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Welcome to Urban By Design Online! This blog is a notebook of my travels as a city planner, historic preservationist and nonprofit advocate. It's a virtual collection of the many things that I adore, featuring cities, the arts, architecture, gardens, interior design, and retail. Enjoy! - Deena
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Thursday
Sep092010

Visiting the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

A small slice of rural life within the city's limits.

There are days when I'd like to visit the country, but I don't always have the time to go too far from home. One of my favorite hidden gems is the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, within Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. This New York City and National Historic Landmark is tucked away in the far reaches of the northeast corner of the highly urbanized borough, a mere mile from major highways.

The museum is located off of the very winding, and well-forested Shore Road, which feels more like a country road on Long Island’s North Shore than the Bronx. Upon entering the nine-acre site, there is a long driveway, flanked by towering canopies of centuries old trees, creating a natural tunnel, with subtle rays of light filtering between the leaves.    

After passing a carriage house, and a thicket of wildflowers that include a number of perennials such as black-eyed susans, and goldenrod, there is a three-story 19th century stone Federal-style mansion.  The house was built between 1836 and 1842 for Robert Bartow, a descendent of Lord Thomas Pell, who established the Manor of Pelham there in 1654.  Lord Pell purchased 9,000 acres from the Native American Siwanoys. The land extended from the Bronx to what is now Lower Westchester County.  Four generations of Bartow family members lived in the house until 1884.

The carriage house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978.  It is also open for tours.

The Bartow-Pell Mansion, with its stately Greek Revival interior, represents an era of past grandeur and splendor, a time when the New York elite built country homes to enjoy the incredible vistas of the nearby Long Island Sound.  Their temporary escape from the congested, densely populated areas of Manhattan to seek solace in the greener pastures of the Bronx, would be rather short-lived. Eventually the idyllic scenery enjoyed by a select few, was sacrificed to meet the recreational demands of a burgeoning population in a rapidly expanding city.  The Bartow heirs sold the land when the city decided to create Pelham Bay Park. Here is some additional historical context:

The City consolidated several estates to create Pelham Bay Park, including lands belonging to the Hunter, Furman, Edgar, Lorillard, Morris, Stinard, Marshall, LeRoy, and Delancey families. The park's largely natural acreage was virtually ready-made parkland, requiring only the construction of roads and walks.  During the late nineteenth century, the Bronx Parks Department leased some former estate buildings to various organizations, such as the Jacob Riis Settlement. One of these, the Bartow-Pell Mansion is a designated New York City Landmark. Several others were either demolished or converted into hotels and restaurants. By the 1930s, virtually all of them had been demolished. The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, however, remains.  [NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission]

The City of New York spared the Bartow-Pell Mansion, and it was used by various charitable organizations until it became vacant. In 1914, the International Garden Club (now known as Bartow-Pell Conservancy) leased the house. The club's original intent was to model itself the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain. According to the New York Times, there were also plans to create a series of experimental gardens similar to those that the Royal Horticultural Society had at Bisley. The mansion was restored between 1915-18, with gardens designed by the architectural firm of Delano and Aldrich. In 1946, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum opened to the public.


In 1915, Delano and Aldrich added a series of descending terraces that lead to the sunken garden, with its iron gates.  When the Bartow family's home was built, it had an unobstructed view of the Long Island Sound, where many boats could be seen from here on the terrace, and the rear rooms of the house. The 1930's era Orchard Beach construction project permanently obstructed the view, as the infill, and later new tree growth blocked the waterfront.

 

 

The 1930's era Orchard Beach was the brainchild of the "master builder" of the New York Metropolitan Region, Robert Moses.

 

A cherub fountain is the centerpiece of the Delano and Aldrich designed sunken garden

 

 

The Mary Ludington Herb Garden, outside of the South Gate of the Terrace Garden.  There are many lovely culinary, medicinal, aromatic, and ornamental herbs plant.  Boxwoods, nasturtium, black-eyed susans, sedum, day lilies and trumpet vine are among the many plants in abundance.

