Stop by and enjoy a look at the home of NYC-ARTS, Need to Know, MetroFocus and a number of other THIRTEEN programs and you may even catch a glimpse of Lincoln Center’s Met Opera Summer HD Festival presentation of Rossini’s La Cenerentola in their plaza while you’re there!
This month, our Community Stories campaign highlights Slovak Americans Marica and Dr. Jan Vilcek. Here, the Vilceks discuss arriving in New York from Slovakia (then Czechoslovakia), and the unique experiences and opportunities their new life in America provided them.
Learn more about the campaign and view previous videoshere.
JL Aronson. Photo courtesy of Bailey Photo (2008).
Inside Thirteen recently spoke with filmmaker JL Aronson, whose documentary Last Summer at Coney Island explores the transformation of one of New York’s favorite playgrounds and the controversial proposals to redevelop the area in recent years. Here, Aronson explains what led him to make the film and how Coney Island has become a quintessential part of New York City history.
Last Summer at Coney Island airs August 19 at 10 p.m., August 22 at 4 a.m., August 24 at 2 a.m., and August 25 at 3 p.m. on WLIW21.
Mr. Aronson answered our questions via email.
Inside Thirteen: What inspired you to make Last Summer at Coney Island?
JL Aronson: I’d been going out to Coney Island and shooting there for a long time. I always loved piecing together the history with the reality of the present day. When I heard that a developer had bought out most of the amusement zone and that there would be massive changes coming, I felt it was important to document the way things had been. What I didn’t realize at first was how much push back the city and the developer would get. I don’t think they realized that either. Many people saw a complete makeover as a mortal threat to this place that meant so much to them.
IT: With a history very much tied to New York City, what do you think makes Coney Island so unique and distinct from other amusement parks and beach side attractions in the country?
JA: Well, first of all, most seaside amusement areas are wholly owned or subsidized by municipalities. But aside from the construction and occasional maintenance of the actual boardwalk, Coney Island was never that way. In fact, it seems like Coney Island survived all these years in spite of the city’s attitude towards it. Coney Island has sometimes been known as “the people’s playground” and that sense of egalitarianism is also reflected in the independent businesses that have comprised the amusement area. But more generally, Coney Island has its own feel that is distinctly New York City even though it doesn’t look, feel, smell or taste like any other part of New York City.
IT: How do you think Coney Island’s role in the city has changed over the years? Has it become less relevant to New Yorkers?
JA: If you compare the Coney Island of today with what it was during the first half of the 20th century, then it is less relevant. Before everyone had access to air conditioning, cable TV, cheap car rentals and cheap airfare, most New Yorkers had a lot fewer options for summertime recreation. Fortunately, what they did have was known to be the greatest collection of rides and attractions on the planet, not to mention a very nice beach. Now Coney Island doesn’t have the biggest collection of anything. And the beach has gotten a lot better, but according to a widely circulated report on American beaches, that too is lagging behind. However, Coney Island is still vital to the millions of New Yorkers who either can’t afford to go elsewhere or who simply prefer the convenience of going to a seaside park in their backyard (only a subway ride away!), and that describes a majority of New Yorkers. Also, I think New York is a place that few of its inhabitants take for granted. People know that there is an important history and legacy here, connected to the city’s larger history. And they also see the potential to make it a world class destination, once again.
IT: What do you see as the biggest challenge to the redevelopment of the area? Do you see any way of making the existing model more sustainable?
JA: A lot of people think that Coney Island was forever doomed by the placement of large housing projects in the vicinity of the amusements. I think that’s one challenge but it’s by far not the only one. Right now, the City of New York owns a majority stake in the amusement area, having bought much of the land from a speculative developer. Since 2010, the city has really focused on sprucing up the area in order to attract more investment: specifically national retailers and market rate housing developers for the adjacent land. They also need to improve the infrastructure of the whole island before any major development projects can get under way. But in the meantime, the Bloomberg administration has brought in new ride operators and set a high bar for being a vendor on the boardwalk and in other locations where the city is now the landlord. The cosmetic aspects are a step in the right direction although there’s been a lot of trial and error and a number of long time business owners were forced out. I personally feel that change should happen gradually and that the kind of oversized ambitions in evidence with many of the development plans going forward are probably not sustainable. But, at least for now, things have been improving.
IT: In the film it is said that “a single owner is a dangerous concept,” with regard to a private developer taking over Coney Island. Do you agree?
