Obviously, this picture was taken on a Monday. The scene is the tenement backyard at Park Avenue and 107th Street in New York, probably in the year 1900.
Setting up these clotheslines was not a trivial task, especially on the higher floors. A man would come around calling out "I climb poles!" and for about 25 cents he'd climb up and run the rope out over the pulleys. He also sold rope and pulleys, but if you'd planned ahead and bought them from the hardware store, you could save a few cents.
Notice the train track at the bottom of the photo--I'm guessing the whites were whiter at the far end of the block. Just on the other side of the tracks is the building where baseball player Lou Gehrig grew up, a few years after this picture was taken.
I suggest viewing this image as large as possible, so you can peep into the windows.
You know how it goes: one person slips in the marsh mud, and then the other person tries to help her up and loses her balance and slips in herself, and then the first one reaches out to grab the other one's arm and falls in even deeper. And soon enough, they and everybody else on the marsh that day have laughed till they couldn't laugh any more, till tears were spilling down their cheeks.
All this fun happened last fall to Schuyler Rowe and Addie Nammoun, in the salt marsh on Chewonki Neck, in midcoast Maine. Even today, just thinking about those girls in that marsh brings tears to the eyes of everyone fortunate enough to have been a witness. Schuyler keeps this photo as the desktop image on her laptop.
I triple dogg dare you, sez the writing on the lightpole.
I'm sure there are more than two stories that can be linked to this street corner in Washington, D.C., but I see two in the photo.
The first one is a tale of two gas stations: The year is 1925, cars have only been on the road for a few years, but already here we see a derelict gas station, rundown, boarded up, the gas pump already removed. The parked car may or may not be a junker, but it's not much of an advertisement for the carwash service. But look across the street, at the far right edge of the picture. You may want to enlarge the photo to see full detail. (Or ask me to send you the very high-resolution original photo, 2.6 MB file.) That's a brand spanking new Standard Oil Co. gas station, the original category killer--so Story #1 is about how Mr. Rockefeller probably put this guy out of business and blighted this corner of my hometown.
Story #2 is about the corner itself. It's 2nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, which is stunning to those of us who feel they know Washington. Mass Ave is one of the businest streets in the city, and the intersection is in the heart of downtown, about four blocks from Union Station. In 1925, there wasn't even a line painted down the middle of Mass Ave. Furthermore, based on the trees and their shadows, we can deduce that the picture was taken in late afternoon or early evening--rush hour. Perhaps it was Sunday, but still--the wide-open emptiness is not consistent with our notions of a major downtown artery. This scene feels like a small town, or the edge of a city, not the center of the nation's capital, just eight blocks from the U.S. Capitol building.
What's there today? Nothing. Grass and a couple of curving walkways--I think the local term is pocket park. It's an unusual park, however, built on the air rights above the I-395 freeway as it dives underground just north of Massachusetts Avenue. Rumor has it that behind this park, they're planning to build offices and even stores and apartments, all on the I-395 air rights. This is said to be the biggest construction project in Washington right now that hasn't been suspended--maybe it hasn't been suspended, but it's not yet what they call shovel-ready.
And for what it's worth, the Standard Oil station isn't there any more either; that corner is occupied by a medium-sized brick office building that serves as Washington headquarters for a business association.
Michele and Richard Manno try to pose for a picture on Formal Night during their recent Mediterranean cruise.
These people are related to me.
I'm not a New York person, but this view of the Savoy Plaza and other Midtown towers has got to be one of the most gorgeous cityscapes anywhere, ever. It was shot in Central Park in 1933 by architectural photographer Samuel Gottscho. Today, the view from the same spot would be dominated by tall glass office boxes; the Savoy and many of the other old towers have been demolished.
Gottscho worked as a traveling lace and fabric salesman for 23 years before he could work with his camera full time. He specialized in pictures of houses and gardens, but also branched out into nature photography.
A new novel by E.L. Doctorow uses a heavily photoshopped version of this picture on the cover.