September 16, 2005
Taking a Chisel to 2 Columbus Circle, With No Regrets
By ROBIN FINN
HOLLY HOTCHNER bops into her subterranean office at the Museum of Arts and Design on West 53rd Street with one crimson-manicured hand at full extension and her startling nimbus of auburn hair rippling like a flag in a stiff wind. Her copious freckles, invigorated by a week of hard hiking in the Utah sunshine, resemble dappled body armor. Even her jewelry - a wire cuff, a hefty diamond engagement band and an oversized beaded floral necklace that rates jaw-dropping reactions on the street - packs a tacit punch.
Without being asked, she rips into an infomercial for "Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 2," the museum's "boundary-breaking" display of modern artifacts by Native American artists; it opens on Sept. 22 and is, she vows, one-of-a-kind. Political. A must-see.
She looks and sounds, in short, like a woman capable of mowing down any obstacle in her path, including the derelict nine-story white elephant at 2 Columbus Circle that the museum agreed to buy from the city for $17 million in 2002 and intends to use as its flagship, after a sophisticated $30 million face-lift that has provoked four lawsuits from preservationists. She is psyched at the prospect of reinventing the museum she runs: "It's sort of a real dream to be able to build a museum in New York City." A legacy for a would-be sculptor who never saw herself in "a desk job."
She promises that the sculptural elements of 2 Columbus Circle, which she describes as "a designated mausoleum" in its current incarnation, will be retained, but stands by the Landmarks Preservation Commission's decision not to award the building landmark status: "It's not like we're going in there at midnight with a wrecking ball. This building has more than had its day in court."
Buoyed by a Sept. 1 court ruling in favor of the museum, Ms. Hotchner, its director since 1996, when it was fumbling along in obscurity and insolvency as the American Craft Museum, hopes to start ripping into concrete next month. Appeals? Not a deterrent. The two-year litigation delay has already cost the museum $5 million in overruns, equal to its yearly operating budget.
Clarification: She doesn't actually want to gut "the lollipop" building, the oddball marble-clad structure Edward Durell Stone designed in the kitschy 60's to house the modern art collection of Huntington Hartford. Rather, she wants to liberate it from hibernation and, courtesy of an external infusion of light-hued terra cotta and glassy fenestration, throw it a lifeline.
"I've never heard of anyone who likes the building aesthetically," she says, seated at a black glass desk trimmed in masculine black leather (don't ask; it's a freebie hand-me-down). Sure, the desk is ugly, she adds, but at least it functions. Unlike 2 Columbus Circle, which is arguably ugly, but doesn't. "The word 'ugly' comes up again and again," she complains. "I think nearly everyone would agree 2 Columbus Circle is a tremendous eyesore; some of us call it the world's greatest urinal at this point."
Ms. Hotchner, who turned 54 on Sept. 11, is not intimidated by Landmark West, the Upper West Side preservation group, or the World Monuments Fund, which placed 2 Columbus Circle on its list of 100 endangered landmarks this summer. Quite the opposite. Back when she, in her own conservationist heyday (she's still on the board of the New York Landmarks Conservancy), was hired by the New-York Historical Society to preserve its museum collection, she was told that she ought to rethink her "very intimidating" hairdo. Opt for a librarian-ish bun. She balked. By 1988, she was museum director.
So maybe it's O.K., even in rarefied museum circles, to be a little intimidating?
"It's worked for me," says Ms. Hotchner, whose father, A. E. Hotchner, was Hemingway's biographer. She recalls Papa Hemingway as a bear of a guy, and not a teddy bear. "To a little girl of 4, he was frightening."
MS. HOTCHNER grew up in Manhattan, lived mostly at the Beresford, and attended the Dalton School. Her parents separated when she was young, and at 15, she lost her mother, a journalist for Look magazine and a publicist for David O. Selznick, to cancer. She attended Trinity College, and after graduating snagged a coveted spot at the Museum of Modern Art as a cataloger, for $6,500 a year. Her sculpture career went nowhere - "I didn't want to be a Sunday artist" - but she became focused on art conservation and pursued a master's in fine arts and a certificate of conservation at New York University.
Jobs at the Met and the Tate segued into what remains a favorite project, the restoration of a John La Farge mural at the Church of the Ascension. Ms. Hotchner, who lives on the Upper East Side with her husband, Franklin Silverstone, a curator and software entrepreneur, left the historical society in a state of burnout and started an art consulting business when a headhunter recruited her for her present job.
