by Barie Fez-Barringten
Cynthia Blair wrote in 2004’s Newsday that in 1789, the first federal Congress convened in New York City, which served as the new nation’s capital until 1790. A state lottery raised money to remodel the old City Hall building, which had been built at Broad and Wall Streets in Manhattan in 1699. The newly named Federal Hall served as America’s first capitol building, and on April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first president on its balcony. New York City was also the state capital until 1797.
Just a street away was the offices of the Pratt family I visited to see Richardson Pratt and the New York Stock exchange where I’d visit with frank Palamara, then the President of the New York stock exchange.
New York Life and Culture
World Urban Features: Rockefeller Center
I learned to travel to Manhattan using public transportation when I was 10 years old and kept traveling since. I had already learned to use the trolley, which we called “the street car” when I was five from Faille street to Grandmas house and the “Y”. My first Interborough (Van Wyck) goal was Manhattan to either Times Square or the Museums on fifth ave. I started this long distance travel on Simpson Street. But, keep in mind the starting point of my journeys to Manhattan were from the station, which was at the end of my block. I did not even have to cross the street. And, I was an expert at crossing streets, well practiced since I was four on Faille Street. To get to Rockefeller Center I had only to walk up the street, up the stairs of the IRT and onto the platform. When the Lexington Ave. Local came, I would enter the car and go to 180 street and transfer to the express.
New York Life and Culture
I’d take the express to 149th and Grand concourse and enter a huge elevator to the IND level and to through tunnels to the IND train which would take me directly to Rockefeller center.
I’d exit and wind my way through tunnels which went up and down till I got to the network of three levels of shops, exhibits and convenience stores and the elevator lobbies of the towers. I’d enter the elevator I needed and I’d be on the floor of the radio broadcasting studio I was visiting that day. I often went with my friends, Milton, Benny and Gerry and my brother Saul. Some times my mother would take us. Rockefeller center sat on eleven acres of land which had been a derelicts respite but had now been transformed into a palatial paradise, a paradigm of communications and the world’s center. John D. Rockefeller had years before cleared the area and built this vision of NBC broadcasting, Theater, Ice skating and related facilitates.
It was a landmark and would stand with the other World class Landmarks. IT started the year of Christina’s birth in 1927 and completed in 1930 it seemed to me it was part of eternity. I could go from Simpson Street where I listened on the radio to all my favorite programs to the source at Rockefeller Center’s Radio City.
I could see my entire favorite broadcasts in progress and be part of the audience. I could see the sound effects man, orchestras, and casts. I knew where each studio was and what it looked like.
The creator of this center was one of sever commercial royals whose names are synonymous with the great Assyrian and Babylonians rulers who create the models for all cities and urban centers. John D. Rockefeller Jr., Astor, Mellon, Vanderbilt, etc. these were the wealthiest families in the world and they lived in my city. Wow!
The Depression came before building could start on the RCA building and surrounds, however, and the plans for the new Opera House faded away. JDR Jr., committed to a long lease of the Columbia property, decided to create an international business and entertainment center. Later his family was to continue their vision at the World Trade Center. I believe the September 11 attack was directed at the ideas and heart of this family and their vision.
When Christina entered the landscape contest for the WTC site I prophicised the design and profession of the winning solution would be based on Rockefeller center and be very simple imprint measured to the WTC site. It was the winning solution by an Israeli landscape architect worrying nearby for the city of New York. Which I also predicted it would have to be someone with continuous access and intimate familiarity with the details of the site.
A simple solution which would not be controversial; and, inexpensive and easy to build. And a solution which would be politically easy to navigate the controversies to ensue. I also believed that the landscaping design, materials, steps, and feeling of Rockefeller center was the prototype for any such future parks and memorials in New York City. That the Rockefellers had got it right the first time! This was based on my cosmopolitan aesthetic.
All my years of training my ability to see and understand and experience as an urban designer has gifted me with judgment and wisdom in urban planning and design.
Visiting this center was like coming to heaven, being greeted and cared for at every turn by ushers, matrons, messengers, and stewards. They all wore uniforms, helped and guided so that your movements and awareness of the amenities was easy and effortless. They tell you the schedule and upcoming events of the day. They would help you get to the nest event quickly.
Striking Art Deco office-building complex consisting of 19 buildings and scores of upscale shops and restaurants connected by three layers of underground corridors. There is a 400 by 400-foot forth-lower level for trucks and deliveries.
Rockefeller Center, and the sophisticated circulation systems and public amenities in what was the first large-scale business complex in the United States. An innovative urban development at the time it was built, Rockefeller Center was a model for future projects in the decades following its construction. A mixed-use complex containing 13 buildings for commercial, retail and entertainment uses, the various structures were surrounded by open plazas and gardens embellished with public works of art.
Built between 1932 and 1940, the original buildings had a similar architectural vocabulary that featured grey Indiana limestone, simple geometric forms, and bold facades with little decoration except for vertical lines used to emphasize the height of the buildings.
