Tomorrow night, December 31, 2011 marks the end of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
I have been attending Cunningham performances since I first moved to New York in the 1980's and have always loved his work. Merce passed away two and half years ago; John Cage in 1992.
"Launched in February 2010, the two-year the two-year Legacy Tour has celebrated Merce Cunningham's lifetime of creativity, and given audiences around the world a final opportunity to see Cunningham's work performed by the company he personally trained. Showcasing 18 seminal works from throughout his career, the Tour encompassed nearly 50 cities, and culminates in New York City - MCDC's home since it was founded in 1953 - on December 31, 2011." (From the Cunningham Dance Company website.)
Read more about the Legacy Plan here http://www.merce.org/p/
Alastair Macauly had a fine appreciation of Merce's legacy in the New York Times this week:
Together they re-imagined a new world for dance and music. It's a sad passing. Thank you Merce Cunningham, thank you John Cage, and thank you to all the dancers and musicians who brought the work to life.
So, there I was back in early December daydreaming about warmer days, Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings, and manatees - a pretty unlikely combination. Then opportunity came knocking in the form of an unexpected business trip to - of all places - yes, sunny Orlando, Florida.
As luck would have it, besides the well known theme parks on Orlando's outskirts, Central Florida is also home to both Southern Florida College in Lakeland whose campus contains the largest concentration of Wright designed structures anywhere in the world http://franklloydwrightatfsc.com/, and, serendipitously, to Blue Spring State Park near Orange City whose clear, temperate waters shelter pods of endangered manatees in cold weather months. http://www.floridastateparks.org/bluespring/
With a few hours of free time between my professional duties and the airport, I could indulge my enthusiasms for both Frank Lloyd Wright and Trichechus manatus (or sea cows). How you like them oranges?!? Naturally, I had my camera with me. I was trigger happy, so be prepared for a bit of a scroll:
I am not the biggest fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's later works which can feel like World Fair Pavillions with ruling geometries that overwhelm. I didn't anticipate being much impressed with the campus of Florida Southern College.
I was wrong. It is a magnificent, eye-opening, inspiring architectural experience. If, as Walter Benjamin described, only the original of anything has authentic power; then this place (with it's idiosyncrasies, impracticalities, and flaws included) is supremely original and quite powerful. Wright's genius is still there.
Annie Pfeiffer Chapel - begun 1938, completed 1941:
The individual builidngs and the esplanades that connect them are beautifully integrated into the hillside setting. It's a joy to walk under the sheltering esplanades from building to building. The campus layout and architecture make the most of the Florida climate - it's a magical setting:
Perforated block wall of the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel from the outside:
Perforated block wall with colored glass from the inside:
Louvered doors on the upper lever lead to a terrace overlooking the lake:
Frank Lloyd Wright was 67 years old when he began designing Florida Southern College, 71 years old when the first building was completed in 1941, and died one year after the twelfth of eighteen buildings was finished in 1958. The remaining six buildings he planned were never built.
