Saturday, October 15, 2011


I recently heard from a woman whose home is not far from the place where my great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller, lived for much of the nineteenth century.[1] I've written about this summer home of his quite a few times already.[2] The email she sent me links to a set of comments on a blog called Ephemeral New York. The subject of the post is a drypoint print by a highly-regarded artist named Martin Lewis[3] The print is called "Rainy Day, Queens" and it shows an urban scene having a broad street rising as it recedes. In the foreground pedestrians and a few cars occupy what is evidently a viaduct, overpass, or bridge and in the background there are apartment buildings on both sides of the avenue. Here's a small image of the print. You can see a larger view here.[4]

In readers' comments to the blog post you find speculation about the location of the scene which Lewis depicts. Most commenters believe it shows a viaduct over the Long Island Railroad in Long Island City or the nearby Sunnyside Yards. I favor this set of opinions.[5] On the other hand One commenter, with support from a couple of others, says the artist is standing on a street in Woodside and is facing the Sunnyside rail yards to the west. This commenter says the artist depicts a "crumbling bluestone sidewalk on Skillman Ave.," with Roosevelt Avenue to his back. "The crest of the hill," he says, "is the point where 54th Street zig-zags across Skillman."

This commenter, T.J. Connick, gives a link to a photo in NYPL's Digital Gallery. It's this photo that prompted the email message to me about my blog post. The writer, Deniz Hughes, points out that the photo shows property that was adjacent to the place owned by my great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller.

Here's the photo. It shows the home of the Sussdorf family, who were not only the Windmuller's neighbors but also their friends. Louis Windmuller was twenty years younger than Gustav Sussdorf, but they held much in common. Both were born in Germany and had emigrated to America at a young age. Both were successful merchants who spent winter months in Manhattan and summered on their estates in Woodside. Both were religious converts who helped establish St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church at Woodside. Windmuller and Gustav's son William H. served many years as church vestrymen and their wives and daughters were active in the church's Sunday school and social activities. I've written about the two families before.[6]

{The accompanying description says: "54th Street (foreground, unpaved), between Roosevelt Ave. (left) and Skillman Ave. (right), showing in the foreground the G. Susdorff house from 1860-1873. It was gone in April 1925. In the background are homes on 52nd Street. The photo was taken in 1924. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This detail from the photo shows the Sussdorf home.

This detail shows a row of houses on 52nd Street.

This is an obituary of Gustav Sussdorf.[7]

{Newtown Register, October 29, 1896}

This is a detail from a fire insurance atlas page. I've marked it to show where the photographer was standing. Note that the atlas reflects an earlier time; it was made a decade before the photo and a couple of decades before the print was made.

{Detail from Queens, Vol. 2, Double Page Plate No. 15; Part of Ward Two Woodside; [Map bounded by Kelly Ave., Woodside Ave., Greenpoint Ave., Thomson Ave.; Including Astoria Road (Highway to Calvary Cemetery) (Celtic Ave.), Middleburg Ave., Jackson Ave., Solon St., Mecke St.] 1908 updated to 1912, Atlas of the borough of Queens, city of New York, based upon official plans and maps on file in the various city offices; supplemented by careful field measurements and personal observations by and under the supervision of Hugo Ullitz. First and second wards: Long Island City and Newtown. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This detail from a 1923 map shows the general area around the Windmuller and Sussdorf properties. I've marked it to show the rough location of the two houses, the school, and the photographer.

{Map of the borough of Queens. "Supplement to The Brooklyn Eagle Almanac, 1923." Williams Map & Guide Co. Source: Library of Congress}

This satellite image shows the location of the two houses and camera.

In the lower right of the satellite image, just below Doughboy Plaza, you can see a school, P.S. 11. Here is a photo of the school as it looked in 1925. The photographer was standing on the southwest corner of 56th St. and Woodside Ave. The trees to the right are on the lower part of the Windmuller property.

{"Woodside Avenue, at the S.W. corner of 56th Street, showing Public School No. 11. Taken by Percy Loomis Sperr, 1925. May be reproduced." Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

NYPL has another photo showing the construction of 54th St. northward from Skillman Ave. in 1931, the same year Martin Lewis made his drypoint print. Here's a link to the image: Queens: 54th Street - Skillman Avenue (1931). The trees in the background of this photo are on the Windmuller estate. The Sussdorf estate is to the left, behind the apartment building and P.S. 11 is at right.

I see nothing in these photos to lend support to the thesis that the Lewis print shows this part of Queens. For more views of this part of Woodside, see a blog called Woodside, A Tour Through the Past, Present, and Culture of a Historic Urban Community. The blog was created by a student at SUNY Purchase named Janel Lloyd. In one section of the blog, Lloyd pairs photos of the area covered by the Sussdorf and Windmuller states. The pairs show what the place looked like in ca. 1940 and what they look like today. This screen shot shows one such pair and gives Lloyd's description.

