Category: NYC History

The Dyckman Farmhouse

Sunday, August 6th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Music, NYC History

The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum sits anachronistically perched on a knoll, 15 feet above street level at 204th Street and Broadway on the narrow northern tip of Manhattan. The avenue has been lowered many times since the Dyckmans, one of the early Dutch families of New Amsterdam, built the house around 1783 to replace an earlier structure that had been burned down by British troops during the Revolutionary War. Today the original farmhouse is a museum, run by the City of New York/Parks & Recreation and the Historic House Trust since 1916, when it was restored and donated to the city by two daughters of the last Dyckman to grow up there. It is Manhattan’s only surviving 18th century Dutch Colonial-style farmhouse.

The Dyckmans harvested salt hay (from the marshes lining the river borders of the property) and planted cabbage and fruit orchards on land worked largely by indentured and freed slaves until the mid 19th century. The family owned several hundred acres of Manhattan property – worth about a bazillion dollars in today’s real estate market – before the last of the Dyckmans decamped for the urban comforts of a Queen Anne-style row house on East 71st Street in the 1870s.
The museum grounds cover just under 1/2 acre on which sits the farmhouse itself – reopened this Summer after three years of extensive renovations – a reproduction smokehouse and a tiny formal garden (both put in by the Dyckman sisters) and a reconstructed Hessian Hut, which in its former life had housed German soldiers, primarily from the province of Hesse-Cassel, during the Revolutionary War.

Several weeks earlier, I had made reservations for the after-hours guided tour. The group numbered just six people, plus the guide, which was just manageable, given the confines of the small space. We toured the inside of the house, which was still in the process of being refurnished after the renovation. Most of the objects inside date from the 19th century, brought in by the Dyckman sisters. With the notable exception of a dining room sideboard, almost none of the furniture pieces are original to the 18th century farmhouse; many objects were scattered when the family vacated after three generations, and some were lost in a trade with Boscobel, another Dyckman home, in Putnam County. The wall along the interior stairs leading to the cellar kitchen bares one of Inwood’s many schist outcroppings. The upper floor houses museum offices and two refurnished bedrooms. The space was stiflingly hot in even today’s pleasant weather; the guide told us that during last week’s heat wave, the lone air conditioning unit, running at full blast, could not bring the temperature below the mid 80s.
Dyckman Farmhouse

Back Porch

Hessian Hut

On the way out, we chatted up Maeve, one of the summer interns, who earlier in the day had given us a good recommendation for our pre-tour lunch. Inwood, once home to Irish and Jewish immigrants, is a predominantly Dominican enclave. Galeria Restaurant at 207th and Vermilyea is just one of the many local eateries serving authentic food at reasonable prices. The slight snag was in the ordering process, which I couldn’t figure out: most of the pre-set meals seemed intended for much larger groups, and there didn’t appear to be any a la carte option posted. In the end, we just pointed at whatever looked good (fried/roast chicken, rice and beans, sweet plantains) which the server obligingly piled onto a plate until asked to stop — all for $6.
Galeria lunch

Páprika – an all-female group from Brooklyn, specializing in dance music from around the globe, e.g., Turkish pop star Tarkan’s Simarik, better known stateside as “Kiss Kiss.” At Riverside Park South, Acoustic Sundays:

Paprika

GW Bridge

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5 Star samosas in L.I.C.

Sunday, July 30th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, NYC History

Headed into Long Island City for the Summer Celebration at P.S. 1, and while in the neighborhood, I decided to check out Chowhound and taxi driver favorite, Five Star Punjabi.

The nearest subway station was Queensborough Plaza, and from there it was a several block walk, along an eerily deserted, depressing stretch of Long Island City marked by warehouses and taxi depots. When we finally came upon the spot, though, it was unmissable:

Five Star PunjabiUpon approaching the door, we saw a sign advising us that the diner was closed for renovations — which explains the industrial dumpster out front and the piles of garbage bags in the adjacent alley… I hope. Thankfully, given the fact that we had made the trip — and there didn’t seem to be any other options in the immediate area — the diner was operating temporarily out of the fancier “banquet hall” next door.

Five Star Punjabi

Once inside, we were seated next to the white-clothed steam tables and handed round wooden paddles on which the menus were printed. We decided upon the samosas, garlic naan and entrees of butter chicken and tikka masala, which it turned out was entirely too much food for the two of us.

