Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall Colors in Black and White

This post also appears (or will soon) on the Bryant Park blog.

Just in time for fall, Bryant Park horticulturists plant Chrysanthemums in the park. Here is a flashback to another time when the flowers made a regular appearance in the gardens.

Leftover from the Robert Moses / 1934 renovation, the tall hedges became a corral for an assortment of Chrysanthemums in October 1943.

A closer view

And a super close-up. As my high school photography teacher Mac (short for McInyre, and he looked like a gold rush prospector w/ a penchant for flannel shirts and a beard) would have complimented the nice film exposure -- not too dark or light, with a wide range of grays.

**All photos: New York City Parks Photo Archive

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Penn Station

This post also appears on Fashion Herald, a 34th Street  fashion and retail blog written by Tricia Lewis.

Penn Station, neighbor to the still standing Farley Post Office is mostly remembered as one of New York City's great losses. The photo below shows the station as most choose to remember it -- a beautifully designed structure filled with natural light, that makes train travel look like the best idea ever. For out-of-town travelers new to the city, it was often their first glimpse of New York City.

Penn Station, 1935. Photo:New York Public Library

Before Penn Station was conceived of and built, railroad service terminated in Jersey City on the western side of the Hudson River. From there, passengers boarded a ferry into the city. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) put forth several proposals to bring service into the city, including elevated tracks over the Hudson. It was eventually decided to tunnel under it instead, and an initial excavation began on July 21, 1880 to link the new passage with an existing, partially completed tunnel. Unfortunately this effort ended in disaster for several workers who perished when the tunnel collapsed.

The disaster cast a shadow on the project, and it wasn't until twenty years later that PRR President Alexander Cassatt, announced plans to resume the project, tunneling under the Hudson and into the City at West 34th Street.

Architecture firm McKim, Mead & White was chosen to design the station; construction started on May 1, 1904, and was completed in 1910. September 8, 1910 was the official opening day of the station, though full train service didn't begin until November 27, 1910.

The early stages of construction, photo: Library of Congress

Penn Station in 1910 looking southwest. Photo: Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress

Known for their Beaux-Arts style, McKim, Mead & White placed Doric columns along the eastern facade, crowning them with twenty-two eagles. The form used for the eagles was sculpted by Adolph A. Weinman.

The station had high vaulted glass ceilings that let in natural light and lent a refinery to the terminal, almost as if it was a museum devoted to transportation, rather than just a terminal. This feature of the building also likened it to another architectural jewel that burned down years before, the Crystal Palace exhibition hall, built mostly of glass and steel and erected in Bryant Park in 1853.

Like all good architecture photos, this one is entirely without people.
Penn Station interior, 1910. Photo: Shorpy's

With the increasing practice of traveling by car in the 1950s, the railroad industry began to suffer financially. The station and air rights were eventually sold and plans for the new Penn Station and Madison Square Garden were announced in 1962. In exchange for optioning out the air rights over Penn Station, the PRR was permitted a new station underneath the future site of MSG at no cost to the railroad company and a 25% stake in the new MSG sports complex. Destruction began on October 28, 1963. The following photos are housed at the Museum of the City of New York, and were taken by one of my favorite living photographers, and I'm lucky to say, a friend, Aaron Rose.

The demolition of Penn Station, 1964-1965. Photo: MCNY, Aaron Rose

The demolition of Penn Station, 1964-1965. Photo: MCNY, Aaron Rose
The public outcry against the destruction of Penn Station was significant, though not enough to save the building. It did however, help solidify and unify architectural preservation efforts, and led to founding of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in 1965. 

Additional sources:
The Late, Great Penn Station by Lorraine Diehl (My favorite book on Penn Station.)
Forgotten NY has a lot of digestible facts and pictures
Library of Congress digital photo archive

Monday, October 3, 2011

Alexander Calder Brightens up Some Midtown Green

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

It won't be long now until we have something fun and colorful dominating the lawn, but back in 1993, Alexander Calder's Big Crinkly did the trick. Following in the footsteps of earlier public art exhibits in the park, including Mel Chin in 1981, and George Rickey in 1986, Bryant Park Corporation (then, Bryant Park Restoration Corporation) installed a very colorful Alexander Calder mobile on the lawn in 1993.

Photo: BPC

It was only one year after the iconic bistro chairs and were added to the park, and the lawn is looking lush.This photo taken before photoshop and scanned from a slide, shows a very green lawn.

Photo: BPC

According to the Times, the sculpture was then owned by art collector Andre Emmerich, who was exhibiting it at a 150 acre sculpture park in Duchess County NY called Top Gallant.

To see more of Calder's work, visit the Calder Foundation website, or go to the open air museum Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY. I highly recommend going there. The have a few Calders in their permanent collection, including the one pictured below, and it's a very nice escape from the city. 

Photo: A. Kumer

If outdoor sculpture gardens are your passion, check out this detailed listing by region and state.