The Vigilance of Trinity

Oct 20 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science], Art, Community, History, Landscapes

Trinity Church, N.Y.C. 1791. Digital ID: 801103. New York Public Library

Trinity Church, N.Y.C. 1791. Credit: NYPL Digital Archives

Standing directly at the western end of Wall Street, Trinity Church is perfectly framed. Seriously, the young colony could not have chosen a better spot. Today it looks a bit out of place at first glance, but its Gothic spire and dark exterior seem to hold the nearby skyscrapers at bay—which is fitting since this building reigned as the tallest in the mid-nineteenth century. Sunlight and shadow coexist perfectly on the grounds, making the surrounding churchyard a refuge from the busy city that flows around the land. Buildings have lives of their own. They have histories, and they mark and record the history, culture, and time that passes around them. Trinity Church, which is one of New York City’s oldest houses of worship, is no different.

Wall Street, N.Y. Digital ID: 809984. New York Public Library

Wall Street, N.Y. 1847. Credit: NYPL

Wall Street, N.Y. October 2010

In 1696 the Anglican community of the growing colony petitioned Governor Benjamin Fletcher for land for a parish. He approved the sale of the downtown plot to the Crown, which then issued a charter to the parish with a rent of 60 bushels of wheat annually. The church appeared to be well received. In fact, legend has it that even famed Captain Kidd pitched in to help with construction. This building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1776, which was believed to have been set intentionally and destroyed twenty-five percent of the city. Rebuilt in 1790, the roof of the second building collapsed under the weight of snow 40 years later, and the third building—the one that stands today—was constructed in 1846.

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Change in a New York Minute

Rendering of updated NYC skyline. Credit: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects.

So there's been some fuss recently over proposed new additions to the New York City skyline. A developer has set his sights on 15 Penn Plaza, which has upset the owners of the Empire State Building. One of them, Anthony Malkin, is particularly upset by the plans:

"Would a tower be allowed next to The Eiffel Tower or Big Ben’s clock tower? Just as the world will never tolerate a drilling rig next to The Statue of Liberty, why should governmental bonuses and waivers be granted to allow a structure as tall and bulky at 15 Penn Plaza to be built 900 feet away from New York City’s iconic Landmark and beacon?"

He has also said that the proposed building will "ruin" the skyline and it will be a "black eye."


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The Five Points Then and Now: Landmarks [FP2]

Apr 21 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

The landmarks of the Five Points were not artistic and architectural triumphs, but rather tenements, prisons, and churches. Using maps found here, I plotted the locations of sites that loomed largest in the history of the Five Points. Stick close—the streets are dark and possibly a little dangerous.

Map showing points of interest.

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Fading Landmarks, Fading Memories

Jan 21 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

The Plaza overlooks a snowy Central Park. Photo from New York Architecture Images.

On the heels of the closing of famed New York City restaurant Tavern on the Green comes news that another landmark, the Plaza Hotel, continues to struggle. In my recent post on the demolition and reconstruction of Penn Station, I reached a troubled peace concerning the price of history—acknowledging that despite the best efforts and intentions, we will still lose physical representations of our history. (I'm also currently reading The World Without Us, which has has me thinking a great deal about permanence.) While I clearly tend to get excited about the "incidentals" of history (e.g., an old well, fading commercial signage, the ruins of a hearth, a foundation line, old boundary lines), monuments tend to command public attention. The importance awarded to both "types" of historical artifacts however stems from a connection made with them, which prompts me to question how landmarks come to be—not the official process of designation, but the personal recognition from citizens that award a special status to certain places and monuments. How are these connections formed?

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Balancing Progress and History

Jan 15 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

Bas-relief artwork at Penn Station.

I had some time at Penn Station yesterday before my train was announced, so I hung around on the concourse level for a change instead of descending immediately to the track. I really wanted to get a good look at a bas-relief that I walk past every day. You see, it features a bare breasted woman—and it's rather well detailed.

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