OHNY: 7 World Trade Center

October 4, 2008

Since it opened in 2006, the lights of 7 World Trade Center have been one of its most remarkable features. Glowing beacons in the night, they bathe the surrounding area in dramatic tones of blue, white and red.

Tonight, as part of Open House New York Weekend, Michael Hennes, the designer who worked on the lighting project, took visitors around the building and into the lobby. He displayed some rejected sketches, explained the rationale behind the design, and showed how and why the lights work as they do (including some malfunctions that have occurred).

It was an (ahem) illuminating experience. I’ve walked by these lights dozens of times, and I’ll never view them the same way again.

Illumination of 7 WTC
250 Greenwich St, Barclay St, New York
Sat:7:30 pm tour with lighting designer.
building date: 2006
architect: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

Michael Hennes of Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design will talk about the color-changing lighting within the lobby ceiling, exterior podium screen wall and 80-foot-height parapet changes from the white light of day to a vivid blue at night, while an interactive motion detection system triggers a deeper blue stripe of light that “follows” pedestrians as they walk along the sidewalk.

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Everything around the building is bathed in blue light

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This Jeff Koons sculpture is bright red; the lights make it appear violet

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Side view from Barclay Street

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In the lobby, Hennes has the lights adjusted

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The crowd listens to Hennes

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The building was constructed by Silverstein Properties

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Animated Jenny Holzer art installation in the lobby

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The white lights come up

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Red lights flood the lobby

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Flowers on the desk turn red

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Blue lights start to come back

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Looking at the elevator banks

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Elevators are controlled by the user’s ID cards

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Frosted glass interior of elevator car

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Unmarked doorway in the corridor

Open House New York Weekend
Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design
Jenny Holzer
Metropolis Magazine: Ground Zero’s Saving Grace

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OHNY: Radio City Music Hall

October 4, 2008

Created by oil mogul John D. Rockefeller in 1929, Rockefeller Center is an enormous complex of office buildings, shops, theaters, cafes, restaurants, recreation facilities, attractions and underground passageways. It spans a gigantic space in the heart of midtown, stretching east to west from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue and north to south from 50th Street down to 47th. Almost 300,000 people work in or visit this Art Deco masterpiece every day, many of them heading straight to Radio City Music Hall, the city’s largest and most notable theater.

In 1999, to mark its 70th birthday, Radio City Music Hall underwent an enormous restoration effort aimed at updating the infrastructure and returning the structure to its past glory. The project was led by architect Hugh Hardy, who, as part of Open House New York Weekend, led visitors through the refurbished space and described how he made it sparkle again.

The scope of work was massive and the budget, originally estimated at $25,000,000, eventually topped $70,000,000. Removing seven decades of smoke and grime and repairing wear and tear was just the beginning. Some of the most demanding aspects of the project involved undoing the damage done by inept restorers and un-doing misguided attempts to “modernize” the theater.

During the project, hundreds of workmen and artisans swarmed over the building and stripped away the varnish and dirt that obscured dozens of murals, reupholstered furniture, re-silvered mirrors, installed state of the art lighting, video and audio systems, replaced damaged plasterwork, installed acres of new, custom designed carpets and hung specially woven silk curtains.

Hardy escorted the OHNY visitors upstairs and down: to a private booth high above the theater (“Please, no photos of the stage!,” he ordered), into the men’s and women’s restrooms, across the mezzanine and through the lobby, past the bar and around the sculptures until Radio City employees chased us from the premises so that they could open the doors for the next performance. The show must go on!

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The view from the street

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Plaque of the Rockettes on the facade

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Lobby

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The carpet features 12 musical instruments

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A bar in the lobby

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Stuart Davis mural in men’s room

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In the men’s room
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A cathedral of urinals

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Where the men go

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Inside the ladies’ room

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The mural is called The History of Cosmetics

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Hugh Hardy and associate lead visitors in ladies’ room

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Sinks in ladies’ room

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Visitors in a rest room

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Crouching Panther by Henry Billings, a men’s room mural

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Untitled ladies’ room mural by Yasuo Kuniyoshi (repainted by Yohnnes Aynalem)

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Gazing down at balcony bar

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Statue in an upstairs corridor

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Dressing tables inside a ladies’ room

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View from balcony

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Another lobby view

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Hugh Hardy in Radio City Music Hall

Open House New York Weekend
Radio City Music Hall
NY Times: Piece by Piece, a Faded Icon Regains Its Art Deco Glow
Hugh Hardy


OHNY: Brooklyn Lyceum

October 4, 2008

Today, this structure, which is almost entirely hidden by scaffolding, contains an enterprise known as the Brooklyn Lyceum. Located at the corner of 4th and President Streets, it offers patrons an unusual mixture of dining and entertainment, including a small cafe with Internet access, live music, dance and theater performances, open-mike nights, film screenings and “an occasional restaurant.”

