Architecture

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Top image (The Bowery in the 1860s, looking south from Cooper Square) via NYPL. Photo of scaffolding on 35 Cooper Sq. and final image, below, via EV Grieve.

As Grieve, Jeremiah, and Local East Village have all reported, there will be no reprieve for 35 Cooper Square, the lovely little Federal Era relic that’s a last remnant of the antebellum Bowery. (Scroll through the long and tortured saga of the building’s death warrant via Curbed’s #35coopersquare tag.)

The home was built in 1826, the same year General Lafayette made a triumphal tour of the United States to celebrate the 50th anniversary of American Independence. Think about that if you happen to walk by demolition this week.

Jeremiah wrote an appreciative history of the building back in 2008, highlighting especially its literary historical relevance in the mid 20th century as a home and hangout of Beat writers, New York School poets and painters, and jazz musicians. He quotes Diane DiPrima’s memories of her first encounter with the building:

“From the moment when I first laid eyes on 35 Cooper Square, I knew it was the fulfillment of all those fantasies of art and the artist’s life, la vie de boheme, harking all the way back to my high school years or before.”

She moved in sometime in 1962 and lived there until 1965. During those years she published the DIY literary journal The Floating Bear with the poet LeRoi Jones.

Over the last few months as preservationists have fought to save 35 Cooper Square, the general public has learned more about that building’s history than most previously knew. Responding in part to a wrong-headed opinion piece in the Local East Village, architectural historian Kerri Culhane offered the blog her own profile on the building, which is worth reading again as the walls come down. She called 35 Cooper

representative of the Bowery’s history as a whole, which itself tells the story of New York, coinciding with the period of dynamic transformation of the Bowery from a rural lane to the main business district in town, and from the pleasure district of the mid to late 19th century to the cultural center of downtown New York in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.

If the Bowery’s development is a mirror of the history of New York, to lose these early artifacts is to be left with a distorted image of the city.

One of my favorite appreciations of the building, though, comes in the comments on the wrong-headed opinion piece linked above, from a writer signing off as “Bowery Boy”:

35 Cooper is the oldest and last house of what was once Bowery Village – a buggey ride north from nyc, which at the time still ended at Chambers street, shortly after the wall became Wall St. Do you get what the history of that means? It says so much about what nyc was and is. It’s called legacy and heritage.35 Cooper was built before the Civil War, before parks existed, and across the street from this house was a public garden – Vauxhall Gardens where PT. Barnum was later to mount his first productions.

35 Cooper is one of 6 remaining Houses on the Bowery. How rare and unique on this island of skyscapers that we still have a few actual houses. Please learn about the value of Intimacy and scale exemplified by such local gems that contrast the numbness of the gigantic buildings of midtown.

And what is important about these 6 houses is that they connect all of the other landmarked buildings on Bowery into one historic district from Cooper Union to Chatum Square. If you get rid of such linking sites, then the Landmarks Commission has wasted it’s decades of time designating the other buildings – cuz there’ll be no connection of a cohesive historic district, which, by the way, could be a tourist destination, tax driver, and moneymaker for all the other businesses along Bowery.

It’s not about the restuarant that occupied the space last month, or the artists that lived there in the last decade – it’s about 200 years of history that, if torn down, no one else will ever get to experience firsthand.

And it’s not about this one building, but more about what it means in context of all the other buildings on the Bowery. Please learn about this rich history. Bowery was originally an Indian trail, and then the High Road – it was nyc first highway out of town where trappers and hunters would stop before getting to the city to sell their bounty. This house was there then.

Please learn about Peter Stuyvesant who originally owned this land and what he meant to the founding of nyc. Whether you no it or not, probably not, just looking at this house teaches you much about early nyc.

The Bowery is where Vaudeville, tap dance and Yiddish theater began. So, if we tear down all this early history, all we’ll be left with is the Bowery’s seedy skid row days, and no one want’s that to be the Bowery’s only legacy.

Or will even that legacy be buried under another ugly upcropping of steel and glass luxury hotels?

