Tagged: New York City

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

To Get Around Town, Some Cities Take A Step Back In Time – WFPL


New trolley in Memphis, TN. Image via WFPL

“Streetcars were popular in many cities in the last century, but trolleys disappeared in most cities as cars flourished and cities switched to buses and subways for mass transit. In 2001, Portland, Ore., was the first to develop a new kind of streetcar system. Success there led to a resurgence, with at least two dozen cities planning, building or expanding trolley lines.” What’s old is new again!

Ansel Adams’ Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar – Library of Congress

Manzanar Relocation Center

Mrs. Naguchi and two children at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. Image via the Library of Congress

“In 1943, Ansel Adams (1902-1984), America’s most well-known photographer, documented the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California and the Japanese-Americans interned there during World War II. For the first time, digital scans of both Adams’s original negatives and his photographic prints appear side by side… Adams’s Manzanar work is a departure from his signature style landscape photography. … [T]he images also include views of daily life, agricultural scenes, and sports and leisure activities (see Collection Highlights). When offering the collection to the Library in 1965, Adams said in a letter, ‘The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.'”

Upper East Side – To Live in an Artwork – NYT

Upper East Side Stone House

Edward Durell Stone’s 1956 home. Image via NYT

“The unique Upper East Side townhouse that served as home and muse to the modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, who in 1956 replaced its classic brownstone facade with a wall of windows camouflaged by a then-controversial white concrete grid of interlaced circles and squares, is poised to enter the market at $9.95 million. The home, at 130 East 64th Street, stands out like a snowflake on its tree-lined block between Park and Lexington Avenues”

50 States or 11 Nations? – NPR

the american nations today

Colin Woodard’s map of the “11 nations.” Image via NPR

“For hundreds of years, this nation has been known as the United States of America. But according to author and journalist Colin Woodard, the country is neither united, nor made up of 50 states. Woodward has studied American voting patterns, demographics and public opinion polls going back to the days of the first settlers, and says that his research shows America is really made up of 11 different nations.” What say you? Agree or disagree?


This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

Long Lost Van Gogh Painting Discovered – NBC News


Image via NBC News

“The Van Gogh Museum says it has identified a long-lost Vincent Van Gogh painting that spent years in a Norwegian attic and was believed to be by another painter. It is the first full-size canvas by the Dutch master discovered since 1928.  “Sunset at Montmajour” depicts trees, bushes and sky, painted with Van Gogh’s familiar thick brush strokes.” How exciting!

Amazon Rain Forest Was Garden City – The Telegraph

“Explorers have long sought lost cities of the Amazon, now almost entirely obscured by forest. Today it turns out that the “garden cities”, which date back 1500 years, were too spread out to make sense of on foot. Assisted by satellite imagery, researchers have spent more than a decade uncovering and mapping the lost and obscured communities to show they held more than 1000 people each and were once large and complex enough to be considered “urban” as the term is commonly applied to medieval European and ancient Greek communities”

The 8 Best Phony Storefronts/Building Facades in NYC – Scouting NYC


This townhouse is actually a subway ventilator and emergency exit! Image via Scouting NYC

Storefronts and building facades may not always be what they seem. In New York City, they sometimes hide super hip “speak easy” type night clubs, bars, or in one case – a subway ventilator/emergency exit. Do you have anything like this in your town? Rumor has it that the proprietress of the Galt House in Louisville plans a speak easy accessed by a phone booth near Whiskey Row!

V is for Viewshed – Preservation in Pink


The viewshed of historic downtown Montpelier, VT. Image via PiP

In preservation, the viewshed is the view to and from a historic property. “Why does viewshed matter? It relates to the setting, association, and feeling of a historic property, which are three of the seven aspects of integrity, as per the National Register of Historic Places, the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Change the viewshed and you’ve altered the integrity, and quite possibly the significance of that historic property.”

9 Photos of Grisly Vintage Crime Scenes on Today’s NYC Streets – Gizmodo


On March 19, 1942 Edna Egbert fought with police after she climbed on her Dean Street ledge in Brooklyn. Image via Gizmodo

“Photographer and historian of the New York Press Photographers Association Marc Hermann dove into the New York Daily News archive to find historic crime scenes, and mashed them up with photographs of the same locations today. The resulting images provide a haunting window into the tragic events of the past, like a Noir film playing out in real time on an empty city block.”

