simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: December 2007
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Monday, 31 December 2007

Times Square Ball Drop

Dropping the ball in Times Square is the world's most well known New Year's Eve celebration. Nearly one million people attend in person with millions around the world watching the televised event. The millennium celebration saw two million people - I was one of them. The photo was taken on Sunday afternoon and preparations were already underway - television crews were setting up. (Note: click on the photo to enlarge it - if you look carefully, you can see the 2008 sign and pole for the ball above it.)
The ball drop has been an annual event since 1907, making this year the 100th anniversary. The ball itself has gone through numerous incarnations over the last one hundred years. It's earliest construction was of iron and wood with 25 watt bulbs - weighing 700 lbs. In 1920 it was replaced with a ball entirely of iron (400 lbs) and then in 1955 with an aluminum ball weighing only 150 lbs. It remained unchanged until the 1980s, when red light bulbs and a green stem converted the Ball into an apple for the "I Love New York" marketing campaign (from 1981 to 1988). In 1989, the traditional Ball with white light bulbs reappears. In 1995, the Ball gets an aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobe lights, and computerized controls. The aluminum ball was lowered for the last time in 1998, when it is replaced by a all new geodesic design from Waterford Crystal with the latest lighting technology for the millennium celebration - 504 crystal triangles, 696 lights including 96 strobes, 90 rotating pyramids. Read more about this remarkable, dazzling creation and the event here. This ball has been retired and is the property of the owners the One Times Square building. An entirely new ball has been crafted for this year's 100th anniversary by Waterford Crystal with 672 double cut crystal triangles. An all new lighting design was created by Focus Lighting utilizing Philips LED technology (replacing the halogen bulbs of the previous design). With 9,576 Philips Luxeon LEDs, it is more than twice as bright with enhanced color capabilities - 16.7 million to be exact. The ball was unveiled in October and on display at Macy's until December 10th - sorry I missed it. Had it not been for researching this article, I would have been completely unaware of the anniversary and new ball - I look forward to watching the televised drop and hope you do the same. Happy New Year!

Note: Time Balls actually date back to 1829, when the first one was erected in England by its inventor Robert Wauchope, a Captain in the Royal Navy. These were used for sailors to check their chronometers. They became obsolete with the advent of radio time signals. Over sixty still remain worldwide.

Friday, 28 December 2007


I joke around about my fascination with prison documentaries, typically entitled something like Lockdown which are presented with great drama. The drama here in the Village is at least as great with a war that has gone on for some time between community activists and the Parks Department and their plan to completely redo Washington Square Park, with activists preferring a rehab versus wholesale reconstruction. All agree the park is in serious need of repair - the last renovation was done in 1967. The details of this battle (which is a replay of previous ones in this activist community) and its raison d'etre has been told blow by blow from the local papers all the way to the New York Times. My previous posting from May gives an overview of the various issues at hand with links and more photos - click here. Lawsuits have been brought against the City of New York (the last of which the city won) and on the week of December 10th, workers moved in, fenced off over half of the park and began construction (which will be done in two phases in an estimated 2-3 years). Phase 1 is larger and includes the fountain area and plaza around it, where most gatherings and activities take place. In the warmer weather it will be interesting to see how the regulars and visitors adapt to the very limited space.
I am a regular user of the park, long-time community resident and have been involved as a close observer of this process. I understand the viewpoints of both sides in this debate and I think it is important to remember that although opponents see the new design as radical, it will still remain a public park with a very similar layout. A radical proposition would have been the construction of high-rise condominiums in the Park's place.
The battle between opposing sides has appeared large but I do not think most residents have really studied or weighed in on this situation at all, leaving the decisions to the powers that be. The number of voices on both sides are actually quite small when viewed in the context of a community with an estimated population of 150-200,00 people. There are aspects of the new design which some feel will substantially change the character of the park, such as a 4-foot high perimeter fence (to secure it at night). It will be interesting to see if the character or mood of the park, its activities and users changes significantly once the project is completed. Architecture alone does not define a place and New Yorkers are adaptable, resilient and strong willed. My prediction in the outcome of this card game is that the character of the neighborhood and will of the users easily trumps the design ...

