Tag Archives: architecture

Unframed Ellis Island, an Art Installation by JR

While visiting Ellis Island a few weeks ago, we got to see a new art exhibit titled “Unframed – Ellis Island”  by French artist JR. The exhibit includes a number of life size and larger than life historic photographs of immigrants who came through Ellis Island, pasted onto the walls of 16 rooms.  The artist’s intent is to evoke a sense of time and place and give context to the human lives that were touched by their time at Ellis Island.

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Real faces of immigrants on the broken windows

A boy with his bags moving down the hall

A boy with his bags moving down the hall

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The images are only semi-permanent. They are pasted to the walls in a way that is meant to disintegrate over the time. To me this neatly mirrors the transitory nature of the island and the many people who came through over the years.

Tongue in cheek image of the copper kitchen hood with the juxtaposition of an image of a steam ship that would have carried immigrants to Ellis Island

Tongue in cheek image of the copper kitchen hood with the juxtaposition of an image of a steam ship that would have carried immigrants to Ellis Island

Part of the pasted photo is already coming off, as it is intended

Part of the pasted photo is already coming off, as it is intended

To me, the installation was really powerful. It brought a kind of life and realism to the seemingly fantastical sites of the hard hat tour. It puts faces to the experiences of the immigrants that came through the island and spent time detained in quarantine. It also made me think more about the people who spent their lives on the island as staff. Doctors, nurses, maids, kitchen staff and administrators lived on the island to facilitate its needs. These people did what they could to ease the stress of the process and take care of those who were sick or injured.

A medical team

A surgical team

Images of nurses on a surgery room wall

Images of doctors and nurses on a surgery room wall

An image of a doctor

An image of a doctor

JR is known around the world for his his “Pervasive Art” exhibitions which are designed to raise questions through juxtaposition and their placement. Though he is traditionally a street artist, he has also partnered with the likes of the New York City Ballet in 2014 (http://www.nycballet.com/Videos/Evergreen-Special/JR-Art-Series.aspx).

He received the TED Prize in 2011 for his Inside Out project. See http://www.insideoutproject.net/en for more details.

Ellis Island, The Hard Hat Edition

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I celebrated my birthday by going to the hard hat tour of Ellis Island. This tour, offed by the Save Ellis Island organization,  has only recently been introduced and takes visitors through dilapidated yet stabilized areas of the island’s facilities that had previously been closed to the public. Hard hats are seriously required.We booked the tour three months in advance, but were lucky to have a beautiful but cold day for our visit.

To get you Ellis Island you take a ferry either from NY’s Battery Park or New Jersey’s Liberty State Park. The views on the way are worth the trip alone.

Lady Liberty in all her glory

Lady Liberty in all her glory

In 1954 the federal government declared Ellis Island “surplus government property” and the site was abandoned. They considered selling or redeveloping the island, but nothing moved forward. Without and funding the buildings sat for thirty years until the 1980’s when the Main Building and a few other structures were designated for restoration and money was provided for their stabilization.

The buildings that we toured had certainly withstood the test of time, but not without major wear and tear. Ceilings had caved in, walls collapsed, windows were blown out and Hurricane Sandy took its toll. Nature had begun to reclaim the structures with trees and plants growing indoors.

To me, the most incredible part of the tour was getting a glimpse into the lives of the immigrants that came through Ellis Island in its years of operation (1892 – 1934). About 12 million people came through Ellis Island during those years. While most were able to enter the United States without holdup, about 1% of the people were quarantined on the island for treatment  or deported. I can only imagine their fear of being sent home or separated from their families.

To lose these buildings to neglect would be a tragedy. I am happy to report that in recent years more attention has been paid to preservation and funding for the Island has been increased. Ellis Island has shaped the experiences of so many of our ancestors. Its a story and history worth preserving.

What follows are my photos from the tour. As they largely speak for themselves, I wanted to share them without too much editorializing.

