Way in the background is the Washington Monument. The store was in the area now swallowed up by the government office buildings of Federal Triangle.
By 1915, when this picture was taken, Chaconas had been in the grocery business for more than a quarter century. In addition to the store, which had been in this location for about a decade, he and his family also sold groceries from a truck–the kind of vehicle referred to then as a huckster wagon–that made the rounds of the outlying neighborhoods.
Back in the 1890s, however, when he was first establishing himself in Washington, Chaconas sold his fruits and vegetables from a pushcart. On August 14, 1894, as recorded by the Washington Post, Chaconas and eleven other Greeks and Italians were arrested and fined for lingering too long and obstructing traffic with their pushcarts.
Nice looking skyline, is it not? The city is Albany, New York, which may or may not be a nice place to live or even a nice place to visit; I've never been there and yet . . . here I am squawking about it.
It's actually one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Western Hemisphere, founded in the early seventeenth century as Beverwijk, a Dutch village outside the gates of Fort Orange. Beverwijk was renamed Albany when the English took over in the mid-century, and in 1686, the city was officially incorporated under a charter that is said to be one of America's oldest governing documents still in effect.
Albany was also the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal and for many years produced beer that was shipped westward on the canal to all the thirsty pioneers out in the hinterlands.
The painting below shows Albany's North Pearl Street in approximately 1800.
They've been getting a lot of snow this winter in Maine–a foot last weekend and a record 29.3 inches early in February from the storm they called Nemo, and more before and since and in between. This photo was taken after Nemo, in Portland's Old Port.
Some Mainers are probably happy about it.
Here in Philly, we got nothing.
One thing we have in abundance in America is abandoned railroad tracks. Many thousands of miles have been torn up and paved over with asphalt, repurposed for walking and biking through cities and suburbs. Many of these rails-to-trails are pleasant amenities, but few are interesting to look at or exciting to experience. Today, we turn our eyes to a few of those few.
New York City's High Line Park, which we last visited back in 2011, is a garden in the sky, snatched from the ruins of an industrial el line that once carried cattle and chickens to the slaughterhouses of lower Manhattan's Hudson riverfront. Both the industrial roots and the post-industrial decline are celebrated in the park: everywhere, the grit and grunge, patched brick walls and rusted steel fixtures, are lovingly preserved, with landscaping that looks a lot like weeds and old-looking new (creosote-free) train tracks in the flower beds. Amongst the weeds are miles of boardwalk for strolling and people-watching.
This photo was taken from the High Line's amphitheater, a performance space cantilevered out over Tenth Avenue, with glass walls that keep the sounds of the city at bay. Down below, about a block away on the left side of the street, you can glimpse the edge of a parking lot that is also being reimagined as performance space, for a senior project by a Parsons School of Design student, our own Amelia Stein. All of us Hole-in-the-Cloudsians are eager to follow the progress of this work by one of our own.
This 1880s-era bridge connecting the Allegheny County courthouse with the jail in downtown Pittsburgh is a fair replica of the seventeenth-century Bridge of Sighs in Venice, which connected the prison with the interrogation chambers in the doge's palace.
In Pittsburgh as in Venice, prisoners being escorted across the bridge were said to catch a final glimpse of life on the outside before disappearing into the labyrinths of judicial inquistion and disposition. In both cities, too, the bridges and buildings survive to this day; the courthouse building at right in this picture is still an active courthouse, though the jail building at left now houses the county Family Services agency.
Modern-day photos, however, reveal an oddity: the bridge now appears to loom much higher above the street than it did back in 1903, when the picture above was taken. An urban-improvement project known as the Hump Cut, completed in 1913, flattened out major downtown streets in Pittsburgh, lowering Fifth Avenue here by several feet.
Obviously worth a trip downtown, in Spokane, Washington.
During World War II, service flags like the ones hanging in these windows, could be seen in houses all over America. Within the red border of the window-hanging was sewn a blue star for each family member serving in the military. Gold stars acknowledged those killed in action.
The steps these children were playing on in 1942, along N Street SW in Washington, DC, were bulldozed a dozen or so years later as part of one of the country's largest "urban renewal" projects. All the residential and commercial neighborhoods in the city south of the national mall were condemned and all the residents evicted. The buildings were torn down and even much of the street grid scraped away, as a team of builders and designers led by I.M. Pei sought to start over from scratch, to create a 1950s-style urban utopia.
Before the urban renewal, Southwest Washington had been home to several generations of European immigrants and African American migrants from the South. Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants, possibly including these families, lived in the neighborhood west of Fourth Street SW, which was then known as Four and a Half Street. The street addresses here would have been very near Four and a Half Street. East of that street, mostly in more decrepit houses, lived African Americans, some of whom had come to Washington as freed slaves before or soon after the Civil War. The two adjacent neighborhoods both produced musical stars in the twentieth century: Marvin Gaye and Al Jolson.
Urban renewal wiped away all the homes, schools, stores, and other buildings except for one church, a fish wharf, and Bolling Air Force Base. A freeway was built through the middle of the new emptiness, with office complexes and new apartment buildings on either side. The project went the way of much mid-century city planning: people did come to work in the office buildings but went home every night as soon as they could, and people did live in the apartments but got in their cars and drove away to shop, play, and generally live their lives. Except at rush hour, neighborhood streets were empty.
It took another half-century, until 2003, before Southwest Washington got its first real grocery store. There has been something of a revival in recent years, as new stores opened and area parks were developed, giving people a reason to go outside and walk around. New apartment and condo projects have increased neighborhood density.
What happened to the thousands of people who were expelled from Southwest in the 1950s, possibly including the people in this picture? I'm not aware that anyone has kept track of them. Not to belittle their fate, but in one way or another, what happened to them happened to millions of Americans throughout the last century. In America, city people rarely stay put in the same neighborhoods generation after generation. People change and seek out different kinds of neighborhoods, and/or the neighborhoods change, pushing people out or leaving them uncomfortable and precariously clinging to homes in places that aren't what they used to be.