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My favorite person in the early New York punk scene may be an eight-year-old girl.

Let me explain.

A large part of my research thus far has involved trawling the “vault” of PUNK magazine, whose website includes select scans from the magazine’s back issues. The one thing in the magazine that really grabbed my attention – more so even than John Holmstrom’s illustrated front covers – was a feature called “PUNK of the Month,” in which the magazine took submissions from readers who would explain, through often-sardonic claims of the ways in which they embody the punk rock lifestyle, why they deserved to be crowned punk of the month.

The submissions vary greatly from each other, each of them showing, through both text and layout, the unique style and temperament of the person who submitted it. There are huge disparities in tone above all else, with some “punks of the month” writing in a relatively calm tone while others went straight for the jugular with whatever cynical, shocking, and offensive statements they could come up with. The November 1977 PUNK of the Month, instead of submitting a photo, sent a “blood smear” (maybe fake; maybe not; who knows?) and proclaimed: “Here’s more of me than a picture could ever have.” (This particular submission also employed a non-reclamatory use of a homophobic slur, which just goes to show that even within what is meant to be an anti-establishment, anti-“ism” scene, you still come across a lot of “bro” types who just don’t Get It.)

Don't get in her way! Nellie

Nellie “Live Wire” in PUNK Volume 1 Number 12 (January 1978).

And then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have little girls who love Patti Smith and beat up boys with their hairbrushes.

I admit I was surprised to see eight-year-old Nellie the “Live Wire” in a publication that is known for lewdness, swearing, and all sorts of inappropriate content. I was much more surprised to see how indulgent the magazine was with her submission, captioning her challenging pose with “Don’t get in her way!” Too often do we see adult male fans of rock music – from hardcore punk to pop-punk to alt. rock to emo – dismiss the musical tastes of young girls and even attempt, both consciously and unconsciously, to chase them out of the scene. It’s incredibly important to see that, even from the very beginning, young girls have been fans of punk rock, and it’s important that the magazine that gave the scene its name is not ashamed to acknowledge that.

I hope to find a place for Nellie in my exhibit. I’m not yet sure where I could put her, but the girls of the punk scene are an important part of the development of the punk aesthetic and its journey into the mainstream, so this gem may not be a complete tangent after all.

Sources:

PUNK Volume 1 Number 11

PUNK Volume 1 Number 12

To see the rest of the PUNK vault, click here.

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This semester, for the larger Greenwich Village History Digital Archive, I would like to contribute an online exhibition that examines the Subject of the Artist School founded by artists Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, William Baziotes, David Hare and Mark Rothko at 35 East Eighth Street in Greenwich Village in 1949. These artists, who were all either associated with Abstract Expressionism or Surrealism, organized a series of lectures in order to convey the idea there was meaning in abstract art. It was this lecture series that endured after the school failed financially just a year after it opened its doors. Organized by professors from New York University, the series continued once the space became Studio 35.

My research is in its beginning stages, but it seems this project will be a bit of a challenge since the school is often unfamiliar even to art historians. In fact, the school has usually only been mentioned briefly in footnotes. However, I have been able to find a few scholarly articles using Worldcat and at least book, Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), all of which contain rich bibliographies that will lead to me to other sources. Additionally, I will look through the 1949-1950 issues of the Education Sun, the student newspaper for New York University’s School of Education at New York University’s University Archives, as well as contune searching through the artist collections of the Archives of American Art. While visiting the Archives of American Art’s website, I discovered a few transcribed interviews with artists who speak about the school’s mission. At least one of these interviews is in the public domain and readily available to use in my archive. These interviews are incredibly valuable resources for my project because they describe who attended the series and what events actually occurred during the meetings. Similarly, these artists’ estates may have primary sources that can reveal further details about this short-lived, experimental venture.


blogpost

New York University’s Bobcat database has been an essential tool during the beginning stages of my research.


By completing this project I hope I can not only contribute an online entry that fills a hole in the course’s Greenwich History Blog and Archive, which is currently lacking in entries and exhibitions from the 1940s, but I also hope to fill a hole in the art historical literature, which, at this time, contains more information about Studio 35 than the Subject of the Artist School. Sources are limited, but I hope to be able to determine why these founders initially came together, what ideas they hoped to convey, what methods they used to convey their ideas, how their philosophies compared or related to other artist-run schools the time, who attended the school and lectures, and ultimately what was the lasting legacy of the short-lived venture.

