|(Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)|
“WE HAVE BEEN NOUGHT, WE SHALL BE ALL!”
Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City
Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City
I have always been interested in the ways architects and building owners decorated the facades of their buildings, and you can see this in the posts I’ve written on my two blogs. I have even taken hundreds of photos of architectural ornamentation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I live, and hope to publish them on the internet in book form one of these days. Due to my political leanings, I am also interested in socialist and labor iconography on building facades, as well as historic labor- and socialist-oriented buildings, residences and monuments. This article will touch on both.
|The emblem of the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen on an interior wall of the auditorium at 20 West 44th Street, Manhattan.|
In the last half of the nineteenth century through the end of World War II, German, Eastern European and Mediterranean immigrants brought their pro-labor and pro-socialist views and organizations to the United States. In New York City these organizations were especially strong, and helped to mitigate the exploitation of these workers and their families, as well as help pursue a progressive political and social agenda in the city and country as a whole. Some of their buildings also expressed these views.
The Italian Labor Center
|231 East 14th Street, Manhattan|
One example of labor iconography is the former Italian Labor Center, 231 East 14th Street, Manhattan. "Built in 1919, when this corner of the East Village was a mini Little Italy, it also served as the [the headquarters of Cloakmakers Local 48 ILGWU (Unione dei Cloakmakers Italiani)]. The old sign is still carved on the facade and is flanked by two interesting bas reliefs that seem to oppose each other.
"The carving on the right depicts a man (a worker, with a shovel), woman, and baby seemingly content.
"On the left, however, the woman is suckling a snake, her hair electrified and her face contorted in pain. Her child is scrambling from her in terror. Her husband is in the background, hard at work digging or plowing, oblivious to the turmoil.* 'The carvings are probably the work of Onorio Ruotolo**, poet and sculptor, whose works in that period dealt with the theme of workers and their resistance to exploitation,' states The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism [written by Philip V. Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer].” (https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2010/11/) In my view the panel on the left signifies exploitation and terrorization of the workers by the capitalist snake, and the scene on the right the calmness and peace brought about after the defeat of capitalism through the collective action of the unions.
The Italian Labor Center was a hub of anti-fascist organizing beginning in 1923 when the Center hosted an anti-fascist conference organized by the Italian Chamber of Labor. (“Italians Here To Launch Drive On Fascisti April 2”, The New York Call, March 25, 1923, p. 9; http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2014/New%20York%20NY%20Evening%20Call/New%20York%20NY%20Evening%20Call%201923/New%20York%20NY%20Evening%20Call%201923%20-%200890.pdf) Architects John Caggiano, Matthew Del Gaudio and Anthony Lombardi employed innovative design and materials. The building later housed the Ukrainian Center for Social Research. (http://www.nysonglines.com/14st.htm)
*[Another interpretation is on p. 52 of the "14th Street and Union Square Preservation Plan": “A terra cotta set of panels above the center bay on the second story reads, 'ITALIAN LABOR CENTER.' Strikingly, this center panel is flanked by two decorative terra cotta bas reliefs which depict scenes of Italian, family, and labor-related significance. The eastern panel clearly shows a content family of working father, mother, and baby, the latter being cradled by his parents. The father holds a shovel in his left hand. The western panel illustrates the naked Roman goddess Minerva, patroness of craftspeople, next to a naked male child in the foreground before a shirtless laborer. The top of this central arch is capped by a band of wave scroll ornamentation.”]