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Given our ongoing interest in that classic New York film Ghostbusters (see here and here and here), it seems only right to present you with this picture, created by Lower East Side polymath Shawn Chittle, whose website brings together a variety of interests: the Lower East Side, music, and kinds of tech, old and new:

The image was featured recently on EV Grieve’s post about the Post, specifically the New York tabloid’s report about a new boutique hotel set to sprout up on the site of the former Salvation Army building on the Bowery.

Frankly, we’re more worked up about the hotel itself than about the Post‘s blooper about Bowery geography. We fantasize about being Dan Aykroyd’s character Ray Stantz listening to the command, “Choose the form of the destroyer!” We know what we’d choose.

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I’m getting out of Manhattan for the weekend and noticed this view on the west side of Lexington Avenue between 40th and 39th Streets while waiting for a bus. I think it embodies quite a nice bit of the history of New York.

It might make a good prompt for the exam in the “New York and Modernity” course that I’m teaching this January for NYU ABu Dhabi.

Last week I caught a segment on American Public Media/NPR’s Marketplace, reported by Andrea Bernstein. The topic was the movement across the country to take down old expressways in dense urban centers, let traffic disperse and congestion take care of itself, and build pedestrian-friendly parks and promenades in their places instead. Such a plan would certainly have Robert Moses rolling over in his grave, which means it’s probably a half-decent proposal.

Bernstein interviewed Michael Sorkin, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at the City College of New York, who has drawn up plans (pictured above) for what the area around Brooklyn Bridge would look like without that pesky freeway clogging everything up and rendering most of the space around the bridge a series of eyesores. For additional slides, including some takes on a similar project in Milwaukee, click here.

A clip from the transcript of the interview:

Andrea Bernstein: Near the lower tip of Manhattan, Michael Sorkin is standing just yards from the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, but you can barely see them. So he looks up.

Michael Sorkin: We see traffic that is in at least three different levels. There’s the FDR Drive. There’s an interchange to get people onto the Brooklyn Bridge that’s flying over the FDR Drive, and then flying over that is the Brooklyn Bridge.

Sorkin is an architect and head of urban design at City College of New York. He’s drawn up a different blueprint for this patch of Manhattan. Tear down a section of the elevated highway, the on-ramps and cloverleafs.

Sorkin: You would see one of the most beautiful architectural achievements in the history of consciousness, the Brooklyn Bridge.

The rest of the interview, audio and transcript, here.

What do you think? Though the rendering is a little cheesy, I’m not opposed to opening up views of the Bridge. And I was once stuck on the lower portion of the FDR, between the Brooklyn Bridge exit and the Battery, for almost two hours, with my apartment in sight the whole while. What a miserable nightmare that was. I’d almost wish the FDR gone over that incident alone.

Previously on PWHNY.

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Playwright Steve Willis, one of the participants in our Lost New York seminar earlier this month, alerted us to this video, a parody of Stephen Sondheim’s classic number, “Losing My Mind.” The parody (or is it an homage) is by Fred Landau, who rewrote the lyrics and performed the song.

Thinking about the issues that Ward Dennis raised for us, we ask, how are we supposed to respond to the video? Does the renaming of the theater represent some sort of loss or erasure: poor Henry Miller! Though one might suggest that poor Henry Miller was already erased — by his namesake Henry Miller. (Come on, how many of you walking by the theater assumed it was named in honor of the author of Tropic of Cancer?) Or is this an example of productively re-purposing a building and giving it new life? (NYU occasionally renames its buildings and other spaces when a new donor gives [enough] money. I’ve often wondered how that makes the old donors feel.)

Rich Rodriguez, another participant in the seminar, wrote to us: “It was kind of hard to tell, but from what I could glimpse and despite the nostalgic tone, this is the kind of restoration we would like to see more of.  It looks as if they tried to minimize the damage and change to the original facade.  But then again, I am no architect, so I am not sure.”

Click here to read about the re-dedication of the theater last March.

BY SPENCER KERALIS
Western Correspondent

Last Saturday when I stopped at an historical marker on State Highway 287 just north of Rawlins, Wyoming, I had no idea I’d stumbled onto a current New York controversy.