But once upon a time, this building was New York City Public Bathhouse #7. When the bathhouse opened in 1908, many homes in the city lacked adequate indoor plumbing. Back then, residents of an entire tenement building would share a single backyard outhouse, mothers bathed their babies in washtubs, and children squatted in filthy, flooded gutters to cool off during the sweltering summer months. Vermin and disease, including cholera and typhoid epidemics, ravaged the city’s impoverished neighborhoods.

New York’s municipal bathhouses were part of a public health effort to improve conditions for the poor, and provided the city’s most crowded quarters with much-needed sanitary facilities. The first such structure, the Baruch Bathhouse, opened on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1901. As they went up, the bathhouses became larger and more elaborate, some of them modeled on ancient Roman baths.

This building, #7, designed by Raymond F. Almirall, was the largest and the last bathhouse constructed. For three decades, it gave the 150,000 residents of this area, then known as South Brooklyn’s “Little Italy,” access to extensive, sparkling-clean bathing and dressing facilites, two gyms and a swimming pool. The city finally closed the bathhouse in 1937.

After a renovation effort during which the swimming pool was filled in and half the showers eliminated, the bathhouse reopened in 1942 as a city-run gymnasium. Closed once again in the early seventies, it was sold to a local businessman who used it as a warehouse for his nearby transmission repair business.

When he moved his business away, the building went through several more owners, none of whom used it. The former bathhouse stood unused and unmaintained for decades. Leaks were unrepaired, broken window panes unreplaced, holes opened in the roof and stonework chipped off. Eventually, the empty structure was vandalized and stripped of all of the original decorative elements. Even the tiles, pipes, water fountains and plasterwork were carried off or destroyed while the building crumbled.

In the late 1980s, the bathhouse reverted to city ownership and a local community group, which leased it for $1.00 a year, briefly used it as a recreation center before it closed again. By the early 1990s, the bathhouse was considered a neighborhood blight, and there were cries for it to be demolished. Instead, in 1994, the city held an auction where it was purchased by Eric Richmond, who had long wished for a theater space of his own.

Today, as part of Open House New York, Richmond greeted visitors, explained the history of the building and escorted them on a short tour of the space. He explained that not only are the original decorative elements gone, the city lost the original drawings and he has been unable to locate any photographs of the original interior. As visitors gazed at the bare brick walls and looked at the dance troupe rehearsing in the basement, music boomed from above, where the top floor had been rented out for a bar mitzvah party.

A bar mitzvah in a bathhouse? Only in Brooklyn.

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The view from the street

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One of the last original elements: the name

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The doorway

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Inside the cafe

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View from cafe to basement theater

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Basement performance space

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Basement restroom

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A peek at the bar mitzvah

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The owner

Brooklyn Lyceum
All About Jazz: Brooklyn Lyceum
The Brooklyn Paper: Lyceum Site Under Construction
Forgotten NY: A Lost Opportunity
NYC: Asser Levy Recreation Center
The Villager: Don’t Let LaGuardia Bathhouse Go Down the Drain


OHNY: Tom Otterness’s Studio

October 4, 2008

Once again, the organization known as Open House New York has planned a weekend-long celebration of the city’s architectural wonders. Places that are normally off-limits (or at least, very difficult for most people to enter) throw open their doors and allow curious visitors inside.

This is the sixth year of Open House New York Weekend, and each year the number of people and places participating grows. While many sites allow visitors to wander in and out, quite a few require advance reservations. Spaces are few and they fill up quickly, so I considered myself extremely fortunate to nab a spot on the visit to Tom Otterness’s studio.

It would be fair to call Tom Otterness New York’s favorite sculptor. While his name might not be familiar, his work is displayed in public and private spaces around the city. Depending on your point of view, you might consider them whimsical or political, witty or simplistic.

