Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from October, 2011

Storm Scenes: A Nor'easter Plows Into a Surprised New York City

We're still talking about the storm that came in yesterday, the surprisingly early wintry nor'easter. The hard rain, wind, and snow battered the city and pounded all of us who happened to be out in it. This morning, many folks are still dealing with the power outages and the broken tree branches with full sets of leaves. My phone rings regularly with notifications from Notify NYC about the precarious state of thousands of damaged trees, cautioning people of the ongoing dangers of wandering into the city's parks.



Visions of the New Metropolis: A Steampunked Ride to Roosevelt Island

This is the third and final post in a series on Steampunk culture.

Steampunk, explored in the previous posts on Union Square and Dumbo, is powered by alternative visions of the city, usually the sort of neo-Victorian futuristic cities as imagined by Jules Verne or H.G. Wells or even the American writer Edward Bellamy (1850-1898). The latter's utopian bestseller, Looking Backward (1887), dreams of the America of 2000 - Boston, to be specific - when a more equitable distribution of wealth has replaced an unfair economic system and where fantastic inventions have revolutionized the comforts of everyday life.


Bellamy imagined an ideal society where everyone spends the same amount of money, dispersed on cards (how odd!), and even listen to live music in their homes via a wire (nah, would never happen). Bellamy's ideas about the future of cities influenced many others during this time, including Ebenezer Howard and his Garden Cities of To-morrow (1898; re-issued in 1902). Howard'…

A Steampunk Walk Down Under the Manhattan Bridge

For a second steampunk excursion into New York - Union Square was the first - Dumbo in Brooklyn provided a most suitable location. With its industrial built environment, heavy infrastructure, and fantastical views of the bridges and Manhattan, the area down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass hardly needs visual alteration for this sort of aesthetic.


While its warehouses and factories now serve as repurposed spaces for apartments, retail stores, and arts groups, it's not too difficult to imagine the waterfront streets populated by velvet-wearing inventors, top-hatted mad scientists, or eccentric 19th century archivists. In short, Dumbo hardly needs steampunking. It's already there.

In point of fact, I happened to visit the area this past Sunday where several merchants had gathered in the Dumbo Loft for a Steampunk fashion market and show.

Steampunking Union Square

Just when the steampunk genre seems to wane in popularity, it comes back again even stronger than before. New fans are constantly being drawn to the aesthetics of this alt brand of neo-Victorian futurism and its civilization built on steam. Steampunk sets the imagination afloat with airships streaming across the sky, dark-paneled rooms with wunderkabinetts, bookshelves of imaginative objects, cogs and wheels, top-hatted and velvet-wearing cyborgs, catalogs of curiosities, and wondrous clocks. Any fan of the 19th century with a fascination for gizmos or an interest in the worlds of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Dr. Who, or even Tim Burton may be a candidate for steampunk fandom.


While the Victorianism of steampunk may conjure the dark streets of London, New York's 19th century and early 20th century architecture and infrastructure will do. We have plenty of the 19th century urban Gotham landscape to work with. The point is not to live in the past, for the steampunk era is a fiction, bu…

Brief Excursions Into Central Park: Photos from an Autumn Day

Many people arrive at this website via a search for "favorite walks in Central Park," or some such phrase. While I like to take long strolls in the park, I can't say I have a favorite one. I'm all for improvisation. Many times I'm doing something close to the park, maybe just a block or so near the edge, but while walking on the street, I'll catch a view of the park in the distance and then I'm invariably drawn to Central Park like a magnet. I enjoy these brief unscripted excursions. Yesterday, I found myself in the park twice, once in the morning near the southeast corner, and later in the afternoon near Central Park West and W. 67th Street. I couldn't help it. But lucky me!

Morning excursion: I walked from The Pond north to the Central Park Zoo, then through the Zoo and beyond to the Balto statute and the rocky outcroppings near the east side.





Afternoon excursion: Later in the day, I wandered into the park via the west side 67th Street entrance, rig…

The Revolution Inside the Morgan

Surely one of the timeliest art exhibitions currently on display in New York must be David, Delacroix, and Revolutionary France: Drawings from the Louvre at the Morgan Library & Museum. Given the general state of occupation, just how did the likes of artists Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, and Théodore Géricault manage to sneak in so close to the private library of powerful Wall Street investment banker John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913)? Well, we can thank the Louvre for the current occupation of eighty excellent drawings by these revolutionary artists, a reciprocal gesture for the Morgan loaning the Louvre a hundred fine drawings during the 1990s.

Beyond the storming of the Bastille, the French Revolution unleashed a creative fervor in France, one that rippled through the nineteenth century. Even before the first wave of revolutionary engagement, artists were sweeping away the wretched excess of the royal Rococo in favor of classical models i…

OHNY Weekend, Part III: A Ballroom, A Penthouse, and the Streets Between

My final excursion on OHNY (openhousenewyork) weekend included two sites in the Financial District - an Art Deco ballroom on Broad Street and a contemporary luxury condo building on John Street. As my Sunday morning routine usually includes coffee, Battery Park, Trinity Church, and (now) Zuccotti Park, but hardly ever in the same order, I was already downtown and close by.


• The Broad Street Ballroom is located just down the street from the New York Stock Exchange, right where the street takes a gentle bend. The investment bankers at Lee-Higginson built their headquarters here at 37-41 Broad Street in the late Jazz Age, 1928-29, to show off their financial power. The bank's lobby, now a ballroom frequently rented for private events, is decorated with fluted mosaic columns and a wraparound painted harbor scene by artist Griffith Baily Coale.