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Slow and Steady

There are neighborhood restaurants that seem to have been around forever, yet rarely mentioned and infrequently reviewed. They exist quietly like the Tiro A Segno New York Rifle Club that fascinated me for decades (click here for story). Or the missionary union in Manhattan that has not had one article written about yet - when I catch a friar on camera entering or leaving - you'll be the first to see it. Rocco Ristorante at 181 Thompson Street is a vintage home-style Italian restaurant founded by Rocco Stanziano in 1922 - 85 years must mean something. I have not eaten there yet, but the reviews are quite favorable, even from newer online sites such as It's just not glamorous, trendy or chic. Old, historic business establishments go down different roads. Some maintain quality, but raise prices substantially as they become real legacy businesses. Others just sell out and become money machines without any regard for quality (frequently cutting costs by outsourcing) - sometimes entire towns become tourist traps with businesses like this, such as Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Some catch a trend and reinvent themselves like Astor Place Haircutters - click here. And then there are those places that are sleepy backwaters, just doing things the same way, patronized by customers who like it exactly the way it is. Slow and steady wins the race ...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Über Peek

Honesty can be a good policy and honestly, after a stressful holiday weekend with all the preparations and travel, I did not have the energy this morning to do a posting. So I perused my photos with disappointment and tried to figure out how to spin straw into gold, or at least silver. The photos of the window display of Disrespectacles Eyewear at 82 Christopher Street was always interesting to me but had been previously nixed as not worthy. But in doing an online search for this store, interesting things popped up. Like using the singular Disrespectacle returned only 5 items from Google, while the plural returned 2450 - quite unusual. Typically, the singular brings back more than the plural (?). I also found a website on lovewords that defined Disrespectacle as: "To be publicly disrespected." Finally, I arrived at the store's website - you can link to it here. I found descriptions of their product line like funky, trend-setting, hip, über-sleek, industrial-sleek, high fashion, hard-to-find, and ultra high-end boutique, with features and reviews from all the top fashion publications.
Retailing is very competitive - merchants must be increasingly creative to stay alive in a crowded marketplace. And they are protective of their efforts. I am more and more frequently told I can not take photographs in stores - in some cases (like restaurants) this is to protect the privacy of patrons, but often it is due to paranoia - i.e. that others will steal their ideas for displays and decor. All the newer, trendy establishments which are hyper-designed are like this. Pinkberry (a new frozen dessert place) is a good example - they have a no photography icon on their windows. In shooting from the street through the windows at the French restaurant Balthazar in SoHo, I had a waiter inside waving his arms at me to signal that no photos are to be taken. So, from time to time, when I can manage to take a photo surreptitiously, I will offer you über-peeks of the verboten...

Monday, 24 December 2007

Being There

Can you have too much Macy's? - perhaps. But regular readers of this website know that I do bemoan the disappearance of so many NYC places and things that have given New York the character it is known for. As I also have written in my recent post Constant, many of the feelings that the best things and times have past are nostaligic and a complaint of every generation. Championing a merchant may appear to be unnecessary - they do get paid already as a business. And I have complained about excess consumption in this country with an over emphasis on materialism. However, we do need merchants and Macy's is not an ordinary merchant. To lose them would be sad. Their sponsorship and historic relationship with the Thanksgiving Day Parade (over 80 years) and the July 4th fireworks set them apart. They are part of the physical and psychic fabric of the city. I have written about them in more detail - click here for last year's posting. There is a security in knowing they are there, particularly as the world becomes more temporal, fragile and mutable. We need anchors. It reminds me of a Woody Allen comment about why he needs to live in NYC - that there's a restaurant in Chinatown where he can get a certain favorite dish at four o'clock in the morning. Not that he every has or will go there at that time. It's just knowing it's there. Macy's is one of those places - that whether you go patronize them or not, for a New Yorker, it's important to know they are there, especially at Christmas ...