There are a variety of landscapes represented on the property, including wetlands, woodlands, and meadows, which are accessible by Pelham Bay Park's many hiking trails.

The museum is also known for its attention to decorative arts, and its interior design choices are from the Federalist period.  This room is known as the  Lannuier Bed Chamber, which is a master bedroom and personal parlor. The bed was designed by prominent French cabinetmaker Charles Honoré Lannuier.

Current Preservation Efforts

Recently the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Elizabeth and Robert Jeff Preservation Fund for New York City awarded the museum a matching grant.  Over the last two years, the museum has been the site of a volunteer workshop through Adventures in Preservation, a nonprofit organization that supports community-based heritage preservation workshops around the world.  More information: 

The volunteer workshop, Galleting Galore in the Garden, led by master mason Kevin Towle, finished the restoration of flagstone walkways and steps in the garden begun in the summer of 2008. The work consisted of resetting flagstones in walkways and steps, removing mortar between them, and replacing it with small pieces of bluestone known as gallets. Roughly 15 volunteers, from all over the country and even as far away as France, participated. 

 

Volunteers galleting in the Terrace Garden at the Bartow-Pell Mansion [August 2010, B-P Museum]

Visiting the Bartow-Pell Mansion

Today the Bartow-Pell Mansion is owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the Bartow-Pell Conservancy, and is a member of the Historic House Trust of New York City. It also hosts a number of educational and public programs throughout the year, as well as museum tours.  For more information visit: Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Video: Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum Tour 

 

Wednesday
Sep012010

Dreamy New Orleans

St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, New Orleans

New Orleans was restless, dreamy, and curious place for me to explore from the beginning.  The best part was that I ended up extending my stay for two years longer, which was more than I ever imagined.   While I'd later spend time working in dynamic neighborhoods like St. Roch, the Marigny, Bywater, and the Irish Channel, this story is about my initial introduction to the textbook travel guide of the city, which also has its own charm.

The first building that I saw when I entered downtown New Orleans, was the iconic Superdome on Poydras Street. It was after midnight, and a hot and balmy 85 degrees.  I had the taxicab window wide-open, and once the cabdriver made the turn into the French Quarter, there were so many people on the streets, I heard music, and the street lanterns were all aglow.  It was exactly how I imagined that it would be. 

I’d endured an epic seven-hour journey to the city.  It usually takes less than three hours to get to New Orleans from New York, but my original flight from LaGuardia Airport (it’s always an ordeal) was cancelled, and there was still snow everywhere from a storm a couple of days before. I ended up departing two hours later from JFK.

I was in the city to attend a two-day conference about the intersection of planning and preservation, presented by the University of New Orleans at the beautiful  Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, a national historic landmark.  Speakers included preservation and urban revitalization luminaries Patricia Gay of the Preservation Resource CenterMayor Joseph P. Riley of Charleston, and Dana Crawford of Urban Neighborhoods, Inc in Denver, who shared a stage with New Orleans developers such as Pres Kabacoff of HRI Properties, and Sean Cummings.

 

Hermann-Grima House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

One evening, there was a gracious reception at the Hermann- Grima House, an 1831 Federal mansion with a lovely garden courtyard.  I also spent time walking around the French Quarter, shopping on Royal, having breakfast at Brennan’s and buying gifts to send back home, near the tourist trap havens by the French Market. 

Although I had a full-itinerary, I did leave myself some time to wander around the city.  While I was having lunch at Le Café at the Hotel Monteleone, I decided to visit Tulane University, since it was a recognizable landmark. Never in that moment of staring at maps, eating gumbo, drinking sweet tea, and granted exceptional hospitality, did I ever have any idea that my life was about to change forever on one solitary walk, on a sunny afternoon in the middle of March. The route to Tulane was rather straight forward, I had the address in hand, and decided to visit. However, what I didn’t calculate was the fact that the school was nearly five miles from the hotel, not that it really mattered, because I had plenty of time on my hands to explore.