A Review of Sam Robert’s Grand Central: How a Terminal Transformed America

Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”  Where and how we build something tells a story of time and place, but how the building is used and its effect on people and development tells another story. Such is the case with New York City’s iconic Grand Central Station, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.  In the book Grand Central: How a Terminal Transformed America,  popular historian Sam Roberts recounts the amalgam of events and powerful people that shaped the station and how the station has effected New York City, the United States and the millions of travelers who have crisscrossed the vast terminal over the last century. Making this station come alive through the story of the people who built it, use(d) it, and saved it from the wrecking ball is what Roberts excels at in this celebratory volume.


Post Card via VOA News

Grand Central Station solved a problem. A depot existed on the site decades before the Grand Central we now know. Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the ruthless industrialist and railroad tycoon, it was envisioned as a single station for all three of his railroads in a central location.  He chose not the city’s center but the bucolic outskirts  predicting that the city’s growth and the station’s capacity for development would make it central in time. It had a messy open train yard that made the streets surrounding the station incredibly dangerous and its train tunnels were equally as hazardous.  They were filled with smoke, cinders and heat, created by the steam-powered locomotives, conditions which precipitated a catastrophic crash in 1902. The accident galvanized the public.  When politicians and lawmakers began clamoring for change, the station was redesigned.

The redesign was revolutionary. An innovative two-level station for incoming and outgoing trains made it the largest train station by number of tracks and platforms in the world. The trains were all electric which eliminated hazardous tunnel conditions. It was also the first train station to be all electric, which was advertised by leaving hundreds of light bulbs uncovered throughout the structure. Outside the station, viaducts safely sped motorists around the terminal, which would have otherwise obstructed traffic. And the dangerous open train yard was decked over, creating some of the most valuable real estate in the world, Park Avenue.  Decking over the train yard and leasing the property above also created one of modern real estate’s  most important  principals – air rights. William J. Wilgus the engineer who was responsible for the station’s  design and construction coined the term “taking wealth from the air” and used the idea to help finance the station. Though Wilgus has been largely forgotten by history, Roberts argues that it was his innovative ideas that made Grand Central so spectacular, profitable, and influential.


Image via BFH Studios

Grand Central Station contributed to a geographical and cultural shift in New York City  and the US, according to Roberts. When the station opened, the New York Times complained it was too far uptown to be central, but eventually development around the station created mid-town Manhattan (just as Vanderbilt predicted). It fostered the nation’s westward expansion and growth via the railroad. It also changed the American family; reliable trains allowed families to move to leafy suburbs, while bread-winners traveled to and from the city to work each day.  In fact, the word commuter didn’t exist before Grand Central Station.  An employee noticed a lot of people were taking the train twice a day, five days a week and decided that instead of charging these folks full fare, the station would commute it – the same way a prisoner’s sentence can be commuted – as a part of a marketing scheme!

Grand Central was the subject of an unprecedented Supreme Court decision and multimillion dollar restoration effort. Predictably, my favorite chapter of the book centered around the station’s preservation!  Roberts did not disappoint. He laid out the facts surrounding its preservation and renovation in delightfully positive terms. By the 1960s, Grand Central was in decline.  Faced with mounting financial woes, Penn Central proposed a large office tower to be built over the designated historic landmark. (Ironically, it was Wilgus’ brilliance that almost doomed the station.  He’d planned for the world’s tallest building atop the terminal and though the plans were abandoned, the structural supports were built.)  The proposal drew an enormous amount of opposition, most notably from Jacquelyn Kennedy Onassis.  The preservation battle eventually found its way to the Supreme Court, which upheld a city’s legal right to preserve a privately-owned historic landmark for the first time EVER.  The legal precedent set in the case is essential to preservation today!   The preservation triumph was followed up by a mid-1990s restoration effort that cost $800 million and took 12 years to complete.


This small dark rectangle on the ceiling of the main Grand Central concourse is the sole remaining evidence of the color that used to cover the entire ceiling. Thought to be the collected diesel smoke from decades of trains, or smog, or steel rail filings, it turned out on forensic examination that the dark color was actually accumulated tar and nicotine from decades of cigarette smoke. Image via CNET

Grand Central: How a Terminal Transformed America is POPULAR history, not an academic work.  If you are looking for a definitive text or critical analysis of the station’s history, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you are a railroad aficionado, a history buff, a lover of old buildings, or just a lover of Grand Central Station then this is the ticket.  It is informative, but also light and fun.  And it’s chock full of interesting facts and trivia (so much so that it sometimes feels like a list of amazing but somewhat disjointed tidbits and anecdotes). Throughout the book, Roberts’ tone is conversational – little wonder given that he is a veteran journalist. He has worked as the New York Times‘ urban affairs correspondent, as deputy editor of the Times‘ Week in Review section, urban affairs columnist, et cetera. Thanks to his tone, journalist style, and skillful story-telling Grand Central is entertaining, easy to read and accomplishes Roberts’ goal to share the story of the station and its success on its 100th anniversary.