The Rawlins Paint Mines were in operation from about 1870 to the early 1900s, extracting hematite from an outcropping of Cambrian Flathead Sandstone in the Rawlins Uplift. The hematite — a red iron-oxide mineral – was used to manufacture “Rawlins Red,” a popular paint.According to the historical marker sign, “Rawlins Red” enjoyed the distinction of being selected in 1893, as the paint for the newly constructed Brooklyn Bridge.” The Rawlins town website puts things (including the date) a little differently: “Rawlins Red was the original color chosen when plans for the Brooklyn Bridge were approved in 1869.”

On returning home, I discovered that the issue of the original color of the Brooklyn Bridge is current news in the Big Apple because the city is getting ready to repaint and refurbish the bridge and restore what they claim to be its original color: “Brooklyn Bridge Tan.” According to The Brooklyn Paper, “the Department of Transportation … had originally called this ‘original’ color ‘Queensborough Tan’ on its website,” which of course offended territorial Brooklynites more than the possibility that the color might be wrong.

Despite some evidence to the contrary, including an 1877 Currier and Ives print “The Great East River Suspension Bridge” (above), which shows the cables in a vivid blood red, the Landmarks Preservation Commission claims the bridge was originally two shades of buff. So we may never know for sure. But personally, if I had to pick between the two — drab old tan or vibrant crimson — this Wyoming transplant would vote for Rawlins Red.

Spencer Keralis is a former teaching assistant for WRITING NEW YORK.

David Byrne gave a TED Talk last February, which has now been posted online. TED is a  nonprofit organization that devotes itself to what it calls “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started in 1984 as a conference that brought together leading practitioners from the worlds of design, entertainment, and technology. It now sponsors two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK each summer — as well as a number of other programs.

Speakers who are invited to give TED Talks “are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).” Here’s how Byrne describes his talk:

My own talk (it wasn’t a musical performance) was based on the idea that the acoustic properties of the clubs, theaters and concert halls where our music might get performed determines to a large extent the kind of music we write. We semi unconsciously create music that will be appropriate to the places in which it will most likely be heard. Put that way it sounds obvious … but most people are surprised that creativity might be steered and molded by such mundane forces. I go further — it seems humans aren’t the only ones who do this, who adapt our music to sonic circumstances — birds do it too. I play lots of sound snippets as examples, with images of the venues accompanying them.

The talk makes a nice follow-up to our Faculty Resource Network seminar on the idea of “Lost New York,” because Byrne (a crucial member of the downtown scene that we discussed in our consideration of the work of Arthur Russell) talks about  the relationship between architecture and music. He even begins with CBGB, which cropped up frequently last week.

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Horn & Hardart's Flagship Automat, Broadway and 46th Street, 1912

Author David Freeland visited our Faculty Resource Seminar today and offered us a glimpse of the city as it appears to him: as a palimpsest with layers of meaning waiting to be rediscovered if one knows where to look and what to look for. He took us through sites that animate his book Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure: the Atlantic Garden on the Bowery, once the city’s most popular German beer garden; the American Mutoscope Studio, once located atop the Roosevelt Building on Union Square; Tin Pan Alley; and Horn & Hardart’s flagship automat on Times Square. As David puts it in his book, one reason he has chosen to “spotlight buildings of entertainment and leisure (as opposed to those devoted strictly to government or business) is because these are the places that most often disappear after their economic usefulness runs out, casualties of an American popular culture that is always moving to the next trend.” What interests David mosts are culturally significant sites that little chance of being landmarked.

One question that arose for which none of us had a ready answer was related to the discussion of “Tin Pan Alley” on the south side of 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Asked the origin of the nickname, David recounted the anecdote that he tells on page 87 of his book, in which journalist and songwriter Monroe Rosenfeld asked his friend, music writer and publisher Harry Von Tilzer, something like: “What is that you’ve been playing on? It sounds like a tin pan.” David noted that the name probably stuck because it was a pun on an extant street, “Tin Pot Alley,” now Exchange Street just south of Rector Street. But to what, we wondered, did “Tin Pot Alley” refer?

