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Oliver Street

The Greatness and Power of Oliver Street

“Oliver” is a popular first and surname with several national origins; in fact, there are familial crests for Oliver in Spain, Italy, Scotland, and England. Though it is not pictured in the included images of the crests, the motto for the Oliver

Scottish Oliver Crest

family crest is “Ad foedera cresco,” or “I gain by treaty.”[1] In connection with the notion of peaceful acquisition and victory through diplomacy, the name “Oliver” references several meanings including the olive tree, peace-bringing olive branch, a valiant hero, and, in the French, “elf army.”[2]

However, Charles Dickens’ use of the name for his protagonist and title character in Oliver Twist laid the definitive foundation of the name in contemporary media history. Not only are their direct adaptations and narrative spin offs, Carol Reed’s musical and film renditions and Disney’s animated Oliver and Company, but the book title and name have also been used for a bar name, as occurred in Seattle, and a British television series, Jamie Oliver’s Oliver’s Twist. Oliver Warbucks, an orphan himself, is the obscenely wealthy sponsor of the orphan, Annie, in the same-titled film, and is also a prominent figure in childhood popular culture. Though Annie is a female orphan, the story strongly resembles Dickens’ tale.

English Oliver Crest

Overall, the name is constantly associated to orphans and money. Extrapolating on these two terms we see that Oliver is connected to childhood, to the issue of extreme inequality of wealth, to the terrors of poverty, to power, and to the American Dream, rising from the gallows—or the Lower East Side—of poverty to “…shine like the top of the Chrysler Building” as a wealthy resident of Midtown. This at, least, is the conclusion that my media study of Oliver Street brought me.

From The New York Times article about the children gangs of Oliver and Cherry Streets, the reduction of the street and neighborhood to the metonymic view of the Third Avenue El train at Chatham Square in The Vanishing El Train film, to the contentedness of visitors to engage with Two Bridges through the hyperreal experience of a “Flight of the Conchords” walking tour, and Oliver Street as a childhood playground, out of which grew several artists, the study of the street from, a media perspective has reinforced the perspective of this part of New York as lacking power, wealth, or a voice.

Though the ground level was far from ignored in my search for the essence of this part of New York City, the shadow cast upon Oliver Street by its media representation was distracting to the symbols of social change and personal moral firmly rooted on this .2 mile in Two Bridges. But what of the greatness that remains on, in, and surrounding Oliver Street?

According to James Naureckas research, Oliver Street is named for the younger of the de Lancey brothers, General Oliver de Lancey, a British loyalist brigadier general during the American war for independence.[3]However, there are

Oliver de Lancey Jr., the namesake of Oliver street

two proceeding generations of Oliver’s in the de Lancey family lineage; the General’s son was also a high ranking General in the British Royal Army and had only one son, also named Oliver, who, like his patrilineal predecessors, moved through the ranks of the British Royal Army with great speed and success.[4]                                                                                                                  (Photo)[5]

All three “Oliver de Lanceys” were born and raised in the family home in the Lower East Side and rose to great heights in the British Royal Army. They were loyal soldiers to the nation that had, for generations, bestowed honor and wealth on the de Lancey family. However, after the Revolutionary War, the entire family was exiled back to England for their traitorous support of the colonizers. Despite this fact, the street’s name has remained Oliver and no other namesake explanations have been unearthed in extensive research.

There are several other signs of greatness and power surrounding Oliver Street. At the northwest end of the street, in Chatham Sqaure, Kimlau Square was named for 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese-American pilot of the 380thBombardment group of the Fifth Air Force, the “Flying Circus.” Kimlau moved to New York City from Massachusetts at 14 and went to high school in the Bronx. He and four other pilots were on assignment to attack Japanese airbases near New Guinea and were shot down and killed. In his honor, the Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial

Kimlau Square Memorial Arch

Post 1291 was founded by Chinese-American WWII veterans and gifted the monument, in the name of Kimlau, to Chinatown. The Memorial Post has made many initiatives for the betterment of Chinatown. They petitioned for more traffic lights and the establishment of a venture fund for the construction of a recreation center at the Chinese Community Center in the neighborhood, published the first bilingual newsletter for the American Legion, offered Tai-chi classes, and taught basic English courses to recent immigrants to America.[6]

There is another monumental tribute to greatness in Kimlau Square, a statue to the 18th and 19thcentury Chinese drug warrior, Lin Zexu. Zexu’s war on opium was ill-received, despite his fierce fight. He even went so far as to write a personal letter to Queen Victoria asking her to support his efforts and end the opium trade from her end in England. However, Zexu’s efforts were no match for the social strength of opium; “[casual] opium smoking became as common in many areas of

Statue of Lin Zexu

China as social drinking in the western world, and opium dependence devastated individual Chinese and their families.”[7] He was demoted and socially exiled, though he did succeed in beginning the Opium War of 1839-1842. Lin Zexu also “…became a potent symbol of nascent Chinese nationalism and moral superiority throughout the empire and even among western reformers.”[8]

Based on the streetscape alone, Governor Alfred E. Smith was one of the greatest figures to rise out of Oliver Street. Not only did he leave his mark, and name, on several structures in Two Bridges, Smith also left a powerful legacy on the city and his friends and fellow bureaucrats. In The Portrait of a Man as Governor, Thomas Dickinson credits Smith with having the capacity to enact true change for the advancement of the “welfare of man” using his unparalleled political tact to best serve himself and the citizens of New York City.[9] Out of his extreme concern for the working class, Smith formulated the proceeding plan “…to improve the quality of life:” “‘our system of State parks, housing laws, our labor code and the laws protecting women and children in industry.’” [10]

Besides his childhood residence at number 25 Oliver Street, Two Bridges boasts three centers for childhood education and recreation and one housing project. Smith’s block and mortar and city park legacy in Two Bridges does the same work that he did while alive: supporting and nurturing New York families with improved quality of life.

Paula Eldot sees these structures as more than a part of his lasting legacy; they are monuments to the greatness of a man and to his dedication to the neighborhood from which he sprung. “On the Lower East Side, where he grew up and from which he entered politics, the Alfred E. Smith Houses stand as an appropriate monument to the governor’s efforts to improve the living conditions of the poor.”[11]

(Photo)[12]

Governor Alfred E. Smith

“The greatest privilege that can come to any man is to give himself to the nation which reared him.”

-Alfred E. Smith, Governor[13]

Oliver Street Map

Alfred E. Smith Recreation Center at 80 Catherine Street.

PS 1 Alfred E. Smith School at 8 Henry Street.

Governor Alfred E. Smith Houses (public housing development) at 21 St. James Place.

Governor Alfred E. Smith Park/Playground at Oliver Street and Madison Street.

(Photo)[14]

At the ground level, the essence of Oliver Street, the messages and beliefs that the street itself seems to be communicating, surrounds this idea articulated by Governor Smith. All of the men noble men, honored on and by Oliver Street, led their lives by this guiding principle. The de Lancey men were loyal soldiers to the England, the nation that had rewarded their service warmly for generations. Benjamin Ralph Kimlau served his country in the 5th Air Force inAustralia and took on two highly secretive missions against the Japanese before being killed in the line of duty. Lin Zexu, though society (nor the world) was prepared for his Opium War, he was dedicated to the social and cultural health of his people, fighting until his loss of power and personal exile for the improvement of life inChina. Finally, Alfred E. Smith dedicated his political career to rising as high in power as possible and focusing, throughout his journey upwards, on conducting thorough research to aid him in making the best social and political policy changes to benefit those New Yorkers whom he had watched suffer during his childhood onOliver Street.

It’s interesting that, after conducting a semester’s worth of research, that my greatest find, the thing I have been seeking throughout the entire process, was literally standing directly in front of my face the entire time. The essence of Oliver Street was never behind the red front doors, erased with the shortening of the street itself, nor somehow connected to the seemingly politically powerless neighborhood (construction work commencing during sleeping hours being one of the several indicators); it is only now that I realize that the power of Oliver Street lies within its homespun residents, in whom this homey part of town makes a lasting impact and has high hopes that the favor will be returned back to Two Bridges.


[1]“Oliver Family Crest and Name History.” House of Names.com. Swyrich Corporation, 29 June 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://www.houseofnames.com/oliver-family-crest&gt;.

[2]“Oliver | Name Meaning & Origin | Boy Name Oliver | Baby Names World.” Baby Names | Baby Name Meanings | Baby Boy Names, Baby Girl Names | Parents Connect. Nickelodeon Parents Connect, 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com/meaning_of_Oliver.html&gt;.

[3]Naureckas, James. “New York Songlines: Worth Street with Oliver Street.” New York Songlines: Virtual Walking Tours of Manhattan Streets. NYSonglines.com. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. <http://www.nysonglines.com/worth.htm&gt;.

[4] Stephen, Sir Leslie. “DELANCY, OLIVER.” Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 14. New York: New York Macmillan, 1888. 302-04. Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. MSN, 5 Jan. 2007. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. <http://www.archive.org/stream/dictionaryofnati14stepuoft#page/304/mode/1up&gt;.

[5] Oliver De Lancey Jr. Photograph. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Wikipedia. Library of Congress, 25 Mar. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oliver_De_Lancey_Jr..jpg>.

