Skating in Central Park

The sport of ice skating in Victorian-era New York was so popular that all submissions to the 1857 design competition for Central Park were required to include a winter skating area. As one of the few socially acceptable activities that could be enjoyed in mixed company (along with tennis and bicycling), the Department of Parks’ Board of Commissioners recognized that a public skating rink would be a great source of healthful recreation for city dwellers. Called the Skating Pond on Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s winning Greensward plan, the Lake was one of the first areas of the park to be open to the public for the 1858-59 skating season, well before construction of many other park areas had started.

Detail of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1857 Greensward plan submission drawing showing the skating pond. Black ink with colored pencil on paper. Department of Parks Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

In the early days of the park, ice skating on the Lake drew huge crowds—some thirty thousand people daily. Beginning in 1868, a three-story chalet-style “skate tent,” as it was called, was put up and taken down at the south end of the lake during the winter season. The 1870 report of the Board of Commissioners described the tent amenity: on the first floor it had concessions, changing areas, a place to warm up, a refreshment stand, and a cloak room. The second story provided windows for spectators to view the skating while enjoying a beverage, and the third level served as a “ladies look-out exclusively.” 

Design for a Skate House. Julius Munckwitz, architect, 1884. Ink and watercolor on paper. Department of Parks Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

To replace the original “skating tent,” actually a wooden structure, after it had fallen into disrepair, architect Julius Munckwitz prepared this drawing for a new Skate House in 1884, which provided a detailed elevation view and a floor plan with restaurants for men and women as well as a parlor and smoking room.

In addition to the main skating area, Vaux and Olmsted also provided a more secluded space reserved for women who preferred to skate away from the mixed-gender, social atmosphere on the Lake. Located on a small inlet just beyond Balcony Bridge, the Ladies Skating Pond provided a “ladies only” option for the more modest skaters of the day. As construction in the park continued, other bodies of water such as the Conservatory Water and the Pond also became popular skating venues.

In an effort to make the man-made Lake safe throughout the year, it was equipped with waste weirs (to lower water levels) and sluice gates (to raise water levels). During summer, sluice gates kept the water level at seven feet deep to accommodate boaters. In winter, the waste weirs lowered the level to just four feet to lessen the possibility of an accidental drowning if a skater fell through too-thin ice and each night, a series of eighteen hydrants, or valves, spread water to create a fresh sheet of ice.

Design of the sluice gate for the outlet of the Skating Pond, c. 1858. Black and red ink with pencil, blue crayon, and colored washes on paper. Department of Parks Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

With large crowds arriving daily, Olmsted instituted many park rules for wintertime users of the Lake. He stipulated, for example, that visitors should “not drop any tobacco, segar-stumps, paper, nutshells, or other articles on the ice” and that, “a ball will be hoisted to the top of the pole, near the bell tower whenever the ice is in full condition for skating.” However, Olmsted did relax one rule during the ice-skating season—park closing time—extending it from eight o’clock to midnight. Harper’s Monthy Magazine in 1861 described the nighttime spectacle: “The dramatic aspect of the jubilee [of skating] is greatly increased by the sparkle of the moonbeams and the glare of the Drummond lights, which flood the scene with startling brilliance.”

Summer and winter water levels at the site of the Rustic Bridge crossing an arm of the Ladies Skating Pond, c. 1860. Black and colored inks with pencil on paper. Department of Parks Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

The levels of the water of the Lake ranged from seven feet deep in the summer to provide ample room for boaters and swimmers to only four feet in the winter as a safety measure should anyone fall through the ice.

While the popularity of ice skating waned in the later part of the century, it never completely fell out of fashion and remained a wintertime draw for the park, albeit one contingent on the fickle nature of New York weather. In 1949, philanthropist Kate Wollman donated $600,000 toward construction of a new kind of "artificial rink" to be built in Central Park. The Parks Department publicity materials stated that the rink guaranteed access to safe skating for New Yorkers "who have been deprived of the pleasure of regular, uninterrupted outdoor ice skating throughout the winter half year because of vagaries of our climate." Created as a memorial to her parents and four brothers, Wollman Rink opened at the south end of the park in 1950. More than 300,000 visitors arrived in the first year and by 1953 the rink had welcomed its one millionth skater. Noted for its vast size of approximately 31,000 square feet, the rink required over sixteen miles of 1 ¼ inch wrought-iron pipe for construction.

