Archive | November, 2012

Park Row & Spruce Street

29 Nov

It’s a sad time for newspapers, sure, and sure, it’s not something I’m happy about.  I like to read things on paper – and not just for nostalgia reasons.  If I’m holding a physical paper in my hand I read it all, and so I learn a little more.  If I’m reading news on-line I just don’t do that.  C’est la vie, I guess…I’m not the type to complain really.  As with anything, I can’t help but try to put things in perspective; there was a time (a lot of time) when newspapers as we know them didn’t exist; they’ll be a time to come when newspapers as we know them won’t exist either.  I can live with that, I guess.  I guess I could even live with no more real books (I mean what would I do, kill myself?) Though one question: can we stop saying that e-books and Kindles and i-Pads and things are more friendly for the environment?  I mean aren’t these gadgets made out of plastic and don’t they run on power, and aren’t they designed to be obsolete a couple years from now?  Books are made out of trees – which are things that grow – which means if you do it right they’re a limitless resource.  Honestly, am I wrong about this people?  Maybe I’m wrong about this, people.

I know another argument against the loss of newspapers is the loss of good reporting.  And I’m totally behind that idea.  Was reporting much better back in the days of multiple daily papers competing in every city?  I couldn’t say (I mean I guess I could, if I really studied it).  But if you read a bit of New York City history you inevitably come across the name of all these papers that are now gone: The World, The Sun, The Tribune, The Herald, The New York Journal, just to name a few of the more famous.  I was reminded of them in writing on Richard Morris Hunt last time around, and his Tribune Building specifically, on Printing House Square at Nassau & Spruce Streets – one of the earliest high-rise elevator buildings in the city (and now demolished).  It housed the headquarters of The Tribune and went up in 1875.  Fifteen years later in 1890 the New York World Building was finished nearby (after its earlier headquarters burned down in 1882 – on the site of today’s Potter Building) – sometimes called the Pulitzer Building as well for The World’s owner, Joseph Pulitzer.  Just one year before the new World Building the New York Times Building (1889) was finished, also next door, and also – like the World building – designed by the architect George B. Post.  The whole area running down Park Row was nicknamed “Newspaper Row” – back when close proximity to City Hall was a real asset for the industry.

The New York Times Building is the only one of the three that still stands, though today it’s owned by Pace University.  The Times didn’t stay in the building for very long to begin with; in 1903 they moved uptown to Longacre Square: one year later re-named Times Square by proclamation of mayor George B. McClellan Jr.  (after heavy lobbying by Times owner Adolph Ochs).  Ochs purchased The Times in 1896 and his family is still the principal owner today.  But The Times itself goes back to 1851, founded by Henry Jarvis Raymond as a Republican-leaning daily paper (with the exception of Sundays).  Raymond was a former Whig politician and an instrumental figure in the creation of the Republican Party, serving as the second chairman of the RNC.  The Times‘ star rose in the early 1870s when a series of exposes on Boss Tweed helped lead to the end of his notorious reign over NYC politics.  A decade later in the 1880s they moved away from Republican support to declare themselves a politically independent newspaper – though I’m sure conservatives today would deride them as a wing of the Democratic Party.  I’d counter that The Times strikes me as an impeccably intelligent and fact-based paper – and hey, facts tend to have a liberal bias.

Just like The Times you could look at a lot of these papers (extant and extinct) by looking at the names associated with them.  It’s another thing you come across a lot in looking at New York City history.  The Times had the Och family, and then the Sulzbergers who married into them.  The Tribune was manned by Horace Greeley; The Herald by the Bennett family; William Cullen Bryant was the long-time editor of The New York Evening Post – the same paper we call The New York Post today.  That’s right, this bastard was once the editor of the newspaper that now runs headlines more like this.

Time marches on.

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Fifth Avenue & 82nd Street

16 Nov

Sorry my many loyal and obsessive fans!  I want to try to post these more frequently but it’s been a busy couple of weeks: the hurricane, Obama winning the election (Obama!), the snowstorm, my local deli selling 24oz. Budlight Lime for only $1.60 which means you’ve got to buy as many as you can right now before they realize how cheap that is.  Anyway, I’m trying hard to get on target here.

One great thing about Obama winning is that I can continue to read about the daily and weekly minutiae of politics, which I really enjoy, without the despair of feeling like my country is being run by people with diametrically opposed values from mine.  I like getting up to read the paper – it’s not quite history (do you ever read yesterday’s paper?) so much as the dossier on a specific day, this specific day.  I like to see what I’m gonna find in there.  Though honestly?  I like getting up just to check the five-day weather forecast, the new temperature posted on the horizon.  “Into that from which things take their rise they pass away once more, as is ordained, for they make reparation and satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the ordering of time.”  Wait a minute: is that what the five-day weather forecast makes me think?  What kind of pompous asshole am I?

I don’t know.  Anaximander of Miletus said that by the way, circa maybe 546 B.C. (I feel like Cormac McCarthy must have it taped above his writing desk.).  It’s funny to think of how many centuries the Greeks were studied and worshipped and referenced by such a large part of Western society and now it’s like “Wuuh?”  Instead we report about what people write on Twitter on the news ­– which I suppose is the modern version of what the Greeks called discourse.  I’m not the only one who finds that slightly scary.

Richard Morris Hunt must have known about the Greeks though.  He was considered the preeminent American architect of his day, or maybe the first great statesman of American architecture.  While a resident of New York City, it’s the unfortunate fact that very few of his NYC buildings still stand.  Among his demolished treasures were the New York Tribune Building (one of the earliest high-rise elevator buildings), Stuyvesant Flats (the first middle-class apartment building, or “Parisian flats” in the city), William Vanderbilt’s mansion on Fifth Avenue and 58th St. and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor’s house on Fifth Avenue and 65th, which I briefly mentioned last time around; see I haven’t forgotten about the little tangent kick we’re on!  And see, I mentioned the Vanderbilts again!

Still what does survive of Hunt’s works are pretty impressive, perhaps none more so than the Beaux Arts Fifth Avenue façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of which Hunt was also a trustee.  He provided the original sketches for the Great Hall as well, finished after his death in 1895 by his son Richard Howland Hunt, and described by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) guide as, “the City’s only suggestion of the visionary neo-Roman spaces of the 18th-century Italian draftsman and engraver Piranesi.”  Damn, I knew something was missing in this town.

Hunt was president of the AIA (after 1869) and worked hard to impose a kind of order and prestige on the architectural profession – for one by favoring trained architects over older craftsmen who had worked their way through the ranks: a distinction that tended to break down along class lines.  No surprises there; Hunt seemed to have an appropriately Greek notion of the importance, necessity and responsibilities of the aristocracy, like so many people of his day.  It was the whole idea of the Metropolitan Museum in fact: a place that simultaneously exalted the treasures and status of the wealthy while being presented as a civic gift to the masses (though built on public land with public money).  Still, it wasn’t all lip service.  As Joseph C. Choate said at its 1880 opening, the museum would be a force of good, that by its “diffusion of a knowledge of art in its higher forms of beauty would tend directly to humanize, to educate and refine a practical and laborious people.”  Now I’m not sure if the Greeks were about that kind of thing exactly – bettering the practical and laborious people – but the upper crust of the 19th century surely were.  It’s cool; I can get behind it.  Well it’s better than just saying “Fuck em,” which is how I would summarize the current G.O.P. stance on things – and ain’t they supposed to be the party of the 21st century’s upper crust?