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Green Monster South

March 17, 2012 Leave a comment

The Green Monster at Fenway South

[Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe]

JetBlue Park at Fenway South (yes, really, that is its official name) opened last month in Fort Myers, Florida. It is the new spring training site for the Boston Red Sox. The great conceit underlying its design is that any proper Red Sox home must have a wall in left field. The Fenway South wall, as Stan Grossfeld explained in the Boston Globe last week, ” isn’t identical to the Old Wall. It’s higher, has seats inside, and there is no way to manually change the numbers from inside the scoreboard.” The scoreboard is manual, just like the one in the Fens. The problem is that it

sticks out only 6 inches from the existing wall, so manually dropping in the numbers from behind it is impossible.

The door that was part of the original scoreboard leads nowhere. The Sox had to put in another door, 50 feet closer to the left-field foul line. That leads on one side to the tiny 8-foot-by-8-foot scoreboard operator’s room. There you’ll find Kevin Walsh, 23, a perky Red Sox intern chosen from more than 650 applicants for this plum assignment.

But Walsh has some unique issues. Changing the scoreboard at JetBlue Park means dashing onto the field carrying numbered panels that weigh 2 pounds and measure 12 by 16 inches, and lugging a 6-foot ladder. And the view from the tiny window makes it impossible to see the entire field.

You can see photos here. Not all are interesting, but there are a couple of Kevin with his ladder, and a good one of Jim Rice.

I can’t think of a feature of Safeco Field that would be worth replicating down in Peoria. The retractable roof? Of course, the Mariners share the field with the Padres, who would want to incorporate a distinctive Petco Park feature. Maybe it’s best to leave this gimmick to the Red Sox.

Categories: Architecture, Baseball

Barter Books and More

March 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The video above tells the story of a British World War II poster with the message “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I happened to see a link to it yesterday morning on Andrew Sullivan’s blog. I rarely click on Sullivan’s video links, but something about this one caught my eye, and I’m glad it did. For, poster story aside, I was charmed by the views of the bookshop, Barter Books, where the poster was found in a box. See for yourself, starting at around 1:15 and continuing to the end. The bookshop is located in part of an 1887 railway station in Alnwick, north of Newcastle on the way to Edinburgh. One can learn more about the shop and station here and in the subsequent links.

I feel more than a little awkward about admiring the shop while confining most of my book purchases to Amazon. This is an on-going problem for us when we visit Nantucket, which has two wonderful bookstore that I have written about before, Mitchell’s Book Corner and Nantucket Bookworks. I was pleased to read three days ago that the two are likely to survive as part of a partnership that will run them jointly as “full-service, year-round bookstores,” thanks to the Schmidt Family Foundation. This is an extraordinary commitment for such a small community. Wendy Schmidt is quoted as saying, “I truly believe that collaboration rather than competition is the best course for the island’s bookstores. Mitchell’s Book Corner and Bookworks will each retain their own unique personalities, but by functioning cooperatively we’ll be able to strengthen both entities and offer even more for the island’s readers.” I do lots of reading when we’re there, but on my Kindle. This year we’ll make a point of buying books from both stores.

Meanwhile, in looking at the Barter Books website, I was led to The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World, a slideshow with brief descriptions. Most of the featured stores are in Europe, with two in China, one in Japan, one in Taiwan, one in Mexico, two in South America, and two in the US (LA and Ojai). I wish I knew about Bart’s Books when we were in Ojai a few summers ago.

Categories: Architecture, Books

La Guardia Farewell

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[Port Authority of New York and New Jersey]

At the NYT City Room blog today, David Dunlap writes about the dismantling of all but the lowest portion of La Guardia Airport’s 1964 air control tower. As he notes, “Loved or hated, the old control tower was undeniably a traveler’s milestone.” When I grew up, and more so during the years that I lived in Boston, I flew into and out of La Guardia countless times. Less frequently since moving to Seattle, but still we pass through La Guardia on occasion, and indeed, the old control tower had come to be as distinctive a structure as any in New York. I am sad to realize it has disappeared.

We drove by La Guardia twice over Labor Day weekend, heading back and forth between JFK and Manhattan. I’m surprised I failed to notice the tower’s absence. There’s not a whole lot to like about La Guardia. Now it is missing my three favorite features: the tower, the rusted frame of the parking garage, and the temporary building that was home to the Eastern Shuttle. The garage was left unfinished in order to develop a patina — at least that was my understanding — and after decades of what looked like neglect, it was finally painted over.