**[“A sculptor and poet, Onorio Ruotolo (1888–1966) was born in Cervinara, Italy. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Naples and emigrated to the United States in 1908. The struggle and poverty he observed in New York City engendered in him a concern for society, which he expressed in cartoons, poetry, and sculpture. During World War I, he produced a number of sculptures showing the horrors of war. In 1914, he and Arturo Giovannitti became co-directors of Il Fuoco, a magazine of art and politics. After an ideological split, Ruotolo began Minosse, a socio-literary publication. In 1923 Ruotolo founded the Leonardo da Vinci Art School on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The school was created to provide arts education for New York's immigrant community, and it remained in operation for almost twenty years. In 1924 Isamu Noguchi took his first sculpture class at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, and Noguchi began his artistic career with the academic sculpture that he created as Ruotolo's protégé.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onorio_Ruotolo)]
The Labor Temple
|￼"242 West 14th Street at Second Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, was built in 1924 for the Labor Temple, "New York's most radical church". The Temple got a chapel, an auditorium, and a gymnasium, and the developers kept control of the commercial rental of the remainder of the building, which was designed by Emery Roth. The Labor Temple disbanded in 1957." (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:242_West_14th_Street_Labor_Temple.jpg; By Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)|
On the same block as the Italian Labor Center is a building that was built as the New York City Labor Temple. “In April 1910, a plan to start "a center of aggressive religious work among the working-men of New York City, under the name of Labor Temple" was read in the meeting of the Home Missions Committee of the Presbytery of New York. The Reverend Charles Stelzle of the Board of Home Missions had drawn up the plan, hoping to establish a common ground where working men and churchmen could meet as equals, to show working men the interest the church felt in their welfare, and to foster mutual understanding and cooperation between labor and the Church. Stelzle's idea was to use an empty church at the corner of 14th Street and Second Avenue, to gather there all workers and churchmen who wished to meet, and to hold open fora, lecture series and classes dealing with social issues. Though care would be taken to express the Christian viewpoint, Stelzle wanted Labor Temple to be a place in which all ideas could be heard. The Presbytery of New York approved the plan, and Stelzle was appointed the director of Labor Temple.” (http://www.history.pcusa.org/collections/research-tools/guides-archival-collections/rg-14)
“The Labor Temple was a church but also a meeting space, union hiring hall, and school. Stelzle, a proponent of the social gospel, promoted the establishment of similar Labor Temples nationwide (although many of them were secular in nature). For years, the New York City Labor Temple was the center of the city's union life. But most local Labor Temple movements did not survive the 1930s.” (http://rememberthetrianglefire.org/resources/)
|Only the one word is needed to evoke the horror of that day.|
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire on March 25, 1911. (http://rememberthetrianglefire.org/resources/) “The factory fire resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the second deadliest disaster in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later.
“The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three... . Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits--a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks--many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below.
“The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers. The women working for 14 cents an hour who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25 of 1911 created a vast movement for change, which in the United States culminated in the right to organize, improved fire safety and working conditions, the Fair Labor Standards Act, minimum wage laws, the elimination of sweat shops, and more.
|Asch/Brown Building, site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. (2007 photo by Dmadeo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Asch-brown-triangle-shirtwaist-fire-building.JPG)|
“The factory was located in the Asch Building, at 23–29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.” (http://calfire.blogspot.com/2013/03/102-years-ago-triangle-shirtwaist.html) The building has no distinguishing labor or socialist iconography, but there are monuments to the memory of the victims in local cemeteries. “A monument to six victims of the fire who were unidentified until recently was erected at the Cemetery of the Evergreens, which straddles the Brooklyn-Queens border.” (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/09/23/nyregion/new-yorks-50-wait-theres-more.html?_r=0#/?gridItem=all) Another memorial can be found in the Calvary Cemetery in Queens, and a third in the Workman’s Circle section of Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens.
|“The site, erected in 1911, includes the original memorial for 14 of the 146 victims, their names inscribed on individual plaques. The site has since been expanded to memorialize all the victims of the horrible tragedy that left 146 workers dead.” (http://thefeministguide.com/2011/12/triangle-shirtwaist-factory-fire-memorial/)|
Red Square Apartments
Someone on the Lower East Side--more specifically at 250 East Houston Street, The Red Square Apartments--brought home an unused statue of Vladimir Illyich Lenin from the ex-Soviet Union, and installed it on the roof of the building. From the ground, it looks like Lenin exhorting the workers at the Finland Station!
|“The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all countries. ...The capitalists strive to sow and foment hatred between workers of different faiths, different nations and different races.” (V.I. Lenin)|
Actually, former NYU professor Michael Rosen developed the property that his wife’s grandfather had bought at city auction in 1961. The architects (1989-91) were Schuman, Lichtenstein, Claman & Efron. (Joyce Mendelsohn, The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited, Columbia University Press, 2009, p. 225) “Michael Rosen, a former professor of radical sociology at NYU who, after finishing work on Red Square, concentrated on developing housing for battered women and AIDS sufferers.
