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Showing posts from March, 2008

The Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, the tallest building in the world when it was built in 1913, annoyed some modernist architects for its neo-Gothic ornamentation and bothered others for just being so tall. It was impressive for its design and engineering, with the steel frame skeleton supported by enormous caissons driven deep into the earth. The elevators were faster and more plentiful than in other buildings at the time, a profitable factor that Frank Woolworth appreciated for his "cathedral of commerce."

Minnesota architect Cass Gilbert (1859-1934) designed several important buildings for 20th century New York. The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House (1902-1907) at 1 Bowling Green, his first big commission, is a lavish Beaux Arts- style masterpiece. The New York Life Building (1926-28) is a massive building that blends neo-Gothic with the geometries of more modern 1920s structures.

He designed the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, where I spent my und…

Orphan Film Symposium: The 1961 Folk Singer Protest in Washington Square Park, and Emile de Antonio's America

At the beginning of each Orphan Film Symposium, I like to scan the schedule and make note of the films I can't miss. The registered participants see all the films together as well as talk over organized lunches and dinners. The screenings start in the morning and continue through the evening, so the collective experience is intense. Though I take care of minor behind-the-scenes tasks, I like to attend most of the screenings.

I put today's early afternoon session at the top of my list – films that documented protests held in Washington Square Park in the 1960s, and a couple of presentations on maverick documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio.

Dan Drasin was a burgeoning 18-year-old filmmaker when he took his cameras and some black and white film to document a protest by folk singers in Washington Square Park in 1961. Reacting to the passage of an ordinance that prohibited singing in the park (folk singers attract unsavory elements, don't you now?), the active folk music com…

Attention, Soho Shoppers

There's a special on the block on Broadway between Prince and Spring.

This afternoon, after raking through the closet, I decided it was time for a little early spring clothes shopping. Walking into the bright sunshine and down Broadway, I'm always a little stunned by the shopping hordes. After spending a long time by myself indoors, the mass of people on New York streets makes me think that something out of the ordinary has taken place. "What's going on?", I sometimes ask myself. In fact, nothing out of the ordinary, just the circumstances of my life now plopped down in the midst of one of the world's shopping meccas.

I'm an anxious shopper. I usually pick one store along a favorite stretch of Broadway, find several items that I think I can live with, and then turn around and go home. Late March is tricky for the seasonal transition, so I selected a few cashmere sweaters in pastel colors and called it a day.

Many of the women out on the streets were still we…

The Rain on Bleecker Street

"I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests..."*

A writing assignment, the kind with a deadline, and a steady rain kept me indoors for most of the day. The elements conspired to make me focus on the task at hand, but I started suffering from cabin fever at dusk. Needing to get out, I wandered down Bleecker Street just to stretch my legs. I have come to depend on my desire to move through time and space.

A few people were out and about. I saw one woman with a green umbrella using a pay phone at the corner of Bleecker and Sullivan and another woman with a pink umbrella walking along and chatting with a guy in a hat. At one point several people converged under a canopy of their respective umbrellas. I can't tell too many details in weather like this. Everything becomes a little blurry.

* Bob Dylan wrote "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" in a base…

Diversion: Hot Chocolate with Melting Peeps, and Easter Treats in the Big City

Everyone I've talked to agrees that Easter is too early this year. Not that we can help it. St. Patrick's Day and Easter in the same week is wrong. The presence of two parades of that magnitude in New York City in the same week is wrong.

With the winter chill still lingering, wool coat collars turned up against the wind, I'm not feeling appropriately pastel. I'm willing, nevertheless, to make the best of the situation at hand. In that spirit, I decided that nothing would be better this afternoon than a winter cup of hot chocolate with a couple of melting yellow Peeps.

It's prettier and tastier than I imagined, and the Peeps looked sweet during their final sleep of drowning chocolate death.


Edible Easter Creations in the City

In strolling about the city, I've taken note of some of the fine Easter creations of lower Manhattan's bakeries and chocolate artists. Among them (with links):

Jacques Torres (350 Hudson at King St. and285 Amsterdam Ave at 73rd St.) features…

Establishing Shots: The Tribeca Film Festival & 2008 Festival Highlights

"Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man."- Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver (1976)

After the attacks of September 11, life in lower Manhattan took a long time to recover. The neighborhood of Tribeca, just north of the WTC site, had already become an attractive destination for artists and families, but after the shocking events of that day potential new residents grew cautious. Area businesses suffered as streets were blocked to traffic, and only residents or those on official business could pass through checkpoints.

Actor Robert De Niro joined with producer Jane Rosenthal and her spouse, the philanthropist and writer Craig Hatkoff, to found the Tribeca Film Festival as a way to help filmmakers in New York and, specifically, to spur the economic recovery of lower Manhattan. Even before the September 11 attacks the three had invested money in the Tribeca neighborhood.