Wollman Memorial Skating Rink, Central Park, 1960. Mayor Wagner Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

In addition to Wollman Rink, Central Park is also home to the Lasker Rink and Pool located at the northern end of the park near the Harlem Meer. Named for its major benefactor Loula Davis Lasker, a philanthropist and social worker, who donated $600,000 to help build the rink in 1961, the skating rink opened in 1966 and is converted into a public swimming pool during the summer months.

This blog is adapted from the Municipal Archives’ forthcoming publication, The Central Park, Original Designs for New York’s Greatest Treasure.

The book is now available for pre-order from the publisher, Abrams Books:

Glue, Time, Humidity and Heat: Mastering the Elements of Tape Preservation

Typically, when we talk about preserving something in an archive we are looking at a time period of 100 years, if not longer. The New York City Municipal Archives still holds, for example, records of the Dutch colonial settlement in New Amsterdam that date from the 17th century.  Thanks to the work of dozens of skilled archivists and conservators, over decades, these documents have been and will continue to be preserved and made available to the public.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Archives’ video tape collections. It is likely that every tape in the world will become unusable within the next 20-30 years. While video tape offered a lot of advantages over film as a recording medium, tape is one of the worst types of storage media. In this blog post, we will address what makes tape such a bad storage medium and what technicians at the Municipal Archives are doing to preserve the tapes before they are lost forever.

Structure of a magnetic tape.

The diagram below illustrates how video (and audio) tape consists of three layers. Starting on the bottom is the back coat that shields the main structure of the tape from mechanical damage as it moves through the equipment. In the middle is the substrate, which is essentially a long ribbon usually made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a polyester film like Mylar, giving it a high-tensile strength.  The top coat is where all information is recorded. The Top Coat is the most complex part of a video tape and also where the most degradation happens.

The top coat is composed of magnetic particles, lubricant reservoirs and binder. The magnetic particles are aligned by the video head when writing the video signal onto the tape, while the lubricant reservoirs help the tape move through the playback device, like a VCR. The binder is the glue that holds the magnetic particles and lubricant reservoirs in place, ensuring reliable playback and a consistent image. This binder is what is called the ‘inherent vice’ of all tape formats. Every other part of the tape is chemically stable and can last for hundreds of years, but the binder layer will fail, typically within a few decades.

In order to preserve tapes in the Municipal Archives, we need to keep three things in mind: time, humidity and heat. Over time, when exposed to enough humidity and heat, the binder layer will start to break down. The glue will absorb humidity from the air and expand as it gets warmer, losing its adhesive quality. As that happens, the magnetic particles will loosen, resulting in white pops or lines in the image quality. This binder degradation is called “sticky-shed syndrome.”

The Snackmaster Dehydrator 2400 from American Harvest can bake up to three ¾” U-matic tapes at a time, with modifications.

The optimal environmental storage conditions for video tape are 30-40% Relative Humidity and 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. There is some wiggle room as most manufacturers changed their formula repeatedly, but keeping the tapes in a low humidity environment somewhat above freezing is crucial. Freezing video tape can cause the lubricant reservoirs to crystallize and fracture, shifting the magnetic particles within the binder layer. The PET ribbon might remain, but none of the binder will survive along with it.

Although all tapes regardless of their storage conditions will eventually develop sticky-shed syndrome, there is something that can be done to revive them: baking. By exposing the tapes to a low heat of 125 degrees Fahrenheit for 24-48 hours in a dry environment, binder that has begun to degrade can be stabilized. The Municipal Archives has rehabilitated a large number of tapes by baking them in a simple food dehydrator.

Here is a tape captured both before and after baking. Recorded in the East Village around the end of 1985, this tape has several segments of video suffering from sticky-shed syndrome. Below are three parts of the video tape with side-by-side comparisons of ‘before’ on the left and ‘after’ on the right.

Video image before baking (left) and after (right). Baking this tape for 24 hours shows that there is still a lot to be retrieved. WNYC collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

In this second video, the tape stabilizes partway through, but still suffers minor pops and dropout, which baking has resolved. WNYC collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Although this segment is less damaged than some others, this more clearly shows that parts of the video are literally smearing off as the binder fails. WNYC collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

This tape depicts the intensifying struggle for the rights of New Yorkers regardless of their sexual orientation.  On March 20, 1986, the New York City Council passed a law disallowing discrimination based on sexual orientation and the historically important content on this tape would have been lost forever if it were it not for baking.