“The 18-foot tall statue was a Soviet-commissioned heroic sculpture by Yuri Gerasimov, but when the USSR collapsed, the statue was never officially unveiled. Rosen’s co-developer, Michael Shaoul, found it in a dacha outside Moscow, and it has been part of the building since 1994 when it was purchased from Gerasimov. The [‘crazy’] clock[, also on the top of the building], by designer Tibor Kalman, was based on an “Askew” watch featured in a Museum of Modern Art collection, and in fact the design can still be purchased there.” (http://forgotten-ny.com/2010/11/red-square/. Michael Rosen later corrected this story about how he got the Lenin statue: “The statue of Lenin was found by a partnership of 3 guys named Walker, Ursitti and McGinnis (WUM). They had an art business in NYC and the USSR... . They asked me to invest with them in a painting they said was worth quite a bit, and as a part of the deal they located a monumental Lenin statue because I wanted one for the roof of Red Square, and also a much smaller bronze statue of a grandfatherly Lenin sitting on a park bench. No one from New York went to a dacha except the WUM guys.”)
Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was a radical Italian nationalist who, “after fighting in South American wars of liberation, using what today would be called guerrilla tactics, he organized and led insurgencies leading to conquests of Sicily and Naples which ultimately produced the unification of Italy in 1860. Abraham Lincoln offered Garibaldi a command in the Civil War, but Garibaldi asked for the post of commander-in-chief [and that slavery be abolished, both of] which Lincoln was unwilling to consent. Garibaldi resided in this house in Rosebank, on Staten Island’s Tompkins Avenue [420 Tompkins Avenue]...from 1851-53 with his friend, Antonio Meucci, who invented the telephone before Alexander Graham Bell received his own patent for it.
|There is nothing architectural that would point to this house as being related to socialist or labor iconography. It was just the home of Garibaldi.|
When Garibaldi died in 1882, a committee formed to commemorate the hero's stay on these shores. In 1884, Meucci was on hand when a plaque was placed over the front door of the house. After Meucci's death the house was turned over to the Italian Community to be preserved as a memorial to Garibaldi. (http://pub1.andyswebtools.com/cgi-bin/p/awtp-custom.cgi?d=garibaldi-meucci-museum&page=749)
“There was a time, in the first half of the last century, when secular Jews, mostly from Eastern European immigrant families, lived in service to a set of political ideals... . They saw their lives in terms of collective consciousness, and although that consciousness took different forms – some were Communists, some Socialists, some primarily Labor-Zionists – they lived in a way that few Americans do today. They thought of life in collective terms, more family of man than family of blood. Our lives, they believed, were closely tied together, and we should help each other through life’s struggles.” Four socialist and labor-oriented housing projects were founded in the Bronx as experiments in cooperative housing: the Communist Coops, the United Workers Cooperative Colony, a housing complex [begun in 1925-26 and completed in 1927-29] and populated by American Communists and their sympathizers; the Farband Houses, run by a Labor Zionist group; the Sholom Aleichem Houses, built by Yiddish-speaking socialists; and the Amalgamated Houses, founded by the garment workers’ union.
The United Workers’ Cooperative Apartments in the Bronx
|United Workers Co-op Colony Apartments/the Coops, 2700 Bronx Park East. (WPA Federal Writers Project: wpa_0516, 1937; http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/RECORDSPHOTOUN…OUNITMAY~3~3,RECORDSPHOTOUNITARC~25~25&mi=11&printerFriendly=1)|
“The Bronx housing coops sprang from the desire of the Jewish garment workers in the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union for fresh air and gardens and better places to live than their crowded difficult conditions on the Lower East Side. The city helped, opening up public transportation into the Bronx, where the land was cheaper and the air was cleaner.” (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/gangbox/g2CNG5Qg1e4/rqteurbQQW8J)
Also, "[the] 1926 New York State Limited Dividend Housing Companies Law facilitated co-op development by giving tax abatements to housing developers that agreed to limit their profits to 6 percent and target low-income tenants." (Joshua B. Freeman, Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II, The New York Press, New York, NY, 2001, p. 110)
The Coops were constructed in Tudor Revival style and the architects were Springsteen & Goldhammer and Herman Jessor.