Though not exhaustive, Roberts’ history is inspiring and brings the station to life in a new way. His narrative is laced with anecdotes about the people who shaped the station from inception to preservation and the people whose lives were subsequently shaped by the palatial Beaux Arts beauty.  These stories bring heart to the 35,000 square feet of marble, shops, waiting rooms, restaurants, etc. that make up the station.  This book also celebrates pioneering efforts in engineering, architecture, urban planning and preservation, which created and reshaped Grand Central Station. It pays due credit to a building that re-shaped NYC, the United States and made such an indelible imprint in US pop culture.  Again, this is not a definitive work, but if you are looking for a celebration of this remarkable piece of architecture and history, this is it. Churchill, ever eloquent, could not have been more right.

Grand Central Publishing/$30


The Oyster Bar is the station’s longest tenant. It opened in 1913. Its distinctive vaulted ceiling was designed and constructed by Guastavino. Image via Dividing Moments

Check back at Bricks + Mortar later in the week for some Fun Facts about Grand Central! Who knows, maybe it will help you win pub trivia!


A special thanks to Kevin Henry for letting me borrow his copy of Grand Central (and for letting me hold it hostage for so long)!

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

Abandoned Walmart Now America’s Largest Library – Web Urbanist


Image via Web Urbanist

Big box stores abandoned by corporate entities are difficult to reuse because of their large square footage. In McAllen, Texas an unused Walmart was transformed into the largest single story library in the US! It is now a vibrant community hub, and the city saved a bundle on infrastructure. What other uses can you think of for adapting big box stores for new uses? Schools, Fitness Centers, Lazer Tag, Indoor skate park!?!

The Strangest Neighborhood in New York City – Scouting New York

Harding Park began its modern life in the early 1900s as a summer resort community for New Yorkers looking to escape the city. After WWII, they became permanent residences. Many of the tiny bungalows remain untouched, while others have been expanded. The neighborhood is charming and totally uncharacteristic of the Bronx. There are chickens!

If You Build It, They Will Come: How Cleveland Lured Young Professionals Downtown – The Atlantic Cities


Image via Atlantic Cities

“When the Maron family decided to redevelop an entire city block in downtown Cleveland, the area was so blighted no restaurateur would lease space there. A decade later, the East Fourth neighborhood is home to Food Network personalities, a House of Blues, and free Saturday yoga classes. Café-style seating spills into the pedestrian-only street. Apartments on the block are fully leased, and a 100-unit building under construction across the street has already reached full capacity.” Click through to learn more!

Dredging South Carolina’s River’s for Long Forgotten Lumber – NPR

In South Carolina, logging crews are cruising rivers in the hopes of finding old growth wood preserved in the mire deep below. Using old railroad maps as guides to find the sites of former saw mills and sonar technology they are able to harvest logs long buried in the muck. These old growth trees with tight growth rings and distinctive patterns are highly prized by carpenters, because they are rare. Long ago, most of South Carolina’s (and the US’s) old growth forests were logged.  A single log dredged from the river can fetch more than $800 on the market!

Eco-goats to Take Over Congressional Cemetery – Washington Post

A herd of more than 100 goats will be grazing at Congressional Cemetery — where luminaries including J. Edgar Hoover and John Philip Sousa repose — as part of a demonstration project to show off the animals’ ecologically friendly landscaping skills – “eliminating vines, poison ivy, ground cover and even fallen debris all the while fertilizing the ground,” promise the organizers of the event, the nonprofit Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery and Annapolis-based Eco-Goats. I would also think that using goats is more preservation friendly – using large equipment to mow the lawn, clear debris, etc always has the potential to damage monuments!  What a great idea!

Preservation Is…

If we don’t care about our past, we cannot hope for the future… I care desperately about saving old buildings.

-Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, former First Lady, editor, and historic preservationist on the imminent threat to New York’s Grand Central Station in 1976. Thanks (at least in part) to her efforts, Grand Central is celebrating its centennial this year.


1930s: Beams of sunlight stream through the windows at Grand Central Terminal, in New York City. Image via NBC News

-from The New York Daily News