arts 01.6.17

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The Present Condition of Travel on the
Lexington Avenue Subway

THE MORNING LINE With thanks for your generous support, MUG is proud to publish the first article in our 25th year!

show How many times have you been at the theater and wished you were in a bar instead? And how many times have you been in a bar and wished you could have a more interesting conversation than the one transpiring? That brings us to Joe's NYC Bar (no connection to Joe Holmes' joe's nyc), a 90-minute show taking place at Ryan's Daughter on the UES. Actors (playing well-defined characters)—and barflies (you) discuss the current state of the world. Nine performances beginning tonight, 8pm, $20 in advance.

art Join the imaginative leap by artist Elizabeth Enders, whose watercolors and oil paintings, created from her Nova Scotia home, travel through time and place to the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Opens January 14 at Betty Cuningham Gallery.

photography Ming Smith was the first female in the Kamoinge photography group and she was the first African-American female photographer to have work acquired by MoMA. Many of the images were taken in 1970s Harlem. On January 13, another first: the first major retrospective of her work, at Steven Kasher Gallery.

food "I pick my favourite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armour, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence." So said the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. Armour in the struggle of this turbulent existence might also include chocolate, which brings us to Burdick, making a welcome return to the city at 156 Prince [W. Bway/Thompson] 212.796.0143. Celebrating Robert Burns' birthday on January 25, the chocolatier offers the Robert Burns Whisky Collection, made with Lagavulin, Talisker, Macallan and other fine Scotch spirits.

music Cotton Mather—the longtime indie rock band from Austin, not the Puritan minister— is creating 64 songs, one for each hexagram of the I Ching. Hear one of them, Faded, recorded with Nicole Atkins.

Here's an email sent out by Manhattan Borough Historian, Michael Miscione, which he has kindly agreed to let us reprint.

Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year, friends.

On New Year's Eve I had the pleasure of attending Governor Andrew Cuomo's launch party for the new Second Avenue Subway.

As most of you probably know from all the recent news reports the Second Avenue Subway has had a long and tortured history, beginning with a proposal in 1919. While state and local officials debated, discussed, funded and defunded their various plans for the better part of a century, East Siders (including myself) endured the overcrowded conditions of the Lexington Avenue Line. Their lot worsened when the Second and Third Avenue Els were abandoned in the early 1940s and 1955 respectively.

These local residents did not all suffer in silence—and therein lies a tale that, I suspect, is unknown to even the most devoted subway buff.

In 1922 a local business group known as the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce sent a petition to Mayor Mike Hylan and the Board of Estimate that read, in part, "We have only one East Side subway—Lexington Avenue—and trains on this line are overcrowded before they leave the Bronx on their way downtown in the morning. We need another trunk line subway running through the East Side."

A less plucky group might have remained content with mere letters and petitions, but not the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce. The following year they participated in the Silver Jubilee Parade, a march down Fifth Avenue presided over by the mayor marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the consolidation of the five-borough city. It was intended to display the grandeur of New York City's businesses and industries.

The floats of the city's motion picture companies showcased their hit films and movie stars. The float of the Borden Farm Products Company showcased the "fountain of health" that is milk. The floats of the Hellman Motor Corporation showcased its latest automobiles. The floats of knitting mills, shipbuilders, department stores, even a harmonica manufacturer, all showcased their latest wares.

The float of the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce? It showcased the congestion on the Lexington Avenue Subway Line. Their float consisted of a mocked-up standing-room-only subway car with the painted inscription, "THE PRESENT CONDITION OF TRAVEL ON THE LEXINGTON AVENUE SUBWAY."

The following day it was reported in the New York Times that "Luna Park's 'pig slide,' with small pigs sliding down a chute atop a float caused considerable amusement, but Mayor Hylan had a bigger laugh over the float of the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce."

To see a rare photograph of the float, which I possess, click here [larger version].

This story has a postscript. The Yorkville Chamber of Commerce, I have learned, did not fade away like so many local betterment groups of yesteryear. It flourished and grew. It became the Mid-East Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and then the East Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. Finally, in 1997 it expanded to become today's Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

Last night I looked at the invitation that Governor Cuomo's office had sent me. It listed the nineteen groups that comprised the host committee of the night's gala. Among them was the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. I doubted if any of their members knew about the amusing little stunt their organization pulled 93 years earlier.

Warm wishes for '17,

New York City Mayor Mike Hylan in 1923.

Images courtesy of Michael Miscione. All rights reserved.

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