JL Aronson filming Astroland's closing. Photo courtesy of Bailey Photo.
JA: For sure. One of the things that has made Coney Island distinct all these years is the variety of styles and themes amongst the various businesses, and there’s a healthy competition there, too. However, the ideal situation is one in which the city owns or at least subsidizes the amusement park as an investment, with an ongoing commitment that can withstand the vacillating attentions of various administrations.
A thriving Coney Island makes New York a more livable space and also brings in money from tourists. We’re at a pretty good stage now, but there are plans to develop market rate high-rise housing in the area to subsidize the investment in amusements. Many of those people who pushed back against development asserted that there should be more amusements on that property and that a greater capacity for amusements and recreational uses would pay for itself. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I think that if there’s anything Coney Island does not need more of, it’s high-rises.
IT: Both Last Summer at Coney Island and your 2008 film Up on the Roof (about the last remaining pigeon keepers in Williamsburg) explore how time and gentrification have changed neighborhoods and pastimes in Brooklyn. Do you think these films are representative of what is happening in the city as a whole? What attracted you to this topic?
JA: I won’t be the first to assert that New York has been undergoing a process of homogenization and corporatization for some time. Those things are a result of all the money that gets generated here and having a very pro-business and pro-development mayor. An independently organized amusement area doesn’t fit in with that kind of climate, nor does an old-time hobby like pigeon raising. I made Up on the Roof for similar reasons as Last Summer at Coney Island, which was to document and celebrate something that thrived when New York was a more adventurous place. Pigeon keeping hasn’t died out because of any specific policy changes or campaigns, but because people sort of fall in line with the general track that society is running on. As you see in the film, landlords and building tenants who used to accept pigeon flyers as a part of city life, adapt to a new reality. Suddenly you turn around and what used to appear to you as your neighborhood now looks like an investment. Everything appears sanitized and digital. People don’t want reminders of the old country or the pastimes that were brought over. They want to keep up with the ever-evolving American dream.
So, these films are about a collective experience of living in New York that used to be more the norm. The changes are symptomatic, I think, of our closing ourselves off from everyone else, aside from our small circles. The city is arguably more diverse than it ever has been (overall) but we’re losing the naturalness of interaction and the attendant sense of community that has long distinguished NYC from other metropolises. Still, we’ll always have the subway.
THIRTEEN looks back on the life of art critic and historian Robert Hughes, who passed away on Monday night at the age of 72. Born and raised in Australia, Hughes went on to live in Italy and then London before settling in New York and establishing himself as an influential art critic at TIME magazine. His 1980 documentary The Shock of the New was the first to air on PBS, followed by American Visions in 1997 and Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore in 2000.
PBS NewsHourremembers Hughes and fellow critic Judith Crist, who died yesterday at the age of 90 and is perhaps best known for championing of a new generation of American and international directors and actors in the 1960s:
Ruckus Reader has launched the worldwide English language release of three digital interactive storybooks – iReaders – based on the popular PBS KIDS television series Cyberchase through the iTunes App Store for Apple’s iPad.
Designed for children 5 and up, the three new mobile applications reflect the show’s mission to inspire all children to approach math with confidence and a “can-do” attitude. The young heroes of the stories – Inez, Matt and Jackie – also show how useful math is and model good reasoning and problem-solving skills. In addition, Ruckus iReaders empower parents with a digital report card providing direct, actionable feedback on their child’s mobile reading.
This first Cyberchase Ruckus Reader bookshelf – featuring “The Hacker’s Challenge” (available for free download), “A Perfect Score” and “Unhappily Ever After” — is geared towards independent readers and helps kids with decoding and comprehension skills and enriching their vocabularies.
Each iReader includes video and integrated, age-appropriate learning activities and games within the context of the story to further the plot. Story-driven activities such as a word hunt, “what’s wrong with this picture,” “catch a falling object” activities and mazes help kids learn word recognition and reading comprehension.
Powered by the Ruckus Reader, the Cyberchase iReaders are designed to match age-appropriate standards determined by the Common Core State Standards for language arts and reinforce national educational standards for preschool through second grade. As children enjoy content from one of the biggest names in entertainment, parents receive weekly Reader Meter reports that assess their child’s in-app reading skills, such as phonics and word recognition, print and phonological awareness, fluency, sequencing and story comprehension in real time.
