A Coney Island native, he began working as an electrician at Astroland in the mid-1970s before taking the helm of the playland’s most famous ride.

“Growing up in Coney Island was a great experience,” he tells Thirteen. “My backyard was an amusement park.”

A new episode of “New York on the Clock” will premiere every two weeks. The series follows on the heels of a previous online series by Thirteen.org, “The City Concealed,” a collection of short documentaries about New York City’s hidden treasures. “The City Concealed” can be streamed at http://watch.thirteen.org/, Thirteen’s video portal.

To view the New York on the Clock episode featuring Jerry Menditto, visit http://www.thirteen.org/nyontheclock/.

Upcoming Events

Take a tour of the beautiful Brooklyn Historical Society, a New York City landmark building. Designed by architect George Post and built in 1881, the Brooklyn Historical Society’s building was ahead of its time. Using the latest technology, Post created a magnificent structure with amazing craftsmanship. On this guided tour you’ll learn not only about the building as an architectural gem, but you’ll also find out the “more than meets the eye” history of one of Brooklyn’s premier cultural institutions. The tour will be held at 2 p.m. on September 19. BHS is at 128 Pierrepont St.

A new photo exhibit showcasing Brooklyn’s natural beauty, past and present, will be opening at the Brooklyn Public Library on September 15. “Nature Seen in Brooklyn, Now and Then: Three Photographers Look at Brooklyn: Brainerd, Austin & Golden (1877 - 2009)” will be on display on the ground floor of the library’s main branch at Grand Army Plaza until November 5. George Bradford Brainerd and Daniel Berry Austin were amateur photographers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that photographed landscapes of Brooklyn. Some of their work will be on display along with the work of contemporary photographer Richard Golden.
The Brooklyn Public Library will open its new photo exhibit “Riding the Rails: A Hundred Years of Brooklyn’s Trolleys and Trains” on Tuesday, September 22. Included among the photos will be never-displayed Cyanotypes and other images of Brooklyn’s transit system. The exhibit will be held at the main branch at Grand Army Plaza.

An illustrated talk on “The Story of Crown Heights” will be given by Wilhelmina Kelly at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on Wednesday, September 30 at 7 p.m. Kelly will also sign copies of her new book on the neighborhood.

The new Public Perspectives exhibit Brooklyn Utopias? will open at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Thursday, October 1 at 5:30 p.m. Curated by Katherine Gressel, an invited group of artists respond to the question of Brooklyn’s future by presenting their differing visions of an ideal Brooklyn.

Dave Frieder, aka “Dave the Bridge Man,” will deliver a lecture on the 100th anniversary of the magnificent Manhattan Bridge at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Thursday, October 8 at 2 p.m. The lecture will include a video presentation, information on the engineering, history and building of the bridge, as well as the problems the bridge has encountered over the years and what was done to correct them. Frieder will also present photos of the bridge that he’s taken over the last 16 years. Visit www.davefrieder.com for more information.