As for the shuttle, that amazing service in which you lined up to fly to Boston or DC and boarded whichever plane showed up next, rather than a terminal, La Guardia had an over-sized shack you would pass through on the way to covered passageways with openings to head out to board the planes. No reservations, no tickets, no boarding passes. Just get on, and if the scheduled hourly flight filled up, they’d start filling another. Once the plane (one of a fleet of DC-9s) was in the air, the flight attendants would come down the aisle to take payment. On the Boston end, one would arrive at a regular terminal, Logan’s Eastern Air Lines terminal, pleasant enough, but without the charming seediness of La Guardia.

Alas, Eastern went downhill, then out of business, Delta and US Air took over shuttle service, the old shuttle shack was replaced by US Air’s and Delta’s new terminals, and before long, the iconic tower was the lone representative of my beloved trio. Now they’re all gone.

As for the NYT piece, Dunlap writes that spotting the tower

from the cabin of a Lockheed Electra or a Boeing 727 meant you were really back in New York. No other airport had anything quite like this porthole-pocked cynosure; a hometown creation by Wallace K. Harrison, the consummate New York establishment architect of the mid-20th century, who designed the Trylon and Perisphere for the 1939 World’s Fair and went on to play an important role in Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center and the United Nations.

[snip]

Mr. Harrison’s reputation was resuscitated in the late 1970s. The sophistication of his curving designs was linked to the artistic tradition of Alexander Calder, Jean Arp and Fernand Léger. Yet the La Guardia control tower still seemed to escape respect. Paul Goldberger, then the architecture critic of The Times, said in 1980 that the structure “with its plethora of portholes looks like a concrete piece of Swiss cheese.”

But the influential architect Rem Koolhaas paid oblique homage to the tower in his 1989 design for the Zeebrugge Sea Terminal in Belgium. In “Delirious New York” (1978), Mr. Koolhaas described the dialectic in Mr. Harrison’s work “between the rectangle and the kidney shape, between rigidity and freedom.” Ultimately, he wrote, the liberating impulse surrenders to the grid. “Only his curve remains as a fossil of the freer language.”

Categories: Architecture, Flying

East River Esplanade

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

[Maria Lokke, The New Yorker]

The New Yorker’s architecture critic Paul Goldberger posted a note yesterday on the East River Waterfront Esplanade in lower Manhattan. Accompanying it are five enticing photos by Maria Lokke. You should take a look, for the photos if nothing more.

The esplanade is still under construction, but a two-block section was just completed, prompting Goldberger’s post. Contrasting it with the waterfront promenade at Battery Park City, along the Hudson, Goldberger explains:

The Battery Park City esplanade was about making you zone out as you look at the water, and forget you are in the city.

The East River Waterfront Esplanade is the opposite: it’s all about New York. It faces the intensely active East River, and it is tucked under and beside the elevated structure of the F.D.R. Drive. It couldn’t be bucolic if it tried. The architects were smart enough not to try, and to realize that they had to work with the reality of what was there, since the highway wasn’t going to go away. And the vista was always going to be of ferries and bridges and Brooklyn, not of a wide expanse of water leading to the Statue of Liberty.

As for what you see in the photo, the “seating is arranged in every which kind of way: pairs of benches facing each other, benches and individual seats facing the water, benches facing the city. There are chaises, like at the High Line, and several pairs of high seats, like bar stools, set at a height that allows you to see the river without having your gaze interrupted by any railings.”

I love the high seating. Perhaps we can try it out for ourselves in just a few weeks, when we attend the wedding of my cousin’s daughter just a block away.

Categories: Architecture

Kelvinside, Glasgow

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Winton Drive in Kelvinside, Glasgow

[Kieran Dodds for The New York Times]

Somehow I missed an article three days ago in the Great Homes and Destinations section of the NYT. I don’t know where it was buried in the print edition. But fortunately I stumbled on it online. It features a house for sale in a neighborhood Gail and I think of as our own. Well, at least I do. Gail is not as presumptuous about such matters as I am.

The title: House Hunting … in Glasgow, Scotland. The neighborhood: Kelvinside, in the West End. The article explains that

This three-story semidetached town house in the Victorian style is in the fashionable Kelvinside neighborhood in the West End of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. The West End is known for its Victorian and Edwardian architectural gems originally designed for Scottish merchants. Many of the structures have been converted into apartments.

[snip]

The quiet Kelvinside neighborhood is less than four miles from the mostly commercial city center. The West End is perhaps Glasgow’s most consistently popular neighborhood for residential living, offering trendy bars, restaurants and shops along with gracious period homes.

The photo at the top, which is part of a NYT slideshow that accompanies the article, shows a typical Kelvinside street. Below is Byres Road, also featured in the slideshow, with the caption describing it as “the heart of the West End, [with] many popular restaurants, bars and shops.”