Families can download the free Ruckus iReader Cyberchase bookshelf from the iTunes App Store.
Prolific American author Gore Vidal passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86. A renowned novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, Vidal was a controversial figure of both the literary and political worlds since the release of his first novel, Williwaw in 1946.
Since 1995, Vidal has been a guest on PBS’ Charlie Rose an impressive four times! Take a look back on his life and works through these interviews with the late writer, and tune into Charlie Rose Friday, August 3 at 11 p.m. for “An Appreciation of Gore Vidal.”
Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.
For all you Downtonians out there who are lamenting the long wait until Season 3 of Downton Abbey gets to PBS, I say don’t fret. If the autumn speeds by as quickly as the summer has, January, and the Crawleys, will be back here before you know it! Til then…
Ode to Joy: The cast of Downton Abbey was invited to opening ceremonies of the London Olympics Friday night. Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) tweeted these pictures of the gang from just outside the Olympic stadium, with Hugh’s tweet saying, “Team Downton Abbey invade the Olympic Park.” It looks like they’re having fun together, but couldn’t you just picture them all arriving together in that cute little bus that Mrs. Hughes takes to see Ethel? And what would the Dowager think about all this mixing of Upstairs and Down in such a casual manner? And out in public no less. Disgraceful! Then again, if Elizabeth Regina II can parachute in with 007, I say all bets are off. And speaking of Ethel, note that Amy Nuttal is there with the group. Do you think this means that Ethel found a way back to Downton in Season 3? And if so, will the baby be with her? Or did her dire circumstances force her to give him up to Major Bryant’s horrible father? Sigh.
Hugh Bonneville expressing his political beliefs.
And speaking of clues and speculation… By now I’m sure you’ve all seen the press reports from the recent Television Critics Association (TCA) convention in Los Angeles where Downton Abbey was one of the more buzzed-about programs. The cast made quite an impression there as they started cranking up the publicity machine for Season 3. It seems that the big highlight was at the press conference when Hugh Bonneville tore open his shirt, Superman-style, to reveal a “Free Bates” t-shirt underneath.
Mystery: There was a lot of press coverage of this event but something that I haven’t seen considered anywhere is the new,official cast press photo; a variation from the one they’ve used the previous two seasons, with all the characters lined up in front of the house. Each season nearly the same picture, dominated by the house, but made different only by the characters lined up out front, and the sky in the background. So forgive me as I go all Miss Marple on you, but it is the look of that sky that I am studying for clues.
For Season 1, that sky behind the house was a morning sky; an optimistic light blue with sunny edges appropriate for the new beginnings as we were just getting acquainted. For Season 2, it was a stormy sky, all dark greys and reds, which matched the season perfectly as WWI dominated the story. But the Season 3 picture features a night sky, dark indigo blue with some stars, which has left me wondering what it all could mean? Are there clues in that sky that fortell what will transpire this coming season?
Now true, I am someone who spent quite a bit of time, in sixth grade, studying my Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover for clues confirming that Paul was dead, so this sort of hunting isn’t entirely new to me. But I am wondering why no one else has picked up on this, and what does it mean? Is it simply a glamorous, starry evening sky that reflects a return to pre-WWI opulence? Or a midnight sky, hinting that someone is going to turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes twelve? And if so, whom? (I’m thinking that if there’s to be a gourd-related injury, it would have to have something to do with Lady Edith.) Midnight is both an ending and a beginning – but is the bell about to toll for the house of Grantham? And what kind of creatures would go bump in that night? Given how many people have died in that house, one would think they’d all be sleeping with one eye open, wouldn’t you? Then again, the creepiest creatures to haunt that house are still alive – better to sleep with both eyes open. January is just around the corner. Can’t wait!See all three pictures and compare for yourself.
They’re Playing Our Song: Have you heard anything familiar while watching Masterpiece Classic’s Little Dorrit on WLIW, THIRTEEN’s sister station (airs Monday’s at 9 p.m. through August 6)? Call me kooky, but I would swear that the music they play whenever Amy has her dreams dashed is very close to the same music played on Downton Abbey when Matthew and Lady Mary are having one of those conversations (you know, the ones full of longing disguised by indifference). Anyone else notice this?
