Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hamilton Heights, Harlem, Manhattan, New York

This area of northern Manhattan is anchored by the City College of New York, which relocated its campus in 1897 to Hamilton Heights between Amsterdam and Edgecombe Aves, with 141 St. as its northern border. "Combe" is an English word for valley. George B. Post's Collegiate Gothic buildings (popular on Ivy League campuses) were constructed of gray Manhattan schist quarried on the site and ornamented with white terra cotta. The style symbolized the fact that the education received by the poor and immigrant residents was comparable to the nation's most prestigious schools. Main or Shepard Hall has a magnificent auditorium known as the Great Hall. The campus is bisected by Convent Ave., which contains beautiful Beaux-Arts row houses north of campus. This area became known as "Sugar Hill" because it attracted black middle class residents with money (sugar).

Pres. Hamilton's 1801 Federal style Grange (named for his ancestral manor in Scotland) has been relocated in the past few years nestled within St. Nicholas Park, resembling its original environment, moved from its former spot to the north of St. Luke's Episcopal Church (R.H. Robertson, 1891). This was the 2nd relocation as it had been donated to the Church in 1889. Across the street on Convent are row houses with extensive use of cartouches, shield-like forms (photo). Hamilton Terrace, originally a private street, is also rich in architectural texture. Some row houses feature stylized byzantine carvings on the window oriels. St. Nicholas Ave (729-731) features a mansion completely done in schist, thought to be the only example in New York City.

On 149 St. west of Convent Ave. is a modern cantilevered church modeled after Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp in France. Some large mansions are on St. Nicholas Place, including the James A. Bailey (#10) residence (photo, scaffolding) of Barnum & Bailey fame, reminiscent of a medieval castle. Another large mansion, the Nicholas Benziger House (1890) is at 345 Edgecombe Ave. (photo, fire hydrant).

Trinity Church Cemetery, Upper Manhattan, New York

This is one of three cemeteries associated with Trinity Church (in the Financial District at Wall St. and Broadway), located at 153-155 Sts., between Amsterdam Ave. and Riverside Drive. It is the only remaining active cemetery in Manhattan. John James Audubon is among the most notable burials. Indeed, he donated the 35 acres for the cemetery. His grave is decorated with animals.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lake Avenue Cemeteries, Bristol, Connecticut

Two distinctively different small cemeteries are to be found on Lake Ave. on the road to Lake Compounce, the Beth Israel Cemetery and the Lake Avenue Cemetery.

Rumor has it that the Beth Israel Cemetery has the dubious distinction of a listing in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the oldest cemetery to have no occupants as of 1954, having been created in 1929. Perhaps of greatest interest is one headstone with a brass Matzevah marker signaling that the young man was a Holocaust survivor. This plaque has a Jewish star entangled with barbed wire and an olive branch. The brass markers are provided by the The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors & Their Descendants (

The Lake Avenue Cemetery was established in 1841, and has at least one Civil War soldier's gravestone (photo, Anson W. Ball), presumably the family's gravestone on the ground (in two pieces), with an upright gravestone from the State in recognition of the soldier. J. Harwood “Stretch” Norton, a former owner of Lake Compounce, ex-mayor and a World War II veteran who saw kamikazes plunging into ships off Okinawa, is one of the more recent buried.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Downtown, Springfield, Massachusetts

Downtown Springfield has some impressive spaces, especially the buildings surrounding Court Square, laid out in 1812. New York firm Pell & Corbett won a competition to design the Greco -Roman City Hall and Symphony Hall, including the 300-ft high Italianate Campanile. The so-called Municipal Group was dedicated in 1913 by President William Howard Taft. The Byers Block (1835) and Old Court Square Building (1892) flank the east park perimeter, now largely abandoned but sporting a whimsical tower. The Northwestern Mutual Life Building (1907), designed by Peabody & Stearns, is a Beaux Arts style building with impressive details surrounding a 3-story arch.

Up on the hill at Chestnut St. is the Van Allen Building (1902), a fanciful apartment building with a Dutch flavor. Farther up the street is the South Congregational Church (1873), called one of the finest examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture in America. It was designed by New York architect William Potter, who designed much of Princeton University.

Historic Mattoon Area, Springfield, Massachusetts

Mattoon St. can be found just west of The Quadrangle (see other post) and was developed in the period 1870-1890. The Victorian row houses are spectacular, especially the bow front houses designed by local architects Perkins & Gardner. Rev. William Faunce lived at #17 before becoming president of Brown University. The North Congregational Church (now the Hispanic Baptist Church) was built in 1872 and designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. The brownstone edifice features a 150-ft tower and Tiffany window and is one of the most important landmarks of Springfield. Elliot St., cater-corner to Mattoon St. features the Technical High School (1905) now under rehabilitation, designed by Eugene & George Gardner.

The Quadrangle, Springfield, Massachusetts

The Quadrangle consists of the spectacular Italian Renaissance City Library (1912) on State St. and the adjoining 5 museums to the rear of the Library. These include the Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Science Museum, the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.

The 1912 City Library is an architectural tour de force in marble and arguably a peerless building in Springfield.
It was designed by Edward R. Tilton. It was built with financial support from Andrew Carnegie. The Renaissance Revival GWV Smith Art Museum (1896) was designed by the NY firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Renwick. It is built of Pompeiian brick and has the largest collection of Chinese cloisonne in the Western world.

The Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden was sculpted by Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, Theodor Geisel's stepdaughter. Geisel was born in Springfield on Howard St.

The Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral (1874) was designed by Lord & Fuller and H.G. Wadlin of Boston of Longmeadow brownstone.

Across from the Library is the Renaissance Revival Central High School (1897), as well as a striking modern Federal Courthouse (2008), designed by Moshe Safdie..

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Croton Dam, Croton Gorge Park, Cortlandt, New York

The 1906 Croton Dam is a marvel of engineering to rival the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids at Giza. I mean this literally. I have heard some claim that the Croton Dam is the largest hand-hewn structure on planet Earth. From an engineering standpoint the most striking feature is the sideways spillway. The dam is a majestic combination of engineering and civic beauty.

The 1842 Croton Dam was built on the Croton River to supply drinking water to Manhattan on a 41-mile underground aqueduct. This Dam was rapidly outgrown and would be replaced by a mammoth dam 1100 ft in length and 100 ft high, providing capacity of 30 billion gallons (a 100 day supply). Because the bedrock is at such a deep level, if the spillway had gone over the front of the dam, heavy flows would have undermined the dam footings. The clever solution was to create a sideways spillway, which dumps water down a massive set of stone steps, set 90 degrees to the dam's face, onto a seam of bedrock close to the surface. The 200-ft steel arch bridge was rebuilt in 1999 but was not re-opened based on 9/11 security concerns until 2005.

These pictures, ironically, were taken on September 11, 2011, just days after record rainfall from Tropical Storm Lee. The raging torrents were Niagara Falls-like, with a mesmerizing, if not scary, intensity.