|Lintel decoration over one of the doorways at The Coops.|
The Sholem Aleichem Houses
The second large-scale socialist housing project was the Sholem Aleichem Houses (the Yiddish Cooperative Heimgesellschaft), completed in 1927 also by Springsteen & Goldhammer for 229 families on the site overlooking the Jerome Park Reservoir at 3451 Giles Place, 68 West 228th Street and Cannon Place. The origins of the Sholem Aleichem membership focused on the Workman’s Circle where "Yiddish culture trumped all other concerns." Politics, however, were also very important and brought a measure of discord. "...The cooperators had to create two Jewish schools, one for the socialists and one for the communists." (Matt A. V. Chaban, "At Beauty Queen's Former Home, Shades of a Bronx Utopia", The New York Times, January 13, 2015, p. A25)
“Sholem Aleichem was the pen name of famed Ukrainian Yiddish writer Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, whose works include Tevye the Milkman, on which Fiddler on the Roof is based. Sholem Aleichem Houses was devoted to its cultural mission, and included [three] artists’ studios, an auditorium for lectures and performances and cafeterias for functions. The complex, which has survived largely intact over the years, is made up of 15 five-story buildings comprising 229 apartments. Its neo-Tudor style was apparently unrelated to the values of the cooperative, but was a popular choice for residential architecture at the time. One of its most distinctive characteristics is the presence of beautifully landscaped inner garden courtyards.” (http://www.6tocelebrate.org/site/shalom-aleichem-houses/) Also, no two apartments were alike. The original cooperators were allowed to design their own spaces. ((Matt A. V. Chaban, op. cit.)
The Farband Houses
About the same time the Jewish National Workers Alliance--JNWA (Natsionaler Yidisher Arbeter Farband)--began planning the Farband Houses, two buildings for 127 families on Williamsbridge Road in the Bronx [at 2922 Barnes Avenue]. It was designed by the architects Meisner and Uffner and was completed in 1928. The JNWA was founded as a fraternal organization, like the Workmans Circle, but it was Zionist in orientation and became the backbone of Labor Zionism in the United States.
|The Farband Houses, 2014.|
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers Houses
“Springsteen & Goldhammer also designed the Amalgamated Clothing Workers housing in 1927 on the edge of Van Cortlandt Park for 308 families. This was the largest of the labor/socialist cooperative projects with 700 families in 1931. (Richard Plunz, A History of Housing in New York City, Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 1990, pp. 151-153)
|(Photo from http://forward.com/articles/105180/a-utopian-bronx-tale/)|
“Today, the 1,500-apartment Amalgamated Houses and two of the four buildings of the smaller Farband development remain limited dividend co-ops, meaning they can't be sold for a profit. ...The original Amalgamated co-operators put up $500 a room for their homes. By 1950, the purchase price had risen to $650 per room. Today's price is $3,000 per room--an increase that lags behind inflation. If they leave, residents must sell their shares back to the co-op, which then selects new purchasers from a waiting list. Carrying charges--the co-op equivalent of monthly rent--average $158 per room. [...The] co-op has declared itself a naturally occurring retirement community to better serve its long-time residents.” (Robert Neuwirt, “Radical Co-ops in the Roaring”, City Limits; http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/3145/radical-co-ops-in-the-roaring)
In 2004 the Museum of the City of New York mounted an exhibit, “Radicals in the Bronx”, which focused on these four developments. Sarah Henry, the museum’s deputy director for programs and curator of the exhibit, commented that “’The founders of the co-ops saw themselves as the first step in the transformation to a better world... . They believed that the physical circumstances under which people live encourage collective action and identity, so these were intended to be more than affordable housing. Architecturally they were not stylistically radical but were much like what was being built for wealthier people in Bronxville... . They were built around courtyards and were near parks. Light and cross-ventilation were very important to people coming from tenements.’" (Nadine Brozan, “A Historical Look Back At Working-Class Housing”, The New York Times; http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/07/realestate/07post.html?_r=0)
Many of these same groups founded summer camps for children and adults in the surrounding rural areas of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Two of the more famous of these were Camp Kinderland and Camp Unity.