In Manhattan, many of his cartoon-like figures, particularly those in the 14th Street subway station, have been embraced and fondled by so many admirers that their dull finish has become a polished gleam. They also scamper around the Hilton Hotel in Times Square, public schools and parks in Manhattan and a children’s hospital in the Bronx. In Brooklyn, his depiction of an alligator escaping from a sewer is a centerpiece of the MetroTech business complex.

Today, he began greeting visitors to his cavernous Brooklyn studio shortly after 10:00 a.m. The artist showed works in progress, projects still in the planning stages, commissions that were cancelled and completed sculptures. He fielded questions, explained his creative process from initial clay model to finished bronze, sold miniatures and posters of his work, signed autographs and posed for photos with admirers.

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Works at different stages

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Plaster caked clamps on a studio wall

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Sketches and model

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Boy inspecting statue

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A corner is filled with work by friends, this by John Ahearn

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Tom Otterness speaks to OHNY participants

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Rendering of a public project

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Drawings and model for playground

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Castings in progress

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Vistor and plaster cast

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Model of the balloon he created for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

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Small figures and pennies are recurring themes

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Otterness’s Frog and Bee at NYC’s Public School 234

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Otterness’s alligator coming out of a sewer at Brooklyn MetroTech

Open House New York
Tom Otterness


Open House New York: Richmond Hill

October 7, 2007

I spent this, the final day of OpenHouseNewYork, in Richmond Hill, Queens.

Located more or less in the center of the borough, in many ways Richmond Hill seems more like a suburban community than a part of the city of New York. The streets are filled with single homes, many with driveways and garages. The residents spend sunny days washing cars, mowing lawns and puttering in vegetable gardens.

There is a small business district cluttered with store-front lawyers and tax preparers, family-run candy shops and discount stores, fast food joints and Latin American restaurants. Richmond Hills also contains a handful of notable churches, a few neighborhood institutions and more than its share of boarded up buildings, including a train station abandoned by the Long Island Railroad.

The most remarkable aspect of the area, however, is the way it has been divided into two camps: the long-time residents who want to preserve its past and, far outnumbering them, the newcomers who have come here to build.

Not long ago, Richmond Hill was best known for its stock of century-old wooden Victorian  houses, many with large yards. But, unlike many areas where such buildings are protected, the residents here have never been able to rouse the city into giving the structures here protected landmark status.

As a result, the newcomers tend to treat the houses either as tear-downs (the house is demolished and a new structure built in its place) or remodels (original features are destroyed and replaced by incongruous, often gaudy elements).

Trees are ripped out and buildings extended to the very edges of their lots. Fishscale shingles are covered with vinyl siding, cedar shakes are hidden behind asbestos tiles and brick veneer. Wrought-iron gates are replaced by chrome, wooden millwork is stripped off, gilded plaster hidden behind suspended tile ceilings. Satellite dishes replace privet hedges and lawns are turned into parking lots.

A walking tour through the district is accompanied by a sad litany of vanished treasures. But the long-time residents are fighting back. They’ve organized the Richmond Hill Historical Society and are working to preserve and protect their neighborhood’s heritage.

Richmond Hill still contains architectural treasures including the remaining Victorians, the public library (an original Carnegie library), the Catholic and Episcopal churches and Jahn’s, an ice cream parlor founded in 1897 which still contains its original fountain, player piano, hanging lamps and furnishings.

While the majority of the newer residents have no interest in historic preservation, other newcomers are busily painting, plastering, re-pointing and restoring their historic homes to their former glory. Clearly, the final chapter in the battle for the character of Richmond Hill has yet to be written.

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Victorian home with stained glass windows and wooden trim

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Syrup dispenser in Jahn’s

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Jahn’s soda fountain and amber light fixtures

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Restored Victorian features several types of shingles

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Sleeping balconies were used on hot summer nights

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Another type of sleeping balcony

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A homeowner lovingly paints his Victorian

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A “Painted Lady”-style paint job

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Experimenting with contrasting shades and colors

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The roof lines were inspired by pagodas

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Painted terra-cotta on old apartment building

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Crumbling remains of a community center

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Entryway to former RKO Keith’s movie theater, now a flea market

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The theater’s grandeur hidden behind florescent lights

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Wooden Victorian “improved” with plaster columns and circular marble staircase

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When these remodelers ran out of vinyl siding, they continued in a different color

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Victorian house “improved” with columns and bricked-over windows

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Wooden Victorian “improved” with asbestos shingles

openhousenewyork weekend
Richmond Hill Historical Society Archive Museum
Historic Richmond Hill Walking Tour
The Richmond Hill Historical Society
Forgotten NY: Richmond Hill
richmondhillny.com
The Food Section: Jahn’s, the Best Way to Travel Back in Time
Wikipedia: Carnegie Libraries


Open House Harlem Pt 2: Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill

October 6, 2007

The OpenHouseNewYork Weekend continued with a trip to another section of Harlem, the areas known as Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill.

