Historic, but not famous

Augustus Van Cortlandt, city clerk

During the Revolutionary War, Augustus Van Cortlandt, city clerk, hid the most valuable of the city’s records in the family burial vault northeast of the house, where they remained for the duration. The Cortlandt family were prominent members of society and resided in the Bronx. Augustus father, Frederick, built the Van Cortlandt mansion which housed George Washington in October of 1776 as he pulled his forces back from the lost city of Manhattan. Washington spent a few nights at Van Cortlandt House on his way to fight the hopeless Battle of White Plains. Lafayette and Rochambeau also stayed in the house during the Revolutionary War. Seven years later, in November 1783, Washington again slept there on the eve of his triumphal return to New York as victor. The records remained hidden from the British and were restored to the city after independence was won.

Augustus’ descendants lived in the house until the 1880s when the house, along with some Bison, were willed to the city of New York. The home is now a museum and an important part of Revolutionary War and Bronx history. It is also the oldest standing house in The Bronx.

 

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Historic, but not famous

John Eberson, theater designer and owner

John Adolph Emil Eberson (1875–1954) was a European born American architect best known for the development and promotion of movie palace designs. He was born in Austria-Hungary and studied electrical engineering at The University of Vienna. In 1901, he traveled to the United States through NYC, but ended up in St. Louis. He started as an engineer with a small company, but eventually joined with Johnson Realty and Construction Company, a theatre architecture and construction company. Eberson and Johnson traveled around the eastern part of America, promoting opera houses in small towns. Once the town was persuaded to build an opera house, Eberson would design it and Johnson would build it.

Lowe’s Valencia Theater in Queens is now used as a church

In 1926, he moved his family to New York City and attained national, and even international acclaim for his atmospheric theatres, many of them executed in exotic revival styles. He built theaters all throughout the midwest and in 1927 he designed the  Universal Theater in Brooklyn, often called the 46th Street Theatre. The theater was demolished in 2015. In 1929, he designed the Lowe’s Paradise theater in The Bronx and the Lowe’s Valencia theater in Queens. In 1932, the Lowe’s 72nd street theater opened. It was closed in 1961.

Unfortunately, a large number of his  500 buildings, including about 100 large theatres, have been destroyed. Many were victims of redevelopment; changing taste and the need for smaller auditoriums where multiple films could be shown.

Lowe’s Paradise Theater in The Bronx is now used as a church

Besides theaters, he also helped with the war effort during World War II. He designed a hospital on Long Island, and housing at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and at the United States Military Academy.

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Historic, but not famous

Lillian Edelstein (1916-2015) was a Jewish Housewife living in East Tremont in The Bronx. Her home and the home of her mother and sister’s family were in the proposed path of the Cross Bronx highway proposed by Robert Moses. She became an activist after realizing the highway would destroy her neighborhood and change the lives of people she loved forever.

Most of the families in East Tremont were Jewish immigrants escaping persecution in Europe. East Tremont was considered a step up from living in the Lower East side. The homes were well sized and the people of the neighborhood were close. Robert Moses considered it a slum and decided to run a highway through it. Lillian organized her neighbors, contacted council members and even worked with an engineer and planner to show that there could be a different and straighter path through the Bronx that would destroy fewer homes and leave more greenspace. She was able to get a small bit of press and raise some funds for legal papers to postpone the destruction of the homes, but eventually was bulldozed by the machine that was Robert Moses and his tactics. Even the mayor had promised to support them was eventually bullied into the path Moses wanted. The East Tremont families were forced from their homes with little compensation or assistance on relocation.

The worst part: The area sat bulldozed and crime ridden as the highway was postponed multiple times destroying a vibrant area of the Bronx and dissecting the neighborhood forever. Ms. Edelstein and her family eventually left New York City spending time in Massachusetts and New Jersey. You can read more about her in the Robert Moses biography “The Power Broker”.

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Historic, but not famous

Nathaniel Britton, botanist

Nathaniel Lord Britton (January 15, 1859 – June 25, 1934) was an American botanist and taxonomist who co-founded the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York. He was born on Staten Island in New York City and bound for religious studies, but took to the study of nature early in life and made that his calling.

Mr. Britton graduated from Columbia University and taught geology there. He joined the Botanical society there and met his wife,  Elizabeth Gertrude Knight, a bryologist (study of non-vascular plants), in 1885. They were lifelong collaborators in botanical research. She is the one that proposed a Botanical Garden in The Bronx after visiting one in Queens.

Britton left Columbia in 1895 to become the first director of the New York Botanical Garden, a position he held until 1929. He was on the first Board of Managers for the institution, along with Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

Much of his field work was done in the Caribbean, where he visited frequently when the winter weather in New York City became too severe. His contributions to the study of Caribbean flora are undisputed. He co-wrote Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions (1896) and The Cactaceae. 

He died after suffering a stroke at his home in the Bronx at the age of 75.

The writings of Dr. Britton are located at the NY Botanical Gardens and consist of correspondence, research and personal papers, manuscripts and typescripts, lecture notes, photography, certificates, and a suede-bound presentation volume. It covers his botanical career including graduate studies at Columbia College (1875-79), association with the Torrey Botanical Club, the founding and directorship of the New York Botanical Garden (1891-1929), and post-retirement years to his death in 1934. Information about Dr. Britton’s publications, notably the Britton & Brown Illustrated Flora, and on botanical expeditions to Caribbean, including those relating to the Scientific Survey of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are well-documented in the correspondence and written materials. His field records are located in the NYBG Collectors’ Field Notebook collection.

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