So far, nearly 1,000 tapes from the WNYC-TV collection have successfully been digitized. Other videotapes that will be digitized include the Channel L collection of more than 1,700 items that depict city government officials directly engaging with residents of New York. Baking and digitizing these tapes will ensure that their content remains accessible for generations to come.

Andy Warhol in the City

Artist Andy Warhol, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 6, 1928, became one of the most emblematic and influential New Yorkers of the 20th century. A star student at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, he arrived in New York City in 1949 and established himself as a talented advertising illustrator. His first home in the City was a small apartment at 1342 Lexington Avenue.

Warhol’s residence at 1342 Lexington Avenue as it was ca. 1940. Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Warhol quickly ascended to the top of New York’s art world and by the 1960s his paintings, sculptures, prints, posters, photographs, films and writings were ubiquitous and highly desirable. He produced much of his work at a succession of studios he called “the Factory.” The first was located at 231 East 47th Street; then 33 Union Square West and finally 860 Broadway.

The first Warhol “Factory” was on the top floor of this building at 231 East 47th Street, until 1967. Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

33 Union Square West, the location of the Factory from 1967 to 1968, shown here in a 1940 tax photo. Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

33 Union Square West, ca. 1985. Warhol was shot here in 1968. Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

860 Broadway, ca. 1985. This was the last location of the Factory, from 1974 until 1984. Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Warhol was famous for turning up at almost every social event, club, and “happening” of his era. He also turns up in the Municipal Archives. Unfortunately, he first appears in connection with the June 4, 1968 attempt on his life. NYPD crime scene detectives photographed the 33 Union Square West “Factory” after the writer Valerie Solanas shot Warhol in the stomach. A bullet also grazed Mario Amaya, a visiting art critic from London. Seriously wounded, Warhol took more than a year to return to his career. Some biographers say he never really recovered.

nypd_49598-01: Felonious assault scene at 33 Union Square where Andy Warhol and Mario Amaya were shot by Valerie Solanas, desk area with bloody paper, facing west, June 4, 1968. NYPD Photo Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

nypd_49598-04: Felonious assault scene at 33 Union Square where Andy Warhol and Mario Amaya were shot by Valerie Solanas, front room towards rear door, facing west, June 4, 1968. NYPD Photo Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

nypd_49598-05: Felonious assault scene at 33 Union Square where Andy Warhol and Mario Amaya were shot by Valerie Solanas, towards rear door, facing west, June 4, 1968. NYPD Photo Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Warhol’s next appearance in the Municipal Archives is a more serene event documented in the Mayor Koch photograph collection. On April 5, 1983, Warhol appeared with Koch and Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden holding the poster he designed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Mayor Edward I. Koch, Andy Warhol, and Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden holding a poster created by Warhol for the Brooklyn Bridge Centennial, April 5, 1983. The poster was used to promote Art Week and the Fifth Annual Art Expo in New York. Mayor Koch Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Legendary for his success in the art market, Warhol was also savvy about New York real estate. By the late 1950s he was successful enough to move to a townhouse at 57 E. 66th Street where he lived until his death in 1987.

Warhol’s townhouse at 57 E. 66th Street as it looked in the 1940 tax photo (at left). Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Warhol’s townhouse at 57 E. 66th Street as it looked in the 1940 tax photo (at left). Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Warhol’s townhouse at 57 E. 66th Street in the mid-1980s tax photo at right. Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Warhol’s name appears on the Department of Finance “property card” record for 57 E. 66th Street, Manhattan Block 1381, Lot 29, in the conveyance section, acquiring title to the townhouse on March 4, 1974. Department of Finance Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Andy Warhol died at age 58, on February 22, 1987, of complications following a gall-bladder operation. He is buried in Pennsylvania. In 1989 the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts awarded $25,000 to the Municipal Archives in support of a project to duplicate the 1940 tax photos.

A New Year Is Coming

It’s the last Friday of 2018 and the blog team is celebrating by posting a few photos from some recent New Years’ Eve celebrations in Times Square. 

 Best wishes for a good 2019.