Like Manhattanville, the western boundary of Hamilton Heights is the Hudson River, the eastern end at St. Nicholas. The neighborhood’s name derives from its most notable early resident, the first Secretary of the US Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who spent the last years of his life here at his country home.

As with Manhattanville, development here started in earnest when the railway lines were extended. A jewels of the area is the Church of the Intercession, built on one of the highest points of Manhattan. Its origins date to 1843, when sanitation problems downtown led Wall Street’s Trinity Church to stop performing burials in their yard.

To create a solution, Trinity reached beyond the city limits and purchased a large parcel of land in the tiny country hamlet of Carmansville for use as a graveyard. The land, which they dubbed Trinity Church Cemetery, became the last resting place of many notable and affluent citizens.

Within a few years, demand began for a convenient chapel, eventually leading to construction of the Gothic style cathedral that adjoins the Cemetery. Now celebrating its 160th anniversary, the Church features an altar designed by Tiffany, notable terracotta floor tiles, and an Aeolian Skinner organ.

Nearby is Audubon Terrace, which fills a block that was once part of a farm owned by naturalist John James Audubon. Created by railroad heir Archer Huntington, Audubon Terrace was intended as a modern-day acropolis, a sophisticated center of art and culture. At the dawn of the 20th century, Huntington hired the leading architects of the day, including Stanford White and Cass Gilbert. They designed the Beaux-Arts plaza and buildings that today house the Hispanic Society of America, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Boricua College.

Sugar Hill, a residential section of Hamilton Heights, was once the country’s most fashionable address for African Americans, the place where life was sweet. In these palatial brownstones and apartment buildings lived the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance, including Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn (who immortalized the neighborhood in his song Take the ‘A’ Train), Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Zora Neale Hurston and Paul Robeson.

The neighborhood was also home to prominent professionals and civil rights activists like W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Adam Clayton Powell and Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice.

When the city’s fortunes declined in the late 1960s and 1970s, this area was severely affected; as most of the well-heeled moved away, drugs and violence became widespread. Elegant brownstones were divided into cheap, poorly-maintained apartments, then vandalized. A significant number of neglected buildings were demolished or burned.

But today, Sugar Hill is on the upswing. Professionals, artists and community activists again walk these streets. Newly-created private schools and arts institutions (including the Dance Theatre of Harlem) have made this area their home.

Everywhere are signs of renewal and revitalization. Houses that were filled with squatters only a few years ago are now being restored and selling for millions of dollars. Buildings that had become rooming houses are being converted back to spacious homes and Sugar Hill is again becoming one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city.

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Audubon Terrace at 155th Street and Broadway

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Sculpture on the Plaza at Audubon Terrace

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Bas-relief of Don Quixote on horseback

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Above the entrance to the former home of the Museum of the American Indian

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Entrance to American Society of Arts & Letters

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The Church of the Intercession

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Detail of wall at the Church of the Intercession

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Gatehouse at Trinity Church Cemetery

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The Gould mausoleum in the Cemetery

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Garret Storm’s mausoleum in Trinity Church Cemetery

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Gravestones

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Building with Mansard roof in Sugar Hill

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On W. 152nd St., three houses designed to look like one

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Restored buildings on St. Nicholas Avenue

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Classic Sugar Hill brownstones on St. Nicholas

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Row of houses on St. Nicholas Avenue

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Doorway with stained glass panel

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Wrought iron railings in Sugar Hill

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Painted stonework highlights the construction date

openhousenewyork weekend
Hamilton Heights Homeowners Association
The Hispanic Society of America
Church of the Intercession
NY Times: Living in Sugar Hill
Harlem One Stop Tour: Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill
Historic Districts Council: Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill
Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization
Harlem One Stop Tour: A Walk Through Sugar Hill
Harlem One Stop Tour: Trinity Cemetery
Dance Theatre of Harlem


Open House Harlem Pt 1: Manhattanville/W. Harlem

October 6, 2007

NOTE: Thanks to a particularly robust strain of influenza, Blather from Brooklyn was knocked out of the blogosphere for more than a week and a half. Publication is resuming where it left off when the flu bug raised its ugly head.