Byres Road, Glasgow

The article oddly omits mention of the institution that lies at the cultural core of the West End, the University of Glasgow, one-time home of (among others) Adam Smith, James Watt, James Boswell, and Lord Kelvin. No visit to Glasgow would be complete without a stop at the Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery. We’re suckers ourselves for The Mackintosh House, “a reconstruction of the principal interiors from the Glasgow home of the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and the artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864-1933).”

The Mackintosh House -- I took this one

The house was purchased by the University of Glasgow in 1946. The generosity of the vendors, the Davidson family, led to the simultaneous gift of all of the original furniture. In 1963, the house, threatened by subsidence and next to land scheduled for redevelopment, was demolished. Prior to demolition, however, an extensive survey was made and all salvageable fitments removed to enable the future reconstruction of the hall, dining room, studio-drawing room and main bedroom. While the architects, Whitfield Partners, conceived The Mackintosh House as an integral part of the Hunterian Art Gallery, they took pains to ensure that the sequence of rooms exactly reflected the original. Virtually the same views and effects of natural light are enjoyed, as 78 Southpark Avenue stood only some 100 metres away. Other areas of the original house – cloakroom, kitchen, bathroom, and secondary bedrooms – have not been reconstructed.

Dining room, The Mackintosh House

After visiting the Hunterian, as you head back to Kelvinside, be sure to walk up Byres Road to its intersection with Great Western Road and head into the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. It’s a great place to wander through, or just to sit.

I should perhaps explain that Gail and I have made the West End our Glasgow home away from home going back to our honeymoon, thanks to our dear Glaswegian friends who live there. We’ve followed them from a flat just off Byres Road to two different houses. We can’t think of a place we’d rather be.

Maybe we should make an offer on that house the NYT features. On second thought, it’s a bit too large for us.

Categories: Architecture, Travel

Les Chats de Paris

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post, on Thanksgiving morning, I presented the photo above and asked where it was taken. Readers could choose from a list of a dozen cities. It’s time to reveal the answer.

Those cats are Parisians. (They have that look, don’t they?) My sister took the photo Thursday morning on Avenue Rapp in the 7th arrondissement. If you know Paris even a little, you may be familiar with the Pont de l’Alma, the bridge across the Seine that connects the 7th and 8th arrondissements and is the departure point for the bateaux mouches. Were you to walk toward the Seine from the Champs-Elysées along Avenue George V, you would be led directly over the Pont de l’Alma. On reaching the other side, you would find that the road splits, with Avenue Bosquet heading south-southeast to the École Militaire metro stop and Avenue Rapp heading south-southwest to the Champs de Mars, just south of the Eiffel Tower.

When my sister and her family first moved to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand in 1983, they lived on a small street that runs between Avenues Bosquet and Rapp, just three blocks off the Seine. A few years later, they moved to the far side of Avenue Rapp, near the Champs de Mars. She finds herself walking on Avenue Rapp essentially daily, but she hadn’t seen the cats until Thursday. Once she sent the photo to me, I couldn’t resist posting it.

Below you can see a photo Gail took when we were in Paris a year ago of a famous building on Avenue Rapp.

Categories: Architecture, Cats, Family

Morgan Library

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The restored East Room

Next Saturday will mark three years since we last visited the Morgan Library & Museum. We were in New York to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday, and the next day we had to head back to midtown to return the tuxes Joel and I had rented. (I had realized a few weeks earlier that rather than bringing clothing from Seattle (me) and Boston (Joel), we could instead go to local branches of some national chain, get fitted, then do the pick up and return at a Manhattan branch.)

Joel had flown back to Boston that morning. Gail and I lugged the clothing down to the tux place, then I suggested we walk from there over to the Morgan, just a few blocks away. If I were blogging in those days, I would have reported on the wonders we saw, as well as the still new Renzo Piano addition. (See Nicolai Ouroussoff’s NYT review of the addition, a year earlier, here.) There are the glories of the permanent collection, of course. There was a special exhibition of some illuminated manuscripts, maybe from Turkey or thereabouts. And there was another special exhibition, of letters from Vincent van Gogh to Émile Bernard, complemented by paintings and drawings mentioned in the letters. Oh, here — a link to the show.

