Yorkville

Copyright Leifern

Yorkville is a neighborhood within Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Its boundaries are E. 96th St. (north), E. 79th St. (south), Third Ave. (west), and the East River (east). Part of Carnegie Hill used to be within Yorkville.

In August 1776, about half of Gen. Washington’s troops were stationed in Manhattan, many of them in Yorkville. They were strategically positioned along the East River to protect the other half of their brothers-in-arms if they retreated from Brooklyn, and to counter any attacks from either land or sea.

Gracie Mansion

Copyright Limulus

After a terrible defeat by the Battle of Long Island on 27 August, Gen. Washington’s Continental Army retreated from Yorkville. During the retreat, the British piped the song “Fly Away,” about a fox fleeing from hounds.

Instead of giving in to this musical taunt to fight, the Continental troops retreated in a very orderly fashion. This prepared them for their success next month in the Battle of Harlem Heights.

St. Monica Catholic Church, Copyright Limulus

Carl Schurz Park

Slowly but steadily, Yorkville evolved from farmland and gardens to a modern, industrialized, commercial area. One of America’s first railroads, the New York and Harlem Railroad, went through the neighborhood. The Boston Post Road, a mail delivery route, also went through Yorkville.

The current street grid was lay out from 1839–44. By 1850, a large portion of the population were German and Irish.

After the Civil War, slums were replaced by mansions.

The Marx Brothers’ old tenement, 179 E. 93rd St. (now in Carnegie Hill), Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Yorkville was a working-class and bourgeois neighborhood for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to the big German and Irish sections, there were also many Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Lebanese.

Yorkville was one of the most common destinations for German immigrants by 1880. After the General Slocum ship caught fire in the East River, off Yorkville’s shores, on 15 June 1904, many Germans moved to Yorkville from the Lower East Side’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany). Most of the passengers had been German, and people already in New York wanted to be closer to their affected relatives.

There were many ethnic bakeries, shops, groceries, churches, cultural associations, bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and imported gift shops.

Sidewalk clock, 1501 3rd Ave. between E. 84th and 85th Sts., Copyright Beyond My Ken

Disgracefully, Yorkville was home to the openly pro-Nazi German American Bund. There were frequent protests and demonstrations against the Bund, including street fights.

Thankfully, its founder, Fritz Julius Kuhn, got busted for tax evasion and embezzling $14,000 from the Bund, and spent 43 months behind bars.

While he was in jail, his U.S. citizenship was cancelled. After his release, he was re-arrested as an enemy alien, and sent to an interment camp in Texas. Kuhn was interred on Ellis Island after the war, and deported to Germany on 15 September 1945. He died in 1951 in München.

146–156 E. 89th St. between Lexington and Third Aves., Copyright Beyond My Ken

On a happier note, Yorkville was a haven for people fleeing from Nazi Germany and occupied Europe, and from behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, Yorkville is one of Manhattan’s richest neighborhoods.

Landmarks include Lycée Français de New York, Carl Schurz Park, Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s official home), the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal Asphalt Plant, the Rhinelander Children’s Center, Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Monica Church, Holy Trinity Church, St. Joseph’s Church, and Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Besides the Marx Brothers, other famous residents of Yorkville include Lou Gehrig (born in the neighborhood) and James Cagney (grew up on E. 96th St.).

My characters Vera and Natalya Lebedeva move to a cellar apartment in Yorkville in spring 1929, after their father finally lets them live on their own. After Natalya’s marriage to Rostislav Smirnov, she stays in the neighborhood.

Vera finds a job teaching second grade in Yorkville after she graduates Hunter, and moves back to the Lower East Side after marrying Rostislav’s brother Vsevolod. She and Vsevolod later return to Yorkville and move into a brownstone a short distance from Natalya and Rostislav.

Novomira Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, the daughter of old family friends, lives with Vera and Vsevolod while she attends Barnard.

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Washington Square Park

Copyright Jean-Christophe BENOIST

Washington Square Park, a 9.75-acre (39,500 m2) landmark of Greenwich Village, is one of New York City’s best-known parks. Its landscape is dominated by Washington Square Arch, from which it takes its name, at the northern gateway. Another prominent feature is the fountain.

Most of the surrounding buildings are now NYU property, but were formerly artists’ studios and homes.

The park is at the foot of Fifth Ave., and bordered on all sides by Washington Square. In addition to the massive arch and large central fountain, other features include walking paths, picnic tables, two dog runs, gardens and trees, benches, play areas for kids, memorial statues, and chess and Scrabble tables.

Copyright Elisa.rolle

Copyright Ludovic Bertron; Source

The park was originally divided by a narrow, marshy valley containing Minetta Creek (which is now covered). Sapokanican (Tobacco Field), a Native American village, was nearby in the early 17th century.

Dutch settlers were using the land on both sides for farming by the mid-17th century. They gave this land to their slaves, an act which freed them. However, this wasn’t an altruistic action, as they intended these freed slaves as a buffer against potentially unfriendly Native Americans.