Posting Note: This posting will remain for two days (Monday and Tuesday) - I will be away with my family in New England. New postings will resume Wednesday. Happy Holidays.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Bleecker Street

The problem with Bleecker Street is nothing new - a place being a victim of its own success. Over time, the South Village has gone through several incarnations. In the early 19th century, the area around Minetta Street became known as Little Africa. A large portion of the city's black population was living within a few blocks of Minetta Street - these were freed African-Americans (New York State abolished slavery in 1827). The area saw the nation's first black church, the first black theater (African Grove) and the first black newspaper (Freedom Journal). By the 1850s, the area just slightly east, where the Washington Square Village apartment complex now stands, became settled with an immigrant French community - in fact the area was known as Frenchtown. By the 1870s, most of the French had moved uptown, tourists invaded and the area became commercialized. Known as the Latin Quarter, it was populated with brothels and taverns. Later of course, from the early 20th century through the 1950s and 60s, the area became a renowned bohemian enter and still has that reputation to this day. Where does that leave us? Well, it leaves me with very mixed feelings about a street that has had quite a run and been virtually synonymous with Greenwich Village. The few blocks just between 6th Avenue and Laguardia Place has had many landmark establishments - The Village Gate, Bleecker Street Cinema, The Back Fence, Kenny's Castaways, Terra Blues, The Little Red Schoolhouse, Le Figaro Cafe, The Bitter End, Peculier Pub, Cafe Au Go Go and the Actor's Studio Drama School. In fairness, I must say that there are still many quality business establishments on the street, like Terra Blues e.g. When a place has been beaten hard with an onslaught of tourists for over a century, you do the best you can. And on a quiet weeknight with a little drizzle in the air and the soft neon glow of the Back Fence's neon signs, things don't look all that bad ...

A note about the street name: Bleecker Street is named for Anthony Bleecker (1770–1827), a poet and friend of Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. The street ran through his farm and in 1807, Bleecker and his wife deeded the land to the city.

Thursday, 20 December 2007


It is amazing how inured we can become of things with constant exposure - like a beautiful vista seen daily. If someone had asked the existence or whereabouts of a nativity scene in NYC, I'm not sure if I would remembered this one, yet it is essentially a city block long on one of the busiest streets in Manhattan - Houston Street, a veritable crosstown highway, the dividing line between the Village and SoHo. It is not a street typically used by pedestrians for strolling - although there are retailers (like Rafetto's), the street does not have the ambiance of the surrounding smaller streets.Not to mention I cross this street daily and have done eight postings on subjects found on it. The photo shows the life size nativity which is erected annually by St. Anthony's church - officially the Church of St. Anthony of Padua at 154 Sullivan Street. The Roman Catholic Shrine church was built in 1866. It is staffed by the Franciscan Friars and is the oldest existing parish founded for ministry to Italian immigrants in the United States. In the 1930s, Houston Street was widened for the construction of the subway. Tenement buildings on abutting the north side of the church were demolished, leaving a narrow space between the church's north wall and Houston Street, where the Nativity scene is installed.

Interesting note: Convicted Mafia mobster, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, was a habitue of Greenwich Village. He died December 19, 2005 - his funeral was held at St. Anthony's church.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Stay Lean Stay Hungry

These photos were taken in October when I was actively touring the East Village community gardens. I ran a number of garden postings, so this modest one was left to the archives. The Earth People Garden is one of those places that slips under the radar - it certainly is not in any guides or must see lists. Yet its charms were such that I thought it merited a posting. It is located on 8th Street between Avenues B and C in the heart of Losaida territory; the community members were primarily Hispanic. We were greeted cordially and invited to enjoy. We were also encouraged to come back for Halloween (which I did not do), when apparently they did a major redecoration for the holiday. I found the place extremely inspiring - their efforts and use of simple toys were a testament to resourcefulness and provided a breath of fresh air in an over-the-top world of excess. I feel that whatever creative talents I have are the product of a relatively spartan upbringing - generally I made my own toys and fun. There was a popular phrase I heard a lot at one time: "stay lean, stay hungry" - a warning not to get too fat and lazy. This was not to be taken literally (sports and exercise fans sometimes now use it that way) - the message was that doing with less will do more to drive an individual. Although I am not an advocate of eschewing all modernity and good tools, there is some merit to the concept of seeing what can be done by leveraging one's mind and personal skills, rather than relying on outside resources. These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I wandered about the garden with its quaint displays and proud people ...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