Polk County Science Building - begun 1952, completed 1958:
Watson Fine Building (Administration Building) - begun 1946, completed 1949
The Water Dome - 1949:
Roux Library - begun 1942, completed 1946:
Wright's original furniture (not necessarily his finest moment):
Danforth Chapel - completed 1955:
Polk County Science Building - begun 1952, completed 1958:
An early architectural use of aluminum for aestethic purposes:
Ordway Building - begun 1950, completed 1952:
Then I headed back past the outskirts of Disney World (yes, that's a Mickey Mouse high tension tower), across greater Orlando and northeast to the two lane road leading to Blue Spring State Park on the St. Johns River:
Thursby House, 1872 - built atop a Precolumbian Indian midden:
There were tarpon and tilapia:
An egret and an alligatorTwo large turtles and a big bird:
Note the scars from power boat propellers:
The St. Johns River:
Now from the Central Florida sublime to the tropically ridiculous - a seasonal tourist at the Florida Mall:
Roadside cheer on South Orange Blossum Trail:
Sunny Motel Hell:
Dry cleaning wisdom in Lakeland:
The Venice of America (Winter Park, FL):
The world turned upside down on International Boulevard:
And a full moon December swim:
Chicago's grid is endless:
in all directions
to fill the horizon
from Lake Michigan's double coastline,
through dense neighborhoods,
past the solution to the problem of Midwest coal-burning power plant emissions,
circuitous cul de sacs,
to the infinite intersections of the prairie:
Back in the floating city
trapped by the ever-unfolding grid,
local wildlife makes a break for the lake:
My hiking plans at the end of the summer and this fall were foiled first by Hurricane Irene, then by an unusual October snowstorm, and always by work deadlines. So when a dry Sunday was predicted in mid-November, it was time to hustle up to the Catskills for a last hike of the season before the deer hunters and winter overtook the woods.
I chose Hunter Mountain near Tannersville, NY which I'd never climbed. It's the second highest mountain (at 4,040 ft.) in the Catskills and one of only two (Slide Mtn. at 4,030 ft. is the tallest) that rise over 4,000 ft. which makes it the second highest point between the Adirondacks and Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. That and the fact that there's a fire tower on top with 360 degree views sealed the deal.
There are several trails up Hunter including one from the top of the epynomously named ski area (pronounced "Hunta" by New Yorkers) on one shoulder of the mountain (1,000 ft. below the true summit). Hunter Ski Area is renowned for its almost year-round 90" deep power/packed powder snow conditions - at least if you believe their own reports. 3" to 12" of solid ice with the occasional rock is more likely.
There was a vestige of an old stone arch at the trailhead to mark the start. The sun was shining and the day was warm. It was a promising beginning. You could almost believe that winter was still a ways off.
Since my time was limited with the sun already setting before 5:00 PM, I chose the Becker Hollow trail (noted as "BH" on the center right of the trail map below) which at 4 1/2 miles round trip is the shortest distance. Shortest, however, also meant steepest, with a 2,200 ft. vertical climb in a little over two miles. This was no gentle switchback meander across alpine meadows. After a brief stretch at the start on an old logging road, it was straight up, up, up, and then more up the steep and rocky wooded side of Hunter Mtn.
The trail started out as an old logging road with a gentle incline:
But soon the trail narrowed and the grade increased:
Becoming ever steeper and rockier as it climbed up out of the deciduous woods towards the coniferous zone:
Signs on the trees marked the 3,500 elevation line above which camping and open fires are prohibited:
Views began to appear through the trees, the wind picked up bringing a chill to the air. Patches of snow appeared among the leaves:
The grade began to moderate as I approached the summit. Conifers and striated rock lined the trail. The sky turner grey and the temperature had fallen into the 30's. It was time to add an extra layer of clothing.
The balsam woods smelled like Christmas:
A ledge provided sweeping views to the south and west over the Catskills. It looked a lot like winter:
The summit was densely wooded. The top of the fire tower appeared ahead above the trees:
The fire tower vibrated and swayed back and forth in strong gusts of wind. It was cold and unnerving, but the views were magnificent:
The Blackhead Range to the north:
Wittenberg, Cornell, Tabletop, and Slide Mountain to the south:
It was getting late in the afternoon. There was no where to go but down:
As the light began to fade it became harder to see the forest for the trees:
When I looked back up the mountain, the sky had cleared and there was a rosy sunset - at least if you were still on the summit.
But it was too late to climb Hunter again...
Besides, my legs were spent, night was falling, and autumn was almost over.
It was time to get off the mountain.
For far too long the shelter magazines - Architectural Digest, Dwell, Better Homes and Gardens, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Country Life, and Martha Stewart Living - have ignored the "Great Homes" of Astoria, New York. Western Queens has been left untouched by the ravishing purple prose of the "lifestyle" industry.
