So here’s a news flash — I like old things. I especially like old architecture. It’s one of the reasons I don’t live in a place like Phoenix, or the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Sure I’m biased, but what do people do out there? I mean what do they look at, besides the dashboard console when they’re adjusting the AC inside their car? I liked to be stopped short on the street by a perfect row of houses, or maybe just the quiet of an intersection. I like to live in anticipation of that unexpected city scene, a new angle or juxtaposition of buildings that you’ve never seen before. These things are all important. They have the weight to hold you somewhere. And somewhere is a good place to be, as opposed, perhaps, to anywhere. Do you know those lists that magazines or websites will put out: the top whatever places to live in the USA? And it’s always some city like Moorhead, Minnesota on the top? That’s anywhere. That’s some formula involving housing prices, crime rate, and job availability. Go move there and listen to satellite radio, the reception’s always really good.
Myself, I’ll stick around here. Now sure, if I were really serious about old things I guess I would be living in Europe, or China, or Iraq. The main thing you’re gonna get in these parts are recreations and revivals of those certainly more ancient styles. I’ll still take it. And besides, isn’t there something about the 19th century city that really strikes some archetypal chord with people? Like somewhere in our collective insides there’s something made to click, and to agree this shit is simply beautiful?
Which brings me to Stuyvesant Square, between 15th & 17th Streets, and cut in two by Second Avenue. The eastern half isn’t much to look at, crowded round by Beth Israel Medical Center monoliths, and the old Stuyvesant High School. But the western half is surrounded by some beautiful 19th century blocks of brownstones and churches. 16th Street and Rutherford Place are at the heart of it, with Saint George’s Episcopal on one side, and the Quaker run private school, Friend’s Seminary, on the other. The Seminary includes a large brick meeting-house completed in 1861. But it’s Saint George’s that I think really takes the cake here. What can I say, I like medieval-looking churches.
It was built on this spot between 1846-56, after the congregation decided to move from its downtown location on Beekman Street. At its completion, it was considered one of the finest examples of Early Romanesque Revival church architecture in the United States. Romanesque architecture predates the Gothic Style, which it evolved into, and corresponded roughly with the Dark Ages, or I should say, the Early Middle Ages (see the latest Built to Last for more on that distinction). I love this style! I didn’t know I loved it until yesterday, but anything that combines Western Roman and Byzantine features has got to be a hit. Buildings of its type spread all across Europe, but there’s something in its simple rounded arches and symmetry that makes it seem most at home in a sun-drenched Mediterranean setting. Now sure, this particular church is Romanesque Revival, not Romanesque itself, but hey, I’m not gonna split hairs here. I’m all for architectural revivals of any kind. We can say of the past, these people came before us, and maybe they just found the best shit out there. Maybe there are only so many modes of expression. I went to the Metropolitan recently, and as always I was blown away by the sheer scope of the collection. But at the same time I thought, this is pretty much representative of everything humanity has created throughout its history, and still, it fits into one (giant) building. We’ve gone through modern already, and now post-modern, so what comes next? I say keep sticking with the Romanesque. Nice solid arches.
(Originally posted Feb. 20th, 2009 on Takethehandle.com)