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Spanning New York, Old Hotels and a Reborn District (NYTimes)

“NEW YORK’s Golden Age of Bridges” (Fordham University Press) uses paintings by Antonio Masi and essays by Joan Marans Dim to span the gaps in the skyline by focusing on the physical connections that helped create Greater New York.

“Bridges are perhaps the most overlooked of the human-made, landscape-altering masterpieces of the New York cityscape,” the historian Harold Holzer writes in the foreword. He adds: “They are not the stuff dreams are made of; rather, at their best, they conduct us from one dream to the next.”

Mr. Masi, whose grandfather helped build the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, and Ms. Dim, an author who grew up on the Upper West Side and now lives in Brooklyn, guarantee through ghostly images and graphic reporting that, as Mr. Holzer writes, “it will be hard to cross a treasured New York City bridge with indifference again.”

“The Meatpacking District is famous today for glitz and glamour, but it used to be known for blood, muscleand sweat,” Pamela Greene writes. Most of that blood and muscle, at least, was nonhuman. Ms. Greene, a documentary photographer, captures the “irreverent” and “unpredictable” neighborhood’s evolution in “Blood and Beauty: Manhattan’s Meatpacking District” (Schiffer), a luscious tribute to gritty-turned-glossy, and some of the people who defined it.

“No one view of Gateway captures its full essence as a park,” write Alexander Brash, Jamie Hand and Kate Orff, the editors of “Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park” (Princeton Architectural Press). But their book succeeds in capturing the potential of the more than 26,000 acres that surround Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn and Queens and are under the jurisdiction of New York City and State and the National Parks of New York Harbor.

“At various times in history, its sites have been exploited, celebrated as revelatory or precious, and adapted to meet military or security operations,” the editors write at the beginning of a book bursting with stunning photographs.

“Almost always unexpectedly beautiful, Gateway is a park in transition precisely because it is situated within a landscape and megaregion that are undergoing constant change themselves.”

They were, by definition, built to last, and many of them did. In “Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York” (AuthorHouse), Stanley Turkel, who worked in the hotel industry, brings them to life again as they were originally envisioned.

In this passionate and informative book dotted with a sparing selection of photographs, he begins by recalling six classics that figured in his early career, then quotes an 1872 guidebook that proclaims New York “the paradise of hotels.” From the Aberdeen to the Wolcott, the hotels he features — some built as apartment hotels, some converted to apartments — were mostly constructed in the ensuing decades. Some, fortunately, are now officially landmarks.



Treasuring Urban Oases (NYTimes)

Alexander Garvin, natty in bowtie and jacket, watched commuters hustle through the gray, sunken concrete plaza at Citigroup Center on Lexington Avenue. Across 53rd Street, in the fading afternoon light, more New Yorkers ducked into a faceless subway kiosk on the triangular patch of wind-swept sidewalk — ostensibly a second public plaza — that occupies the southeast corner. This is the city’s public realm, or part of it.

What passes for public space in many crowded neighborhoods often means some token gesture by a developer, built in exchange for the right to erect a taller skyscraper. Mr. Garvin, an architect, urban planner and veteran of five city administrations, going back to the era of Mayor John V. Lindsay (1966-73), has spent the better part of the last half-century thinking about these spaces.

“The public realm is what we own and control,” he told me the other day when we met to look around Midtown. More than just common property, he added, “the streets, squares, parks, infrastructure and public buildings make up the fundamental element in any community — the framework around which everything else grows.”

Or should grow.

Writing in The New York Times last week, Christopher B. Leinberger, a professor of urban planning, took note of “a profound structural shift” in America during the last decade or so, “a reversal of what took place in the 1950s.” Back then drivable suburbs boomed while center cities decayed. Now more and more people want to settle in “a walkable urban downtown.” The most expensive housing in the country, and not just New York City, is in “high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods,” he said.

But what makes high-density neighborhoods pedestrian friendly?

Good public space, for starters.

The best public spaces encourage diverse urban experiences, from people watching to protesting, daydreaming to handball, eating, reading and sunbathing to strolling and snoozing. Witness the High Line. The park opened a couple of years ago on the West Side with no special program of cultural offerings or other headline attractions to lure people. The attraction was, and remains, the place itself. Its success shows how much can be achieved, economically and architecturally, when city government and private interests make the public realm, on a grand scale, their shared interest. Governors Island is another enlightened urban experiment. Leslie Koch, its president, has been planning the island to respond to what people want to do there. The layout of green spaces, bike paths, playgrounds and pavilions evolves as the public uses the place each summer, a process that flips around how most public spaces get designed.