Oldstreets.com has an answer for us: “Tin Pot Alley. (L18?-M19) An anglicization of the Dutch name Tuyn Paat, meaning Garden Alley. It is now Exchange Alley and Edgar Street.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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The subject of this morning’s lecture in Writing New York was Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and its relation to the novel of manners. I explained why “manners” in this sense means more than simply “good manners” or “good taste.” Instead, it signifies the system of customs, mores, and codes that bind a social group together — a group like the Old New York society that Wharton depicts in her novel. One of the abiding subjects of Wharton’s novel is the way in which Old New York shares characteristics with the kind of tribal societies that ethnographers were beginning to study when Wharton was writing.

One of the quotes that I use to establish this idea comes from Lionel Trilling’s study The Liberal Imagination (1950):

What I understand by manners, then, is a culture’s hum and buzz of implication. I mean the whole evanescent context in which its explicit statements are made. It is that part of a culture which is made up of half-uttered or unutterable expressions of value. They are hinted at by small actions, sometimes by the arts of dress or decoration, sometimes by tone, gesture, emphasis, or rhythm, sometimes by the words that are used with a special frequency or a special meaning. They are the things that separate them from the people of another culture. They make the part of a culture which is not art, or religion, or morals, or politics, and yet it relates to all these highly formulated departments of culture. It is modified by them; it generates them. In this part of culture assumption rules, which is often so much stronger than reason.

The quote is useful because it gets at the idea of manners as  system that works through very subtle codes that have been internalized by its subjects, who use them almost unconsciously. “Good manners” are one of the tools used by the larger system of manners: having good manners identifies a person as an insider, someone who know the proper codes of behavior withina social group.

I like the idea that manners are an “evanescent” part of culture: that they belong to a system that is not “art, or religion, or morals, or politics,” but that is linked reciprocally to all of them.

But what I noticed today was the word “departments.” In referring to art, religion, morals, and politics as “departments of culture,” Trilling suggests that the study of manners offers ways of understanding that elude — but perhaps complete — them. And I can’t help thinking that he is therefore making an argument — by implication as it were — of the importance of literature, because it seems to have a special purchase on the regime of manners: it can dramatize the ways in which manners produce and regulate social subjects. And I wonder whether Trilling is also implicitly making an argument about the importance of literary study, which may enable students to understand things that other academic departments — call them “art,” “religion,” “philosophy,” or “politics”  — can’t. The chapter from which the quote is taken, after all, is called “Manners, Morals, and the Novel.”

The Liberal Imagination has recently been reprinted by the New York Review of Books with an introduction by Louis Menand.

[For an additional perspective on today’s lecture, see this post at patell.org.]

Thanks to Bowery Boogie for posting this today. It’s the life cycle of a single block on Eldridge, between Rivington and Stanton:



See a slower version here, which will also allow you to progress one year at a time or to click on individual buildings for more info.
The artist, a Seattle-based web designer and writer named Zac van Schouwen, explains the project’s origins:

Awhile back, I was trying to find out the history of a building
that my great-great-grandfather had lived in — an old five-story
tenement on Eldridge Street in Manhattan. With some help from
Christopher Gray’s guide to researching New York City buildings, I
discovered that the building had been erected in 1834, on the site of
an old house. It was demolished in the 1940s; its lot later held a
garage, then a housing project.

My mystery was solved, but the project had piqued my interest
anyway. I decided to try a more mammoth task, compiling a complete
record of the life cycle of a single city block. That’s what I’ve
presented here. Beginning in the 1780s with James Delancey’s farm, and
ending with the present public housing structures, erected in 1985,
this is a record of eight generations of buildings on two-thirds of an
acre. (There is a brief gap from about 1802 to 1808, during which I’ve
made educated guesses as to the state of construction.)

Clicking on any building here will give you more details about its
history. The tenement that sparked this interest, #218, is a good place
to start. My great-great-grandfather lived there in 1860. Keep an eye
on it in 1922. Enjoy!

My favorite part is the fire-escapes that pop up in the early twentieth century. 1978 is the saddest year of all.

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