Music-making of a very high calibre took place at New York’s Carnegie Hall on the evening of May 26, 2016, when James Levine closed out a three-concert series by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra with selections from Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Puffles and Honey were there to see it! Well, it was only selections… Wagner’s epic operatic tetralogy tells a tale of gods and men in music of tremendous power, tenderness, and exquisite colour. Fifteen hours of it is good, two hours is even better!
The concert brought together Christine Goerke, arguably the finest Wagnerian soprano in the world, tenor Stefan Vinke, in his first Met appearance after wowing Bayreuth with his Siegfried, and James Levine, one of the great Wagnerians, possibly for his valedictory contact with the Ring Cycle. It was in 1994 when James Levine, always on the alert for promising singers, brought the soprano Christine Goerke into the Metropolitan Opera’s young artist development program. When she had her breakthrough at the house a decade later, singing Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Levine was conducting.
Each of the operas was touched upon. There were four purely orchestral highlights, opening with a majestic Entry of the Gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold (complete with six harps on stage and clarinets instead of Rhinemaidens), the final chord on a whopping Carnegie-worthy crescendo. The Ride of the Valkyries was practically visible, the strings whipping through the air, the galloping trombones rousing, the piccolo solo leading perfectly into the big restatement of the Ride on the impeccably tuned horns, the entire five minutes working its way into true mania. In the program’s second half, the orchestra gave us the river’s flowing, surging and ebbing thrillingly in the Rhine Journey, and Siegfried’s Funeral March, taken at an utterly funereal pace, managed both grandeur and solemnity, with the grumbling bass giving way to the gleam of the Sword motif, a beacon of heroism amidst the laden grief.
Christine Goerke and Stefan Vinke both delivered some epic singing. The first half of the program ended with Brünnhilde’s awakening and the final duet from Siegfried. Christine Goerke’s voice rang out through the hall, rich, grand and perfectly focused. She expressed amazement after her awakening, then outrage and eventually love for Siegfried, delineating each change with shading and attention to the text, all the while singing with unspoiled intonation and huge top notes. Levine’s enthusiasm got out of hand at times. During the transformative love duet that concludes Siegfried, he encouraged the orchestra to let loose with lush, shimmering sound and enveloping fortissimos. Even Christine Goerke, with her powerhouse voice, was sometimes covered, as was her partner. Stefan Vinke is a true Heldentenor: in all of the vocal numbers, his voice was loud and clear, and impressive in the daunting scenes.
At the interval, many were wondering if they would ever hear such an ideal performance again, but the Prologue duet from Götterdämmerung, which lays many a tenor low, was again a great display of singing from both soloists, the couple enjoying one another’s enthusiasm. Then Stefan Vinke intoned Siegfried’s dying words sensitively, and that led into the Funeral March, which led seamlessly into the Immolation Scene. Again Christine Goerke rose to the occasion tirelessly, singing with warmth, nobility and majesty. The final musical conflagration was met with wild enthusiasm, again bringing the audience to a standing ovation that lasted for a quarter of an hour.
Nobody at Carnegie Hall could recall a Wagner concert so gigantic, so thrilling, or so special. Special, particularly because of James Levine’s presence on the podium, still using a motorized wheelchair, but leading with full force, temperament and accuracy in what might just be his valedictory contact with the Ring Cycle.
2016 marked the 125th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall.
Designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill and built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1891, it is one of the most prestigious venues in the world for both classical music and popular music. William Tuthill’s design reflects Gilded Age architectural tastes and engineering. Since the Hall was built shortly before the advent of structural steel construction, its walls are made of fairly heavy brick and masonry, to carry the full load of the structure without the lighter support that a steel framework soon made possible. The Italian Renaissance design of the exterior reflects the eclectic architectural tastes of the period, which look to European models of earlier centuries for inspiration.
William Tuthill was an amateur cellist and studied European concert halls famous for their acoustics. He consulted with architect Dankmar Adler, of the Chicago firm Adler and Sullivan, a noted acoustical authority, who had designed the Auditorium Building in Chicago. Drawing on his findings (and in some cases his own intuition), Tuthill eliminated common theatrical features like heavy curtains, frescoed walls and chandeliers that could impair good sound distribution. Carnegie Hall’s smooth interior, elliptical shape, slightly extended stage, and domed ceiling help project soft and loud tones alike to any location in the hall with equal clarity and richness.
The Music Hall opened with a five-day music festival beginning on May 5, 1891. The guest of honour was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who conducted his Marche Solennelle on Opening Night and his Piano Concerto No. 1 several days later. In the time since, the famed concert hall has hosted more than 46,000 events.
Hmmm, so many choices!
We can never go wrong with tiramisu!
Little Puffles and Honey are enjoying lunch at Cipriani Dolci after exploring Grand Central Terminal.
Look, that’s the clock that got stuck on Melman’s head! The four-faced clock on top of the information booth is perhaps the most recognizable icon of Grand Central. The clock is synchronized to the US Naval Observatory’s atomic clock. Each of the four clock faces is made from opal, and both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have estimated the value to be between $15 million and $20 million. On top of the clock, there is an acorn. It is the Vanderbilt family symbol: “From the acorn grows the mighty oak.” Grand Central Terminal, the most recognizable transportation hub in the US, is a legacy of the Vanderbilt family.