The freed slaves also had to give part of their profits from the land to the Dutch East India Company, and their kids would be born slaves instead of free. This arrangement lasted from 1643–64.

Seventh Regiment on Review, Washington Square, New York, Otto Boetticher, 1851

The area ceased being farmland in April 1797, when it became a potter’s field (i.e., public burial ground) for the poor and unknown. In the early 19th century, this burial ground was also used for yellow fever victims.

At the time, this land wasn’t part of Manhattan, and was thus safely away from the source of contamination.

The cemetery closed in 1825, but the remains were never reinterred elsewhere. Over 20,000 graves are still beneath the park’s grounds. Excavations have found graves dating as far back as 1799.

In spite of an oft-repeated urban legend in many guidebooks, there was only one known public hanging in the burial ground, and the tree was not Hangman’s Elm in the northwest corner. Rose Butler was hanged in 1820 on the eastern side of Minetta Creek.

Hangman’s Elm does have its own storied history, though. At a verified 339 years old, it’s Manhattan’s oldest known tree. It was part of a private farm till the city bought the land and added it to Washington Square in 1827.

Hangman’s Elm, Copyright Srosenstock

After the city bought the land in 1826–27, the square was levelled and laid-out. It initially was the Washington Military Parade Ground, a training-ground for volunteer militia.

The streets around the square were one of Manhattan’s most desirable neighborhoods in the 1830s. This era is attested to in a protected row of Greek Revival houses on the north side.

In 1849–50, the land began taking on its modern park shape. In 1871, under the newly-created NYC Dept. of Parks, it underwent more redesigning.

1892

In 1889, in celebration of George Washington’s inauguration centennial, a large wooden and plaster memorial arch was erected at Fifth Ave., just north of the park. It was so popular, it was replaced by a permanent marble arch in 1892, modelled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

During the excavations in preparation for the eastern leg, a gravestone, coffin, and human remains dated to 1803 were discovered 10 feet underground.

This arch was designed by infamous architect Stanford White, whose sexual misdeeds with Evelyn Nesbit led to his murder by Evelyn’s husband Harry Thaw in 1906.

Copyright Jess Hawsor

The original fountain was finished in 1852, but replaced in 1872. In 1888, a statue of military hero Giuseppe Garibaldi was unveiled, and a statue of Alexander Lyman Holley followed in 1889. Two statues of Pres. Washington were added in 1918.

The park underwent a number of renovations after Robert Moses became parks commissioner in 1934, but his plan to extend Fifth Ave. through the park and into Soho was thwarted by local activists, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alexander Lyman Holley, renowned mechanical engineer and inventor

My Russian characters who settle in Greenwich Village after immigration, and later their kids and grandkids, frequently go to this park. My characters who live in other neighborhoods also sometimes come here.

St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.

The Umileniye ikon

The Umileniye (Tenderness) ikon is extremely unusual in Eastern Orthodoxy, in that it shows Mary alone. Almost all Orthodox Marian ikons depict Mary with Baby Jesus, in contrast to most Catholic images of Mary.

This ikon was very precious to St. Serafim of Sarov, one of the most beloved of all Russian saints. He was very fond of praying before this ikon. The oil from the lamp he kept burning in front of it was used to anoint the sick and bless visitors who came to make confession.

It was the last thing he saw in that lifetime, as he died while in prayer by it. He called this ikon “Joy of All Joys.”

In 1903, the year Serafim was canonized, Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Aleksandra went to the Sarov monastery to desperately pray for a son. Since so many miracles had been attributed to him, they felt he surely would answer their prayers.

They finally got their boy, but not in the way they’d expected. Their prayers were answered differently, more challengingly.

The Umileniye is believed to show Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, when she was told she’d have a child and humbly accepted this mission, with the reply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

The Slavonic words around her halo say, “Rejoice, O Virgin Bride,” which is the refrain of the much-beloved Akathist Hymn.

Though some people think the ikon may have been inspired by Catholic art, it’s very common for the holy doors of an ikonostasis to depict Mary at the moment of Annunciation.

Today, the ikon is housed in the home of Patriarch Kirill of Moskva. A copy was left with the Trinity Cathedral of the Serafim-Diveyevskiy Monastery, a nunnery in the Nizhniy Novgorod district of Diveyevo.

On feast days, the original ikon is often brought out for public veneration.

Near the end of his life, St. Serafim gave the nuns of Diveyo 1,000 rubles to create an appropriate place for this precious ikon. After his death, the abbot of Sarov gave the ikon over to them. Presently, the sisters honored it with a silver riza.

A riza, which means “robe” in Russian, is a covering which protects ikons from damage by candle wax, incense smoke, and oil.

In 1903, after Serafim’s canonization, Tsar Nicholas II donated precious stones to make the ikon even more beautiful.

The Diveyevskiy Monastery has written this prayer to offer before the Umileniye:

My character Inga Savvina is very drawn to the Umileniye (and Theotokos [Mary] of Tolga) when she stays by her best friend and penpal Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov’s family’s summer home on Vancouver Island in the summer of 1947. She’s seen many ikons in her paternal relatives’ homes, but this is new to her.