The…

The Tribeca of Duane: Duane Street and Duane Park

On my walks through Tribeca last week, I found that my head and feet propelled me toward Duane Park, whether I liked it or not. This particular triangular streetscape, with its little well-groomed island of a park in the center of the confluence of two streets, seems so pretty that there must be something amiss.

This section of Duane Street between Hudson and Greenwich is so sweet that when the weather warms up I want to bring back my set of portable watercolors to paint the scene. It's a quiet movie set of a place with a museum-like quality, reminding me that Tribeca recovered from its shell-shocked days after September 11 by becoming the home for the Tribeca Film Festival.

Not many people roam the streets. While visiting during the day, I've shared the street and park with a handful of people. A few fathers with children, nannies with babies in strollers, and a couple of twenty-somethings by themselves wandered about, most stepping into the welcoming Duane Street Patisserie fo…

Tribeca's Most Tripped-Out Vista

Whoa...

This afternoon, after spending most of my time wandering Tribeca's pretty cobbled streets and looking at nineteenth century manufacturing buildings, I walked west on Duane Street, through Washington Market Park and then up the steps of the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

When I turned around to walk down the steps this vista stopped me in my tracks. The patterned squares of the college's plaza below and the differing rectangular-patterned windows of the tall office buildings in the distance almost made me lose my balance. The sculpture in the middle is perfectly sited and humanizes what could be a frightening glimpse of modernity gone wrong. Instead, modernism looks exciting from these steps.

Image: by Walking Off the Big Apple, March 14, 2008.


Click here for an updated post with a new picture and more information (March 2012).

See related posts:
The Woolworth Building
Establishing Shots: The Tribeca Film Festival
The Tribeca of Duane: Duane Street and Duane Park
T…

Tribeca Living: A Building for Chocolate and One for the Wool Trade

The Powell Building (1892) at 105 Hudson Street (at Franklin St.), shown on the left, was designed by Carrere & Hastings, the architects of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street and the Frick mansion, among other others. In 1890, Henry L. Pierce, the head of a chocolate company in Massachusetts, wanted a nice building for his company, a step up from the plain vanilla of industrial architecture. Hence, this elegant Beaux Arts-style building.

After Pierce died his estate sold the building to candy manufacturer Alexander Powell who, in turn, hired his architect to enlarge the building and add stories. In the 1970s the building's higher floors were converted into residences. The Japanese restaurant Nobu (restaurant website) is on the first floor, in the same place that Powell once displayed his chocolates.

The Renaissance revival building at 260 West Broadway (at Beach St.), its curved entrance shown on the right, was built as the New York Wool Exchange in 1894…

In Search of the Lower West Side: Before Tribeca

I've started to collect older guidebooks to New York so I can understand shifting perspectives on the city. Guides published in earlier decades provide an excellent window on how visitors understood New York as a place and also help me understand the psychogeography of the city's previous residents. When I wrote the extended posts on Greta Garbo's walks around her neighborhood near E. 52nd St., I read guidebooks published in the 1960s and 1970s to help me locate the places she would have likely visited.

No reference to Tribeca appears at all in the 1978 edition of the Michelin Green Guide for New York. The 1985 edition mentions the name "Tribeca " and explains the abbreviation. Michelin lists as its one attraction the Alternative Museum at 17 White Street, a downtown multimedia venue that now exists solely in cyberspace. The guide characterizes the area as a "neighborhood of old factories and warehouses which emerged as an artists' community in the 1970s.…

Walking Off Tribeca and Remembering Mostly Lunch

When I returned from my long walk and lunch in Tribeca today, I felt over-stimulated but more tired than usual. Traveling can be both stimulating and exhausting at the same time. Beyond the physical demands of exploration, an encounter with new sources of stimuli can induce mental fatigue. Walking around unfamiliar streets takes more work than the ones you already know.

Some of my haphazard impressions of the day in Tribeca:

enjoying the facades of the buildings along White Street;
the glimpses of the Hudson River and all that blue;
Duane Street and its gentle and elegant restraint;
the jarring presence of neo-Brutalist towers juxtaposed with more human scale nineteenth-century buildings;
a painter putting the finishing touches on a propped-open door of Robert De Niro's not-yet-open Greenwich Hotel and catching a look at some of the fine detailing;
the eight-foot crater on Church Street where a water main blew this morning, and hundreds of city workers trying to fix it;
a flower market w…

Walking Off Tribeca: The Lay of the Land

One of the oldest sections of Manhattan and part of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, the area now know as Tribeca was originally a fruit and produce market, a shipping center, and a hub of the city's textile industry. Sprawling along the west side of Manhattan, from south of Canal to Vesey Street and the site of the World Trade Center, Tribeca extends from the Hudson River on the west to Broadway as its eastern boundary. The area got its name, an acronym for the TRIangle BElow CAnal, relatively recently.

