Category Archives: new york city

Discovering Columbus from a Living Room High Above the City

Most major cities have them, those figures of triumph and history perched high up on columns above traffic circles that are labeled with their names. But aside from the names, what can we actually know of this statues of men (as they are almost always men) several stories up from our eye levels? Well, currently if you’re in NYC you can go right up to the stone Christopher Columbus who is perched above the busy Columbus Circle on the southwest corner of Central Park. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi’s installation “Discovering Columbus” has surrounded the 13-foot-tall Columbus with a living room supported by scaffolding, where you can lounge on a couch and watch CNN while getting a close look at this usually distant sculpture.

This week, me and my friend Hannah paid Columbus a visit. You have to first climb up 75 feet of stairs surrounding the granite column that supports the monument by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo. The giant Columbus rising up from an ordinary-looking coffee table and taking up a good portion of the room is immediately amusing, and most people seemed inclined to hang around and spend some time in the presence of the comically oversize marble colossus.

It’s hard to tell from my photos how high up we are, so here is a 1907 shot of Columbus Circle, not too long after the statue and its column were erected in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. You can see some street cars drive by its base, and a lot of buildings that have since disappeared. And maybe a ghost in the lower left corner??? One can only guess.

Since Columbus has been standing proud with one hand on hip for over a hundred years, he’s experienced some weathering and decay, and the art installation doubles as a preservation effort. Yet despite the years, there were still surprising details of the statue, like the buckles of his shoes and wrinkles of his clothes, things that would be impossible to discern from below.

I should mention that the wallpaper in the room was also hilarious, with a crazy mix of Americana, from Devil’s Tower to Michael Jackson to McDonald’s.

The view from the platform was also amazing, looking to the park and up along Broadway. I love these views that you never expect to have, and here was a view that was once that of the stone Columbus alone. Now we can join him in his stoic gaze at the tumult of the city that has risen up to his level in the decades of his watch from on high.

If you’re in NYC, you have until December 2 to visit him!

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Not Much Occult, But Lots of Ornamentation at the Masonic Grand Lodge of NY

You have to give it to the Masons, they know how to do up secret meeting halls right. Or not terribly secret, as the Masonic Grand Lodge of New York on 23rd Street in Manhattan is actually a pretty open place. I recently took a tour of some of its 12 elaborate meeting halls, and other spaces such as the library above overseen by a golden George Washington. Designed by architect H. P. Knowles, it was completed in 1912, although it had some extensive renovations in the 1990s.

 

While not quite as over-the-top as the Scottish Rite Temple I visited in Guthrie, Oklahoma, it has its share of pipe organs, ornate ceilings, and some symbolism embedded in its decoration. But speaking of Oklahoma, look at who I saw in the foyer: Will Rogers! Apparently the bust came all the way from Claremore, Oklahoma, where there is a Masonic lodge where he was a member, and is now named after the actor and writer. Along with his bust, there were paintings and photographs of other famous masons all over the lodge, such as FDR and Houdini.

Most of the meeting rooms are rather similar, with rows of chairs below sort of garish, but lavish, paint jobs, as well as some chairs for important people and a pipe organ. There are also the “G” symbols all over and the unfinished stones sitting near the altars.

Here is an organ in another meeting room, along with one of our informative Masonic guides. What might be most crazy about the lodge is that it is in the middle of Manhattan, but has a worn and spacious feel totally contrasting to everything around it. I guess the Masons were at least connected enough for some good real estate.

If I understood correctly, each of these lodge rooms is for a different chapter, as there are quite a few Masons in NYC, although perhaps not as many as there once were as we seem to be in a decline for secret societies. Or as I far as I know, it’s quite possible they are flourishing without me.

The most ostentatious of the lodge rooms had this sort of Renaissance look to it, complete with chandeliers and clouds painted on its ceilings.

The most stunning room is the ballroom, which has a glass ceiling and other elements by a designer who worked on the Titanic, and apparently executed some of those details on the doomed ship.

Want to see the Grand Lodge yourself? Good news, they offer free tours every week. It’s definitely a curious place worth exploring, and who knows, you might find out some delicious secrets. Probably just a lot of grand rooms, though.

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From Brooklyn, Post-Sandy

First off, I just want to extend a huge thanks to all those friends and family who checked up on my before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy hit NYC. I am so lucky to have so many people out there who care about my well-being and it really means a lot!

I’m happy to say that I also was very lucky with the storm and never lost power, and didn’t have flooding. I’m very close to the water, but I’m up on a hill leading to the highest point in Brooklyn. I had a sleepless night listening to the howling wind and the branches blowing around on the tree outside my closet window, which stayed strong throughout and held onto all its limbs. I walked around the neighborhood the next morning, and there were lots of branches down in Green-Wood Cemetery (the above is of some in front of the new Gottschalk angel statue), but nothing as catastrophic as what I’ve seen in the other coastal areas and what continues to be a crisis in lower Manhattan with their loss of power.

I also completely forgot today was Halloween because things have been so surreal. It’s spooky enough to look across and see half of Manhattan in darkness, to see a whole section of a neighborhood leveled to the ground by flames, to see poor Coney Island battered by the wind and waves, to see shelters overflowing and Coast Guard helicopters flying by my window.

I’ve been out for work reporting on the impact of the storm on some arts organizations (see my story on Gowanus here), but I wanted to do a post here to let everyone know I was okay and to share some photos. I hope everyone out there is making it through and I hope the subways are up and running soon so we can see each other!

Part of this building collapsed into the street a block from me, but in its state I think it might have been destined for a collapse anyway.

The wind tossed around some motorcycles around the corner.

This morning we finally got some blue skies post-storm.

Unfortunately, the clouds returned by evening. This isn’t a very good photo so it’s hard to tell, but the whole left of the photo is where lower Manhattan would usually be lighting the skyline and is dark. Compare to this photo from the same vantage point last March:

I was in DUMBO earlier today and looked across the water, and you could see where the last rope of lights on the Brooklyn Bridge were extinguished into the darkness that was setting on Manhattan. No, I don’t really need Halloween this year to spook me.

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