“Camp Kinderland was founded on Sylvan Lake in Hopewell Junction, NY in 1923 by members of the Workmen’s Circle who worked in the organization’s New York City schools. The camp’s founders sought to create a summer youth camp that would not only provide a recreational escape for the children of working people from the tenements of New York City, but also one whose culture would encourage and foster a commitment to socially progressive activism and the embracing of a rich Jewish secular tradition. The camp's founders, including some activists in the Communist Party, were associated with the left wing of the Workermen's Circle. From 1930 the Camp operated under the auspices of a branch of the International Workers order. In the 1950s, under the pressure of New York State "anti-subversive" investigations, it was incorporated independently.” (http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/tam/summercamps.html)
“[Camp] Unity[, founded in 1927, which]...called itself the 'first proletarian summer colony,' [and which...] would become the first interracial adult camp in the United States, purchased a permanent site in Wingdale, New York. In the late 1930's, returning Spanish Civil War veterans were given jobs and the opportunity for [physical] rehabilitation at Unity. During World War II, local residents joined with campers and staff to raise funds for the war effort. A vibrant cultural program attracted guests from more traditional resorts. Cold War harassment--including a 1955 investigation to uncover 'Communists' use of summer camps to indoctrinate and disaffect American youth...'-- and internal disputes over camp policy on such issues as 'white chauvinism' –- with camp management often taking a position different from that of the Communist Party -- resulted in declining attendance.” (http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/tam/summercamps.html)
The National Maritime Union Buildings
In the summer of 1966, towards the end of a six-week strike of caseworkers in the New York City Department of Welfare, Joseph Curran of the National Maritime Union, who had been mediating between my union and the City, invited us to hold a membership meeting in his fairly-new NMU building on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets. The building evoked a massive ship, steady and rock-solid strong.
|The ex-National Maritime Union building in 2014.|
“New Orleans-based architect Albert C. Ledner designed three buildings for the National Maritime Union of America in the 1960s, all white buildings that prominently featured portholes as an architectural feature. The first, in 1964, was the union's headquarters building at Seventh Avenue between 12th Street and 13th Street, which became part of the now-closed St. Vincent's Medical Center; the second was the building at 346 West 17th Street, which runs through to 16th Street, which the union used as an annex to their headquarters; and finally the ‘pizza box’ building which became the Maritime Hotel, whose primary facade faces Ninth Avenue.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maritime_Hotel)
|The other two NMU buildings on Ninth Avenue and West 16th Street. The "pizza box", and the Maritime Hotel just behind it.|
The National Maritime Union building in Greenwich Village was eccentric-looking. “Mr. Ledner fancifully evoked seafaring themes in his commission for the National Maritime Union. The portholes are well known. Other nice touches include a rooftop elevator bulkhead reminiscent of a steamship’s smokestack. Joseph Curran, the union president, whose luxurious office occupied the ship’s bridge on the sixth-floor penthouse, described the building as ‘the box in which the Guggenheim Museum came.’
“Through the use of deep steel girders cantilevered from a thick concrete wall near the rear of the building, Mr. Ledner was able to convey the impression that the upper floors were floating above two circular hiring halls at ground level. In these halls, clad in glass block, about 1,000 seamen were assigned weekly to merchant ships sailing from New York. In 1973, the diminished union sold its headquarters to St. Vincent’s, which needed space.” The building became the O’Toole Building/Medical Center and was saved from being razed when St. Vincent’s closed. In 2011 the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans for the building to be reopened as an emergency care center, and it will be restored to its original concrete facade.
“Writing about the building in March 1964, Ada Louise Huxtable, who was then the architecture critic of The New York Times, noted that the union could have constructed a ‘cheap, dull, routine box’ or chosen something ‘vulgar and ponderous’ in marble.
‘It decided, instead, to go for architecture,’ she wrote. ‘Whatever reservations may be held, New York needs more of those decisions.’" (David W. Dunlap, “A Shiplike Building Gets Another New Life”; http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/nyregion/again-a-new-life-for-a-shiplike-building-in-the-village.html?partner=rss&emc=rss)
The Jewish Daily Forward Building
One of the most influential socialist newspapers for Jewish immigrants in New York was the Forward. "Launched as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper on April 22, 1897, the Forward entered the din of New York's immigrant press as a defender of trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism. […U]nder the leadership of its founding editor, ...Abraham Cahan, the Forward came to be known as the voice of the Jewish immigrant and the conscience of the ghetto. It fought for social justice, helped generations of immigrants to enter American life, broke some of the most significant news stories of the century, and was among the nation's most eloquent defenders of democracy and Jewish rights.