Cornelius Vanderbilt wanted everyone to know he was responsible for the magnificent station, so he adopted the acorn and oak leaves as a Vanderbilt emblem and had French artist Sylvain Saliéres create decorative flourishes of bronze and stone laden with oak leaf and acorn motifs. You can spy them on ornamental carvings in Vanderbilt Hall, on the arches reaching up to the ceiling in the main concourse, and on the giant bronze chandeliers positioned throughout the station. The terminal’s acorns and oak leaves, the architect John Belle observed, are as discreet as “Ninas” in an Al Hirschfeld caricature.
The information booth is a perennial meeting place of the station. When it is open, staff at the information booth deal with more than 1,000 questions an hour. The information booth is also known for having a “secret” door – although rather less secret now it has a reference on Wikipedia – that conceals a spiral staircase leading to the lower level information booth.
Many movies have captured the impressive grandeur of Grand Central. Going Hollywood was the first of many films shot at the terminal. The 1933 movie starred Marion Davies and Bing Crosby. In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 psychological thriller Spellbound, Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck kiss and make their getaway from Grand Central. In North by Northwest, Cary Grant makes his escape from New York City in a sequence filmed at night inside the real station.
One of the most recent films to feature Grand Central is Men in Black III, which also has one of the most original interpretations of the terminal. A race of tiny aliens is kept inside a Grand Central locker, while at the end of the film, a locker in an enormous alien version of the terminal is shown to contain the human world.
Grand Central is not a station; it’s a terminal. Trains terminate there. Railroad people like to recall the apocryphal rube who asked a conductor whether his New York Central train stopped at New York City. To which the conductor replied, “There’d be an awful crash if it didn’t.” The point is, David Marshall wrote in Grand Central in 1946, you couldn’t tell that story about Pennsylvania Station, which, for all its splendor, reduced New York “to a two-minute stop on the line from Long Island City to Rahway, New Jersey”.
The original station on the site was known as the Grand Central Depot, the brainchild of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the American industrialist and philanthropist who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. It was finished in 1871. In its second incarnation as Grand Central Station, the most prominent feature was an enormous train shed, made of glass and steel, which some said rivalled the Eiffel Tower and Crystal Palace. Still, in 1899 The New York Times called Grand Central Station “a cruel disgrace”.
After almost ten years of renovation and reengineering, and at a cost of more than $2 billion in today’s dollars, the new Grand Central Terminal opened to the public precisely at midnight on February 2, 1913. Its image had changed dramatically. “The Grand Central Terminal is not only a station,” The Times declared, “it is a monument, a civic center, or, if one will, a city. Without exception, it is not only the greatest station in the United States, but the greatest station, of any type, in the world.” More than 150,000 people from all over the city visited the New York’s newest landmark on its opening day.
The idea for the new Grand Central Terminal came to William J. Wilgus “in a flash of light”, he recalled decades later. “It was the most daring idea that ever occurred to me,” he said.
Wilgus, the New York Central Railroad’s chief engineer since 1899, had supervised the costly renovation of Grand Central Depot just a few years before. For decades, New Yorkers had complained about the unhealthy soot and smog coughed up by the steam locomotives crisscrossing the city, but it took a fatal accident to create lasting change. On January 8, 1902, a commuter train travelling from suburban Westchester County crashed into the rear car of a Danbury, Connecticut, train stopped on the tracks of the Park Avenue Tunnel, killing 15 passengers instantaneously, had convinced Wilgus that it was no longer possible to run a chaotic railroad yard two avenue blocks wide in what was becoming the very heart of the nation’s largest city.
In a three-page letter to W. H. Newman, the railroad’s president, dated 22 December, 1902, the Wilgus recommended an audacious and extravagant remedy: Raze the existing Grand Central and replace the egregious steam locomotives with electric trains.
The technological advantages were clear-cut. Electricity required less maintenance. Unlike steam or, later, diesel locomotives, electric trains did not need the fuel or machinery to generate power on board. Electricity let trains accelerate more quickly, a decided amenity for short-haul commuter service. Another advantage, an obvious one in retrospect, provided the rationale that made Wilgus’s suggestion so revolutionary and, in the end, so inevitable. Electric motors produced fewer noxious fumes and no obfuscating smoke or steam. Moreover, as Wilgus explained, electricity “dispenses with the need of old-style train sheds”, because it made subterranean tracks feasible. To accommodate ever-growing rail traffic into the restricted Midtown area, Wilgus proposed a novel scheme: a bi-level station below ground. Arriving trains would go underground under Park Avenue, and proceed to an upper-level incoming station if they were mainline trains, or to a lower-level platform if they were suburban trains. In addition, turning loops within the station itself obviated complicated switching moves to bring back the trains to the coach yards for servicing. Departing mainline trains reversed into upper-level platforms in the conventional way.