[6] “Kimlau Square.” New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The City of New York, 19 July 2000. Web. 9 Dec. 2011. <http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/historical-signs/listings?id=7318&gt;.

[7] Madancy, Joyce A. The Troublesome Legacy of Commissioner Lin: the Opium Trade and Opium Suppression in Fujian Province, 1820s to 1920s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003. Print. Pg. 5.

[8] Madancy, Joyce A. The Troublesome Legacy of Commissioner Lin: the Opium Trade and Opium Suppression in Fujian Province, 1820s to 1920s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003. Print. Pg. 5.

[9]Dickinson, Thomas Herbert. The Portrait of a Man as Governor, Volume 4. New York: Macmillan, 1928. HathiTrust Digital Library. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?seq=8&id=uc1.b310642&view=image&q1=artist&start=1&size=100&page=root&orient=0&gt;. Page 7.

[10] Eldot, Paula. Governor Alfred E. Smith the Politician as Reformer. New York: Garland, 1983. Print. Pg. 189.

[11] Eldot, Paula. Governor Alfred E. Smith the Politician as Reformer. New York: Garland, 1983. Print. Pg. 188.

[12] Labor Hall of Fame Honoree (2006). 2006. Photograph. U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, D.C. United States Department of Labor. U.S. Department of Labor. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/laborhall/2006_smith.htm&gt;.

[13] “Alfred E. Smith Playground.” New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The City of New York, 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2011. <http://www.nycgovparks.org&gt;.

[14] Oliver Street, New York, NY 10038. Photograph. Google Maps. Google, Inc., 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <http://maps.google.com/maps?q=oliver+street+nyc&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x89c25a242a33c449:0x6c4189f622f29dbe,Oliver+St,+New+York,+NY+10038&gl=us&ei=q1DoTszfDaX50gGH_cSYCg&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CB8Q8gEwAA&gt;.
Post #1

I have never thought the act of naming to be arbitrary. Even after extensive study in university about the processes of naming places, people, and things in many cultures across the world and different time periods, a huge part of me refuses to accept the notion that a name could be characteristically disconnected from the noun to which it refers. That’s why I had faith in my choice to study Oliver Street this semester. Though I couldn’t remember where it was, didn’t know how accessible it would be to public transportation, or even how and from where it received it’s name, I had this feeling that it was the right place for me to be; after all, it’s my youngest sibling’s name.

Two and a half years ago, my mom started a new family and added a new sibling to our household. 19 years apart, Oliver and I are the youngest and the eldest of my mother’s children, the two most demanding of her attention and the most willfully independent. I expected that a street so named would demonstrate similar qualities and require me to demonstrate strength for nuanced observation and give room for small details to develop into the keys that I speculate will unlock the history of this tiny piece of Manhattan history.

So far in my research, I have been proven right. All of the lexical paths that I have attempted to follow, instead of shaping a picture of Oliver Street at its origin, have begun to etch a view of the surrounding landscape, outlining several layers of context upon which to carve out Oliver Street’s place in the history of New York City.


Locating Oliver St.-

The southern side of Oliver Street facing northwest to Chatham Square. This is the entrance to the Street and will be investigated in future posts.

Oliver St. is, literally, off the grid; nestled in the  neighborhood of Two Bridges, the ten blocks between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges are cornered by Chinatown and the Lower East Side (to the north and west) with the Financial District bordering the south and the East River to the East.[1]

In the early 19th century, however, the landscape of Manhattan, being significantly different to its present organization, gave Oliver St. and this neighborhood its legacy as a gritty site of tenement housing experiments. Though the street was not yet in existence, the Five Points neighborhood and the gangs that overran the district played a key role in the development of Oliver St. Five Points is the star pointed junction of Anthony St. (now Worth Street), Orange Street (now Baxter St.), and Cross Street (what would be Mosco Street if it continued through Columbus Park to the Civic Center). [2]

The area known as the Five Points in the 1800s.

Collect Pond Park, across the street from the Lafayette St. dormitory, was once an actual swamp that the Department of Public Works filled and maintained in the early 1800s. Around 1820, however, the filling started sinking and buildings began to sink and crumble, sending residents fleeing for new housing. The foul smell and decrepit buildings, as well as the crowded tenement housing earned the area a reputation as dangerous, gang and disease ridden. Charles Dickens, having visited the neighborhood in 1842, wrote about the conditions in his American Notes.[3]

Though Collect Pond and the Five Points are no longer to be found on the Manhattan map, having been replaced by parks,

The Mariner's Temple Baptist Church. Elections are held here and I speculate that much of my future research on the Five Points gangs will involve this facility.

civic buildings, and courthouses, Oliver St. and “… ‘the only neighborhood left in Manhattan that doesn’t have a Starbucks,’”[4] remain, protected by proud, nostalgic current residents and rent control from eager housing developers. The director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, Victor Papa, made a statement to The Village Voice, demonstrating his resilience against the hungry attempts of developers to buy his property: “… ‘I’ve got developers stopping by here all the time, asking if we want to sell

St. James Convent.

this building, telling me they would tear it down and build some new, faceless apartment complex…But I gotta tell ya, I’m not going anywhere.’”[5]

The resistance shown by Oliver St. and the Two Bridges neighborhood’s maintenance of the organic street construction, not being forced to conform to state plans for the city’s legibility by adapting to the grid is a site for further research. The current street scape, with St. James Convent and Rectory, Dr. James C.W. Woy,

MD’s practice, K Lock Hardware, the Mariner’s Temple Baptist Church, the Generation Pharmacy, and a few other locations that warrant further observation and study, will also be investigated in the future of my study.


[1] McEvers, Kelly. “Close-Up On Two Bridges Manhattan.” The Village Voice, NYC Life. 23 Aug. 2005. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-08-23/nyc-life/close-up-on-two-bridges-manhattan/1/&gt;.

[2] Smith, Matthew Hale. “The Neighborhood That Was Five Points.” New York City Chinatown. R K Chin Web Gallery, 2002. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nychinatown.org/history/1800s.html&gt;.

[3]Jackson, Kenneth T. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1995. Print.

[4] “Two Bridges, Manhattan.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 15 Aug. 2010. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Bridges,_Manhattan&gt;.

[5] McEvers, Kelly. “Close-Up On Two Bridges Manhattan.” The Village Voice, NYC Life. 23 Aug. 2005. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-08-23/nyc-life/close-up-on-two-bridges manhattan/1/>.

“POST NO BILLS,” an officially stamped sign on the plywood walls surrounding the Mariner’sTempleBaptistChurchand on the construction covers near the park on the northeast end of the street, remain respected on Oliver Street. However,

Graffiti found on Oliver Street

The Sharpie graffiti found on the Asia Bank depository has a smiley face below "El Drunko!"

despite respect for the city stamped property, “El Drunko! :)” has been inscribed on the Asia Bank deposit box, on the northwest corner of Oliver St. and Chatham Square, in permanent marker. “El Drunko,” could mean “the drunk” but, being cast between two languages, a product of a purposely unknown author, and a piece of urban graffiti (otherwise known as vandalism)—therefore, entirely without context—there are few opportunities for analysis of the content of the message.

However, the message does seem to give some clues regarding authorship; a smiley face and a piece of faux-Spanish, American slang about the only form of socially sanctioned substance abuse are most likely the markings of a kid, probably 16-21 years old. The emoticon, in particular, strengthens the argument that a youth is the author; after all, since the first days of AOL Instant Messenger and now to the more advanced forms of type-as-talk technology (text messaging, skype, Facebook posts, etc.) youths have been the primary users. Given their years of experience, kids and young adults have made use of all available tools granted by the limiting technology and created emoticons using punctuation to better express emotion when using typed speech.

The medium, a black permanent marker (colloquially referred to as a Sharpie) also enforces the notion that a teenager left the message. High school students carry a variety of school supplies with them everyday, including pens, highlighters, and Sharpie markers. I remember, during my own years in high school, how my then boyfriend always had a Sharpie marker in his pocket, and took every opportunity to brandish it and leave a permanent message in my notes, an artistic coloring on his sneakers, or to fix a paint blemish on a friend’s car. From my experience, I cannot help but picture the author as a young man, using any means available, in this case a Sharpie, to leave a mark of his existence and human power upon the world. There is something very unsettling about being a teenager, not quite an adult but no longer a child, and constantly concerned with your tentative, unwritten future. Marking territory, quite literally, exposes and solidifies existence in a world in which a teenager feels his inclusion to be insecure.

Unlike the anonymity of authorship that is secured when graffiti is written in more private spaces, such as restroom stalls,[1] this location is one of the most exposed on the entire street.  Though the deposit box is in clear view of all traffic entering Oliver St., exiting St. James, driving up Park Row to Bowery, and crossing Worth St., it can be presumed that the inscriber had no fear of his inscription being traced back to him. Tucked against the brown granite wall of the Asia Bank, the deposit box is a little trafficked device that is completely hidden by the backside of whoever is standing before it. Without a queue, the author could have spent less than 10 seconds wielding his sharpie marker on the metal canvas, leaving behind a comical smiley face and a demonstration of the stereotypical conception that English speakers have of the Spanish language (“you only have to add an ‘o’ to the end! Spanish is so easy!”). In reality, because Oliver Street is especially lacking any pedestrian or vehicular traffic, there was probably no cause for concern about being seen.

