John D. Rockefeller Jr. gave a park in the upper reaches of Manhattan to New York City and built a museum in the grand manner on its grounds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park were gifts from Junior, as he was known, and when the museum was dedicated in 1939, he spoke of beauty in words that suggest there was more to him than throwing his money around. His words were quoted by Michael Gross in Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals that Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I am about a third the way through. Here, notwithstanding that title, are those words:
If what has been created here helps to interpret beauty as one of the great spiritual and inspirational forces of life, having the power to transform drab duty into radiant living; if those who come under the influence of this place go out to face life with new courage and restored faith because of the peace, the calm, the loveliness they have found here; if the many who thirst for beauty are refreshed and gladdened as they drank deeply from this well of beauty, those who have builded here will not have built in vain.
Rockefeller’s Lincolnian cadences hit the nail on the head still today, the words still speaking to why we make the effort to restore beauty to its rightful eminence in the way we build places.