December 3

Nathan Silver, author of “Lost New York,” returns to New York for the 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Law

original coverScreen Shot 2014-12-03 at 10.16.16 AM
Anybody who cares about New York’s history and architecture as like as not has a well-thumbed copy of Nathan Silver’s Lost New York sitting on a bookshelf. My own copy is a 1974 Schocken reprint – and it was one of the first books about New York that I found on returning to the city from graduate school in 1976. Flipping through its pages still makes me shake my head in wonder at how many marvels we’ve lost. But in 1976, there was already a Landmarks law and a Landmarks Preservation Commission. Back in 1963, when Silver first conceived the book, neither existed.

As he explains in his preface, the book began as part of an exhibit planned at Columbia University’s architecture school, where he was teaching at the time: (more…)

June 27

Tomorrow’s World: The New York World’s Fairs and Flushing Meadows Park

For New York boomers, there are only two kinds of World’s Fair: the 1964 fair that we got to visit in our youth, and the 1939 fair that we ardently wish we could have visited – the fair of the Unisphere, and the fair of the Trylon and Perisphere.  This year marks both the 50th anniversary of the ’64 fair, and the 75th anniversary of its ’39 predecessor. To honor the memory of both, the gallery in the Central Park Arsenal has mounted a small but fascinating show of photos and objects from each of them.

Why the Arsenal? It’s the headquarters of New York City’s Parks Department – and both fairs took place in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in Queens.  In fact, it was the two Worlds Fairs – each under the supervision of Robert Moses – that helped create Flushing Meadows Park, and the Parks Department takes great pride in that history.

The selections from the department’s Photo Archive includes images never before exhibited, anywhere. According to the department, “The photos illustrate the gargantuan task of assembling these temporary empires highlighting international and cutting-edge industry, commerce, art and design.  The striking images capture the big picture in all its grandeur, as well as private moments that reclaim the experience of visitors.  They illustrate advances in art and architecture, as well as the carnival and corporate atmosphere that at times undercut the more high-minded objectives of fair organizers.”

[The 1939 Fair: aerial view] (more…)

May 23

Remembering Finch College – and its ground-breaking 1970s Art Deco exhibits

Last Sunday afternoon (May 18, ’14), I took a group of alumnae of Finch College – in town for a college reunion – on a walk of Art Deco architecture on the Upper East Side. After visits to Raymond Hood’s 1928 apartment house at 3 East 84th Street, Harry Allen Jacob’s 1930 town house at 49 East 80th Street, and the 1930 Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue, we stopped in front of the former Finch College Museum of Art building (completely refaced for a new owner) at 62-64 East 78th Street. Though Finch College closed in 1976, its alumnae remain committed to their memories of the small women’s arts college, and reminisced about their time there decades ago. Several of the alumnae remembered the ground-breaking Art Deco exhibits at the Finch College Museum of Art – and also remembered its director, Elayne Varian (d. 1987), who organized the shows. They recalled her as “avant-garde” and a major force at the College.

I brought along my prized copies of the two Finch College Art Deco exhibition catalogs – one from 1970 devoted to objects, and one from 1974-75 looking at architecture. These were the first important New York shows devoted to the subject – and got a lot of press coverage at the time. (more…)

May 21

Lost Landmarks – found, for a moment….

If you run right over to Parsons New School of Design, at No. 6 East 16th Street; tell the security guard you’ve come to see the student projects exhibit; and take the elevator to the 12th floor – you will find Matt Felsen’s MFA final project, “Lost Landmarks,” sort of a landmarks voyeur’s time machine.

Matt got hold of one of those binocular viewers familiar from such tourist spots as the top of the Empire State Building


and set it up at four sites in Manhattan – Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, Bryant Park, and West 14th Street near Sixth Avenue. But he fiddled with the viewer’s innards, installing a small iPad:


The result: When passersby looked through the viewer, instead of seeing the site as it appears today, they saw a series of historic views of what had stood there a century or so ago – the view they would have had looking at the site from that exact spot. (more…)