If the sharpie wielder did not want to be identified or, rather, knew that he would not be identified as the author, the inscription, it is safe to assume, was meant for him alone. Based on this assumption, it seems inappropriate to view the faded markings as vandalism and entertain considerations of the markings as evidence of civil disrespect or contempt for any institution or individual onOliver Street.

But the markings do make me wonder about the possession of Oliver Street.

Who counts as the “owners,” the secret keepers, the residents of the street? Are the people who live on or own buildings on Oliver Street the only ones who can claim it as their own? What about those who walk down the street each day or patron or work at the businesses, or, like me, visit and take photographs and consider the history of the place? What claims do we and can we proprietarily have over Oliver Street?

The Inscription of “El Drunko! 🙂

            High school teens run briskly across Bowery and Park; the narrow strip of time between passing cars barely gives the trio time to make the curb. They are 17 and 18 years old though, and the carelessness and adrenaline rushes that urge them through their youth to adulthood propel them now, backpacks flying, out of the street, over the curb, and into Chatham Square. They slow their pace and catch their breath, faces shiny and smiles wide and a bit crooked—they should have waited for the light to change and they know it—and they head to Oliver Street. They are headed to their afterschool program at the Hamilton Madison House which lies at the opening of Oliver Street to Madison.

One of the two young men has a sharpie marker in his right hand and is trying to still the female so that he can write on her back pack. She refuses to stay still and he chases her around the third member of their party, another boy, who watches the scene as it circles around him, smiling, and admiring the agility exercised by both his friends as they clown around. When they get to the north corner of Oliver St., outside of the Asia Bank, it seems the marker brandishing teen has given up and agreed not to mark the girl’s backpack. Instead, he looks up and sees the bank depository. He smiles, walks over to the metal canvas, and inks a smiley face on the cover. The girl gasps and her look of surprise morphs into a wide smile at the boy’s audacious inscription. But he hasn’t impressed her quite enough; a smiley face is a bit “girly,” not powerful or tough as he needs to be seen, his masculinity still developing due to his age and place in life. Casting glances quickly around for inspiration, his eyes settle on a homeless man asleep on the bench in Chatham Square, cardboard covering his eyes and a brown paper bag, presumably containing an empty liquor bottle, dangling from his hand over the side of his wooden, public bed. The boy smiles again and boldly scribes “El Drunko!” above his pictorial mark. Self-satisfied, he walks away and the girl rushes after him to question him and give attention to him bold artwork, the other young man following, though without any interest in the inscription.

As they reach the end of Oliver Street, preparing to crossMadisonand join their peers at the afterschool program, the inscription is already forgotten, conversation having drifted to the homework they will be working on at the Hamilton Madison House.

A few weeks later, on their same walk after school, the trio spots the inscription and the author and the girl, who is now his first girlfriend, smile at the innocent act of vandalism. He wanted to impress her, to get her attention, he remembers, and, because he has her hand in his now, the site of his inscription is heavy with meaning and memory of both himself as a young man and of young love.

There are many ways that this piece of fiction could be rewritten under the same title to describe the origin of the sharpie graffiti but, to me, this is the story.


[1] Abel, Ernest L., and Barbara E. Buckley. The Handwriting on the Wall: Toward a Sociology and Psychology of Graffiti. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1977. Print. Pg. 11.

Walking Oliver Street

The first time that I walked down Oliver Street, I walked against the flow of vehicular traffic. I did it the second time too, without even noticing. The one-way street runs southeast to northwest, a quaint diagonal shooting eastward out of Chatham Square. As one moves north to south, the direction from which an NYU student, coming from campus on Washington Square, naturally approaches the street, a venture down Oliver Street would always disobey the posted sign for drivers.

I am disinclined to think that pedestrians take such notice of the fact that they are using the street in the opposite way that drivers do; I have yet to see any walkers on the street—only stoopers—and, though the sides of the street are entirely lined with parked cars and vans, vehicular traffic on Oliver Street is also fairly rare. Because my walks tend to be during “off peak” hours, typically late afternoons between 3 and 4 pm, I would not presume that my experience of the street is typical or characteristic of it beyond my very small frame of reference.

Why travel to Oliver Street?

What’s on the Street?

The street would not attract shoppers; there aren’t any shops, boutiques, vendors, or storefronts to do any window shopping. History buffs would be disappointed on Oliver Street too. The Mariner’s Temple Baptist Church and St. James Rectory and Convent do not have plaques or signs to mark their historical place or grant any authority to their existence on the street or in the public memory, as tourists looking to soak up the history of a place are often seeking.

Another disappointment for Oliver Street is in the lack of recognition that # 2 receives; though it was one of the 13 Federal row houses nominated by the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation to be designated landmarks by the Landmarks Preservation Commision, even Christopher Grey (who visited and recorded his experience at several of the buildings selected) ignores the Oliver Street residence, choosing, instead, to draw New York Times readers to the structures on Greenwich St., St. Marks, and Leroy Street, where there are certainly more commercial opportunities to which visitors can contribute.[1]

Even Chatham Square, on the northeastern edge of the street, is not large enough, in size nor function, to attract many tourists and potential lead them down Oliver Street. Tourists, shoppers, and pleasure walkers, those who mosey without a strict purpose or functionality to which they must adhere (though I suppose that tourists and shoppers could indeed operate under a rigid schedule or action plan) have no cause to be attracted to Oliver Street and, because it is the nature of their wanders to follow their desires, what pleases them, and to be led by what attracts them, it seems unlikely that this street would inspire their progression. At ground level, I fail to identify something that impresses upon a walker to steer herself to Oliver Street.

Brian Morris’ treatment of Tony Bennett, and his work Culture: A Reformer’s Science, in “What we talk about when we talk about ‘Walking in the City’” allows Bennett to speak directly and voice his disagreements with Michel de Certeau’s flattening of the meaning of “resistance” and erasure of distinctions between walkers. Bennett suggests that the relationship between walkers and the urban spaces that they traverse, “ ‘…[arises] from their differential relations to a range of economic, social and cultural associations and forms of life.’” These organizations—“‘…sporting clubs and associations, firms, charities, cultural societies and organizations, religious institutions, neighborhoods.’”—operate on a “‘sub-panoptic level.’” [2] Hosting two churches, of differing denominations, a doctor’s office, and an Asia Bank on the corner, most of the edifices on Oliver Street command walkers purposes with their function and command the operations of walkers, drawing them in, off from the street, and into a new space, separate from the ground level of the street outside. Despite the potential for these structures to dominate and determine the character of Oliver Street, based on the fact that they probably inspire the most cause for pedestrians and travelers to use the street, it is quite clear, as an on-foot visitor myself, that there exists a separate identity and characterization of Oliver Street.

Here I am; amidst the brownstone residences on the southern side, protected from the sidewalk by black, wrought iron fences and handrails, and the dominating Mariner’s Temple Baptist Church and impenetrable construction walls on the northern side. On the residential side, at number 31, lives an intriguing Chinese and Japanese restaurant named “Lily’s.” Each time that I have made my way to Oliver Street, though it has, admittedly, been around the same time—between 3 and 5 pm—I have seen two elderly Asian men sitting at one of the outdoor café-style tables; today, they are reading the same newspaper. I know neither their particular nationality nor the language in which they speak softly spoken words to one another but I can see that they are good, long time friends. How many people have you ever seen sharing a newspaper, reading the pages together, at the same time? More often, when two people read the paper simultaneously, one of the readers is standing behind the other, gaining access to the print over the shoulder of the reader with the responsibility to hold the pages upright. Perhaps there is an understanding between the two and the reader with the paper in hand looks over her shoulder, looking for a response to let her know that the other reader is ready for a page turn. More likely, at least in my experience, the moment that a reader realizes her newspaper is being shared over the shoulder, she shifts uncomfortably, or makes it known with a remark that she doesn’t appreciate “people reading over her shoulder.”

These gentlemen clearly lack this sensibility; the newspaper (I have yet to identify which one it is) is laid out, completely covering the small, square table top. The two of them sit on opposite sides, facing the direction of the sidewalk, their shoulders and chests leaning over the table so that their heads and upper bodies nearly touch as they read through their shared paper.

It felt odd to try and snap a photograph of them without being caught. I could not even think of intruding on this private moment with a camera flash or even a personal pause to watch. I walked passed, moved between the parked cars, and crossed the street to stand, anonymously and unassumingly, against the park fence. From there, I continued to watch to elderly pair of friends. They continuously looked up from the newsprint to comment to one another, often pointing at particular sections of newsprint, perhaps citing evidence to reinforce the argument of their discussion. After watching for several minutes I turned the corner onto Madison to sit on a bench in the playground park.

Two good friends sit outside of Lily's Chinese and Japanese Restaurant

The Generation Pharmacy. Two good friends sit outside of Lily's Chinese and Japanese Restaurant

A little later, I crossed Oliver Street to be in front of the Generation Pharmacy on the southeastern corner. Under the pretense of taking a picture of the pharmacy, I managed to grab a glimpse of the two men in the corner of the shot. The newspaper they were reading is now gone and they’ve physically distanced themselves since I abandoned my look out post but they are still on the street. They are still the only people on the street. To me, this is their street.