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Linen and Cloth Room

Damaged hallway in the midst of reconstruction

Damaged hallway in the midst of reconstruction

Morgue and Autopsy stadium for teaching

Morgue and Autopsy stadium for teaching

Crumbling dining Hall

Crumbling Hospital wing

What a view

What a view

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Seriously damaged hallway

Staff housing

Staff housing

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more staff apartments

Laundry machinery

Laundry machinery

Rusted Circuit Breaker

Rusted Circuit Breaker

If you interested in visiting the island or taking a tour, go to http://www.saveellisisland.org/visit/. Be sure to make your bookings far in advance as tours book up early.

If you found this interesting, come back next week to see a second post about an important art installation called Unframed Ellis Island by JR.

Savannah – Part 2

Savannah is a little city with a lot of heart and a lot of quirks. In the first 21 years of Savannah’s history, there were just three formal laws: No slavery, no lawyers and no hard liquor. Eventually all three laws were overturned, but it stands to show that Savannah was a unique spot in the south. I saw the sign below and immediately knew we weren’t in NYC anymore.

Call 911 if someone tries to panhandle. Can you imagine?

Call 911 if someone tries to panhandle. Can you imagine?

My next hint that I was out of my usual city life was this jar of wasps nests for sale in an otherwise charming boutique. At only $2 a piece, I assume that it was a bargain.

Who doesn't want a wasp's nest?

Who doesn’t want a wasp’s nest?

As I mentioned in my last post, Savannah has a very well preserved historic district with beautiful architecture. However, not everything was well protected. Colonial Park Cemetery (founded in 1750) is the resting place of duel losers, yellow fever victims, and  most notably Button Gwinnett, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Though the cemetery was closed to new plots by the time of the Civil War, Federal troops took over the cemetery grounds during their occupation of Savannah and many of the graves were looted and desecrated.  We were told that many gravestones were altered to humorous ends. For example, we were told that one grave said that the woman was mother to 1,000 children. Though we didn’t find that grave, we did find one that was altered. If you look closely at the below picture, you’ll see that it has been altered to say that Christopher McDonald lived to be 421 years old.

He died at the ripe age of 421

He died at the ripe age of 421

Between the war and several hurricanes, many headstones were displaced. The city didn’t know where they belonged so they were pretty unceremoniously lined up along the brick wall surrounding the cemetery.

These headstones have lost their graves

These headstones have lost their graves

In Savannah there is beauty around every corner. Take, for example, the lovely Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It was, designed by Baldwin and Price in the 1870s, but  the original building was nearly destroyed by fire in 1898. It was immediately rebuilt using the original plans and finished in 1900.  The exterior of the building is pretty standard, but the interior blew me away.

St. John the Baptist exterior

St. John the Baptist exterior

Internal view of St. John the Baptist

Internal view of St. John the Baptist

Internal view of St. John the Baptist

Internal view of St. John the Baptist

Not far from the Cathedral is Forsyth Park which is a lovely place to walk, play with dogs or sit and enjoy a coffee.

Fountain in Forsyth park

Fountain in Forsyth park

My favorite thing about Savannah though was the food. Its heavy and butter drenched, but its worth the calories because this is truly the good stuff. On our first day, we braved the lines at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room and it was certainly worth the wait. In Business since 1943, three generations of Wilkes women have run this restaurant for week day lunches open only Monday through Friday 11-2pm. At Mrs Wilkes, you are seated family style at a table covered with every southern comfort food side and main that you can imagine… fried chicken, biscuits, okra, collard greens, yams, pot roast, creamed corn… the list goes on and on. All this, plus desert and drinks for $18.

A small portion of the spread at Mrs. Wilkes

A small portion of the spread at Mrs. Wilkes

My second favorite meal was at Walls BBQ. Walls is literally down a back alley with a limited menu and a small but charming staff. I only have a picture of the entrance, because the food was sooooo good that I didn’t even have a change to take a picture before I ate it all. If you ever find you way to Savannah, do yourself the favor, go off the beaten path and visit Walls. You will not regret it.

