Parsons School of Design

Copyright Beyond My Ken

Parsons School of Design was founded as The Chase School by Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase in 1896. He was part of a group of artists from the Art Students League of New York who longed for a more individual and dramatic form of art, something different from the traditional, formal art in vogue.

Two years later, their new institution changed its name to The New York School of Art.

William Merritt Chase, 1849–1916

Prof. Frank Alvah Parsons came on board in 1904 and concurrently studied with artist Arthur Wesley Dow at Columbia. In 1905, he received an art degree from Columbia Teachers College. Within a few years, he became president of the New York School of Art.

Under his tenure, the curriculum took on an innovative direction. Though art schools were nothing new, none had departments for interior, graphic, or fashion design (then called costume design), or advertising. To reflect this new mission, the school was renamed The New York School of Fine and Applied Art in 1909.

Mr. Parsons became sole director in 1911, and continued going from strength to strength. In 1921, he and William Odom established a Parisian branch of the school (pictured above), making Parsons the very first U.S. art and design school with a foreign campus. Outposts in Italy and England were also established.

In 1927, France awarded him the Légion d’Honneur, their highest merit, for his work in advancing Franco–American relations. Expectedly, the Paris Atelier at 9 Place de Vosges was forced to close due to WWII and didn’t reopen till 1948. Only summer courses were offered for many years, but Parsons Paris finally came back into full-time business in 1980.

The school was renamed again in 1936, in honor of Mr. Parsons. However, this name change wasn’t official till 1942.

Frank Alvah Parsons, 1866–1930

The curriculum took on a new direction in response to the upheavals of the 1960s; e.g., the interior design program’s focus went from bourgeois and wealthy homes to prisons, housing projects, and hospitals.

In 1970, Parsons merged with The New School for Social Research, now simply known as The New School. Founded in 1919, that school served as a haven to many refugees from Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and other totalitarian countries. It also took in professors fired by Columbia for refusing to swear a jingoistic loyalty oath.

The University Center for The New School, Copyright Ajay Suresh

Parsons has had many locations over the years, starting at 57 West 57th St. from 1896–1904. In 1905, they opened studios at 76 West 55th St. and 49 Court St. in Brooklyn. In 1906, they opened another campus on 2237-2239 Broadway at the corner of 80th St., which eventually became their main address.

During these early years, Parsons offered summer classes in Chester, Massachusetts; Long Island’s Belle Terre and Bayport; Booth Bay, Maine; and several other locales.

From 1939–54, they moved to 136 East 57th St., and then relocated to 136 East 54th St. from 1954–72. During the latter era, they had studios at other Midtown locations and in Queens.

In 1972, the school moved downtown to 2 West 13th St. and 66 Fifth Avenue. Through the 1990s, Parsons expanded to other downtown addresses, including 25 East 13th St. A Midtown Fashion Center was also opened in 1977 at 560 Seventh Avenue at 40th St.

Since 2014, the University Center is at 63 Fifth Avenue, and the Midtown Fashion Center is downtown.

Today, Parsons offers degrees in fields including architecture, urban design, photography, communication design, fashion design, fine arts, interior design, textiles, lighting design, illustration, design history and practice, data visualization, art media and technology, and industrial design.

My characters Irina Koneva (later Tsvetkova), Panya Ugolnikov, Klarisa Tsvetkova, and Nova Yezhova-Blinova study fashion at Parsons during the 1950s and go into business together.

Irina designs quirky women’s clothes, Panya does unique menswear, Klarisa does accessories, and Nova does shoes. They’re joined by Kristina Chernomyrdina-Yurkova (later Tsvetkova), a jewelry designer.

More information:

Orchard Street

Orchard St. runs for eight blocks on the Lower East Side, from Chinatown’s Division St. to East Houston St. (It’s pronounced HOUSE-ton, not like the city in Texas, and part of Chinatown is inside the LES.) It’s a one-way street going from south to north, and often considered the heart of the LES.

Orchard St. takes its name from an orchard on James De Lancey, Jr.’s farm, back in the days when Manhattan was rural farmland with low population density. Though he fled to England in 1775, due to his unpopular political views, he continued making money from tenants renting his property.

In 1780, his brother and lawyers sold his New York properties. His farm was declared forfeit when the British evacuated the city in 1783. Later, he was paid £29,842 in compensation for losing his property, the next-highest such award paid to a New Yorker but less than half of what he’d sued for.

By the mid-19th century, the LES was an immigrant enclave full of low-rise, stuffed tenements. At first it was called Kleindeutschland, Little Germany. Before long, though, it was a much more heavily Jewish neighborhood.

Because of its well-known history, many people, myself included once upon a time, believe that was the ONLY place immigrants lived. Despite the well-documented existence of many other immigrant enclaves in NYC, and in countless cities in other states, the LES remains a de facto setting in a lot of historical fiction about immigrants.

