I agree with you completely. None of the replacements are worthy.
I don't disagree with you that they are not the Plaza, Sherry, etc. in their level of beauty and detail. Their "ungainliness" is a matter of personal aesthetics and I can't give you flack for that, but you can see clearly in the photos that they have intricate detailing, masonry and cornicework that almost no building built in NYC after 1950 has.
I understand and appreciate that buildings must be replaced. I'd happily give up one of those hotels for a Tower Verre on its site. What I object to is the near constant stream of vastly inferior replacements.
I agree with you completely. None of the replacements are worthy.
December 17, 2008
After 146 Years, Brooklyn Convent to Close
By DAVID GONZALEZ
Behind the red-brick walls encircling the Convent of Mercy in Brooklyn, generations of nuns have taught the illiterate, sheltered the homeless and raised orphans. They are known as the Walking Sisters, ministering in the community as well as inside their convent.
Now, after 146 years, it is time for the small band of sisters, most of them retired, to walk away from the convent. The leadership of their order, the Sisters of Mercy, decided to shutter the place and scatter the sisters to other homes and nursing facilities after realizing it would cost more than $20 million to fix serious structural and accessibility problems in the fortresslike building on Willoughby Avenue in Fort Greene.
This has been a season of heartbreak and anger for these women, who thought the motherhouse would be their last home and the sisters their constant companions. Now they, the rescuers of lost children, feel like orphans themselves.
“It kind of hurts in a lot of ways,” said Sister Francene Horan, who came to the motherhouse in 1950 to teach kindergarten. “A building is one thing. This is a home, the place you knew would give you a place to stay. It’s like saying your parents died and you don’t have a home anymore.”
In a ritual that was unthinkable a year ago, they gather regularly as their numbers dwindle to bid goodbye to one another, and to an entire way of life — the busy convent and its shared days of work, prayer and laughter.
The Sisters of Mercy, known as the Walking Sisters because working outside the convent was unusual for nuns in the 19th century, have been in Brooklyn since 1855, when five young nuns from Manhattan answered Bishop John Loughlin’s call to work with the poor and sick. They went from the ferry at Fulton Landing to the nine-room convent of St. James parish on Jay Street, where they lived and worked.
Legend has it that five boys were left in their care one day, not an uncommon occurrence during a time when illness often claimed the lives of work-weary immigrant parents. As the nuns’ work grew along with their reputation, they moved in 1862 to the much larger quarters of their present convent, in what was then a solidly Irish neighborhood.
Thousands of children came to live with the sisters over the decades. Rather than fend for themselves as ragamuffins, they lived in tidy dormitories, supervised by two nuns and a helper. In the chapel, an ornate sanctuary of stained glass and gleaming marble, the youngest had a place of honor at the front, sitting in pews that were smaller than the rest.
Mary Margaret McMurray was almost 6 years old when she and her sister arrived at the orphanage after their parents died of influenza in 1917. She stayed until she graduated from high school and took a job as a secretary at an insurance company.
“The convent was so big,” said Ms. McMurray, now 97 and living in Queens with her daughter, herself a Sister of Mercy. “And there were so many children there. I had a lot of company. But it was very pleasant.”
The nuns taught her a lot, she said, and not all the lessons were found in books. “They taught me to be a positive person,” she said. “And of course, religion, too.”
Changes in social welfare policies in the 1970s led the order to open group homes, encourage adoption or foster care, and expand services to the homeless and developmentally disabled. Fewer women were entering the order, while the remaining sisters grew older. The convent became their retirement home, including one floor devoted to the infirm. The neighborhood around them changed, too, attracting Latino, black and Hasidic families.
The order’s leadership realized in the last few years that the old building presented too many obstacles for older women. An engineering study in February recommended extensive exterior renovations, removal of asbestos and rebuilding the foundation. Sister Christine McCann, the president for the region that includes the convent, said the millions of dollars needed for repairs could be better used to finance social and educational work by the order, which still has about 4,000 nuns in the United States.
Selling the convent could help raise even more money for their mission, Sister McCann said, but no decision has been reached. Though the building is not a landmark — giving wide leeway for any new owners to develop or demolish the property — some nuns said they hoped they could still return to the chapel on special occasions.
Since September, with the help of two sisters with nursing backgrounds, the 38 nuns who lived at the convent have been presented with options for new homes — from apartments in assisted-living centers to nursing homes run by religious orders.
Sister McCann knows the news was hard to break, and understands the anger that greeted it.
“It’s difficult when any community has to make these decisions that affect the lives of so many people,” she said. “But I’m awed by the response of the sisters who live here. They have been honest with their feelings, fine one minute and not so fine the next. But their faith is constant. To live as a Sister of Mercy is to take the steps they take with courage.”