The Surrogate’s Court Rotunda, Restored

A panoramic image created from 49 separate exposures shows the beautiful rotunda of 31 Chambers Street after repairs

In the winter, a shaft of daylight finds its way in.  Pouring in through the large windows, it bounces off the freshly-waxed floor in the vestibule, through the arches of the colonnade, and from there into the rotunda, lighting the northern gallery like a second sun.  It illuminates the area where the water came in, as if it wants visitors to see the marks that time has left on the building.  In the late summer, it will come in straight from above in the afternoon, lighting the northwest corner.  I should know—I’ve been watching it for years.

For the last few years, no one saw this.  In fact, no one really saw the Hall of Records’ grand rotunda at all.  The beautiful chamber was full of scaffolding and plywood walls put up by the construction crew doing much-needed repairs.

The rotunda was designed by architect John Rochester Thomas to be the centerpiece of his building.  Later architects Arthur Horgan and Vincent Slattery would defend this design.  Thomas wanted the building to reflect the importance and the prominence of New York City.  Above all, he wanted to help establish New York as an international cultural center, and he had no intention of sparing any expense in pursuit of that goal.  For the floors, the architects chose pink marble from Tennessee and blue marble from Belgium, laid out in geometric patterns.  For the walls and columns, they chose rich Siena marble, imported from Tuscany, with blood red marble rondels (probably from Asia) and elaborate carvings—garlands of fruit and foliage.  Thomas designed a grand staircase, also in Siena marble, rising from two points at the western end of the rotunda, joining at an arched landing into one flight of steps and leading up to the second-floor gallery.  As a crown on this grand hall, he called for a huge skylight—hundreds of glass panels set in a barrel vault of cast bronze.  This central chamber was the grandest, most expensive, and most controversial part of the building when it was designed.

While other elements of the rotunda were imported, the skylight was local.  It was cast by Jno. Williams in Chelsea, in a factory building that became a photo studio for Annie Liebovitz in the 1990s.  The workmanship is exquisite and robust, with a second skylight forming a protective shed over the barrel vault.  The skylight lasted for more than a hundred years, but by the 1990s it had started to leak.  Water ran down from the skylight slowly damaging some of the plaster ceilings on the second floor and building maintenance people covered the skylight with a large tarp.  This unfortunately made the chamber darker, and gave the overhead light a strange blue cast.  The city delayed repairs, as the building was in constant use.

In 2016, this changed. I walked out from my office one day and saw several of the building staff standing in the rotunda, gesturing and talking hurriedly. A small area on the floor was cordoned off. Then I saw it—a pile of glass shards. Craning my neck, I could see where it had fallen from the skylight, probably forty or fifty feet above. Fortunately, the rotunda was empty when it fell.

The skylight before repairs.

Within a week, the hall looked completely different.  Construction crews built scaffolding up from the floor, rising to the glass arch like a strange ziggurat.  On the third floor, the crews went in through the porthole windows to get to the skylight from above.  Those of us working in the building became accustomed to the white plywood walls and the tunnel we had to walk through going up the stairs.  I kept leading tours at this time, always apologizing to the groups because they couldn’t see the skylight or the grand staircase.  Over time, even I forgot how it truly looked. 

Rotunda during repairs

Then, late this year, the project was finished.  The forest of poles supporting the scaffolding was taken down.  Within two or three days, the construction crews had completely cleared the rotunda, and building services had waxed the marble floors.  I walked across the huge hall and found myself standing in a pool of warm sunlight.  I’d forgotten how grand the space actually is.  In fact, I’d never seen it quite like this before.  The tarp was gone, so more light came down from above.  The faux-marble fresco beneath the vault had been repainted.  The whole space looked the way I imagine John Thomas intended it—a beautiful open space concealed in a Beaux-Arts fortress, a sort of inner sanctum in his final building.

Rotunda after repairs, December 2018

The Food Problem: 1918

In government, what is done when a problem is identified? A Committee is formed. This is not a new thought. One of the items recently unearthed in the Municipal Library is a pamphlet entitled “Report of The Food Problem Committee.” This sparked immediate questions: what was the food problem to be resolved? Who was on the Committee? What solutions were offered? How did it work out?

A slim volume, topping out at 36 pages, it was issued in March, 1918 by the Merchants’ Association of New York. Founded in 1897, the Association, whose mission was to foster the trade and welfare of New York, had previously weighed in on such matters as the development of the Catskill water supply system, regulation of telephone rates, fire alarms, and street cleaning among other civic matters. Now, a small committee of ten people was delegated to solve the problem of food in the City.