OpenHouseNewYork Weekend is here, a time when New York celebrates architecture and design. Sites around the city throw open doors that are usually closed to the public while designers, historians and enthusiasts eagerly lead packs of the curious on walking tours and explorations.

This afternoon, as part of the celebration, participants were treated to a tour that included elements of West Harlem’s past and future: highlights of the now mostly-vanished industrial neighborhood known as Manhattanville and a preview of a waterfront park scheduled to open next year.

Situated between St. Nicholas Terrace and the Hudson River, Manhattanville was once a quiet waterfront village eight miles north of New York City. The 1800s brought paved streets, Robert Fulton’s ferryboat and a flock of city residents who ventured north for the green fields, fresh country air and new opportunities.

In the closing years of the 19th century, when construction of an elevated railway made it possible to travel from Wall Street to Manhattanville in less than an hour, the population tripled. The area was rapidly transformed from a community of tenant farmers and factory workers to a bustling commercial and transportation hub.

Over the years, changing fortunes plunged Manhattanville into a decline. But today, those who know where to look can glimpse the area’s past glory. Some of the luxurious buildings that rose here in the early 1900s are relatively unchanged, their facades still clad in marble and terra-cotta. In certain spots beneath the elevated tracks, the asphalt has worn away, exposing the granite Belgian blocks and bronze insignias of the long-defunct 3rd Avenue line.

As for the future, you’ll view it by crossing the West Side Highway to the spot where 125th Street ends at Marginal Street. There, along the river, is a construction project that will reclaim a long-inaccessible section of waterfront. Known as West Harlem Waterfront Park, the project is transforming a grubby, weed-filled parking lot into a lively spot for recreation.

When it opens next year, the small but carefully-designed park will contain sculptures, fountains and benches. It will feature designated spaces for fishing, kayaking, playing, performing and relaxing in the sun. Most importantly, it will fill a missing link in the greenway and bike path that will eventually stretch along the entire length of Manhattan island.

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Under the elevated tracks

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Plaque and unused tracks of the 3rd Avenue line

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The view from Marginal Street

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The fence is opened for OHNY visitors

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This area will be filled with grass

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Trees and grass will grow here soon

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Design of the long, narrow park is based on intersecting triangles

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Benches and walkway under construction

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The future Water Taxi pier

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The proposed fishing pier

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The kayak launching area

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The park will end here but the bike path will continue

openhousenewyork weekend
West Harlem Waterfront Park
Eric K. Washington
Archipelago Architecture and Landscape Architecture
Community Board 9: West Side Harlem
DMJM Harris: West Harlem Waterfront Redevelopment Program
NYLCV: Work Finally Begins on West Harlem Waterfront Park


A Peek at One Hanson Place

October 28, 2006

When it opened at the corner of Hanson Place and Ashland Place in 1928, this was the tallest structure in Brooklyn. Designed to house the Williamsburgh Savings Bank by architects Halsey, McCormack & Helmer, the profile of its distinctive clock tower and dome led this description in the AIA Guide to New York City:

Inadvertently, this was New York’s most exuberant phallic symbol … its slender tower dominating the landscape of all Brooklyn. A crisp and clean tower, it is detailed in Romanesque-Byzantine arches, columns, and capitals. The 26th floor once included accessible outdoor viewing space, after a change of elevators … all in all, it is 512 feet of skyline. Inside, the great basilican banking hall is called by the Landmarks Preservation Commission a “cathedral of thrift.”

The cornerstone is engraved with the seal of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the date of its charter and the words, “To our depositors past and present this building is dedicated. By their industry and thrift they have built homes and educated children, opened the door of opportunity to youth and made age comfortable, independant and dignified. By those sturdy virtues they have attained their ambitions, swept aside the petty distinctions of class and birth and so maintained the true spirit of American democracy.”

Now the building known as One Hanson Place is closed for renovation. When it reopens in about 15 months or so, this building will contain luxury condominiums.