The central focus of the project is the former RCA building, a tower rising 70 stories above the Channel Gardens, which serve as a monumental passage to the building from Fifth Avenue. Even today, the complex is still considered one of the best examples of urban architecture in the world built in the 20th century. In the 1960s, the Center was extended west across Sixth Avenue. The more recent additions to Rockefeller Center are somewhat bland, tall buildings set in open plazas that are characteristic of late modern architecture. A walk through midtown follows.
Christina got to know David Rockefeller in connection with dinners given at the International House on whom he was a founding board member and she a resident artist. He invited her to prepare a design for his chase Manhatten Plaza in Lower Manhattan, which finally did not succeed because of staff’s concern with sea breeze erosion to the Plexiglas.
New York Life and Culture.
RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Raymond Hood 
Christina was to meet David Rockefeller who invited her to propose a sculpture for his new Chase Bank in lower Manhattan when she lived at the International House. It may be said that John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s life was directed toward the ideal chiseled in stone over International House in New York: "That Brotherhood May Prevail."
I got to know Nelson Rockefeller supporting him in his campaign for both Governor and then President. I met him several times at the Waldorf Astoria. When I was a child I recall the announcement that they were tearing down the sixth ave elevated structure. The Avenue of the Americas bears no resemblance to the neighborhood cleared to make way of the center.
Other Urban Center Features:
- NYC: Empire State Building
- Statue of Liberty
- Fulton fish market
- Grand Central Development Project (GC Station)
Vincent Scully once described an illustrated section and plan of the original project which reached north to 59 street and south to 34 street in at least 8 layers of rail, auto and truck roads, parking and dock facilities. Hotels office towers and other building linked to these levels and the terminal was the pedestrian link. You could drive; park, or use trains and railroads all linking to the levels of elevators. The huge project was drawn and planed with many of the wealthiest investing. Finally, the project suffered economic woes and no longer was feasible. Bit by bits parcels of land were sold off in an effort to rescue the balance and eventually the track and train system remained. Some links to building and tunnels were formed and closed but still do exist. Although I searched, I could not find any of the original plans on the WWW.
The Algonquin Hotel
There isn't a place in New York more important to Dorothy Parker's enduring legacy as big as the Algonquin Hotel (59 West 44th Street). Any Parker enthusiast worth his weight in books will know that The Gonk is where the Round Table met from 1919-1929. They were the most celebrated literary group gathering in American letters, ever.
New York Life and Culture
But there was a past to my city filled with political, social and economic strife.
"America was born in the streets", it was not in the squalid, savage turf struggles of the Five Points, but in the streets of Boston and Lexington in 1776 - where the people traduced here as having no identity or qualities outside their xenophobia, fought for the liberties that all modern Americans take for granted.
The Tammany Society was a patriotic organization that championed democratic government and opposed aristocracy. Formed circa 1786, the Tammany Society had branches across the United States, but the most powerful office was located in New York. The organization was named for a Delaware Indian chief, Tamanend. The Tammany Society tended to support the Democratic-Republican Party and the
Books written about this tumultuous and harsh history include Herbert Asbury’s depictions of 19-century gangsters in the five points of New York City; and, Charles Dickens descriptions written in 1842.
It was during the ninetieth century that the urban wars and strifes were fought to produce the tough building codes, political parties, religious separations, city infrastructure and amenities we now see in the twenty first century.
The New York I knew as incandescent lights until the sixties seductively lighted a child.
Telephone Party Lines: Party lines are telephone lines shared by more than one household' subscriber'), would lift the receiver, a light near the plug would light, and the operator would switch into the circuit to ask "number please?". Depending upon the answer, the operator might plug the plug into a local jack and start the ringing cycle, or plug into a hand-off circuit to start what might be a long distance call handled by subsequent operators in another bank of boards or in another building miles away.
Party lines were the exception before World War II, not the rule. In cities and country, most people shared a line with two to ten to twenty people. You could talk only five minutes or so before someone else wanted to make a call. And anyone on the party line could pick up their receiver and listen in to your conversation.
Eavesdropping was as easy as picking up the phone; when, instead of urging us to "reach out and touch someone," the telephone company warned not to talk too long; when you counted long and short rings to know a call was for you.
I believe is was by attrition that our party line became a private line because 90% of what phone companies call multiparty lines are really telephonic ghost towns. They're old party lines that over the years have lost all but one party -- a single household still billed at a party-line rate for what amounts to a private line, and thus might pay a dollar or two less a month. it's hard to imagine six homes on one line. But 70 years ago, most people had party lines.
In the Bell System, 36% of residential customers were on two-party lines, and 27% were on four-party lines. Bell chief engineer Joseph Davis said in 1899.
"It therefore requires that enough subscribers be placed on a line to make them dissatisfied and desirous of a better service." According to historians the 1959 movie Pillow Talk, in which Doris Day silently and indignantly listened in as Rock Hudson wooed other women, was set in New York City. They say that was a fantasy; by 1930, neither New York City nor Washington, D.C., had a single party line. That is incorrect because DAyton 9-3129 (DA9-3129= 329-8129) was a party line) which we got while living on Faille Street. It was then converted to single line by attrition. Back then," she adds, "the telephone was such a wonderful new thing that people didn't mind sharing a line."