That said, in a contentious city where you can’t plant a single tree without somebody complaining to City Hall, expecting the public to oversee the design of the public realm at large is nuts. Besides, as everybody learned about Zuccotti Park, much public space is not even really public but privately owned, and landlords find ways to restrict access by cutting hours or limiting activities.

We’ve been so fixated on fancy new buildings that we’ve lost sight of the spaces they occupy and we share. Last month Mr. Garvin addressed a conclave of architects, planners and public officials from around the country and abroad, who met on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of New York’s landmark 1961 zoning resolution. That resolution established the incentive program for private developers, whereby developers construct public spaces — plaza “bonuses,” in zoning lingo — in return for bigger buildings. Acres of some of the costliest real estate in town have been turned into arcades and squares as a consequence, but sheer space, the urban sociologist Holly Whyte famously observed, is not “of itself” what people need or want. Quality, not quantity, is the issue.

Mr. Garvin argues that the city should reverse its approach, zoning neighborhoods like Midtown, Lower Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by thinking first about the shape of public space instead of private development. And it was clear why on our walk. We started at the Citigroup Plaza, which is far from the worst public space in the city. With a few shops, trees and the entrances to the building and subway drawing people down into it, it’s at least busier and less glum than most sunken plazas, and inviting in ways that the barren patch of sidewalk across the street isn’t. But the two sites were developed piecemeal, as separate footnotes to skyscrapers. “If from the beginning,” Mr. Garvin said, the city had organized “all the subway entrances, stairways, corridors, shops and plazas through which pedestrians flow and into which sunlight should penetrate, this might have been a great public space.”

Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Bryant Park (which copies much from European landmarks like the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris), are among the world’s great public spaces and they are also commercial hubs. The goal is to learn from their success, and avoid lost opportunities like Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street.

The Dutch today put together what they call “structure plans” when they undertake big new public projects, like their high-speed rail station in Rotterdam: before celebrity architects show up, urban designers are called in to work out how best to organize the sites for the public good. It’s a formalized, fine-grained approach to the public realm. By contrast, big urban projects on the drawing board in New York still tend to be the products of negotiations between government agencies anxious for economic improvement and private developers angling for zoning exemptions. As with the ill-conceived Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the streets, subway entrances and plazas around Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, where millions of New Yorkers will actually feel the development’s effects, seem like they’ve hardly been taken into account.

Meanwhile the public demand for parks, squares and more pedestrian-oriented streets only grows. Every new plaza the city opens, like the recent one on Gansevoort Street, instantly fills up; local shop owners reap the benefits. Retail sales rose in Times Square after Broadway was closed to traffic two years ago and became a pedestrian plaza, contrary to what some businesses there feared.

The transformation of Times Square required brave thinking by the Bloomberg administration. The same level of daring might help blossoming neighborhoods like Bushwick, Brooklyn, and could yet redeem New York’s most ignominious failure to safeguard the public realm, Penn Station. Creative redesign (turn 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues into a car-free, glassed-over pedestrian gateway to the station) and a little hardball politics (find another home for Madison Square Garden) might still turn the Farley Post Office into a dignified Amtrak terminal and bring some light and air into what is now a rat’s warren of a transit hub suffered by 550,000 commuters each day.

From the Citigroup Center, Mr. Garvin navigated the northern sidewalk along 53rd Street, made nearly impassable by a phalanx of planted security bollards. At Park Avenue he climbed the steps leading up to the plaza of Mies van der Rohe’s great Seagram Building, a modernized Italian piazza raised a few feet above Park Avenue. Imagine, Mr. Garvin said, if Park Avenue were altogether redesigned now for the public realm. “Why should there be a median that no one uses?” he asked. “Suppose the street was reconfigured, with one of the sidewalks widened and connected to the plazas along the street? You don’t build great public spaces incrementally,” he repeated, and marched on toward Rockefeller Center.

Its pedestrian passage, lined with brightly lighted shops, meticulously maintained, sloping toward the skating rink, framing the view that unfolds when you arrive; its network of subway entrances, underground concourses and open spaces, carefully mapped out from the start: what makes Rockefeller Center special, its Art Deco details aside, is how the site was conceived around public space. “It doesn’t get better than this,” Mr. Garvin said.

In Times Square he lamented the forest of telephone booths and lampposts that have become archaic impediments in the era of cellphones and lighted signs, but he praised the farsighted zoning law enacted in the Edward I. Koch era that demanded those lighted signs. In Bryant Park Mr. Garvin exalted the plan by which local businesses bonded together during the 1980s and retailers on the site helped to pay for one of the most incredible urban transformations in New York history. Once a crime-ridden symbol of urban blight and the bankruptcy of public space, the park was a crowded wonderland the other day, with its Christmas market, food stalls and cafes.

