Browsing the archives for the Guest Author: NYCGUY category.


The Broadway-96th Street Station Remake, and 535 West End Avenue Construction Update

Guest Author: NYCGUY, Uncategorized

The Broadway-96th Street station, which was sloppily extended after WWII, is undergoing reconstruction.

The Broadway thoroughfare is being reconfigured to accommodate a station house in the expanded mall between 95th & 96th streets. This follows upon on the creation of a new station house between 72nd & 73rd streets, in the expanded Verdi Square. The structure there is a riff on the restored, landmark, 1904 entryway, that dramatically improved circulation, created a much used street level public space & somehow managed to visually anchor the Alexandria, David Child’s 1991 cartoon version of the beloved, eccentric Ansonia. Thank you Gruzen Samton.

The barrel vaulted structure envisioned for 96th Street seems to reference the suburban London Underground stations of the 1920s & 30s. Fingers crossed. There’s no stylistic context on the boulevard nor acknowledged pallet of colors or textures.

The interior tile work so far leaves everything to be desired. Whereas the past two decades of station modernizations have seen prefab tile panels hung over existing, deteriorated or missing stock or the older tiles scored before new are applied, neither format is being followed. Thin, low quality, rectangular  white tiles are being applied directly to the post-war tiles. There is no effort at evenness, a fact revealed by how light plays on the tiles + the grouting varies from dark to white. Some of the new tiles have been painted over. Most are filthy. On the west wall of the station, a section is already grease stained. This doesn’t bode well for a project of this scope & cost.

A section of the remaining 1904 Art Nouveau style terra cotta & tile banding was removed for storage & ostensible restoration before this section of old platform at the northeast corner of the station, was sealed forever. For the moment, an adjacent, perfectly intact section remains.

Given the haphazard installation of the white, evidently background tiles,  I was amazed this past week to first  notice new “96’s” & then a frieze pattern, actually two. That work is beautiful. Everything else is shit. …. There is a section of rebuilt staircase at 93rd St (w/s) where the tile changes from something really stolid to what looks like cheap, bathroom tile… It would seem no one is officially observing this. Where will the old tiles & terra cotta go? Why is the station being given a new, albeit necessary, entryway, for which the closest New York reference is what’s now Asphalt Green but with an interior that’s not IND ’30s, industrial modern nor does it speak to nearby Symphony Space’s De Stijl citation courtesy of James Polshek: Boogie Woogie Mondrian.

If you think it’s impossible somethings amiss, please take a walk or a ride up to the next station at 103rd, restored in 2004 & see the difference in craft & care for materials.

Nine blocks south& 1 block west, the so-called grand luxe 535 West End Avenue, has just applied, factory-made composite panels with 1″ inch thick, brick-like veneers to most of two floors.

Apparently, there will be only four narrow, vertical sections of raised pseudo-brick on the entire West End Avenue & West 86th Street facades. The color might be described as muddy brown. The pre-World War II West End Avenue from 70th to 107th streets is solid masonry. Not here. The brickwork on the adjacent buildings ranges in a pallet of beige, cream, tan andyellow. The more daring buildings are white – not the failed 1950s & 60s white or orange to red. Brown tends to be found on the side streets are much further north or south on West End.

All of those buildings have trim & ornamentation, even modest ones. A urbane building would reference that pallet & at least nod occasionally to vertical banding.

Not this one.

It towers legally above the surrounding streetwalls in a suburban manner, meaning it’s there by itself. Some commercial avenues in Midtown & Water Street Downtown are like this but this is one of the city’s great boulevards of apartments – broken here & there by preceding townhouse blocks. A really good International Style residential structure, like, yes, Morris Lapidus’ Presidential on West 70th Street might have interrupted things with flare.

Not here.

The developer – which has given the Upper West Side the unangelic Ariels  at Broadway between 99th & 100th streets (without the promised LEED certification for “greenness”) has made a big deal of their Chicago architect. That architect, it seems, is to the Windy City – a great architecture town – what Costa Kondylis & his late mentor Philip Birnbaum are to New York – a developer’s dream. Someone who can squeeze the last salable square inch out of the zoning envelope.

That’s very useful, but it doesn’t always yield great buildings. Developers will often pair that skill with an architectural firm known for stunning exteriors.

Humdrum would be a step up at this site.

Meanwhile, this building & threats to others, has yielded a grass roots movement to get the entire aforementioned stretch of West End Avenue covered by a New York City Historic District. Take that Extell& please take Mr Lagrange with you.

For those wondering about terra cotta, until 1960, a great New York City architectural medium, check out the books by Susan Tunick. For a look at the 96th Street station plans -albeit sans the tile work, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/mancb7/downloads/pdf/irt_96.pdf. In keeping with renderings for all too many public commissions hereabouts, the commuters & pedestrians drawn are all white. This is 96th Street?… Lastly, to learn more about & maybe join the efforts to landmark WEA, see http://www.westendpreservation.org/.