Wilgus envisioned a 12-story building above the terminal that could generate rents totalling $2.3 million annually. Those advantages not only benefited “humanity in general”, as Cornelius Vanderbilt, known as the Commodore, would have put it, an ingratiating by-product, but also fulfilled the primary mission of his New York Central and Hudson River Railroad: that “we first see that we are benefiting ourselves”. Wilgus’s overarching remedy to the “Park Avenue problem” – the ‘Chinese Wall’ that bisected the city for 14 blocks and obstructed Fourth Avenue (now Park) – “marked the opening of a remarkable opportunity for the accomplishment of a public good with considerations of private gain in behalf of the corporation involved.”
The terminal, he explained later, “could be transformed from a non-productive agency of transportation to a self-contained producer of revenue — a gold mine, so to speak.”
Wilgus was asking the railroad’s directors to accept a great deal on faith. His projected $35 million price tag for all the improvements nearly equalled half the railroad’s revenue for a full year. Moreover, the railroad made most of its money hauling freight, not people. Why invest so much in a project that benefited only passengers? But the chief engineer was persuasive. By January 10, 1903, the Central’s board of directors had embraced the project and promoted him. Six months later, on June 30, 1903, the board — whose directors included the Commodore’s grandsons Cornelius II and William K. Vanderbilt, as well as William Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan — in a daring validation of the chief engineer’s vision, formally empowered Wilgus to proceed with his bold agenda for a regal terminal that would be a gateway to the continent.
Even before the first spadeful of earth was turned, before the first boulder of Manhattan schist was blasted, a forest of exclamation points began sprouting with what was dubbed the city’s largest individual demolition contract ever. On 17 acres bought by the railroad, 120 houses, three churches, two hospitals and an orphan asylum would have to be obliterated, as would the stables, warehouses and other ancillary structures.
Wilgus devised an ingenious construction strategy. The arduous process of demolishing existing structures, excavating rock and dirt 30 meters deep for the bi-level platforms and utilities, razing the mammoth train shed and building the new terminal would proceed in longitudinal “bites”, as he called them — troughs bored through the middle of Manhattan, one section at a time and proceeding from east to west. Construction would take fully 10 years, and by the time it was barely halfway finished, Wilgus would be gone and his guess as to the cost of the project would have doubled, to about $2 billion in today’s dollars.
William Wilgus was an engineer, not an architect, but he hoped to impose his own aesthetic on the new terminal. He knew what he didn’t like about the old depot: its “unattractive architectural design” and its “unfortunate exterior colour treatment”, as well as the “great blunder” of dividing the city for 14 blocks and obstructing Fourth Avenue.
In 1903, the Central invited the nation’s leading architects to submit designs for the new terminal. Samuel Huckel Jr. went for baroque, a turreted confection with Park Avenue slicing through it. McKim, Mead & White proposed a 60-story skyscraper — the world’s tallest — atop the terminal (a modified version was later incorporated into the firm’s design for the 26-story municipal building, completed in 1916), itself topped by a dramatic 90-meter jet of steam illuminated in red as a beacon for ships and an advertisement (if, even then, an anachronistic one) for the railroad.
Reed & Stem, a St. Paul firm, won the competition. The firm began with two big advantages. It had designed other stations for the New York Central. Moreover, like the Central itself, Reed & Stem could count on connections: Allen H. Stem was Wilgus’s brother-in-law. Yet in the highly charged world of real estate development in New York, another firm’s connections trumped Reed & Stem’s. After the selection was announced, Warren & Wetmore, who were architects of the New York Yacht Club and who boasted society connections, submitted an alternative design. It didn’t hurt that one of the firm’s principals, Whitney Warren, was William Vanderbilt’s cousin.
The Central’s chairman officiated at a shotgun marriage of the two firms, pronouncing them the Associated Architects of Grand Central Terminal. The partnership would be fraught with dissension, design changes and acrimony and would climax two decades later in a spectacular lawsuit and an appropriately monumental settlement.
To Wilgus’s dismay, the Warren & Wetmore version eliminated the revenue-generating office and hotel tower atop the terminal. It also scrapped proposed vehicular viaducts to remedy the obstruction of Fourth Avenue, now Park, created by the depot.
Once the design was agreed upon, building Grand Central was a gargantuan undertaking. Wheezing steam shovels excavated nearly 2.5 million cubic meters of earth and rock to an average depth of 14 meters to accommodate the subterranean train yards, bi-level platforms and utilities — some as deep as 10 stories. The daily detritus, coupled with debris from the demolition of the old station, amounted to 800 cubic meters and filled nearly 300 railway dump cars. The lower tracks were 12 meters below street level and sprouted “a submerged forest” of steel girders. Construction required 118,597 tons of steel to create the superstructure and 53 kilometres of track. At peak periods, 10,000 workers were assigned to the site and work progressed around the clock. Beneath the 235-meter-wide valley he created in Midtown Manhattan, Wilgus dug a 2-meter-diameter drainage sewer about 20 meters deep that ran 800 meters to the East River.
The maze of tracks and trains was commanded from a four-story switch-and-signal tower south of 50th Street. On one floor was a machine with 400 levers, the largest ever constructed, to sort out the suburban trains. On the floor above, another machine with 362 levers controlled the express tracks. A worker was assigned to each battery of 40 levers, and tiny bulbs on a facsimile of the train yard would automatically be extinguished as a train passed a switch and illuminated again when it reached the next switch.