See You In September: Last week, I was lucky enough to be able to screen the first episode of Call the Midwife, the new six-part Masterpiece Classic period drama from the BBC that THIRTEEN will be broadcasting in the fall, and I have to say, you are going to love, love, LOVE IT! It is set in London’s East End (hello!) in the 1950’s and is based on the trilogy of memoirs written by Jennifer Lee Worth, who was a real midwife, practicing there. Think of the early days of EastEnders, how it was so dreary and gritty – only multiply it. The main character, Jenny Lee, is a young idealistic nurse who qualifies as a midwife to help the poor in the East End, where the filthy, grinding poverty seems more reminiscent of the 1850’s than the 1950’s. Jenny’s idealism initially crashes into revulsion of the people and the Dickensian conditions they live under, and she has to learn to reconcile that to be able to serve them. It’s another one of those dramas that could never, would never, be produced for commercial American TV.
Call the Midwife is just what we love about British telly: It has an intelligent script and is chock full of wonderful character actors and offers Brit telly lovers quite a few familiar faces, including Judy Parfitt who has starred in many dramas, most recently as Mrs. Clennam in Little Dorrit; Cliff Parisi, who plays Minty on EastEnders, and Miranda Hart, star of the Britcom Miranda, to name just a few. This series was a huge hit in the UK. In the all-important UK ratings race (our friends across the pond take this stuff seriously – even the bookies get in on the action), it broke Downton Abbey‘s record for grabbing the largest audience for original drama on the telly in recent years – and now we’ve got it! Call the Midwife premiers on THIRTEEN in September. Watch a previewonline.
That’s all for now. I’m going to go back to trying to play my Sgt. Pepper’s albums backwards, which you should join me in because (I swear) if you do, you’ll hear the voice of Carson saying, “O’Brien did it!” As Sir John of Liverpool would say, ‘Goo goo g’joob!’
This month, THIRTEEN’s Great Performancesseries brings you starry summer music specials from around the world. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2012 (Fri 31st, 9 p.m.; pictured on the cover), filmed in the magnificent gardens of Austria’s Imperial Schönbrunn Palace. Closer to home, we’re pleased to present Tanglewood 75th Anniversary Celebration(Fri 10th, 9 p.m.) and Music of the Movies (Sat 11th, 7:30 p.m.), young singing sensation Jackie Evancho’s new special. And opera fans won’t want to miss Manon (Thu 9th, 8:30 p.m.) and La Traviata (Thu 23rd, 9 p.m.) on Great Performances at the Met.
THIRTEEN spoke with Executive Producer David Horn and Series Producer Bill O’Donnell to get an inside look at the long-running performing arts series.
Great Performances is currently enjoying its 39th year on public television. What was it like to produce the series in the ‘70s and ‘80s compared to now?
DAVID HORN: I think the biggest difference is that we’ve expanded the definition of performing arts programming on public television. In its early years, it consisted primarily of opera, symphonic music, classical music, drama, and dance. Today, we include classic American Songbook, musical theater, popular music, classic rock, and crossover artists like Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, and 12-year-old musical prodigy Jackie Evancho.
BILL O’DONNELL: What hasn’t changed is that we continue to bring viewers programs they truly won’t find anywhere else. The networks and cable have pretty much abandoned everything but mainstream music programming. We’re the place where performers of all kinds can do what they do best in a long-form format.
David, you’re directing the new Jackie Evancho special. How do you transform a show from a live stage experience into a compelling TV broadcast?
DH: One of the most important things we do is to create an environment for the program. Andrea Bocelli’s new special is going to showcase Mediterranean love songs, so what better place to be than Portofino, Italy? For Jackie Evancho’s new special of movie music, which premieres during our August membership drive, we chose the Orpheum Theatre, an old, beautifully restored vaudeville palace in downtown L.A. The theater has an incredibly rich history and is located in an area where there used to be tons of movie palaces, so in a way it’s the star of the program too, and it provides the perfect backdrop for the gorgeous movie songs Jackie performs.
We also look for ways to set the pacing by bringing in guest artists to help keep things moving along, and we look at how the show’s star interacts with the guest artists and audience. But the first step really is the logistics. Whether the show is set in Portofino or Central Park, it’s one huge logistical chore at first. You’re doing everything. You’re the conceptual artist, you’re the stage director, you’re the person who’s getting all the permits and building the scenes. Then you focus on directing the television show, which primarily involves planning camera positions. That’s especially important with an environmental show like Andrea in Portofino where we want to capture the beauty of the location.
