Friday, October 26, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-16: First the Nets, now the Islanders!?!

Your faithful RTUF correspondent blogged earlier this year (in Post No. 2012-6) about the resurrection of Brooklyn's railroading heart with the recent reconstruction of the LIRR Atlantic Terminal at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. At the time, because it was a relatively brief post, I merely touched on two major themes that, at least to me, the new building represented: first, that Brooklyn was very definitely doing very well, and second, that this performance was particularly sweet vindication for me because as a kid, it was quite simply accepted fact that places like Brooklyn (where I was, you know, born and then growing up) simply had no future.

Well, the first major theme just received another substantial boost with the announcement a couple of days ago that the NHL's New York Islanders will move from their antiquated arena on Long Island in Uniondale to the Barclays Center. Barclays is, of course, where the relocated Brooklyn Nets will be playing their first regular season game very soon.

Photo source: wikipedia.

According to the linked Bloomberg piece, the move is set for the 2015-2016 season, assuming the NHL someday ends the lockout and actually starts playing hockey games again. Putting that aside, for those of you keeping score at home, the deeper sports story here is that both of the pro teams that started playing at the Nassau Coliseum -- ABA New York Nets of Dr. J fame, and the New York Islanders -- in the early 1970s are now going to be reunited in Brooklyn, of all places. Call it fate.

Now, the Islanders aren't just any team to me. They were quite simply my hockey team as a young lad and my God they were good. During their glory years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the team was replete with the likes of Denis Potvin (whom Ranger fans still jeered wtih "Potvin Sucks" more than a decade after he retired), Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Billy Smith, and Butch Goring, just to name a few, they won 4 (!) Stanley Cups in a row and played some of the most exciting, balanced team hockey the league has ever seen. Since then, it's been a long, painful and effectively permanent descent to the basement for the Isles. A descent punctuated, at least in my mind, with the criminal, after-the-whistle hit that virtually talent-free Washington Capitals enforcer Dale Hunter put on Pierre Turgeon after Turgeon's goal clinched the 1993 Wales conference semifinal series for the Islanders. Psychologically, Hunter didn't just crumple Turgeon, he injured the whole franchise. Whether the move to a new arena will be the thing that shakes the Islanders out of their doldrums and makes them competitive agian remains to be seen. There's at least some hope that it will lead to a brighter future.

The second theme, the one about sweet vindication and the phoenix-like revivication of the County of Kings, is also boosted by the imminent coming of the Islanders. As is well known, the borough's beloved Dodgers decamped for Los Angeles in 1958, leaving behind a deeply distraught and embittered fan base that I can still remember as deeply distraught and embittered as a young child, more than a decade later. Even though the Mets had been bestowed upon the region and had success in 1969 and again in 1973, everyone knew, deep down, that soul-less Shea Stadium (an armpit the day it opened) was hardly a replacement for the intimate Ebbets Field and an expansion team was no match for the blood, sweat and tears Brooklyn had put into the Dodgers. Branch Rickey deserved immense credit and a place in the Hall of Fame for integrating major league baseball by signing Jackie Robinson in 1947. But what Rickey and Walter O'Malley did to their host city a decade later was undeniably devastating.

And as Brooklyn and the entire city itself entered into a painful decline over the ensuing quarter century, including, without in any way implying limitation, such joyous events as two major blackouts, the Son of Sam murder spree, municipal bankruptcy, the mayoralty of Abe Beame, the Westway debacle, the loss of a million residents, and the rise of Donald Trump, it was hard to deny what many were saying: that our best days were behind us (I seem to recall a New York magazine article that even pinpointed 1946 as the city's best year, period -- thank you New York magazine!), and the future was elsewhere. Turns out the future was in Brooklyn all along, with its growing population, two major sports franchises, state-of-the-art arena, newly-rebuilt train station, and perhaps the greatest per-capita hippitude of all stripes on the planet, led by a troika of moguls from 3 very different worlds - hip hop, real estate, and precious metals. Go figure.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-15: Something like this (though maybe not exactly this)... what your correspondent meant about Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross:

Photo 1: Existing facade of St. Paul's Cathedral, Tremont Street, Boston. Note
the blank, unfinished pediment above the columns. Copied from Architecture Boston website.

Photo 2: Selected finishing design by Philadelphia-based artist Andrew Lipski, based on the whorl of the Nautilus shell. Copied from Architecture Boston website.

Photo 3: Night view of Lipski's design. Copied from Architecture Boston website.