View Larger Map The area's conversion from a shipping and manufacturing district to a residential neighborhood parallels the loft developments of the SoHo neighborhood to its north. The vast inside spaces of these buildings that once housed 19th century businesses have inspired the modern-day phenomenon of loft living. Where immigrants once worked for low pay, standing long hours spinning cotton on a loom, a wealthy family now lounges on high-end living room furniture, watchi…

Walking Off Tribeca: Starting at Square One

The Square Diner at the corner of Leonard and Varick in Tribeca smells of strong coffee and a hot griddle full of pancakes. Housed in one of the last authentic rail cars, with a ceiling of handsome wood paneling and a row of wide sliding windows facing the street, the diner is the kind of place you trust for breakfast and where catsup is comfortably within reach.

This morning, after I sat down in a booth in the Square Diner, I ordered the big breakfast to which many of us have grown accustomed - two eggs, bacon, toast, New York-style breakfast potatoes, and lots of coffee. The meal didn't disappoint, and while drinking the last cup of coffee I turned to look out the window to look at what was happening on the street.

Across the street I could see a little sliver of a park with a handful of trees. Finn Square, it's called, named for a hero of the Great War. To the left, I could see a handsome tall red brick building, and then beyond the park, a couple of buildings with Italianate…

Pack Arts Journalism in the Age of Un-Art: Writing About the Whitney Biennial

Though I have yet to see the newly-opened Whitney Biennial, I enjoy my biennial hobby of reading all the reviews before I go. I'm always looking to test my thesis that something I call "pack arts criticism" is at work. I'll explain. "Pack journalism" is a term often used to characterize the tendency of political journalists to cover a story with a single mindset, and I think arts journalism works the same way. Within days of the opening of any Biennial, I start to see a consensus building among the critics, often lead by critics at the major news outlets. The critical reception of the 2008 Whitney Biennial, which opened yesterday, is shaping up in a similar way.

Holland Cotter, in today's review of the Whitney Biennial for The New York Times connects the exhibition with an economy in recession. He characterizes the Biennial, with its "uncharismatic surfaces, complicated back stories," as an "unglamorous, even prosaic affair." Later in…

Earning Her Wrinkles: Rosalind Solomon at Silverstein Photography (A Review)

Looking at photographer Rosalind Solomon's well-composed black-and-white self-portraits – the wrinkles around the mouth, her puffed eyes, the wild gray hair, ample sagging breasts, and the age spots that she presents to the world, I thought anyone mired in our youth-obsessed culture needs to visit this solo exhibit at Silverstein Photography in Chelsea and ask themselves, honestly, if they would have the guts to pull off anything as real as this body of work.

Two fingers on my mouth, one of several imposing self-portraits dating from Solomon's residency at the Macdowell Colony in 2002, says several things. Raising her fingers to cover her mouth and staring straight into the camera, she shows us the gesture of silence. Be quiet. Don't speak. Two fingers on the mouth can also be a thinking person's gesture. One of the other photographs from Macdowell - beautifully printed gelatin silver prints, by the way, presents the aging self in metaphorical terms. She's nude, na…

University Place: Pedestrian, Yes, But in a Good Way (Slideshow)

University Place, a relatively short street in lower Manhattan, links Washington Square Park to the south with Union Square to the north. A thoroughfare frequented by NYU students, neighborhood residents, and office workers, the street enjoys a democratic mix of bars, coffee shops, diners, restaurants, boutiques, laundries, shoe repair shops, florists, and even a bowling alley. A few haunts of old New York can be found along in here - the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill, a favorite of the late Brooke Astor, and Patsy's, one of Frank Sinatra's preferred stops for pizza pie. Residents try to keep straight three similarly-sounding places - Café Spice, Space Market, and Spice.

University Place is pedestrian in both senses - it's an ordinary street, nothing to write home about, but it's also a good place for walking. I frequently walk up University Place to shop at the green market on Union Square, but sometimes I like to just stroll up the street for no good reason at all.…

Letter to the Editor - Greetings from the Ormskirk Chapter

"Hi.

I, too, have been bestowed an unexpected (and slightly alarming) honour by the SFSF gents; presidency of the local chapter, in my case Ormskirk, a market/university town near Liverpool.

I found your great site via The Flâneur and am enjoying exploring it.

You might enjoy mine: an account of a long, episodic walk I'm doing between two piers and back to my place of birth: http://walkinghometo50.wordpress.com/

I'd like to install a link to yours if that's OK?

All the best,

Roy"


Editor's Note: As Chair of the New York branch, I heartily welcome Roy to La Société des Flâneurs Sans Frontières (SFSF). As Roy indicates, the hono(u)r is thrust upon us by somewhat mysterious gentlemen who dwell within the higher strata of the organization. Part Dan Brown, part La Rochefoucauld, our benefactors uphold the best of the flâneur tradition through an advocacy of strolling, the connoisseurship of absinthe, and the art of procrastination.