Andrea Bocelli and Julie Andrews are among the celebrated artists who have appeared on Great Performances programs many times over the years. Why do performers keep returning to the series?
DH: One of the reasons is that we involve them in the creative process and provide a positive, encouraging work environment. At commercial networks, producers tell artists what to do whereas we ask artists for their input and let them know their talent and vision are appreciated. This really makes a lasting impression on them, and it’s deeply gratifying when we get the call that they want to come back and work with us again.
BO’D: I completely agree and would add that many of theartists who have appeared on GP ultimately become supporters of public television. After they work on one of our programs, they really appreciate what we’re able to do with them and fully understand the power of public television. The icing on the cake is that they’re reaching people doing the things they want to do and want to say.
What is it like working with artists you admire? Do you have a favorite personal memory of working on Great Performances?
DH: It’s been wonderful to work with and meet people like Dame Julie Andrews, Beverly Sills, Walter Cronkite, Garrison Keillor, Harry Connick, Jr., and Sir Patrick Stewart. But one of my favorite memories involves a show we did with Luciano Pavarotti in the mid-80s. It was a show about Neapolitan song, filmed in Naples, and due to a mishap, Luciano and I ended up traveling to the shooting locations on a houseboat called “The Love Boat,” complete with disco ball. The crew had no idea we were delayed and while they were frantic with worry, Luciano and I were on the roof of the boat in lawn chairs, singing Sinatra songs.
BO’D: I guess my career high – although it wasn’t Great Performances – was when I got to be the FCC guy in Make ‘Em Laugh, a documentary series we produced on American comedy, and had to lock up Billy Crystal in jail with the other groundbreakers of comedy. He complimented me on my acting, which pretty much made my day.
What does it mean to you that Great Performances has inspired so many people to pursue the arts?
BO’D: Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, recently came to the studio to tape a promo for THIRTEEN’s upcoming 50th anniversary, and he spoke quite passionately and poetically about the experience of seeing the Ailey company on public television when he was a teen growing up in an inner city near Miami.
DH: Battle was completely mesmerized by the program, which was narrated by former Ailey star and artistic director Judith Jamison. He said the experience of watching it and hearing Jamison talk about Ailey’s choreography and artistic vision inspired him profoundly. Stories like that speak volumes as one of our goals is to provide a platform for great artists and organizations and bring their work to people whose geography or circumstances may prevent them from having access to the performing arts. Ten thousand people may see a performance during the course of a show’s run in a theater, but one million people or more see it when it airs on Great Performances. We’re providing a service, and as Robert Battle’s story illustrates, it’s a service that can dramatically change people’s lives.
Who is on your Great Performances wish list?
DH: There have been many Broadway productions we wanted to do, but which fell through due to finances, legalities, or other reasons. But we have our Broadway success stories, as well. This season we aired the enormously popular Memphis, and next season we’re very excited to have Stephen Sondheim’s Company starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, and Stephen Colbert. As for our wish list, we’re producing a great big gala special as a fundraiser for THIRTEEN’s 50th anniversary, which begins in September 2012. Our wish is to have as many of our illustrious alumni as possible in that special, so tune in to find out who they are.
Great Performances is produced for PBS by THIRTEEN for WNET, and is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, The National Endowment for the Arts, Vivian Milstein, The Starr Foundation, public television viewers, and PBS. Major series funding is also provided by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Annaliese Soros, Jody and John Arnhold, Victor and Sono Elmaleh and Vera von Kuffner Eberstadt.
This year, WNET garnered 14 Emmy nominations – five for the News and Documentary Emmy Awards, presented on October 1, and nine for the Primetime Emmy Awards, presented on September 23. PBS collectively received 58 nominations, third behind HBO (81) and CBS (60). Congratulations and good luck to all of our nominees!
And the nominees are…
News and Documentary Emmy Nominations
Outstanding Nature Programming Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey My Life as a Turkey
Outstanding Individual Achievement In A Craft: Cinematography – Documentary And Long Form Bears of the Last Frontier Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey My Life as a Turkey
Primetime Emmy Nominations
Outstanding Variety Special Tony Bennett: Duets II (Great Performances) • PBS • A Production of RPM TV Productions, Inc.