Scaffolding and banners cover facade  Posted by Picasa


Hidden behind scaffolding Posted by Picasa


A peek behind the scaffolding Posted by Picasa


Gargoyle behind scaffolding  Posted by Picasa


Base of a column behind scaffolding Posted by Picasa


Owl on a column Posted by Picasa


Lions guard the lobby entrance Posted by Picasa


Arch over door from lobby to street Posted by Picasa


Mosaic ceiling  Posted by Picasa


A corner of the tiled, vaulted ceiling  Posted by Picasa


Detail of elevator door  Posted by Picasa


Sign at subway entrance Posted by Picasa


Turtle in subway entrance Posted by Picasa


Detail in subway entrance Posted by Picasa

  • One Hanson Place
  • Curbed New York: Borders Coming
  • Corcoran: Apartments at One Hanson Place
  • AIA Guide to New York City
  • Audio Tour of One Hanson Place (mp3)

  • The Hidden Garden in the Sky

    October 8, 2006

    Yesterday I participated in the 4th Annual OpenHouseNewYork Weekend by taking a tour of the Wallabout section of Brooklyn. Today I took advantage of the weekend-long event to visit a legendary space that has been closed to the public for more than 60 years: the Rockefeller Center Rooftop Garden.

    Located atop the British Empire Building, this garden offers exceptional views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue, its neighbors across the street. The compact, formal space, smaller than a city block, includes meticulously clipped hedges, a shallow pool with a small fountain, a few perfectly matched cypress trees, a border of pink geraniums and a raised platform of fastidiously manicured sod.

    Peeking around the corners provides rare glimpses of the rest of the Rockefeller Center complex including Radio City Music Hall and the skating rink which just reopened for the season.

    This is a hidden spot of greenery high above the city, a retreat usually reserved for private moments of the rich and powerful, but for four hours today, it was a beautiful space open to all who came.


    Saks Fifth Avenue across the street Posted by Picasa


    The frog fountain Posted by Picasa


    The garden pool and lawn Posted by Picasa


    The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Posted by Picasa


    A glimpse of Radio City Music Hall Posted by Picasa


    A glimpse of the skating rink Posted by Picasa


    OHNY donation box Posted by Picasa

  • OHNY
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Newyorkology: Rockefeller Center Roof Gardens

  • A Walkabout Wallabout

    October 7, 2006

    OpenHouseNewYork (OHNY), a group focused on New York City’s architecture and design, has organized this as the 4th Annual OpenHouseNewYork Weekend. Billed as “America’s largest architect and design event,” the Weekend offers free tours of dozens of sites around the city, many of them usually closed to the public.

    I was unaware of OHNY or the event, scheduled for today and tomorrow, until late last night. When I went to OHNY Web site to investigate the available tours, I found that most of the best-known, least-accessible buildings were already full to capacity. Searching for a tour that I could join, I discovered the Wallabout neighborhood.

    Even if you’ve never set foot in New York, you’ve probably seen and heard of certain iconic locations ― the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Greenwich Village, Times Square. But even natives are unfamiliar with some areas of the city, and the Wallabout neighborhood is firmly among the obscure.

    The area borders three districts burgeoning with new historic and commercial interests ― Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and the Brooklyn Navy Yard ― but even its closest neighbors don’t know Wallabout’s name or its story.

    The name comes from the location; this section of Brooklyn is built on a parcel of land purchased in 1637 from the Dutch West India Trading Company by Walloon (Belgian) Jansen de Rapeljein. The river inlet bordering his land became known as Wallabout Bay (from Waal Boght, “Bay of Walloons”).

    During the 1700s, Wallabout Bay was the site of one of the greatest tragedies of the American Revolution when 11,000 men died on British prison ships moored in the East River. Most of their corpses were thrown overboard and, for many years afterwards, their bones washed up on the muddy shore.

    Five years after the establishment of the United States, the first shipyard was built on Wallabout Bay. In 1801 the federal government purchased the land and the shipping works and established what would come to be known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

    As the shipyard developed, commercial interests related to the docks began to spring up in the surrounding area, resulting in factories and warehouses for the goods being shipped and low-cost housing and taverns for the shipworkers. Those bustling streets, just beyond the walls of the Navy Yard, were dubbed the Wallabout district.

    There was never a reason for tourists to flock to this modest, hidden neighborhood. This was never a fashionable location. The houses, while often attractive and comfortable, were never populated by socialites or bankers; the shops, while serviceable, never included fine jewelers or chic dressmakers; the amenities, while adequate, never featured museums or theatres.