"On my first day, I walked in and the first thing I saw was a mouse, the second thing was an eviction notice on my desk, and the third was that the bookkeeper came in and said, 'We can't make the payroll this week,' " she recalls. "It really was like a Monty Python kind of thing." Ms. Hotchner suggested that perhaps the wisest business course for the craft museum would be to go out of business. Or change drastically. The board chose the second option. She dug in. Still is.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
I just came across these images of prior proposals for Columbus Circle / TWC site ( http://www.thecityreview.com/dumpty.htm ) :
Murphy/Jahn for Tishman Speyer Properties:
Robert A. M. Stern and Costas Kondylis for
the Trump Organization and Colony Capital
(the top looks very similar to what Stern has
come up with for the Mayflower site):
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Elkus/Manfredi for
the Related Companies and Himmel & Company:
Nice work lofter1!
Hmmm... I still like the Time Warner that we have.
But from those 3... I think the last one I like the best.
i love the first one!
although i wouldnt trade the ones we have.
Here's some info on the OLD Columbus Circle:
Also known as the Majestic, Park, Minsky's Park Music Hall, Cosmopolitan, Theatre of Youth
New York, NY
5 Columbus Circle
New York, NY, United States
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
Vintage photograph of the
Majestic Theatre on Columbus Circle
Architect:John H. Duncan, Joseph Urban
Around the turn of the century, many believed that the new center of New York's entertainment district would be moving to Columbus Circle, and E.D. Stair and A.L. Wilbur backed up the speculation by erecting a grandiose new theater at the western end of the oval-shaped plaza, Grand Circle, in 1903.
Designed by John H. Duncan, the 1584-seat Majestic Theatre had entrances on both 58th and 59th Streets, as well as its main entrance on Columbus Circle. Featuring a large proscenium arch, two balconies, a double staircase in the lobby and two sets of box seats, the Majestic truly lived up to its name, and was designed to be every bit as impressive and ornate as the finest European opera house.
The lobby and hallway walls were covered in marble wainscoting, while gilded columns lined the upper level of the lobby and also pairs of massive white columns framed the side boxes in the auditorium, capped by statues of trumpeting cherubs and colossal golden eagles.
The stage, at 80 feet wide and 38 feet deep could accommodate the most elaborate of shows, and did just that when it opened in the fall of 1903 with the first musical stage version of "The Wizard of Oz", which was a tremendous hit. Its then-jaw dropping special effects, such as an on-stage tornado were particularly crowd-pleasing. It would run for over ten months.
In 1911, the Majestic was renamed the Park, which continued to feature legitimate theater, but also Sunday afternoon movie screenings. As the Park Theatre, this is where "Pygmallian" had its debut.
However, in 1922, burlesque came to the Park, and it was again renamed, as Minksy's Park Music Hall. A year later, William Randolph Hearst acquired the theater, and made it the main venue for his own Cosmopolitan Pictures film company. It was given yet another new name, the Cosmopolitan.
Florenz Ziegfeld took over the Cosmopolitan in 1925, and his house architect, Joseph Urban, updated the interior. For nine months, it returned to legitimate theater, but in 1926, Ziegfeld gave it up to focus on the construction of his self-named theater. Under new management, however, the Cosmopolitan continued to stage legitimate fare until the Depression forced its closing in 1929.
It reopened in 1931, now presenting a mixed bill of vaudeville acts and motion pictures. From 1934-35, it was once more legit, as the Theatre of Young America, but late in 1935, movies and the old name, the Park, returned again.
In 1944, now renamed the International, the theater hosted the Ballet International for several weeks, then a brief run of legitimate theater, the next year. In December 1945, it was a movie house once more, as the Columbus Square, but was the International by the following August, hosting the occasional live performance but mainly sitting vacant until acquired by the NBC network in early 1949, as a television studio premiering the Admiral Broadway Review on January 28, 1949. The stars were Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. The television program was "Your Show of Shows."
NBC left the International in 1954, and not long afterwards, the former theater, along with most of its neighbors on Columbus Circle, was razed to make way for the New York Convention Center.
Contributed by Bryan Krefft
Are there ANY great movie palaces left in New York?