However, the bane of the party line was what some called "rubbering" -- eavesdropping. In the days before radio and television, your neighbor's conversation might be your entertainment.
Party lines carried with them certain social niceties as well as arguments. You didn't talk too long, a point driven home by phone company literature on telephone etiquette.
"You'd say, 'We've been on long enough, someone else might be needing' the line,' "Even after the conversion some would say that "I still get that feeling, too, if I've been talking for a while." I learned to listen for the click of the other party or the operator getting on the line and eavesdropping which I still listen for today.
Though the lines lacked privacy, they helped build a sense of community. If several calls in succession to the same number sparked worries that something was wrong, others would pick up and listen in to find out whether there was anything they could do to help.
Three footnotes below:
Footnote #1: Rockefeller
I was able to search the www and found many sites describing the family and their accomplishments. I t is awesome and will surely be remembered in years to come. Much of the below is quoted or paraphrased from those web sites.
John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. (JDR Jr.) was a philanthropist who gave more than $537 million (In 2003, that would be many billions) to educational, religious, cultural, medical, and other charitable projects. The son of John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil Company, and Laura Spelman Rockefeller, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on January 29, 1874, and died in Tucson, Arizona, on May 11, 1960.
Next to Colonial Williamsburg, JDR Jr. probably gave more attention to the development of Rockefeller Center than to any other project. The story of how it came to be built is well known. In 1928, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. joined with others in a plan to acquire a site on which a new Metropolitan Opera House was to be built. He leased the major part of the land (about 11 acres) now occupied by Rockefeller Center from Columbia University and purchased the remainder of the land from other owners.
West 48th to 51st Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues, 47th - 51st Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues Manhattan (212) 632-3975 The Associated Architects: Reinhard & Hofmeister ; Corbett, Harrison & Mac Murray; Raymond Hood, Godley & Fouilhoux; Edward Durrell Stone [1932-40, expanded 1947-73] .
Radio City Music Hall, Edward Durrell Stone (architect) and Donald Deskey (interior)  .The land was cleared of more than 200 brownstone houses and other antiquated buildings, and the first fourteen buildings of Rockefeller Center were erected between 1931 and 1940. On November 1, 1939, JDR Jr. drove the last rivet in the steel work of the United States Rubber Company Building, the final structure completed before the war. More than 75,000 people worked on the construction of the Center during those Depression years.
Footnote #2: Sixth Ave Elevated
J. Sloan Poster
What an evocative scene John Sloan painted in 1928 of Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street in 1928! Women in short skirts and cloche hats are rushing off to a party; the Sixth Avenue El rumbles overhead, and a trolley rumbles underneath it. Within 10 years or so, most of the scene as painted would be swept away.
New York Life and Culture
The El would be razed in 1939, and all the storefronts on the right side would also be condemned as Sixth Avenue was widened. Yet, the buildings on the left are still there, most notably St. Joseph's Church at the extreme left, and the tall tower of the Jefferson Market Courthouse. And, bishop crook lampposts have also made a Sixth Avenue comeback.
December 20, 1938, when Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, who had actively supported the campaign, donned goggles and with acetylene torch personally attacked a steel El girder on Sixth Avenue at 53rd Street.
Beyond the new vistas and opportunities for redevelopment created by the destruction of the unsightly structures, the banishment of overhead trains from the avenue also led to the completion of the IND Sixth Avenue subway line, making the El immediately obsolete.
The End of an Epoch commemorates the dismantling of the El tracks on Sixth Avenue, ushering out an era in the city's public transportation and unleashing conflicting emotions among the system's riders.
Whereas many had cheered the announced demolition, camera-toting New Yorkers thronged Sixth Avenue's El during its final days of operation to preserve memories of its unrivaled views of the city (and outlooks into private apartments adjacent to its tracks). Other sentimentalists took souvenirs, pillaging fixtures along with their bolts.
The Sixth Avenue Elevated Railway was constructed in 1878 and cast a shadow over the park until it was closed in 1938. In November 1934, Architecture magazine noted that Bryant Park had “become one of the most disreputable parks in the city.” During the construction of the subway that replaced the El, the park was used for storage of construction equipment and otherwise filled with debris.
For much of its history, it's been an avenue without a number, ever since it was proclaimed the Avenue of the Americas in 1945. New Yorkers have always referred to it as Sixth, however, and in the 1980s the Department of Transportation finally gave in and installed new "6 AVE" green-and-whites along its entire length.
Sixth got no respect above Central Park, either...it was renamed Lenox Avenue in 1887 for James Lenox, whose collection formed the original New York Public Library; exactly one hundred years later, it was subtitled Malcolm X Boulevard for the slain civil rights leader.
Footnote #3: Principles of New Urbanism:
3. Urban Life: Urban New York
I tried to find the principles described by the new urbanest poster (email@example.com), but was unable; instead I found the following.
The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society's built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.
We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built
We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.
We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.
We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.
We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions, and environment.
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