"By the early 1930s the Forward had become one of America's premier metropolitan dailies, with a nationwide circulation topping 275,000 and influence that reached around the world and into the Oval Office. Thousands more listened regularly to the Forward's Yiddish-language radio station, WEVD… . The newspaper's editorial staff included, at one time or another, nearly every major luminary in the then-thriving world of Yiddish literature, from the beloved "poet of the sweatshops," Morris Rosenfeld, to the future Nobel laureates Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel." (http://forward.com/about/history/)
|The Forward Building, 173-175 East Broadway, Manhattan. (Photo taken by Jim.henderson is in the public domain; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jewish_Daily_Forward#mediaviewer/File:Jewish_Daily_Forward_bldg_jeh.JPG)|
“Designed by George Boehm, the midblock Forward Building still towers over the three- to five-story houses and tenements in the area. ...The cream-and-tan exterior has the same light tones and delicate terra cotta that Boehm used a few years later on the Chalif Dancing School, still standing at 163 West 57th Street. Above the second floor of The Forward Building, a series of relief busts depict four famous socialists, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Above them two oversize reclining figures in classical dress against a blue background flank a torch, an image that runs through the building's decoration.” (Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes/The Jewish Daily Forward Building, 175 East Broadway; A Capitalist Venture With a Socialist Base”, The New York Times, July 19, 1998; http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/19/realestate/streetscapes-jewish-daily-forward-building-175-east-broadway-capitalist-venture.html)
|The four socialist medalions above the entrance.|
“Completed in 1912[, it was in] a prime location, across the street from Seward Park. The building was embellished with marble columns and panels and stained glass windows. The facade features carved bas relief portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, (who co-authored, with Marx, The Communist Manifesto) and Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of the first mass German labor party. A fourth relief portrays a person whose identity has not been clearly established, and has been identified as Wilhelm Liebknecht,[a German social democrat and one of the principal founders of the German Social Democratic Party,] Karl Liebknecht,[a German socialist and a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany] or August Bebel[, a German socialist politician, writer, and orator, who is best remembered as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (SDAP)].” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jewish_Daily_Forward)
While Marx and Engels' visages still survive to decorate a New York City building, what about Vladimir Ilych Lenin?
|￼”Man at the Crossroads was a fresco by Diego River a in the Rockefeller Center, New York. The painting was controversial because it included an image of Lenin and a Soviet Russian May Day parade. ...Nelson Rockefeller ordered its destruction before it was completed. Only black-and-white photographs exist of the original incomplete mural, taken when Rivera was forced to stop work on it. Using the photographs, Rivera repainted the composition [at the Palacio de Bellas Artes] in Mexico under the variant title Man, Controller of the Universe. ...The new version included a portrait of Leon Trotsky alongside Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at the right, and others, including Charles Darwin, at the left and Nelson Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler, seen drinking in a nightclub with a woman; above their heads is a dish of syphilis bacteria.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_at_the_Crossroads; photo courtesy of Wolfgang Sauber)|
You wouldn’t think that Rockefeller Center would contain--or even allow--Socialist iconography to grace its walls, and you would be correct. It no longer does. However, in the 1930s, Marxist muralist Diego Rivera was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to paint a fresco mural in the newly built Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center contained many architectural works of art, some of them in the style of Socialist Realism, but Diego Rivera went too far for Nelson!
“Rivera's composition depicted many aspects of contemporary social and scientific culture. In the center, a workman was depicted controlling machinery. Before him, a giant fist emerged holding an orb depicting the recombination of atoms and dividing cells in acts of chemical and biological generation. From the central figure four propeller-like shapes stretched to the corner of the composition, depicting arcs of light created by giant lenses anchoring the left and right edges of the space. Rivera described these as ‘elongated ellipses’. Within these, cosmological and biological forces such as exploding suns and cell-forms were depicted. These represented the discoveries made possible by the telescope and the microscope. Between and beyond the arcs were scenes of modern social life. Wealthy society women are seen playing cards and smoking at the left. Opposite, on the right, Lenin is seen holding hands with a multi-racial group of workers. Soldiers and war machinery occupied the top left above the society women, and a Russian May Day rally with red flags was seen at the right, above Lenin. For Rivera, this represented contrasting social visions: the ‘debauched rich’ watched by the unemployed while war rages; and a socialist utopia ushered in by Lenin.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_at_the_Crossroads)
Sir Frank Brangwyn and José María Sert were commissioned to work alongside Rivera and supplement his lobby mural with murals of their own in the North and South hallways. After the destruction of Rivera's mural on Rockefeller’s orders in 1934, Sert, who detested Rivera, "had the opportunity to paint on arguably the most important wall in New York, if not America. Sert's 1,000 square-foot painting, American Progress, which replaced Rivera's fresco, is an allegorical scene of mankind building America." (Glenn
Palmer-Smith, Murals of New York City, Rizzoli, New York, NY, 2013, p. 71)
|Part of Jose Maria Sert's mural in Rockefeller Center.|
The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau
One person in New York City who did more to help working class women to obtain knowledge of family planning, birth control and safe sexual practices was the feminist and socialist Margaret Sanger (1879-1966).
