October 2012 Archives

Saving General Putnam

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 One of the things I love most about working at Greenwich Library is the fact that I'm surrounded by some incredible art!   There are many unique sculptures outside and inside the library.  There's a new art exhibit in The Friends' Flinn Gallery each month. 

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Historical Mural Being Removed from the Gymnasium at Hamilton Avenue School.

 My favorite work of art is the WPA mural titled "The Life and Times of General Israel Putnam" by James Daughtery, which hangs on the wall in our Periodicals section.  Its size and vivid colors really grab you!   Its subject matter is also very striking.  Daughtery used blues, greens, yellows and whites to document key events in the Revolutionary War General's life.  The viewer can see General Putnam killing a wolf that had preyed on the town's sheep and goats.  Then, he depicts Putnam's escape from the British.  On the right side, one sees the General tied up to be burned at the stake by Native-Americans during the French and Indian War. (Fortunately, Putnam was rescued by the French.) MuralRestoration5081.jpgPulleys and ropes being used to lower mural from gymnasium wall.

 A man, Mr. Fred Baulsir, came into the library recently to donate some photos that recreate the restoration of the mural. His wife, Linda Baulsir, had been instrumental in the restoration of the artwork.   My interest was piqued!  I knew that the mural had been painted by Daughtery through a WPA project, and that the library had received it from Hamilton Avenue School; but that was as much as I knew.  So, like any good historical librarian, I decided to research it!

 

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                Mural Rolled Up to Facilitate Moving for Restoration.

James Daughtrey was a renowned painter, who moved from New York City to Weston CT.   He was a member of several art associations, including the Silvermine Guild of Artists.  From 1933 to 1939, under the WPA,  he created murals for schools, municipal offices, housing developments and post offices.   As Greenwich was preparing to celebrate its Tercentenary (300th Anniversary)  Celebration in 1934, the Town commissioned Daughtery to create a painting commemorating Putnam's famous escape from the British.   A re-enactment was scheduled for the following year.  The painting would be hung in the new Town Hall addition.   It was designed to fit in the Selectman's Office.   It was 9-feet by 22-feet, and was designed to fit above a chair railing 4-feet above the floor.  Daughtery designed it to hang a foot below the ceiling, stretching across a wall and above a doorway.  He painted it to celebrate the Tercentenary and commemorate Putnam as a hero - an attempt to get people's minds off the difficult times of the Depression.

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                             Workers carefully restoring the mural.

In 1940, the mural was moved to the Hamilton Avenue School.  This was probably an attempt to share it with more people.  It was hung in the gymnasium, between two basketball backboards!   As you can imagine, the painting - which was reportedly glued directly to the wall - was constantly hit by basketballs and volleyballs.  Fortunately, the artwork was rescued by the Daughtery Archive when a representative, Mr. Slocum, spotted the mural "under attack" by volleyballs.  He informed the Daughtery Archive, and, when the School was undergoing renovations in 1998, the art group obtaind a $60,000 grant from  the Ruth W. Brown Foundation to restore the mural.

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Mrs. Baulsir (left) and Conservator Joseph Matteis (right) in front of restored mural.

Art conservator Joseph Matteis of Clinton, CT, was chosen to undertake the restoration.  It took him 5-months to complete the painstaking work.  The final cost was $54,145.  Experts value the mural at about $250,000!   As luck would have it, Greenwich Library was chosen as its new home when the Library was undergoing the construction of the new Peterson Wing in 1999.  Once again, the mural was moved to a location, which would offer a greater number of people the opportunity to view it.

In 2006, several concerned Chickahominy citizens started lobbying the Town to return the mural to the newly-renovated Hamilton Avenue School.  After all, the mural had hung in the gymnasium for approximately 60-years.  Some parents objected, since they felt some of the images were too violent.  The Chickahominy Neighborhood Association, composed of many residents who had attended the school over the years, decided not to return the mural to Hamilton Avenue School.

Today, you can still see it on the wall in the Periodicals section of the Greenwich Library.

 

SOURCES

Greenwich Time (Hearst Corporation)

The New York Times

 

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Historical Happenings

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Genealogy - Military Records Research 
Saturday - November 3 - 10:30 AM
Cos Cob Library


Expert Anthony Lauriano discusses how military records can help people research ancestors.  Admission free.  Open to everyone.


Songs of the American Civil War
Sunday - November 4 - 4PM
Greenwich Library Cole Auditorium


This music program offers authentic period music from the Civil War period.  Call Jaime Villaneda at (203) 869-6899. Admission free. Open to all ages.


