December 3

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

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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 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…)

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