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 City Lore                                                                September, 2010  


Nueva York Walking Tour of Revolutionaries Iconoclasts
Climate Change Gentrification Chinese Laundry Grassroots Gospel


Dear Citylorists,

Please enjoy our Tours and Tales August - September, 2010 e-letter!

Nueva York Exhibition

Nueva York "Something unusual happens as you work through Nueva York (1613-1945)...," writes Edward Rothstein in The New York Times. "You enter feeling fairly sure of geographic bearings and leave less certain, curious, challenged. And can anything more be hoped for from a museum exhibition?" Guest curated by our staff, Marci, Elena, and Mariana, the exhibit, on view at El Museo del Barrio through January 9th, 2011, tells the kind of story we love here at City Lore — a less traveled history that makes you consider the city anew.

This is the first ever exhibition to explore how New York’s long and deep involvement with Spain and Latin America has affected virtually every aspect of the city’s development, from commerce, manufacturing and transportation to communications, entertainment and the arts. Organized and cosponsored by New-York Historical Society and El Museo del Barrio, the exhibit spans over three centuries of history, beginning with the Dominican sailor who arrived on our shores in 1613. The exhibit includes an interactive listening station, allowing visitors to sample the Latin music of New York; artworks by modern Latin American artists including José Clemente Orozco and Joaquín Torres-García, reflecting their images of New York; and the Nueva York Theater, an art installation by Antonio Martorell that reimagines the airplanes that brought Puerto Ricans in such great numbers to New York after WW II. Within it, visitors can view a Ric Burns documentary that tells the migration stories of Latino New Yorkers after 1945.

On Wednesday October 13th, 6:30 pm; CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue @ 34th Street — Recital Hall, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Mike Wallace (John Jay College) will give a brief illustrated overview of the exhibition, Nueva York (1613-1945). Wallace will be followed by a conversation — moderated by Maria Hinojosa (PBS) — on the relationship between the pre ‘45 and post ‘45 periods. Panelists include Juan Gonzalez (NY Daily News), Lisandro Pérez (John Jay College), Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Brooklyn College), Robert Smith (Baruch College), and Silvio Torres-Salliant (Syracuse University). Tickets are $8; Members, $6. No Surcharges. To purchase tickets, call 212.868.4444 or click here. To join the Graduate Center’s Membership Program and receive an instant 25% discount code, click here.

A Nueva York Walking Tour — "De un pajáro las dos alas"*: 19th Century Caribbean Political Exiles and Revolutionaries During the latter part of the 19th century, New York City was a key center of political activities for revolutionaries and exiles from Cuba and Puerto Rico. Dr. Ramón E. Betances, Eugenio María de Hostos and José Martí lived and worked in New York as leaders of the independence movements. Joining them were other important political figures, intellectuals and artists from those two Caribbean countries. In the 1880’s and 90’s, this vibrant community of political émigrés was enhanced by the arrival of the tabaqueros, the tobacco workers. This tour will visit the sites where Cuban and Puerto Rican revolutionaries lived, met and shared their struggles for independence from Spanish colonial domination. Although few of the buildings still exist, we will walk through the neighborhoods and reconstruct history through pictures and stories. The tour has been prepared and will be guided by Elena Martínez, a staff folklorist at City Lore, and Orlando José Hernández, a professor of Humanities at Hostos Community College-CUNY.

Saturday October 9th and 25th, 11:00 am — 1:00 pm
Price: $12; $8 students, seniors, City Lore members
Meeting place: Broadway/Houston subway (F, M, 6). Meet at corner of Houston Street and Broadway, sw corner
For more information or to make reservations : 212.529.1955 x306 or Reservations are required. This event is sponsored by City Lore in collaboration with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.

*This is a line of poetry from Lola Rodríguez de Tio, who was an activist in exile here in the 1890’s.

Headed Upstream cover

Interviews with Iconoclasts On the way to the opening of the lovely Painted Stories exhibition at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepont Street, I heard thunder, and casually opened my umbrella — in about two seconds the umbrella shredded, I was soaked to bone, fought with all my might to walk 10 yards to the nearest doorway. I was caught in the violent tornado that swept through Brooklyn, ravaging trees and tearing up sidewalks, though it lasted no more than minutes. Unusual weather patterns in our own backyard are more than a hint to consider the seriousness of the planet’s fragile environment.

In that light, I recently came across a wonderful book by Jack Loeffler, an aural historian, producer, writer, sound engineer, and musician from the Southwest. Originally published in 1989 and reprinted in 2010, Headed Upstream: Interviews with Iconoclasts suggests how important indigenous folk knowledge is to our survivability. As Loeffler writes, "As I’ve traveled I’ve had the good fortune to meet and frequently befriend people whose minds have evolved beyond the mean imposed by advertising and commercial entertainment — people whose thinking runs counter to the current of the continuum, people of ideas and fortitude. I greatly admire humans who assume responsibility for their own thinking. . . those who live within coordinates of their own calculation, and who sometimes regard the culturally acceptable as contemptible." His book of interviews with environmental activists and iconoclasts is set in the Southwest, but it’s relevant here in the Northeast as well.