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It’s difficult to talk about punk and alternative visual style without talking about the hair, and it’s impossible to talk about the hair without talking about hair dye.

Manic Panic, beloved by celebrities and small-town youths alike, is known now for providing a wide array of dyes in unnatural shades like pink, turquoise, and atomic red, but it originally got its start as a small East Village boutique selling punk-style clothing and cosmetics. Founded in 1977 by Tish and Snooky Bellomo, two backup singers of punk/New Wave outfit Blondie, Manic Panic was, if not the first, at least one of the earliest stores dedicated to punk fashion. For the first two decades of its history it was a located at 33 St. Marks Place, and photos of that original boutique show a storefront that strongly embodies the punk DIY aesthetic, with a sign that looks hand-lettered and band shirts in the windows.

Manic Panic temporary tattoo

A temporary tattoo proclaiming the brand’s slogan: “Life fast & dye your hair.”

By the early 2000s the store had moved from its small space on St. Marks to a warehouse in Long Island.  The initial change in location had more to do with rising rent prices in the East Village than with changes in demand, but by the 1990s Manic Panic had gone beyond its punk roots and entered the mainstream.  An Associated Press article from mid-1996, in attempting to examine a hair-coloring “fad” seen in both celebrity fashion and street style, sources the trend back to Manic Panic, citing the cheapness of the product ($8 a bottle at the time; these days it’s closer to $10) and the huge array of colors as the reasons for the brand’s popular appeal.

There’s more to the turn-of-the-millennium hair-dyeing trend than the popularity of Manic Panic, though.  Tish Bellomo, speaking in 2001 on celebrities’ widespread adoption of unnatural hair colors, noted that the style started with “a few punks who were dyeing their hair” and that “now [2001] you turn on MTV and every other band has color.”  By the end of the decade, it wasn’t even just bands.  There is probably something to be said about a link between the mainstream popularity of alternative rock and pop-punk in the early/mid-2000s and the increased use of hair dye, but in recent years even pop stars with no relation to the alternative music scenes whatsoever have sported bright blues and greens.

The growth of Manic Panic from a small Greenwich Village boutique to a multi-branch company is a (not entirely unwelcome, from a consumer’s point of view) symptom of this trend. Snooky Bellomo recalled in 1996 that in the “olden days of punk rock” hair dye was a form of shock value, but that it was since become “more just a cosmetic thing.”  In many ways this is true.  Some colors will continue to have “edgy,” unprofessional, even rebellious associations, but it is increasingly common even outside of fashionable cities like New York to see “obviously” dyed hair (as opposed to “natural”-looking color additions, like touch-ups for grey hair and highlights).  What does this say about the legacy of ’70s and ’80s punk style, and what does it mean for punk/alternative fashion today?  The answer to that question will hopefully make it into my exhibit.

Sources:

“Our History.” Manic Panic Official Website. Accessed October 5, 2015. https://www.manicpanic.com/ourhistory

Bibby, Patricia. “Rainbow-colored dye is at the root of fad.” Lawrence Journal-World (Lawrence, KS). August 1, 1996.

Moore, Booth. “Hair apparent? Daring ‘dos now the norm.” Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, OR). July 9, 2001.

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Throughout my research about the Irish in Greenwich Village, authors and researchers have emphasized the importance of religion to the Irish immigrants and Irish-American community who lived in the neighborhood during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. St. Joseph’s Church served the Roman Catholic Irish community, standing at the center of both the religion and culture of these Village residents. What I was surprised to learn was the influence St. Joseph’s had not only over its congregation but over the Archdiocese of New York. And more interestingly, how the side of St. Joseph’s growing congregation led to the creation of five other Roman Catholic churches in the Village to serve the neighborhoods Catholic residents. St. Alphonsus, St. Ann’s, St. Francis Xavier’s, St. Bernard’s, and St. Veronica’s were all founded within the original boundaries of St. Joseph’s to accommodate the growing Catholic population of the Village.

St. Joseph's Church

St. Joseph’s Church

St. Joseph’s was founded in 1829 and was referred to as the “Mother Church of the Catholics in Greenwich Village.” When the church was dedicated in 1834 the parish boundaries included the West Side of Manhattan from Canal Street to 34th Street. St. Alphonsus was the first of the new parishes, located on Thompson Street, about a mile south of St. Joseph’s. It was founded in 1847 to serve a growing German Catholic community in the neighborhood but soon attracted Irish Catholic parishioners who lived nearby creating tensions between the two immigrant groups. But by the beginning of the 20th century the parish was predominantly Irish and tensions had dwindled.

