Met, NYPL dodge ’40s bullet

Metropolitan Museum of Art. (

Metropolitan Museum of Art. (en.wikipedia.org)

New York Public Library. (therehereandback.com)

New York Public Library. (therehereandback.com)

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!)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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