About a dozen remain. The ones with the greatest needs were moved first, leaving the infirmary floor deserted and quiet. The television set is cold and the card tables sit unused, with boxes of games like Clue and Yahtzee stacked high.
On a recent afternoon, the dining room was filled with sisters and their visitors, preparing for another departure. Sister Mary Isabel Sullivan recalled moving into the convent in 1967, when it still housed young nuns in college and others teaching at the grammar school across the street. Soon after, she said, much changed, starting with new career choices for sisters in addition to teaching and child care.
“People could choose their residence, too,” she said. “We became smaller.”
She has stayed, by choice, enjoying the company of relative newcomers like Sister Mary Joseph Lorigan, who banters with her like a seasoned vaudevillian. They recalled the days when the Walking Sisters were a visible presence in the neighborhood, easily identified by their habits — or demeanor.
“We dress like any other woman now,” Sister Mary Joseph said. “But every now and then you see someone who asks you, ‘Are you a sister?’ ”
Sister Mary Isabel told how, years ago, she and another sister were driving to a florist when they spotted a panhandler hobbling up to the car. She was ready to give him money. But the panhandler stopped in his tracks once he saw the veil she wore.
“He said: ‘I’m lying. I’m a Catholic. I can walk!’ ” she recalled. “He just walked away from our car.”
By midafternoon, the remaining nuns and their guests had gathered in a circle to say goodbye to Sister Marguerite Relihan, who was moving the next day to Hartsdale, in Westchester County. The mood was subdued, with a gentle sadness in the air. They prayed for one another, and for those outside their convent who had neither home nor hope. At the end, Sister McCann dabbed holy water on Sister Marguerite’s forehead, whispered into her ear and hugged her.
“Dwell secure in his love in your new home,” the group intoned.
And out of the gathering, a voice arose.
“Marguerite!” someone said with a chuckle. “Hold on to my room until I get there.”
Any thoughts on how to save that unique and beautiful space before another "Avalon Fort Greene" or McSam takes over the area?
There was an article in the Times a few weeks ago about a nearby Episcopalian compound that was being converted into an experimental "communal housing" development that actually sounded fairly interesting and well-organized. Parents interested in raising their kids in a beautiful architectural environment with other families. I don't know how many groups like that there are out there with money to burn and in need of a home, though.
I'll contact the borough authorities ... Any ideas about who would be best to speak with?
About ten Christmases ago I received a coffee table book by Rand McNally entitled “America: A Celebration.” What I still find striking about this book (it’s mainly about contemporary America and touches on our history as well) is the refreshingly idealized picture of our country it projects: a Maine lighthouse beckons returning fishermen; hikers explore the canyons of Zion; a paddleboat plies the Mississippi; loggers and environmentalists make peace in the Pacific Northwest; art deco Miami Beach sizzles under the palm trees. With nice little maps, photos and text boxes, the book presents the mythic America we learned about as children – what this place could or should be (or once was?).
Part of growing up is pulling back the veil and realizing that much less pleasant realities lie behind that mythic facade. For example, the book has a featurette on a Texas cowboy and his soon-to-be BBQ’d longhorns free-ranging in a golden oak-prairie. There is no mention of the vast, industrial feedlots that produce most of our domestic beef. The America of this book is made up of tidy towns (no walmart, no sprawl) and prosperous automobile factories, family farms (no monocultures) and bustling cities, tall forests and golden prairies, red deserts and sparkling waterways. Sometimes, when I get overwhelmed by the many ugly realities of America, I like to pull out this book and briefly imagine things the way they were supposed to be.
In a similar way, in the collective consciousness of America (and the world), there is a deeply powerful myth of New York City. It is the place where King Kong ascended the ESB, where Holden Caufield searched for his ducks; it is Gotham and Metropolis, 1920s Harlem and 1980s Wall Street; it is where the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Roosevelts shaped America’s rise to global superpower; the place that countless artists and writers from Andy Warhol to F. Scott Fitzgerald called home. And it is home to all those soaring, magnificent structures – the ESB, Statue of Liberty, Grand Central, Chrysler Building, NYSE, Twin Towers – which are imprinted on the American identity.
The great thing about New York, unlike the America of the Rand book, is that a major piece of the myth – the buildings – remains a tangible reality for anyone to experience. To this day the feeling I get, in the presence of those seemingly imaginary, yet real, structures is positively electrifying. This thread is about preserving those structures that are at the core of what is good and worthy of physical New York; about seeing that a building that helps make this place extraordinary is not destroyed and replaced with something that makes it a little less so.
As seen in the photos below, the contrast between old and new architecture from different eras can be very appealing - the City is more dynamic and interesting than if it were frozen in 1949.