St. Francis Xavier’s and St. Ann’s were both founded in the 1850s, St. Ann’s in 1852 on the eastern boundary of St. Joseph’s, and St. Francis Xavier’s in 1850 in the northern part of St. Joseph’s parish. St. Ann’s, located on E. 12th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues, served the wealthy Catholics of the Village and surrounding areas. But in the 1890s the parish was nearly $93,000 in debt and much of its attraction ebbed. St. Francis Xavier’s, however, became the first real threat for the pastors of St. Joseph’s. It was the first permanent Jesuit parish in the Archdiocese of New York. From St. Francis Xavier’s inception, Archbishop John Hughes received complaints from St. Joseph’s and other churches that the Jesuits were stealing their parishioners. St. Joseph’s pastors continued to complain to the Archdiocese for over 40 years about the number of their parishioners who were regularly attending mass at St. Francis Xavier’s.

St. Bernard’s, the fourth of the parishes carved from St. Joseph’s original boundaries, was the least threatening. Located on W. 14th Street near 9th Ave., this new parish founded in 1868 was far enough away that it didn’t steal enough of St. Joseph’s parishioner’s to raise alarm. However, that wasn’t the case with St. Veronica’s.

Church of St. Veronica

Church of St. Veronica

The last of the parishes carved from St. Joseph’s boundaries, St. Veronica’s was officially dedicated in 1903 after thirteen years of construction. When Father John Salter of St. Joseph’s first heard the Archdiocese planned to create a new parish in its western boundary, encompassing nearly 30 blocks, he launched a complaint with the Archbishop claiming there weren’t enough Catholics along the waterfront to support another church. The Archdiocese, however, knew that the proposed parish was more than capable of supporting a large congregation. They answered Salter’s complaint by proposing the boundaries of St. Veronica’s be broaden, which promptly stopped the pastor’s objections. St. Veronica’s served a poor waterfront neighborhood in the West Village, worshipping from a warehouse and stable until the basement of the present church on Christopher Street was completed in 1890. The church wouldn’t be dedicated until June 1903 was St. Veronica’s was completed.

While St. Joseph’s Church remained the “Mother Church of the Catholics in Greenwich Village” and continued to serve a predominantly Irish congregation, the five daughter parishes that were born within St. Joseph’s boundaries helped shape the culture and history of not only the Irish but all Catholics in the Village.

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The Greenwich Village Theatre only existed for thirteen years, but within that time frame the institution established a lasting legacy within the theater world and in Greenwich Village. Originally designed and built by New York architect Herman Lee Meader, the 500-seat theatre was a landmark of Greenwich Village from 1917 to 1930.

Herman Lee Meader's Sketch of the Greenwich Village Theatre

Herman Lee Meader’s Sketch of the Greenwich Village Theatre, 1917

 

Located on the west side of Seventh Avenue South between Christopher and West 4th Streets overlooking Sheridan Square, the Greenwich Village Theatre was originally built for the Greenwich Village Players, an acting troupe founded by Frank Conroy and featuring a young Clare Eames. The Greenwich Village Players reflected the prevalence of “little theatres” during the teens, in which theatre enthusiasts transformed into amateur actors and playwrights and eventually theater professionals.

 

Despite being known as a locale of bohemia and radicalism, Greenwich Village was also a popular tourist destination during the 1910s and 1920s. The area of Sheridan Square was particularly popular among tourists, due to the development of the west side subway line in 1918. Originally published in the Saturday Evening Post, Sinclair Lewis satirized the influx of tourists in “Hobohemia,” a short story that he adapted into a play that ran at the Greenwich Village Theatre in 1919. The play features the characters of Mr. Brown and Mrs. Saffron. Mr. Brown “decides the only problem with bohemia is that the bohemians don’t know how to make a profit from it,” and encounters Mrs. Saffron, a parody of Mabel Dodge, in Greenwich Village. Lewis’s play satirized prominent Greenwich Village figures, who he clearly thought were taking themselves too seriously. This transition from the serious bohemian theatre troupe of the Greenwich Village Players to an increased willingness to parody themselves set the stage for the Greenwich Village Follies.

