Harlem Lodge No. 457

The important role of clubs in Black New York in the early 20th century cannot be overstated. While class and color discrimination did impact membership and participation, Black Harlemites relied on clubs for networking – professional and personal.

The masons played a significant role in Black Harlem in the 1920’s

Related image

The New-York Historical Society has more on African Americans and freemasonry

African American freemasonry originated during the American Revolution. On March 6, 1775, fourteen men of color were made masons in Lodge #441 of the Irish Registry attached to the 38th British Foot Infantry at Castle William Island in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. Prince Hall, a freedman and leather worker, would emerge as the leader of this group, called African Lodge #1. After the war, the group applied to the Grand Lodge of England, the Premier Grand Lodge of the world, for a charter to organize a regular masonic lodge, with all the rights and privileges that went along with it. On September 29, 1784, the Grand Lodge of England issued a charter to African Lodge #459, the first lodge of African Americans Freemasons.

This was the beginning of a tight knit Freemason community based upon common race, history, and experience. Through a growing network of lodges, African American masons promoted fellowship, mutual aid, and social respectability, while standing against slavery and white supremacy. Together, free blacks were much stronger than they could be standing alone, and voluntary associations like those of the Freemasons empowered them and created the potential to exert influence in the community.

See: http://blog.nyhistory.org/african-american-freemasonry-and-new-yorks-grand-colored-lodge/

I recently came across a commemorative coin celebrating the anniversary of a Harlem lodge:

This 1934 coin is also notable because it shows Harlem’s High Bridge (the route of Croton Aqueduct water supply into New York City) in its original, masonry arches, form. If you’ve been to the Highline or passed under it on Harlem River Drive, you know that a large iron span replaced the multiple arches over the river. Masonry arches remain on both banks:

Highbridge Park | Washington Heights NYC

The Silent March

In the 1970’s a back-hoe operator noticed scores and scores of film canisters and reels poking out of the soil where he was digging a new septic system:

The wet, dirty, and frozen film reels represented a trove of silent era films that the world had not seen for generations.

Dawson City in Canada’s far north was the end of the line, the last stop in the distribution chain of silent era films. Once everywhere else was finished with the films they ended up in Dawson City where they were stockpiled and the distributors refused to pay for their return (especially since they were, by then, 2 to 3 years old). The stockpile grew and grew. Some of the pile were dumped in the local river, some were burned. The trove that was found in the 70’s were used as fill to fill up a former swimming pool (along with soil) so a new hockey rink could be built atop the former pool.

Amid the more than 500 reels of film that were recovered was a short 28 second clip of the 1917 Silent Parade (or the Silent Protest):

Indeed if you’ve ever seen black and white film clips of the parade, you’ve likely seen part of a reel that was dug out of a former swimming pool in Canada’s arctic, after being buried for 60 years. (See: https://naacp.org/silent-protest-parade-centennial/ for more on the parade and its significance for American history.)

Here is the 28 second clip:

On July 28, 1917 W. E. B. Du Bois organized a parade of African Americans that ran down Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to 23rd Street. Dressed in white, and silent except for a muffled beat of drums, thousands marched in protest of the recent mob violence and lynchings in Waco, Memphis and East St. Louis.

NOTE: This clip originally appeared as part of Universal Animated Weekly, Vol. 5, Issue 83, released on August 1, 1917. In 1929 it was buried, along with 532 other film reels, in a defunct swimming pool in Dawson City, Yukon Territory Canada. It was unearthed in 1978 during a construction project, after being inadvertently preserved for 49 years in the Yukon permafrost. The exhumation of the collection was administered by the Dawson City Museum, and was then jointly preserved by Library and Archives Canada and the US Library of Congress, where the nitrate originals and duplicate safety copies of the collection are now housed. The clip was first excerpted for use in Bill Morrison’s 2016 documentary “Dawson City: Frozen Time” some 38 years after it was originally discovered. The Dawson City Museum, Library and Archives Canada, Library of Congress and the film “Dawson City: Frozen Time” should be credited in any re-use.

To learn more about the film trove and how important this collection is to both film history and history in general, see Dawson City: Frozen Time:

Tiny Gallery Opening – Odetta Gallery

A fascinating gallery has an exhibit on view:

Seth Callander, The Waters We Swim, 2020, wood, paint, glue, overall dimensions 9 h x 16 w x 24

Of tiny sculptures in a miniature display – Odetta Petite:

ODETTA, in response to the current paradigm, is excited to introduce a new exhibition space, ODETTA Petite. Replicating the gallery’s original Bushwick venue, Ellen Hackl Fagan and Seth Callander have created a scaled-down space to enable its artists to return to gallery exhibitions. The new space is 9H X 16W x 24L inches. With a touch of humor, Fagan’s channeling a combination of International Style and Wes Anderson, ala Alice in Wonderland.