 

 Tulane University, St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans

I had arrived in the city a week after Mardi Gras. There were grandstands in front of Gallier Hall, and near Lafayette Park.  As I walked further uptown along St. Charles Avenue, the first thing that I noticed were the Mardi Gras beads, strung caught in the Live Oak trees, and dangling from overhead streetcar wires. While some had missed outstretched hands as riders threw them from parade floats, others were tossed for seasonal decoration and remembrance.  They glistened, and sparkled like jewels, dangling and cascading from branches in the radiant sunlight.

 

4717 St. Charles Avenue, a Richardsonian Romanesque mansion (1904).

The houses in New Orleans, particularly along St. Charles Avenue resembled something from a storybook, because it was an exceptional assemblage of magnificent antebellum mansions, and stately homes. Could one be grander than the next, intertwined with lush landscapes in early spring in verdant shades of green? Between the canopy of the live oaks, and spotting palm trees, I soon realized that there was no better place to spend a day in March.

The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar route traditionally forms a 13.2-mile crescent from Carondelet at Canal Street in the Central Business District through uptown New Orleans, around the Riverbend to Carrollton at Claiborne Avenue.  

I kept walking, as the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, full of tourists, passed by  along the neutral ground (which is called a median everywhere else in the country). With each ring of the streetcar’s bell, I would find myself centered back into reality that New Orleans was not a dream. I was so mesmerized by the varying architectural styles of the mansions, as they had never looked like anything that I had ever seen before.  My mind’s eye could never imagine such a beautiful urban streetscape.  I kept walking every block along St. Charles Avenue more excited than the previous one, as the houses managed to get bigger and bolder.

 

The Wedding Cake House, a Colonial Revival designed by architects Toledano and Reusch 1896.

 

After an hour and a half of picture taking and literally feeling myself gawk at the pure overwhelming nature of my surroundings, I arrived at Tulane University.  The university’s main building, Gibson Hall faces St. Charles Avenue, and is a monumental Richardson Romanesque building.  I walked across the campus, and by the time that I reached the quad, I decided that I had to go to school there.

 

 A fountain in Audubon Park, New Orleans

Of course I had no idea that I would end up applying to and later being accepted in the Tulane School of Architecture's new Masters in Preservation Studies graduate program, and only a few months after my visit, making this dream a reality. After meandering for a few minutes in the glorious John Charles Olmstead designed Audubon Park, I knew that I had found a city that I wanted to know more about.  I eventually decided to go back downtown, looking at apartment buildings on the Avenue, and even noted the one that would eventually become my home.

 

The Garden District, New Orleans

Along the way, I did go off course to several streets off of St. Charles. However how perfect was a neighborhood named the Garden District?

It is often said that most people who choose to move to New Orleans, do so after visiting, because there is something about the city that really touches the soul.  I loved living there, and I remain overjoyed that I had the opportunity to take so many more walks up and down the avenue over the course of two years.  It was the experience of a lifetime.

 

The Bentley House,  a 1916 Mediterranean Villa

Tuesday
Aug312010

Powdered Cafe Du Monde Flashbacks

While I'm often a traveler, I have to admit, I'd rather live like a local. In New Orleans, tourists show up early in the morning, to cue up for beignets at cafe du monde.

No. Don't do that. Have an authentic experience.

Around eleven at night, when the fog rolls off the Mississippi, against the backdrop of the historic streetlamps, and the clip clop of horse drawn Quarter carriages, this is when one should venture to Cafe du Monde. Lines? No. There will be tourists, but a generous mix of locals too, ordering up beignets after a jazz set at Snug Harbor.

What should you order? Iced cafe au lait (so yum) and beignets, filled with the chalky white, sweet powder. I always wear black too, just to have evidence of my messy desert excursion. Life is always about remembering the sweet things the next day.

Cafe Du Monde, French Market, 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans- 24 hours a day 

Monday
Aug302010

Remembering New Orleans: 09.07.05

Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent catastrophic breaches of the levee system caused 80 percent of New Orleans to be submerged in water, and destroyed more than 182,000 homes in the metro area.  Sadly according to the Louisiana Department of Heath and Hospitals, there have been 1,464 deceased victims of Hurricane Katrina from the state.