In today's assignment, I will briefly answer the question "What does Washington Square Arch mean to me?" In the 60s - 70s, Greenwich Village had everything a young person wanted - freedom, excitement, diversity, the counterculture, permissiveness, liberalism, protest and rebellion. Along with Berkeley/San Francisco, it was one of the preeminent areas in the country for the counterculture of the times. The stories read like a fantasy novel - music venues like the Electric Circus and the Fillmore East, Bob Dylan, seeing John Lennon and Yoko at a local bike store, a friend calling Woody Allen from the dorm, Jimi Hendrix rehearsing down the block at Electric Lady Studios. Imagine coming to visit a place like this - never having been away from home or to the big city. One of my first memories of NYC (on a preliminary visit to NYU where I had been accepted) was approaching this arch with musicians beneath it playing bongos and radicals distributing literature like the Berkeley Barb. And yes, there was sex, drugs and rock and roll. But there were severe casualties for those who overindulged - see my posting Summer of Drugs, a 40th anniversary reunion of the 1967 San Francisco Be-In. So this arch has a lot of meanings for me. I have lived in this neighborhood for nearly 4 decades and the arch has been a constant in a world of change, symbolizing different things for different people and times. Recently, the arch was completely refurbished with beautiful lighting installed. So now when I arrive at night, I know it's home because I see the light has been left on for me ...

Other Postings on Washington Square Arch: Evening Arch, Singing Bowls, Cello, Arch Rebels.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Peregrine Falcons

On an excursion downtown I ran across this sign proclaiming the reemergence of the peregrine falcon in NYC. Until the middle of the 20th century peregrines ranged from Alaska to Georgia. But in the 1950s and ‘60s, the pesticide DDT found its way up the food chain. The birds that peregrines hunted fed on insects contaminated with DDT. Due to biomagnification, DDT accumulated in the peregrines, causing their eggs to become too weak to even support the weight of the mother incubating her eggs. The eggs shattered before fledglings could hatch. By the time DDT was finally banned in 1972, there was not a single peregrine falcon left east of the Mississippi. The reemergence of the peregrine is considered an environmental success story. I became interested in birds of prey in NYC several years ago when, like many other New Yorkers, I learned of the red-tailed hawk Pale Male (and his family) which had nested on a prime building on Fifth Avenue. I made frequent trips to the Boat Basin area of Central Park to spend afternoons, along with many others, watching the antics of the Pale Male. But problems ensued and the situation became a huge international story for the city - if you missed it click here for links and a posting with a photo of my own sighting at my bedroom window downtown of a red-tailed hawk - a real lucky photo op which itself got quite a response from birders and local residents. I was surprised to find this tiny patch of green (in the photo) at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and learn that it was a prime spot for sighting falcons. I also was not aware that this is a Greenstreet property - part of a huge $391 million, ten year initiative to plant street trees in all possible locations, creating 800 new greenstreets, and reforesting 2,000 acres of parkland. The initiative is part of PlaNYC: " a blueprint for New York City to attain sustainable growth and improve the quality of life in the face of escalating population projections. The Mayor’s plan—shaped by input from environmental, business, community, and legislative leaders as well as thousands of New Yorkers—details 127 initiatives within five key areas of the city’s environment: land, air, water, energy, and transportation. Components of the plan include increasing access to open space, cleaning up contaminated lands, improving water quality through natural solutions, achieving the cleanest air quality of any big city in America, and reducing global warming emissions by 30%." It sounds great. Let's hope it's not just hot air :) ...

