Archive for the ‘New York Places’ Category

The Iron Triangle, part 2 / from Kowloon Walled City to Singapore

Thursday, December 31st, 2009


No place in New York elicits such wonder at the retina’s capacity as the Iron Triangle.  Self-contained, densely packed and eye-boggling, it is an alternate reality recalling Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, demolished in 1993-4, below.

walled city triptych


Comparing the vibrancy of the Iron Triangle to the city’s canned and bland development plan for it brings to mind William Gibson’s 1993 Wired article on Singapore, “Disneyland with the Death Penalty.”  Gibson finds Singapore a sanitized theme park where the physical past “has almost entirely vanished” and “the fuzzier brands of creativity are in extremely short supply.”  “It’s boring here,” he writes, calling Singapore a habitable “version of convention-zone Atlanta,” at risk of becoming a “smug, neo-Swiss enclave of order and prosperity.”  Gibson ends the piece with his departure of Singapore by way of Hong Kong’s airport, where he finds a counterpoint:

In Hong Kong I’d seen huge matte black butterflies flapping around the customs hall, nobody paying them the least attention.  I’d caught a glimpse of the Walled City of Kowloon, too.  Maybe I could catch another, before the future comes to tear it down.

Traditionally the home of pork-butchers, unlicensed denturists, and dealers in heroin, The Walled City still stands at the foot of a runway, awaiting demolition.  Some kind of profound embarrassment to modern China, its clearance has long been made a condition of the looming change of hands.

Hive of dream.  Those mismatched, uncalculated windows.  How they seem to absorb all the frantic activity of Kai Tak airport, sucking in energy like a black hole.

I was ready for something like that. . . .

I loosened my tie, clearing Singapore airspace.”  (more…)

The Iron Triangle, part 1 / Wilson’s Garage

Thursday, December 17th, 2009


Once a swamp and then an ash dump, the ground of the Iron Triangle in Willets Point, Queens, now feels like both.  Its businesses have an unacknowledged ancestor within one of the greatest works of American literature.

The Great Gatsby was going to be called Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires until the great Scribners editor Max Perkins persuaded F. Scott Fitzgerald otherwise.  Bad as it was, Fitzgerald’s working title serves to tell how much importance he placed on the novel’s “valley of ashes,”  the setting for George Wilson’s garage in the novel.  The valley of ashes was based on the sprawling Corona dump which would be regraded and buried - under the 1939 World’s Fair site, now Corona Flushing Meadows Park, and Shea stadium - except for the corner of it at the tip of Willets Point that was left to its own devices and just maniacally proliferated car repair shops until it came to be known as the Iron Triangle.  ArchiTakes’ search for Wilson’s Garage finds that it was almost certainly located within the Iron Triangle, a unique district whose days are numbered in the path of a city initiated development plan.   (more…)

Harding Park

Thursday, November 5th, 2009


Glimpses of the Manhattan skyline flavor Harding Park’s ramshackle romance.

At the end of a peninsula in the Bronx there’s a place where the sidewalks end, the street grid releases its grip, and the world seems to have been improvised by residents happily left to their own devices.  Harding Park sits on the west side of Clason (pronounced Clawson) Point, a tooth in the Bronx’s jagged waterfront where the East River broadens out into Long Island Sound.     (more…)

The Seminary Block of West 20th Street

Thursday, October 8th, 2009



The General Theological Seminary’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd overlooks the center of one of New York’s best blocks.  The Seminary’s brick collegiate gothic buildings were designed by Charles Coolidge Haight.  The Chapel and bell tower of his design were built in 1886-88.


The block of West 20th Street in Chelsea between Ninth and Tenth Avenues is one of New York’s most graceful.  It makes for an excellent way to approach or leave the current north end of the newly opened High Line park, just across Tenth Avenue.  (more…)

Guernsey Street

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

It’s one of New York’s redeeming qualities that it never runs out of sights to offer even a regular wanderer of its neighborhoods.  In addition to planned street-scapes and open spaces, endless random combinations of elements accidentally yield distinctive places.  ArchiTakes launches its “New York Places” category with one of these, in Brooklyn.


The block of Greenpoint’s Guernsey Street between Meserole and Norman Avenues is, through some accident of soil and light, towered over by forest-scaled locust trees.  Their shade makes entering the block feel like stepping indoors from outdoor light.  The palpable ceiling they create takes the metaphor of street as outdoor room a step further, while the repetitive tenements on either side make credible room walls.  The west side of the street in particular, with simple, flat brick building faces, creates a quiet backdrop for the subtle magic of the light, which gives the block something of the unreal, indoor and expectant quality of a stage set.  More effectively than any porch, arcade or terrace, this block blurs the sensations of indoor/private and outdoor/public, creating a pleasant disorientation.   (more…)