Outstanding Special Class Programs Herbie Hancock, Gustavo Dudamel And The LA Phil Celebrate Gershwin (Great Performances) • PBS • A production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET, BFMI, WDR in cooperation with ARTE, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and C Major
Outstanding Nonfiction Series American Masters • PBS • A Production of B Plus Productions, LLC in association with Thirteen’s American Masters for WNET Susan Lacy, Executive Producer for American Masters Robert Weide, Producer Erik Gordon, Executive Producer Andrew Karsch, Executive Producer Michael Peyser, Executive Producer Brett Ratner, Executive Producer Fisher Stevens, Executive Producer
Outstanding Directing For Nonfiction Programming American Masters • Woody Allen: A Documentary • PBS • A Production of B Plus Productions, LLC in association with Thirteen’s American Masters for WNET Robert B. Weide, Director
Outstanding Writing For Nonfiction Programming American Masters • Johnny Carson: King Of Late Night • PBS • A Co-Production of Thirteen’s American Masters for WNET and Peter Jones Productions, Inc. Peter Jones, Written by
Outstanding Picture Editing For Nonfiction Programming American Masters • Johnny Carson: King Of Late Night • PBS • A Co-Production of Thirteen’s American Masters for WNET and Peter Jones Productions, Inc. Mark Catalena, Editor
Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction For A Variety Special Andrea Bocelli Live In Central Park (Great Performances) • PBS • A Production of Sugar s.r.l. and THIRTEEN for WNET Robert Barnhart, Lighting Designer Ted Wells, Lighting Director Matt Firestone, Lighting Director Harry Sangmeister, Lighting Director
Outstanding Music Direction The Thomashefskys: Music And Memories Of A Life In The Yiddish Theater (Great Performances) • PBS • A production of the Thomashefsky Film Project LLC and Thirteen for WNET Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director
Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special Memphis (Great Performances) • PBS • Broadway Worldwide, Inc. Steven Cimino, Technical Director Paul J. Cangialosi, Camera John Pinto, Camera Chuck Goslin, Camera Barry Frischer, Camera Jeff Latonero, Camera Len Wechsler, Camera Susan Noll, Video Control J.M. Hurley, Video Control
Bob Richter of 'Market Warriors.' Photo courtesy of WGBH.
Market Warriors, a new PBS series from the producers of Antiques Roadshow, joins THIRTEEN’s Monday night lineup starting July 16 at 9 p.m. The series follows four antiques pickers on a nationwide treasure hunt as they scour flea markets and antiques shows for vintage valuables, with an eye toward selling their finds for profit at auction. The show grants viewers an up-close look at the fierce competition and obstacles the pickers face in the marketplace, and allows them to make their best guesses about who will come out ahead at the end of the competitions.
Here, Market Warriors picker Bob Richter, a New York City resident, weighs in on the show and his favorite NYC flea market finds.
(Fun fact: Bob Richter is not the only Market Warrior with New York ties. John Bruno was born and raised in Long Island).
Inside Thirteen: Are there any items you collect that could only be found in New York City?
Bob Richter: While there is not one item I collect that can only be found in NYC, there are international shopping opportunities that can only be found at my “go-to” flea market in NYC. One of the reasons I love living here is that it is the most international city in the U.S., and as such, our flea markets reflect that. There are dealers who I buy from regularly who come from France, Germany, England and Czechoslovakia. While I love shopping the fleas in Europe, I can’t get there right now as often as I’d like, so this winds up being a pretty sweet scenario. I have found incredible French Art Deco vases, hand-carved items (like a wonderful rabbit) from the Black Forest region of Germany, English Art Nouveau China and Czechoslovakian Art Pottery, all at my NYC flea market. It’s a one-stop shop for fantastic international finds.
IT: What’s the most unusual item you’ve bought? Do you ever find antiques at unlikely spots in the city (street fairs, thrift shops, etc.)?
BR: The most unusual thing I purchased recently was a carved wooden cloud with lightening bolts projecting from it. It stopped me in my tracks, and I knew I had to have it. I am going to add a mirror to the center, and it will be a real showpiece. It definitely has a “wow” factor. The piece is all handcrafted and was probably made in the late 19th Century. I was told by the dealer it was a prop for stage productions done by a group called the “Odd Fellows.” One of the reasons I love antiquing is that you can always learn something. After a bit of research online, I discovered the “Odd Fellows” are a “global altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization” whose motto is “Friendship, Love and Truth.” Some of the more famous members included Charlie Chaplin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Lindbergh, Wyatt Earp, Rutherford Hays and Warren Harding.