Mr. Garvin’s final destination, as dusk turned to dark: Grand Central. Packed with commuters, it’s a daily reminder of how the public realm, at its best, speaks to the aspirations of a society and the nobility of a great city.

He spread his arms. “We ought to be able to learn from this,” he said.

That was his challenge to public officials. And to the rest of us too.



For Women Only; Wear Your Sorority Pin (NYTimes)

THE soaring Beekman Tower Hotel, at First Avenue and 49th Street, was an out-of-place landmark for years, until the United Nations went up. These days its dramatic Art Deco profile is not quite as prominent, a streamlined orange brick shaft built in 1928 as Panhellenic House, a residence for college women. The 61-year-old developer was Emily Eaton Hepburn, a real estate novice who created one of New York’s most distinctive skyscrapers.

Emily Eaton graduated from St. Lawrence University, class of 1887. After her marriage to Barton Hepburn, a banker and lawyer, she energetically promoted women’s suffrage and projects like the re-creation of Theodore Roosevelt’s house on East 20th Street. She was a key supporter of the City History Club, established to give children an appreciation of New York’s colonial heritage.

In 1922 Mrs. Hepburn’s husband was struck by a bus at Madison Square and died. Perhaps it was only coincidental that at this point she acquired more ambitious goals, joining in 1924 with Anne Morgan and others to build the American Woman’s Association, a high-rise hotel-clubhouse for working women, at 353 West 57th Street.

Mrs. Hepburn developed her own ideas along these lines and in 1926 began fund-raising for Panhellenic House, a 380-room apartment hotel intended for college graduates who were sorority members; she herself was a Kappa Kappa Gamma.

The boxy, unornamented American Woman’s Association clubhouse had been simple to the point of drab, the International Style with a migraine, designed by the otherwise traditionalist Benjamin Wistar Morris. Mrs. Hepburn went to John Mead Howells, the son of the writer William Dean Howells, and a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts.

He had been pursuing an agreeable career as an upper-class architect of schools and mansions when, in 1922, he won an international competition for a new headquarters for The Chicago Tribune. The soaring neo-Gothic tower was a decade out of date, but the commission gave him and his partner, Raymond Hood, distinct skyscraper cred.

For a site for her project, Mrs. Hepburn looked east, to the still-industrial precincts of the far East 40s. Although adjacent to the old brownstones of Beekman Place, the area to the south was one of slaughterhouses and factories. She bought the northeast corner of First Avenue and 49th Street, and Howells designed for her a brooding orange-brick monolith, 26 stories high, with pointing colored to make the brick facade look like a single mass. The rich, rippling brickwork owes something to German and Scandinavian modernism, and is unlike Howells’s earlier work.

The Panhellenic has decorative touches in the Art Deco style, but the overall tower has thick projecting piers that hide the narrow lines of windows and give it a blank aspect, like a high-rise medieval keep fortified to keep out invaders — invaders like men? Although Mrs. Hepburn wanted traditional furniture, what she got was modernist chairs, tables and décor.

In a 1927 interview in The Saturday Evening Post, Miss Morgan said that she hoped the West 57th Street building would be “a training school for leadership, a mental exchange” for women. Mrs. Hepburn expressed similar ideals, but more in the context of her own work on the Panhellenic.

“I wanted to prove that women could do big business,” she is quoted as saying in “Daughter of Vermont,” a 1952 biography of her by Isabelle Savell. She also built and occupied the apartment house at 2 Beekman Place.

In the early 1930s, faced with falling occupancy rates, Mrs. Hepburn decided to allow men as residents, and renamed her project the Beekman Tower Hotel. The parent organization, Panhellenic House, continued to run a yearly essay competition for college students on the subject of what they would most want to see in New York. In August 1935 Sylva Goodman of Wayne State University won for her answer: a tugboat and a courtroom. Upon visiting, she said what she really appreciated were the smells of the city — the saltwater, the pushcarts, the florists and even the saloons.

That November, Vera Stretz (New York University, class of 1926) was taking advantage of the hotel’s new policy while wearing a cerise nightgown in the room of Fritz Gebhardt, a German industrialist. She shot and killed him, claiming as her defense his “unnatural love practices,” according to The Daily Freeman of Kingston, N.Y. She was found not guilty.

Now the owners of the hotel are finishing up an exterior renovation project, and the tarps and rigging that give the tall shaft the aspect of a climbing wall should be down by the end of the year. Russell Newbold, the project manager for Israel Berger Architects, says that reconstruction was extensive in part because the projecting piers make so many corners.