[1] Gray, Christopher. “Streetscapes: 13 Federal Row Houses Recommended as Landmarks; Glimpses Into the 19th Century.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Mar. 2004. Web. 20 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/21/realestate/streetscapes-13-federal-row-houses-recommended-landmarks-glimpses-into-19th.html?ref=christophergray&pagewanted=all&gt;.

[2] Morris, Brian. “What we talk about when we talk about ‘Walking in the City.’” Cultural Studies 18.5 (2004): 675-97. Print. Page 680.

Entrance to No. 2 Oliver Street.

Last week, Christopher Gray’s streetscape piece for The New York Times drew my attention to one building on Oliver Street: number 2. 2 Oliver Street, a Federal, row-style building, was recommended to the Landmarks Preservation Commission by the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation (GVSHP); however, 2 Oliver, along with 57 Sullivan, was rejected preservation guarantees.[1] It seems Oliver and its unassuming number 2, are being ignored: first by Gray and then by the Commission. My question is why. What is and was located at 2 Oliver and why isn’t it worthy of protection and recognition by the city of New York?

History of Federal Row Houses

Despite claiming independence from Great Britain, the Federal row houses architecturally originated from townhouses in Georgian England.  James Fenimore Cooper, the husband of Susan DeLancy and son of Cooperstown, New York founder—William Cooper—was quoted in the GVSHP designation report for landmark preservation defending the style as English: “‘the Americans have not yet adopted a style of architecture of their own. Their houses are essentially English.’”[2] According to the designation report, the form of the houses was often adjusted so that residences were stacked above shops, which were on the ground level and had street-side storefronts.

2 Oliver Street

The house at 2 Oliver Street:

  • Built in 1821, it was known as the Robert Dodge house.
  • Dodge lived in Chatham Square, just around the corner, and worked as a painter and glazier.
  • James O’Donnell, an “important” Irish architect from Dublin and “…one of the first trained architects to work in this country,” leased the building from Dodge while he designed the Fulton Street Market.[3]
  • In 1850, the third floor of the building was added.[4] The features of Federal row houses, like rectangular lintels (door and window frames), were maintained by the builders.[5]

After 1850, No. 2 Oliver disappears from the pages of The New York Times until 1954, when Dr. Antonio Pisani was honored by the New York County Medical Society as “‘general practitioner of the year.’”[6] This article dates Dr. Pisani’s practice back 58 years from the article’s publication year (1954); therefore, we know that Dr. Pisani lived and worked at No. 2 Oliver Street from 1896 to 1954. This reduces the historical record gap to just under 55 years in the later part of the 19th century.

Another article from The New York Times article picks up No. 2 Oliver’s history at the year 1956, when St. Margaret’s House—and the sisters living there—was relocated from 211 Fulton Street.[7] According the history archives at the Trinity Wall Street church, the location on Oliver Street was ideal because the sisters had access to “…the two lower east side chapels on Henry Street,” at which they would conduct mission work.[8] In 1974, the house closed and three years later the sisters moved to a new location, purchased by Trinity Church, at 50 Fulton Street, the Neale House, which was named after their founder John Mason Neale. [9]

The light is on, even at 12 pm, at No. 2 Oliver Street

After another jump, this time of a distance of 37 years, we come to today, when No. 2 Oliver stands between the Asia Bank and the church offices of the Mariner’s Temple Baptist Church. Unlike the other brownstones on Oliver Street, the entrance to number 2 is at the side of the building, with windows and, presumably, apartments above and to the right of the street walker’s view; in the other brownstones on the block, the entrances are in the center of the structure.  There is also a basement apartment with a wrought iron gate-door. When I was walking on the street at noon, the outdoor light on the side of No. 2, the one that lights the stairs down to the basement apartment, was alight; however, it was the age and awkward positioning of the bulb that got me thinking about lighting on Oliver Street.

My interest in the lighting fixtures on the street was furthered when

Chinese Lampshade over the street light outside 2 Oliver Street.

I photographed the entire building and noticed the streetlamp outside No. 2. There is a red, Chinese-style lamp shade over it, most probably reflective of the heavily Chinese and Asian population that now resides on and surrounding Oliver Street. “People make the place,” so the saying goes, and a historical portrait of the populations that have resided on and been a part of Oliver Street over the years will be soon to come.


[1] “GVSHP | Sample Letter.” GVSHP | Home. Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, 13 Oct. 2006. Web. 03 Oct. 2011. <http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/preservation/federals/federals-ltr.htm&gt;.

[2] Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation. “The Federal Era Row Houses of Lower Manhattan.” Designation Report. Submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. <http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/index.htm. 2003>.  Web. 3 Oct. 2011. <http://www.gvshp.org/13federals.pdf&gt;. Page 15.

[3] Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation. “The Federal Era Row Houses of Lower Manhattan.” Designation Report. Submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. <http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/index.htm. 2003>.  Web. 3 Oct. 2011. <http://www.gvshp.org/13federals.pdf&gt;. Page 9.

[4] White, Norval, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon. AIA Guide to New York City. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Google Books. Google. Web. 04 Oct. 2011. <http://books.google.com/books?id=t0gj61QSgk8C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;. Page 89.

[5] Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation. “The Federal Era Row Houses of Lower Manhattan.” Designation Report. Submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. <http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/index.htm. 2003>.  Web. 3 Oct. 2011. <http://www.gvshp.org/13federals.pdf&gt;. Page 19.

[6] “Physician, 82, Honored By County Medical Unit.” New York Times (1923-Current file) 3  Sep. 1954. ProQuest Historical Newspapers New York Times (1851-2007) w/ Index (1851-1993), ProQuest. Web.  4 Oct. 2011.

[7] “St. Margaret’s House Blessed.” New York Times (1923-Current file) 29 Sep. 1956. ProQuest Historical Newspapers New York Times (1851-2007) w/ Index (1851-1993), ProQuest. Web. 4 Oct. 2011.

[8] “History – Guide to Archives – Congregational Office.” Trinity Wall Street. Trinity Church. Web. 04 Oct. 2011. <http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/history/guide/congregation&gt;.

[9] “History – Guide to Archives – St. Margaret’s House.” Trinity Wall Street. Trinity Church. Web. 04 Oct. 2011. <http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/history/guide/smh&gt;.

Off the Grid, Erased Away

Oliver Street and the surrounding Two Bridges neighborhood is presented, with my coloring, as it was from 1894-1951.

Oliver Street and the surrounding Two Bridges neighborhood is presented, with my coloring of the Digital Sanborn Map, as it was from 1894-1951.

Despite remaining “off the grid,” which has been forced over Manhattan streets north of Houston and 14th Streets, Oliver Street was indeed subjected to urban planning control and authority, perhaps of the worst kind; the street was erased.

Oliver Streetwas once three times the length of its current size, stretching beyond Madison Streetto Oak, Cherry, Water, and ending just past South Streetat the East River.[1] Census data from the time cannot precisely narrow an understanding of the population number nor demographics but, today, when Oliver Street is only .2 miles long, Census Tract 27 for New York County tells us that Oliver Street (and just a couple surrounding streets included in the tract district) is home to 1,264 New Yorkers.[2] Of that number, 978 are of Asian descent. My own observations of street life confirm that the majority of street walkers, businesses, and their patrons are, indeed, of Asian descent and primarily Chinese.

However, Oliver Streetwas not always home to red street lamps and Asian fusion food. In the period of 1860 to 1905, a series of articles from The New York Times highlights an uncomfortable, violent life for the many Italians living on Oliver Street. The incessant feuding between the Italian and Irish populations that inhabited Oliver Street and the surrounding Two Bridges neighborhood is particularly emphasized in an article from 1901. A seven year old boy, and Italian resident of Oliver Street, was shot in the leg by a gang of Irish boys from Cherry Hill (Cherry St.). He and his 9 year old friend had collected wood near Cherry Street and, on their way home, met the “Shamrocks,” a gang of Irish youths from Cherry Street. The two “Spaghetties” tried to fight the “Shamrocks” but when the shot fired and drove into Antonio Renatzo’s leg, the Irish gang fled, and Edward Quinto carried his friend to the Oak Street Police Station, just a block from where the attack occurred.[3]

Though the Census data from 1890 and 1900 do not narrowly define the population on Oliver Street, they do give a glimpse of the total population and the origins of new New Yorkers, data that strongly supports the demographic portrait of the area that The New York Times describes. With the population nearly doubling in this 10 year period, we see a drastic change in the priorities of the government with regard to monitoring the influx.[4] In 1900, the census began to track nativity and origin, giving us access to more demographic information about the dynamic, ever-increasing population. Of the two million members of the white population in New York County, nearly 850,000 were foreign born and, of this 42%, 21% (nearly 180,000) were native to Ireland and 12% (just over 100,000) hailed from Italy. With the exception of Russia, where 15% of the foreign-born white population originated, these two nations had the largest population of immigrants to New York City (based, of course, on the 1900 Census).[5]

Clear view of Oliver Street in its original context, at its original length.