::grumbles unintelligibly about Robert Moses for the next ten minutes::
Well, we have the Ziegfield.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 19, 2005
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES THE REOPENING OF COLUMBUS CIRCLE
Mayor Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today joined Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Department of Design and Construction (DDC) Commissioner David J. Burney, Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Iris Weinshall and Department of City Planning Director Amanda M. Burden to announce the completion of Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan. The $23 million project included a new streetscape design, granite curbs and sidewalks, distinctive wooden benches, a breathtaking central fountain, and new landscaping as well as the restoration of underground and above ground utilities, water mains, and the roadway.
“Columbus Circle has always been one of New York City’s most beloved historic spaces, and it is now even more pedestrian-friendly,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “With lush plantings and a beautiful water fountain that screens the area from the passing traffic, one can sit at the heart of one of the busiest intersections in our City and still find the tranquility to relax and read a good book. The multi-agency effort not only transformed the circle into a beautiful public space for New Yorkers and visitors, it also greatly improved traffic conditions making the area safer for pedestrians.”
“For much of its history Columbus Circle was neither a circle nor a good public space,” said Commissioner Benepe. “A multi-agency effort has created one of New York’s great new public plazas, with a glorious new fountain, lush plantings, and a place of respite for residents, workers, and visitors.”
“Columbus Circle is one of New York’s great public spaces and DDC is proud to have managed this major reconstruction project,” said Commissioner Burney. “The new central pedestrian and seating area, screened from traffic by trees and fountains, will provide a tranquil plaza that all can enjoy.”
The design was based on an interim space created in 1999 that combined segmented traffic islands, which at that time, made up Columbus Circle. Construction began in July 2003 and was a multi-agency effort. DDC oversaw the final design by Vollmer Consultants and construction by general contractor Tully Construction Company. The Department of City Planning worked closely with Olin Partnership to create the project’s overall plan and landscape/urban design features. The $23 million reconstruction was funded by $21.3 million from the City, with $1.2 million from the Transit Authority and $500,000 for the fountain equipment from Related Companies, L.P. and Apollo Real Estate. Prior to construction, the design was partially supported by $500,000 from the Related Companies and Apollo Real Estate.
The circle is laid out in a series of concentric rings consisting of a broad, gently raised area of plantings and a ring of fountains in its interior that buffer the traffic noise and provide a serene, pedestrian plaza around the Christopher Columbus Statue. The pedestrian plaza is set inside of the fountain, and includes three new benches made of curved wood, large enough to allow individuals and groups to sit comfortably back to back, facing either the fountain or the monument. The new fountain includes 99 fountain heads and nearly 300 fountain lights, and was designed by WETdesign, who also designed the fountains at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Rockefeller Center Prometheus Fountain.
The Department of Parks & Recreation was responsible for the center public space and provided the scope and funding for the fountain, benches, landscaping and upcoming renovation of Columbus Statue. DOT provided scope and funding for the improved traffic and pedestrian flow and surrounding roadwork. The DEP provided funding for water main and sewer improvements for the surrounding area. The Central Park Conservancy provided assistance to DDC throughout the project.
“Columbus Circle is now a destination rather than just an intersection,” said Commissioner Weinshall. “The redesign allows for a more orderly movement of traffic and most importantly creates a safer route for pedestrians to cross.”
“DEP’s role was mostly on belowground infrastructure, but we’re pleased to be part of this marvelous civic effort that revamped Columbus Circle,” said Commissioner Lloyd. “Over $2 million of new water mains likely won’t be noticed by the millions of people who pass through each year, but they will play an important role for many decades to come – particularly, getting water to the new central fountain.”
“The renewed Columbus Circle has become a magical and compelling open space marking the location of one of the most important crossroads of the City,” said City Planning Director Amanda M. Burden. “The graceful fountains, generous seating, plantings and lighting have transformed a neglected traffic island into a vibrant destination for all New Yorkers. We were pleased and proud to work with Laurie Olin on the design of this splendid new public space.”
Copyright 2005 The City of New York
Wow this night light thing is great!
I just hope that Time Warner Towers will light them self up aswell.
When are the towers going to be lit again?
Beautiful picture, BigMac. I love how you captured the way Time Warner and 2 Columbus Circle cooperate to form the Circle. At one time 2 Columbus Circle was the only building hereabouts that even knew it was on a circle. Now it will be reclothed in boring duds that will more closely resemble Time Warner. Much will be lost.
At this point I don't much care what they do with 2 Columbus Circle. It's such an eyesore. Blow it up for all I care.
Originally Posted by ablarc
That, I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear, is what most folks said about Penn Station.Originally Posted by vc10