At the moment, the scaffolding makes it difficult to see, but Emily Hepburn left a personal touch around the main entrance: a spray of the Greek letters that inspired her unusual project.

E-mail: streetscapes@nytimes.com


Jewelry Inspired by Architectural Details (NYTimes)

In high school, Rebecca Schiffman was embarrassed about living on the Upper East Side, which she considered uncool. But now she embraces the neighborhood, writing a blog about it called the U.E.S. Journal, and living in the same apartment on 88th Street where she grew up.

Ms. Schiffman, a 29-year-old singer-songwriter and jewelry designer, has lately started making sterling silver jewelry inspired by local buildings and their architectural details. Her first, a pendant ($175), was based on a stone carving at 1021 Park Avenue. “I saw this shield with a flower on it and I thought, ‘That would be a really cool necklace,’ ” Ms. Schiffman said recently, sitting in a booth at a Viand Coffee Shop on Madison Avenue.

She is drawn to prewar buildings, she said, because newer ones seem to lack “anything that gives them a little whimsical detail.” A frieze of rabbits jumping across the façade of 1040 Park Avenue, a white-glove building dating to 1924, inspired her Racing Hare Brooch ($430); a geometric flower carving at 19 East 88th Street became a pair of cufflinks ($365).

So far, Ms. Schiffman has designed 10 pieces based on 5 buildings. Eventually, she said, she wants to use a detail even closer to home: a group of mysterious carved-stone heads above the entrance to her building. “I would make a really weird, big cocktail ring,” she said.

Information: rebeccaschiffmanjewelry.com.



STREETSCAPES | GRACIE SQUARE; For an Artist-Developer, No Ordinary Doors (NYTimes)


ON the typical apartment house, the front door is a cookie-cutter item, straight out of a catalog. But 7 Gracie Square, just off East End Avenue, is hardly typical, the project of a muralist who got into real estate.

The double doors and flanking ironwork are a frenzy of swirling shapes in brass and iron, plated with zinc, nickel and cadmium, populated by gazelles, elephants and sinuous plants. Now these 1929 masterworks of metal gleam in the north light from Carl Schurz Park, reinstalled earlier this month after a restoration.

The maisonette entrance to the left bears, in intricate script, the name Crisp, for this was the project of Arthur W. Crisp, a Canadian muralist who made good, very good, until the Depression hit. Born in 1881, Crisp came to New York around 1900, and studied at the Art Students League. By the 1910s he was getting mural commissions for theaters, institutions and private houses.

His private work was free and playful, but his public murals tended toward the conventional; in 1933 Lewis Mumford offhandedly described one as ”sweet and dreadful.” Nevertheless, Crisp did well enough to buy real estate, including some old buildings on far East 84th Street. He bought in early 1928, just before the stubby dead end was renamed Gracie Square.

Crisp retained George B. Post & Sons, along with Rosario Candela, and they designed a tepid Art Deco facade of red brick, with vertical runs of brick set at an angle.

Renting began in the spring of 1929, when four- to seven-room apartments cost from $160 to $290 per month. The building had a gym and extra maids’ rooms. Some idea of the residents may be gained from a 1930 account in The New York Times: a tenant, Fanny Parsons, said that a handbag with $45,000 in jewelry had been stolen from her apartment. It turned out that she had left it in a taxicab. Whoops!

Mrs. Parsons and her $45,000 bag of jewelry went in and out through two brass-framed doors decorated with tendrils of nickel-plated bronze sprouting from howdahs borne by bronze elephants and coiling to fill the space.

Above the doors, a bowed-out tympanum of cadium-coated cast iron showcases two gazelles surrounded by a panoply of spiraling plants, all in a deep, rich silver.

Just inside the main doors, the radiator grilles are square-rigged ships of hammered iron plated with nickel.

Do not fail to notice the cunning little grilles on the doors of the flanking maisonettes. The one to the left with ”Crisp” intricately worked into the metalwork was apparently the artist’s apartment, and directories list him here at the sub-number, 8 Gracie Square. The 1930 census records Crisp as paying $833 per month, far more than anyone else there, which is hard to explain. One tradition in the building has it that he occupied the penthouse, complete with organ loft.

A final touch is on the inner doors: The brass kick plate is cut in the shape of a rolling form called a Vitruvian wave, the whole package a perfect demonstration of the metalworker’s art. And what metalworker was that, exactly?

Crisp is not known to have designed in metal, and the doors call to mind the work of the French designer Edgar Brandt, who had a few other commissions in New York, like the magnificent doors of the Cheney Brothers’ showroom at Madison and 34th.

