Last weekend, my wife and I enjoyed the 1954 classic On the Waterfront in 35 mm film on the big screen. (The movie was shot in Hoboken, New Jersey.) While the film was riveting, the true attraction was the movie theater itself.
The Loew’s Jersey Theatre stands across the street from the Journal Square PATH station in Jersey City, New Jersey. The Loew’s opened in 1929 and remains a true movie palace. A temple for artistry and entertainment.
For our tenth anniversary, my wife and I spent the day in the country, or what city dwellers would have considered to be the country near the turn of the last century (i.e. the Progressive Era). We planned a day trip to the Hudson River to visit Lyndhurst, a Gothic Revival masterpiece. A quaint and quiet adventure.
After leaving our modest home in Jersey City, we made our way to Grand Central Station. Although bursting with commuters, tourists, and fellow day trippers, Grand Central Station never ceases to amaze and dazzle. Yes, pausing in the main concourse and gazing at the starry ceiling is a must-do for any visitor. However, I’m more fascinated by the elegant and functional nature of the train station: One can get a shoeshine, a bottle of wine, or a small gift or enjoy a meal or drink at the variety of eateries and restaurants within Grand Central Station. While immersed in its world, one feels deserving of certain status and respect. Simply put, Grand Central Station inspires. And entices me to stray from the intended subject of this post. Back to my original topic …
In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis commented upon the “need to protect those common areas, visual landmarks, and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of “feeling at home” within a city.” By preserving such spaces and visiting them, we as individuals and as a people might feel a connection with the past and view ourselves as belonging to the larger story of humanity. Such spaces remind us that we exist beyond our individual selves.
Two weekends ago, I attended a memorial ceremony for an elderly relative outside of Philadelphia. After the service, I spent an afternoon with my parents and my sisters in the City of Brotherly Love. As we walked through the courtyard of the Second Empire Philadelphia City Hall, I told them about the former gentleman’s agreement that no building could surpass the statue of William Penn perched atop its clock tower. Real estate developers honored this tradition until the 1980s. Later, my father asked about another Second Empire masterpiece, the Union League of Philadelphia, wondering what the building housed and represented.
A few weeks ago, my friend and I spent a Sunday morning documenting a gargantuan industrial property situated on the borderlands between Essex and Hudson Counties, New Jersey. We snapped hundreds of photographs, jotted down notes, and exchanged innumerable observations. Recently, we transformed our creative material into an article submitted to a very niche and captivating publication. Fingers crossed.
During our urban archaeological exploration and our writing efforts, we realized that such mothballed industrial and institutional sites risk being lost to history and the collective imagination. Such places are often brutal, ugly, unwieldy, and highly contaminated, if not outright toxic, yet they embody a vanishing way of life and work. In more vibrant, affluent localities, the better preserved or historically landmarked structures might be rehabbed and converted into offices, businesses, apartments, work spaces, or even light industrial centers.
DUMBO, Brooklyn has transitioned from a shipping and industrial engine into a neighborhood of pricey real estate, tech firms, trendy nightlife, and cutting edge culture. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Army Terminal has blossomed as an anchor for innovative light industry in the city. However, for every such case, a huge swath of a struggling city remains blighted by long empty warehouses, factories, and workshops. Think Detroit or small cities in Pennsylvania.