Editors Note: Please be sure to read the comments below. Lily

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Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story, The Woman from Sarajevo, and Milk: Three Films

Film, Guest Author: NYCGUY

Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story,  by a very youthful director from Oz,  Julian Shaw, will screen just twice on Thursday, January 29 at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, as part of the 18th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival. Ironically, it’s paired with another doc, The Woman from Sarajevo, about a Muslim woman from the city famous for its Haggadah, the daughter of a Righteous Gentile, who becomes an Israeli and a Jew.

Evita Bezuidenhout, the Most Famous White Woman in South Africa, was profiled by the Gray Lady during the height of apartheid and the hype of its  supporter, Ronald Reagan. (If you recall, he was an actor who added politician to his CV while retaining a, um, TV presence.) 

Mrs Bezuidenhout, the ambassador to a Bantustan just outside her posh suburban Johannesburg door, was and still is satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys. Pieter/Evita remains a national presence as his/her country transitioned to democracy. As Uys – pronounced “ace” notes – “politics no longer kills, it just irritates.”

The son of two concert pianists – a Calvinist Afrikaner father and a Jewish Nazi-Berlin refugee mother – with a London-resident sister who hewed to her parents’ career tradition, Uys is clearly a concert artist him, um, her self.

Nowadays this good friend of two giants, Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu, uses the tricks of his/her trade – to battle public ignorance about HIV/AIDS, a serious problem in what is supposed to be the moral beacon of much of the continent.

The audience is the rainbow of South African youth.

They love the Pieter/Evita transformations. These personalities, the subject of a documentary, Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story, by Julian Shaw, will screen just twice on Thursday, January 29 at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, as part of the 18th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival. Ironically, it’s paired with another doc, The Woman from Sarajevo, about a Muslim woman from the city famous for its Haggadah, the daughter of a Righteous Gentile, who becomes an Israeli and a Jew.

If you’ve been culturally closeted of late, you may have missed, but must go see the much praised performance of Sean Penn,  the straight, agnostic son of a once backlisted Russian-Lithuanian Jewish actor/director father and an Italian-Irish Catholic actress mother as the Long Island-reared,  closeted , athletic, funny  Jewish guy in the gray flannel suit – Harvey Milk – who makes a break from New York to San Francisco, at the tender age of 40. The Gus Van Sant eponymous film traces the stirred up ex-New Yorker’s emerging political clout in the western city of seven hills and the Shaar Zahar state.

This emotionally powerful, dramatic work weaves in documentary footage reaches a crescendo in a nationally-observed statewide political referendum that mirrors the recent, closely-watched referendum that rolled back marriage right.

Released on the 30th anniversary of the protagonist’s assassination, Milk can be seen at several New York area theaters.

Perhaps imbibing Milk’s coalition-building skills, a New York State LGBT rights group ESPA has linked with major unions, a tenants rights organization and progressives to
challenge three Democratic State Senators who’ve threatened to block the voters will and much legislation in Albany.

No documentary or dramatic film, as yet.

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“A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad”

Film, Guest Author: NYCGUY

The 18th Annual Jewish Film Festival, review by NYCGUY of “A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad”.

During the 1950s & 60s, The Jewish Museum, not MoMA, was THE avant garde showcase in New York City. After decades of taking a safer route, the doyenne of the nation’s Jewish museums seems to be, at least in part, taking this path again, most recently evinced by the stunning exhibit, “Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama,” which asked, in part, just what is a Jew?

For their 18th annual New York Jewish Film Festival, now a long running partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, they’ll be screening an Austrian made- for-TV doc, “A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad,” the story of the scion of a long line of Orthodox rabbis from Czernowitz (now Czernovtsy), born in 1900 in Lemberg (now Lviv), both then part of Austria-Hungary, who began schooling with a religiously rich education until WWI caused his family to move to the secular capital Vienna.

Leopold Weiss would attend university, acquire new languages, dally with the intellectual brilliance of 1920s Berlin, becoming a screenwriter & then a journalist, trek to Saudi Arabia, befriend the king Ibn Saud, convert to Islam, spin a 1st name meaning lion to an analogous last name & in effect, become a light for the then contemporary Islamic awakening as the colonial domains began their march to independence. 

In india he became an intimate of the western trained poet/philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (a follower of among others, the French Jewish Nobel Laureate philosopher Henri Bergson) & together with others conceive of a Muslim state – or at least autonomous region – within NW British India that would become Pakistan. Weiss/Asad would become a minister & early UN rep for the new state created to protect Muslims from increasing Hindu hostility.

Before this he would sojourn in mandatory Palestine, where he’d engage with uncles from both sides of his family, one Zionist, one clearly not, adopting the latter’s views, writing for the then liberal Frankfurter Zeitung (indirect forerunner of the similarly named modern journal), living amongst the wandering Bedouin who he came to feel were more like the ancient Hebrews, penning the once influential, now out of print, but still cited The Road to Mecca, visit Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Soviet Central Asia.

