A collection of films shot by Harry B. Bergman documenting Bergman's New York City, New York construction firm Godwin Construction Company. Films document construction of landmark buildings such as The Chrysler Building, New York Port Authority and others. Films also document company "beefsteaks", and Bergman's numerous vacations and pursuits.
Scope and Contents:
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.
Collection is open for research but the original and master (preservation) films are stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-633-3270.
The National Museum of American History may not authorize publication, reproduction, or distribution by a commercial, for-profit publisher, distributor, media producer, or film maker without the express permission of the Donors.
The term of the requirement for written authorization prior to third party, for-profit, commercial use will last 50 (fifty) years unless agreed to in writing by both the National Museum of American History and the Donors.
The collection contains: twenty-nine silver gelatin photoprints mounted on Fome-Core, Masonite, and cardboard, ranging in size from 5-1/2" x 9-1/4" to 10-11/16" x 13-13/16"; three 5" x 7" unmounted silver gelatin photoprints; a scrapbook which originally contained 56 silver gelatin photoprints, ranging in size from 2" x 3" to 7-1/2" x 9-1/2"; and silver gelatin film negatives (presumably acetate) for the prints. The scrapbook includes a New York Daily News clipping about Rivers: "Builds a Bridge to Students" by Anthony Burton (dated May 12, 1970 by Rivers) with a photograph showing him speaking to a crowd,
Most of the photographs depict the construction of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings--iron workers on the job and relaxing during breaks, and pictures of the buildings at various stages of completion. Other subjects are: a demonstration to prevent World War II (1935), a color photoprint of the Civil Rights March and Demonstration in Washington, D.C. (1963), and two magazine clippings from a Soviet publication, New Times, in which Rivers's prize-winning "Self Portrait" (1930) was reproduced.
Most of these prints were made by Charles Rivers many years after the creation of the original negatives, probably ca.1970s 1980s. The collection is in generally good condition, except that many of the print surfaces are scratched.
Biographical / Historical:
Charles Rivers created a certain amount of confusion about his origins, whether accidentally or intentionally. Born Constantinos Kapornaros (or Kostandinos Kapernaros) in the small town of Vahos in Mani, an isolated area in the southern Peloponnesian region of Greece, on May 20, 1904, he emigrated to the United States as a child of five or six with his parents. His school record showed that he was enrolled in 1911 at the age of seven. The family lived in Maine or New Hampshire, then Massachusetts, and later other locations in New York state. It is believed that his new name was derived from the Charles River in Boston. The change may have been occasioned by a need to conceal his deep involvement in left-wing political and union activities.
Mr. Rivers settled in New York City in 1950 and resided there until 1993. He sometimes identified his birthplace as Denver, Colorado, but this may have been a fabrication or simplification, based on the fact that Greek church baptismal records were kept in Denver. His sons James and Ronald believe that he never became an official American citizen. Late in life, in order to visit his birthplace, he was issued a passport, based on his school records, which stated that he was born in Denver.
Rivers photographed the construction of the Chrysler Building (1929) and the Empire State Building (1930) in New York City. He was inspired to take up photography by seeing the work of the influential documentary photographer Lewis Hine, whose famous images of working children helped win passage of protective child labor laws. Rivers and Hine both photographed the Empire State Building and the men building it, yet Rivers apparently was unaware until years later that his idol had been present. Employed as an iron worker, Rivers traded his pail of tools for a Zeiss Ikon camera during his lunch hour or when photographic opportunities arose. While the workers depicted in some of the photographs clearly are aware of the photographer's presence, Rivers's project presumably was conducted more or less surreptitiously. It is not known for certain if the paths of Rivers and Hine ever crossed, but his son Ron considers it unlikely: Hine photographed only the Empire State Building in connection with his "Men at Work" project, not the earlier Chrysler Building, and Rivers did not work on the Empire State Building for a very long period. His self-portrait on the Empire State Building, "The Bolter-Up," may have been intended as a memento during one of his last days on that job.
Rivers became unemployed in the Depression and consequently became involved in national efforts to create Social Security, unemployment insurance, and housing programs. These experiences apparently encouraged his active participation in politically leftist activities, as coverage about him in Soviet publications attests. A pacifist, in 1935 he was involved in demonstrations aimed at preventing World War II, and in the 1960s he took part in anti-Vietnam demonstrations and encouraged young people to continue such resistance.