Copyright Crazyrachie

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Orchard St. was the main shopping thoroughfare. Peddlers of all types lined the streets with their pushcarts and kiosks, and many small business owners had stores. It was the proletarian version of Fifth Avenue, Unter den Linden, Champs-Élysées, and Nevskiy Prospekt.

Orchard St. was also known for its crowded tenements, many of which contained businesses on the lower levels. Upstairs, scores of people were packed onto each floor, and many families lived in single rooms. This was no genteel poverty, but true, abject poverty.

Two of these buildings are now the Tenement Museum, abandoned by the landlord in 1935 and unchanged till 1988. The one at 97 Orchard showcases the lives of its residents from 1869–1935, and the tenement at 103 Orchard tells the story of tenants from the 1950s to the 1980s. They also have many historical archives and educational programs.

Despite restorations, parts of the upper floors are unstable and closed to the public.

Copyright Jay Manday

Of course, thanks to gentrifying hipsters pricing longtime residents out of their neighborhood, the old stores and kiosks have been replaced by upscale boutiques, fancy restaurants, and brand-name shops, and real estate prices are through the roof. Even the discount stores aren’t the kinds of stores that existed decades ago.

While in no way do I believe it’s great to be poor and live in a squalid tenement, there needs to be a happy medium. Cities need people of all classes to be a richly diverse ballet of life, as the great urbanist Jane Jacobs famously said.

These hipsters were also sitting pretty in their cushy bourgeois suburbs while poor and proletarian residents held down the fort in so many cities for several decades, when most people didn’t dare to go anywhere near there. Now that the crime rates are way down and it’s cool to live there again, hipsters and millionaires have taken over.

How about making the cost of living better for lower-income people, raising their wages, and renovating existing housing instead of pricing them out of their own neighborhood, knocking down historic housing to build ugly high-rise luxury condos and upscale stores, and turning multi-family rowhouses and townhouses into single-family homes?

If you’re going to move to a new city, you need to show respect for longtime residents instead of remaking their home according to your standards!

Copyright Jazz Guy

Copyright Jim.henderson

Copyright Sheynhertz-Unbayg

Though none of my characters live on Orchard St., they sometimes mention it as a street full of run-down old tenements they’re glad they don’t live on. It’s also referenced in Little Ragdoll as the location of a florist’s where Adicia and Justine get a 75% off get-well bouquet for their sister-in-law Lenore.

Perhaps it’s the same florist’s referenced as Mrs. Troy’s latest job du jour in Green Sunrise, the long-hiatused sequel. Predictably, she’s fired when she’s caught putting bruised flowers in a full-price bouquet, and gets into a fight with the boss in front of customers, rips apart bouquets, and throws them into everyone’s faces.

Marble Hill

Copyright Ajay Suresh

Marble Hill is the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan, and the only one on the North American mainland. Because it’s not on that densely-packed island, it has ample land for detached houses with large yards. Best of all, Marble Hill is still very affordable for normal people.

The area was occupied by Dutch colonizers in 1646, and a ferry was permitted in 1667. Many settlers, however, weren’t happy about the ferry toll, and so waded or swam Spuyten Duyvil Creek to enter what is now Kingsbridge, the Bronx (then part of Yonkers).

In 1693, the King’s Bridge was erected to connect Marble Hill with the mainland. The Dyckman Free Bridge opened 1 January 1759 and took a lot of traffic, and money, away from the other bridge.

Copyright kajikawa

The Continental Army had a fort in Marble Hill during the American Revolution, which was taken over by Hessians in November 1776 and renamed Fort Prince Charles after King George III’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Brunswick. The two bridges served as escape routes for retreating Continental soldiers after their brutal defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington on 16 November 1776.

The Dyckman Free Bridge was later destroyed during the Revolution.

Copyright Oneam

In January 1777, the Continental Army attacked the occupying Hessians and drove them from Hyatt’s Tavern back into the fort to return fire, but General William Heath badly botched the attack, and his troops were routed. General Washington censured him, and he never again had command of any troops.

Marble Hill remained a sleepy, rural area with but a few businesses well into the 19th century. After Hyatt’s Tavern was razed, it was replaced by the Kingsbridge Hotel on the east side of Broadway at 226th St. Many of its patrons were fishers and sportsmen who came through the area to engage their hobbies.

Business declined when Broadway was widened, and the hotel fell into a state of disrepair. It was razed in 1917.

In 1891, Darius C. Crosby coined the name Marble Hill from deposits of dolomite underlying the area. This fairly soft rock, Inwood marble, crops out in the two northernmost neighborhoods of Manhattan. In the 1780s, it was quarried for federal buildings downtown, when NYC was the U.S. capital.

