Richard Peevers Lives Here

I tell stories

Archive for the ‘New York’ tag

The Great Pyramid… of Indiana!

This is the story of a pyramid in rural Indiana, an incredible boondoggle, acid rain and the Empire State Building. 

Gateway. Remains of the Great Pyramid Park, Bedford, Indiana

The graveyard ends in a cliff. A thin line of trees around the perimeter fools the eye. It’s only when I got up close that I could see the sheer, white-sided drop and the pool of jade water below. With graves stretching back to the nineteenth century, the Hopkins Cemetery in Needmore, Indiana is even older than the abandoned limestone quarry that now surrounds it.

This area of south-central Indiana has long been known as the “Limestone Capital of the World.” In 1896, T.C. Hopkins wrote,

The Bedford oölitic limestone is probably the best known building stone in the United States at the present time. It is probably shipped to more different points than any other stone. As shown in the report, it has been used in 23 States, one territory and one foreign country.

I’d heard that the limestone used to clad the Empire State Building in New York City had come from the quarry I was now looking down into. The color of the water was a rich and inviting jade-blue, apparently the result of calcite crystals from the limestone leaching into the water.

Great Pyramid of Bedford, abandoned quarry

Even though I later discovered the Empire Mill Quarry was a short drive up the road, the limestone here could have been used in any one of the hundreds of seminal buildings across this country. Off the top of my head the Pentagon, the Lincoln Memorial, the Flatiron Building, Grand Central Station and an insane number of State Capitols are made of Bedford limestone.

The boom years for Indiana limestone were 1904 through to the 1950s when annual production was up to 15 million cubic feet per year. Today it’s about a fifth of that high. Changes in style, cheaper building materials and increasing acid rain—which eats into limestone—were causes of the decline.

I walked five minutes down the road to see the remnants of one man’s attempt to save the local economy. In the 1970s, Merle Edington was president of the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce. What better way to bring money back to the community by celebrating Indiana’s limestone history with a theme park? Edington proposed making replicas of the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Wall of China. Construction began in 1979.

“No trespassing” is painted in yellow on the wall marking what was supposed to be the grand entrance to the park.

Entrance to the abandoned Great Pyramid Park, Bedford, Indiana

In 1982, as the project was finally grinding to a halt, Tom Tiede for the Daily News interviewed Edington, who still believed he could make it happen:

“Its going to be spectacular,” he says, betraying no modesty. “We’ll have a gift shop, an educational museum and helicopter rides over the whole thing. When you stand on top of the pyramid, you will be able to see all the way across Bedford and into the limestone country.”

So where is the Great Pyramid now? Despite getting $700,000 of federal funding, Edington barely finished the bottom level. If you look at the picture above, you’ll see a low, dark mass at the end of the road. That’s it. Here’s a close-up:

Close up of remnants of Great Pyramid of Indiana

Yes, trees have grown through and around it, but you can still see the couple of rows that were finished. For another perspective, here’s an aerial view from Google maps:

Aerial view of Great Pyramid of Indiana

The death-knell for the project was sounded in 1981 when Senator William Proxmire gave it one of his “Golden Fleece Awards”—awards he gave to examples of boondoggles and wasteful government spending.

Shortly after he was interviewed for the Daily News, the Bedford Chamber of Commerce told Edington they could no longer pay his salary. In 1983, the park was briefly opened with a temporary museum, but the town lost money. By 1985, it was $55,000 in debt and the park finally abandoned.

That the whole endeavor was doomed to failure was clear even in 1979 when, interviewed by the New Yorker, Edington revealed he had no actual plans for the construction of the pyramid, “We’re playing a lot of this by ear.” (New Yorker, 10/29/79, p. 139).  As the project finally collapsed, Edington retired to Indianapolis, where he turned to painting limestone quarries.

It’s hard to know what to think, standing in the middle of a monumental waste of time, land and money. I found myself gazing at the structure in front of me.

Abandoned sign from the Great Pyramid Park, Bedford, Indiana

What had it been? The base for a sign? A gigantic bench? While its purpose was unclear, nature was slowly reclaiming it as its own. I turned and walked back toward the graveyard.