The report begins with an incontrovertible sentence: “FOOD is absolutely essential to the health and welfare of ten million people in the Greater New York Distributing District.” Who could argue with that! But apparently the CONDITIONS were unsatisfactory and serious and IMPROVEMENT slow and hard to obtain which led to CONFUSION existing everywhere. The authors then go on to promise the reader a fifteen minute discussion of the problem, past actions, the present situation and recommendations for the future. Already, by page four the problem had been mentioned a dozen times but not yet defined. Randomly capitalized words and sentences are scattered through, leading to a jumpy read.

“Outline of the Food Problem,” Report of the Food Problem Committee, 1918. NYC Municipal Library.

Hoping to avoid duplicating past efforts, the Committee identified the work of twelve commissions that investigated the FOOD SITUATION in the previous decade and commended them, because matters would be far worse if these groups had not provided their insight. A centerfold, “Brief Summary of Recommendations Shown in Previous Reports” lists reports about food supply, push carts, quantities of food at each pier terminal, milk, and more milk. At its bottom there is a notation “Within five years over ten separate investigations and reports have been made. All conclude that (1) the situation is unsatisfactory and (2) something should be done. There was no unanimity of opinion as to what should be done and a growing unrest prevails. The public is more perplexed than ever as to correct procedure and the problem remains unsolved.”

And it is here that a first glimmer of the problem comes to light: the increasing cost of food products in New York City. The price of food ebbed and flowed but the onset of World War One in 1914 impacted food production and distributions systems, worldwide, with the biggest effect in those countries that were engaged in the War. There were new military markets to be supplied and many producers and distributors turned away from domestic consumption. This created shortages and spikes in the price of food, throughout the country and certainly in New York.

In addition to reviewing the prior work of committees, the group conducted interviews with a wide range of interests including farmers, railroad men, leaders of consumers and educational and regulative agencies. They went to Washington and to Albany. They met with thirty representatives of food distributors ranging from those representing the fresh fish trade, the butter and egg exchange, the association of master bakers and the Hebrew retail kosher butchers. The Distributors Association arranged for a dinner and an overnight tour, beginning at midnight, of steamship and railroad terminals and markets that received and sold food from national and international sources.

Census Table, Report of the Food Problem Committee, 1918. NYC Municipal Library.

Based on all of this research, the Committee classified five phases of the food problem and seven factors that contribute to the high cost of food. They developed a very detailed chart showing elements within the factors that required further analysis. This is very typical of Progressive-era reformers who focused on improved efficiency and deconstructing processes and systems. There was a widely-held view that social problems could be resolved through analysis that would produce corrective measures.

PRODUCTION: The Committee identified two key issues hindering farmers: labor shortages and insufficient capital to fund planting and harvesting. They acted on both by working with City businesses to recruit workers with prior farm experience who could be deployed to the countryside for stretches of time coinciding with the planting, cultivating and harvesting seasons. However, this remedy proved unsuccessful because the farmers frequently rejected the inexperienced labor. Plus the quantity of labor required also seemed exaggerated. The Committee heaved a sigh of relief noting that there were other organizations handling this work and they, “immediately turned our data and applications over to this Commission rather than add another bureau of our own.” But they also summarized the great shift America was experiencing as people moved from rural to urban areas due to higher wages, shorter hours and predictable work weeks. They conjectured that by 1920 the populations of urban and rural New York would reverse from the 1900 counts.

In this section, there also is a brief segment about transient workers “hobos and itinerant laborers,” who picked crops. It included an analysis of the wages paid—no overtime; long hours. These practices are still in place today. For years, the NYS Assembly has attempted to enact a Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices law, only to be stymied by the Senate. It may finally become the law in 2019 and farm workers will obtain workers compensation protection, over time pay and a set work week, more than a century after this report observed the problem.

The committee, for all of its analysis, seemed skeptical of advice from educational institutions, opining, “Farmers have listened patiently to Agricultural College men and city press when told how to grow two blades of grass where one grew before. What they want to know, however, is how to market, at a profit, the one blade before they attempt to raise two.”

MANUFACTURERS: These were identified as second only to the farmers in importance for making food available. In this section the report describes the processes for preserving, conserving, preparing and converting food products. One notable section, termed the “greatest field into which the manufacturers have entered is the conservation of by-products,” which “rendered the world a most important service.” In particular they noted the millions of dollars “saved” annually by the meat packing industry that “converted every particle of the animal formerly wasted, including hair, hoofs, horns, and bones” into consumable products including edible food. In this analysis, the committee clearly did not subscribe to the strong views elicited from readers of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, published in 1904, which described in unsavory detail the contents of this “edible food.”