On September 7, 2005, eight days after the levees had breached and flooded New Orleans, I was in my office in New York, when I received a telephone call from a prominent architecture critic for a Philadelphia newspaper. She was in the process of writing a story about the sizeable contributions that New Orleans had made to architecture and culture, especially because there were many pessimists from around the country, who said that the city should never be rebuilt.

Yes, remember when that was actually an ongoing debate?

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Aug262010

My Philadelphia...

How I discovered that Philadelphia is not like New York, and doesn't need to be!

Just before I graduated from Tulane, I had a few local government job offers in different cities.  I’d focused my search primarily on the East Coast, that place where people always seem to walk and talk faster than anywhere else in the country.  I had fallen in love with New Orleans, and easily settled into its relaxed ways, but at the time there were no job opportunities in my field. 

I considered career possibilities in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, but had immediately nixed anything in my native New York. Why? Because the entry-level salaries for public sector jobs in city planning were comparatively low, and the cost of living was painfully high.

The Clothespin (1976) by Claes Oldenburg in Center City.   The 45-foot-high, 10-ton sculpture stands in front of the Center Square Building.  In 1959, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (RDA) adopted the first "One Percent for Fine Arts" program in the United States, thus making the commissioning of new works of public art integral to the urban renewal process.

Rittenhouse Square, one of five open space parks planned by William Penn during the late 17th Century. It's mentioned quite favorably in the  Jane Jacobs urban classic, The Death and Life of American Cities who praised the park as an asset that led to increased real estate values.  I spent many a lunchtime there, and on the weekend on the adjacent Walnut Street to shop in the area of 200 businesses known as Rittenhouse Row.

Eventually, I chose to move to Philadelphia.

Prior to my job interview, I’d never been to Philadelphia. After I accepted the position, I spent a couple of days in Center City at the Alexander Inn, an adorable boutique hotel.  I walked along the cozy streets of Wash West, and had a few great meals in Rittenhouse Square.  There was certain loveliness about it.  Ultimately, I was convinced that the city would be just like New York, because it was after all on the East Coast!

 

A quaint block in Washington Square West

Oh, was I ever wrong, wrong, wrong!

Years ago, a local writer in attempt to praise the city, made the unfortunate error of referring to Philadelphia as the "sixth borough" of New York City, because so many New Yorkers had settled and/or commuted daily to and from the city.  Honestly, in the years that I spent living in Philadelphia, I never really saw much similarity between the two cities, and the most obvious thing that they had in common was sharing the same time zone. No, Philadelphia is not a bedroom community of New York City.  I have always respected Philadelphia's place as the sixth largest city in the United States, with its own unique history, and known for its many "firsts."  

This is one of my favorite blocks, Green Street in Philadelphia's Spring Garden which is a local historic district. 

Living History Daily

Inevitably whenever people would visit me from out-of-town, I'd take them right away to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, adjacent to  Fairmount Park. I'd always look forward to spring to see the Azalea Garden in bloom, or watch the rowers along the Schuylkill River, or catch a breeze by the the Fairmount Waterworks.  There were several venerable arts institutions in the Parkway Museums District, which included one of my favorites, the Rodin Museum, where the extraordinary work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin was on display.

Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Circle by Alexander Sterling Calder designed with architect Wilson Eyre.

I know that I could have never been able to have the same lifestyle on a public servant’s salary in New York.  As a young professional, I had the extraordinary experience of living in the heart of a major city, without sacrificing the opportunity to have an exceptional, and culturally rich quality of life.

Another plus of living in Philadelphia was that I knew storeowners by name.  There were so many independently owned stores within my neighborhood; so buying local was not impossibility. Soon I found an adorable coffee and bake shop (Zach’s now closed) where I’d order chai smoothies daily. At the local drycleaners, the owner always seemed to take $5 off my bill, whenever I’d smile, and say hello.  There were many nearby restaurants like Zorba’s Tavern, Bridgid’s and Figs that offered really great food without a huge wait. These spaces really became my home away from home, my extended living room, where I'd meet up with friends for a meal, socialize, and just linger.