Abandoned reconstruction of the Great Pyramid of Giza
Address: the crossroads of Old State Road 37 N and Kentucky Hollow Road
Visible: very little is visible from the road and no trespassing signs are clearly marked.
Note: just down the road from the awesome limestone statue of Joe Palooka.

The Cut (Or, The Smallest Plot of Private Land in New York City)

1 Comment

I emerged from Christopher Street Subway Station to go on a stroll through Greenwich Village. The best way to get to know any city is to walk its streets. Everywhere you’ll find little relics—or scars—from the past. Almost as soon as I left the station, I walked across this tiny triangle of land, probably three feet along each side:

The Hess Estate Triangle, Greenwich Village, NYC

Though the surface is broken and cracked, you can still read the words:

Property of the
Hess Estate
which has never
been dedicated
for public
purposes

It stands, indignant but without explanation, right in front of a cigar store.

The Hess Estate Triangle and Cigar Store, Greenwich Village, NYC

I remembered from a visit to TriBeCa in 2013 that I’d discovered the reason the Ghostbusters Building was such a funny shape and it suddenly clicked. I’d figured out when this tile plot of land had come from, but not the story of whoever had put it there.

Let’s rewind to 1900 for a moment. Here’s a map of Greenwich Village (from Gerald McFarland’s excellent Inside Greenwich Village):

Greenwich Village c 1900

If you look in the top left, you’ll see that Seventh Avenue stops at West 11th Street. Back when the streets of New York were laid out, this was perfectly fine. By the turn of the twentieth century, this was becoming a problem. People were moving to urban areas at an incredible rate. In 1900, the combined population of the USA’s three biggest cities (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia) was 6,500,000 million. By 1910, it had increased to 8,500,000.

Additional infrastructure was needed. In 1910, Penn Station opened about 20 blocks north of here on Seventh. At the same time, plans were underway for what would become the Holland Tunnel (1920-1927). Connecting New Jersey to New York, the tunnel would come out about a mile south on Varick Street.

But if you look at the map, you’ll see there was no direct route through Greenwich Village from Varick to Seventh. City planners made two proposals. Firstly that Varick should be widened so it could cope with the extended traffic (and this is how the Ghostbusters Building gained its odd shape). Secondly, it was proposed to extend Seventh down to join up with Varick. If you look at a map, you’ll see that this proposal would slice through many historic city blocks:

Greenwich Village Map showing proposed extension of Seventh Avenue

Residents of Greenwich Village called it “The Cut” as it created a gigantic trench cleaving the village in two for a number of years. The New York Times reported in 1911 that $3,000,000 had been appropriated for the project. Much of that money was probably for “eminent domain,” where the city compulsorily purchased the land to be razed. Work was well under way in 1914, as the Times reported with the headline “Wreckers Busy in Old Greenwich:”

The pathway of the Seventh Avenue extension … may be clearly discerned by the evidences of destruction in several of the blocks now being cut through to connect the avenue with the end of Varick Street … About a dozen blocks are to be cut through for a width of 100 feet and below Christopher Street work has progressed rapidly.

They used the “cut and cover” method by which they dug a very deep trench so they could build a tunnel to extend the subway down from Penn Station, then they covered it and paved it for the street. Work finished in 1917.

The Hess Estate Triangle, Greenwich Village, NYC

So how does this tiny triangle of land fit into the story? One of the buildings slated for demolition was the Voorhis Apartments which had been owned by David Hess until his death in 1907. This was probably one of many tenement blocks in the area and would have been a nice little earner for Hess and I imagine the Hess family were none too pleased when the city used eminent domain to take their land from them.

That might have been the end of the story, but some time after the Seventh Avenue extension had been completed, the Hess family discovered that one small plot of land had been overlooked in the city survey. A three foot triangle of land. The Hess estate refused to hand over the land to the city and in 1922 added the sign you can still read today. For several years it was the smallest plot of privately-owned land in the city, until it was sold to the adjacent cigar store in the late 1930s.

One hundred years later, The Cut is long forgotten. But the scars it left behind—the traces of the a lost Greenwich Village—those are still there. They hide in plain sight, waiting to be found.