Friday, 14 December 2007

Air Rights

I'm not a neo-Luddite - I do love much of what technology has brought us. Cell phones, the Internet, PCs, DVDs, VCRs and ATMs are all things which have made are lives easier. But I do love natural things. One of the things I hate is the inability to open windows in high-rises or hotel construction. On a beautiful spring day, I want to throw the windows open, hear the birds and smell the air, not watch it through a picture window like a television program. That said, today I bring you two glass towers (two-for-one to carry you through the weekend). The building in the foreground is the 52-story 100 United Nations Plaza, a luxury condominium tower on the northwest corner of 48th Street and First Avenue, completed in 1986 (click here for 2nd photo). You can't miss this one with its signature wedge shaped roof in eight steps, featuring penthouses with multiple balconies. The building is surrounded by a landscaped plaza with gardens and fountains. It was designed by Der Scutt, an architect with quite a pedigree who has done numerous NYC projects including Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the Corinthian luxury condominium. This building was the tallest in the area until it was eclipsed by the 72-story Trump World Tower (seen to its right in the photo) across First Avenue between 47 and 48th Streets. Surprisingly, I have read a number of positive reviews from architecture critics such as Herbert Muschamp. Designed by Polish architect Marta Rudzka and completed in 2001, it was built amid some controversy (of course) concerning its height and impact on views and neighboring buildings, particularly the United Nations. It is the tallest residential tower in the US and was worldwide until the completion of the 21st Century Tower in Dubai (2003) and the Tower Palace Three in Seoul (2004). It's amazing what lawyers and money can do. If the law provides needed loopholes and maneuverable angles, lawyers will find them and unless laws are changed, projects go though which may puzzle many and not be to the liking of residents. One of the most fascinating concepts is the Transfer of Development Rights (or TDR), a scheme introduced to the city in the 1980s for transferring the unused "air rights" of one building (or more) to another proposed structure, thus allowing for a much taller structure to be erected than the building's plot alone would allow. It's intention was to save older historic buildings - rather than have to sell a property to capitalize on the value of its land, TDR allows the building to remain with the owner still profiting by selling air rights for the development of a taller structure on a neighboring plot. So Donald Trump gets to dot his i and cross his T again ...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Better When

I'm very surprised that I can find nothing written online or offline about this exquisite little building at 176 MacDougal Street in the Village. It sits at the corner of MacDougal Street and MacDougal Alley (click here). It is unusual in that much of it is unattached on four sides - atypical of small buildings like this in Manhattan. Coupled with its white-painted exterior, the building has a very free feeling to it. The detailing and window boxes gives it a European, perhaps Parisian, flavor. The retail space has gone through a number of incarnations over the years - currently it is a laundromat. At one time there was a restaurant called Shakespeare's here. Along 8th Street there were numerous bookstores - the one at the corner of MacDougal is where Bob Dylan was introduced to Allen Ginsberg in 1964. I was told that Robert Joffrey of the Joffrey Ballet lived atop the building in the photo; today I have learned however that it was next door at 180 MacDougal. Across the street was Capezio, a renowned maker of dance shoes. The Joffrey Ballet company was around the corner on 6th Avenue. The neighborhood had the type of places that gave the Village its Bohemian, artsy, iconoclastic character. But all this nostalgia with remembrances, reveries and reminiscing reminds me of a great article in the New York Times which had a profound impact on me. It was written in 2001 by Jill Eisenstadt, a Brooklynite who recounts her parent's telling (ad nauseum) of how everything was better back when - seltzer, candy stores, cafeterias, stickball, stoopball, the trolley, mickeys, egg creams, Ebbets field and the Dodgers. I will leave you with the final few sentences of that article: "Years from now, I'll probably tell my grandchildren about the old neighborhood. How merchants let me run up a tab if I was short on cash, how the pediatrician offered to make a house call in an emergency, how the baker made me promise to bring the babies in for their first cookies, how we all helped each other shovel the one snowfall of 1999. But when they ask what a shovel is, I hope I'll tell them the truth. That a shovel is a heavy tool. The nostalgia is a heavy comfort. That I don't really miss Brooklyn way back when. What I miss is being young. That everything is probably a lot better now."