Bruce Museum Presents:  Woodland Indian Life
Monday - November 5th - 3 PM
Community Room - Byram Shubert Library


See what the Native-Americans' life was like before colonial times.  This program is geared for children, but adults are welcome.

The Jewel of Putnam Avenue

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Whenever I cross the town line from Stamford on US Route 1 (East Putnam Avenue), I'm always drawn by the two large monuments (columns) that mark the entrance to Greenwich.  Although worn by the weather, you can still see such names as Vogue, Town and Country and House and Garden carved into the pillars.  These are what remains of the once magnificent Conde Nast Publishing Company complex.  The company moved to Greenwich in 1911, and operated here until the 1960s.

Conde Montrose Nast was born on March 26, 1873 in New York City.  His father was absentee, and he moved to St. Louis with his mother, where he grew up.  A wealthy aunt helped pay to put him through Georgetown University.  Here he met Robert J. Collier, who's father ran Collier's magazine.  Collier and Nast edited the school newspaper.  When Nast finished a law degree at Washington University, he went to work for Collier's.  He managed to expand the magazin'es readership from 19,000 to over 568,000 in 10 years!  He also managed to increase advertising revenue from $5,600 per year to over $1 million.  Nast did this through innovation.  His strategy included using color pages, a 2-page spread and special issues. 

Nast was successful, and managed to increase his salary dramatically.  In 1909, he was able to buy Vogue.  Once again, his innovation brought him great success.  The publication was changed from a weekly to a bi-weekly magazine.  Nast added color covers, more advertising space, more artricles on clothing and news bits on society.  It became a high-end publication.  In 1911 he was able to buy House and Garden, Travel and Merchandising magazines.  He purchased and renovated an old printing facility, and introduced several more innovations in print technology.

Nast moved his operation from New York to Greenwich in 1921.  He bought the former Arbor Press building at 1800 East Putnam Avenue.  The operation was expanded systematically with the addition of a press and administration building in 1923, a pattern building in 1927, an electrotype building in 1931 and a web press room in 1937.  Nast hired well-known landscape architects Lowell and Ferruccio to unify the 33-acre plot, which straddled East Putnam Avenue.  It was necessary to blast bedrock to create a park-like environment.  A mile of underground pipes supplied water to a sprinkler system, and a magnificent fountain was placed in the middle of a circular drive. (This fountain can still be seen there today.)  Hardwood trees were placed strategically, including more than 60 mature Elms.  There were a pair of semi-circular driveways, and the moon-shaped lawn was divided down the middle by East Putnam Avenue.  The six-year project cost $350,000 - a considerable amount in those days.

The interior provided a pleasant working environment for the 1,000 people who worked there. The workspace was kept very clean. Large windows stretched from the floor to the ceiling and provided ample light.   Amenities included an in-house cafeteria and library.  Nast loved the complex and showed it off with public tours. He had phoptographs of the modern bindery and production rooms placed on brochure copies. Frequently, he would conduct tours for local celebrities.   The people were impressed with the statues and fountains.  Some Vogue magazine models even filmed on the property.  

Unfortunately, on October 29, 1929, his stock plummeted from $93 to $4.50 per share.  Nast owed the banks $2-million at this point in time, so the crash really hurt him. He tried to expand in the 1930s to salvage what he could, but technology was changing, and it became too expensive to maintain such high standards of printing.   Ironically, at one time he could have bought Life magazine, but passed it up.  As you probably know, this periodical became one of the world's most successful magazines! 

In 1941, Nast developed health problems - probably due to all the stress that had built up over the years.  After several heart problems, he died on September 19, 1942, in New York City.

The printing operations ceased for good in the 1960s. Computer technology changed publishing drastically.  All that remains of his publishing empire are the two columns, ghosts of the circular driveways and the tower which is now part of the Hyatt Regency complex.  It was the end of an era.

 

SOURCES

Carley, R.: Building Greenwich, HSTG, 2005.

"Conde Montrose Nast." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 19 Oct. 2012.

Historical Happenings

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Summer of '42 - Monday - October 22nd - 7 PM - Greenwich Library -  Meeting Room

Sportswriter Jack Cavanaugh talks about Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the state of baseball during the onset of World War II. After the book talk, Jack will sell and sign copies of his book.

 

"A Good Light: The Artist's Studio in Cos Cob and Beyond" - October 3 to January 6th - Bush-Holley House  -  Cos Cob

The Historical Society will exhibit works by such Cos Cob Art Colony artists as Cilde Hassam, John Twachtman and Elmer MacRae.  Call (203) 869-6899 for more details.