Fifteen hundred columns were installed to support the street-level deck and the buildings that would rise on it. Another $800,000 was spent on steel reinforcement, not needed for the terminal itself, but to support a skyscraper that eventually might rise above it. The terminal alone cost $43 million to build, the equivalent of about $1 billion today; the entire project set the Central back about $80 million.
Passengers’ comfort was of paramount concern. When it was finally completed, Grand Central could boast a separate women’s waiting room with oak floors and wainscoting and maids at the ready; a ladies’ shoe-polishing room “out of sight of the rubbernecks” and staffed by “colored girls in neat blue liveries”; a telephone room for making calls; a salon gussied up with walls and ceilings of Carrara glass, “where none but her own sex will see while she had her hair dressed”; a dressing room attended by a maid (at 25 cents); and a private barbershop for men, which could be rented for $1 an hour, and a public version where “the customer may elect to be shaved in any one of 30 languages”.
No amenity was spared. “Timid travelers may ask questions with no fear of being rebuffed by hurrying trainmen, or imposed upon by hotel runners, chauffeurs or others in blue uniforms,” a promotional brochure boasted. Instead, “walking encyclopaedias” in gray frock coats and white caps were available. Passengers would be protected from unwanted contact as well as glances. “Special accommodations are to be provided for immigrants and gangs of labourers,” The Times reported. “They can be brought into the station and enter a separate room without meeting other travellers.” Grand Central, the brochure proclaimed, is “a place where one delights to loiter, admiring its beauty and symmetrical lines — a poem in stone.”
Grand Central was billed as the first great “stairless” station, one in which the flow of passengers was sped by gently sloping ramps that were tested out at various grades and ultimately designed to accommodate everyone from “the old, infirm traveller, to the little tot toddling along at his mother’s side, to the man laden down with baggage which he declines to relinquish to any one of the most cordial attendants, to the women trailing a long and preposterous train.” The flow would now empty from 32 upper-level and 17 lower-level platforms (fed from as many as 66 and 57 tracks) into a main concourse that was 84 meters long, 36 meters wide and 38 meters high and flanked by 27-meter-high transparent walls that were punctuated by glass walkways connecting the terminal’s corner offices.
The main concourse would have two grand staircases inspired by the Palais Garnier, the elegant Paris Opera House. The original blueprints called for matching east and west marble stairways. Only the west staircase was installed, however. Several theories survive as to why its counterpart was not. The most logical suggests that the shanties, tenements and industrial buildings that dotted the East Side then offered little lure to pedestrians and that the East Balcony was supposed to have been the lobby for the unbuilt office tower. The staircase was belatedly completed in 1998, when the terminal was renovated, prompting a debate over whether a restored landmark should precisely mirror what existed before or what was originally proposed. The east stairway varies slightly from the original version as a subtle signal to architectural historians and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires 28cm wide treads and handrails that meet strict specifications. But the marble for the east staircase was brought from the same quarries in Tennessee and Italy.
Behind the stairs in the main concourse, both the terminal’s east and west sides feature large windows. But surprise — they’re not just windows. If you wait long enough, you can catch someone walking inside the glass in one of the five catwalks on each side, designed for those working in adjacent buildings to pass quickly through Grand Central. Though public access is highly discouraged, the walkways are accessible if you know how to find them!
Once the proposed office and hotel tower atop the terminal was scrubbed, architects considered enclosing the main concourse with a skylight but settled on an artificial sky instead. A concave ceiling in the main concourse created a view of the heavens from Aquarius to Cancer in an October sky, 2,500 stars — 59 of them illuminated and intersected by two broad golden bands representing the ecliptic and the Equator. For several months, painters debated how to squeeze the heavens onto a cylindrical ceiling, because the artist Paul Helleu’s version seemed more fitting for a dome, and they experimented to find just the proper shade of blue. The ceiling designs were developed by J. Monroe Hewlett and executed largely by Charles Basing and his associates. As many as 50 painters under Basing’s direction worked to ensure that there was no variation in colour tone. Lunette windows were ornamented with plaster reliefs of winged locomotive wheels, branches of foliage symbolizing transportation, and clouds and a caduceus (the short staff usually entwined with serpents and surrounded by wings and typically carried by heralds).
While all the focus was on the colour, nobody paid attention to the representation of the constellations. On March 22, 1913, a little more than a month after the terminal opened, an amateur astronomer commuting from New Rochelle alerted railroad officials that the constellations were backward! So much for the artist Paul César Helleu’s gleeful comment to the critic Frederick Mordaunt-Hall at the Ritz barbershop the morning after the ceiling was completed: “J’ai eu des ennuis, qui m’ont presque bouleversé, mais maintenant tout est bien—car les étoiles brillent au firmament” (I have been nearly bowled over with worries, but now all is well—for the stars shine in the firmament). The alert commuter’s discovery was doubly embarrassing because the railroad’s recently published official guide boasted, “It is safe to say that many school children will go to the Grand Central Terminal to study this representation of the heavens, which places the celestial bodies within close range of vision. To insure astronomical accuracy and beauty of form, the highest authorities were consulted, among them Dr. Harold Jacoby of Columbia University, and the research was carried back to manuscripts and treatises of the Middle Ages.” Oops!