I immersed myself in the architectural history of Philadelphia. Philadelphia Architecture - Guide to the City became my primer to find out more about four centuries of architecture, which is still represented in the city.  I also loved taking super informative architectural walking tours, to familiarize myself with the neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Throughout the year, I also availed myself of the many free public lectures offered at University of Pennsylvania School of Design.

On many a weekend, I spent my time exploring the up-and-coming neighborhoods, such as Northern Liberties, and New Kensington.   I often traveled over to University City in West Philadelphia, and the Northwest historic neighborhoods of Mount Airy (highly recommend InFusion Coffee & Tea), Chestnut Hill, and Germantown.  My weekly itinerary always included buying fresh produce at the always-bustling Reading Terminal Market. I also loved to shop at the wonderful, locally owned chain, Metropolitan Bakery, which always had a tremendous selection of artisanal breads.  Nearby was the always energetic Chinatown, where I spent many a lunch hour.

Another weekend highlight were trips to Old City, where I’d always find something at my favorite stores like The Papery, for gorgeous stationery, Kellijane (now near Rittenhouse) and Fosters (which just closed). A little further "uptown" I would window-shop along Antique Row, and also at the delightful Open House.   I also shopped in Manayunk, where there were an abundance of independently owned art galleries, and where inevitably I'd take out-of-town guests who were always surprised by this quaint main street in the middle of a bustling city.

I appreciated having access to so many diverse cultural events in Philadelphia.  At least twice a month, I saw live theater, took in an art exhibition or went on a walking tour, thanks to the great program that lists arts and cultural discounts throughout the Philadelphia region, called Funsavers.  During the winter, I took in many a movie at the Ritz theaters for many independent flicks and documentaries.

In the 1970’s, the Philadelphia Sound was pioneered by the super production teams of McFadden and Whitehead, and also Gamble and Huff. When I moved there, newcomers like Jill Scott, Musiq, and Kindred the Family Soul were creating a new soundtrack with Neosoul music. Literature was another passion, and the outstanding Free Library of Philadelphia's outstanding author's series, where I met Donna Tart, Paule Marshall, and Jennifer Weiner.  I also enjoyed outdoor concerts at the Mann Center, and spent numerous evenings at the beautiful Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and the listening to magnificent performances by the Opera Company of Philadelphia at the Academy of Music

Kimmel Center of the Performing Arts [hendrix682]

Eventually a new job opportunity led me to return to New York, a place that I missed most because my family was there, and it was home.  I longed for the familiar things that make New York special from the rush of the subway, the lights of Broadway, and long walks through gracious brownstone neighborhoods.  Philadelphia was not as hectic, allowed me to have a leisurely commute, and was a phenomenal place to start my career in. I also made so many wonderful, and lasting friendships.  It's the city that really did love me back.

More information about Philadelphia:

Design*Sponge Philadelphia Guide: A great design resource guide.

Parkway Museums District: Arts and cultural institutions along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and beyond.

Philadelphia Center for Architecture: Home of the AIA Bookstore and Walking Tours

Uwishunu- Philadelphia blog about things to do, events, restaurants, nightlife, and more.

Visit Philly: Fantastic tourism and events information.

Tuesday
Aug172010

New Orleans: Still Perkin'

For six months, I spent my afternoons in Still Perkin' typing away on my laptop, writing my thesis. There was nothing like being in the middle of a New Orleans coffee shop, watching tourists, listening to the laughter of the young women from the McGhee School, and waving hello to my neighbors.  I purchased many an iced mocha there.  Above is my drink card, that I saved for the past ten years...always in my wallet, waiting, waiting, waiting to be stamped once again. It's love.