{See Lloyd's "Denotation" page for source information. I'm using this screen shot under copyright fair use provisions.}

The photograph on the left, from ca. 1940, was taken from a position not far from the place from which the photograph of the Sussdorf house was made, but the camera was pointed further north in this case. The photo is similar to one taken from the elevated platform of the LIRR station at the corner of Roosevelt and Woodside Avenues. If you look closely, you can see Hell Gate Bridge on the horizon at left. Nearby buildings are single family homes, either in row houses or unattached. There are multi-story apartments in the distance, outside the bounds of Woodside.

The area around Woodside was, of course, urbanized, but the transition from rural farmland, to suburban single-family houses, to multi-story apartment buildings was a slow one. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, urbanization spread eastward through and beyond Long Island City, but some communities on its eastern border, like Woodside, nonetheless retained much of their rural or suburban character. This photo of a homestead in Maspeth, a mile and a half south of the Sussdorf and Windmuller homes, shows an old farmstead as it looked in 1929, just two years before the Lewis made the print.

{"55th Drive (foreground, along line of fence), north side, between 58th Street (right) and 56th Street (left), showing the Nicholas Covert house and outbuilding. This is one a set of four views taken on different occasions and from slightly different angles." September 1929. May be reproduced. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

NYPL has another photo showing the undeveloped nature of Woodside and its environs in the 1920s. One of them I've previously discussed.[8] Here's another.

{"Maspeth Ave., north side, between 55th and 56th Streets, showing a northwest view of the James Way farmhouse, last in a set of four pictures." 1924. May be reproduced. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}


Some sources:

Know where this was?

Woodside, A Tour Through the Past, Present, and Culture of a Historic Urban Community


Ephemeral New York

NYPL Digital Gallery



[1] She's a Woodside resident named Deniz Hughes and she has an excellent blog called DenizBlog.

[2] The "Woodside" label in the list in the right hand panel leads you to posts on that subject. In particular note:
[3] Prints by Martin Lewis fetch a great deal at auction. One of the "Rainy Day" prints sold for more than $16,000 not long ago.

[4] I'd show a large version of the print, but I'm unsure of the copyright status of images made from it.

[5] This photo, from NYPL's digital gallery, gives a general idea of what I believe to be the area which the print shows. The photo shows an apartment building on only one side of the street, the sidewalk barrier at the right of the overpass is different, and of course the Lewis print does not show the Manhattan skyline in the distance. On the other hand the slope and the light fixture are right, so the artist may, as the commenter says, have been located at one of the neighboring overpasses in this area.

[6] On the relationship between Windmullers and Sussdorfs see the blog posts listed above and also Friedle women and three country homes.

[7] Here the obituary of Gustav Sussdorf's son, Louis Albert, from the New York Times. It's tempting to think that the Sussdorf's named him in honor of a son of Louis Windmuller, named Louis Adelbert or Albert, who died in 1872 age 10 days.
Louis Albert Sussdorf Former Stock Exchange Member Dies at Long Island Home.

Louis Albert Sussdorf, a retired member of the New York Stock Exchange, died on Sunday at his Summer home in Bridgehampton, L.I. The Rev. Ernest Sinfield of St. George's Protestant Episcopal Church, Flushing, will officiate at the funeral services this afternoon in Mr. Sussdorf's former residence at 144-51 Sanford Avenue, flushing. Born in Charleston, S.C., seventy years ago, Mr. Sussdorf became a member of the shipping firm of Sussdorf, Zalvo & Co. He formerly lived in Elmhurst, Queens.

Surviving are a widow, Mrs. Rebecca Moore Hyatt Sussdorf; two sons, Louis Sussdorf Jr., counselor at the American Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, and Ralph H. Susdorf of Orange, Calif., and two daughters, Mrs. Grace M. Thayer and Miss Elsie Purdy Sussdorf.

Burial will take place in Old St. James churchyard, Elmhurst.

-- New York Times, July 18, 1934
And here is the death notice for Gustav's wife, Jane: "Sussdorff. At Woodside, L. I., July 13, 1902, JANE M. SUSSDORFF, wife of the late Gustav, in the 76th year of her age. Funeral service at her late residence Tuesday, July 15, at four P. M. Carriages will be in waiting at station on arrival of 3:30 P. M. train from Long Island City. Interment at convenience of family. Charleston (S. C.) papers please copy." -- New York Herald, July 14, 1902

[8] It's the one I linked to above as being similar to the 1940 photo shown on Janel Lloyd's blog.


Mike Moran said...

I had a very quick recognition of the view in the Rainy Day print - standing in front of PS 11 and heading west on Skillman. My parents moved to Sunnyside when the land that is now Windmuller Park was farmland and told me there was quite a bit of soil removed during WW II. In the early 1950s when I would walk from PS11 home to Phipps there was a big vacant lot next to Windmuller park

Jeff said...

Thanks, Mike,

You very surely know better than I. I couldn't find a photo looking down Skillman from Roosevelt and have not stood there and seen the view for myself. My grandmother and her brother, my great-uncle, sold part of the property to developers and, in the mid-1930s, gave the rest to the city for use as a park. I think the Sussdorf family began selling off parts of their property earlier and, I think, kept selling pieces of it up to about the beginning of. Queess must have been a surprising mix of rural, suburban, and urban.