I propose to remedy this oversight by offering a photographic tour of the rich legacy of exquisite Astorian residences that evoke the grandeur of bygone days when the rolling potato fields on the shores of the East River first made way for real estate development. The exclusive locations of each of these much coveted Great Homes Greater Astoria are indicated using the charming numerical street names of romantic Queens County.
Vertical living on 46th St. between 31st Ave. and Newtown Rd.:
The clever use of invasive species creates magical garden privacy in summer:
A proud survivor on Newtown Road between 31st and 32nd Streets:
Just like "The Little House"...
But no one's coming back to rescue this house and return it to the countryside:
Another left behind (literally) little house- 45th St. btwn 32nd Ave. & B'way:
An avant-garde "Deconstructionist" dwelling at 26th Avenue and 31st Street:
Convenient to mass transportation and ample parking:
"X" marks the spot on 32nd St. between 36th and 37th Avenues:
Separated at birth - fraternal twins on 41st St. btwn 20th Road and 21st Avenue:
A "modernist" cube on 28th Avenue at 44th Street:
An enterprising entrepreneur's clever integration of the work/live dichotomy:
Simple elegance on 31st Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets:
The "Tara" of Hell Gate on 27th Avenue between 9th and 12th Streets:
Understated sophistication on 32nd St. between 36th and 37th Aves:
A mason's masterpiece on 31st Avenue and 32nd Street:
A private collector's temporary outdoor art installation:
A former factory converted to lofts at 31st Ave. & Vernon Blvd.:
There is an actual authentic "Great" home in Greater Astoria - the former Steinway Mansion built in 1858 and hiding in plain site north of Ditmars Avenue. It sits on a small hill that once overlooked Bowery Bay and the beginning of Long Island Sound. When it was built, the area was a rural, retreat for New Yorkers. Remarkably, much of the original detail is still intact. Today the granite mansion is surrounded by warehouses and small factories.
The diminished estate is cut off from the water by the industrial expanse of a fragrant sewage treatment plant and the low hum of a huge power plant. If you could reach the shoreline, you would have a panoramic view of the adjacent barbed wire confines of Rikers Island - New York City's prison housing over 14,000 inmates. The 26 room mansion is on the market and could be yours for a mere $3.495 million - listed for sale by Sotheby's.
The front gate on 41st St. between 19th Ave. and Barrian Blvd:
Look here for photos of the interior:
Look here for a 1993 article about the history of the house:
More here for more from 2008:
And here for the sad death of the owner last Christmas 2010:
You can't make this stuff up.
Watch out for the cauldron of boiling oil above:
On the negative side, the neighborhood isn't exactly residential:
On the plus side, the Steinway factory is nearby if you need a concert grand:
The final item on our grand tour of the Great Homes of Greater Astoria concerns the brief appearance of a modernist gem. For a few weeks in the late spring of 2007, Jean Prouvé's "Maison Tropical" graced the shores of Western Queens right below the Queensboro Bridge as a temporary installation by Sotheby's prior to auction. It was purchased for $4.97 million by the hotelier, André Balaz, who later loaned it the Tate Modern in London for an exhibit:
Here's some background information about Monsieur Prouvé, the house, and how it got to New York:
It only had one room, no closets, and no heat or running water, but I'd live there if it were still in the tropics:
Or even under the 59th Street Bridge would be swell - at least in summer:
So, in the face of neglect by the shelter magazines and the "design community" on the west side of the East River, Astoria hangs on to its few remaining treasures (and hosts the occasional visitor) at least until the next real estate cycle sweeps them away as teardowns. As Queens' own prodigal sons, Simon and Garfunkel's, sang in their 59th St. Bridge Song:
"Slow down, you movin' too fast
You gotta make the morning last
Just kickin' down the cobblestones
Lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy...
Ba da, Ba da, Ba da, Ba da...Feelin' Groovy." Indeed!