However, as we have seen on this and many WiredNewYork threads, we have often lost (and are losing) very great works of architecture to vastly inferior ones. Let us be inspired daily and work to prevent this practice from continuing. If the LPC fails in its mission and responsibility, let us do whatever is necessary to make it known to as many people as possible. Despite all the McSams, the black SOM boxes, the Condylis apt buildings on 6th Ave, many parts of New York remain achingly beautiful – unique in all the world. We can fight the greed that would aim to diminish this city for personal profit.
Credit(above 3): http://flickr.com/photos/dreamer7112/
The following are from http://www.skyscrapercity.com/member.php?u=744
Last edited by RandySavage; December 19th, 2008 at 12:56 AM.
Randy, you're right that "greed" these days is screwing up the city. But greed and ego are what built all of those beautiful ornamented palaces today's filth-whore developers (Moinian, Macklowe, Sam Chang) want to piss all over.
Even some of the crappy, new buildings provide an interesting contrast with the old stuff. The old stuff would be less interesting without the foil of the new -- but the new is worth absolutely zero, for the most part, without the old reflecting off it.
There are obviously many things at play in why we build so crappily today, beginning with the cost of materials and labor. But a few broader points are that, yes, greed and ego together produce the Dakota; but greed without ego (people who don't care jack about their legacy -- like Moinian) is vandalism on the city. And what sells, sells. In an era of cheap credit, crap sold. Maybe now we'll be more discerning (and perhaps developers will notice that this and this probably sold faster and made more money than the average McSam garbage). And fashions change over time; the International Style has had an unusually long run, and for all we know the next Beaux-Arts, Romanesque, Federalist or Art Deco could take its place.
Finally, recent events (as in, really big recent events) will hopefully teach us all a lesson that regulation is often a necessary measure. Tougher emissions standards and higher gas prices (due to taxes) in Europe have forced automakers there -- including Ford Europe and GM Europe -- to make more advanced, efficient and higher-quality cars. As a result, those automakers can now compete anywhere. Compare it to Ford and GM's North American clunkers and SUVs.
In that vein, the most important thing we can do is push for tougher regulation in development here, to emphasize an urban planning process that sees the city as an entity and an interconnected economic player, rather than a development process that views individual plots as ways to make Sam Chang Dick Fuld's annual salary in a penstroke, city be damned. Landmark all buildings older than 75 years old, as in cities in Europe; strengthen tax incentives and other measures to develop empty holes and parking lots rather than raze existing, functional buildings; change zoning to limit girth more than height; and set aesthetic standards: force new buildings to keep to the streetwall, have ground-level retail, enforce stronger standards to prevent construction of cheap, crappy buildings.
Nobody should ever feel bad for developers; just as rats will survive anywhere, they'll make money in any conditions. They have no constitutional right to absurdly high margins, just as chemicals companies have no right to huge profits but have to accept profit-crimping safety and health regulations.
First and foremost, we have to start thinking of our built environment as a living, vibrant entity, not as a commodity to be knocked down. Because buying something beautiful and building something cheap affects all of our qualities of life and makes the city less desirable to live in and visit long term. That hurts economic competitiveness. But moreover, it makes life suckier for all of us. Developers should think about repairing cracked streets and sidewalks and restoring our public spaces as much as they think about knocking down a Beaux-Arts gem to put up a Kaufman. They'll still make money; they just need to be made to do what they do better, like a German carmaker.
Last edited by Stroika; December 19th, 2008 at 01:22 AM.
^ All good points on which I agree.
I'd say there's a case for the preservation of the older buildings that set the tone and the likes of which will sadly likely never be built again and the destruction of the postwar garbage (and not everything postwar, including MetLife in my view, is garbage) that's mucked up the skyline -- the landmarked One Chase Manhattan colossus being a prime example of that.
Out of curiosity, how difficult is it to take down a big highrise (like Met or One Chase)? And is there any progress being made (or that can be made) in our ability to get really big buildings down?
While Chase-Manhattan Plaza did signal the end of classic art deco, neo-gothic downtown skyline, as it stands now I feel 1CMP is one of the more stately examples of international style in the City. IMO, 55 Water, 1 New York Place and 60 Wall are far bigger offenders:
We are never going to see this again:
or even this:
But there is hope for the future of the downtown skyline in bringing the emphasis up and away from the Internationals:
Would you say the WTC foursome (fivesome?) is not International Style? What would you call it?
I would say the new WTC is Late Modern style (like BofA, Hearst, Time Warner Center). 1CMP, 55 Water and the original WTC are International II. You have a point in that Late Modern is also known as International III, but I believe it is now viewed as a fully distinct style from International (I&II).