The above attack occurred on a section of Oliver Street that no longer exists, highlighting the issue of the streets length as related to its historical consequence; the longer a street is, the more will occur upon it and the more times it will make an appearance in historical works. Oliver Streetwas, for some reason that will require more research, cut by more than half its distance, castrated in a way. The end of the street that ran into the East River, connected the Italians and Irish, and ran between the two “slips” of Catherine and James, was severed from the .2 mile portion that remains today. In browsing the collection of Digital Sanborn Maps, with records up to 1951, it seems that it was after this year that Oliver Street was shortened to its current length. The elusiveness of Oliver Street and its history remains; perhaps, through works of fiction, I will be able to strip away some of the mysterious layers shrouding my view.


[1] “New York City [Bronx] [Kings] [Queens] [Richmond] 1890-1902.” Map. Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970. ProQuest. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <http://sanborn.umi.com/ny/6116/dateid-000001.htm?CCSI=2872n&gt;.

[2] Census 2010, New York, NY County. Census Report 2010. Block 1. Census Tract 27. Social Explorer. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <http://www.socialexplorer.com/pub/reportdata/htmlresults.aspx?ReportId=R10122668&gt;.

[3] “Boy Feud’s Serious Side. Child of Seven, of the Cherry Hill Spaghetties, Wounded After Valiant Resistance to Attack.” The New York Times 9 July 1901. Historical New York Times (1857-1922). ProQuest. Web. 6 Oct. 2011. <https://ezproxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96091342?accountid=12768&gt;.

[4] Census 1890, New York, NY County. Census Report 1890. Social Explorer. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <http://www.socialexplorer.com/pub/reportdata/htmlresults.aspx?ReportId= R10122673

[5] Census 1900, New York, NY County. Census Report 1900. Social Explorer. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <http://socialexploer.com/pub/reportdata/htmlresults.aspx?ReportId= R10122675

“The Vanishing El” Train: Erasure Continues in New York 

Boys on the street box underneath the tracks of the Chatham Square El train.

“I’m everything; from a noisy nuisance to something as natural as morning, noon, and night.”[1]

A short film created as part of the series, “If Things Could Talk,” “The Vanishing El” personifies the historic New York City El train, specifically the Third Avenue line, with the voice of Carl King. There are several such films, most black and white silent films, produced in the 1950s when the elevated trains were closing down across New York City. The Third Avenue line, which converged with the Second Avenue at Chatham Square[2], was the last of elevated trains to operate, finally closing in 1955.[3]

According to Luc Sante’s research, presented in Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, “[the] El quickly became a landmark and a tourist attraction, its most picturesque or characteristic spots recorded as standard views on postcards of the early 1900s…”[4] One of these metonymic fragments was, “…the dramatic convergence of the Second and Third Avenue lines at Chatham Square, their tracks briefly double-decked…”[5] Steve Pile, in his chapter “‘The Problem of London’, or, how to explore the moods of the city,” qualifies this phenomenon saying that “attributes and affects of the city itself,” are found in fragments, like the standard El train views, of the city.[6]

The concept of metonymy—postcard images and fragments of a city speaking for the entire city—is also connected to the concept of panopticism and the complicated theories on city views. Numerous writers and academics have taken issue with sightseeing and the views afforded by the landscape/cityscape of metropolises, most notably, Michel de Certeau. In the chapter of The Practice of Everyday Life, “Walking in the City,” Certeau positions urban voyeurs and urban walkers in opposition to one another’s’ ways of everyday life and goes to great lengths to outline a method to gain an understanding of urban space from both perspectives (literally, from each viewpoint).[7]  Certeau’s work seems most applicable to the differences in the understandings of urban life between those with the power to effect change in the urban landscape and those who live everyday lives in the city itself.

”]Dirty (or, rather, clean) laundrySante too has collected writers’ remarks about, “…the voyeuristic opportunity afforded by the El [that] could be taken as a particularly uplifting anthropological sightseeing experience,”[8] and, as we ride “The Vanishing El,” (by watching the short film) it is clear that the sightseeing afforded through the car windows positions the passenger on a plane somewhere between the godlike, panoptic view and the street level, city walker experience. “[The] placement (of the El Train) at third-story height received mixed notices. Passengers enjoyed the opportunity to peer in, feasting their eyes on endless rows of tableaux vivants featuring men in undershirts and women in housedresses…”[9]As the featured clips from the film show, El train passengers were privy to the backside of social life, namely, domestic life. Peering in through apartment windows and having eyes on the back yards and street below, passengers had a powerful position over the street below, but only the street. They could not see down over the whole of the city, as skyscrapers allow, but they were physically taken out of the arena that they had a privileged view of: the street.


[1] The Vanishing El. Prod. Roy Creveling. Perf. Carl King. “If Things Could Talk” Series, 1950. You Tube/The Vanishing El. Styson1962, 17 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsEfenAc83s&feature=related&gt;.

[2] Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2003. Print. Pg. 52.

[3] “New York CIty Transit- History and Chronology.” Mta.info. New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Web. 26 Oct. 2011. <http://www.mta.info/nyct/facts/ffhist.htm&gt;.

[4] Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2003. Print. Pg. 51.

[5] Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2003. Print. Pg. 52.

[6] Pile, Steve. “‘The Problem of London’, Or,

How to Explore the Moods of the City”” The Hieroglyphics of Space: Reading and Experiencing the Modern Metropolis. Ed. Neil Leach. London: Routledge, 2002. 203-16. Print. Pg. 206.

[7] Certeau, Michel De. “Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. 91-110. Print.

[8] Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2003. Print. Pg. 52.

[9] Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2003. Print. Pg. 51.


Like Day and Night: Unpacking the Contents of My Experience on Oliver Street

Construction on the Ray Wilson School, number 8 Henry Street, commences at night. The building nearly fills the entire block of Oliver Street between Henry and Madison, leaving a small section on the eastern end of the block for a playground.

The unlocked gates to the back yard of Ray Wilson School.

The unlocked gates to the back yard of Ray Wilson School.

On the Oliver Street side of Ray Wilson, the construction scaffolding and wire fences shield the building from sight and close this public structure to public access even during daytime hours. A few weeks ago, however, when I visited in the late Friday afternoon, I found the gates of the back school yard unlocked, the chain and lock dangling freely. I looked over my shoulders to be sure there wasn’t anyone at street level that might see me sneak through. Finding the street empty, as it typically is during the day, I squeezed through the gap as quietly as possible, without allowing the metal to creak, and ran up the stairs to take a look around.

Back schoolyard of Ray Wilson School

Back schoolyard of Ray Wilson School. The map of the northern states of the U.S. remain.

On the pavement in the back school yard that I had entered, I found a map of the northern states of the U.S; the southern half was covered with orange construction fences because it had been broken up for removal of the black top. I looked around, trying to find something noteworthy or particularly interesting but, finding none, I walked back towards the gate entrance. I turned around before exiting the gate; I was disappointed that I would have to give up my sneaky adventure without some dramatic moment to document. I saw, up the stairs I had just descended, that a ramp, boxed in by wire fences above and on the sides, led to a storage area for all of the construction equipment. I walked down the ramp in full stride until I noticed that, at the end of the ramp, there was a desk with feet underneath of it. I stopped. A man in a navy blue uniform—was he a cop?—was leaning on the back two legs of a chair at an elementary school desk. I crept closer, my heart now beating strongly, the pace remaining even though each beat throbbed fiercely. I wanted to get a better look at him, and a good picture, but, for some reason, I didn’t want to be seen. The gate was unlocked but I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be there. I snapped a few photos, having to use the zoom feature to its full capacity to capture a glimpse of the “guard” (as I thought of him).

The "guard" of the construction zone; or, at least his feet.

The "guard" of the construction zone; or, at least his feet.

The fact that my heart was made to race underneath the shining sun made me anxious about traveling to Oliver Street under the cloak of darkness. At night, however, Oliver Street seems more active and alive, with light shining more clearly upon life in Two Bridges. All of the lights in the school are on, shining down onto Oliver Street and the playground below, allowing visual access through the windows of Ray Wilson. The scaffolding is alight too; construction lanterns hang, orb-like, from the metal scaffold. Unlike construction practices in other, more powerful boroughs and streets of New York, like Jane Street in Greenwich Village for example, construction on Oliver Street occurs during nighttime sleeping hours. I know from experience that construction on Jane Street is disallowed overnight and cannot begin until 8 am. The fact that construction is an overnight project on Oliver Street, disrupting the evening and sleeping hours that are supposed to be quiet and comfortable, speaks to the lack of political power and voice that residents in this area have.

Lack of political power and public voice is highly related to socio-economic status; if you have money, more likely than not, you have a say in public affairs. Joachim Schlör, in chapter 5 of his Nights in the Big City: Paris·Berlin·London 1840-1930, outlines how economic class is related to one’s relationship to the street. He says…

[The] upper classes made their streets into a stage on which they could display their power and wealth; while the ‘lower classes’ were obliged to make use of the streets to extend the restricted living space available to them. For the middle classes, however, the streets were not much more than routes to go to work and back…(my italics)[1]

Oliver Street is without any display of wealth and power; in fact, as discussed, the opposite is true.  It seems clear that the residents of Oliver Street are members of the middle and “lower classes.”I found further support for this claim in what I noticed about the relationship of authority to this street.