Wall's BBQ looks unassuming, but it is a force of deliciousness

Wall’s BBQ looks unassuming, but it is a force of deliciousness

I’ll you leave with two of my favorite photos from the trip.  Nothing like a beautiful sunset or Spanish moss in the moonlight.

Sunset over the Historic District

Sunset over the Historic District

Full moon, near Colonial Park Cemetary

Full moon, near Colonial Park Cemetary

Savannah – Part 1

Spanish Moss, southern comfort food, open containers and beautiful homes. Those few words sum up much of my three day visit to Savannah last weekend.

In 1966 Savannah was designated a National Historic District because of its uniquely preserved city plan and historic buildings. Indeed walking around the hisotric district felt like walking around a movie set. Even the more run down buildings looked like that were artfully run down. It was though the whole down had been masterfully art directed.

Holiday time in Savannah

Holiday time in Savannah

Savannah was founded in 1733 and was planned around wards and public squares. Originally the city was begun  with six wards and at the center of each ward was a public square. This planning continued and by  the 1800′s there were  twenty-four squares evenly spaced from the Savannah River to Gaston Street.

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Spanish Moss on Oglethorpe Street

Today, the buildings in the historic district are strictly regulated and preserved. Homes can only be painted in historically accurate colors and the structures cannot be changed.  Every where you look, you see original iron work, faded painted signs on brick buildings and stunning colonial homes.

Ghost sign on the brick

Ghost sign on the brick

Example of the ironwork seen throughout the city

Example of the ironwork seen throughout the city

Average homes in the historic District

Average homes in the historic District

The  port of Savannah is the 4th busiest container ship terminal in the US and so the river front is pretty industrial. However, it can still make for some beautiful views and there a tourist area with shopping and restaurants on the water front. River boat lunch tours are popular in the season.

View of the bridge to South Carolina over the Savannah River

View of the bridge to South Carolina over the Savannah River

The Peace Maker tall ship at sunset

The Peace Maker tall ship at sunset

Riverboat decorated for the holidays

Riverboat decorated for the holidays

At the end of the river walk, there is a statue of Florence Martus, also known as “the waving girl”.  As the story goes, she  took it upon herself to be the unofficial greeter of all ships that entered and left the port , between 1887 and 1931. She would wave a handkerchief by day and a lantern by night. She passed away in 1943 and this statue was erected in her honor.

The Waving Girl

The Waving Girl

The next post will be about more the historical elements of Savannah and the food. Not to be missed :  )

Bryant Park Popsicle

Did I say winter was here in my last post? Apparently that was no joke. I cut through Bryant Park the other night on the way to the theater and caught site of this:

Frozen Fountain in Bryant Park

Frozen Fountain in Bryant Park

I worked in an office next to Bryant Park for over six years and I’ve never seen the fountain freeze. Usually the fountain has long been turned off by the time we get a sustained cold for long enough to freeze.

It looks like its going to be a long cold one. Bundle up people!

Books and Bronze

I did some local wandering this weekend to stop by the Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch and walked back home through the park.

I rarely read physical books anymore, but I am an avid ebook reader. The Brooklyn Public Library has a fantastic ebook lending system so I am a big supporter. Its no surprise that Brooklyn Public Library had the highest program attendance of any public library system in the United States in 2009. The Brooklyn Public Library is one of three separate and independent public library systems in New York City. It is a separate library system from the New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. This is because the system was founded before the boroughs were all incorporated into NYC.

The central library, my favorite location, was originally built in 1912, but the design was too  expensive. With World War I and the Great Depression the construction stalled. The current building was designed by  Githens and Keally in the Art Deco Style and opened in 1940.

The Central Library Facade

The Central Library Facade

The building is shaped to look like an open book which is hard to see in this image, but its quite an effect. The entryway is detailed in bronze and was designed by C. Paul Jennewein and Thomas Hudson Jones.  It features fifteen different literary characters and luminaries, including Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, and Brooklyn’s own Walt Whitman. See if you can spot them.

The gilded gateway of the central Library

The gilded gateway of the central Library