Among the explanations given: It was painted from God’s point of view, above the heavens! That explanation might fly if all the constellations were reversed, but while the stars within some constellations appear correctly as they would from earth, other constellations are reversed left-to-right, as is the overall arrangement of the constellations on the ceiling. For example, Orion is correctly rendered, but the adjacent constellations Taurus and Gemini are reversed both internally and in their relation to Orion.
The original ceiling was replaced in the 1930s, but the “mistake” remained, though for many years most New Yorkers couldn’t have seen it if they tried — the entire surface was covered in grime and dirt. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a restoration project began to remove the gunk, long thought to have been caused by the arrival and departure of thousands of trains. In fact, it was man — not machine — that caused the damage, which was the result of millions of cigarettes smoked by waiting commuters! Preservationists left a small patch of the ceiling untreated as a reminder of its former condition.
While we are talking about the ceiling, there is another mark on it. There is a small dark circle amid the stars above the image of Pisces. In a 1957 attempt to counteract feelings of insecurity spawned by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, an American Redstone missile was set up in the main concourse. With no other way to erect the missile, the hole was cut to allow a cable to be lowered to lift the rocket into place. Historical preservation dictated that this hole remain (as opposed to being repaired) as a testament to the many uses of the Terminal over the years.
Five chandeliers festooned with bare light bulbs hang from the ceiling of the old waiting room, now Vanderbilt Hall. The hall was once filled with benches for those waiting to catch long distance trains. It’s hard to imagine that in the Seventies and Eighties, these same benches would become beds for the many homeless people that had set up camp. The majestic space now resembles a ballroom and it is used as an exhibition room and venue for various markets and events. It is also a coveted wedding spot, with a waiting list of at least four years!
When Grand Central opened in 1913, gaslight was still the norm in many places. The New York Central and the Vanderbilts put in lights everywhere to show off! Not only had the trains been converted to electricity, but the entire new terminal was electric. What better way to dramatize modern technology, railroad officials figured, than to expose the bulbs themselves? And if you’re wondering how many people it takes to change every lightbulb in Grand Central, the answer is six: about 4,000 bulbs in public areas were switched from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs in 2008. This change saves an estimated $200,000 per year.
Lights aside, the finishing touches to the Terminal would not be complete for another year (the viaduct would not be opened until 1919, and the innovative lower-level loop, which allowed arriving trains to depart more quickly, would not become operational until 1927). Among the last was Transportation, the gigantic sculpture designed by Jules Félix Coutan above the central portal on 42nd Street. At the time of its unveiling in 1914, Transportation was considered the largest sculptural group in the world. It is 15 meters high, the clock in the center having a circumference of 4 meters. The clock contains the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass (although Tiffany & Co. says it cannot confirm this claim) and has a hidden door at the Roman numeral, VI. The sculpture depicts Mercury flanked by Hercules and Minerva.
Coutan, who also designed the France of the Renaissance sculpture for the extravagant Alexander III bridge in Paris, created a one-fourth-size plaster model in his studio from which John Donnelly, a native of Ireland, carved the final 1,500-ton version from Indiana limestone at the William Bradley & Son yards in Long Island City, Queens.
Grand Central Terminal is a city within a city, housing 50 shops, 20 eateries, five restaurants, newsstands, a fresh food market and multiple passageways to maneuver around it all. Downstairs in Grand Central is the dining concourse where more than 10,000 businesspeople and tourists eat lunch each day. Taking a short ramp up leads to the famed Oyster Bar, which opened with the station in 1913 and was restored in 1974.
Just outside the Oyster Bar entrance stands an acoustic marvel known as the Whispering Gallery. Two people standing at opposite corners of the vaulted archway can communicate, their voices reverberating like a game of telephone that no one else can hear. The remarkable vaulted ceiling is made of Guastavino tiled arches, like the Oyster Bar, but no one knows if it was intended to create this acoustic effect. Rafael Guastavino was a Valencian architect who patented a design for interlocking terra-cotta tile to form self-supporting arches.
It’s likely that many a commuter has wished for a short cut that would whisk them to their destination without the hassle of Grand Central’s bustling, rush hour crowds. For one native New Yorker, that wish was a reality. During his time in office, President Franklin Roosevelt utilized a secret rail line, Track 61, which provided an underground connection between Grand Central and the nearby Waldorf-Astoria hotel, so the public and press did not see his polio-caused disability. This platform was part of the original design of the Waldorf-Astoria. There was even a large freight elevator at the Waldorf’s end of the track, big enough to fit the president’s Pierce Arrow limousine, which allowed FDR to travel to and from New York in secrecy — quite handy for clandestine missions as he led the US war effort during World War II.
Since Waldorf-Astoria was just there, Puffles and Honey popped over to check it out 🙂
There is a cool clock at Waldorf-Astoria as well!
