Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Odyssey--Part 3

The morning of Friday the 13th, I woke up before the sun probably around 6AM. I knew the house was scheduled to pass by South Street Seaport sometime around 7:45. As soon as I heard that the house would be sailing up the East River, I knew exactly where I wanted to be to see it, and it wasn't there. I still don't know what kind of opportunity I missed by not going down there. I assume there were a number of architects gathered, including people I'd have loved to have met. It was a tough decision whether or not to go, but there were a number of reasons for me not to. 

Instead, I went over to Gantry State Park in Long Island City. One of the more pressing reasons was that, as soon as it had passed and was out of sight, I planned to immediately jump onto the Long Island Railroad and attempt to beat it out to Glen Cove, a race I wasn't sure I would win as it was. I arrived there around 7:30, not expecting the house to pass me until around 8:00 or 8:15, but there was no way I was going to risk missing it.

Though it wasn't the main Seaport event planned, with an appearance by Venturi himself, I still expected to find at least a small group of architecture buffs and curiosity seekers gathered at Gantry Park. There was no one. Every half hour or so, someone would circle behind me on their morning jog or walking their dog. 

On the pier just south of me was a pervert with an enormous telescope trained on the apartment buildings across the river. I was too far away to see if he had a camera attached to it. But if you live in one of those buildings with a view of Long Island City out your window and feel perfectly safe walking around naked in front of them, it's very possible you're now on some kind of High Society Candid Porn site. I'll give him this much, for a pervert, he certainly was dedicated. The telescope couldn't have been cheap, it was ridiculously cold, disturbingly early in the morning (he was there when I arrived), and he was there for at least an hour.

After all I went through, I was going to be extremely pissed off if some creepy peeping tom got photos of the Lieb House from there. He left some time before it passed, though. I was talking to a nice woman with her dog when it came by, but otherwise, the photos in this post are the only ones in existence from this particular location, the only ones that will ever exist.

I had on the warmest sweater I own and a thermal shirt underneath, another shirt over that, my leather pants, which allow through practically no cold air, and a bulky winter coat. I was still so freaking cold I had to keep dancing around to my iPod, running around the pier, and jogging in place to not go into hypothermia. It was awful. It was cold anyway, but also at that time of day--the coldest time of day--and the very last place you'd ever want to be on a bitter cold winter day? Right. On a pier sticking out into the East River.

On top of that, the house was late. I stood there waiting for it for nearly two hours freezing my buttocks off. I got there before the sun had officially come up over Queens from behind me, but at a certain point, I couldn't have been any happier about the location I'd chosen. Check this out:
Click images for larger views.
--All photos posted here ©2009, Ryan Witte.
Suddenly the whole skyline was bathed in the most heavenly, golden early-morning sunlight. If the house had appeared right at that moment, I'd have peed my pants. Instead I stood around for another hour waiting. Nonetheless, the light was still far better for me than it would have been from the Manhattan side where it'd have been glaring right into my face.

It got so late, in fact, that I had to call my mother--who had kindly consented to let me borrow her car--or she'd have gone to pick me up at the train station by her house only to find me nowhere in sight. I began to actually fear that the barge had been surprisingly early and had passed by before I even arrived at the park. There was really no one I could call to find out if that'd been the case, and I feared that while I waited there having already missed it, it was getting closer and closer to Glen Cove, and I'd miss it landing there, also. Big trouble.

At long last, the little house did appear making its way up the river. Here it is against Davis, Brody & Associates' wonderfully Brutalist Waterside Plaza (1974):

Davis and Brody's later partner, the immensely influential African-American architect Max Bond, just passed away only a couple of weeks ago. May he rest in peace.

But this is the real reason I chose this location, with the Empire State Building (Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, 1931) and the United Nations:

The Empire State, another incredibly Herculean task nonetheless completed during an economic disaster. These are immediately before and immediately after the photo I put into my introductory post:

But really, what could be a more beautifully poetic visual description of how important an event this was? Two absolutely epic architectural tales, one resulting in one of the grandest International Style Modernist monuments in the world by arguably the movement's biggest star, Le Corbusier (et al); the other, a tiny little house all but completely dwarfed on the river. But the reason this image is possible at all is that--despite its diminutive size--the Lieb House was on this journey so that a monument to the birth of Postmodern Architecture could be saved and was. David, meet Goliath.

And then it was gone, heading for the dangerous waters of Hell Gate. Here with Hugh Stubbins' Citicorp Center (1978):

It was 9:30 at the earliest, and I didn't know how quickly I could get to Glen Cove, or how quickly a house on a barge could get there, so I made a brisk pace to the train station. This chapter of the tale next time. Stay tuned for Part 4.

©2009, Ryan Witte

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