Archive | January, 2014

Ithiel Town

25 Jan

That’s a person by the way, not a town.  I mentioned him before as tangent number one when I wrote about the tangent inspiring Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street a couple months ago and I thought it was about time to take another look.  And in the spirit of tangents I thought that I would just look at Ithiel Town in the broad sense, rather than choosing one of his buildings and rolling with it deeper.  It’s kind of fitting: I actually wanted to talk this time about all the unspecified things I’d do to fill my life if I didn’t ever have to worry about working, though unspecified isn’t quite the right word.  Maybe I mean unspecialized things I’d do to fill my life (you know, besides just hanging with my wife and baby – I’m pretty good at that).  Like all the different things I’d try to specialize in a little bit but never enough to actually be specialized in.  It’s kind of the same with living a certain lifestyle isn’t it?  I’ve always thought it would be cool to be the kind of person who goes and sees old foreign films in arts houses, in the middle of the day, but then I realized that to actually be that kind of person I’d actually have to go see foreign films in art houses in the middle of the day.  You know what I’m saying?  Even the (almost) great book The Moviegoer wasn’t really about going to the movies all that much.  That kind of disappointed me actually.

Ithiel Town is considered one of America’s first great native born architects, making his start in the first quarter of the 19th century around the time of America’s first great native born writers – Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper (one of my dream unspecialized skills would be writing about writers).  Born in Thompson, Connecticut in the north-east corner of the state (another one would be writing about towns, just different towns all over America) Ithiel left a slew of buildings across Connecticut – some solo and some from his six year partnership with Alexander Jackson Davis.  He also built a number of buildings in New York City – some of which still survive today.  One of the ones that doesn’t is the original Church of the Ascension, built on Canal Street around 1827.  That was just a few years before Colonnade Row went up, on the newly laid out Lafayette Place (now Avenue).  Town likely had a hand in Colonnade Row, with his partner Davis, though the exact architects still remain a matter of debate.  Regardless the 9 connected row houses were pretty striking, more London than New York at the time, and they represented some of the most desirable real estate in the city.  Today 4 of the buildings still survive; they were amongst the first 20 sites to be landmarked by the newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965.

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Another of those 20 initial sites was the Sailor’s Snug Harbor on Staten Island.  Ithiel Town didn’t design it, but the AIA Guide to New York calls it one of the “institutional stars of New York’s Greek Revival.”  The other star is Federal Hall, which Town did design, again with Davis.  Federal Hall National Memorial as it’s now known was actually built (in 1842) as a custom house, though it stood on the site of the original Federal Hall, where Washington took the oath of office as the first president, and where the Bill of Rights was formally proposed.  Before housing the federal government the originally Federal Hall was New York’s City Hall.  When the federal capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790 Federal Hall again became City Hall, until the new and still current City Hall was completed in 1812.  I kind of have the feeling that I’ve said all this before, but oh well – even if I didn’t have to worry about work I wouldn’t spend time on a comprehensive catalog of everything I’ve ever written; that seems too specialized.

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And speaking of things I’ve said before: it turns out that Julia Gardiner was actually a resident of Colonnade Row at the time she married then President John Tyler (I would definitely spend time writing about historical political figures).  She married President Tyler, you might recall, in the Church of the Ascension, though the second one, not the one that Town designed.  The second one was designed by a young Richard Upjohn, some years before he designed Trinity Church sitting in its prime spot on the base of Wall Street not too far from Federal Hall.  Oh, Ithiel Town also designed the spire for Saint Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery (with Martin E. Thompson) in 1828, though the church itself dates from 1799, making it the second oldest extant church in the city, and something I’ve definitely written about before (I would also continue to develop lists and then stop looking into them almost at once but maybe pick up the idea again someday).

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Anyway, as long as I’m daydreaming I would also write about old movies and also musicians – not so much their music as their lives and lifetimes – like a little novella about each one regarding what it might have felt like to be cutting it back then.  Which would of course be impossible to actually write and would mostly probably be pretty terrible.  But that’s the beauty of daydreaming about something: writing about daydreaming about something almost imparts the same feeling I want to impart if I actually where to write in depth about something.  I mean, going to see foreign movies in art houses in the middle of the day is kind of a metaphor for a certain kind of feeling right?  I don’t know.  If it’s not apparent already I basically think of this blog as the equivalent of clicking on a lot of links on Wikipedia – but maybe just cutting out the boring stuff.  Though if you’re curious (or maybe really high (curiously high?)) nothing has to be that boring.  I don’t know.  This one wasn’t really about Ithiel Town that much, was it?

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New Year’s Something

3 Jan

So what’s the state of America these days?  There’s nothing like doing some holiday shopping in the big box stores of the Jersey suburbs to make you think: I don’t really want to answer that question.  But then you end up spending some time in the quiet snow covered woods of northern New York (you know, the “north country”) and you realize that actually America is pretty damn special – the world’s second coming and all that; the slumbering vision of god’s warm embrace.  So what is it?  Why the discrepancy?  Is it just the people who are so shitty?  I mean, how can you reconcile the beatitude of the woods with the bereftness of the big box store?  You’ve got to get all mystical or something to answer that one, right?  I don’t know, does getting stoned and lying on the couch feeling expansive count?

I mean, it’s so easy to get so sad when you think about the people.  I mean my god, the people!  What sad fat fuckers.  But you know, what sad fat fuckers who also probably want to touch the face of god.  Let’s celebrate that fact at least.  Why do we try so hard to deny it and then pretend that that’s so normal (I mean, beside the fact that people make a lot a lot of money off of it).  Isn’t it funny that most of the most famous people have nothing to tell the world except that it’s a piece of shit?  You know what I’m saying right?  It’s like these poor famous people have to channel the zeitgeist and make their interior worlds nothing more than a vacuous and noisy shell.  I mean, it must be simultaneously so noisy and empty in there!  I’m only talking about the bad famous people here you understand?  The most famous people literally have the least to tell us.  I mean, how fascinating is that!  Even Jesus was probably pretty cool before he got so famous.

So I don’t know.  Is it naive, optimistic, or being some type of mystic to say that everyone must have moments where their soul knows the truth?  Cause most people are probably just ciphers you know, the norms and mores of the time and culture they live in made manifest upon an otherwise blank face.  But all of them must have some moment when their soul knows the truth.  It would be awesome if at that moment they just instantly dissolved into a flash of effervescent fiery light – just right in the middle of the big box store even.  And then Fox News would be left there trying to spin it in some fashion that still denied the world’s reality.  But they’re just sad because they’ll never dissolve themselves.  You only live once is kind of a stupid saying isn’t it?  “Once” what?  I’ve lived every moment that I’ve ever been alive.  And now here comes a new year.  Let’s live a lot in it….you people are all probably pretty great.

North Country