In the book, the poet Gary Snyder offers Jack advice that resonates with our Place Matters program, "There is a very simple vow, which is: "I won’t move. I’ll stay here, love here." It doesn’t have to be in the country; it doesn’t have to be rural. It could be in a neighborhood in the suburbs, or a neighborhood in the inner city. If you take that vow, it doesn’t mean you can’t go on trips. It just means that you grow into the awareness that you are where you are and you’re going to take responsibility for living there. That’s where it all begins. That changes the politics around totally, if you have a rooted group of people who won’t retreat."

Climate Change and Preservation at the Municipal Art Society "Can old buildings help make New York a more sustainable city? How will climate change affect the city’s historic buildings and neighborhoods?" In October, The Municipal Art Society and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture presents a Conference on Preservation and Climate Change in New York City. The all-day convening takes place on Saturday, October 16th, and will be kicked off by an opening lecture and reception on October 15th, and be followed by special tours on October 17th. (Click here to see the agenda and list of speakers and here to purchase tickets). The tours include Rural Sustainability: Kykuit, Pocantico Center & Stone Barns: Touring key sites within the 3,400-acre John D. Rockefeller estate; Going Green in the Flatiron District: Architect-led tours of 200 Fifth Avenue (with STUDIOS Architecture) and the architectural offices of Cook+Fox; Lower East Side Boiler Tour: An unexpectedly fascinating tour of boilers, including stops to the apartment buildings Con Edison rate as the most efficient in New York State, led by Henry Gifford. Conference tickets cost $85, which includes admission to the conference (including lunch and reception) and admission to the Friday night lecture on Cities and Sustainability and reception.

Painting New York Stories
Painting by Nina Talbot

Gentrification We were recently at a preservation conference where the presenters touted what they considered to be a promising statistic. An increasing number of sites slated for historic designations and landmarking were in low income neighborhoods. They didn’t consider the flip side of this, which is that preservation can sometimes be a harbinger, even a tool for gentrification. The human side of gentrification is expressed beautifully on City of Memory by Evelyn Loftin, a longtime resident of Fort Green.

On Tuesday, October 5th, 6:30 PM, the Museum of the City of New York presents, In Danger of Extinction: Gentrification in East Harlem & on the Lower East Side Residents of these two diverse, vibrant neighborhoods have long dealt with the pressures of gentrification and have struggled for affordability. Their story is told in two recent documentaries. Join the filmmakers for a screening and discussion of The Lower East Side: An Endangered Place by Robert Weber and Whose Barrio? by Ed Morales and Laura Rivera, with opening remarks by the Honorable Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Council, District 8. Co-sponsored by the office of New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and East Harlem Preservation. This program is presented as part of the ongoing series The Urban Forum:New York Neighborhoods, Preservation and Development. Reservations required. $6 Museum members, $12 non-members, $8 seniors and students. To purchase tickets, please click here or call 212.534.1672.

Chinese restaurant in Flushing, NY
Photo by Catherine Fletcher

Oral History of a Chinese Laundry in Flushing In much of Asia, jokes playwright and teacher Alvin Eng, people had no idea at all about New York City, but they had heard of Flushing (which they pronounced Flu Shing). Alvin grew up in the neighborhood in the 1970s when the new immigrants to Flushing were the Jews! In the spring of this year, he took a group of teachers in City Lore’s education program, Nations and the Neighborhoods, on a tour of "Alvin Eng’s Flushing." In addition to Flushing Town Hall and the Bowne House, he pointed out a delicious morsel of vernacular New York — a gargantuan bowl with chopsticks atop a restaurant called Chao Zhou at 40-52 Main Street, living proof that the city has a sense of humor. He also took us back to the site of the Chinese laundry that his family owned when he was a child. The front room with the ticket counter, where his father once stood, was still in Flushing, but the back room where his mother raised the children was far closer to China. You can hear his wonderful reminiscence as our featured story on City of Memory.

lmo Ray (left) and Rosemary Scott from Stars of Harmony
Photo by Taki Telonidis

Grassroots Gospel In the 1930s and ‘40s, John Lomax and his son, Alan, bounced along the back roads of America in a Ford weighed down by a 300-pound recording machine. They were searching for the music they believed defined us as Americans: folk music. And in Angelina County, Texas, they found plenty. In fact, they discovered a rich tradition of African-American quartet singing. Earlier this year I traveled with Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis to scope out some of the sites where the Lomaxes had collected. Quartets are still singing in rural East Texas — only now they’ve gone electric. Elmo Ray Scott is a member of the Stars of Harmony, and we recorded him for a piece that ran this past weekend on Weekend Morning Edition. Elmo’s plain and simple message is delivered in song: give thanks.

Even closer to home, you can still watch some great grassroots acapella gospel, documented by filmmaker Ashley James and folklorist Ray Allen. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, the songs of the No Name Gospel Singers were heard at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, Central Park’s Summer Stage, arts and cultural organizations, and countless churches throughout New York City. Their leader, Reverend King passed away on Christmas Day, 2004. But his voice comes through loud and clear on City of Memory.

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Enjoy the City!


City of Memory is sponsored by City Lore and Local Projects.  It was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

City Lore is part of a cultural coalition called CATCH, to promote the City’s cultural heritage. Check out the web sites of our wonderful partners, the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, the Latino Children’s Theater, SEA, and the World Music Institute.


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