Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Ah, "progress"....


The Fountain
Originally uploaded by skidder.
Thanks so much, everyone, for your feedback on the last post! One other happy memory I forgot to add was that when I received my master's from New York University (NYU) in the mid-80s, the commencement ceremony was held, as it is each May, in Washington Square Park. Since the University has many super-famous alumni, there are always a stellar list of guest speakers and honorary degree recipients on hand.

Over the past few decades, NYU has transformed itself into one of the finest universities in the country, and Washington Square is still the traditional epicenter of its main "campus." However, one result has been that the University has gobbled up quite a bit of the downtown area by building countless dorms and other structures, some of which have replaced famous institutions and landmarks such as the Palladium club and Luchow's restaurant. One recent victim was the world renowned Bottom Line club, which recently lost its lease with the University and was shut down.

Which leads me to a sad addendum to my previous post: there is currently a controversial plan abroad to renovate Washington Square Park, though opponents have filed a lawsuit to try to stop it. Some feel that NYU is behind the plan, or at least supportive of it--one of the University's biggest donors is contributing quite a bit of money to the project. The plan, if executed, would mean a major upheaval of this historic site, including moving the fountain and elevating the park's sunken plaza. A piece by Lincoln Anderson in a July/August issue of the Villager details some of the objections folks have to this nefarious development, and portions of the text in quotes below are taken from that article.

One of the most compelling objections is the argument that the Square is "hallowed ground"--because the site is a former burial ground which "probably contains the remains of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 vets." The site was a potter's field until 1825, with some 20,000 bodies buried there. The fountain, which would be moved in the proposed plan, was once the location of a hanging gallows.

Another objection is that "elevating the park's sunken plaza to ground level would rob the square of its famous 'theater in the round' for performers." Indeed, just as in days of old, performers and spectators still flock to the park each weekend, especially in good weather.

I don't know too many other details of this plan, but it saddens me greatly. Much of New York's character and history are being thrown by the wayside, and one of the only impediments to this perpetual renovation is the work of the Landmarks Preservation Committee, which has succeeded in deeming certain structures historical landmarks. In some ways, the city has changed for the better, but there seems to be a lot more sterility creeping in as well, as one massive high rise after another is constructed. .

Fortunately, another recent Villager article seems to indicate that the more drastic renovation plans may not go through after all, In any case, here's a great shot of the park, showing the fountain as well as the historic Washington Square Arch on the park's north side. The arch was built to commemorate the centennial of George Washington's first inauguration, which took place in New York City in 1789. The original plaster and wood arch of 1889 was replaced with a marble arch in 1892, designed by the magnificent architect--and native New Yorker-- Stanford White.

12 Comments:

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Timothy said...

Hopefully they will leave it alone. I do not know, but maybe it is in need of some repairs? If so, just restore it back to original and not a complete rebuild.

 
At 9:57 AM, Blogger Justine said...

how a place can change over time. Hmm.

 
At 11:17 AM, Blogger Brink Craven said...

the palladium closed down? yikes. tells ya how long its been since Ive been club hopping in the city. I saw PIL there once in the early 80's. Even though it kinda pissed me off that they did Sex Pistols covers, Im still happy that I got to see the show. I'll never forget the experience. And now CBGB's too? what is the world coming to?
and what is this about "renovating" WSP? IS that the new code for "ruining" and nobody told me about it? If it aint broke, why fix it? Common peoples, use yur heads!

as usual, very entertaining and informative stories E. Thanks!

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger Danny said...

Elvira:

Here's how I see it - As think progress, they somewhat digress simultaneously. Things will never be the same, that's to be sure. I guess all that we can do is to fight to preserve these precious landmarks, and if we lose, try to see the positive points of the newer things.

I am adverse to change for many reasons, but I do know that is inevitable - something that we cannot escape. I too cringe at the thought of these newer structures, which seem to be sterile and lack character. They appear to be very utiitarian. This not only applies to architecture, but many other things in life. Automobiles are a prime example. For many years, they were all about extravagant styling and radical designs. Now everything is rounded off for aerodynamics, or for the fear that someone is going to get hurt. The cheapening of society - Living in The Age of Plastic

 
At 4:30 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

you are so chaulk full of history. I love that.

 
At 12:48 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Timothy:

Yes, the Park is in need of repairs. The fountain, for example, apparently needs a complete overhaul anyway due to damage. And all of the major parks in the city that used to be dirty and dangerous have been redone and are now user and child friendly. But Washington Square Park's layout is unique, and people fear the traditional ambience will be destroyed.

 
At 12:49 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Justine:

Yes, it's incredible--Times Square, which used to be full of hookers and porno shops, has been cleaned up and is now tourist friendly. That's not a bad thing, so I can't say that change is all bad.

 
At 12:52 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Brink:

Yep, the Palladium is long gone. There's a spanking new dorm there now, complete with a gym. I saw PIL in the 80s too at Irving Plaza. There was a near-riot because they played behind a curtain--and the record skipped. This was way before Milli Vanilli!

CBGB--well, the whole Bowery is becoming gentrified, although in the case of CBs I think they're just expanding services for the homeless or something.

As for Washington Square Park--in an attempt to hear both sides of the story, I've read up on the rationale for the changes. Some are good--making the park more wheelchair accessible. Some are more questionable.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Danny:

One thing about this particular renovation that is troubling is that so much of it will be funded by private donations, and that means there may be strings attached. Some fear the park may eventually become more of a private than a public park. Another of the proposals is to build higher fences around the park, which also seems shady to me. Gramercy Park is beautiful, but is completely private. No one can get in unless they are residents of the area who have a key.

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Danny:

Oh yeah--I agree with you about cars. They are all so ugly now! If I drove, and I had the money, I'd want a vintage car. I don't know how practical it would be, but since at least the 70s cars have become very ugly and boring.

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Leslie:

Thanks! The Village in particular--like a lot of downtown--has a lot of historic sites. But the fact that this area has such a bohemian history makes it especially appealing to me.

 
At 1:03 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

There's a great article in the Village Voice (with a great picture) that covers the park renovation issue pretty thoroughly. There are certainly pros and cons involved--the Park does need some rehauling. But this site is so historically rich that many fear that some of the more drastic changes will take away from the tradition of performers who still come to the park and play to appreciative audiences. And the fact that there are so many wealthy donors means that some of the revamping may be for ulterior motives--like vanity or perhaps making the park more "exclusive" and excluding.

 

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