A Star-Studded Perfomance for the Fourth of July
July 3, 2014

The real star of this year's Fourth of July celebration? This photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge was taken in 1915. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Not that we’re biased, but the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is very much looking forward to having the Fourth of July fireworks back on the East River this year.

 

The magic of the Fourth of July fireworks brings together a star-studded performance by four of New York’s most renowned institutions. One star performer is Macy’s; one of the nation’s first department stores and a major New York landmark. Italian and Portuguese immigrants are also important actors. These men and woman are often credited with making fireworks an essential celebration ingredient in American celebration.  The Brooklyn Bridge and the East River are also major players this year and the site of the main fireworks display.

An 1906  image of Macy's Hearld Square location. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A New York success story, Macy’s has long been an important landmark. Once a dry goods shop on the corner of 14th street and 6th avenue Macy’s has been a shopping haven and a NY attraction since its Herald Square location opened in 1902. Macy’s has been hosting the Fourth of July fireworks since 1976. Its safe to say – it’s a hit.

 

The pyrotechnics will be launched from the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps New York’s most beautiful bridge. It was designed and built by a German born engineer, John A. Roebling, whose son oversaw its completion in 1883.  Its stunning Neo-gothic towers have been a source of poetic devotion since its inception. Writers from Hart Crane to Marianne Moore to Jack Kerouac have expressed their admiration in verse.

 

The Brooklyn Bridge spanning the East River in around 1910. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

While the “East” River is east of Manhattan this tributary actually runs through the center of the five boroughs. Many New Yorkers may have murkier associations with the East River the riverfront first began to suffer when maritime activity did. Slowly docks and piers were replaced with factories, coal yards and slaughterhouses. The myriad of factories along the shores even altered the shape of the city itself! The space that they took up created a landfill that extended past the original footprint of the island. Pearl Street is actually the original shoreline of South East Manhattan.

The Manhattan bank of the east River also suffered the attentions of NY architect Robert Moses who conceived of FDR Drive but also imagined the pedestrian paths we enjoy today. During World War II rubble from blitzed England was brought back in the holds of American convoys as ballast, after they had delivered their goods to England. The rubble was then dumped largely between 23rd Streets and 34th Streets. Despite a history of pollution from the four power plants and six sewage plants along its banks, the East River is making an ecological comeback, most interestingly manifested in the resurgence of oyster beds, benefiting the aquatic ecosystem.

 

The descendents of the Grucci family with their world-famous explosives. Image courtesy of Grucci.

While it was the Chinese who originally invented fireworks, Italian residents of the Lower East Side would be proud to know that it was mostly like an Italian immigrant, Angelo Lanzetta from Bari, Italy who helped pioneer the popularity of fireworks displays. The big names in fireworks in the US today, Pyro Spectaculars By Souza, Constantino Vitale’s Pyrotecnico, Zambelli, and Fireworks By Grucci are all family businesses of Italian or Portuguese descent.

Angelo Lanzetta and his family became one of the most popular fireworks manufacturers in the US. In 1870 Lanzetta, formerly an apprentice at a fireworks company, immigrated to New York and brought the trade with him. In 1920 he was followed by his nephew Grucci Sr., bringing the Grucci name to a now famous fireworks company, which still has its headquarters in Brookhaven, NY. While Grucci is not behind this particular display, they did provide a centennial display on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1983. This July 4th the fireworks are going to be presented by another family run company, descendants of Manuel de Sousa immigrants from Portugal to San Francisco in 1900 who originally created fireworks displays for Portuguese Saint Days.

Be sure to be keep in mind all this New York history as you are watching the fireworks this year- oh and the nation’s history too… Happy Independence Day!

Celebrate with style ! This is the July cover of Harper's from 1894. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

 

Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator