Posts by Ben Himmelfarb

People & Stories Oral History Project: Jack Harrington

Jack Harrington arrived in White Plains in June 1951. He moved here on assignment from the insurance company he worked for. During his long residency in White Plains, Jack has done a tremendous amount for the preservation of historical resources and the conservation of green spaces. Barbara and Rod Carlson, two active members of the White Plains Historical Society and knowledgeable students of local history, conducted these oral histories over a period of months. The creation of the Greenway, the politics of urban renewal, the character of White Plains, and the importance of historical preservation are some of the topics
Read More

Categories: History and Oral History.

Local History: Contentious Politics

Political battles are a near-ubiquitous part of our history. White Plains was the site of numerous political dramas in the late 19th- and early 20th-century. As the seat of the county and the home of many individuals who fancied themselves powerful and important, what happened in White Plains was news throughout the state. Rather than have you read two blog posts, I will direct you to a highly informative article written by local history expert Cliff Blau. The political cartoons in his article are by John Rosch, and can be seen in Rosch's scrapbooks or in Historic White Plains. The picture
Read More

Categories: History.

Local History: 1960 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Here are some pictures of a Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 25, 1960 in White Plains. The parade route ran along Main Street, Martine Avenue, and Mamaroneck Avenue. These photographs are from the Peter Kanze Collection, detailed in a previous blog post.                                                                                
Read More

Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Johnnie Pantanelli

Colonel Johnnie Pantanelli knew two things when she graduated from Scarsdale High School in the early 1940s. First, she wanted to fly airplanes. Second, she liked driving motorcycles even though her mother and aunt tried to tell her riding was not a proper hobby for girls. As you will hear in this oral history, Johnnie (her given name is “Joan”) did not listen to anyone who tried to discourage her and charted a determined, adventurous course from an early age through her 90s. Johnnie joined the Civil Air Patrol during World War II. The CAP is the official auxiliary of
Read More

Categories: Oral History.

Local History: Urban Renewal Collection

The Urban Renewal Collection is a set of documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and publications that tell part of the story of urban renewal in White Plains between the mid-1950s and the late-1970s. All of the information in this post is drawn from sources in that collection and the White Plains Collection more broadly. In White Plains we throw around the phrase “urban renewal” rather casually, but it actually first referred to a specific set of laws, projects, and changes. The phrase “urban renewal” was codified in the Housing Act of 1954. Ironically, the Housing Act of 1954 actually increased the
Read More

Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Karen Smith

Dr. Karen P. Smith is multi-faceted. Before her career as a professor, she served as principal of two schools in Yonkers and the Director of Integration for the district. She was handpicked by a superintendent for the Director of Integration job, an honor that came during Yonkers' conflicts with the federal government over racial inequalities in the city. As principal to children whose schools were transformed over the course of the summer of 1986 and ambassador to their (sometimes angry) parents, Smith faced numerous challenges. Interestingly, she recalls few conflicts between students and says she spent most of her time
Read More

Categories: Oral History.

Local History: Peter Kanze Collection

Next time you come across old photographs at an estate sale or garage sale, stop and take a closer look to make sure someone is not discarding valuable historical records! Thanks to Peter Kanze's visit to an estate sale in White Plains some years back, we have an incredible collection of photographs of White Plains from the 1950s through the 1970s. Kanze can't remember now where the sale was or who owned the pictures, but it is likely they are the work of someone in the insurance business who was employed to document the condition of various businesses and locations
Read More

Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Aurelio Saiz

Did you know that Juanita Castro, Fidel's sister, spent a night in White Plains? That story and many others come from Aurelio Saiz's oral history in which he describes moving with his family to White Plains from Cuba. The Saiz Family lived in a building on the corner of Main Street and Mamaroneck Avenue at a time when dozens of businesses had elaborate storefronts and narrower streets still accommodated two-way traffic. His bedroom windows were directly across from the marquee of RKO Keith's Theater! Saiz is a great storyteller. He conveys a vivid version of growing up on the streets
Read More

Categories: History and Oral History.

Local History: Ghost Stories

The Hudson Valley seems to have been created with autumn in mind. During October and November, the area's increasingly hostile weather and abundant cultural history blend, creating a potent sense experience. The skittering of dead leaves behind you too easily becomes the footfalls of a disgruntled spirit and the bare tree branches resemble skeletal fingers grasping for diminishing portions of daylight. Even with these natural advantages, our imaginations need fuel, and that is where ghost stories come in. Westchester's most famous ghost story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is known around the world. Less well-known, but no less spooky, is
Read More

Categories: History.

Local History: The Racial Balance Plan

In the 1960s, northern as well as southern communities were forced to desegregate their schools to achieve educational equity between races. The White Plains Collection contains a number of sources for learning more about the desegregation that took place here under the Racial Balance Plan. Multiple reports issued by the Board of Education as well as a report from a committee of citizens provide statistical and administrative assessments of the plan. For a more sociological view, the slim volume Children In The Balance does a remarkable job of revealing what classrooms were like in the years after the plan was
Read More

Categories: History.