Klarisa, the older of Yuriy’s two little sisters, tells Inga Mary is everyone’s mother, and that she’s very special to people without mothers. She suggests when Inga misses her real mother (who’s serving twenty years in Siberia), she can talk to Mary.

Though Inga has been raised an atheist, and resisted all religion during her five years in America, her unexplainable pull towards these ikons continues. She sees Mary as a loving, universal mother figure who’ll always support and listen to her, and eventually begins praying to her.

Yuriy performs an emergency baptism of Inga just before she falls unconscious from polio in August, and after she recovers enough to leave the hospital and marry Yuriy, she agrees to be chrismated by a priest.

Inga’s Orthodox conversion isn’t motivated by genuine spiritual awakening or religious belief, but she makes a genuine effort to grow into real belief. Along with her baptismal cross, she always wears a necklace with a miniature of the Umileniye, and continues building her relationship with Mary.

Riverdale, Toronto

Aerial shot of Riverdale, 31 December 1941

Riverdale is a large neighbourhood of Toronto. Its boundaries are Lake Shore Blvd. (south), the Don River Valley (west), Greektown and Danforth Ave. (north), and the Jones Ave. section of the Canadian National Railway and GO Transit tracks in Leslieville (east).

It was annexed to Toronto in 1884, and has long been known as very multicultural. This was a neighbourhood many immigrants came to—Irish, Greek, Russian, Italian, German, Polish, Finnish, Ukrainian, British, Chinese.

Many Riverdale houses are Victorian and Edwardian, having started life as boarding houses for the proletariat in the 19th century. Sadly, since gentrification has struck, many long-time residents have been priced out and replaced by hipsters and the bourgeoisie.

Lower Riverdale contains the neighbourhood’s six original houses on the west end of Simpson Ave. They’re known as The Six Sisters.

29 July 1931, looking north on Carlaw Ave. at Gerrard St.

18 October 1912, Danforth Ave. at Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.), looking west

7 July 1913, northwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.)

Riverdale contains many sub-neighbourhoods:

Lower Riverdale (the oldest section, with many original houses)
Upper Riverdale (most likely to have modern, renovated houses)
East Chinatown (Toronto’s next-largest Chinatown)
Badgerow (contains a Sikh temple, the legendary Maple Leaf tavern, a Jewish cemetery, Gerrard Square’s shopping mall, and a Turkish cultural centre)
Studio District (southern area of South Riverdale, with many vintage Victorian houses; a major film, TV, and arts district)
Riverside (a.k.a. Queen Broadview Village) (in South Riverdale, with many historic buildings and cultural landmarks; now undergoing gentrification and becoming known as a district of restaurants, food and furniture retailers, and independent designers)
Blake-Jones (houses built from the 1870s–1930s, rather affordable but seeing an uptick in crime and unemployment)
The Pocket (located within Blake-Jones; said to feel like a village, and undergoing more gentrification)

29 February 1932, Danforth Ave. at Logan Ave., looking east

1 January 1930, southwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Logan Ave., Tony Greco and mother’s fruit stand

Riverdale contains many schools, including Riverdale Collegiate Institute, a high school founded in 1907 as Riverdale Technical School. Another historic school is Holy Name Catholic School, founded in 1913 by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Parks include Withrow Park (with an ice rink, soccer field, and two baseball diamonds); Riverdale Park (with a running track, ice rink, swimming pool, three baseball diamonds, and tennis courts); Jimmy Simpson Park (with a community centre and tennis courts); the Royal Canadian Curling Club; Hubbard Park; and Kempton Howard Park (formerly East View Park).

Riverdale Park, looking south, Copyright Inkey

Detail of reconstructed Broadview Hotel, Copyright JasonParis; Source

Broadview Hotel in 1945

Other landmarks include The Opera House (opened 1909); Bridgepoint Health (founded 1875 and  going through many names); the Ralph Thornton Community Centre (opened 1913); Don Jail (opened 1864); the Cranfield House (built 1902); and St. John’s Presbyterian Church.

Don Jail, Copyright Nadiatalent

My characters Lena Yeltsina and Antonina Petrova settle in Riverdale with their newfound surrogate mother Sonya Gorbachëva when they escape Russia in 1920. Lena is soon reunited with her young son Yuriy, who’s been languishing in a Manhattan orphanage, and takes him back to Toronto under the ruse of Sonya being the mother.

In 1921, Lena’s little sister Natalya comes to America, and joins her in Canada as soon as possible. When their mother and two much-older sisters arrive in New York in January 1924, Lena explains their life is in Canada now, and that after so many years of separation, Natalya doesn’t know them.

Lena and Natalya stay in close touch with their mother and older sisters, and create a very happy life in Toronto. In 1927, they’re joined by Sonya’s niece, Naina Yezhova, and her best friend Katya Chernomyrdina, the daughter of Sonya’s own best friend.