The 1920s were good times in real estate. Crisp was on a roll, and in early 1929 engaged the Post firm for two more 15-story apartment houses, although these were not built. In May, five months before the stock-market crash, he bought 238 acres upstate. But the 1930s were not so swell, both for real estate and for business in general; in 1934 he appeared on a panel promoting the increased use of artwork in architecture.

And then, in 1935, the bank took back 7 Gracie Square, metalwork and all, at a foreclosure auction, paying $625,000 against the loan balance of $733,000. Crisp and his wife, Grace, also an artist, moved to Charlton Street.

In 1945 the tenants bought 7 Gracie for $500,000. The facade was rebuilt in 1993. The doors did not become a problem until recently, when the plating began to rub off, allowing the iron underneath to rust. In 2010 the co-op board retained Conservation Solutions of Washington to inspect and analyze the doors. Mark Rabinowitz, the company’s vice president, thinks it is likely the metalwork is by Brandt.

Suzanne Charity lives in Crisp’s old maisonette apartment, and has served on the board. She was active in an earlier renovation campaign, and says the building hired craftsmen in France to make gates, radiator covers and other details for the lobby that had always been lacking. The new fixtures are indistinguishable from the originals.

It is easy to pass by short little Gracie Square, until you know of the striking doors.

E-mail: methistory@aol.com



An Upstate Farm Brings a Fashion Photographer Back to His Roots (NYTimes)


FABIO CHIZZOLA, a fashion photographer, was 4 years old when his family began leaving their home in Rome to spend summers in the mountains of Italy. When he turned 12, his father started farming a small plot of land there, less than a half-acre on which he grew tomatoes, string beans, onions and potatoes for the family.

But the young Mr. Chizzola wasn’t interested. “I would go biking,” he said, “play soccer, chase the girls, do wheelies with my bike.”

It wasn’t until much later — after moving to New York City, oddly enough — that he began to develop an enthusiasm for farming.

In 2002, he and his wife, Laura Ferrara, a freelance fashion and beauty stylist, were looking for a place to spend weekends in the Catskill Mountains. And, almost by chance, they discovered what would become Mr. Chizzola’s new passion: a 32-acre apple orchard.

It was the old Dutch-American stone farmhouse on the property, built in the 1770s, that initially pulled them in. The ceilings were low, with exposed hand-hewn beams, and the windows in the kitchen looked out onto a big yard surrounded by a low stone wall.

“The house is really sweet and cottagelike,” said Ms. Ferrara, 44, who was also born in Italy.

And as Mr. Chizzola put it, “It smelled like Italy.”

So the couple embraced the aura of the house and bought it for $385,000, in 2002. Soon after, they did a few small renovations, spending about $5,000, which, Ms. Ferrara said, “felt like a lot of money at the time.”

They intended to rent the land to local farmers. But the previous owner had neglected the orchard for years, and it was sadly overgrown. The trees were too big to produce good fruit, and their long, spindly branches arched toward the ground.

With the guidance of a neighboring farmer, Mr. Chizzola reluctantly took on the task of pruning and clearing the yard himself.

The job proved overwhelming.

He and Ms. Ferrara ended many weekends the same way: driving back to the city on Sunday night with their young son, Matteo, asleep in the back seat, while they talked about selling.

But the pruning and clearing continued. And gradually, the orchard started looking better.

“So we pruned some more,” Mr. Chizzola said. By 2007, 75 percent of the orchard had been pruned, and 400 of the 700 dead or dying trees had been cut down. And in 2008, they had their first crop of apples — “a bumper crop,” he said.

A few years earlier, in one of the sheds on the property, they had found an old envelope with the home’s address and the name Westwind Orchard written on it. Now they decided to resurrect the name, making signs on old slats of wood and posting them on trees at the end of their drive. Their pick-your-own apple business opened for a few weekends that fall.

ONE Sunday last month, Mr. Chizzola was up at the farm, where he now spends an average of three days a week, or a long weekend, he said.

The farm, which has become a certified organic orchard, had just closed for the season. It had sold out of pumpkins, winter squash, jams, applesauce, honey and most of the apples. (“I need some of the apples on the trees,” he said. “I have a photo shoot up here in a couple of weeks.”)

Mr. Chizzola’s mother, who had visited from Italy during the peak of the season, could not believe the business.

“In Italy, it doesn’t work like this,” Mr. Chizzola said. “My mother said, ‘The people come and pick the apples, and they also pay you?’ ” He laughed.