So, you may argue with the aesthetics and, if you have a viewpoint on the subject, the question of whether the pediment of a religious building should convey an expressly religious message directly tied to the congregation that meets within, or if an essentially aesthetic or natural subject's depiction is can itself be a subtle appeal to the existence of a deity that is the root of such beauty and order. But there is no doubt that the Epicopal Church in Massachusetts is sending a message to the broader community that it is still alive and kicking by spending considerable time and energy on presenting a new, finished face to its surroundings. The location at stake here is critical as well. St. Paul's Cathedral is located on Tremont Street, across the street from Boston Common, in the heart of the Downtown Crossing area of Boston, facing up the lower part of Beacon Hill toward the State House. A map to help RTUF Nation orient itself is here.

The decision to go with this design, made by St. Paul's with the help of MassArt, was made back in March. But it only recently came to your correspondent's attention. The essential story, which can be found on  WBUR's website, is similar in its broad outlines to the story with the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, at which we here at RTUF took a gander last year around this time. St. Paul's original builders apparently had intended for the pediment to include a sculptural depiction of St. Paul preaching to Herod Agrippa II of Judea. When funds ran short during construction in 1819, the pediment sculpture was dropped and the space where it was supposed to go has remained blank for the last 190+ years. Why fill the pediment in now? Ostensibly, it's a way of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the designation of the building as the Episcopal diocese's cathedral church. As Dean Jep Streit indicates in the WBUR story, though, the diocese is trying to do more with their decision and send a message of continuing relevancy and vitality.

Now, as to the aesthetics themselves, Bostonians have long been active in historic preservation and the architectural community's reaction was at least mixed, if not tending toward critical, at the outset, as you can see from the commentary on the Boston Society of Architects' website here and on Universal Hub. And the reasons are many why that kind of a discussion would be warranted. The design of the church is an early and excellent example of Greek Revival architecture. The architects of St. Paul's were Alexander Parris and Solomon Willard, between them responsible for two of Boston's major landmarks: Quincy Market (Parris) and the Bunker Hill Monument (Willard). The interior of the church was redesigned around its hundredth anniversary by  Ralph Adams Cram, a well-known proponent of Gothic Revival architecture whose designs include the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. You'll see that there's a bit of referencing of the "Saint John the Divine Approach" in the BSA comments, where there's some hand-wringing over the failure to complete the original design in stone sculpture, much like the way the completion of the massive Saint John's has been pursued using traditional masonry methods eschewing modern methods. St. Paul's has obviously taken a different approach with the selection of the Nautilus pediment.

In the final analysis, count me with the group who see the pediment design as worth at least a try, if not entirely appropriate. Remember that the church design is itself Greek Revival, a design aesthetic that initially had absolutely no intrinsic Christian meaning (being, you know, pre-Christian by several centuries). The artist, Donald Lipski, ably and with obvious seriousness described his design idea and meaning as follows (I am quoting in full from his own blog, which can be found here):

St. Paul’s is a house of Prayer for all People.  Carl Jung saw the spiral as the archetypal symbol of cosmic force, focusing both inward and outward.  The spiral occurred to me because it speaks to all people.  We see it in most every culture, from primitive rock carvings to the scroll of the Torah. It’s a ubiquitous form in nature—from the motion of subatomic particles to the vastness of galaxies.

The church itself gets its Greek proportions from the golden rectangle, which generates the Fibinacci spiral.  This is how the idea first came to me.  I visited the church in November, and in the Commons came upon a woman making a spiral in the leaves, and walking it back and forth like a labyrinth.  This was like a divine sign.

I’ve based it on a slice from the shell of the Chambered Nautilus, one of the Earth’s oldest creatures.  The Nautilus each year outgrows its chamber and builds a new one, which is a beautiful metaphor for spiritual growth.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote his great poem, The Chambered Nautilus, reflecting on just this.  He called the nautilus “The Ship of Pearl”, and I have made this the title of the sculpture.  

Here is the last stanza:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

I plan to make it look like the stone tracery on Gothic churches.  St. Paul’s was once a prominent building, but as tall office buildings have grown up around it, it has lost its impact.  Folks have felt that it looks like a bank.  I think this will change that.  I expect it will be a new and welcome landmark on Tremont St.

-Donald Lipski

How inspiring would it be if your correspondent's own Archdiocese of Boston could find within itself the resolve to finish the vertical elements of its massive Roxbury Puddingstone edifice, designed by P.C. Keely, perhaps the most prolific church architect of them all?