The NYPD EMT hustling after "Rodolfo" at the vehicular exit of Oliver Street into Chatham Square.

The NYPD EMT hustling after "Rodolfo" at the vehicular exit of Oliver Street into Chatham Square.

On the same Friday afternoon that I sneaked into the backyard of the Ray Wilson School, an NYPD EMT pulled her ambulance onto the side of St. James Street, coming out of Chatham Square, and hustled through the intersection, shouting at a man, “Rodolfo.” I looked in the direction that she was hurriedly walking and saw a scruffy, portly man, dressed entirely in dirty, black, cotton clothing, moving, as quickly as his size would permit, around the corner of Oliver Street and out of Chatham Square. The EMT began to run, screaming his name louder and warning him not to try to run away from her. When she caught up to him, she roughly grabbed his arm and loudly questioned him about his current state—“I can tell you shot up Rodolfo. You have to come with me; I gotta flush you.” She pulled him into the intersection, raising her other arm to stop traffic, and led Rodolfo to her ambulance. She loaded him up and they drove away, perhaps to save him from potential overdose, as her words suggested.

The officer approaches Rodolfo, considereing his current state.

The officer approaches Rodolfo, considereing his current state.

Schlör discusses the approach that authority takes to the street, both the “‘inner’ and ‘outer’ [lives],” saying that the authorities were attentive to both fields because seedy characters and criminals were to be found outdoors, on the pavement, and tucked away indoors, engaging in unlawful conduct. [2] In my experience on and of Oliver Street, however, the authorities have shown more concern for the outer life of the literal street way itself. On my night walk, I noticed an NYPD Security Camera at the pedestrian entrance of Oliver Street (from Chatham Square) and was further convinced that the police seemed concerned about public crime out of doors. Schlör offers further insight on this note saying that:

In enclosed spaces night life can more easily be controlled, domesticated, civilized, reduced to a manageable scale. This is a contradictory process: in the authorities’ eyes the street represents a fundamentally dangerous terrain, and so there are attempts to ‘cleanse’ it, to drive out the elements of disorder and immorality.[3]

By driving out, the authorities are actually driving crime indoors. They have shown their dominance on the “dangerous terrain” of Oliver Street, but what lurks within the residences, public structures of the school, Baptist Church, Convent, and doctor’s office at night? Accessibility to Oliver Street life and its essence will be further explored in a future post, but the question has been posed: is there an aspect to Oliver Street that has been driven indoors and, if so, how can I gain access?

Lily's is open and brightly lit, despite the late hour.

Lily's is open and brightly lit, despite the late hour. However, dead would be an understated way to describe their business tonight.

Tonight, the street is quiet but for a few purposeful walkers headed somewhere, probably home. I walked to Lily’s, needing dinner despite the late hour. As I stood outside, considering the menu,—do I want sushi or Chinese?—I heard Spanish being spoken and turned around to a group of teens. Breaking from Spanish, one of the boys said, “Lily’s Chinese and Japanese? What the fuck?” The group laughed and considered, for a moment, grabbing a bite. Instead, they kept moving, to where, I did not catch in their Spanish words.

Ray Wilson is under construction. The workers are silhouetted and seem to be looking down longingly.

Ray Wilson is under construction. The workers are silhouetted and seem to be looking down longingly.

The construction workers stood like lit statues, peering down from the top of the scaffolding, perhaps wondering at my meal like most of the passersby; they saw me eating shrimp and vegetables at the old men’s table outside of Lily’s, looked up at the lighted overhang and through the windows (perhaps to see other patrons enjoying their meals). As there were none but me, the dog walker and the number 31-33 apartment resident went on their ways, her, down towards Chatham Square with her miniature Doberman, and he, upstairs to his apartment above Generation Pharmacy.


[1] Schlor, Joachim. Trans. Pierre Gottfried Imhoff and Dafydd Rees Roberts. “Night-walking.” Night in the Big City: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930. Reaktion Books. 235-74. Print. Page 238.

[2] Schlor, Joachim. Trans. Pierre Gottfried Imhoff and Dafydd Rees Roberts. “Night-walking.” Night in the Big City: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930. Reaktion Books. 235-74. Print. Page 250-251.

[3] Schlor, Joachim. Trans. Pierre Gottfried Imhoff and Dafydd Rees Roberts. “Night-walking.” Night in the Big City: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930. Reaktion Books. 235-74. Print. Page 251.

So Close Yet So Far Away

None of you will be surprised to know that Oliver Street has yet to make its television debut. That being said, I think Oliver might be creeping into the limelight; perhaps creeping is even too rapid a word to describe Oliver Street’s future TV appearance, but we are only a block away people!

Just a block of Henry Street away, the Sweet Spring Restaurant (on the corners of Catherine and Henry Streets) and number 28 Henry, were featured in the cult comedy show from New Zealand, Flight of the Conchords. HBO signed the two man musical comedy act after their proven popularity abroad. Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement were called, “‘…New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo,’[1] a title that alludes to the sort of inane content that has entertained fanatic fans for the past two seasons of filming in New York City.

Screen shot of the "Sugalumps" segment of episode 2, season 2.

Screen shot of the "Sugalumps" segment of episode 2, season 2.

This photo on the left, a film shot from episode 2, season two during the musical segment titled, “Sugalumps,” [2] clues unfamiliar viewers with an understanding of the humor as a puerile inundation of sexuality (in song). In this segment, Bret and Jemaine break into a song, right in the middle of the Sweet Spring Restaurant, about how desperately women desire and admire the pair of privates located near the general vicinity of the melon’s Bret McKenzie is motioning to above (though they may be located as depicted, they are doubtfully sized as depicted).

The Flight of the Conchords has an international, fanatic audience following and has been wildly successful using other models employed by the current media industry; there have been endless merchandising possibilities, from t-shirts, posters and magnets, to albums or single tracks of the duo’s songs and music videos of their performances, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have successfully synergized their musical talents with their humor and, arguably, good looks. But the economic opportunities do not end with merchandising, band tours, music sales, DVD season sales, and producing profits, the wild popularity has inspired a “Flight of the Conchords Walking Tour.”[3]

The tour advertizes the opportunity to, “Discover Inner City Pressure,” and proceeds from Two Bridges, through Chinatown, and ends in the Lower East Side. According to the web page, the concentration of the tour in Lower Manhattan is due to the high percentage of exterior film shots of the area in the TV series.[4] Though New York City landmarks are certainly depicted in the show—the characters run in Central Park and the Great Lawn in episode 6 of season 2, singing about a “sexy girl” that they both love as the surrounding skyline is silhouetted above them—the treatment of the neighborhood, in this series, demonstrates the post-card effect that Sadler and Ekaterina define in their article, “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.”

The authors argue that “…television portrayals of the city [ ] are responsible for promoting the tourist attitude towardthe metropolis…[and that] the image of New York is constructed through a fragmented collage of postcard-like shots that together constitute a dominant narrative of a tourist friendly destination.”[5] The creation of a walking tour to see, firsthand, the locations of Bret and Jemaine’s lived experience of New York does, by virtue of its site orientation, break the city up. The tour sets up special destinations, particular fragments or postcard images from the TV series, to highlight and lets the rest of New York fall away in a blur.

”]The apartment stoop of 28 Henry St., where Bret and Jemaine lived.The well-articulated connection that the authors make to the hyperreal is particularly relevant to a discussion of a walking tour; “…the image becomes hyperreal, for television audiences begin to associate places and images with the television shows instead of the city itself.” [6] The tour website creator sees the neighborhoods of Chinatown, the LES, and Two Bridges as so truly represented in the Flight of the Conchords and so incredibly alive, full of New York life blood that he claims, “…one finds it hard to comprehend that an award winning TV series was filmed there.”[7] Furthur separating the tour from an experience of the hyperreal, the site validates the tourist experience as one that everyday NYC residents have: “The beauty about this part of the tour is that the neighborhood undertakes very little adjustment between what you see on the show, and what you will see in person.”[8]“However,” Sadler and Ekaterina counter, “…the hyperreal representations of New York’s sites become so reassuring that most viewers would be content with seeing only fragments of the ‘real’ city. Consequently, the city becomes a museum in itself, for ‘tourists travel to actual destinations to experience virtual places.’”[9] The fact is, tourists would go on the walking tour to have a closer look and connection to the lives of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, lives and experiences that were scripted and produced for television audiences. On walking tours of film shot locations, there cannot be any claim to reality based on this simple point of what the tourists are actually after. They aren’t seeking connection to New York City; they are seeking connection to the people they know that live in New York City. They want to connect to those people, their experiences, and their lives. What’s at issue is that television viewers know only characters, false people, who are depicted as persons living in New York but are, actually, actors filming on set in L.A.[10]

Right around the corner from the postcard stoop of 28 Henry St., just a block south of it’s corner with Catherine St.,lies lonely Oliver. The walking tour even avoids him. Though a researcher might be tempted to give up and concede to the facts that have piled up to prove that Oliver Street lacks a lived experience worth capturing—after  all, music, television, film, and even the contemporary New York Times and landmarks’ preservationists have ignored Oliver Street—the political front must be unpacked and I think a closer look at the politics and life of Al Smith, the 42nd Governor of NYC, born on Oliver Street, is finally at hand.

