February 13

A new book celebrating the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue

It’s hard to remember that Fifth Avenue, opposite Central Park, was once lined entirely by the faux chateaux of New York’s wealthy.

Fifth Ave at 65th Street

Most of those buildings have long since given way to apartment houses. But a number still stand – sandwiched between taller buildings – and among these, one of the loveliest, No. 934, has belonged to the French government for the past 70 years.

When built in 1925-26, No. 934 stood mid-block, one of half a dozen houses:

Fifth Ave 74-75 cropped

 Today, by contrast, it sits scrunched between tall apartment buildings – a relic of another time:

Facade of 934 Fifth Avenue

(more…)

December 20

Hard-hat tour of One World Trade Center

Wednesday morning, thanks to an invitation from Eric Roningen – author of From the Inside Out, the harrowing account of fifteen people who escaped from the Twin Towers on 9/11 – I joined a hard-hat tour of One World Trade Center.

IMG_0620

 We met at the entrance to the PATH station, where our trusty Port Authority guide, Mike, issued us safety glasses and hard hats, and escorted us into the tower – still an official construction site but well on its way to completion. (more…)

December 10

Documentary preview: “The Rise & Fall of Penn Station”

This morning (December 10th, 2013), at the annual Bard Birthday Benefit Breakfast organized by the New York Preservation Archive Project (NYPAP – full disclosure: on whose Board I now sit), the Project’s assembled supporters watched raptly as documentary filmmaker Michael Rossi showed clips from his new film about Penn Station. The documentary will air on PBS, as part of the “American Experience” series, on February 18th, 2014.

The Bard Birthday Benefit Breakfast – which this year marked its own tenth birthday – honors the memory of Albert S. Bard, the lawyer who, in the words of this morning’s program, “drafted the New York State authorizing legislation for the Landmarks Law and secured its passage in 1956, at the age of 89.” NYPAP exists to document the history of New York’s preservation movement – making Bard an excellent choice for the Benefit’s name. As in years past, preservation advocates from all over the city gathered to support NYPAP’s mission, to meet up with friends and colleagues, to eat breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast, bagels, croissants, and fruit for the health-conscious), and to enjoy a program focusing on some aspect of the history of historic preservation.

The choice for the program must have seemed easy enough. This has been a year for major anniversaries involving landmarks battles and great train stations: the 100th birthday of Grand Central Terminal, which survived threats to its existence, and the 50th anniversary of the demolition of Penn Station, which of course did not.  Rossi’s remarkable documentary marks that 50th anniversary (even if it won’t air until next year). (more…)

November 13

Point taken: The new One World Trade Center is officially the tallest in the U.S.

Point taken: The new One World Trade Center is officially the tallest in the U.S.

On November 12th, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (yes, there really is such a body) ruled (yes, they really did rule) that the new One World Trade Center is officially the tallest building in the country. You can read all about it on the Council’s web site – click here – but the main point of contention addressed by the Council’s Height Committee (yes, there really is…) had to do with the enormous mast at the tower’s top, which, by adding 408 feet, raises the building’s height to a symbolic 1776 feet, and makes it taller than Chicago’s Willis Tower (known better by most of us as the Sears Tower) — which had, in turn, long ago snatched the title of World’s Tallest Building from the first World Trade Center. Of course, as the World’s Tallest title has since moved off shore, the competition is merely for the U.S. title. But still, it’s nice to have it back in New York, where it belongs. (To understand why, read the history of “world’s tallest buildings” by clicking here.) (more…)