Related Postings: Left Bank, New York; MacDougal Alley; Re-Creation; Washington Mews

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


I can't imagine anyone not familiar with this iconic image of one the most influential figures in popular culture of the 20th century. This is, of course, Marilyn Monroe with her dress being blown up over a NYC subway grate at the SW corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in the film The Seven Year Itch. As she feels the cool air wafting upwards, she says "Isn't it delicious?" There was much controversy over this scene and the dialogue - some original material was cut. In the original footage, Marilyn's dress was blown up over her waist - this is the image which we are all familiar with and was used in print ads (or in sculptures like the one in the photo). For the film however, the the scene was reshot on a sound stage. The new footage was much tamer with her dress barely above her knees. The original footage (shot on location) was also deemed unusable due to the enormous background noise by the crowd during filming. The scene even precipitated an argument between Marilyn and her husband at the time, Joe DiMaggio (who was on the set during filming) which reportedly led to their separation and divorce. When I grew up, Marilyn Monroe was synonymous with the ultimate in beauty and sexiness. It was also a time where durability was a much larger component of quality and fame. Momentum could build, creating enormous larger than life icons like Elvis, Marilyn or the Beatles. Many feel we will never again see this type of thing again. Today, everything feels so temporal and transient - in fact in many ways this fleeting from here to the next best thing is something looked on positively. Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame is starting to look like a long successful career ...

Photo Note: The photo was taken outside SoHo Treasures at 123 Mercer Street.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Foolish Crash

There are different types of crashes - the type which I photographed and posted on this site on May 4, 2007 (click here for Yellow Fever), and the type you see in the photo - a computer hard drive crash. And why was there a crash? Because there are different types of fools - the type seen in the middle ages which were extremely clever and entertaining, often employed in the royal court and featured in many Shakespearean plays, and the type that, even though computer savvy, when tired and things aren't working properly, start reconfiguring cables of their computer system with reckless abandon. And of course there are different consequences to such behavior, some rather benign and others quite dire, like a hard drive crash (made worse by not having made proper backups of ALL their work, losing some things forever). Lastly, there are different types of people and they react variously to such occurrences - some who take things in stride and others that it would be advised not to be around when such things happen. And this is why today, you get not a wonderful, insightful photo and story on some fascinating, perhaps obscure part of our wonderful city, but rather a photo of the inside of my G4 Mac when I was replacing its main drive ...

Photo note: For those of you who find today's photo uninteresting, trust that you would much prefer this photo to one of your author and the state he was in when this occurred and it became clear that the damage was irreparable :) ...

Monday, 10 December 2007

Surly Santas

While walking in the Village with a friend and arriving at the intersection of MacDougal and Bleecker Streets, we were unexpectedly besieged by a gang of Santas - I would say group, however their demeanor and ensuing conversation with a panhandler gave them more of a rude, frat boys feel than the benevolent, generous spirit we associate with Santa. The conversation between one of the Santas and the panhandler went something like this:
Panhandler : "Oh good - Santas, Christmas Spirit. Can you spare a quarter?"
Santa: "Get it together brother."
Panhandler: "You get it together!"
We assumed these guys were in costume and not individuals who actually work as Santas somewhere - that would be a little disheartening - I think one would expect the dialog to be more courteous even coming from someone who is not Santa. Was this Christmas spirit, New York Style, or was this Santa perhaps more progressive in his thinking? That he felt that giving in this type of circumstance was, in the parlance of the modern psychotherapeutic community, being an enabler. Like the old saying: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life."
In researching this saying I came across some variations:
Teach a man to fish and he learns to covet your boat.
Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give a man a fishing rod and he'll break it in two for firewood - or exchange it for a fish.
Give a man a fish, and he'll wonder what you want from him.
Build a man a fire, and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Give a man a crab and it will pinch his fingers. Teach a man to crab and he'll complain about being pinched.
Give a man a boil and he'll just get sore. Teach a man to boil and he'll be able to make his own tea.
Give a man a slide and he'll want a microscope. Teach a man to slide and he'll want a playground.
Teach a man to fish, and you introduce another competitor into the overcrowded fishing
industry. Give a man a fish, and you stimulate demand for your product.
Give a man a fly and he'll think you're an idiot. Teach a man to fly and he'll end by looking down on you.
Give a man a fish and he'll have dinner. Teach a man to fish and he'll be late for dinner.
Teach him to fish and he'll sit in a boat drinking beer all day.

