July 21

Woolworth Building lobby opens again for tours

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After being closed more than a decade, the Woolworth Building lobby is open once again to visitors. A variety of tours now permit New Yorkers and visitors to get a look at one of the city’s most sumptuous commercial interiors. There will be a tour for every taste – the basic 15-minute quick in-and-out peek, a more leisurely 45-minute tour, and a 90-minute “deluxe” tour, which will include a detailed look at the building’s unmatched polychromatic terra-cotta exterior, and an in-depth exploration of the lobby and its wealth of ornament, including hidden corners and staircases — plus a special visit to the mezzanine level for an up-close view of its extraordinary mosaic ceiling. Helen Post Curry, great-granddaughter of Woolworth Building architect Cass Gilbert, has asked me to lead the 90-minute tours, scheduled twice a month, beginning on Sunday July 28th at 2:00 p.m. Follow this link to sign up.

My own connection to the Woolworth Building and its lobby goes back to my time at the New York Landmarks Commission in the 1980s and ’90s, (more…)

June 17

The Ecole des Beaux-Arts

Over the course of several decades of writing and lecturing about New York architecture, I’ve probably had occasion to use the phrase ¨Beaux-Arts¨ hundreds – if not thousands – of times. So what a thrill to be here in Paris, walking down the Rue Bonaparte, and suddenly spot  two very familiar sculpted portrait busts over a gateway leading into a large courtyard. Yes indeed, this is the École des Beaux-Arts – the school where (more…)

June 10

Four past Landmarks chairs discuss the future of preservation in NYC

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Two months ago, the New York Preservation Archive Project (NYPAP – whose Board I have just joined) convinced four of the surviving past chairs of the New York Landmarks Commission to sit together on a panel. Beverly Moss Spatt, Laurie Beckelman, Sherida Paulsen and Kent Barwick together discussed the past and the future of historic preservation in New York (Gene Norman and Jennifer Raab were unable to attend).

The underlying issue, of course, was the prospect of a new mayor (thanks to the upcoming election later this year) bringing in a new Landmarks chair to replace Bob Tierney, who currently holds the record for longest tenure in the job – ten years. A Youtube video of the panel has just been posted, and it makes for very interesting viewing.

Beverly Spatt’s remarks were remarkable for their candor (more…)

May 8

Henry Hope Reed, 97

Any New Yorker who loves New York’s architecture and history – and enjoys walking tours – will mourn the passing on May 1st of one of the city’s great contrarians, Henry Hope Reed (click here to read his obituary in the New York Times). Reed lived long enough to see his passion for the city’s past architectural splendors – a distinctly minority view during the ascendance of mid-20th century Modernism – spread far and wide, and the city’s landmarks and historic districts, now treasured by natives and visitors alike, protected by public policy, and lovingly restored. The walking tours that he began leading for the Municipal Art Society in 1956 – not quite 60 years ago – have become a staple of the city’s cultural life, and those of us who lead them today walk in his shadow.

Especially those of us who lead walks through Central Park. (more…)