Postcard from another Venice

Here’s a photo that may be a stage set for an Aladdin revival, an idealized Middle Eastern city. The caption in this 1920s postcard and the flags identifies it as Basra, Iraq, a city on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway that contains many canals within it, earning the nickname Venice of the East.

basra 1.JPG

I don’t expect to be visiting Basra during my lifetime, but I know that this postcard image dates to a more peaceful time in this storied city.

Continue reading

Lispenard’s Meadow, Manhattan

Among the most helpful Twitter accounts that relates to New York City history is @Discovering_NYC, run by a local tour guide who shares old photos, maps, and illustrations of the city’s past. Over the weekend, it posted a map of Lispenard’s Meadow, the long-forgotten wetland in what is now the Tribeca neighborhood of lower Manhattan.

lisp 1800.JPG

At the turn of the 19th century, the meadow was on the northern periphery of New York City. Above is an 1800 illustration of the meadow by Alexander Anderson, looking towards the Hudson River. It contained three creeks within it, occluding one that drained from Collect Pond. That creek became the route of Canal Street.

Continue reading

Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

John Salazar, my former co-worker at Gray Line is a man of the world, in part as a result of his work as a tour guide and from his overseas service for the country in the army. Among his favorite places is Japan, the highly urbanized island country whose cities feature numerous canals and hidden streams. A book could be written on this topic, but having little knowledge on Japan’s urban streams, for now I’ll share the story of its most famous example, shared by John.

osaka 1

The Dotonbori is a canal constructed after 1612 by merchant Yasui Doton, seeking to connect the Umezu River, which ran east to west, hoping to increase commerce in the Minami section of Osaka by connecting the two branches of the Yokobori River. The canal’s neighborhood is often compared to New York’s Times Square, albeit with a stream running through it. Continue reading

Canal Avenue, Brooklyn

Manhattan’s Canal Street is known worldwide, and recently I documented the history of Canal Street in the Bronx. Staten Island also has a Canal Street in its Stapleton neighborhood. The shortest of all the canal-named roads in New York City is the one-block Canal Avenue in a neighborhood historically known as White Sands. It connects Cropsey Avenue to a one-block segment of West 17th Street.

canal 1

The humble road is located between the traditional-looking Parkview Diner and a gas station. In the background is a parking lot for a Pathmark Stop & Shop supermarket. But where is the namesake canal? Continue reading

Mott Haven Canal

You won’t find Chinese food here, but as with Canal Street in Manhattan, Canal Place in the South Bronx and its parallel, Canal Place West, serve as reminders of a waterway long buried beneath the industrial properties of the neighborhood.

canal 7

Proposed in 1850 by Mott Haven founder Jordan L. Mott, it was carved out in the early 1870s. This man-made inlet of the Harlem River penetrated as far north as 144th Street.  Along its shoreline, cranes picked up freight from barges and loaded the goods into warehouses.

canal 6

Two bascule bridges spanned the relatively narrow canal with lock-like tide gates underneath to keep out high tides. In contrast to Gowanus Canal, which was originally a natural stream and has water pumped from East River to maintain a steady flow, the Mott Haven Canal did not have a current and its standing water quickly gained a reputation for its odor. Continue reading