Discovering 1920s New York in Second Life

1920s New York Project
1920s New York Project

“I’d been considering doing a 1920’s New York Project for a long time, wanted to make sure I had the time and resources for a project this big,” Jogi Schultz (yogijo) – “Mr. S” to the folk in his neighbourhood – told me as we emerged from the subway station into the world of New York in the mid-1920s, as modelled by his 1920s New York Project.

As we stood at the roadside, a few cars parked at the kerb, he continued, “New York City has been my favourite city since I was a kid.  There is so much history here, even in the buildings themselves.  And it’s so diverse in what it has to offer.”

I’d first come across the project via Annie Brightstar. Her article was enough to pique my curiosity and encourage me to hop over to take a look – and that encouraged me to contact Jogi to find out more.

1920s New York Project: the landing point, model on the Detention Hall, Ellis Island, complete with the Stairway of Separation (and the real thing, inset)
1920s New York Project: the landing point, model on the Detention Hall, Ellis Island, complete with the Stairway of Separation (and the real thing, inset)

“I started back in September,” he told me as we stood chatting. “I’m doing everything by hand; none of the builds are intended for sale to others. It’s all for the project.” And by ‘everything’, he means just that: buildings, roads, sidewalks, street lamps, the elevated rail line, the ornate iron subway stair copulas – even the period cars parked at the kerb side – everything has come from Jogi’s research, and been carefully designed and constructed.  “We’re at a quarter region now, and I’m just starting on the next quarter, in time the project will extend over a full.”

The work completed so far is impressive. Jogi has taken extraordinary care to recreate buildings from the period which actually existed (some of which still do today) along streets such as Pearl St and Water St in lower Manhattan. At street level, stores and boutiques line the sidewalks, with brick-faced and concrete apartment blocks rising 3, 4 or 5 stories above them, fronts often hung with the wrought iron railings and stairs of fire escapes, great ladders ready to drop to street level should they ever be needed.

Nor are these simply empty structures. “The aim here is authentic role-play,” Jogi told me. “We have around 50 rentals in total. Already all the available apartments have been rented, and the stores are filling up. When we formally open, a dress code will be in place, and visitors will be encouraged to dress the part on arriving. We’ll be requesting all open chat is kept in character, and everything else, questions and things,  are kept to IM.”

19920s New York Project: Water Street businesses
1920s New York Project: Water Street businesses – click on any image for full size

As if to echo this, one of the local tenants came by, a bonnet protecting her head and hair from the cold, heavy coat falling to her knees. “afternoon Mistah S,” she greeted, with a nod and a smile to Jogi.

“Afternoon, Matilde,” Jogi replied, lifting a finger to touch the brim of his fedora in a polite salute.

Visitors to 1920’s New York Project arrive below a subway station in a large hall, on one side of which is a broad stairway leading up to the station’s platform. “It is actually modelled on the detention area at Ellis Island, New York”, Jogi told me. “And the stairs are the Stairs of Separation. When immigrants came to New York by ship, they’d arrive at Ellis island and checked. Some would be detained due to illness or other concerns, and get directed down the stairs to the detention area, where they might face deportation.”

It’s a sobering start to a visit to the project – but one not entirely out-of-context in a way. 1920s New York Project, as noted, is intended to be a period environment, and so the hall acts as a point at which arriving visitors can read the rules, understand things like the period dress code. Then, they can either pick up a suitable period outfit from the free vendors or, if they feel it is not for them, they can “deport” themselves by teleporting home or elsewhere.

Those taking the stairs up from the hall will pass by way of the station’s platform and ticket hall to street level. “Obviously, there isn’t a real subway platform connected to the Ellis Island hall,” Jogi said, “but it all seemed to fit together visually here. At street level, the station is actually a couple of blocks over from where we’re standing, but after seeing the original, I thought one would really complete the picture I was going for. In fact, I actually started the entire project with the subway.”

1920s New Tork Project: Fraunces Tavern in Second Life, and inset - how is looks today
1920s New York Project: Fraunces Tavern in Second Life, and inset – how is looks today

Jogi indicates a building across the street from the stations entrance.  “That’s one of the oldest blocks in New York; still in existence today, actually. When picking an area, I really wanted something typical New York, but which offers things like a park, a waterfront, the elevated subway, and something like Fraunces Tavern and its history.”

The current build is centred on a one-block area of lower Manhattan, running from Broad Street up to Coenties Slip, and from Water Street across to Pearl Street, not far from either the East River or Battery Park. The second block, occupying a further quarter region area, is currently under construction, but even without this, the opportunities for role-play are clear. The apartments offer room for tenants to establish themselves (all who rent are aware the entire build will be re-locating in the future), while there are a number of businesses set-up specifically for the purposes of role-play.

Take the men’s barber’s shop on Water Street, for example, and remember that the 1920s were the era of Prohibition. Following the sign for the restrooms, you’ll come across a back room speakeasy, where the booze flows in secret (I’ve heard it’s run by Mr. S himself, but I cannot confirm or deny the rumour). While there, make sure you try the slot machines and games on the counter: they’re exquisitely made by Jogi, and all of them work.

1920s New York Project: The speakeasy under the barber's
1920s New York Project: The speakeasy under the barber’s

“That’s one of the reasons I chose this era,” Jogi replied when I asked him about prohibition and the boom / bust cycle of the 1920s. “That, and the 1920 and 1930s have always been one of my favourite periods of history. So much changed in that time for better and for worse.  New York offered so many Americans the chance at a new life.

“But the 1920’s weren’t just a decade of happy times. This city was tough, and to make it here took a lot of effort & major sacrifices.  My goal is to help people learn about that, and experience it themselves.”

I wondered if the name of the environment was a reflection on a certain other recreation of the period in Second Life. Jogi laughed. “I’m a fan of the Berlin Project; always have been. It helped me realise what could be achieved in Second Life. Jo [Yardley] likes my sim and I enjoy hers. Originally, this was going to be just 1920’s New York, but that name was already taken; and since this is a project & work in progress, we added ‘Project’ to the end.”

1920s New York Project: under the elevated railway track running over Coenties Slip
1920s New York Project: under the elevated railway track running over Coenties Slip

Given all that has already been achieved,1920s New York Project is already a fascinating build and I look forward to witnessing it grow. The amount of effort already poured into it is amazing, and with all of the apartments already rented, the streets are starting to come live with local residents and characters. During our explorations, Caitlyn and I bumped into several and received a warm welcome each time. We both look forward to return trips to see how things grow.

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With thanks to Jogi for putting aside time for me while preparing for the official opening of the project.

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