As we navigate the uncertainties of the pandemic, we can’t help wondering what, if anything, will be normal again. What will be returned and what has been permanently lost? How can we maintain what we love and what does that look like now? These are the questions central to this, our present. This is a moment when the whole world is “at sea.”

Seth Callander’s installation “The Waters We Swim” is a direct response to the feelings of chaos, exacerbated by the lack of clear information, that our entire global society is engulfed in. We’ve all experienced frustration, loss, and confusion, as the months continue to roll on.
Callander’s abstract sculpture fills the Lilliputian gallery floor with a series of three constructions that, at scale, would be about 7 feet tall, 24 feet wide by 30 feet deep.
A visitor to a room the size of the original ODETTA would be surrounded by waves of the blue stained massive work, constructed in aluminum. In its diminutive presentation, his piece is as much a stand-alone site-specific installation as it is a proposal for monumental landscape sculpture.

In the rear of the gallery is a wire maquette titled “After the Wreck”. It is part of series Callander calls “My Father’s Work.” which are reflections of the work of artists from all disciplines that have been his primary influences.

This piece combines the work of sculptor John Chamberlain with Adrienne Rich, who wrote the moving collection of poetry, “Diving into the Wreck”. The piece will be realized in wood, and about 7 feet tall.

You can learn more about this project at Untapped Cities.

Storefront Academy and the 40’s

The Storefront Academy

The storied Storefront Academy https://www.storefrontacademycs.org/ has changed to a Charter School and is now struggling to come online in the COVID-19 era.

The Children’s Storefront was a tuition-free private school in Harlem, founded in 1966 by the poet Ned O’Gorman.  It was the subject of a 1988 documentary film, The Children’s Storefront, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

The mural on their east wall (behind the BP gas station at 129th Street and Park Avenue) is wonderful and inspiring, albeit marred somewhat by the “Now Enrolling” sign.

1940’s Streetview

The wonderful blog Gotham to Go (the labor and love of one of our Madison Avenue neighbors – https://gothamtogo.com/were-enjoying-the-interactive-street-view-map-showing-nyc-in-1940/) has a great piece on a wonderful project that stitched together the 1940s tax photos of NYC into a kind-of mid-century street view.

Coal is being delivered on West 129th Street:

And Madison Avenue between 126 and 127 is barren with not a sign of a tree, trash or life:

Notice how there used to be a restaurant at the ground level on the north west corner of 126/Madison:

To see more: https://1940s.nyc/map/photo/nynyma_rec0040_1_01749_0056#17.09/40.806624/-73.9386

New! Improved! Pins!

Until recently I was extremely frustrated with 311s inability to allow ‘pinning’ – tapping on a digital map to identify a location. Think about reporting something in Marcus Garvey Park and how complex it would be to describe to someone in the 311 call center, or to indicate with a simple street address.

Recently when reporting illegal dumping, I noticed that 311 finally had the ability to pin a location:

Now, by clicking on the 311 app’s map, the app geolocated my tap with a street address for me to confirm, or try again with:

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work for the park example I gave earlier (you need to pin a street address, not simply a location in a park or in a particular lot…) yet, but at least the app is moving forward somewhat.

If you don’t have the 311 app on your phone, you NEED to install it. Here’s the link:

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gov.nyc.doitt.ThreeOneOne&hl=en_US

iPhone: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/nyc-311/id324897619

As we always say, if you don’t complain, they don’t listen and they certainly don’t know what you’re thinking unless you tell them.

Wish Tree: Imagine Peace

If you had the chance to walk by 5th Avenue at 126th Street, you might have caught this fantastic community art project:

The beautifully tended tree pits nearby, and the messages of hope that made up the project were really magical:

A few of the wishes, left by our neighbors, are shown below:

Fred R. Moore

The Fred R. Moore School between 5th and Madison, and 130th and 131st, is restrained mid-century gem of New York City’s public architecture. This school and the associated playground take up a whole city block: https://www.schools.nyc.gov/schools/M133

When you walk on Madison between 131st and 130th, just inside the playground’s gates, you’ll see a wonderful bas relief of schoolchildren racing towards school and their future:

The school is named for a prominent Black journalist and publisher who wrote for and ran the New York Age during the Harlem Renaissance.

