"Lines on the Map of the City of New York"
21st Precinct Exhibition, New York, NY, Aug. 16- 24, 2014
Wall Installation: Mixed media with gold foil, Six sections total, Two sections 85” x 45”, Four sections 147" x 27", 2014
The installation was created for the exhibition “21st Precinct”, a show in the former police headquarters of the 21st Precinct in the east side of lower Manhattan. The show included five floors of installations, mostly done by street artists, many of whom have been active since the 1980’s. At the conclusion of the exhibition the building will be demolished to make way for a luxury condominium building.
The installation, executed in Morse code, references the colorful history of the building, built as a police precinct headquarters in 1863 in a poor immigrant tenement neighborhood know as the Gashouse District, renowned for it’s crime and corruption. Over the years the building had served, amongst other functions, as the headquarters for the 7th New York Regiment battalion during the Civil War, tasked to suppress the Draft Riots in NYC, as the inspiration for the 1950’s radio crime show “21st Precinct”, and most recently as a foster care group residence for LGBT teens.
The wall installations are translations into Morse code of the following text, written by Bill Claps, entitled “Lines on a Map of the City of New York”.
“Lines on a Map of the City of New York”
1863. 21st Precinct Station House, No 327 East 22nd Street. Italianate structure, classical closed pediment, brownstone sills, openwork wrought iron newel posts. Nathaniel Bush official architect for the NYPD. Gashouse District, cheap tenements, the poor and the disreputable, thugs and crime- ridden dives, Irish immigrant workers, Germans, Jews, and Italians. Civil War rages in the South, headquarters for the 7th New York Regiment battalion. Colonel Lefferts, “use all means he has ” to suppress all mobs and riots.
1866. Gas House Gang terrorizes the area, looting and fighting. Saloons like the “Rowdy Wall”, openly criminal behavior, police powerless, "The Gangs of New York”
1868. Enter Police Officer Alexander S. Williams. Clubs them mercilessly with his baton, at least one bloody confrontation per day, tossing toughs through the window of the Florence Saloon. “Clubber Williams”. His philosophy: “There is more law in the end of a policeman’s night stick than a Supreme Court decision.”
1871. Police brutality, corruption charges. Clubber Williams promoted to Captain of the 21st.
1874. Williams owner in a brand of whiskey that saloons were forced to sell. $500 fees to open a house of prostitution, $30,000 per year for protection. Lexow Committee convenes investigations. Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt demands Williams’ resignation. Clubber Williams retires with $1 million in the bank, a yacht on his $39,000 private dock, and a summer estate in Cos Cob, Connecticut…. Japanese real estate he said.
1896. Tammany Hall. Charley Murphy is now leader of the 18th Assembly district. Captain Smith attempts to defy Murphy and close his saloons on Sundays under the Raines Law. “Put Smith on the boat and keep him there” says Murphy. Smith transferred to Police Steamboat Patrol.
1901. More corruption. Businessmen host a dinner for new Captain Cooney, $10 a plate, and present him with a diamond-studded badge.
1913. “Battleaxe Steve”, Captain Stephen McDermott: “Pretty tough quarters around here…”. 37 brothels, 162 officers 9,500 arrests, most of any precinct in the city.
1953. CBS radio, “21st Precinct “, Writer-director Stanley Niss, 1953 to
1956. Everett Sloane plays Captain Frank Kennelly Tagline of the show: 21st Precinct, “ It's just lines on a map of the city of New York.”
2013. “Gramercy Residence at Ungar House.” Functions as a foster care group residence for LGBT teens. Goal is to allow them to function in the urban community independently and successfully.
The future: Luxury condos.
The past: It’s just dots and lines on paper.