 

New York Time's Review of Sinclair Lewis's Hobohemia

New York Time’s Review of Sinclair Lewis’s Hobohemia

The Greenwich Village Follies premiered on July 15, 1919 at the Greenwich Village Theatre. Though initially titled “Greenwich Village Nights,” this was quickly changed to the Follies; facing off against the popular Ziegfeld’s Follies. Created by John Murray Anderson alongside lyricist Philip Bartholomae and composer A. Baldwin Sloane, the musical revue more than held its own against Ziegfeld’s Follies. Praised by the New York Times, particularly for its “melody and beauty,” the 1919 Follies emerged as a hit.

 

New York Times review of the Greenwich Village Follies, 1919

New York Times review of the Greenwich Village Follies, 1919

Much of the scenes and songs of the Follies parodied Greenwich Village life and current events. Bessie McCoy, the Broadway veteran, sang, “I’m a Hostess of a Bum Cabaret,” satirizing Prohibition, while other songs like “I’ll Sell You a Girl,” poked fun at bohemian concepts such as free love.

 

Following the success of the 1919 Follies, Anderson produced another series of shows in 1920 that played at the Greenwich Village Theatre. However, the 1920 Follies greatly resembled a Broadway musical revue, and the show moved to the Schubert Theatre on Broadway a month after it opened. The Greenwich Village Follies played for six seasons on Broadway and became less associated with the Village after its second season.

 

Despite only running for less than two seasons in Greenwich Village, the legacy of the show has lasted. In 2011, a musical revue detailing Greenwich Village history billed itself as “The Greenwich Village Follies.” The show, performed at Manhattan Theater Source on Macdougal St., covered local history from the 1700s to the Stonewall rebellion in 1969.

 

After the departure of the Greenwich Village Follies, the Greenwich Village Theatre remained a landmark of Sheridan Square and the Village until 1930 when it was demolished.

Sources

Bordman, Gerald. American Musical Theater: A Chronicle. Oxford University Press: 2001.

Gates, Anita. “From George Washington to Beatniks and Beyond.” NY Times, Jul. 3, 2011.

Hischak, Thomas S. Off-Broadway Musicals since 1919: From Greenwich Village Follies to the Toxic Avenger. Scarecrow Press: 2011.

Strausbaugh, John. The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, a History of Greenwich Village. Harper Collins: 2013.

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The 1940 census sits at an interesting point in American History- the US was still recovering from the Great Depression, yet had not yet entered the European conflict that would later become a World War. The snapshot view of W. 9th Street, in New York’s Greenwich Village, shows just how much America had changed compared to similar records for the prior fifty years.

Of the 500 records that we looked at on West 9th street, only seven of the heads of household owned their houses or apartments. This is especially notable because the street is made up almost entirely of town houses, but these houses must have been subdivided into apartments during this period. Of the owners, the highest value was the home of Louise Brooks, a widow who lived with her domestic servant, whose house was valued at $47,000.

The rents on West 9th Street in 1940 were stratified clearly by building but did not reflect a particularly large spread of values. The lowest rent on the census was listed as $20 a month, paid by Frank Dent, the superintendent in building number 43, who lived with his wife and adult son. Roger Williams, a banker, paid $347 a month for an apartment in number 35 that he shared with his wife Frances and 21-year old son Samuel, a college student. This rent is an outlier, as most of the other high rents fell between $120 and $180 per month. The overall highest rents appear to be in building 61, with many renters paying over $100 a month, and the lowest are in building 66, where everyone paid less than $50 a month. These buildings are across the street from one another, emphasizing the building to building differences in the value of the homes in this census.

While the rents on this street show some socio-economic differences, it is important to place this in the national context. According to the national archives census infographics that they produced when this census was released the average urban monthly rent was $30.83. So nearly everyone on West 9th street was paying average to above average rents, while many people in New York city were likely paying much less.

The rents of the tenants on West 9th street in 1940 reflect their generally middle to upper-middle class professions and salaries. 1940 was the first year where the census asked questions related to employment and salary information, which was intended to identify the activities of the  public works administration and effectiveness of those programs. Very few of the people on West 9th street were working in public works, and most had been employed for the entire period included on the census. While there is some variety in the type of employment, nearly all of these workers would be classified as white-collar, even those that lived in boarding houses or paid very low rents relative to some of their neighbors.