 

"Your Face Squared: Community Self-Portrait" - Now through September 15th - Bruce Museum

The Bruce Museum is asking residents to submit photos to be included in a community self-portrait.  Photos will be anonymous.  For more details, call (203) 869-0376.

 

 

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Greenwich Avenue Fires

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A patron asked me if I knew anything about a big fire on Greenwich Avenue during the 1920s or 1930s.  I had seen a couple of photos in the library's John Gotch photo collection, but didn't have first-hand knowledge.  So I researched the Greenwich Publications Index and came up with some information.

In the 12/1/1921 Greenwich Press, there is an article on a big fire that started at 8:20 pm the night before in the Ponty Building on Lewis Street.  Seven fire companies responded to the alarm.  The fire lasted all night, and four families were displaced. Not only did the Ponty Building burn down, but the Moshier and Widmann Buildings were also damaged.  Four businesses were effected:  The Walter Stewart Company, The R.B. Wilbur Company (a haberdashery - hat store), The Shirley waist Company (corset distributer) and Sterling Bakeries. Furthermore, several social groups had held meetings in the buildings: The Red Men, Elks, Woodsmen of the World,and The Catholic Daughters of America.

It was reported that a janitor had gone down to the basement of the Ponty Building to start a furnace for a wedding party holding a reception in the Red Men's Hall.  As the janitor was walking back up the stairs, he was met by a wall of fire!  Another man, a bookeeper, discovered the fire, and called the Fire Department.  Then another man leaving a barber shop ran to the Amogerone Fire House to alert them to the fire.  The firemen arrived within minutes.

The flames could be seen as far away as Port Chester.  Ten thousand feet of hose was laid out to fight the blaze.  Hydrants on Greenwich Avenue, Lewis Street and Mason Street were put into service.  Hundreds of people from Stamford and Port Chester came to town see the fire. 

At 10pm, the fire was at its height.  The windows blew out of the Ponty Building due to the severe draft caused when a chimney crashed thorugh the roof.  The crowd was showered with glass and splinters.  Falling live wires snapped with electricity.  One fireman was stranded on the roof and had to make his way down a stairway that had red-hot railings.  Another fireman received a deep gash in his left arm from falling glass.  He didn't realize he was seriously injured until he became weak and fainted.  Fortunately, he was transported to the hospital in time to save his life.  Other firemen were threatened by wobbling chimneys, but they escaped unharmed. 

The 100-or-so wedding reception guests had to evacuate the Red Men's Hall.  Many children were in attendance.  Some women left so quickly that they left their valuable furs behind!  Tenants in the adjacent buildings packed their bags in case they had to evacuate.  One person reported that a little kitten floating in a cardboard box had to be rescued.  The cat didn't seem the least bit afraid!

As they usually do in any emergency, Greenwich residents stepped up to help the cause.  Since the fire lasted all night, the Friends of the Amogerone Fire Company handed out coffee rolls and coffee.  The Knights of Columbus stayed open all night and provided food.  Eleven-hundred sandwiches were made and distributed!  Sterling Bakeries provided pies, while Boswell's Drug Store supplied cigars and cigarettes.

This fire was called the worst fire in town since 1900.  Four buildings were damaged.  The cost estimate was $60,000 - a fair amount in 1921 dollars.  Ironically, a month before the building was closed, the landlord had asked the Times Cleaning and Dyeing Company and the Reynolds Barber Shop to vacate the building so some fire hazards could be removed.  Unfortunately, no action had been taken during that time.

Another smaller fire occured on March 21, 1933.  It effected upper Greenwich Avenue.  A fire broke out in some storage barns outside of the Press Building on the Pickwick Land Company property.  It broke out at 8:30 pm, and was subdued in one-hour.  The fire had been smouldeing for some time.  A soaking rain over the previous weekend helped deter the fire.  Firefighters from the Amogerone Fire Company responded quickly - since it was just across the street!  Incidently, a woman had called in the fire, but failed to identify the location.

Since the Press Building was used to store cars, eleven automobiles had to be moved.  One had to be pushed out since it wouldn't start.  Paint, oils and turpentine used by the D.K. Allen Company had to be moved from an adjacent building due to the fire threat.  Guests in the Pickwick Arms Hotel were nervous as the fire approached and they could feel the heat through the window glass.  Fortunately, it was quickly extinguished.  The only injury reported was a fireman, who fell 8-feet off a ladder.  His injuries were not serious.

Damages were estimated at $10,000.  Two cars were destroyed, and the Pickwick Arms lost awnings, screens and outdoor furniture.  Five years earlier - on October 16, 1928 - a barn adjoining the hotel suffered a fire due to spontaneous combustion.  Fortunately, it only caused about $200 damage.

 

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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