“21st Precinct” Exhibition
New York, NY Aug 2014
The Exhibition took place in the old 21st precinct police headquarters on 22nd Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan, built in 1863, which was bought by a developer and scheduled to be demolished to make way for luxury condos, a typical scenario that’s being played out all over New York City. Prior to demolition the entire interior 5 floors of the building were used by 40 street artists for installations and wall paintings.
The history of the building reads like a history of NYC: immigrants scraping out a living, street crime, police corruption and brutality, etc. For my installation I wrote a text about the fascinating history of the building, which was used for many different purposes over the years. I then translated that text into morse code and then used the code to create an installation on the interior walls of the building.
“Lines on a Map of the City of New York” by Bill Claps
Wall Installation in Morse Code: Mixed media with gold foil, 85” x 45”, 2014
Installation is the translation of the following text into Morse Code
1863. 21stPrecinct Station House, No 327 East 22ndStreet. 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 Sloaneplays Captain Frank Kennelly
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.