The Hess Triangle
Address:
 Village Cigars, 110 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014
Visible: 24/7

Notes:
Where possible I’ve linked to sources. One invaluable article that isn’t online is Ross Duff Whytock’s “Gotham Every Day” from the June 2, 1928 edition of The Hartford Courant which gives the story of Hess’ triangle.
I took the first two images, thanks to MBJ for the third.

Written by Richard

May 23rd, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Saving a Failed Mint: The Life Savers Building, Port Chester NY

Life Savers were an almost instant failure. Clarence Crane had developed them as a candy mint to withstand the summer heat. They bombed. Very quickly wholesalers refused to carry them. As soon as he could, Crane got out of the business, selling the brand to two ad men. Earning $2,900 for the sale, he must have thought he’d made out like a bandit.

Life Savers' Building (1920) in Port Chester, New York

Life Savers’ Building (1920) in Port Chester, New York

That all happened in Cleveland, Ohio in 1912. Then a few weeks back, I was wandering through Port Chester in New York State. I popped into one of my favorite beer stores and when I left I realised I’d never before noticed that odd cream-and-green building across the road. I made for a closer inspection: above the door it said “Life Savers,” and the architectural details were all based around the distinctive Life Saver mint design.

A quick search on my phone told me that this was built in 1920 as the Life Saver headquarters and factory. How did Life Savers go from failure in 1912 Ohio to success eight years laters and 500 miles away?

Detail of Life Savers' Factory, Peevers, Port Chester NY

The two ad men, Edward Noble and J. Roy Allen, who bought the brand analyzed what had gone wrong with Crane’s product. The recipe was rock solid and the design—a donut-shaped ring looking like a life preserver—was distinctive.

The problem was in the packaging. Crane had wrapped the mints in cardboard tubes which, it turned out, sapped all flavor in a couple of weeks. Not only that but the glue used in the packaging had a particularly unpleasant taste, one which it gave to the now flavorless mints. While someone might buy the candy once, that same someone would never buy Life Savers again.

Packaging was the easy fix: they wrapped Life Savers in a roll of tin foil, preserving flavors and reducing package size. The problem was no wholesaler would buy them and no candy store would sell them. Noble and Allen moved the whole outfit to New York City where they could act as their own wholesalers. Once there, they reached out not to traditional candy stores but to cigar stands, shoe shiners, restaurants, dance halls, bowling alleys: anywhere willing to take a chance on a low-cost, low-risk item.

Life Savers Advertisement from 1919

Life Savers Advertisement from 1919

Once Noble and Allen could afford advertising (they’d started out with $900 and barely made ends meet for the first three years of ownership), the brand’s rehabilitation was complete. In 1920, Noble and Allen moved production to just north of New York City in Port Chester, conveniently next to the railroad.

Production here ended in 1984, the building converted into an apartment complex. If you look at archival photos, you’ll see there used to be five gigantic tubes of Life Savers around the front of the building:

Life Savers Building in 1950, showing the gigantic tubes of Life Savers.

Life Savers Building in 1950, showing the gigantic tubes of Life Savers.

Four of these have long since disappeared but the fifth—a tube of Pep-O-Mints—has found its way up to Gouverneur, NY, Allen’s hometown, by the Canadian border. If only I’d known about this last summer! I drove right by Gouverneur, it would have been so easy to stop there!

If you’re interested in the history of Life Savers, there’s plenty more to read out there. But be warned: most of the stuff online is cursory and incorrect. Here are a couple of in-depth articles worth starting with:
Tandy, Edward, “They had to create 17 new markets for their product,” in Printers’ Ink Monthly 2.1 (New York, 1920)
M.B.B., “Putting it over with stunt copy,” in Advertising and Selling, Issue 29.42 (New York, 1919)

Written by Richard

May 19th, 2014 at 4:16 pm

A Hike through Saxon Woods Park, NY

Sofa in the Park

As I hiked through Saxon Woods Park, I found a small, abandoned building to the side of the trail. It consisted of three small rooms. All were empty, except for one, which had a sofa at one end. I did not sit on it.

Written by Richard

April 18th, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Visiting Storm King

 

I love to visit the Storm King Art Center. I have visited it throughout the seasons, I have visited it alone and with friends, I have visited it when I have been happy and at times of stress. After every visit I am re-centered and filled with joy..