The samosas arrived first: hot, crisp and remarkably ungreasy, stuffed with a tastily spiced mixture of peas and potatoes. I happily could have made a meal on those alone. The chicken entrees, despite looking disconcertingly similar, were in fact, different in texture. My chicken makhani was delicious: tender chunks of buttery meat in a wonderfully creamy, spice-flecked sauce spooned over fragrant basmati rice. And the naan was warm and pillowy, with a crunchy crust of garlic.

Great find. I’ll be back at least for those samosas — maybe after the intriguing little diner reopens in the Fall.

Butter Chicken et alJust a short stroll away, we detoured into the anachronistic block of 45th Avenue, between 21st and 23rd Streets, a.k.a. Hunters Point Historic District, or according to the National Register of Historic Places, Dominie’s Hook or Bennetts Point. This remarkably preserved row of brick and stone Italianate, French Empire, Neo-Grec and Queen Anne houses, dates from the 1870 and 1880s — 15 acres among 19 buildings.

The posted sign announces the landmark status, granted in 1973:

The houses on 45th Avenue (then called Twelfth Street) were built mostly in the 1880s when Hunters Point was part of the independent Long Island City. They represent, in frame and brick, a Victorian middle-class urban building type and remain almost untouched. The nicely articulated details of Neo-Grec style cornices, window frames, iron railings and stoops recall the days when uniform building design was a proud symbol of domestic respectability.

Hunters Point Historic District

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Hearst Tower

Saturday, July 29th, 2006 | All Things, NYC History

Much has been written about the new Hearst Tower, designed by Lord Norman Foster, the Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate, whose body of work includes renovation of the British Museum and the reconstruction of the Reichstag in Berlin. The distinct 46-story office tower was completed this Spring and serves as the corporation’s world headquarters.

Foster’s design preserves the design of the original Hearst building, which was built in 1928 and landmarked in 1988. The addition emerges as a shaft of four-story high diamond-shaped bands of steel with no vertical columns around the perimeter frame — a design known as a diagrid, which, in addition to giving the form a dramatic and crystalline shape, uses one fifth less steel than a standard design. The views from within the cantered floor-to-ceiling windows offer a unique perspective: tipped down towards the ground, or tilted up towards the sky.

Hearst Tower

William Randolph Hearst is best known as an American publishing magnate (and one of the inspirations behind Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.) In 1928, at his empire’s peak, he had 28 major newspapers, 18 magazines, 2 news services, several radio stations and a movie company under his ownership. Hearst was also a fledgling real estate developer, with extensive holdings in New York City and a vision for making his stamp on the city’s landscape. He acquired other properties near the Eighth Avenue and 57th Street site, eventually taking over six lots around Columbus Circle, which he envisioned transforming into his own Hearst Plaza, to supplant Times Square and Herald Square as the city’s publishing hub.

At the heart of the plan was the Art Deco limestone International Magazine Building designed by Joseph Urban, an architect also known for his Hollywood and Broadway set designs. The six-story building at 959 Eighth Avenue was designed to structurally support a larger tower to be added on. When the stock market crashed in 1929, however, Hearst’s prospects declined and plans for the intended tower fell through. The low-rise base is the only remnant of Hearst’s ambitious plan.

The yellow cast stone structure, with its pylons, pedestals and sculpted figures was dismissed by The New Yorker architecture critic as “theatric architecture.” For years, the too grand building seemed out of place in its environs, set upon what was not particularly prime Hells Kitchen commercial real estate: too far west from the elegant heart of 57th Street, and until the late 1990s gentrification, neighboring tenements and adult video shops on a somewhat seamy stretch of Eighth Avenue.

Hearst Tower Entrance

The arched main entrance is flanked by figures representing “Comedy and Tragedy” and “Music and Art.” “Sport and Industry” and “Printing and the Sciences” wrap around the other walls. In his redesign, Foster gutted the original building – interior walls, floors and all – preserving only its outer shell to enclose the glass-roofed “urban plaza.” Through the archway, you can peek a sliver of “Ice Falls,” the three-story, glass sculpted water wall, designed by James Carpenter. In addition to serving as the stunning, sparkling centerpiece of the building’s atrium, the feature serves an environmental function by humidifying and cooling the lobby as necessary. It runs entirely on recycled rainwater collected from the tower’s rooftop — water which is also used to feed into a special pumping system to irrigate plants and trees around the building. Nice!

The view from my Saturday seat:

Hearst Tower

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