He fell out of favor with Pakistan’s governing circles & became saddened with the trajectory of its governance which he envisioned as naturally democratic, settled in Tangiers, wrote what is considered one of the best translations of the Qur’an, fell out of favor in Morocco & made his last home the once glorious Andalusia.

The film covers his wanderings from Lviv to Vienna to Jerusalem to Mecca to Lahore to New York to Tangiers & concludes at his gravesite in Spain. He was always in places that at least once contained a cosmopolitan mix of peoples & engaged with artists, writers, philosophers & politicians who were no less at home in the world of ideas.

The documentary maker Georg Misch – whose film company is named Mischief – takes on the naming this past April of a square by the UN complex in Vienna  for Asad – a first for a Muslim in Europe (& a site created by the Jewish Social Democratic Prime Minister Bruno Kreisky), he follows Palestinians making Hajj to Mecca via a flight from Amman, looks in at a gathering of Asad acolytes in Pakistan’s intellectual hub, the decaying beauty of Lahore, engages with two Sephardi sisters in Tangiers who Asad assiduously visited bearing Sachertorte, travels around Manhattan on 9/11/06 with Asad’s son Talal, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the CUNY Grad Center, reflecting, like his father, on the West’s perceptions of Muslims.  

One hopes the Museum will pair the two screenings with a symposium or panel. The filmmaker, his co-writer, anthropologist Miriam Ali de Unzaga, an Ismaili & Talal Asad come to mind. Meanwhile, to learn more about the subject, check out the extensive http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/WeissAsad.htm or the shorter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Asad. For a brief excerpt from the film’s namesake book, see http://www.sufism.org/books/meccaex.html.

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“Making Trouble” and “Orthodox Stance” by NYCGuy

Film, Guest Author: NYCGUY

Five Real Jewish Women – Three of them Mothers – All Dead of Cancer Before 60 ….by guest author NYCGuy.

 I sat between Lily and my mom at the afternoon screening of Making Trouble, a doc about three generations of Jewish comediennes, three of whose careers I experienced in real time: Gilda Radner, Wendy Wasserstein and Madeline Kahn. A Q and A followed with director Rachel Talbot and editor Philip Shayne in the Jewish Museum hall that could only be described as a sea of silver-haired ladies. I asked the director what it was like to deal with three boomer women whose lives had been cut short way too soon.

Talbot, a boomer, seemed taken aback, but Shane interceded that they were filming Wasserstein vis-a-vis Kahn’s acting career and her role in her Sisters Rosensweig when the playwright died. So, she became one of those profiled as well as the segue into the Kahn segment. I later discovered I’d erred about the very sexy, sharply funny Kahn. Her birth preceded the baby boom by four years.

 The film used the vehicle of four contemporary Jewish comics or comedy writers fressing at Katz’s delicatessen, for propulsion, but I don’t somehow recall mention of lives foreshortened. The film, with significant support from the Jewish Women’s Archive, is ostensibly about six pioneers – Molly Picone, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker and the still kicking Joan Rivers – but the sadly serendipitous inclusion of Wasserstein, a single mom and sole non-performer, added a woman as shammas whose extraordinary gift for story telling set ablaze the careers of many fine actresses.

So, you ask, who were the other two whose lives were cut short?

This evening I attended the closing festival screening with my friend M. The documentary, Orthodox Stance, looked at the boxing career of a Soviet immigrant, Dmitriy Salita, who takes on what was the sport of the earlier generation inter-war Jewish immigranmt boys who also sought a route out of poverty.

Dmitriy, who sat on the step next to us as the film rolled, began his training in the Starrett City Boxing Gym, a white kid among Black and Latin youths, with a legendary elderly Black trainer, Jimmy O’Pharrow, who, during the Q+A, Dmitriy named as his surrogate grandfather.

Early in his training, his mother develops and eventually succumbs to cancer. The husband of her Orthodox Jewish hospital roommate connects Dimitriy with a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi in Flatbush, setting a different spin on the young man’s life. His focus on boxing was also a way of dealing with the loss of his mother. The film opens theatrically at Cinema Village on January 25. Go see it!

Lily alread wrote about Praying with Lior. Isaw this with Lily and her husband sitting on one side and my friend G on the other. I had immediately checked off that film as a must see by the compelling picture of Lior in the Frestival brochure. In the course of the doc, via family film footage, we see the loss of Lior’s birth mother, a rabbi, and later discussion about this threaded throughout. His dad, also a rabbi, Mordechai Liebling,  a prominent thinker in the Reconstructionist movement eventually remarries. Lior’s new mom sees him into his current adolescence and with his dad to the pivotal preparation for the celebration of his bar mitzvah. On the eve of this event there is a scene with Lior and his dad at the birth mom’s gravesite. If there’s anyone unmoved their heart is clearly made of stone.

I don’t know if the organizers of what was the NY Jewish Film Festival 17 realized that the loss of vibrant women not due to the holocaust was woven through three very different documentaries that very much need to travel and be discussed.

That apparently is the desire of all the film makers.

In January 2009, the Festival turns 18, chai, life in Jewish numerology. What might this bring? Who might be missed?

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