Archive | March, 2013

Sixth Avenue & 42nd Street

23 Mar

So yeah, we’re basically talking about the center of global capital here; Midtown baby!

I was wondering about beginnings the other day: how all these massive businesses or institutions that seem so complicated got their start – you know, finance, communications, utility companies, that kind of thing .  Were they all massive and confusing from the get go, or did they all just start in somebody’s garage?  (You know, and then through hard work and making sure that government didn’t hamper their drive, potential and confidence with pesky regulation grow into the heroic job creators that they are today?)

Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street is home to the Bank of America Tower – headquarters for the company’s investment banking division.  So yeah, lots of global capital probably cruising through the joint, well on computers at least.  Forbes listed Bank of America as the 3rd biggest company in the world in 2010.  So how did they get their start?  I hate to tell you, but it seems like it was basically in somebody’s garage….and by an Italian no less!  That’s right, Bank of America was founded as the Bank of Italy by Amadeo Giannini, in San Francisco in 1904.  Now sure, he’d made his money as a broker for his step-father’s produce business first and had married the daughter of a North Beach real estate magnate before becoming one of the directors in a bank in which his step-father owned an interest, but Giannini did start his bank in a fashion that springs right from the heart of the American Dream.  Though American born himself Giannini realized that few banks catered to immigrants and took advantage of that vacuum to create the Bank of Italy – geared towards the working-class Italians of North Beach.  When the earthquake of 1906 hit, Giannini was able to rescue all his deposits – something not every bank, or even close to every bank, was capable of – and a few days later he started making loans to help with the rebuilding of the city, from his makeshift office composed of a plank placed over two wooden barrels.  And everyone of those loans was eventually paid back.  Now is that story true?  Who cares?  America!  (Bank of) America!

One Bryant Park

The Bank of America Tower is currently the third highest building in NYC, after the still uncompleted One World Trade Center and the ever-solid Empire State Building – though it really doesn’t look that tall.  It’s probably the all-glass facade that masks it vertical grandeur, and the fact that it doesn’t taper off into a spire.  Though technically its top does include an “architectural spire” that allows it to reach its official height of 1,200 feet, although to me there’s nothing architectural about it.  I’ve never quite understood this height distinction thing in that regard – when a spire counts and when it doesn’t.  The Empire State Building is usually listed as a height of 1,250 ft. – but it goes up to 1,454 if you include its antenna spire.  But how is that antenna spire any less a piece of architecture than the Bank of America Tower?  Who can say? (How many people care?) I guess that I should probably ask the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat about this kind of thing.  They’re the foremost authority on the official height of tall buildings (you know they just added that Urban Habitat to their name to sound like they don’t just care about how tall a building is).  These guys really exist, and they apparently have over 450,000 members; if you ever run into one of them at a party stick around.


They gave the Bank of America Tower their Tall Building Americas Award in 2010….so clearly they like the joint.  Since the building was completed in 2009 it’s generally received a lot of accolades, mainly for its ecological design.  It was the first skyscraper in the world to receive a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification, and so I’m sure the place is pretty cool.  I’d probably think it was cooler if it wasn’t the investment banking division headquarters of a major bank.  But shit, why I got to be a hater?  Let me do a little more research and I’ll let you know.  I’m sure I’ll come up with some reasons.


Naples, Italy

15 Mar

I’ll be straight with you here people: I’m going to go off on a little tangent.  I’ve got to try to write more frequently anyway – so maybe one of the tricks is not to feel the need to write so damn much each time I do.  I mean my god, this is a blog (I guess).  Ain’t that the whole point of these things?

I’ve been reading a lot about Naples, Italy the past few weeks and so my minds still kind of dwelling there.  There’s a lot to unpack about the place; it’s been around awhile (ok, not quite as long as the Jews, but still).  Probably the most mind-blowing of its storied history, to me, would have to be the Norman period.  We’re talking the 11th and 12th century here, when shit was really wacky.  Basically, when I imagine it – what with the dominance of Catholicism, the lack of nation states, the endless warring between duchies, kingdoms, fiefdoms, the poor health and nutrition, a world lit by fire – I think that everyone must have been living in some kind of fever dream.

Which also probably came with the feeling that your city might be attacked by some marauding horde at any given moment.  In the case of Naples – and southern Italy in general – that’s actually what the Normans had been called in to protect against.  They were mercenaries, fighting alternately for or against the two powers in the region: the Lombards and the Byzantines.  These Normans by the way came from Normandy, in France, and yeah, they were the same Normans who conquered England under William the Conqueror in 1066.  They were basically the descendents of the Norse Vikings, Normans being a corruption of Norse Men.  So they were big scary dudes, very good at fighting.

The Lombards were probably kind of scary too; they were a Germanic tribe that had swept in and conquered most of Italy after the Gothic War between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines (535-554) had severely weakened the peninsula.  It’s just that they stuck around awhile and eventually became Italians (you ever heard of Lombardy?).  The Ostrogoths by the way had taken Italy from Odoacer, the guy who overthrew Romulus Augustulus in 476 to end the Western Roman Empire.  The Byzantines, who were the Eastern Roman Empire, with their capital in Constantinople, fought the Ostrogoths to try to get back Italy, and they succeeded, at least until the Lombards showed up on the scene.  Oh and then by 965 the Muslim Arabs, or the Saracens as they were called, conquered all of Sicily, from which they’d launch pirate raids along the Italian coast.  So by the 11th century we’re talking Vikings fighting German tribes fighting the Eastern Roman Empire fighting Arab pirates.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget the fucking Pope!  I mean my god!  Throw in a couple wizards and you’ve got yourself a fantasy novel.