Credit for these quotes and more humor can be found at the site

Friday, 7 December 2007

Soup Kiosk

What's better than soup on a cold winter's day? Not much, as you can see by the line at the Soup Kiosk which adjoins and is associated with the historic Fanelli Cafe at 94 Prince Street in SoHo. As we tire of the same choices for lunch, street food becomes a good choice - fast, inexpensive (relatively), and often fresh, home cooked and delicious. My first thoughts when I became acquainted with this place were of the classic Seinfeld skit "The Soup Nazi." This notion was quickly quelled after sampling the food and pleasant manner of Eunique who works the kiosk - for a closer look at our server plying her trade, click here. The kiosk offers a range of several soups, chili (including vegetarian) and beverages. Having soup as a meal brings back memories of the Campbell Soup Company slogans: "Never Underestimate the Power of Soup" and "Mmmm mmm good." The power of soup was apparent when even Andy Warhol could not limit the fame of his art piece, Campbell's Soup Cans, to 15 minutes. When Campbell's was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in 1994, the judges said, "Campbell's has transcended the soup category to become a symbol of American hearth, home and values." I think these associations are a credit to soup itself as much as it is to Campbell, although they are to be applauded for promoting a healthy meal concept. Apparently in the early years of the company's history, soup was not popular here in the USA as it was in Europe. I know it's heretical to drag in Campbell's canned, condensed soups in a piece about the merits of fresh homemade soup. But just thinking about soup conjures up a whole world of memories - comfort food nonpareil, a wholesome and for many, a simpler life ...

See these related postings: Speedy Gonzalez, NY Dosas

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building, at 233 Broadway, is a personal favorite of mine - my business was located down the block on Park Place for 10 years, so I saw this building daily. The Gothic structure with spires, arches, flying buttresses and gargoyles, was designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1913 for $13 million in cash by Frank Woolworth as his corporate headquarters (until their bankruptcy in 1997) for his chain of five and dime stores. At 792 feet, it was the tallest building in the world and remained so until 1930. One of the stellar attractions is the spectacular lobby. I have visited numerous times - however, as I have written several times before, here we have another case of heavily restricted access to a landmark building subsequent to 911. Prior to that event, guards were accustomed to visitors and welcomed them. At night, when it was quiet and the guards were not busy, showing interest in the lobby resulted in what amounted to a free personal tour with a history of the construction of the building and explanation of the architectural and sculptural elements. They were always eager to point out the all the features of the magnificent vaulted lobby with blue and gold glass mosaics, murals, marble and the sculptured caricatures including Woolworth counting his nickels and dimes, Cass Gilbert holding a model of the building and the structural engineer Gunvald Aus. Its exterior is also outstanding with limestone, granite, terra-cotta and its signature pyramidal copper spire, now with a green patina. Whenf first built, it was referred to as a Cathedral of Commerce, an appropriate description for this National Historic Landmark. Today, it is impossible to access the interior unless you have specific business in the building. So for now, I only have photos of the exterior to share with you ...

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Chelsea Piers

The Chelsea Piers have a long history with many twists and turns, much of it paralleling the other NYC waterfront piers which saw their heyday, a sordid decline and then an unexpected and greatly welcomed renaissance. In the early 20th century, the Chelsea Piers saw all of the trans-Atlantic luxury cruise liners, including the Titanic and Lusitania. In 1935, the luxury liner piers moved north; the Chelsea piers became a cargo terminal. In the 1980s there were plans for a new West Side Highway (Westway) which called for demolition of the piers. The Westway project never went through and the piers survived. The new piers, designed by Warren and Wetmore (which also designed Grand Central Terminal), began construction in 1994. The huge, 28-acre complex of 4 piers between 17th and 23rd Streets in Manhattan are a sports oriented facility with several venues: The Field House - soccer, basketball, gymnastics, baseball, dance and rock climbing; Golf Club - a four-tiered, year-round outdoor driving range); Sky Rink - twin indoor ice-skating rinks with hockey, general & figure skating, school; Sports Center Health Club; The Spa; a Bowling center and the BlueStreak Sports Training facility. Click here for the Chelsea Piers website. There is onsite parking and restaurants. A nice plus is that the center is located along the Hudson River Greenway ...

