A surprising revelation in an interesting paragraph from Michael Gross’s history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogues’ Gallery:
[NYC parks commissioner and Met board member] Robert Moses’s first impression of the new director [Francis Henry Taylor, 1940-55] was changing. Never a huge fan, Moses now worried about Taylor’s intentions, and so did some trustees, who were against the sort of modernist architects Taylor wanted to consult on the postwar program. A month later, Taylor proved their concerns were real when he threatened to give the museum’s building back to the city and floated a plan to knock down Carrère and Hastings’s monumental New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street and replace it with “a new tall building of the most modern kind” to house both the museum and the library. Moses immediately dropped any pretense of diplomacy and called Taylor “an egotistical crackpot” in a memo to an aide that he copied to half a dozen city officials.
Knocking down the Met and the NYPL in one fell swoop and stuffing both into a crackpot modernist tower cannot be anybody’s notion of a good idea. But of course that is not true: it and similar ideas, if not quite so outrageous, are conventional wisdom in the ridiculously rarified reaches of architecture’s establishment today. It feels strange, however, to credit Robert Moses for deflecting that one. Clearly at least part of his psyche remained in Jones Beach mode (artful) rather than that which later led to urban renewal and potted-plant plots like ramming a highway up the center of Washington Square. (Thank you for deflecting that one, Jane Jacobs!)