“In 1911, after a fire destroyed their home in Hastings-on-Hudson, the Sangers abandoned the suburbs for a new life in New York
City. Margaret Sanger worked as a visiting nurse in the slums of the East Side, while her husband worked as an architect and a painter. Already imbued with William Sanger's leftist politics, Margaret Sanger also threw herself into the radical politics and modernist values of pre-World War I Greenwich Village bohemia, where she joined the Women's Committee of the New York Socialist party. She took part in the labor actions of the Industrial Workers of the World, including the notable 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike and the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike and she became involved with local intellectuals, artists, socialists, and social activists including John Reed, Upton Sinclair, Mabel Dodge, and Emma Goldman. Her political interests, emerging feminism and nursing experience led to her 1912 column on sexual education entitled ‘What Every Mother Should Know’ and ‘What Every Girl Should Know’ for the socialist magazine the New York Call.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sanger)
|17 West 16th Street (right), part of a row of nine Greek revival houses built c.1846 which have curving front bays, a Manhattan rarity. Each house was individually designated a NYC landmark in 1990. (Photo by “Beyond My Ken”; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Beyond_My_Ken)|
“Sanger was horrified by the infant mortality rate she witnessed [as a nurse on the Lower East Side of Manhattan] and in 1912 abandoned her career to advocate for birth control. She wrote and published a series of articles on sexually-transmitted diseases and contraception. The articles were considered obscene by the United States Government and were, therefore, illegal to mail under the restraints of the Comstock Act. Margaret Sanger fled the country to avoid prosecution in 1914. The uproar from women’s groups made the Sanger case an embarrassment for the government. All charges were eventually dropped and in 1915 she returned to New York to continue her campaign. In 1923 she opened the first physician-staffed clinic in the country for ‘the medically supervised study of contraceptive techniques.’ Seven years later the clinic had outgrown its space and Margaret Sanger’s husband, oil industrialist J. Noah H. Slee, purchased the house at 17 West 16th Street for the clinic's use. The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau moved into the house in 1930, expanding its services.” (“The 1847 ‘Margaret Sanger Clinic’ House - 17 West 16th Street”, Daytonian in Manhattan; http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2010/09/1847-margaret-sanger-clinic-house-17.html) And now, ninety-two years later, political and religious ideologues are causing the closing of women's health clinics across the country. (One step forward, two steps back--an American phenomenon!)
The "Occupy" Movement and Liberty Park
Some photos from a ray of hope in a bleak economic and political landscape.
|The free library.|
|My winning amateur entry in an "Occupy" photo competition.|
Back to the USSR
There are many more labor and socialist-related buildings and iconography throughout New York City not mentioned here, such as Trotsky's home in the Bronx and the Statue of Liberty engraved with the socialist, Emma Lazarus', poem, The New Colossus (another "one step forward,…" phenomenon in the United States); the short-lived bust commemorating the incredible whistleblower, Edward Snowden, in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park and the newly rediscovered labor mural by Max Spivak at 111 West 40th Street, Manhattan, but I couldn't include everything.
However, I did want to end this survey on a whimsical note. There are many ex-Soviet immigrants in the Coney Island and Brighton Beach areas of Brooklyn, and there are many excellent restaurants serving traditional foods of the ex-Soviet republics. Below is one such restaurant facade which combines the Beatles with Soviet iconography.
I never had the chance to eat at this restaurant, though, as the windows were papered over. The restaurant was being "renovated" (read closed) when these photos were taken, and the signs disappeared shortly thereafter.
Update: Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex Demolished
As reported in the New York Times, another historic site, the Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex on 137th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. in Manhattan, was demolished in April by a development company. These were the only known buildings existing in this area decorated with rare Tunisian Tile Company tiles made by the Chemla family in Tunisia. The tiles were not saved, either.