Saturday, October 31, 2009

Marine art preserved in a New York subway station.


In 1913, the elegant Hotel McAlpin was completed at Broadway and 34th Street. The artist Fred Dana Marsh was commissioned to produce paintings illustrating the history of New York Harbor to decorate the Hotel's restaurant. These were executed on tiles, bordered by decorative terra cotta. Because of the paintings' popularity, the restaurant became known as the Marine Grill. In the early 1990s the McAlpin and its restaurant closed, and a developer bought the building for conversion to condominium apartments. The paintings, and their terra cotta borders, were preserved and re-installed on the walls of the heavily trafficked east-west passageway of the Broadway-Nassau/Fulton Street subway station in lower Manhattan. The painting above shows a four-stack transatlantic liner with Cunard's funnel markings (still in use today), probably the first Mauretania, which went into service in 1906.

 
This painting shows one of the coastal or inland waterway vessels that, in competition with the railroads, carried passengers between New York and places upstate along the Hudson as far as Albany, or New England by way of Long Island Sound.

 
This painting shows Dutch ships of the early seventeenth century bringing settlers to what is now New York. In the background is a gallows, with the bodies of two hanged criminals dangling from it.

I began work on this post several days before, in Brooklyn, and was referring to a photo I took of a plaque mounted in the station for information about the paintings and their removal to their present location. When I came to Florida, I neglected to include my photo of the plaque in my draft for reference, and therefore had to search the web for information to complete this post. In so doing, I discovered a much more thoroughgoing post on this subject by my friend Flatbush Gardener. It confirms my identification of the Cunard four-stacker as Mauretania, identifies the coastal passenger vessel as Commonwealth of the Fall River Line, shows some other paintings in the collecction, and gives the full story of how the art works were preserved and reconstructed after having been removed from the walls of the old McAlpin and the tiles scattered willy-nilly in bins.