“Food Distributing District,” Report of the Food Problem Committee, 1918. NYC Municipal Library.

CARRIERS: By 1918, ninety per cent of food consumed in the greater New York area already came from beyond the Metropolitan region. Only milk and some vegetables were produced locally. Due to the development of refrigerated cars, trains, steamships, the City was receiving fruits from California and Cuba, coffee from South America and eggs from China. However, food deliveries in the City were “uncertain” due to the war and bad weather. Surprisingly, the committee commended the federal government’s takeover of the operation of all railroads in order to “expedite the transportation of necessary supplies.”

DISTRIBUTORS: Sixty thousand distributors employing 400,000 workers distributed food to ten million people in the Metropolitan area. The consumers were drawn from twenty-eight nationalities with “various habits, customs and modes of living” that meant “one nationality will eat what another will not.” Not only was diversity a challenge but traffic congestion from commuters, deliveries, etc. created huge inefficiencies. A New York Railways Company study showed that traffic delays more than doubled from the prior year and averaged nine minutes. Referring to earlier studies, the report states that nearly all had recommended building terminals and wholesale markets in various sectors of the city to increase access.

In an odd paragraph the report claims that it is unfair to blame wholesalers and retail distributors for the high cost of food but acknowledged there may be a few cases of hoarding and profiteering. Defending the businesses’ honor, they blamed the media for sensational articles that exaggerated these practices and created a certain “attitude” among consumers. Perhaps the “fake news” of its day?

CONSUMERS: The meetings with consumers and consumer advocates yielded three main opinions: Children are Undernourished; Food is costly and scarce; Middlemen charge exorbitant profits and the City and State should be regulating the sale of food, distributors and markets.

Eighty per cent of New York, the report asserts “are having a difficult time to make their weekly wage pay the rent, buy what food and fuel they need and have a little left for clothing and ordinary pleasures of life. THE SITUATION IS GROWING MORE AND MORE TENSE, AND DESPITE THIS GREAT VIGILANCE, THERE SEEMS TO BE LITTLE, IF ANY IMPROVEMENT IN SECURING THE BEST METHODS OF DISTRIBUTION AND CONSUMPTION OF FOOD PRODUCTS.”

The consumers hoped regulators would do something. The Merchants Association however wondered, “Cannot more be done through effective co-operation of Producers, Manufacturers, Carriers, Distributors, Consumers and Educational and Regulative Agencies?”

“What a District Map Should Show,” Report of the Food Problem Committee, 1918. NYC Municipal Library.

EDUCATIONAL AND REGULATIVE AGENCIES: These two are lumped together, and given rather short shrift with only four paragraphs summarizing their work. The report does note that both types of agencies were hampered by politics because with the change of each administration, a new set of officials took over, all influenced to some degree by political expediency.  

The Committee made three recommendations.

1) Map the city “AT ONCE” to show food distribution points such as milk stations, restaurants, storage warehouses, food factories, retail stores, and the like; the nationality of consumers and housing information. The plan was that this would lead to food distribution plans “worked out by local districts with each different nationality as a basis.”

2) Develop a central organization of consumers to focus on food access from the 1,200 existing organizations working on a host of issues.

3) Create an Inter-Committee for results so the various factors described above could understand their various problems and develop shared solutions.

The major task would be to ARRANGE TO BRING FOOD FROM THE PRODUCERS TO THE CONSUMERS IN THE MOST EFFICIENT AND ECONOMIC WAY, WHETHER IT TAKES NONE, ONE OR MORE DISTRIBUTORS. The hope was that when the City was mapped and consumers were organized the inter-committees would “know real conditions and put into force the results of their analyses and conclusions” and complained that at that point, “the majority of conferences are productive of little advancement, and despite the reports, investigations and work of committees and commissions, the Food Problem is NOT being solved.”

The final section of the report is headed: Details must be Worked Out and notes that outside committees cannot provide the correct solutions. The report concludes with the exhortation: “If we really want to do something we must STOP WAITING FOR RADICAL SUGGESTIONS and START IMMEDIATELY to work our Problem in the manner recommended above.”