One of the oldest surviving buildings is St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, built in 1897. Though the congregation was founded in 1826, the current church is their third. Prior, they met on Mosholu Parkway and in Riverdale.

From 1946–77, their pastor was Rev. William Tieck, who also served as official historian of the Bronx from 1989–96.

Copyright Beyond My Ken

Since the 1810s, demand for a wide canal between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers had been high, but nothing came to fruition till January 1888. The process took many years, and the canal’s first section wasn’t finished till 1895. It opened for business on 17 June of that year, with great fanfare including parades and speeches.

As badly needed as this canal was, it rendered Marble Hill an island separated from the rest of Manhattan. It was designated part of the borough in 1897’s Greater New York Charter, but its geographic and political identity became more contentious in 1914.

When the original creekbed of Spuyten Duyvil Creek was filled with rocks from the excavation of Grand Central Station’s foundation during its construction, Marble Hill became physically joined to the newly-created borough of the Bronx and thus the North American mainland.

To this day, people on both sides try to claim it as part of their borough, though it’s always been part of New York County, not Bronx County.

Uncharacteristically for modern Manhattan, Marble Hill has many large, freestanding houses with verandas, front yards, and spacious proportions. While many townhouses and rowhouses in the rest of the borough have backyards, even the largest aren’t anywhere near the size of suburban lawns. Likewise, Marble Hill verandas are normal-sized instead of barely qualifying as verandas.

The houses and prewar apartments represent a range of architectural styles—Victorian, Art Deco, Tudor, Queen Anne, Shingle, Colonial, Beaux Arts. Many streets are named for Colonial Dutch settlers.

Some of my characters move to Marble Hill in the late 1940s and early 1950s for the best of both worlds, remaining in the city and living in real houses. Not everyone seeking home ownership in the postwar era hightailed it to suburbia.

Copyright Dwayne Bent

Luna Park

Luna Park was the second of Coney Island’s three amusement parks. Built in 1903, it was partly on what used to be Sea Lion Park (1895–1903). Luna Park joined Steeplechase (built 1897), and the triumvirate of fun was completed by Dreamland (1904–11).

Luna Park was created by Frederic Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy, who designed the popular A Trip to the Moon dark ride at the 1901 Pan–American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. Tickets were fifty cents ($15 today), twice the price of other rides, but over 400,000 people eagerly ponied up.

After the expo closed, they moved their ride to Steeplechase Park. When the 1902 season ended, they rejected owner George Tilyou’s contract renewal offer, which cut their profits by 20%. Instead, they signed a long-term lease for Paul Boynton’s Sea Lion Park.

Mr. Boynton left the amusement park business due to a bad summer season and too much competition from Steeplechase. This provided the perfect opportunity for Messrs. Thompson and Dundy to create their own park on the 22 acres, which included abandoned adjacent land where once the Elephantine Colossus Hotel had stood.

They spent $700,000 (publicly claimed as a million dollars) rebuilding the park from the ground up and adding more rides. Luna Park had an Oriental style, with over 1,000 painted spires, domes, and minarets. By night, they were lit up with over 250,000 electric lights, as seen in many photographs.

At the centre of the park was a 200-foot (61-meter) tall Electric Tower boasting 20,000 incandescent lamps, a miniature version of the Electric Tower from the Pan–American Expo. Cascading fountains were at the base. Later, two circus rings were suspended above the central lagoon, to prevent patrons from being bored between rides.

Luna Park opened the gates and turned on the lights at 8:05 PM, 16 May 1903, Saturday, at sunset. Sixty thousand eager patrons paid ten cents for admission, with rides costing up to a quarter. It was a sustained success, even in the face of intense competition from Dreamland.

Dreamland, which opened in 1903, had four times as many lights, an even more colossal tower, decadent rides like Feast of Belshazzar and the Destruction of Babylon, and a Lilliputia village populated by real dwarves. (As I mentioned in my review of Freaks, circus sideshows were just about the only place such people could find work and protection in this era.)

During the Aughts, the three Coney Island amusement parks heavily competed with one another and many independent parks. I would’ve loved to have lived in this era to experience all these wonderful rides!

Mr. Dundy passed away in 1907, and Mr. Thompson went bankrupt in 1912. Luna Park went to creditors, though he remained as manager. Rides came and went over the years, but Luna Park remained a mainstay of a visit to Coney Island for the next two generations.

Starting in 1933, the park went into bankruptcy several times and had a succession of owners, none of whom were able to scare up much of a profit. When the World’s Fair of 1939–40, hosted in nearby Queens, closed, most of the exhibits, rides, and shows were relocated to Luna Park.

Luna Park stayed open during WWII to boost morale, but had to keep its lights dimmed for security.