In the 1950s Rivers worked in steel fabrication, in a chemistry lab as a technician, and briefly as a legislative aide for a New York state senator.
In 1986 Rivers submitted his 1930 self-portrait, posed on the Chrysler Building, to the International Year of Peace art contest sponsored by the New Times, published in Moscow: it was awarded a prize and diploma.
Mr. Rivers died in 1993, only two weeks after moving to Arlington, Texas to enter a nursing home near his sons' homes.
1. The page on Rivers in New York University=s Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives web site (http://laborarts.org/collections/item.cfm?itemid=82) --noted 5 June 2002), claims Rivers was born in 1905 and changed his name Ato resemble those of the Mohawk Indians working on the high steel of New York City=s skyscrapers and bridges".
2. This spelling is given in an e-mail from James Rivers to Helen Plummer, Aug. 19, 2002.
4. Telephone conversation between Ron Rivers and the author, 6 June 2002. Additional information was provided by Ron Rivers in electronic mail messages, 5 June and 12 June 2002.
5. James Rivers, op. cit.
6. Telephone conversation with Ron Rivers, 6 June 2002.
7. In a biographical statement for the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art (copy supplied by Helen Plummer), Charles Rivers called Denver his birthplace. The George Eastman House photographer database also included this apparently erroneous information, probably derived from the Amon Carter statement (telephone conversation with Helen Plummer, 3 June 2002).
8. Ron Rivers, telephone conversation, 6 June 2002.
9. Identified by Charles Rivers as the camera used in the skyscraper photographs: interview by Carol Sewell, "Photographer looked at U.S. from high view," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dec. 27, 1986. Rivers also used a Rolleiflex, according to Ron Rivers (see note above), but the folding Zeiss Ikon camera would have been a more convenient addition to a lunchbox than the bulkier Rolleiflex. The collection negatives are not in the Rolleiflex square format, moreover.
10. See Judith Mara Gutman, Lewis W. Hine and the American social conscience. New York: Walker, 1967.
11. Ron Rivers, telephone conversation, 6 June 2002.
Materials at the Smithsonian Institution
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Included Rivers's self-portrait, "The Bolter Up," in its summer 2002 exhibition, "Metropolis in the Machine Age," in the form of a new print made from a digital copy of the Archives Center's original negative. The author discussed the new print from the Rivers negative and other photographs in this exhibition in an invited gallery lecture, "The Skyscraper Photographs of Lewis Hine and Charles Rivers," Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, June 6, 2002.
Materials at Other Organizations
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
See Barbara McCandless and John Rohrbach, Singular moments: photographs from the Amon Carter Museum, with select entries by Helen Plummer. Reproduction of a Rivers photograph, with description and analysis, p. 30. Additional information has been generously supplied by Ms. Plummer, curatorial associate, and Barbara McCandless, curator of photography, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth Texas.
Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University
Museum of the City of New York
Some of his photographs were included in the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art exhibition, "Looking at America: Documentary Photographs of the 1930s and 1940s," December 1986.
The collection is a gift from Mr. Charles Rivers, 1989.
Collection is open for research.
Archives Center claims copyright. Rights were conveyed to the Archives Center through a Deed of Gift signed by the donor.
Chrysler Building (New York, N.Y.) -- Pictorial works Search this
36 Items ((on partial microfilm reel))
Scope and Contents:
31 preliminary sketches for a mural in the Chrylser Building, New York City, mostly gesture drawings of laborers. Sketches are on 29 sheets (27.7 x 21.4 cm.) charcoal & pencil on paper; 16 are signed in ink: "SA." Also included are 17 photographs of Aucello, a resume, an exhibition catalog, 1941, a reproduction of a mural by Aucello in P.S. 150, Bronx, New York, and other printed material.
Biographical / Historical:
Mural painter; New York State. Studied at the National Academy of Design. Project planner for the Public Works of Art Project. Also executed murals in ceramic tile and mosaic.
Donated 1961 by Salvatore Aucello.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Mural painting and decoration -- New York (State) -- New York Search this