    The houses here were always, in every respect, in the shadows of the shipyards, warehouses and factories. Because the district was defined by industry, not ethnicity or economic status, it lacks a clearly defined culture and identity.

    Two major events transformed Wallabout and led it even deeper into obscurity: first, in the 1940s, World War II, great swathes of the industrial area (including most of the Dutch-style marketplace) were torn down to make way for America’s urgently expanded shipbuilding efforts; secondly, in the 1960s, the construction of the massive Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), during which block after block of housing was razed in the name of “progress” and “slum clearance.” The building of the BQE not only destroyed streets and houses, it eliminated an source of public transportation, bisected the area and cut neighbor off from neighbor.

    Today, a small band of activists and advocates are working to have Wallabout named as a Landmark district. This designation would help homeowners restore some of Brooklyn’s oldest wood framed houses, which today are often decaying and crumbling, while preserving more of the area’s rapidly disappearing industrial landscape.

    Ironically, the most neglected houses in Wallabout are also among those most likely to still retain their original architectural details; their owners, either through neglect or lack or resources, failed to follow the lead of neighbors who have stripped away delicate ironwork, hidden carved stone under vinyl siding, replaced stained glass with factory-made windows and, strangely enough, covered solid bricks with brick veneers and layers of stucco.

    Today’s tour, led by an historic preservationist from the Pratt Institute, working with the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, took us past former candy factories and cold-storage warehouses, charming cottages and crumbling churches, tidy homes and neglected gardens, empty lots, litter-strewn housing projects and well-maintained apartment buildings.

    At the end of the program, the group turned onto Ryerson Street, site of the last surviving home of America’s greatest poet, Walt Whitman. There, we were greeted by representatives of the Walt Whitman Project, who ― to the surprise and delight of the tour group and the area’s residents ― read to us from the 1856 edition of Whitman’s masterpiece, Leaves of Grass.


    The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, whoever you are;
    The President is there in the White House for you–it is not you who are
    here for him;
    The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you–not you here for them;
    The Congress convenes every twelfth month for you;
    Laws, courts, the forming of States, the charters of cities, the going and
    coming of commerce and mails, are all for you.List close, my scholars dear!
    All doctrines, all politics and civilisation, exsurge from you;
    All sculpture and monuments, and anything inscribed anywhere, are tallied in you;
    The gist of histories and statistics, as far back as the records reach, is in you this hour, and myths and tales the same;
    If you were not breathing and walking here, where would they all be?
    The most renowned poems would be ashes, orations and plays would be vacuums.

    All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it;
    Did you think it was in the white or grey stone? or the lines of the arches and cornices?

    All music is what awakes from you, when you are reminded by the instruments;
    It is not the violins and the cornets–it is not the oboe nor the beating drums, nor the score of the baritone singer singing his sweet romanza–nor that of the men’s chorus, nor that of the women’s chorus,
    It is nearer and farther than they.


    Heading into the ‘hood under the BQE Posted by Picasa


    The grandest house in the neighborhood Posted by Picasa


    The shabbiest house in the neighborhood Posted by Picasa


    Few awnings remain in the old marketplace Posted by Picasa


    A warehouse with an awning and terracotta tiles Posted by Picasa


    77 Clinton Ave., former bakery building Posted by Picasa


    Site of the Rockwell Candy factory Posted by Picasa


    The site of former stables on Waverly Ave. Posted by Picasa


    Vinyl siding covers a wooden house Posted by Picasa


    Left, brick & ironwork; Right, brick veneer Posted by Picasa


    The last remaining tenement Posted by Picasa


    A brick & brownstone doorway Posted by Picasa


    Apartment building doorway carved with dragons Posted by Picasa


    An original doorway and glass-paned door Posted by Picasa


    A rotting front stoop Posted by Picasa


    99 Ryerson Street, Walt Whitman’s house Posted by Picasa

  • OHNY
  • Prison Ships In Wallabout Bay
  • Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership
  • Pratt Institute
  • Fort Greene & Clinton Hill Places of Interest
  • Andrew Cusak: Wallabout Market
  • Gowanus Lounge: Wallabout Update
  • The Walt Whitman Project
  • Fort Greene Park Conservancy
  • Clinton Hill Blog
  • NYC Roads: Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

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