Mr. Chizzola exudes warmth. He has a youthful face with short dark hair and some facial scruff. That afternoon, he was wearing a navy North Face fleece over a utility shirt, jeans, a black-and-yellow John Deere hat, and dusty work boots. “I was in the mud,” he said.

Because a hundred or so new trees hadn’t been planted deep enough, he and a worker had been covering the trunks with soil, work that stands in stark contrast to his job in the city. A few days earlier, he was in a studio shooting for Victoria’s Secret. Other clients include Marie Claire and Glamour Spain.

“It’s sort of weird, because the farming doesn’t balance at all with what we do in the city,” he said. “But it does put my mind in perspective as to how hard it is to make a living in the country, and as a farmer.”

Sitting at a round table in the kitchen, Mr. Chizzola explained that he and Ms. Ferrara plan to do a bigger renovation on the house, “once we agree on what to do.”

In 2009, they renovated and moved one of the barns, converting it into a loftlike space with oversize sliding doors on two sides, for about $125,000. Mr. Chizzola amicably characterized the process as “many little fights.”

After a couple of glasses of fresh apple cider, he was ready to offer a reporter a tour of the barn, a big box shaped like a Monopoly hotel with stacked square windows and a bright silver wood grain.

The original siding has been replaced with mushroom wood, the name given to recycled cypress and hemlock once used in bins in mushroom factories. (As William Johnson, the owner of Will III, the New Paltz, N.Y., the company behind the construction, noted, “It’s basically a potting base for mushrooms to grow.”)

Inside, the barn smelled fresh and woody, like a sauna. Because the stone house is so compact, Mr. Chizzola said, he and Ms. Ferrara wanted this to be an open space where the family could relax.

There is a small loft, a bathroom and a kitchen with a poured-concrete counter and an exceptionally long dining table made from a slab of light reclaimed wood and table legs found by a friend in Switzerland.

Leaving the barn, Mr. Chizzola headed for a big shed a few yards away. Opening one of the doors, he said that he holds very closely the memory of the day he first unlocked it. There were holes where the walls had been eaten away by vermin, and the roof had rotted away, allowing rainwater to destroy some old books he found stored inside.

But that wasn’t all he discovered. There was also a large stash of photography equipment from the 1920s and 1930s that had been preserved intact: a tall tripod, 20 or 30 film holders and developing tanks in a variety of sizes. Some of it was wrapped in newspaper, editions of The Philadelphia Inquirer from long ago, and some was wrapped in kraft paper, including several boxes of glass negatives and contact sheets.

“I got goosebumps,” Mr. Chizzola said.

Many of the photographs were of nude models in classically artistic positions — holding an urn on a shoulder, for example. It was clear that whoever took them was more than a hobbyist.

Inquiring around about his home’s previous owners, Mr. Chizzola learned that the equipment had probably belonged to a man named Chester Kohn, who had lived in Philadelphia and farmed the land in his spare time starting in the 1930s. Kohn, he found out, had owned the farm until the 1970s, when he died.

Mr. Chizzola now keeps the equipment stored in the basement of the stone house. Many of the photographs are on display at his studio in Manhattan. And after researching Mr. Kohn’s life and photography, he is considering combining their photography in an exhibition or a book. “Something past and present,” he said. “Two stories: him in the early 1900s and me now.”

“I’m attached to the land,” Mr. Chizzola added. “But I’m even more attached because I know that the person who was farming the land before was into photography, too.”



East Hampton Opens Its Doors (NYTimes)

On Saturday, architecture and design enthusiasts will have a chance to peek inside five impressive private residences in East Hampton, N.Y.

The homes, which range from an 1853 Federal-style building to a starkly modern house with an arc-shaped roof by the architect Maziar Behrooz, will be open to the public for the 27th annual East Hampton House Tour, a fund-raiser for the East Hampton Historical Society.

Richard Barons, the group’s executive director, said, “I do believe, this year, that the committee has pulled together a particularly rich smorgasbord.”

Tickets are $65 in advance or $75 on Saturday. Admission to the opening-night cocktail party on Friday, which will be held in an 1891 Queen Anne-style home designed by the architect William B. Tuthill, starts at $150.

Information: (631) 324-6850 or easthamptonhistory.org.



Imagining Housing for Today (NYTimes)

Bronx Park East opened last year opposite the New York Botanical Garden. It consists of a five-story brick pavilion with triple-height windows facing the street, and a seven-story wing for 68 small studio apartments. “A good neighbor,” is how its designer, Jonathan Kirschenfeld, described the building’s look.

