Recap: The Place Matters Annual Awards Ceremony

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 at 11:14 am by

What do a candy store, a haven for the homeless, a matzo factory, and a local bar have in common?

It’s not that they’ve all been covered in Bowery Boogie. Last Wednesday night, they also won awards from Place Matters, an organization which recognizes New York City’s historically and culturally significant places.

The third annual awards ceremony was held more or less at the epicenter of these locations at the Museum of Chinese in America. Honoring six places in Lower Manhattan, awards were given to Economy Candy, The Bowery Mission, The Streit’s Matzo Factory, the Chinatown Senior Citizens Center, The Ear Inn, and the Tenement at 109 Washington Street.

Heartfelt speeches about “the intersection of people and place” were given by Jean Tatge of the Municipal Art Society (which, along with the group City Lore, sponsors Place Matters), Molly Garfinkel and Steve Zeitlin of City Lore, and author TJ English (“The Westies,” “Havana Nocturne,” and the recent “Savage Cities,” among others).

English focused on “the power of place,” observing that he normally writes “sociology, anthropology and history, from the point of view of the gutter.” Running through a brief history of Lower Manhattan, which he considers “anything below 14th Street,” he gave the audience a dollop of some lesser known NYC history, including a story about “Collect Pond Park.” Once the largest body of water in the city, the pond was once exploited for fishing and ice skating, but became so disease-ridden in the late 18th century that the city had to create a canal (which as you may have guessed, is now known as Canal Street) to drain the pond. Collect Pond Park, formed after the pond was gone, still exists today.

TJ English

As each recipient retrieved their award, the audience was treated to their various tales of the city. James Macklin, Director of Outreach for the Bowery Mission, was homeless and slept on the A train until a woman intervened, convincing him to seek help at the historic shelter. Alan Alder of Streit’s Matzo described handing broken pieces of matzo out the window to passersby at the factory on Rivington Street. The incomplete pieces, not allowed to be boxed for sale, were given out for free on a daily basis, causing long lines down the street (yes, we were there and the matzo was still warm!). Jerry Cohen of Economy Candy, pretty much grew up in the store and recalled his baby carriage having its own spot in the back. Martin Sheridan recounted the history of the James Brown House, home of the Ear Inn. According to legend, Brown, who originally owned the house, was an ex-slave who fought in the Revolutionary Army and was an aide to George Washington. Some believe he is depicted at Washington’s side in the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”

James Macklin of The Bowery Mission

The theme “there is no future without memory” echoed through the evening. Oral histories of the residents from the The Chinatown Senior Citizens’ Center helped launch the event host, the Museum of Chinese in America. Current residents of the tenement at 109 Washington Street, another honoree, retold the history of their building. Located in a long-gone neighborhood once called “Little Syria,” this area thrived in the late 1800’s through the mid 1900’s, attracting Middle Eastern families, along with immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. These urban historians continue to document tales of their ancestors, along with their own stories of living right near Ground Zero during 9/11.

Following the awards ceremony, guests were feted with klezmer music by Hot Pstromi, along with sweets donated by Economy Candy, of course.

Video about each of the award winners:

Writeup and photos by Lori Greenberg

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