This employment stability is also reflected in the stability of the tenants in this building. It is quite likely that most of the tenants we see in 1940 also lived in this building in 1930, as nearly all of them were listed as living in the same place in 1935.

Children account for between a quarter and a third of the total population of the US, based on records compiled by the Census Bureau. In the nearly 500 individual entries charted for the 1940 census of W. 9th St, children accounted for less than 10% of the total population. Furthermore, the children listed lived predominantly in the buildings of families with the highest socio-economic status, nos. 35 and 61. For this analysis, we considered children as any person under the age of 18. The ages of children were spread quite evenly- from infants to teenagers- but it is surprising to see how few children there actually are. While there were proportionately few children, there were still a significant number of married couples of childbearing age, or of an age to still be raising children, who were childless. These two person families were typically supported by a male head of house, with the wife remaining at home regardless of her educational background.

According to national data compiled by the Census Bureau, about 5% of the total population had any college education in 1940. This number was further reduced for women; only 3.8% of women had a college degree. This is an area where W. 9th St. was very different from national averages; we noticed that more than half of the adults listed in these records had a college education. An equally high proportion had graduate degrees, including doctors, lawyers, engineers and university professors. Even more surprising was a comparison of education by gender: an equal number of women to men had attended college, although these women were still unlikely to be in the workforce if they were married.

Resources:

Census Bureau, “Taking You Back to the 1940s.” http://www.census.gov/1940census/ 

National Archives, “1940-1910: How Has America Changed?” http://www.census.gov/1940census/then_and_now/index.html

Forum on Child and Family Statistics,”America’s Children in Brief.” http://www.childstats.gov/

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Photograph of interior of McSorley’s Old Ale House taken by Kerry Bridget Heimer, 2012.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, established in 1854 by Irish immigrant John McSorley in the East Village of Manhattan, has been open and thriving now for over 158 years.  Throughout the course of its long and colorful history, McSorley’s has been home to camaraderie and controversy, a meeting place for the workingmen of New York, and a shameless force of opposition against the 13-year period of Prohibition in the United States.  Though alcohol consumption itself was never explicitly outlawed, the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in January of 1919 prohibited the “…manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States…”

Prohibition faced strong opposition nationwide, particularly in major cities such as New York, and even more so upon the advent of the Great Depression.  Bootleggers and speakeasies became commonplace, and there was simply not enough federal staff to adequately enforce the law.  Many private bars continued operating with great discretion out of fear of facing raids; peephole doors were installed, protections were paid to local law enforcement and officials, and business continued for many in a stealthy manor.

Bill McSorley the son of John McSorley and then owner of their family pub following John’s death in 1910, however, paid no mind to Prohibition.  Being that many Tammany politicians and police officials were among the regular crowd of patrons at McSorley’s, immunity from raids did not need to be bought.  An inconvenience was all it was to Bill McSorley, as Fidelio Brewery located on First Avenue, the place from which McSorley’s Ale came since its opening day in 1854, was forced to close.

In the interest of staying open, and without a brewery to procure their ale from, “McSorley’s ale was produced mysteriously in rows of barrels and washtubs in the cellar by a retired brewer named Barney Kelley.”  (Mitchell, pg. 10)  It is said that Kelley’s ale was particularly strong leading Bill to take it upon himself to weaken the brew creating what he referred to as “near beer.”  Somehow Bill’s generally surly attitude and shameless weakening of the ale at a time of increased prices (the rate for ale at McSorley’s during Prohibition was fifteen cents, or two mugs for a quarter, while over a decade later in 1941 it was sold for a dime a mug) still managed to amuse and draw the customers.

McSorley’s blatant disregard for Prohibition even became the subject of major works of art.  John Sloan, a member of the Ash Can School of art, a group who utilized their art as a means to depict the reality of their time, took inspiration from his visits to McSorley’s and created a series of five works illustrating the environment of the saloon.  Two of these works specifically portrayed McSorley’s Old Ale House during the prohibition period, “McSorley’s Cats” painted in 1928 and “McSorley’s Saturday Night” painted in 1930.  Each of these paintings speaks volumes of the continued patronage of McSorley’s as well as its “business as usual” mentality against the force of Prohibition.

Image

McSorley’s Saturday Night painted by John Sloan, 1930.

Works Cited:

Mitchell, Joseph. McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon. Pantheon Books, Random House, Inc., New York 1943.

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