Monday, April 21, 2014
Preserving DC Stables wrote about the plight of the NYC carriage industry earlier this year and now shares this update.
The Opinion Pages |OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
By LIAM NEESONAPRIL 14, 2014
Carriages Belong in Central Park
DURING his run for mayor, Bill de Blasio pledged to eradicate the Central Park horse-drawn carriage business. He called the industry inhumane, and proposed to replace the retired horses with electric-powered replicas of vintage cabs. Since taking office, he has not agreed to meet with the operators or hear their views. In a Google Hangout on Friday, the mayor affirmed his commitment to a ban: “We expect action on it this year.”
The majority of New Yorkers, however, do not agree with him. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that 64 percent of New Yorkers polled support the horse carriages.
I have been a New York City resident for over 20 years, and have enjoyed Central Park for as long. As a horse lover, I grew up riding and caring for two horses every summer on my aunt’s small farm in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. I have continued to enjoy working with horses in a professional context over the years, appearing in a couple of Westerns and what I call “cowboys in armor” movies.
I can appreciate a happy and well-cared-for horse when I see one. It has been my experience, always, that horses, much like humans, are at their happiest and healthiest when working. Horses have been pulling from the beginning of time. It is what they have been bred to do.
Horses and their caretakers work together to earn a decent livelihood in New York, as they have for hundreds of years. New York’s horse-carriage trade is a humane industry that is well regulated by New York City’s Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Consumer Affairs. Harry W. Werner, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, has visited the stables and “found no evidence whatsoever of inhumane conditions, neglect or cruelty in any aspect.”
Every horse must be licensed and pass a physical examination by a veterinarian twice a year; typically, the horses spend about six hours per day in the park. They cannot work in excessive cold or heat, and must also be furloughed for five weeks a year on a pasture in the country.
New York’s horse carriages have made an estimated six million trips in traffic over the last 30 years. In that time, just four horses have been killed as a result of collisions with motor vehicles, with no human fatalities. In contrast to the terrible toll of traffic accidents generally on New Yorkers, the carriage industry has a remarkable safety record.
A majority of carriage drivers and stable hands are recent immigrants, often raised on farms in their home countries. They love their jobs and their horses, and they take pride in being ambassadors for this great city. I can’t help but see the proposed ban as a class issue: Their livelihoods are now at risk because the animal-rights opponents of the industry are well funded by real-estate interests, which has led to speculation that this powerful lobby wishes to develop the West Side properties occupied by the stables.
As a result, an entire way of life and a historic industry are under threat. We should ask whether this is the New York we want to live in: a sanitized metropolis, where local color and grit are thrown out in favor of sleek futuristic buildings and careening self-driving cars?
I spent a number of years in my youth as an amateur boxer in Northern Ireland. Good boxers learn the art of shadow boxing: Understanding your moves and weaknesses helps you anticipate your opponents. In this ring, the carriage drivers are sparring in the dark. There is no discussion. No referee. Just unjustified accusations, made in a vacuum where one will win and another will lose.
During my daily walks in the park, I talk to numerous New Yorkers, including police officers on their beat, about how we can save the industry. Some say that there’s no reason an industry that has worked well for the last 150 years shouldn’t continue for another 150. Others believe that there is an opportunity in this challenge.
One such visionary is Mindy Levine, the wife of the New York Yankees president, Randy L. Levine. Her proposal is that the horse-drawn carriage business could coexist with riding stables and therapeutic riding facilities — all within the setting of Central Park itself. This would also provide access to equine-assisted therapy for children with autism and for the rehabilitation of troubled teenagers.
Back in 1974, when Central Park first became an official city landmark, the preservation committee specifically noted the “array of carriages drawn by horses.” According to the media strategist Ken Frydman, who is advising the drivers, the horse-drawn carriages should today be designated a living landmark.
Before we lose this signature element of New York’s culture and history — instantly recognizable to the millions of tourists who visit our city and contribute to its economy — the least the mayor can do is come down to the stables and see how the horses are cared for. I urge Mr. de Blasio to meet the working men and women whose jobs are at stake and to start a dialogue that will safeguard a future for the horses that the majority of New Yorkers want.
Kim Williams and her colleagues have recently completed the DC Historic Alley Buildings Survey as a powerful foundation for invigorating the city's alleys and preserving many remaining salvageable buildings. The report will become available through the Historic Preservation Office online links in the near future.
Recommendations from the report.
1 Increase Visibility of Alleyways
By nature, alleyways are not readily visible and entrances into the alleyways are not easily recognized.
Name Alleys and Establish Signage
Historically, most of the city’s alleyways were named. These names were often associated with their owners, residents, or activities that took place in the alleys. Most alleys are no longer known by their names. Officially designating alleys by their names, with signage to the alleys, will increase public awareness and visibility of alleys.
Encourage Public Art
Public art on the sides of buildings along alley- ways will increase awareness of the alleyway and encourage access to the alleys.
2 Encourage Heritage Tourism of Alleys
Develop virtual tours of the city’s alleys, highlighting alley history and architecture
Develop walking and biking tours through neighborhood alleys in conjunction with preservation groups
Expand architectural survey of the city’s alleys to historic districts outside of the city limits, including Sheridan-Kalorama, Mount Pleasant, and Washington Heights. Expand survey to other, non-historic districts such as Near North- east, Bloomingdale and Petworth.