Anyway, it’s time to go back. Today the historic 1906 building that Charles McKim designed to serve as J.P. Morgan’s office and library reopened after a restoration. Here is the Morgan’s description of the project:

n 2010 the Morgan restored the interior of the 1906 library to its original grandeur. A new lighting system was installed to illuminate the extraordinary murals and decor of the four historic rooms. Intricate marble surfaces and applied ornamentation were cleaned, period furniture was reupholstered, and original fixtures—including three chandeliers removed decades ago—were restored and reinstalled. A late-nineteenth-century Persian rug (similar to the one originally there) was laid in the grand East Room. The ornate ceiling of the librarian’s office, or North Room, was cleaned, and visitors are able to enter the refurbished space—now a gallery—for the first time. New, beautifully crafted display cases throughout the 1906 library feature selections from the Morgan’s collection of great works of art and literature from the ancient world to modern times.

See also Holland Cotter’s account in yesterday’s NYT and the accompanying slide show.

Categories: Architecture

Smith Tower Penthouse

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

The NYT Home section on Thursday featured an unexpected look into the long-mysterious penthouse apartment of Seattle’s Smith Tower. When opened in 1914, the Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the MIssissippi, and remained so for decades. As you can see in the photo above, at its top is a pyramid. And in that pyramid is a residential apartment, the subject of the NYT piece. As interesting as the article itself is, even better is the accompanying slide show. You really must have a look. After that, read the article if you wish. It opens as follows:

To get to the top of the world, Petra Franklin Lahaie ushers her two young daughters and their girly bikes through a set of heavy bronze doors, greets the 24-hour elevator operator in the Prussian blue uniform, rides up 35 stories past mostly vacant office suites, debarks next to an observation deck and Chinese-themed banquet room, passes through a portal marked “private residence,” climbs two stories into a neo-gothic pyramid and enters a penthouse apartment.

To my embarrassment, despite living here almost 30 years, I’ve never gone up to the observation deck or the Chinese Room. We missed our big chance in August 1988, when our friend Paul got married there. We were in Princeton at the time, near the end of my sabbatical year, returning to Seattle just a week later. Somehow, in the 22 years since, no one has invited us back. Nor have we simply gone down on our own and gotten on the famous elevators.

Maybe next weekend.

Categories: Architecture

More Missed Opportunities

March 16, 2010 1 comment

I keep discovering art and architecture that we missed or paid insufficient attention to during our trip to France and Italy last fall. I already wrote, for example, about MAXXI, the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, which was designed by Zaha Hadid and opened in Rome days after we left. Thanks to the NYT and the WSJ, I’ve now learned about two more.

I wrote here and here about our short initial stay in Paris last October. Our flight from New York landed in Orly around 6:00 AM and we were at our hotel before 7:00. After a short rest, I headed to my sister’s apartment around 9:00. This involved walking southwards to the Seine (through the 8th arrondissement), crossing the Pont de l’Alma, and then choosing any of several routes that would get me a few blocks west and south in some order. I chose to continue south a block before turning west onto Rue de l’Université, a street I hadn’t remembered walking down before. And when I reached an odd modern building on the north side of Rue de l’Université, running east-west between it and the Seine (or more precisely, between Rue de l’Université and Quai Branly, the street that parallels the Seine) with some sort of urban swamp in front, I knew I hadn’t been there before.

This, of course, was my first missed opportunity. I had no idea what the building was. A school? A library? A museum? I eventually came to the sign and found that I was passing the Musée du Quai Branly, which features art from cultures around the world. Or, as the website explains, it has “an unpartitioned geographical itinerary comprising 5,450 artefacts from all four corners of the world. … [T]he permanent collections area presents the great geographical regions in which the Musée du quai Branly’s remarkable collections originated: Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas. The visitor makes his way fluidly across them, taking in the major crossroads between civilisations and cultures: Asia-Oceania, Insulindia, and Mashreck-Maghreb. The 3,500 artefacts are presented so as to highlight the historical depth of the cultures that produced them, and the many different meanings that the works themselves possess. The museography encourages the visitor to take the time to inform himself on major thematic areas: masks and tapa in Oceania, costume in Asia, and African musical instruments and textiles form the subjects of a series of fascinating video presentations.”

Later that day, when Gail and I returned to the hotel, we walked along Quai Branly, providing us with a view of the museum’s other side. I wish I took photos. The two sides are very different. What I didn’t realize, though, until just two days ago was that the museum was designed by Jean Nouvel, the French architect who received the 2008 Pritzker Prize.

The NYT Sunday travel section had an article on restaurants in Paris museums, with the theme that whereas for “years, Paris museums have mostly offered charmless dining rooms and cafeterias serving uninspired food, at odds with their institutions’ cutting-edge agendas and masterpiece-filled exhibition halls,” there has now been a shift: “From bold experiments to understated havens of cool, a clutch of new restaurants has sprung up in museums and other cultural institutions all over the city.” Last of the four restaurants featured in the article is Les Ombres: “The Jean Nouvel-designed Les Ombres restaurant — a geometric glass enclosure with a latticework of metal girders perched like a futuristic greenhouse atop the Musée du Quai Branly, a huge, postmodern repository of global anthropological relics — is certainly the most visually striking of the new generation of museum restaurants.”