Serious architecture is another way to describe Bronx Park East. It is a single-room occupancy residence, an S.R.O., built to house tenants who had been homeless. Sunny, with modest kitchens and full bathrooms, its apartments are smaller (around 285 square feet) than otherwise legally permitted for studios in New York because different rules apply to housing for social service clients. The building has a handsomely proportioned facade, spacious public rooms and light-filled hallways, none of it standard for an S.R.O.

The other morning a few residents were out on the sidewalk taking in the sun, chatting with people from next door. “Isn’t the idea here to improve mental health?” Mr. Kirschenfeld said. “Isn’t good architecture part of that?”

It is, and Bronx Park East, like other S.R.O.’s Mr. Kirschenfeld has designed in the city, lends dignity to what at least used to be a byword for urban pariah and a building type that often resembled a prison.

But the project is exemplary for another reason, too.

Most new homes in the city today are still designed for nuclear families. According to the nonprofit Citizens Housing & Planning Council, two parents raising young children occupy only 17 percent of New York dwellings; another 9 percent house single parents with children under 25. The city meanwhile has a growing population of singles — students, young professionals, immigrants, empty-nesters and the elderly — who can’t afford market-rate rentals. (That’s not to mention a report last week from the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group that has frequently clashed with the Bloomberg administration , which put the city’s homeless population at 41,204, up from 31,000 a decade ago.)

Households have evolved. But New York’s housing stock hasn’t. In essence, New Yorkers have increasingly had to adapt to the housing we’ve got, instead of designing and building the housing that suits who we have become.

The problem? Partly, a collection of sometimes conflicting city and state laws that do things like dictate minimum room sizes, prohibit the construction of apartments without kitchens or bathrooms, and outlaw more than three or four unrelated people sharing an apartment. Other rules compel developers in many parts of town to construct a parking space for each new unit they build, a disincentive for designing many smaller, inexpensive apartments as opposed to just a few big ones, never mind what the rules imply for the environment.

Of course safety and fire concerns account for many codes. But together these good laws and outmoded ones have forced much of the city’s housing population underground, into illegal shares and jerry-built apartments.

As David Burney, the city’s commissioner for the Department of Design and Construction, put it the other day, “The regulatory environment has fallen behind” the times. So had a conspicuous part of the architecture world, which, until lately at least, focused on glamour projects rather than on how most people live.

In the past New York has adapted to changing household patterns. For example, grand Upper West Side apartments from a century ago were chopped up to provide more units for smaller families that no longer employed live-in servants . The question now is can the city become nimble again? Boston has zoned for micro-units to accommodate the young population and others struggling with market rates, on whom civic competitiveness and social equity ultimately depend. Can New York also meet the social and economic needs of the 21st century?

The Citizens Housing & Planning Council organized a conference the other day, in collaboration with the Architectural League, that tackled these questions. A clutch of city commissioners joined architects, among them Peter L. Gluck, Ted Smith, Deborah Gans, Rafi Segal and Mr. Kirschenfeld, who proposed new housing models. Their brief was to ignore existing codes and regulations that got in the way of innovative design but to stay real: to focus on what could actually happen in terms of safe, economical construction given a few tweaks to existing laws and putting aside intractable obstacles like rent control and rent stabilization.

As Fred A. Bernstein reported on the conclave in The New York Times on Sunday, not everyone was excited by the plans, including Robert D. LiMandri, commissioner of the Buildings Department, who said he kept worrying, “How is the fireman going to get in there?” Mr. Smith, a veteran of communal housing in San Diego, warned that communal kitchens cause internecine warfare and cool-looking convertible furniture, of the sort that a few speakers touted, tends to be expensive.

The larger truth is that wholesale change of the housing stock also can’t happen without more efficient federal subsidies and reform of the mortgage system. But the exercise was instructive anyway. A better, more equitable city, with more smaller, smartly designed, adaptable apartments and houses, is within reach.

I was struck by a few proposals, including one from Mr. Gluck and his young team of collaborators. They envisioned a five-story walkup on a town-house-size New York lot. The building would accommodate 20 micro-lofts, as the team termed them, some 150 square feet each. With mini-kitchens, 14-foot ceilings and public spaces for residents to socialize and work together on each floor, the plan trades basics like an elevator for private space and lower building costs, as it also trades views for privacy: it imagines large windows, but extra close to the blank wall of the building next to it (another legal no-no). By doubling the number of apartments from the 10 or so that present zoning laws allow, the project could be economical for developers to build, Mr. Gluck argued, and rents could be low.

