The Kahn Family Films document the activities of the Godwin Construction Co. of New York City from 1928-1934. The films also document more than twenty-five years of the Bergman and Kahn family life and travel. The films are silent, 16mm black and white reversal and Kodachrome. Unless otherwise noted, films were arranged in the Archives Center on compilation reels by subject. Some images are deteriorated because of age and film conditions, most noticeably on 722.39. A detailed description of each reel is included under each film title. The collection is divided into five series and arranged in chronological order;
Series 1, Godwin Construction Company, 1927-1934; documents the digging, structural support and daily site activities at various Godwin construction jobs around New York City. In the footage taken at the Chrysler Building site, Bergman documented many of the workers who worked on the job as well as the secretaries in the main offices with filmed portrait shots. While the films are primarily focused on documenting construction practices and procedures at the sites, there is also footage of workmen and machinery. The films also document the company=s annual ABeefsteak@ that eventually moved from a banquet hall to one of the islands in Jamaica Bay.
Series 2, Rockaway Park Yacht Club, 1927-1929; documents many of Bergman's yachting activities on the yacht Thora and events at the Rockaway Park Yacht Club (RPYC) from family related activities to some of the Godwin Company's Beefsteaks.
Series 3, Travel and Leisure, 1926-1957, undated; documents many of the Bergman and Kahn family trips to various locations in the United States and Europe. The 1927 trip to Canada and the American West has footage of Hollywood, then just on the verge of adding sound to motion pictures. The 1929 trip to Europe occurred not only during the first year of the Great Depression but is a wonderful travelogue of Europe in the years before WWII. On reel 722.27 there is an interesting shot of a poster, "Ethel et Julius Rosenberg Que Les Assassins, Soient Maudits A Jamais" [trans: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg let the assassins be cursed/condemned forever.] showing a young boy throwing mud on the poster - presumably in protest.
Series 4, Family and Home Life, 1928-1958; Titles of the footage are taken directly from the original film containers. There is footage of many family members and gatherings. There is footage shot at Bergman's onetime home at 120-18 Newport Ave., Rockaway Park, Long Island. There is footage of tennis great Bill Tilden giving a small exhibition match in Florida in 1946 on 722.25.
Series 5, Papers, 1927-1958; are selections of the original paper containers for some of the films with the original notes and identifications written on them. This series also contains a copy of Bergman's 1907 thesis and related papers and architectural drawings.
Biographical / Historical:
Harry Montefiore Bergman (1885-1971) was born on August 3, 1885 in Elmira, New York. He graduated from college in 1907 with a degree in Applied Science from Columbia University's School of Engineering. After graduation, he went to work for Godwin Construction Co. He specialized in structural foundations and was an authority on the soil and bedrock of Manhattan Island, New York. Beginning his employment as a superintendent, he rose to the position of Secretary and General Superintendent of Civil Engineering in June, 1927. In January 1932, Bergman was elevated to Vice-President and finally attained the presidency of the company in 1957. Bergman retired from the company in 1967. He was a member of the Association of American Society of Civil Engineers.
Godwin Construction Company was founded by Philander Hanford Godwin (1877-1936) in the early 20th century. Godwin was one of the pre-eminent civil engineering firms in New York City primarily involved in constructing foundations for large public building projects. The company was responsible for digging and construction of the foundations for the Chrysler Building, 176th St. Telephone Building, the old New York Port Authority Truck Terminal, the old Madison Square Garden at 8th Ave. and 50th St., the Hudson River Bridge, New York Hospital, Knickerbocker Village and others. Godwin Construction Co. was located in New York City, through the years at various locations: by 1915 at 251 4th Ave., by 1932 at 370 Lexington Ave., Rm. 1201 and later at 130 East 44th St.
Bergman, a lifelong bachelor, developed a love of motion picture photography and pursued this hobby with great enthusiasm. He photographed not only Godwin's construction work and work sites at various foundation projects throughout New York City in the 1920s and 1930s but filmed the company picnics, called "Beefsteaks", family leisure time activities and vacations as well. Bergman was also an avid yachtsman and filmed many hours of footage while sailing on Samuel Lauterbach's yachtThora , (the Thora may also have been owned in a partnership between Lauterbach and Bergman) and at the Rockaway Park Yacht Club (RPYC) in Rockaway Park, New York. Bergman, along with Lauterbach, was one of the founders of the RPYC and it was reportedly founded because Jews were not allowed membership in any of the "exclusive" yacht clubs surrounding Manhattan. The yacht club was destroyed during the hurricane of 1938. Many films feature Ruth Perl who was Bergman's favorite niece. They took numerous trips to California, Canada, and Europe. Perl seems to also have taken an interest in motion picture photography as well, often operating the camera herself. Perl married Irving Kahn and had three sons, Donald Kahn, Alan R. Kahn and Thomas G. Kahn, who figure prominently in the later films. Bergman was a lifelong resident of New York. As of 1916, his address was 615 W. 143rd St., New York, NY. For a time he lived at 120-18 Newport Ave. in Rockaway Park, NY. In 1951 he bought a home at 143-17 Cronston Avenue in Belle Harbor. At the end of his life, Bergman is noted as living at 1 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. Bergman died on August 3, 1971. At the time of his death Bergman was staying at the Florence Nightingale Nursing Home, 175 East 96th St. in New York, New York.
Bergman's employer and the founder of Godwin Construction Co., Philander H. Godwin, was born on September 30, 1877 in New York City, NY. Godwin graduated from Columbia University's School of Engineering with a degree in Applied Science in 1899. After graduation, he married Carrie L. Pye and they had two children. Godwin founded the Godwin Construction Co. in the early 20th century and was the company's president until his death in 1936. As of 1916, his residence address was Cedar and Arch Avenues in Larchmont, NY and by the time of his death he was living at 26 Willow Avenue in Larchmont. He was a member of the Larchmont Yacht Club and perhaps had a great influence on Bergman's taking up the sport. He was an active member of St. John's Episcopal Church, Larchmont and a member of the Union League. Godwin died on March 27, 1936 in Larchmont.
Sources: Records of Columbia University, New York, New York
"City Sells 2 Plots for Factory Sites", New York Times, June 6th, 1951, pg. 64.
Newspaper Obituary of Harry N. Bergman, Archives Center Control File
Conversation and correspondence with Alan and Kimberly Kahn
My Life: Edward du Moulin
Donated to the National Museum of American History, Archives Center in 2000 by Kimberly R. Kahn, great-great niece of Harry M. Bergman.
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