[1]Brandsdownunder. “Flight of the Conchords Walking Tour.” Squidoo.com. Squidoo, 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.squidoo.com/fotc-walking-tour&gt;.

[2]Bobin, James. “”Sugalumps”-Flight of the Conchords.” Flight of the Conchords. Prod. Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement. HBO. HBO, 25 Jan. 2009. Youtube.com. YouTube, 25 Jan. 2009. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV0RL7vK44E&feature=related&gt;.

[3]Brandsdownunder. “Flight of the Conchords Walking Tour.” Squidoo.com. Squidoo, 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.squidoo.com/fotc-walking-tour&gt;.

[4]Brandsdownunder. “Flight of the Conchords Walking Tour.” Squidoo.com. Squidoo, 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.squidoo.com/fotc-walking-tour&gt;.

[5] Sadler, William J., and Ekaterina V. Haskins. “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 29.3 (2005): 195-216. Print. Page 196.

[6] Sadler, William J., and Ekaterina V. Haskins. “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 29.3 (2005): 195-216. Print. Page 212.

[7]Brandsdownunder. “Flight of the Conchords Walking Tour.” Squidoo.com. Squidoo, 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.squidoo.com/fotc-walking-tour&gt;.

[8]Brandsdownunder. “Flight of the Conchords Walking Tour.” Squidoo.com. Squidoo, 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.squidoo.com/fotc-walking-tour&gt;.

[9]Sadler, William J., and Ekaterina V. Haskins. “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 29.3 (2005): 195-216. Print. Page 212.

[10]Sadler, William J., and Ekaterina V. Haskins. “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 29.3 (2005): 195-216. Print. Page 199.

[11]Reese, Jimmie. “28 Henry Street: Flight of the Conchords.” Web log post. Knickerbocker Village. Blogspot.com, 12 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. http://knickerbockervillage.blogspot.com/2011/11/28-henry-street-flight-of-conchords.html.

The Sound of Youth

In her article on “Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem,” Clare Corbould sees the essence of Harlem to be surrounding the notion of freedom. The soundscape of the neighborhood, dominated by politically incited speakers who institutionalized urban street corners to create “campuses” from which they could not be denied entry, helped to define Harlem as a place where residents, who were primarily African American, were “…free to behave in ways that asserted their individual and collective identities.”[1] The soundscape of Oliver Street, a quiet, rather vacant pathway extending out of Chatham Square, is not a place of freedom like Harlem; instead, Oliver Street is heard of as a childhood home, a part of New York that fosters rags to riches tales of success and silences failures.

Screen shot of Fred Ricker's "Oliver Street" music video (no longer online)

Screen shot of Fred Ricker's "Oliver Street" music video (no longer online)

Through music particularly, it is clear that Oliver Streetis the childhood home to many artists. Angela Nichole[2] and Fred Ricker[3] each wrote a song titled after the street that fostered them through their youth. It is unclear from the lyrics and sound quality if either of these musicians (?) is actually referring to Oliver Street, New York, NY. However, another more well-known artist, though not as a figure in the music industry, was truthfully born and bred here inNew York, at 25 Oliver Street: Governor Alfred E. Smith.

In his The Portrait of a Man as Governor, Thomas Herbert Dickinson uses Governor Smith as a model of the quintessential statesman, perfect for the position in innumerable ways that he, rather poetically, attempts to outline in his 37 page work. Dickinson begins by generally qualifying statesmanship as an art, thereby equating artists and statesmen. He says:

What is statesmanship but an art in which the wisdom and insight and sympathy of the great dramatist are employed in the handling of the living facts of life? And what is a statesman but architect, sculptor, plus a long patience with men, plus a deep faith in organic social process?[4]

Dickinson continues to use literary language as he attempts to get more particularly to Smith as a Governor. The author sees Smith’s artistry in politics to be demonstrated in,

“…the number of cases in which he has handled the task before him with the burning passion, the searching quality, the creative zeal, the patient assembling of parts in the pattern, the discriminating selectiveness, the intuitive and trained insight, the reticences, taste and hard decision of imaginative artistry.”[5]

In an attempt to further specify what exactly made Governor Smith such an exemplary statesmen, Dickinson credits him with having the capacity to enact true change for the advancement of the “welfare of man” using his unparalleled political tact to best serve himself and the citizens of New York City.[6]

There was widespread esteem for Smith personally and professionally, so much so that, in 1962, Robert Moses compiled Smith’s “personnel” legacy in A Tribute to Governor Smith. With contributions by several New York figures including Thomas Dewey, Bernard Baruch, and Francis Cardinal Spellman, Moses attempted to write Governor Alfred Smith into the pages of history, an accomplishment in which the Governor himself had not taken any interest. Moses says of Smith, “[he] was not a writer and left no diaries and few letters…The Governor liked to say, ‘Let’s look at the record,’ but his most significant utterances were off [of it.]” [7] Moses even notes the issue of technological primitivism that prevented the creation of any quality audio-visual recordings of his addresses, historical artifacts that would serve this project particularly well.

In Thomas E. Dewey’s “record” of Governor Smith we begin to see how Smith’s home on Oliver Street and in the poor neighborhood of Two Bridges was an uncompromised part of his politics and his public presentation of self. Dewey, the 47th Governor of New York, describes Governor Smith’s very personal fight for public housing reform, due primarily to the New York City tenement housing conditions, at the 1938 Constitutional Convention. He stood before the Convention and placed himself right on Oliver Street: “‘…I know they are there because I happened to live in one of those tenement houses that was put down by the committee as being unfit for human habitation, and it’s there yet and I know the people who live in it.’”[8]

Through his intimate relationships and friendships, Governor Smith maintained a strong connection and presence on Oliver Street. One of Smith’s mentors and greatest friends, whom he partially credited with his gubernatorial success, was Tom Foley, a saloon owner in his neighborhood. He said:

I knew Tom Foley as long as I can remember[.] I was born within a few blocks of his saloon. I used to go on the outings he had every summer…and I remember election nights around his club.  Everybody in the neighborhood knew him and how good he was, and how charitable…I don’t know how much money he had when he died, but I’ll bet he didn’t have a nickel. He was a good businessman and he made plenty, but he gave it away.[9]

Frank Graham, the “informal biographer” of Alfred E. Smith, claims that Foley’s death is one of the two connections that were severed between Smith and Oliver Street and led to his never returning to the street after 1923.[10] Oliver Street only remained Smith’s home while he was growing up, developing into the man of strong moral fiber, insistent on working for the bettering of life for present and future New Yorkers. His home in Two Bridges was simply a springboard; here he was nurtured into a decent man and was launched into gubernatorial work in Albany and into a new, elevated life of success and comfort on Fifth Avenue, just above Washington Square.[11]

Even here, however, Al Smith could not quite escape the resonance that Oliver Street had deep in his soul, the strings at which music tends to pull. After moving to Fifth Avenue, Smith and his family were given a “hurdy-gurdy” as a gift, the same musical machine that his parents had played music on during his childhood in Two Bridges. Graham, in his “informal” biography of Smith, says, “…of course Al got as much pleasure out of it as [the children] did—and the children danced to its music as their parents and grandparents once had done on the sidewalks of Oliver Street.”[12]

The Austrian Barrel Organ-hurdy gurdy-pictured here his street-playing owner.

The Austrian Barrel Organ-hurdy gurdy-pictured here his street-playing owner.

The Wheel Fiddle version of a hurdy gurdy.

The Wheel Fiddle version of a hurdy gurdy.

What exactly is a “hurdy-gurdy?” Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is a lead for a future NYU Steinhardt Dead Media Archive researcher: there are two different musical devices that make use of this alias, the Austrian Barrel Organ[13] and the wheel fiddle[14]. Apparently, the term was first used to describe the stringed wheel fiddle. The wheel acts as a violin bow and produces single notes on the strings while the melodies are played on a wooden keyboard that compresses the strings to change pitch. Listening to the sound bite on the site, the instrument does, as foretold, sound like bagpipes. Street musicians in the 18th century created urban soundscapes with a very different instrument, the barrel organ, though it was given the same English name, hurdy gurdy; “[this] confusion over what the name hurdy gurdy means is particular to English…”[15] This portable box instrument, with a crank, organ pipes, and a rotating barrel that plays music like a music box (with the programmed pins creating a tune by ringing the metal key tangents) required nothing more than cranking to create music that, according to Frank Graham, could be heard on Oliver Street outside of the Smith home at number 25.


[1]Corbould, Clare. “Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem.” Journal of Social History 40.4 (2007): 859-94. Print.

[3]Oliver Street. Perf. Fred Ricker. NME.com. YouTube.com, 20 July 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nme.com/nme-video/youtube/id/q8ha-BEg2SA/search/oliver-street&gt;. (Video removed)

[4] Dickinson, Thomas Herbert. The Portrait of a Man as Governor, Volume 4. New York: Macmillan, 1928. HathiTrust Digital Library. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?seq=8&id=uc1.b310642&view=image&q1=artist&start=1&size=100&page=root&orient=0&gt;. Page 5.