Aha! Now I knew what I had unwittingly walked past in October. (Mind you, I found the south side sufficiently interesting that on our return to Paris in November, I made it a point to take the same route to my sister’s apartment so that Gail could see it.) I’ll study the building more closely next time. And go in.

In the meantime, if I want to see more of Jean Nouvel, I can do so in New York. Yesterday, NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff reviewed the new Nouvel-designed apartment building at 11th Avenue and 19th Street. My father worked just a few blocks south of there for many years.

That’s one missed opportunity. The other one? Seeing Caravaggio’s Conversion of Saul, which is in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. It was the featured masterpiece in the Wall Street Journal’s weekly arts section two Saturdays ago, and since we made it a point to go to the church in November, I wondered why the WSJ’s photo of it didn’t look familiar. (The church is on the north side of the Piazza del Popolo. Our hotel was just two buildings south of the south side. We visited the church on our final morning in Rome, just before packing and heading to the train station to go to Florence.) I checked with Gail, who agreed that it wasn’t there when we went in. Several of the chapels were missing their paintings. Oh well. We’ll need to return there too.

Categories: Architecture, Art, Travel

Café Pacific

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Highland Park Village: The theater

I was back in Dallas last week. (Hence the lack of posts for over a week. See here, here, and here for posts on last month’s Dallas visit.) I flew in Wednesday afternoon and had dinner that night at a lovely restaurant, Café Pacific, located in Highland Park Village, a historic upscale mall a few miles north of downtown.

I would happily eat there again, if the opportunity were to arise, as there was much on the menu that I wanted to try. I started simply, with the soup of the day, a cream of asparagus, which was excellent, but I was tempted by the crab cakes on fresh greens, offered with a choice of remolaude [sic] or cocktail sauce. For my entree, I had the sole almondine, described as “Almond Crusted Atlantic Sole served with Red Bliss Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables & Lemon Butter Sauce.” I would have liked to try as well the “Three Onion Crusted Sea Bass with Sweet Corn Risotto and Ancho Cream Sauce.” Or how about “Roasted Corn Snapper On Jasmine Rice with Avocado, Cherry Tomatoes and a Light Corn Sauce”? The sole, by the way, was superb.

I wasn’t too hungry after that, so I passed up some of the more enticing dessert options, such as the crème brulée and the pecan ball vanilla ice cream rolled in toasted pecans with fudge sauce, in favor of the simpler “Fresh Seasonal Fruit Served in a Crisp Almond Cookie Cup With Raspberry and Caramel.” Nope. Interesting idea, good presentation, but the fruit turned out to be berries, which didn’t have much flavor. I surely would have been happier with the crème brulée. (The restaurant struggles with French on the menu. The accent grave over the ‘e’ in crème was there, but not the accent aigu over the first ‘e’ in brulée.)

When I say that Highland Park Village, the mall in which Café Pacific is ensconsed, is upscale, I should make clear that I mean real upscale. During dinner at Café Pacific, whenever I looked out the window, the handbags in a display window would catch my eye. At some point, I realized they must be the work of Hermès, and sure enough, when we left, I confirmed that the adjacent store was an Hèrmes, and next to it was Harry Winston. Back in Seattle I learned more about the mall, and the community of Highland Park, at the Highland Park Village website. The town of Highland Park was developed by John Armstrong and his two sons-in-law, Hugh Prather and Edgar Flippen, in 1907, following the purchase in 1906 of land along an old cattle trail. Flippen and Prather used some of the land to establish the Dallas Country Club, the oldest country club in Texas, in 1912. Years later, Prather and Flippen decided to build a shopping center and traveled to Barcelona and Seville to study the architecture for inspiration. They hired architects Marion Fresenius Fooshee and James B. Cheek to design the center, which opened in 1931. The family sold the mall in 1966 and it began a long decline. As the site explains, “little attention was given to proper tenant mix, landscaping deteriorated, overhead wires began to criss-cross the property, inappropriate signage appeared, and tenants were permitted to make facade alterations that were not in keeping with the classical architecture of the Village. Spanish arches were covered up and newer materials that did not blend with the basic stone and stucco began to appear.” A new buyer, the son of an associate of Prather and Flippen, took over in 1976, and the mall began to be restored. In 2000, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

I mention all this because the mall really is unusually attractive, well worth visiting for its architecture and layout if you’re in the neighborhood. And you can stop by Café Pacific during the visit for a fine meal.