Here are some images I took during visits to Storm King in 2012-13:

2012-03-10_1331408877

Menashe Kadishman, Suspended (1977)

2012-03-10_1331409210

Alice Aycock, Threefold Manifestation II (1987, refabricated 2006)

2012-08-11_1344710054

Anish Kapoor, Untitled (1997)

2012-08-11_1344712977

Richard Serra, Schunnemunk Fork (1990-91)

2012-03-10_1331407953

Alyson ShotzMirror Fence (2003)

2012-08-11_1344711779

Mark di Suvero, Pyramidian (1987/1998)

Written by Richard

March 18th, 2014 at 8:51 pm

A Walking History of Port Chester, New York

Meat, Port Chester

Port Chester is a small coastal town(1) just on the New York side of the NY-CT border. It was founded by settlers from nearby Greenwich, Connecticut in 1660.

As we walk through the town and discover its history together, I’d like to share with you some photographs I took. At the top of this post, that’s a sign advertising Fresh Meat from a grocery store on Main Street. Mmm, delicious! Here’s “Enchanted Home” (side view), on Highland Street, the car is registered in Florida:

Enchanted Home, Port Chester

The original settlers bought the land from the Mohegan Indians. A short while later, the Mohegans found themselves landless and eventually lost their tribal status.(2) In 1994, after decades of petitioning, the Mohegans gained federal recognition and now have a reservation in east-central Connecticut. In 2003, the Mohegans became the first Native American tribe to purchase a professional sports team, the WNBA team Connecticut Sun.(3)

Here’s the view through a window of a hardware store on North Main Street:

Hardware store on Main, Port Chester

In 1683, the town of Sawpit (as Port Chester was originally known) was given to the New York Colony. Connecticut was not pleased and they contested this for over a hundred years.

On June 30th, 1974, Peter J. Leonard broke into a bowling alley where he probably burglarized(4) some cigarette machines. Before he left, he set fire to the place in order to cover up his tracks. The fire spread to Gulliver’s, the nightclub next door. Twenty-four people died. One of the survivors was Eric Carr(5) who later went on to join KISS as drummer. Carr died on the same day as Freddie Mercury, November 24th, 1991.

This is Los Chuzos de Juancho, a Columbian Restaurant on South Main. The store on the second floor offers “Facial Waxing”:

Los Chuzos, Port Chester

Today, Port Chester is famous for its restaurants.

Tienda el Tresoro, Port Chester

 

Footnotes
1) Legally speaking it’s a village within the Town of Rye. The Town of Rye consists of the Villages of Rye Brook and Port Chester as well as a chunk of Mamaroneck. Rye itself is not part of the Town of Rye, instead it is an independent City. Although only a part of the Town of Rye, Port Chester has a population of 29,000 which is almost double the City of Rye’s 16,000. I’m not going to pretend to understand why this is so.
2) I’m not sure how this works exactly. Mental note to dig deeper into this.
3) Previously known as Orlando Miracle they were based down in Florida. A big change in climate, then.
4) Or burgled, if you’re from the UK. I’ll never get used to the verb “burglarize.” It has one too many vowels for a word so urgent.
5) Real name: Paul Caravello.

Written by Richard

February 9th, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Mail Pouch Tobacco, Ghost Sign

1 Comment

Mail Pouch Tobacco Beacon NY Peevers

CHEW

MAIL POUCH

    TOBACCO

I’m guessing—and this is only a guess—that this is one of the earlier Mail Pouch Tobacco signs. When the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company started making chewing tobacco in the late nineteenth century, they advertised primarily on the sides of buildings. It was only later they became famous for their advertisements on the sides of barns.

This one, on the corner of Leonard and E Main in Beacon, NY, is also distinctive because it doesn’t contain the standard Mail Pouch slogan: “Treat Yourself to the Best”. Instead, in the lower left it says

COOL SWEET

SMOKE

This is the first time I’ve seen smoking tobacco advertised on the same sign as Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco. There’s a first time for everything.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Written by Richard

November 12th, 2013 at 7:02 pm