Half baked plans
We New Yorkers are a jaded lot. While our tiny
island covers but 23 miles, we tend to stay close
to home. Such provincialism breeds a snobbery
that purposefully defies anything new, different,
or experimental. The worst of said skeptics being
our beloved architectural critics. They seem to
decry anything new as a "disaster." And sadly
some are. For example, when Harry Helmsley
was forced to save the historic Villard Houses
(above) he simply built his Palace Hotel directly
behind them. The result was deemed per the New
York Times "An erect Twinkie standing behind
an elegant Napoleon." How sad... but true...
Obviously even Manhattanites make mistakes.
That's the only way to justify the destruction
of Pennsylvania Station in 1963. For whatever
reason our civic and business leaders deemed
it wise to demolish this transportation temple.
Only to replace it with a massive mid century
equivalent of some dark and gloomy catacomb.
Recently I had to meet my kid's train there. I'd
forgotten that it is one of the most offensive of
crimes ever perpetrated on this city. Apparently
there are now plans to transform it back into a
proper portal. But why did it take us over fifty
years to finally atone for the sins of our fathers?
Fortunately we learn from our mistakes.
When similar plans of destruction were
focused on Grand Central Station in the
mid-seventies, an irate group of citizens
(including Jackie Kennedy) fought to
save this architectural icon. One has only
to walk through it's soaring Grand Hall to
be humbled by their efforts. Such a space
causes one's spirits to soar. Even if one is
running to catch their train, it's architecture
transforms commuting into a noble endeavor.
Sadly such cathedrals of commerce are few
and far between in today's modern world.
A creature of habit, I resist stepping beyond
my comfort zone. Yesterday Frank forced
me to go down to the tip of this island. As
a boy my Father worked in the area. I still
recall them blasting the bedrock to build
the original World Trade Center. Later we
all mourned it's loss. But I'd never ventured
downtown to see the World Trade Center
Memorial for myself. Gazing deep into the
two marble and water encrusted holes was
a beyond moving experience. However
seeing the area in it's new incarnation was
equally inspiring. What a resurrection!
On the waterfront
Across West Street (in my youth the elevated
Westside Highway) sits the new Brookfield
Place Center. Straddling the river and World
Trade Center, it's a rather dazzling space yet
all too familiar. In truth when within it's walls
one could be in almost any urban mega mall
development. It's only redeeming quality is
the location itself. Attached to the Battery Park
City complex, the mall faces the Hudson and
a network of parks that lines it. Oddly few New
Yorkers interact with our rivers except to cross
them either above or below. What a pleasure it
was to bask in the Hudson's glory. AMAZING.
Path to redemption
As we prepared to take the subway home, we
exited the mall via escalators. Honestly, I had
NO idea of what we were about to experience.
Like most Manhattanites we spend much of
our day underground getting from here to there.
And while the subway is certainly the fastest
way to travel, descending deep into it's filth
and gloom isn't the most pleasant experience.
Therefore we were both more than surprised
at what we found far below the World Trade
Center. At that base level we entered a modern
world that literally took our breath away. Who
knew such wonders were but steps away?!
Flight of fancy
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed
this amazing complex to connect eleven subway
lines plus the Path trains to New Jersey. As we
made our way down it's ribbed passageway we
had no idea what awaited. There at it's heart lies
the "oculus" - an urban cathedral that we were
unprepared for. Akin to Grand Central Station
it is even more inspiring in it's modernity. At
least for this man, it's beautiful majesty moved
me to tears. Designed to capture the spirit of a
white dove, it's been called a "pile of bones" by
some. However trust me, standing within such
a space is well worth the trip FAR downtown.
Of mice and men
Experiences such as this that make me proud
to be a New Yorker. Almost daily I walk past
throngs of tourists taking selfies in front of
Trump Tower. I can't help but look at such
ugly monuments to arrogance with more than
resentment. Thats because I still remember the
beautiful buildings that were destroyed so that
said monstrosities could be built. Fortunately
my faith in mankind is reinforced by urban
developments like the rebirth of the World
Trade Center. While certainly not perfect, at
least they aspire to inspire the populace in
ways that benefit ALL - not the greedy few.