Street fairs in NYC are great places to find antiques…. especially the ones that are organized by block associations. I’ve found particularly wonderful things at the fairs on Jane, Perry and Grove Streets. In addition, Housing Works and Angel Street thrift shops offer up an endless supply of treasures from generous New Yorkers who donate abundantly.
IT: What flea markets in NYC would you recommend to novice collectors?
BR: I think The Garage in Chelsea is the best game in town. I’ve been shopping there for 22 years, since I arrived in NYC. My dorm room resembled a 1940s bungalow, and many of the items I used to furnish it came from the Chelsea flea markets. At that time, there were 5 outdoor markets, in addition to The Garage. As real estate developers tapped into the Chelsea, the parking lots which once housed the fleas turned into high rise apartments, so The Garage is really the best of what is left in that area. I’ve been shopping with some of the dealers there for decades, and they never disappoint when it comes to bringing wonderful things to the table.
IT: If you could give a flea market novice one tip what would it be?
BR: Buy what you love. At the end of the day, if it makes you happy and it enriches your home, then it’s all good. Live with what you love!
IT: What was it like Filming Market Warriors in “The Garage?”
(NOTE: Episode 111 of Market Warriors, filmed at the Antiques Garage will premiere on Monday, November 12 at 9 p.m.)
Market Warriors pickers John Bruno, Miller Gaffney, Bob Richter and Kevin Bruneau (l-r). Photo courtesy of David Aaron Troy.
BR:Every weekend that I’m in NYC, I’m at The Garage (usually both Saturday and Sunday). As a result, I have great, long-standing relationships with most of the dealers there. Since flea markets are an arena where relationships are everything, I knew I would get good prices. That said, we were buying for an auction in Virginia, and I had my eyes set on what would appeal to those buyers. I was looking for primitives and more rustic items, which made the shopping a bit more challenging, but since NYC offers something for everyone, and never disappoints, I was able to find Virginia-appropriate treasures with ease.
Our target round was to find “ephemera,” which is essentially printed material that was meant to be thrown out after its original use but instead has lasted over time so now has collector value. Examples run the gamut from vintage posters to magazines. While there was a lot of it to be found, the object of Market Warriors is to turn a profit on our purchases, so it was a challenge to not just find ephemera, but to find ephemera that would make money at auction. Did I also mention we had to pair up for this round of shopping? Let’s just say it was very very interesting…and a whole lot of fun.
IT: What is your favorite season to shop NYC markets and thrift shops?
BR: I shop all year round at the fleas in NYC, but my favorite season to shop them is spring. Just as nature awakens after a long, cold winter, so do NYC fleas. Many dealers who come in from other states don’t come as often in the winter due to weather conditions, but once spring hits, they are back in the saddle with lots of fresh merchandise. Also, in the spring there are many outdoor markets in NYC that pop up to benefit charities or block associations, and those often have great bargains. Finally, under the umbrella of spring cleaning, many of the thrift shops have some of their best merchandise at that time of year, since NYC dwellers have limited space and often want to purge after a long winter.
Bob Richter. Photo courtesy of WGBH.
IT: As a collector who is also an interior designer, do you find the lack of space in NYC to be a challenge?
BR: We have to be very clever in NYC when it comes to maximizing space. To work in a room, many things have to do double duty (think an old steamer trunk that stores winter bedding, but also serves as a side table – I literally just tapped into this solution for a client’s studio). As a collector, I also believe in rotating my things, so they are not all on display at the same time. I do this a lot with artwork, which is one of my favorite things to purchase at bargain prices at flea markets.
IT: Are there any locations that you are particularly curious to explore with Market Warriors?
BR: I’m sweet on Texas. The Texans I’ve met and worked with are warm, bold and eclectic. As such, they tend to have cool possessions, which invariably wind up at flea markets. We’ve already gone to Canton, Texas with Market Warriors and it was great fun. I’d love to explore the markets of Austin, Houston and San Antonio as well.
IT: If you could only collect one thing what would it be?
BR: Artwork. I have so much respect for those who create. Whether an artist has captured a glance or a moment, or enabled us to see the world in a different way, I find that paintings in particular hold a great deal of emotion for me. Because I’m so passionate about artwork, I own a great deal of it, and have to rotate my collection. I need a few more walls!