Moore was an editor and publisher who became closely associated with Booker T. Washington until 1915 when Washington died. He worked to promote the National Negro Business League founded by Washington in 1900. He became editor and publisher of the Colored American Magazine in 1905, through Washington’s influence. He had the reputation as one of the most important newspaperman in the US.

Again through Washington who bought New York Age, Moore became editor and purported owner in 1907, a position he held until his death

The Parks department notes:

In October 1949, community members, government officials, teachers, and students gathered to dedicate the new Fred R. Moore School/P.S. 133 at Fifth Avenue and 130th Street in Harlem. Mrs. Marian Moore Day, youngest daughter of the late editor, spoke at the ceremony. The site of the neighboring playground had been acquired by the City of New York in 1946. It was developed with basketball and handball courts, as well as a softball diamond and a large open area for rollerskating. The playground opened on December 22, 1951.

Former Council Member (now Manhattan Borough President) C. Virginia Fields funded the $885,000 reconstruction of Moore Playground in 1998. As they enter the playground from the northeast, pupils at P.S. 133 and community members encounter a granite and cast-stone replica of the front page of the New York Age, announcing the achievements of Fred R. Moore. The playground features new play equipment, safety surfacing, benches, spray shower, climbing turtles, drinking fountain, drainage and water supply, and resurfaced tennis and basketball courts. The entire site is enclosed with new fencing adorned with steel silhouettes of turtles, birds, and marsh plants.

COVID Antibodies

As you likely know by now, the presence of COVID antibodies indicates people who have had COVID (knowingly, or completely asymptomatically). The DOHMH for NYC has released a map of COVID antibody testing. Our (East Harlem) data is based on 6,258 tests:

The city on Tuesday released the results for roughly 1.5 million coronavirus antibody tests conducted since mid-April. The new data confirms earlier reports that the virus has hit people of color and low-income communities harder than more well-off neighborhoods in New York City. At 33 percent, the Bronx saw the highest rate of people who tested positive for COVID-19; in Manhattan, 19 percent of antibody tests were positive. A new map and table released by the city’s health department break down antibody testing rates by ZIP code, age, borough, sex, and neighborhood poverty.

As you can see, our community is somewhere in the middle of Manhattan’s range. Many more people in Washington Heights have had COVID, and many people south of is in the upper East Side, for example, have not had COVID.

The lowest rates in Manhattan, which had the lowest overall rate of positive antibodies, were found on the Upper East Side and Upper West, both at 12.6 percent positive. No neighborhoods south of Harlem saw rates higher than 20 percent. In the ZIP code 10036, which includes Midtown West, 19.6 percent of those tested had antibodies.

Some researchers say those with COVID antibodies are likely protected from getting the virus again or as severely, possibly offering some relief to those neighborhoods hardest hit early on in the crisis. But there are still too many unknowns, and the city wants everyone, antibodies or not, to consider themselves at risk for infection.

See: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data-testing.page

Howell Binkley

One of our Harlem Neighbors has passed.

Howell Binkley died from lung cancer. Howell was a two-time Tony award-winning lighting designer, most notably for his work on Hamilton

From Playbill:

Two-time Tony winner Howell Binkley, one of Broadway’s most prominent contemporary lighting designers, passed away August 14, 2020, at the age of 64. The cause was lung cancer. His wife, Joyce Storey, confirmed the news to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Among his designs were the original Broadway productions of Jersey Boys and Hamilton, both of which won him the Tony Award in 2006 and 2016, respectively, along with an Olivier Award for the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical’s staging in London’s West End in 2018. The recently released Disney+ capture of Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre immortalizes Mr. Binkley’s work for generations to come.

Binkley, Howell.jpg
Howell Binkley

The designer made his Broadway debut as the lighting designer for Kiss of a Spider-Woman in 1993, earning a Tony nomination for his work on the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Terrence McNally musical set in an Argentine prison. His additional credits include Avenue QIn the HeightsCome From Away, and Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations, all of which also earned Tony nods. In total, he competed nine times for Broadway’s highest honor.

Born in Winston-Salem, Mr. Binkley attended East Carolina University before moving to New York City in 1978. In 1985, choreographer David Parsons and Mr. Binkley founded the Parsons Dance Company, a modern company that has toured all over the world.

By end of the ’90s, Mr. Binkley was firmly established as one of Broadway’s most sought-after lighting technicians. In addition to original productions like Summer: The Donna Summer MusicalEscape to Margaritaville, Prince of Broadway, Allegiance, Memphis, and The Full Monty, the designer handled a number of revivals on the Main Stem, including Gypsy in 2008, West Side Story in 2009, and Jesus Christ Superstar in 2012. In total, Mr. Binkley designed lighting for 52 Broadway shows.