Audubon Park Christmas: Clement Clarke Moore Festival and the ROA Calendar on Sale

Two signs that Christmas is coming to Audubon Park – an old tradition and a relatively new one – the Church of the Intercession has announced its annual Clement Clarke Moore fete and the Riverside Oval Association has put its 2013 calendar on sale.

Since 1911, the Church of the Intercession has hosted a yearly reading of Moore’s beloved poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” – more commonly known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – on the Sunday before Christmas, followed by a candlelight procession to Moore’s grave in Trinity Church Cemetery. This year, Pat Battle, a journalist and co-anchor at NBC New York’s Weekend Today in New York, will read the poem. The ceremony, which is open to the public free of charge, will begin at 4:00 P.M. on Sunday, December 23 at the Church of the Intercession, 155th Street and Broadway. (For a history of the ceremony, read the Audubon Park Perspectives blog from December 2011.)

The 2013 Riverside Oval Association (ROA) calendar continues the theme of historic views of lower Washington Heights with thirteen vintage photographs, mainly from the Museum of the City of New York. The sixth in the series, the calendar is a major fund-raiser for the ROA, supporting its programs in the neighborhood, particularly the gardening efforts in the Riverside oval at the foot of 156th Street and the installation of tree guards throughout the historic district. During the last year, the Parks Department installed a new curbstone and fence around the oval, an initiative made possible by city funds allocated by Councilman Robert Jackson.

Over the last two years, local resident Christina Read has led a group of volunteers who have re-landscaped the park, increasing its beauty and making it more inviting for events such as the John James Audubon birthday party in April. With an eye to taking the ROA to a new level of community development, Christina has worked with local graphic designer Mitch Mondello to create a logo that will brand all ROA programs and initiatives going forward, a reminder that the association is a community effort and depends upon the generosity and support of neighbors and friends.

The calendar itself is a reminder of northern Manhattan’s rich history, featuring a group of photographs taken between about 1910 and 1930, many of them by the prolific photographer Thaddeus Wilkerson. As is often the case with historical photographs, these images bear viewing again and again, so the calendar is valuable both for its utilitarian purpose and as a keepsake.

f0a05-augustAugust, for example, is a street scene looking north from Broadway and 155th Street. Notice that the Church of the Intercession’s east tower is missing its spired top (removed rather than repaired since the congregation was already planning a move to 155thStreet) and Broadway has a distinct lack of trees. A common belief of the time was that trees drew insects, so they were far sparser than now. Get out a magnifying glass and look at the signs on the southern end of the taxpayer that still stand at the corner of 157th and Broadway, only slightly modified from the original. The lower floor is a shop for Sheffield Farms, New York’s largest milk producer in the first decades of the 20thCentury and the upper is labeled Corrigan Hall. The building’s owner, Adolf Lewisohn (who donated the now demolished Lewisohn Stadium) leased the top floor of his building to the Corrigan Council No 705, Knights of Columbus, who used it for their activities. They shared the space with the Washington Heights Taxpayers Association, which held its monthly meetings there. (Is the man crossing the street in the foreground lighting a cigarette or blowing his nose?)

The March image is full of interesting details. Not only is there a for-sale sign atop the Audubon house, but the seller is Chase. The benches along Riverside Drive above the house appear to have been a popular congregation point in the neighborhood; and look at the cars parked in front of 780 Riverside Drive – perpendicular rather than parallel parking.

June, a photograph of the Hispanic Society and its neighbor the Numismatic Museum, illustrates how steep the slope was down to the river, even after five decades of cultivation and construction in Audubon Park. The photograph must have been around 1909 as excavations for the Riviera have not yet begun. At the left, just outside the photographers frame, is the Hemlocks, the home of the Grinnell family, tantalizing in its absence.

The calendar is available for $12.00 plus postage. Email, call (917) 301-1120, or write to V. Ducat, 790 Riverside Drive, Apt. 12A, New York, NY 10032. Please write checks to: Washington-Heights Inwood Coalition (the Riverside Oval Association’s fiscal conduit).