Thursday, October 7, 2010

Greenwich Village

The Jefferson Market Library, 10th Street, 6th and Greenwich Avenues.
The Empire State Building, 34th and 5th.
The Chrysler Building, 42nd and Park.
The main entrance of the "News" Building.
The Daily News Building, 42nd between 2nd and 3rd.
This past weekend I decided to take a walk down to Greenwich Village, taking a few shots of the skyscrapers up town along the way for the Facebook page. While downtown, I tried to take in some of the old buildings that remain down there after trying to get some good shots of the art deco buildings of the '30s. High rises such as the the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and Daily News Building, where my grandfather, father, mother and brother have all worked in one form or another, I'm guessing were supposed to represent New Yorkers vision of the future, with a sleek, plain looking design that was a big contrast to the ornate Victorian style of some of the late nineteenth century buildings, that are now common downtown, a prime example being the Jefferson Market Courthouse (now a branch of the New York Public Library), that still prominently stands in the middle of Greenwich Village. Built from 1874 - 1877, in the 1880s a panel of architects voted it the fourth most beautiful building in the United States. Abandoned by the court system in 1945, it was slated for destruction by the 1960s, but public outcry saved it, and authors like E.E. Cummings, who lived in Patchin Place across the street, persuaded the city to turn it into a library. Meanwhile, the Women's House of Detention, a 1932 Art Deco building that replaced an older jail, and was reportedly the only art deco - style prison in the world, was closed down and demolished in 1973. The prison is featured prominently in David Duchovny's 2005 movie House of D, about his childhood in Greenwich Village in the early '70s, where he befriends one of the prisoners. The prison supposedly was of close enough proximity to the street that prisoners would often heckle passers-by along Sixth Avenue. I never saw that movie but I feel like I should, even though it got terrible reviews, mainly from critics who said it lacked depth and direction.

A couple blocks down is St. Joseph's Church, on West Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue. St. Peter's Church, on the corner of Barclay an Church Streets downtown, is the oldest Catholic Church in New York State, dating back to 1785, but a fire destroyed the original building, and the one standing there now dates back to 1840. St. Joseph's is the oldest Catholic Church building in the city, dating back to 1808, and the Dominican Friars there now run the NYU Catholic Campus Ministry there. I went in their and sat down for a while. The last time I was there, I was browsing through the bulletins in flyers by the door when a woman I'd say in about her sixties who was sitting at one of the chairs by the door came up to me.

"Excuse me," she asked, "are you wearing your pants below your waist."

"No, they're at my waist."

"Oh, good. I was just making sure, because wearing them below your waist is an abomination."

Once she had confirmed that I wasn't one of those rowdy teens who wore his jeans below his waist, she had me cornered to start talking to me.

I always try to be polite. I don't like brushing people off, so I sit with her for a while, and she talks about how she didn't like the changes in the Catholic Church since Vatican 2, and she thinks the mass that's going on inside now is not a Catholic service at all. I let her talk to me for a while, and tried to engage her in conversation. But when I was sitting there, I was reminded of something about people who like to talk a lot, no matter who they are: they don't care about whether you are blowing them off or truly trying to engage them in conversation, all they want to do is hear themselves talk. As I watched a glazed over look slowly form over her face as I finished my measly sentence, I decided to just let her say what she wanted to say about the terrible state of the Catholic Church and the world in general. On that note, as she went up to get communion, despite her distaste of the Vatican 2 mass, I beat it out of there.

The relationship this city has with architecture is very interesting to me, though. In the '30s, city developers like Robert Moses, who seemed to have some kind of unrealistic vision of the future, seemed to have no appreciation for the artistic skill that went into the old buildings and monuments in this city, and were content to have them bulldozed to the ground for something that was considered more modern. That old prison, which replaced an even older one, was a great example of old Victorian and new Art Deco side by side. I wish I could have seen it for myself, but at least that tower at the Jefferson Market thankfully isn't going anywhere.

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