Local labors of love
I admire a nice labor of love. It’s always a joy to behold something that someone has put a lot of time and effort into.
a labor voluntarily undertaken or performed without consideration of any benefit or reward
I follow several sites and accounts that are labors of love. Quite a few of them focus on a local topic, something particular about a specific location. Since I live in New York City most of them are about some facet of NYC.
I may do additional posts for some of the other types of labors of love that I love, but for now I’ve grouped this theme into three sections.
The first group are sites that are out here on the web. Websites! Available to everyone, the way it should be. They’re all also impressively comprehensive. The second group are in a walled garden, and both happen to be photo projects. And the third are honorable mentions.
Let the love letters begin!
Putting the labor in labor of love
Wandering around New York City it’s easy to catch a glimpse of a remnant from a bygone era. Some are more obvious than others, and this site does a spectacular job of living up to its tagline, “chronicling an ever-changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts”.
The site, created by Esther Crain, publishes regularly, and is pretty much the only things I look forward to on Monday mornings. One of this week’s articles shed light on an a “grim fortress” (indeed) on Delancey Street that was once a bustling Vaudeville theater. I’ve walked by there many times and would’ve never guessed.
One my favorite recent posts was a back story and first person account from a Gilded Age “servant girl” about her day off at Coney Island. “Ach, it is just like what I see when I dream of heaven.” She goes on…
Yet I have heard some of the high people with whom I have been living say that Coney Island is not tony. The trouble is that these high people don’t know how to dance. I have to laugh when I see them at their balls and parties. If only I could get out on the floor and show them how—they would be astonished.
There’s plenty of Gilded Age content, but the site spans from the colonial era to the early aughts. And many posts span several eras. The site has been publishing regularly since 2008! You can follow on Twitter and via RSS. You can also purchase their book on the Gilded Age.
When I was initially researching my current neighborhood I found this site, a good 15 years since its inception in 1998(!!). One of my favorite aspects of this site are the walks, where the author, Kevin Walsh, walks a neighborhood and documents it with great detail.
He made a recent visit to my current neighborhood and my previous neighborhood. Another enjoyable reoccurring subject are signs, one of my favorite things to look at in any location. I enjoyed walking by the Block Drugs and Gringer Hardware signs for many years (you can’t go wrong with neon).
Another thing I love about this site is that it’s not only focused on Manhattan, in fact I’d say it seems more focused on the boroughs with Queens and Brooklyn getting the most coverage.
The Grieve, covering the East Village, is everything you’d want in a neighborhood blog. There’s the usual newsy stuff, upcoming events, business openings and closing, etc. But there are also reoccurring features that take it to the next level by chronicling a range of every day inhabitants.
Two of my favorite are Out and About in the East Village and I am a Rent-Stabilized Tenant. Out and About is retired, but ran regularly from 2012 to 2018 and “provided a snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village”. The last one featured the woman who founded the rescue where we adopted Frieda!
I am a Rent-Stabilized Tenant is still going strong. The author asks the featured tenant(s) three simple questions that any noisy neighbor would ask…
- Why did you move to the East Village?
- How did you find your apartment?
- What do you love about your apartment?
And as one would expect, the answers are usually long-winded and glorious, including details about daily life in the city during different eras.
I got pregnant with my boyfriend, who was like the coolest dude. He had a recording studio in a basement. Remember when everyone had music in the basement in the 80s? We had Chloe there. 11th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. I still remember going into labor. I said, “go get the cab.” We had a $5 bill taped to the dresser for the cab to take us uptown to the midwives at St. Luke’s Roosevelt. All the way up to Lincoln Center — $5!
It also underscores the importance of affordable housing.
Second of all, I love this apartment because it has low rent and where it is located it has been a platform for a really unstructured, exploratory and unconventional lifestyle — where I was able to take acting classes for a little while, photography classes for awhile. I had so many different jobs in 4 or 5 very different industries and have met so many interesting people. I was able to raise two daughters completely on my own in this place.
I lived in this neighborhood for well over a decade (technically the Lower East Side, but just on the other side of Houston!), and the Grieve was an indispensable read. I still follow and read even though I’m rarely back in the EV. You can follow on Twitter and via RSS.
Behind a walled garden but worth it if you’re already there
All the Queens Houses – Instagram
I recently stopped going to Instagram once they started to require birthday, and honestly it wasn’t as hard to stop using it as I thought. But one of the things I miss is this account by Rafael Herrin-Ferri. There is also a site! But it’s primarily for book sales.
Billed as “an Architectural Portrait of New York’s Largest and Most Diverse Borough”, the author captures all the glitz, gloriousness and WTF of Queens architecture. From odd Tudor rooflines to condos with silos and everything in between. If you like curious architecture and are already on Instagram you’ll love this account.
Midwest Modern – Twitter
My one non-New York City outlier! I’ve lived in New York City for over 25 years, but I grew up in the Midwest. Billed as “Architecture, Art, and Design from the Midwest”, the focus of this photo account by Josh Lipnik is mostly Michigan. He also frequently covers Indiana and Ohio, including this mall where I did most of my back to school shopping. There was also a recent visit to Ontario.
If you’re not familiar with the Midwest it might come as a surprise that it’s full of excellent Modern architecture and signage. I’m still an active Twitter user and this prolific account is a bright spot.
When we moved to Astoria we were both surprised and amused by the amount of hilariously ugly things. This photo Tumblr has been chronicling the neighborhood “character” since early 2011 and has a RSS feed.
Admittedly I didn’t keep up with one after moving to the wilds of Queens, but “a bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct” is an apt labor of love, unfortunately.
If you live in New York City long enough, businesses and restaurants that are part of the fabric of your life will close, and this site has done a good job of chronicling the “vanishing”. It also covers related topics like the battle for public space.
The author, Jeremiah Ross, has published two books, Vanishing New York, How a great city lost its soul, and a more recent Feral City, On finding liberation in lock down New York. You can follow on Twitter and via RSS.