Mr. Segal, working with the architect Stan Allen, both from Brooklyn, explored the conversion of increasingly obsolete 1960s Midtown office towers into residences, and they imagined kibbutzlike communes atop low-rise, underdeveloped commercial buildings in neighborhoods like Inwood. More practically, Ms. Gans retrofitted Tudor Revival cottages in immigrant-rich areas like Astoria, Queens, so they could house an evolving assortment of singles and families who might want to live together. Her plan, with buildings cleverly massed and fitted into the existing fabric of the neighborhood, conceived of up to seven apartment “pods” (“barnacles” became another operative metaphor) clinging to a 4,000-square-foot house.

But it was the proposal by Mr. Kirschenfeld and his collaborators that seemed most realistic. If the city simply applied existing laws to market housing for supportive projects like Bronx Park East, he said, it would in principle be possible tomorrow to create new high-density, low-rent apartment buildings.

He focused on revamping the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. “The Concourse is one of the largest and longest rooms in the city,” he said, “and it can become an urban incubator for the city’s young work force again.” He imagined greening that once-vibrant boulevard in conjunction with building housing that mixes tiny apartments for singles and larger ones that can be shared and swapped by a shifting roster of families and unrelated groups, a kind of “S.R.O. redux,” as he put it. Including the Concourse, the plan broke down the wall between inside and outside, public and private, in ways that seemed well attuned to modern city life.

Back at Bronx Park East, the benefits of good, economical design were obvious. “At the beginning there was opposition,” Raymond Berisha, the building’s 50-year-old superintendent, told me. I found him straightening up the terrace. He lived around the corner, he said. “Like everybody in the neighborhood, I was surprised by how well this fits in, to be honest, but you know New York.”

It’s a leap from an S.R.O. to inexpensive studio apartments and commune-style Tudor homes for young professionals and multigenerational families.

But the point is that we aren’t stuck with the housing models we’ve already got.

And that we are what we build.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 16, 2011

Because of an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly identified the neighborhood of Bronx Park East as Bedford Park.


The future of the Free Independent Press; A Case for Paid Content

The issues of online ad revenue and audience reach has been an issue for journalism in the digital world since it’s birth.  There is no way that online ad income can ever compare to print, so other options have been explored.  Click through and sell through advertising models have proven largely a disappointment and so firewalls and paid content are now a more viable option.

A free, ad-based strategy may have made sense when online was a small, supplementary business for newspapers.  Now that various digital platforms are becoming the medium of choice for so many readers, it makes sense to charge for what is expensive to report and edit professionally.

However, even the most promising streams of digital subscription revenue can’t compensate for the declining print revenues for advertising and circulation. But as news organizations begin assembling other collections of revenue to make up as much of that ground as possible, digital subscriptions will surely have a role.

The American Press Institute (API) has surveyed the many options currently being discussed for paid content and “fair use” fees from Google and other aggregators, and basically endorses them all as a remedy to what ails the newspaper business.

In a 31-page white paper prepared for last week’s newspaper executive’s summit in Chicago, API concludes, “newspapers can make the leap from an advertising-centered to an audience-centered enterprise” and should get on with it immediately.

The report, titled Newspaper Economic Action Plan, recommends that industry leaders follow five new “doctrines.”

True Value. Establish that news content online has value by charging for it. Begin “massive experimentation with several of the most promising options.”

Fair Use. Maintain the value of professionally produced and edited content by “aggressively enforcing copyright, fair use and the right to profit from original work.”

Fair Share. Negotiate a higher price for content produced by the news industry that is aggregated and redistributed by others.

Digital Deliverance. “Invest in technologies, platforms and systems that provide content-based e-commerce, data-sharing and other revenue generating solutions.”

Consumer Centric. Refocus on consumers and users. Shift revenue strategies from those focused on advertisers.

It can be argued that putting all content behind a firewall will result in substantial traffic loss and audience reach because people will refuse to pay.  Financially, it is not an issue.  Micropayment methods make more money with fewer viewers.  Not to mention that more and more online content is found behind firewalls so viewers will most likely not travel to other sites for their content.

The reduced risk of losing viewers, along with modestly encouraging early subscription results, should be enough to provoke some serious thought among the late adopters.  Given the long-term vulnerability of online advertising prospects, news organizations owe it to themselves to explore the possibilities for online subscriptions.

For example, take The New York Times; It has built the best trafficked Web site among American newspapers. The NYT, with fellow national titles The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, has maintained paid circulation much better online circulation at a subscription price more than double what anyone else charges. Because online ad growth has slowed to almost zero, this new model must be implemented.

Interestingly, most agree that paid content has improved digital attitudes in the newsroom. Said Jim Roberts of The New York Times: “There is more of an investment I feel in the newsroom among our journalists since the introduction of the paywall. They feel a greater stake in the product. People seem a little more willing to work on a piece of video, file early for the Web, etc.”