Local History: Biography Scrapbooks

The White Plains Collection is home to one of the few remaining card catalogs that is made up of actual cards. Yes, the very same typewritten index cards so many people ask about when they enter the library. Librarians at White Plains Public Library started maintaining a card index for materials of local interest as early as 1926. In addition to organizing newspaper articles by subject, they also created an index for nearly one hundred biography scrapbooks. I've never come across material explaining whose idea the scrapbooks were, nor who is responsible for all the cutting-and-pasting required to construct them.
Read More

Categories: History.

Local History: Religious History

Some of White Plains' longest standing buildings are religious institutions of one kind or another. The Presbyterian Church on North Broadway was built in 1824, but the congregation was established in the early 18th century. Our Lady of Mt Carmel on Lexington Avenue is a reminder of pre-urban renewal White Plains. The Silver Lake Preserve contains ruins of the ancestor of today's Mount Hope AME Zion Church. The quiet history of these architectural sites is complemented by pictures and documents from the White Plains Collection. Below are a few representative items pulled from the collection. Current members of congregations are
Read More

Categories: History.

Local History: Slum Clearance

The words “urban renewal” are never far from the lips of anyone familiar with White Plains' history over the past 60 years. But what exactly do we mean when we use the phrase “urban renewal?” Most people use the words to describe the transformation of the area bordered on the east and west by Mamaroneck Avenue and the train tracks and on the north and south by Barker Avenue and Post Road, respectively. The term itself comes from the mid-1950s when the language of policy, legislation, and city planning took on a progressive tone that left behind the moralizing sensationalism
Read More

Categories: History and Uncategorized.

Poetry Slam @ Grace Church on 10/5

While the Library undergoes renovations, our 1st Wednesday Poetry Slam and Open Mic is moving to Grace Church for October and November! Just like our slams at the Library, please register between 6:30 and 7:00 PM for the Open Mic or the Slam. Slam poets should bring one original poem of up to 3 minutes. Registration closes promptly at 7, and the program starts shortly thereafter. October's guest poet is Taylor Steele. Steele is a Bronx-born, Brooklyn-based writer and performer. Her work can be found at such esteemed publications as Apogee Journal, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Rogue Agent, Blackberry:
Read More

Categories: Events.

Local History: Woman’s Club Trolley Tour

Welcome to the White Plains Public Library's local history blog. While the library is undergoing renovations and we are unable to host as many in-person local history programs in the library, this blog will be the place to learn about White Plains history and discover interesting items from the White Plains Collection. Of course, you can still contact me to set up research appointments! I want to use this post to highlight a creative and well-researched project put together by two White Plains residents, Woman's Club of White Plains Past-President Mary Ann Boustead and Publicity Chairperson Colleen Fay. To commemorate
Read More

Categories: History.

The Art of Local History: Collage Night

Our first local history collage night was a success! Children's Librarian Raquel Cavalcanti and I teamed up for a night of stories, crafting, and history. When we found extra local history books published by the White Plains Historical Society had damaged bindings, we asked if we could put them to use as collage materials. The Historical Society agreed, and a program was born! Examples of the boxes our crafters made are below.    
Read More

Categories: History.

The Art of Local History: Collage Night 9/21

Help us put some old local history books to good use at a family night/local history event in the Trove on Wednesday, September 21, from 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM! We'll provide all the supplies you need to create a collage using historical pictures from books that tell the story of White Plains. Part arts and crafts, and part local history, we'll use both sides of our brains to learn while creating. Special thanks to the White Plains Historical Society for the donation of books. Check out their website here.
Read More

Categories: Events, History, and Kids.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Jazz Fest 2016 Pt. 3

We are thrilled to continue our partnership with ArtsWestchester, The City of White Plains, and the White Plains Business Improvement District on White Plains Jazz Fest 2016! Below is a third set of clips from the People & Stories Oral History Project. Each of the clips below includes stories and music from musicians who live locally, but have performed all over the world. Tom Van Buren, of ArtsWestchester, co-produced the interviews. Check out the Jazz Fest 2016 webpage for tickets and more information about all the great music happening September 20-25, 2016 in White Plains. Here’s a link to our
Read More

Categories: History and Oral History.

Poetry Slam @ Grace Church on 9/7

While the Library undergoes renovations, our 1st Wednesday Poetry Slam and Open Mic is moving to Grace Church for September, October, and November! Just like our slams at the Library, please register between 6:30 and 7:00 PM for the Open Mic or the Slam. Slam poets should bring one original poem of up to 3 minutes. Registration closes promptly at 7, and the program starts shortly thereafter. September's guest poet is Kearah-Armonie (Kearmonie). Kearmonie is a Brooklyn based poet, spoken word artist, MC, Filmmaker, Blogger, and Writer. She recently completed her B.A. in Documentary Film Production at Brooklyn College, where
Read More

Categories: Events.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Jazz Fest 2016 Pt. 2

We are thrilled to continue our partnership with ArtsWestchester, The City of White Plains and the White Plains Business Improvement District on White Plains Jazz Fest 2016! Below is a second set of clips from the People & Stories Oral History Project. Each of the clips below includes stories and music from musicians who live locally, but have performed all over the world. Tom Van Buren, of ArtsWestchester, co-produced the interviews. Check out the Jazz Fest 2016 webpage for tickets and more information about all the great music happening September 20-25, 2016 in White Plains. Here's a link to our
Read More

Categories: History and Oral History.