[5] Dickinson, Thomas Herbert. The Portrait of a Man as Governor, Volume 4. New York: Macmillan, 1928. HathiTrust Digital Library. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?seq=8&id=uc1.b310642&view=image&q1=artist&start=1&size=100&page=root&orient=0&gt;. Page 6.

[6]Dickinson, Thomas Herbert. The Portrait of a Man as Governor, Volume 4. New York: Macmillan, 1928. HathiTrust Digital Library. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?seq=8&id=uc1.b310642&view=image&q1=artist&start=1&size=100&page=root&orient=0&gt;. Page 7.

[7]Moses, Robert. A Tribute to Governor Smith. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962. Print. Page 19.

[8]Dewey, Thomas E. Introduction. A Tribute to Governor Smith. By Robert Moses.New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962. 9-10. Print.

[9]Graham, Frank. Al Smith American: An Informal Biography. New York: Van Rees, 1945.Google Books. Google, Inc. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. Page 174. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_TCAMfepV8kC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;.

[10] Graham, Frank. Al Smith American: An Informal Biography. New York: Van Rees, 1945.Google Books. Google, Inc. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. Page 172. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_TCAMfepV8kC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;.

[11]Graham, Frank. Al Smith American: An Informal Biography. New York: Van Rees, 1945.Google Books. Google, Inc. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. Page 213. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_TCAMfepV8kC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;.

[12] Graham, Frank. Al Smith American: An Informal Biography. New York: Van Rees, 1945.Google Books. Google, Inc. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. Page 213. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_TCAMfepV8kC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;.

[13]Barabasz, Andrzej. Austrian Barrel Organ. 2002. Photograph. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. File:Austrian BarrelOrgan.jpg. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Mar. 2005. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Austrian_BarrelOrgan.jpg&gt;.

[14]Frinck51. Louvet Drehleier. 2005. Photograph. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.File:Louvet Drehleier.JPG. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 31 Jan. 2005. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Louvet_Drehleier.JPG#filelinks&gt;.

[15]“Hurdy Gurdy.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurdy_gurdy&gt;.

Blog # 11- Digital Representations

Oliver Street view on Google street view images.

Oliver Street view on Google street view images.

I’ve seen the neighborhood of Two Bridges in two dimensional map representations on Google.com, walked Oliver Street and the surrounding pathways, taken pictures during these adventures, and tried to exercise an overwhelming curiosity to make as many specific observations about the area as possible. I’ve snuck into locked gates, eaten at the only restaurant on the two block street, met and chatted with an employee from the Mariner’s Temple Baptist Church, and watched an NYPD officer escort a drug addict to her EMT van, taking pictures to mercilessly document  as many details of Oliver Street in the live as possible. My online and in-house research has been equally persistent; not only have I scoured the stacks and online catalog of Bobst Library and NYU’s database resources, but I’ve exploited as many materials as the world-wide web can offer me with regard to Oliver Street, the history of New York and Two Bridges more specifically, and even dug through the lives of prominent figures born and bred in the area.

Despite my diligence, it wasn’t until I took a serious look at the area through the lens of the Google satellite images that I

The red front door on the Alfred Smith House on Henry Street, a block from Oliver St.

The red front door on the Alfred Smith House on Henry Street, a block from Oliver St.

realized that this neighborhood has an overwhelming number of red doors on the entrances to the residences and other edifices. Free association seems to be a most useful method for treating the facts and tales that I have compiled about Oliver Streetand, in this line of questioning too, the same tactic proved effective: red, the color of blood, China, and the stereotypical color of the front door of an American suburbanite living “the American Dream.”

According to bloggers answering the same question that I have posed—why red painted doors?—there are several different nationalities and religious traditions that hold faith in the power of a red painted front door.

In China, it’s tradition to paint the front door red before the [New Year], to invite good luck and happiness.

In [Catholicism], the red door on a chapel symbolized the blood of Christ, and other martyrs, to signify that the ground beyond the door (inside the church) was holy, and a sanctuary from physical and spiritual evils.

In Ireland, front doors are painted red to ward-off ghosts and evil spirits.[1]

The red doors of the Mariner's Temple Baptist Church and Number 2 Federal Row House.

The red doors of the Mariner's Temple Baptist Church and Number 2 Federal Row House.

Other bloggers bring in the theological justifications behind the Anglican, or Episcopal, church’s presentation of red door fronts; red, the color of blood, symbolizes the blood of Christ and designates a church as a sanctuary. There is a further theological connection to blood: the smearing of the blood of a sacrificed lamb over the door when the 10th plague was passing through Egypt and killing the firstborn son of a household. If there was blood over the door, the plague would pass over the homes of believers in Christ, sparing their sons. “So, red doors signify that safety lies therein. It is a welcome,”[2] just as it is for the Chinese.

An Upper East Side blogger, David Cobb Craig, has picked up on a similar door front paint color a 100 city blocks north of Two Bridges; the doors in this area are commonly painted red too. Craig elaborates on the Chinese tradition of red front doors saying, “[according] to the aesthetics of feng shui, a red door symbolizes the mouth of the home and draws positive energy to it.”[3]

Craig also expands the red door explanations beyond the iVillage GardenWeb blog and Secaucus church. A home that

Red door on the Oliver St. side entrance of Ray Wilson School.

Red door on the Oliver St. side entrance of Ray Wilson School.

has a fully paid mortgage, without any loans against it, is publicly announced as “free and clear” with a red door signifier. Not only was red a symbol of a holy sanctuary, but also of an Underground Railroad safe house. Finally, Craig states that “[schools] and barns were commonly painted red starting around the time of the Civil War because cheap, easy-to-come-by iron ore—ground fine—yielded the key ingredient for a pigment called Venetian red.”[4]

Oliver Streetis a multicultural, multi-faith street, a fact we know from the study of the Census data a few weeks ago. There are a great number of citizens of Chinese, Irish, and Italian heritage, two houses of worship of differing Christian denominations (Catholic and Baptist). Therefore, all of the cultural conjectures about the significance of red painted front doors are highly relevant to Oliver Street, where Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, Baptists, Chinese, and the poor are all living in very close quarters on a street and in a neighborhood without any opportunities for entertainment outside of the home.

Such a small detail as a red door front is a unifying force, bringing together, symbolically, the literal collection of nationally, ethnically, and spiritually diverse people on Oliver Street. When a street looks cohesive, as if built by one residential planner, there is a feeling of unity or homogeneity of the residents behind the structures. Behind the red front doors, however, we realize that the feature has different meanings for residents of different backgrounds and that immense heterogeneity is what is really behind the closed entrances. The closed, red front door is a street level way to get at the population diversity that one would normally turn on the computer to research.

Anne Galloway, writing about the logic of ubiquitous computing in relation to social and cultural studies of everyday life, highlights a key feature of this form of technological theory: “Ubicomp [] ‘takes into account the natural human environment and allows the computers themselves to vanish into the background.’”[5] This is precisely what the online Google “street view” photos has attempted to do, disappear behind how they represent Oliver Street, the “natural human environment,” in this case. Oliver Street is online, not just in person, and, to be honest, it could almost be argued that there is more available to a visitor on the web than there is to a street walker. After all, I never got behind any of the red doors while I was on the street; that I did from my couch, operating through the web on my blood red Dell Inspiron.


[1]Enviro_home_ctr. “Is There a History/meaning to a Red Front Door? – Old House Forum – GardenWeb.” That Home Site! Forums – GardenWeb.IVillageGarden Web, 12 May 2011. Web log post. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/load/oldhouse/msg0111505527696.html&gt;.

[2]Knitmarie. “Is There a History/meaning to a Red Front Door? – Old House Forum – GardenWeb.” That Home Site! Forums – GardenWeb.IVillageGarden Web, 12 May 2011. Web log post. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/load/oldhouse/msg0111505527696.html&gt;.

[3]Craig, David Cobb. “Red Doors of the Upper East Side.” Web log post. David Cobb Craig: A Pictorial Blog of Things I Make, Items I Collect, Architecture I Love, and Other Stuff. Blogger.com, 2 May 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://davidcobbcraig.blogspot.com/2011/05/red-doors-of-upper-east-side.html&gt;.

[4]Craig, David Cobb. “Red Doors of the Upper East Side.” Web log post. David Cobb Craig: A Pictorial Blog of Things I Make, Items I Collect, Architecture I Love, and Other Stuff. Blogger.com, 2 May 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://davidcobbcraig.blogspot.com/2011/05/red-doors-of-upper-east-side.html&gt;.

[5]Galloway, Anne. “Intimations of Everyday Life: Ubiquitous Computing and the City.” Cultural Studies 18.2-3 (2004): 384-408. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals&gt;.

[6]Oliver Street, Street Views. 2011. Photograph. New York City. Google Maps. Google, Inc., 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=1+Oliver+Street&gs_upl=2859l4996l0l5189l15l8l0l5l5l0l109l668l7.1l13l0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&biw=1280&bih=709&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x89c25a2683dd2a27:0x30c00f083ed3f5d5,1+Oliver+St,+Manhattan,+NY+10038&gl=us&ei=6r_TTq2rHc2q0AHX1fi9DQ&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CB0Q8gEwAA>.

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