The intricately carved bronze clock at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City was originally a gift from Queen Victoria to the United States for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
Standing almost 3 meters tall and weighing in at two tons, the clock has an octagonal base made from marble and mahogany and is decorated with animal sculptures, plaques displaying sporting scenes and portraits of Queen Victoria, Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Andrew Jackson and Ulysses Grant. Chimes play every 15 minutes.
In 1902, Col. John Jacob Astor IV, co-creator of the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel on 5th Avenue, received a small Statue of Liberty as a gift from France, to commemorate the gracious hospitality his hotel had given the people of France since 1897. He positioned the gift atop the bronze clock. This gesture caused consternation for the British and Queen Victoria and apparently the British tried to ask for the clock back!
By the 1950s, cars and planes became the mode of transportation in vogue, and in 1954 the New York Central wanted to tear the beautiful Beaux Arts station down. Skyscrapers were proposed to take its place, but luckily those plans never came to be. By 1968, New York Central Railroad, which operated the terminal, was facing bankruptcy, and it merged with Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central. The new company unveiled another tower proposal that year, but the plans drew significant opposition, most notably from former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The terminal became a historic landmark in 1978, following a Supreme Court decision to protect the transportation hub, the first time the court had ruled on a matter of historic preservation.
In 2013, Grand Central turned 100 and had a birthday party, with cake and Lego 🙂
Grand Central has been a showcase for what the architects of its restoration pronounced “a fascinating fabric of cultural history”. The North Balcony lured so many travelers seeking serenity and contemplation and “itinerant sophists” that it was dubbed the “Philosophers’ Gallery”.
Constantin Brâncuși pronounced the terminal “one of the most beautiful specimens of modern architecture” — specimens so beautiful, he said, that they “give me as much pleasure as if I had done them myself”. Henry-Russell Hitchcock, the architectural historian, dubbed it “one of the grandest spaces the early 20th century ever enclosed”. Even Frank Lloyd Wright, not a great fan of New York City, expressed a begrudging admiration for Grand Central.
Grand Central is a place for trains, so little Puffles and Honey went on a train ride 🙂 The train boards list the destination, track number and departure time as in the official timetable. Except for one vital fact that the railroad prefers not to tell passengers. In the old days, until 1985, when the departure time approached, conductors would activate a light to signal the gateman to close the gates at the entrance to the platform from the concourse. The railroad did away with those years ago, in part to save labor. Nowadays, tardy passengers can rush down the platform and still catch their train. Especially when, to accommodate stragglers, Grand Central’s trains typically leave one minute later than the departure time listed on the train boards and in the timetable.
Just like Alex, Melman and Gloria!
In Grand Central you cannot shilly shally or dilly dally. Everyone rushes and dashes and zips and zaps and whizzes like crazy and oh what a dizzy and delightful place. Next Stop Grand Central, by Maira Kalman
What are we doing?
We are waiting for the cherries to pop.
Because they are pop art!
Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain, at a time when advertising came of age, when ad men learned how to stop lecturing, and instead practice the dark arts of seduction. They exploited hyper real colours and graphic brand logos to repeat the mantra, you can never have too much.
By the early 1960s, a new generation of artists was confronting the strangeness of consumer society. Jasper Jones and his flags had already began to dig beneath the surface of America’s brave new world, and those who followed called themselves pop artists, their subject being popular culture. They drew inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture such as advertising, Hollywood movies and pop music.
Chief pop artists in America were Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol.
Of course, the most famous pop cherry is in Minneapolis!
Claes Oldenburg, an American sculptor born in Stockholm, is best known for his public art installations typically featuring very large replicas of everyday objects. Many of his works were made in collaboration with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen. In 1988, the two created the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota that remains a staple of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden as well as a classic image of the city. And the only reason Puffles and Honey went to Minneapolis! To sit on the spoobridge!
The one pop artist whose work seems to embrace consumerism is Andy Warhol. He took America’s most familiar mass-produced objects and represented them as art. An art of numb repetition that mimics the production line.
By 1960, Warhol had become one of the most successful commercial artists in New York. He drew, with a distinctive and recognizable line, magazine illustrations, advertisements, book jackets, and album covers, and he owned a four-story town house on the Upper East Side. But he had fine-art aspirations.
Warhol’s big break finally came in 1962, with a one-man exhibition at the Ferus Gallery, in Los Angeles. This was “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans” — 32 paintings of soup cans, each a different flavor. In 1962, there were 32 varieties of Campbell’s soup available. Warhol appears to be saying, in this world there is variety, but only of a certain kind. And the variety promised by the range of flavours is ultimately overshadowed by the visual monotony.
Though Campbell’s Soup Cans resembles the mass-produced, printed advertisements by which Warhol was inspired, it is hand-painted, while the fleur de lys pattern ringing each can’s bottom edge is hand-stamped. In this work, he mimicked the repetition and uniformity of advertising by carefully reproducing the same image across each individual canvas. He varied only the label on the front of each can, distinguishing them by their variety.