The Flâneur, the official website of La S…

Walking News: British Man Gives Up Trek to India Because He Couldn't Speak French, and Other Stories

For my irregularly-scheduled roundup of walking headlines, I would like to share these choice stories from the global highways and byways:

• Try this, sir: "J'ai faim." A British man planned to walk to India with no money to prove a point, but he gave up in Calais because he couldn't speak French. See UPI story here.

• Hey, man, I own this shopping mall. Mall walkers at Jefferson Valley Mall became upset when the mall managers changed the opening times and shut off the mall's second floor. See In Curbing Walking Sprees, a Mall Sets Off Protests by Kate Stone Lombardi, NY Times. March 2, 2008.

• Be careful walking down an unfamiliar hill in the dark. "How a walk in the dark changed my life" by Geoff Strong from the February 20, 2008 edition of The Age in Melbourne, Australia is a chilling tale of how things can go wrong with one false step. Not for the faint of heart.

• Naturalist John Muir was famous for his treks through the Sierras. Hence, his founding of…

Coloring in the Lines: Color Chart at MoMA

After visiting Design and the Elastic Mind at MoMA last week, I wandered into Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today in the nearby galleries on the sixth floor. The exhibit features 44 contemporary artists who've explored the possibilities of color as a readily-available commercial product. The earliest work, Marcel Duchamp's painting, Tu m' from 1918, presents a cascading spray of color samples and establishes the thesis sentence for the exhibit.

Artists include Robert Rauschenberg, riffing on Duchamp and using paint right out of the can, Dan Flavin, the master of the florescent tube, and Sherrie Levine, borrowing LeCorbusier's palette in the same way she borrows everything. After seeing Jasper Johns: Gray at the Met, I found it humorous to come across a series of his numbers in living color. Curating an exhibit is so much about presenting an argument, I thought, that a clever curator could offer us an exhibit in the future titled "Jasper Johns: Green, Blue…

Monday Roundup: Chelsea Planning Tip, Whitney Biennial, Green Peppercorn Sauce, and Other Items

Visiting Chelsea. Maybe the following quick Descent Into Art Hell in Chelsea has happened to others: I hate when I'm in Chelsea and I've just realized I wanted to visit a particular gallery but it's four streets back now and I walked right past it earlier and I don't feel like trying to find the stupid door on the self-important gallery anymore and I hate looking at art in this part of the neighborhood in the first place where there are hardly any trees and curse the person that thought warehouses and factories for baking cookies were good places to view art and where there's no place to sit down and it's kinda far from the subway and I don't feel like going back there now. I'm going home.

Golly. WOTBA needs some HELP. Look at that little girl on the horse. She looks like she's spoiled and could cry. I'm better now, thank you. I've started planning my trips to this well-known art mecca in advance through the website chelseaartgalleries.com, a…

We're Not All Like Dubya: A NY Map for Texas Independence Day

Not all Texans are like the former governor of Texas who currently serves as President of the United States (324 days left, and counting). I have to explain this difference when I meet some New Yorkers and they find out where I'm from. I, for one, prefer to think that the Texas Man, if we're talking gender, is better represented by Robert Rauschenberg, Freddy Fender, Terry Allen, Luis Jimenez, Tommy Lee Jones, Willie Nelson, Bill Moyers, Buddy Holly, Kinky Friedman, Tommy Tune, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rip Torn, and Alvin Ailey than by Dubya. Call it Texas pride. I, as Texas Woman, like to think that I follow in the kick-ass traditions of Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan and Molly Ivins, women who made some horse sense of politics.

Today is March 2, Texas Independence Day, the day to commemorate the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836 in the town of Washington-on-the-Brazos. Here I am in New York City. Three Texas cities are in the top ten U.S. cities by p…

Letter to the Editor: The Not-So-Pink Building

"I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but I'm not so good at figuring out how to do that.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that your article on the pink building inspired me to go out yesterday in the cold and see it for myself. It doesn't look as pink or intrusive as I thought it would. In fact, it blends in surprisingly well with the neighborhood, except for its height, of course. It is rather interesting actually. Certainly makes a statement of some sort. There are quite a few other pinkish colored buildings around, which I never would have noticed if I hadn't been put in a "pink frame of mind." I'll attach my photo, which I think renders the color much like I saw it yesterday.

Thanks for the great blog. I have discovered new places because of it."

Stephanie Luke

Photo of Julian Schnabel's Palazzo Chupi, W. 11th Street, by Stephanie Luke.

Ed. note: Thanks, Stephanie, for writing and sending such a great photo! I appreciate the building myself, and…