3 Develop Ideas to Re-invent Alleys
Re-examine the functional vs. cultural landscape of alleys and develop a plan to re-invent one or more of the city’s alleyways as a neighborhood amenity on a temporary or permanent basis. Other cities have engaged in such re-inventions, holding events such as the Dally in the Alley in Detroit and the Alley Palooza in Seattle.
Fair —hold an outdoor alley fair with food and live music
Film Screening—organize a film screening on a summer evening, drawing local residents and tourists into the alley
Public Art—encourage artists through grant funds to introduce artwork into a specified alley
Community Garden/Urban Farm—develop an urban garden for local residents, or restaurant owners
Playground—develop playgrounds or play areas for children
4 Engage the Planning Community
Organize an alley planning team of alley residents, planners and preservationists
Hold community workshops to field ideas for re-activating alleys
Develop an Alley Master Plan that would encourage an array of alley uses through zoning and other regulations
5 Develop Case Studies for “Re-Activating Alley(s)
One of the stated goals of the alley survey was to better know the city’s historic alleyways in order to provide guidance for their rejuvenation. To that end, the survey has identified several alleys that would be good candidates for a “Re-Activation” Case Study.
The identification of these alleyways was based on the following characteristics:
Quality and cohesiveness of historic building fabric
Potential for multi-use rehabilitation projects
Proximity of alleyway to existing commercial nodes
Accessibility and safety of alleyway
Based upon these criteria, the following alleyways are being proposed for a Case Study:
Congress Street/Oak Alley (Square 1208) The Georgetown Historic District
St. Matthew’s Court (Square 159) The Dupont Circle District
Square 242, The 14th Street Historic District
Brown’s Court (Square 514) The Shaw Historic District
Six-and-a-half-Court, NE (Square 868) The Capitol Hill Historic District
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Most stables in Washington had some capacity to house carriages in addition to horses. This explains the width of the entrances of many of these small buildings along with the bollards that were installed to protect the walls as the carriages came and went. They were generally called “stables” at the time. However, the term “coach house” while originally reserved more regal properties, is now widely used to describe these little stables as they became adaptively reused as residences.
“A small building usually near a large residence or part of an estate, used for keeping coaches, carriages, or other vehicles; - also called coach house. It is now (1998) obsolescent and its function has been taken over by the garage, which is usually attached to a residence or main building. Carriage houses are still found on older estates, though not usually used for their original purpose.”
(Photo from Urban Turf)
This building is a very typical 1900’s D.C. stable located in a Capitol Hill alley. Note the six ground floor, horse head height windows on the side (each small window would have lit a horse stall). Almost all of the D.C. stables were two stories with the second floor being used to store hay and feed. In some, stable hands lived on the second floor. You can see what was most likely the original hayloft door on the upper right hand side of the building just behind the flag. A beam would have originally been just above this door.
Washington D.C. witnessed a building boom and population growth in the 1880’s that is reflected in a graph documenting the number of stables built between 1873 and 1922. The beginning of the last century marked the end of stable construction.
In contrast, garage building experienced a small and short-lived boom when significant numbers of cars came into D.C. after 1900. Many of the original alley stables were converted to private garages as horse dependent transportation rapidly waned. These already existing buildings obviated the need to build new garages.
Stables such as this Capitol Hill stable, very rarely to come onto the market. It is listed through Century 21 at $674,900 for 1472 square feet of space, which works out to roughly $458 per square foot. Many condos in the city are selling for much more per square foot and come with monthly HOA costs. Living in an old stable can be very peaceful. One is away from the main road and entirely self-contained. It’s not for everyone, but for many, it’s a priceless experience.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
The Alley. A backstreet History of New York’s Communities (revisiting an article by Theodore Corbett)
New York City’s alleys were created as amenities for aristocratic and bourgeois residents. In the twentieth century, alleys survived the age of the automobile and the decline of central cities; they have been gentrified and protected for their contributions to the quality of life in our cities. Now they are waiting to be studied as microcosms of vernacular architecture and social history.
(A carriage house entrance on North Row, Washington Square, New York City, still has its old doorway, built to accommodate a horse-drawn wagon or carriage. This alley, modeled on the mews of London, served wealthy residents of the city.) Photo by Theodore Corbett.
In the nineteenth century, the rise of carriage traffic in New York State made it necessary to keep animals in cities and villages, causing the creation of urban alleys. Alleys were spaces where valuable animals could be kept in barns or, as the century wore on, decorative and substantial carriage houses. Alleys were thus constructed as amenities, places that improved the value of a property, and a convenience to the household they served. Yet paradoxically, alleys were hidden behind the main house, not to be seen by respectable people—for the owners preferred to display their carriages and themselves formally, traveling on the most fashionable main streets.
After the Civil War, the alleys’ original function as an amenity declined, as they became populated by working class residents. Often, alleys were sites for both low-income housing and commercial development, because the housing was cheaper than on the main street and the space was ideal for small-scale enterprise. Such neighborhoods were the forerunner of the urban ghetto. Only in the twentieth century, with the gentrification of alley structures by returning professionals, did the alley reacquire the prestige it had originally held, sometimes to the extent of forcing out both the working class and commercial establishments.
Because alleys were back streets, the sources for their study are scarce and require the application of interdisciplinary techniques. My approach treats planned alleys as built and social landscapes to be investigated as vernacular architecture, and then viewed as service, residential, or commercial space that attracted the working class.