Photo Note: the photo shows the vista looking towards midtown. Click here for a second photo with a view of Gehry's IAC building (click here for posting about the Gehry building).

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


Even the plain becomes interesting when it is extremely plain and nothing beats the AT&T Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas Street for a bleak, monolithic structure. 550 feet with no windows. I have been fascinated by this building for over 20 years but never made a serious effort to learn anything about it until writing this article - I decided to get to the bottom of it all. What's going on in there? Plenty, just no people. The structure was designed by John Carl Warnecke and completed in 1974 as a telephone switching hub for AT&T, now used primarily by AT&T and Verizon. The floors are 18 feet tall - nearly double the height of a standard commercial building, so technically the building is only 29 stories. The exterior walls are made from concrete panels clad with pink-colored Swedish granite. The vertical protrusions are shafts which house the elevators, stairs and ductwork. There are large, rectangular ventilation holes at the 10th and 29th floors. It is considered one of the most secure buildings in the US, and was designed to resist a nuclear blast and be self-sufficient for up to two weeks. My understanding is that the building is essentially humanless, barring the occasional technician. On September 17, 1991, human error and power equipment failure resulted in the disabling of the central office switch - over 5 million calls were blocked, and FAA phone lines were also interrupted, disrupting air traffic control to 398 airports serving most of the northeastern US. In researching for this posting, I saw the architectural style of this building categorized as both International Style II and Brutalism (French béton brut, or "raw concrete"). Don't try to get any consensus as to its appearance - even critics are divided. Architecture critics for the NY Times, Paul Goldberger and Herbert Muschamp both seem to like it. Goldberger says it "This is the only one of the several windowless equipment buildings the phone company has built that makes any sense architecturally - it is sheathed in a warm and handsome granite, and though it looks more like a mammoth piece of equipment than a conventional building, it, in fact, blends into its surroundings more gracefully than does any other skyscraper in this area." Muschamp says: "The pink granite tower is forbidding, and it obstructs the river view I would enjoy if the building were demolished. But who cares? Obstructed views are part of what makes New York democratic. And Warnecke's building starkly frames my view of midtown as if it were a sheer Grand Canyon wall: a neat special effect." On the other hand, in one survey of architects and critics for the Ugliest Buildings in New York City, the building received the distinction of coming in 6th place ...

Monday, 3 December 2007


Global Warming Controversy has its own article in Wikipedia - with separate articles on Global Warming, Attribution of recent climate change, Politics of global warming, Climate change denial, Scientific opinion on climate change, Adaptation to global warming, Effects of global warming, Mitigation of global warming, Kyoto Protocol, Economics of global warming, Low-carbon economy, Global climate model, Ocean acidification, Global dimming and Ozone depletion. The current article on the controversy is dozens of pages long and has 216 references. The subject is overwhelming - I did not have time to make a career of the subject or distill even a reasonable overview of global warming. I have gleaned that at this point although there still may be debate on causes and effects, most scientists do agree there is a warming, surprisingly of only 1.33 degrees F over the last 100 years (of course it is known that even a small sustained change will cause problems.) I recall winters here in the city with cold snaps in the single digits lasting for days but my sense that there has been a very substantial increase in temperatures must be do to selective memory - I'm assured that one must account for natural variations with anomalies and aberrations. This first snow on Sunday seemed peculiar - everywhere I went I saw a slurry of green leaves and snow mixed together on the sidewalks. And I thought this vista of a tree with bright yellow leaves in December with snow falling was also unusual, but maybe it's usually this way or just an anomaly ...