“Shabby little old walkups”?


Today at 7, Books on the Square, 471 Angell St. on Wayland Square, will host a book event for Lost Providence. But you already know that, so what about this:

The landscape of New York in fact is filled with monuments to the stubbornness, or greed, of property owners who insisted on planting their shabby little tenements squarely in the path of progress. In 1984, the real estate developer Seymour Durst and architect Andrew Alpern had published a book dedicated to exposing “the malevolent impact of holdouts on the face of the city” – namely, the millions of dollars in potential profits lost by developers who couldn’t build the buildings they wanted. They also deplored the esthetic effect of crummy old walkups juxtaposed with magnificent new glass office towers … .

Well, boo-hoo! If I didn’t already have a wife and kid for whom to dedicate my book, I would dedicate it to these folks with “irrational attachments” to the buildings deplored by the author of the book I’m now reading, High Rise, by Jerry Adler, published in 1993. Adler clearly sympathizes with the angst of his book’s protagonist, developer Bruce Eichner.

I imagine that the shabby little tenements and the crummy old walkups they deplore are the beautiful and forgotten buildings that make bearable a stroll among the “magnificent new glass office towers” of Manhattan. Perhaps in this case they are on the shabby side and cry out for maintenance. Still, I cry for victimized buildings like the old headquarters of Rizzoli Books, recently demolished for a new tower on 57th Street. And so I smile at the subtitle of Adler’s book: “How 1,000 Men and Women Worked Around the Clock for Five Years and Lost $200 Million Building a Skyscraper.”

Snake eyes! You lose! Ha ha!

Eichner hired Helmut Jahn, a flamboyant starchitect whose sun rose and set in the boom-boom 1980s, to design his tower at 1540 Broadway. Adler’s prose style is vivid, even though he describes a development culture that today is history. Still, I have a feeling that his book promises this reader a grand dollop of Schadenfreude.

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, 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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2 Responses to “Shabby little old walkups”?

  1. I recall Ed Achorn’s column on the museum years ago. A real eye-opener!


  2. The Tenement Museum on the lower East side is worth the time.


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