OHNY Weekend, Part II: Sacred Institutions of the Upper West Side

Churches and synagogues constituted the vast majority of the Upper West Side sites open for visits during this weekend's 9th Annual OHNY (openhousenewyork). While I didn't have the time to visit the ones open only on Sunday, the three sites of worship I visited on Saturday - First Baptist Church, the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, and St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church - revealed a spiritual side of New York City that many visitors never see (with a few notable exceptions such as St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church, and Cathedral of St. John the Divine).

Walking to the churches involved passing by several well-known Upper West Side landmarks, certainly not on the OHNY list - for they lack architectural distinction - but, for sure, worshipped and glorified for more secular (and delicious) reasons.



For this moveable self-guided walking feast, plan on starting at the subway station at Verdi Square. On Saturday, when I emerged from the subway and headed nort…

OHNY Weekend, Part I: A Lobby and Two Libraries in Midtown

The 9th Annual OHNY (openhousenewyork) event took place this weekend, opening up rarely seen New York interiors to the public. Designed to promote architecture and design excellence, OHNY featured many venues and special programs at sites around the five boroughs, and as always, even seasoned New Yorkers found more surprises hidden within their city. Many places were open by advanced reservation only, with reservation limits filling up quickly, but several fascinating places were open for walk-ins during certain hours on either Saturday or Sunday or both.

Making the rounds for the open houses proves something of a challenge, like a marathon for architecture enthusiasts. Nevertheless, I managed to take in a few of the sites in three separate parts of Manhattan this weekend - Midtown, the Upper West Side, and the Financial District. Walking between the OHNY sites, I occasionally stopped to study other interesting buildings and street views along the way. I'll discuss a few of the Mi…

French Lessons from the Lower East 60s

In Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's,Holly Golightly sprinkles her conversations with just a little bit of French, or more typically, with a mélange of French and English. Par exemple, she decribes one of her suitors as "quel beast." Speaking a few words in French gives our self-made heroine, born poor in rural Tulip, Texas as Lula Mae Barnes, the air of charm and sophistication necessary to succeed in cosmopolitan New York. In an early passage in the book we learn that before she fled to New York a Hollywood agent named O.J. Berman aspired to help Holly make it in the movies. He thus sent Holly to French classes in order for her to sound less like a country girl. A little French seems useful in New York, too, especially if one aspires to move up in the ranks of Old New York.



Since the late 19th century and early 20th, wealthy New Yorkers living on the fashionable Upper East Side near Central Park often mimicked the trappings of French royalty, establis…

How to Check Out eBooks from the New York Public Library, and A Suggested New York List

Surely most of us have experienced at one point in our lives the dreaded realization that we've failed to return our library books on time, and we've racked up fees. A friend of mine in graduate school was so chronically late in returning her books that at one point, after accumulating hundreds of dollars in fines, the school's library staff called her in for a little counseling. One of the chief advantages of checking out eBooks from the New York Public Library, the new high tech means of borrowing, is that no late fees will accrue. The borrowed items will simply vanish from the patron's e-reading device at the end of the loan period, magically returned to the library e-shelves.

Amazon's Kindle has recently joined other e-readers in making library e-books available, including the thousands of books and audio books from the eNYPL. A simple search for New York-related titles turns up travel books of the conventional and unconventional variety, classic literature su…

Walking the Talk: Zuccotti Park to Union Square and Beyond

In addition to raising consciousness about the inequality of wealth in the United States and the lack of accountability of the new robber barons, the Occupy Wall Street movement is also providing the public a few activist lessons in New York geography. Members of the amorphous group, along with their community and labor supporters, have routinely taken to the public streets and parks of the city since September 17, and in the process, led us to new places both literally and figuratively. Who knew of Zuccotti Park before, right? Well, at least not the name.


Today's schedule includes a "NYC Billionaires Walking Tour" of the Upper East Side, a walking tour organized by labor and community groups to highlight the homes of the city's wealthiest men, including those of Rupert Murdoch, financier Howard Milstein, John Paulson, David Koch, and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. It was Dimon who presented the NYPD a large check to pay for the extra security expenses incurred by …

For Occupy Wall Street, It Was Next Stop, Greenwich Village

On Saturday afternoon, October 8, the Occupy Wall Street protesters marched from their encampment at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square north to Washington Square Park to convene a General Assembly. As with the other days of late, the weather could not have been better for a public demonstration - clear, even warm, with no clouds in the sky. A few hundred people marched uptown to the park, surrounded by a hefty police presence. Many local supporters had come to the park to greet the marchers, joining the usual park crowd of book readers, musicians, and dog walkers. Several mounted police stationed themselves a block south of the park on W. 3rd, and many unformed offers flanked all the park entrances.



Neighbors of the Washington Square area awoke to the news on Saturday morning that Washington Square Park had been selected as a place for a second General Assembly, the deliberate process of announcements and decision-making that has come to characterize this movement. It wasn't clear, ho…

The Scene at Foley Square: A Rally of New Yorkers

Several thousand New Yorkers came to Foley Square late yesterday afternoon to participate in a community and labor rally in support of the Occupy Wall Street protests. The rally ended with a march to the Financial District and Zuccotti Park, the current home base for the demonstrators.



The weather for the event was clear and bright, a stellar afternoon in early October. Foley Square is located in the Civic Center of the city. Two courthouses dominate the east side of the square - the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse and the New York State Supreme Court. If you've seen any episode of Law & Order, you're already familiar with the steps of the Supreme Court building.

Many New Yorkers, along with hundreds of supporters from beyond the state and passersby and the curious, assembled in Foley Square.

Some were wise owls.


And some were people with ancient wisdom.