Tragedy struck on 13 August 1944 when a fire destroyed much of the park and caused $800,000 worth of damage. Due to legal disputes over insurance money, Luna Park never reopened. In August 1946, it was sold to a company who wanted to tear it down and build Quonset huts for veterans in its place.

That October, another fire broke out and destroyed what was left of the park.

Rides and attractions included:

Witching Waves (steerable cars on an undulating track)
Drop the Dip, later Trip to the Moon (a wooden roller coaster)
Helter Skelter (a slide twisting around a tower)
Dragon’s Gorge (a scenic railway)
Canals of Venice (a gondola ride)
Shoot the Chutes (a flume ride)
The Teaser (spinning wooden chairs)
Little Egypt (exotic dancers)
Old Mill (a tunnel of love ride)
Trip to the North Pole
Chinese Theater
Professor Wormwood’s Monkey Theater
Grand Ballroom
Martin Couney’s incubators for preemies (the only option in an era when most hospitals refused to help infants under five pounds)

Luna Park is on glorious display in Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928), director King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928), and Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton’s Coney Island (1917).

Luna Park features in many of the summer chapters of the early volumes of The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan, as the Konevs and their closest friends holiday by Coney Island for two weeks every summer. The church camp the next generation works for also goes to Coney Island as the summer’s penultimate daytrip every year.

Luna Park also appears in my third Atlantic City book, when many of the characters visit NYC to see the World’s Fair in 1940.

Katz’s Delicatessen

Copyright Beyond My Ken

In 1888, Katz’s Delicatessen began its life on Ludlow St. in the Lower East Side as Iceland Brothers. In 1903, Willy Katz joined the business, and it was renamed Iceland & Katz. In 1910, Willy’s cousin Ben came aboard and bought out the Icelands. Katz’s Delicatessen was officially born.

In April 1917, landlord Harry Tarowsky bought into the partnership. The deli was forced to relocate across the street due to subway construction, though its Ludlow entrance remained the same. Barrels of pickles and meat were stored at a vacant lot on Houston St. (The Manhattan street is pronounced HOUSE-ton, not like the city in Texas.)

From 1946–49, that Houston St. vacant lot added the current façade, and the operation shifted from Ludlow St.

Copyright TaurusEmerald

The Lower East Side is famous as a huge immigrant hub in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, esp. in regards to its Jewish population. So many immigrants lived in the LES, it’s a popular misconception that that was the ONLY place immigrants lived.

Some people expressed great surprise to learn only one branch of my family tree lived in NYC after immigrating, and that they barely spent any time there. Based on their own family histories and the popular narrative, they believed all immigrants settled in the city.

However, many immigrants did live in the LES, and Katz’s became an important community meeting-place. During the heyday of Yiddish theatre, the deli was frequented by actors, comedians, and singers. On Fridays, everyone convened on Katz’s for franks and beans.

Copyright Shinya Suzuki

During WWII, in response to the owners’ sons serving in the Army, the company’s slogan became “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.” This slogan was coined by Rose Tarowsky, whose son Izzy was a bomber pilot in the South Pacific.

When Willy Katz passed away, his son Lenny took over. Then, in 1980, both Harry Tarowsky and Ben Katz passed, leaving the deli to Izzy Tarowsky and Artie Maxstein (Ben’s son-in-law). Because this second generation had no offspring of their own to bequeath Katz’s to, they let their good friend and restaurateur Martin Dell, his chef son Alan, and his son-in-law Fred Austin buy into the partnership in 1988, on the deli’s centenary.

In late 2009, Alan’s son Jake officially joined the team and is now the acting head.

Copyright Beleg Langbogen

In connection with Katz’s 125th anniversary in 2013, a pop-up art gallery opened next door, featuring artwork by locals. The art rotates on a monthly basis.

Continuing the tradition begun during WWII, Katz’s continues to send gift packages to troops overseas.

In 2017, Katz’s finally opened a second location in Downtown Brooklyn.

Copyright Urbankayaker

Patrons are handed a numbered, printed ticket upon entering. While they get food from the various stations throughout the deli, employees keep a running tab. If one loses a ticket, a $50 fine is added to the bill. Management wants to encourage patrons to go back through the store to try to find the ticket to prevent theft.

Sadly, Katz’s is no longer kosher. Some of the ingredients start out kosher, but aren’t used, prepared, or served according to the laws of Kashrut. Their biggest violation is serving meat and dairy together. Not all the meat is certified kosher anymore either. Though Katz’s never pretended to be strictly kosher, it wasn’t that bad!

Copyright Dizzledan

Copyright City Foodsters

My characters Igor Konev and Violetta Likachëva go to Katz’s for several dates. It’s conveniently located, since Violetta lives in Greenwich Village, and Igor lives with his great-aunt in the northern Lower East Side (the area which later seceded as the so-called East Village).