Towards the end of 1962, shortly after he completed Campbell’s Soup Cans, Warhol turned to the photo-silkscreen process. A printmaking technique originally invented for commercial use, it would become his signature medium and link his art making methods more closely to those of advertisements. He used photographic imagery, the silkscreen process and repetition to make art that was not about his interior life, but rather about the culture in which he lived. The silkscreen process allowed Warhol (or his assistants) to reproduce the same image over and over again, using multiple colors. Once the screens are manufactured and the colors are chosen, the artist simply spreads inks evenly over the screens using a wide squeegee. Though there are differences from one face to the next, these appear to be the accidental byproducts of a quasi-mechanical process, rather than the product of the artist’s judgment.
Ultimately Warhol subjected individuals to the same replication as mass-produced consumer items. He was mirroring America’s treatment of celebrities as products, an object replicated for mass consumption. No artist craved fame more than Warhol, and his key insight, that celebrities are commodities like soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles, only made him more desperate to become such a product himself.
You can get your Andy Warhol pop art fix at the Andy Warhol Museum.
Andy Warhol Museum is the largest single-artist museum in the country. Housed in a refurbished warehouse, on seven floors, the museum includes thousands of works in many media: painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, film and video. An enormous collection of source material — audiotape interviews with friends and associates, thousands of photographs, books, and magazines — sheds light on the artist, the man, his creative processes, and his legacy. Many of Warhol’s seminal works, like his Brillo Box sculptures and Elvis paintings, are on display, as are pop paintings of consumer products (Campbell’s Soup Cans), celebrities (Liz, Jackie, Marilyn), Disasters and Electric Chairs; portrait paintings (Mao), Skull paintings and the abstract Oxidations from the 1970s; and works from the 1980s such as The Last Supper, Raphael I-6.99 and collaborative paintings made with younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente.
In 1981, Warhol became a Mouseketeer!, when he decided to create a portfolio of screen prints of fictional characters, including Mickey Mouse. Warhol’s Myths portfolio also included characters such as Superman, Howdy Doody and Dracula.
In 1955, Warhol worked on one of the shoe industry’s most sophisticated marketing campaigns when he became an illustrator for I. Miller and Sons Shoes. At the time, I. Miller was attempting to create a new image for itself and experimented with marketing strategies that made use of repetition to imprint their product on the minds of consumers. Stamping allowed Warhol to quickly create a variety of illustrations along a similar theme. He could alter the color and composition of the artworks, giving his clients a selection from which to choose. The experiment was extremely successful, and Warhol became known in the industry as “the shoe person”.
Puffles and Honey were able to bring home two very good looking pop cherries by the Andy Warhol of a new generation, Burton Morris, another Pittsburgh native.
Morris reached enormous popularity during the television series “Friends”.
Over a dozen original paintings were part of the show’s permanent set over its ten season run, most notably the painting of the coffee cup titled “Coffee Break”, which had a home in the Central Perk coffee shop.
In 2000, NBC Television commissioned more of Morris’ artwork, this time for the show “Just Shoot Me”. His work also explodes across the labels of Perrier bottles and Pepsi-Cola cans.
Much like his Pittsburgh pop predecessor Andy Warhol, Morris became the artist of choice for national advertising campaigns for Anheuser-Busch and Honda, as well as the “Absolut Pennsylvania” entry in Absolut Vodka’s “Absolut Statehood” campaign.
Morris was fascinated by Andy Warhol’s images and colors. The idea of mixing illustration with graphic design and putting a twist on familiar images of popular culture, such as comic strips and supermarket products, as a positive, upbeat and refreshing style, appealed to Morris as well.
Morris developed a connection with comic books at the age of three after breaking his femur bone. He began to draw while bedridden. Initially inspired by the work of Albrecht Dürer, Morris tried to emulate the fine pen and ink work of this classical artist’s etchings, using rapidograph pens for his tight drawings. Later he was influenced by the work of Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselman, Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring. He was always looking for symbols that represented American culture: the coffee cup symbolizing the Starbucks revolution, slot machines for the gaming industry and the popcorn box as the icon for the Hollywood era.
In 2004, he was commissioned by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create a re-energized image, something that would get people’s attention, for the 76th Annual Academy Awards.
Also in 2004, he was commissioned by the International Olympic Museum of Lausanne, Switzerland, to provide a contemporary vision that captured the Spirit of the Games.
Morris creates images that vibrate with enormous energy and style. Walk into any room with a Burton Morris painting on the wall, and you are instantly enamored by the playful spirit it exudes.
Still waiting 🙂
Just 11 kilometres southwest of Fallingwater and high atop a bluff overlooking the Youghiogheny River Gorge, stands another Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece, Kentuck Knob. A great believer in the beauty of natural materials, Wright combined the native sandstone with tide water red cypress to create a chorus of colour and texture that replicates the surrounding landscape.
Kentuck Knob was built for the Hagan family, owners of a large dairy and friends of the owners of Fallingwater, the Kaufmanns. The Hagans sought out Wright after becoming friends with the Kaufmann family, and seeing Fallingwater. Both Hagans were artistically inclined. He was an amateur nature photographer, she was a painter. They both loved gardening and, over the years, planted thousands of trees on their mountainside. Then 86, Wright said that he “could shake it out of his sleeve at will” and designed the house in his signature Usonian style around a still fully functioning hexagonal kitchen. The 240 degree L-plan home is made with opulent natural materials such as native sandstone, red cypress and a (very expensive) copper roof. The ceilings are panelled in red cypress boards. Wright designed all the woodwork and built-in furniture. Wright specified tidewater red cypress for its appearance and resistance to rot. Almost all of the built-in furniture and woodwork was scribed to fit around the stonework of the house. The house stands out for its quality, pristine condition and harmonious connection to the rural mountain site on which it stands.