Thursday
Aug122010

Antony Gormley: Event Horizon New York

 

A sculpture from Event Horizon on 205 Fifth Avenue, overlooking Madison Square Park. Photo by James Ewing, © Antony Gormley

Isolated against the sky these dark figures look out into space at large asking: Where does the human project fit in the scheme of things? In an age in which over 50% of the human population of the planet lives in cities, this installation in New York (the original and prime example of urban high-rise living) questions how this built world relates to an inherited earth. -Antony Gormley

Public Art that activates the sky

When I walked through Madison Square Park, a 6.2-acre public park, which is always teaming with tourists on a Saturday, it was impossible not to notice that there was something capturing their attention. No, it wasn’t the usually long lines at Shake Shack or the ultra-theatrical squirrels that like to pose for photos (always an amusing sight). With cameras, and even binoculars in hand, and a few arms outstretched with fingers pointing skyward, it became obvious that the public art exhibition, Event Horizon, had caused people to do something that is almost never done in New York, pause.

This is the street view of the sculpture, situated on the home of Pentagram, the internationally renowned design firm at 205 Fifth Avenue. Pedestrians were encouraged to look upwards with the help of a flag with an arrow on it.  The neo-classical limestone building was designed by architect C.P.H. Gilbert.

Event Horizon is a public art exhibition by celebrated British artist Antony Gormley, which is on display in New York until August 15.  Sponsored by the Madison Park Conservancy, in collaboration with the City of New York, it has received considerable press and notice throughout its five-month run. It also marks his first public art showing in the United States by the sculptutor who has received critical acclaim for over 25 years.  Gormley originally created Event Horizon for London’s Hayward Gallery as part of the Blind Light exhibition in 2007. The sculptures were installed on bridges, rooftops and streets along the South Bank of London’s Thames River.

There are 31 life-size human figures, currently positioned throughout Madison Square Park, the surrounding Flatiron District, and Union Square.  The sculptures were cast from the artist’s own six-foot-two body.  This video shows Gormley's scouting expedition:

Gormley is quick to point out that his works are sculptures, not statues.  His intent is to have people stand still, notice the figures, and to pay attention to what is happening around them. “Event Horizon hopes to activate the skyline in order to encourage people to look around. In the process of looking and finding or looking and seeking, one perhaps reassesses one’s own position in the world and becomes aware of one’s status of embedment.”

 

The bronze full-standing statue of political figure Roscoe Conkling (1829-1888) is located in Madison Square Park.  The work is by the distinguished artist John Quincy Adams Ward (1840-1910), and dates to 1893.

Gormley’s work is a modern departure from most civic artwork.  Ironically, Madison Square Park is home to many statues, but I don’t know how many people have ever heard of once prominent 19th century political figures such as United States President Chester Arthur, and Roscoe Conkling (yes, I was clueless..lol).

It takes a small bit of navigation and a pair of sharp eyes (high-powered binoculars are even better) to spot all of the pieces within the outdoor exhibition. Four figures that are at street level, are made of caste iron, and weigh 1,700 pounds. There are 27 others located on rooftops as high as 55 stories up, and on parapets around the park, and they are made of fiberglass, weighing only 70 pounds.   

 

One of the sculptures is situated in the shadow of the 102-story landmark Art Deco skyscraper, the Empire State Building (1931).

Initially the sculptures, positioned on several of New York’s iconic architectural landmarks, generated some short-lived controversy.  Prior to the exhibition’s opening, some expressed panic that sculptures strategically at the edges of rooftops, would give the appearance of people attempting suicide. However, those fears were quelled after enough public information was disseminated about the exhibition.

Event Horizon sculpture on 184 Fifth Avenue

Event Horizon was a successful public installation, because it made me look at buildings in new, different and exciting ways which never happens when my eyes usually remain fixed at ground-level.  The exhibition did force me to discover the treasure trove of magnificent historic buildings that exist, and also to recognize the ever-changing skyline. I managed this virtual sculpture scavenger hunt without a map, so there were many surprises. 

Yes, Gormley’s work actually encouraged me to change the narrative in my head about this area of the city. I saw the Madison Square Park through a slower, more deliberative lens, because I paid attention to everything around me. 

In the end, I realized that it was fun to take in the city in a different way. The sculptures truly enlivened the buildings, and paid homage to an incredible architectural museum of buildings on display every day.  Now, I’ll have to learn to look-up more often, since I’ve been missing out on some great architecture. :)

More information:  Event Horizon at Madison Square Park

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