Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mystery in the Bronx

One day, I hope Manhattan Before 1990  on Facebook becomes a museum.

The level of photographic curation and location identification is unrivaled in New York City.

Members dig for rare photos and photographers share exclusive photos of New York City that incite compelling storytelling or investigation.

Last night, I thought this Facebook group would be stumped for the first time as I watched people make guesses at where a park and building were in a 1940s photo by Mike Katz posted by Ruben Iglesias.

The immediate clues were the address 35 and the circles in the metal fence, Ruben noted:

Other clues noted that turned out to be true...a store is to the right (via Ruben) and this entrance has a  "T-shaped inset" (via Matthew Rohn)  which is not that obvious in the photo. This is what it looked like after it was found:

Like I said,  not so obvious.

Those clues could be anywhere  in New York City and a lot  can change since the 1940s.  

The group looked at almost every fence and park in Manhattan facing an apartment building. But still no cigar. Only so many buildings in Manhattan could have the address 35 by a park/square. Almost all of them were noted in the comments. 

My instincts told me it was either demolished uptown (or in Harlem)...or even further from discovery  in The Bronx.

One member started looking in the Bronx because he remembered fencing with similar circles there.

Eventually a man who had worked for Ma Bell in the Bronx started looking there at buildings that felt familiar to him by a park.

He suggested 35 Mc Clelland across Mullaly Park.  However, even though he nailed the place, it was not so obvious.

The streetview looked like this:

He was about to move on, after thinking the entrance was not the same. But another member recalled the "T-shaped inset" clue for the entrance and felt the window pattern was similar (but he photo was not as detailed): 

Additionally, the fence at Mullaly Park had circles and the park had benches along a diagonal path in a similar angle as the one in Ruben's mysterious post:

The right side at 35 Mc Clellan also looked similar with a fire escape and store in the right position at 1147 River Ave:

There was still doubt. This could easily be architecture at other locations.   Investigating further...an older streetview was needed from 2007 and it showed a matching entrance and ground level window (r): 

This is the kind of work few museums with photo collections do.  And that is why Manhattan Before 1990 gets my vote for becoming a museum one day. 

Locals of all kinds contribute clues to identifying locations for photos and add enriching stories. 

In this case, the telephone man Martin Balassi (a "Bronx sherpa")  solved it  after 15 hours of group searching:

The 3 benches along the diagonal path of Mullaly Park are now facing 35 Mc Clellan. Here is an aerial:

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