The Hagans lived at the house for 30 years before selling it in 1986 to Lord Peter Palumbo. Lord and Lady Palumbo entertain guests here on occasion, and the house is open for public tours.
Kentuck Knob is a smaller, open-plan house suited for modern-day living. In the words of the late Mrs. Hagan, the house was “Built to fit us … it was an incredibly comfortable home.” She wrote of the house that it had “a sense of beauty, comfort, serenity and harmony.” There was not one view, inside or outside, she said, “that was not pleasing to the eye.”
In a memoir about the house, Mrs. Hagan enumerated a surprising list of design changes, tweaks and other additions to the plans that the Hagans asked for and Wright readily accepted! He must have been getting mellow in his old age.
Few Wright houses look alike, but the Usonians, which he designed from the 1930s on, tend to share with Kentuck Knob deep overhanging eaves with either flat roofs or low-pitched roofs, closed facades on the public side, and rows of floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors on the private side of the homes. Kentuck Knob is essentially closed on the north with only a narrow clerestory and wide eaves, but it is open to the south with multiple sets of glazed doors and cut-out eaves. The prominent large terrace and massive fireplace are also present.
Because of its hillside site, the Hagan house slab is set on a stone plinth that juts out along the hillside like the prow of a ship. That dramatic prow — with the low roof hovering over it — is the first thing you see as you approach on a narrow, curving driveway that brings you up the mountainside. It is often exaggerated in photos and its sharp angle belies the serenity that you feel inside the house.
Like most Wright houses, you have to turn several times before you enter. In this case, the first turns are along the curving driveway. In contrast to many of Wright’s entrances, which are obscured, the entrance to Kentuck Knob is set in the southwestern end of the courtyard at the crux of the living and bedroom wings, clearly marked with a set of cascading flagstone steps and protected by a small flat-roofed projection. Common to Wright’s architecture, fixed glass panels emanate from the stone walls towards the double door, making the delineation between interior and exterior spaces unclear. West of the entrance is Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature terra-cotta tile while a flagstone walk extends east of the front door steps along the bedroom wing to the three-stall car port. There are no windows visible, except a long row of clerestories partially blocked by jigsawed wood in decorative patterns.
As in many of his designs, Wright provided a car port rather than a garage for the house. He thought that a garage, as an enclosed space, would inspire the collection of clutter! The three stalls in the car port are constructed of sandstone and lined with pea gravel. They have a narrow concrete ledge at the rear, along the sandstone wall.
Once inside, everything changes. You walk in under a low ceiling, turn again and discover the large high-ceilinged living room opening up around you with an entire wall of glass. Glass doors open to a long terrace facing the woods.
Along the north wall of the living room is an 8.5 meter long bench of built-in seating with upholstered cushions that lift to allow for storage underneath. Above the seating is a series of cantilevered cypress shelves scribed to fit along the stone walls and operable clerestory windows. The sitting room’s large window is a single sheet of glass set directly in the stone surround, with a matching (and appearing to be continuous) moss garden on each side of the glass. There’s a polished flagstone floor, softened by strategically placed carpets, a massive stone fireplace, plus lots of comforting natural wood and colourful fabric in the furnishings.
Wright designed Kentuck Knob on a triangular (and hexagonal) grid. That means there are no right angles in the house — only ones of 60 or 120 degrees. This was intended by Wright to instil a sense of flowing space — something important to almost all of his buildings. It means spaces don’t end so much as they suggest the possibility of those additional spaces beyond.
The rhythm of hexagonal openings in the eaves from the south terrace is continued through to the dining area. Here they are covered with double glazed acrylic to create skylights. The dining area opens to another terrace. The bedrooms area also opens to this terrace, which affords more privacy than the south terrace.
The kitchen — set behind the big living room fireplace — is a total surprise. It’s a six-sided stone-walled room that rises through the height of the house and is lit by a large skylight. This is the massive anchor of the house. It may sound impractical, but outfitted the way Bernadine Hagan wanted it, it was a delight.
On the other side of the kitchen, a one meter wide gallery provides access to the three bedrooms, bathrooms and basement access. Each bedroom contains tidewater red cypress finishes on the ceilings, walls, built-in shelves, cabinets, bed frames and Wright-designed wardrobes. The guest room, nearest the dining room, is distinguished by its casement windows that open outward to reveal no corner supports.
Most important of all, Kentuck Knob is a wise house. Bears live in it!
In addition to the house, the grounds of Kentuck Knob feature 30 pieces of sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, Anthony Caro, Claes Oldenburg and others, and a slab of the Berlin Wall.
The Hagans were the owners of Hagan Ice Cream and you can still have some at the Kentuck Knob Cafe.