Skyscraper Swan Song

Yesterday, I went on the record and committed to writing every day in December. What I didn’t say then, because it was still up in the air, is that a few other interesting people have joined me in this. I can’t explain why that makes this exponentially more fun. You can do it, too! Jenny has a really good explanation, with many of our prompts; if you are interested, leave a comment and I will share the ever-evolving Google doc with you (email addresses will not be published).

Here’s what we have for today: What’s your favorite building you’ve walked into this year?

This is a good, and terribly hard, question for a person who has recently abandoned New York City.

Marble Collegiate Church and the Empire State Building

Marble Collegiate Church and the Empire State Building

Buildings comprise the landscape, even the geography, of the metropolis. When you get off the train at an unfamiliar exit in Manhattan, you orient yourself via the Empire State Building; in Brooklyn, via the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower; in Queens via the Citigroup Building. Reflected against the vertical acres of glass in the Financial District, the city’s spectacular sunsets take on blinding dimensions. Even on my most NYC-hating days, I never became blasé about the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, the Woolworth Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Human beings made them! Without drafting software or safety equipment!

The funny thing about those buildings, with the exception of St. Patrick’s, is that they are best appreciated at a distance. From the sidewalk outside, the Empire State Building seems like any other building in Midtown, with a Walgreens and a few restaurants on the street level. Unless you really crane your neck, you’d never know you were standing next to one of the most famous buildings in the world. Some of them have gorgeous lobbies, but the offices where people actually work are usually soulless and bland, with the same buzzing lights, scuzzy beige carpets and windowless cubicles found in every office park in America.

Plus, I don’t believe I’ve set foot in any of them in the past year. Which seems dumb, but there it is.

For most of 2011, the buildings most central to my life have been movie theaters: I spent more time at cinemas this year than any other type of business. I really miss them, even the shitty ones (the Union Square Regal has never not smelled like barf), but especially the great ones, like the Angelika and Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema. I am inexpressibly lucky to have had them for my office for so long.

My affection for those movie theaters increased with the number of movies I saw and reviewed and the work-life freedom they represented. If they had not been movie theaters, I never would have loved them.

Then there are the countless blocks of beautiful old nameless buildings where people live out their lives. These may be the buildings I miss most. We found out recently that one of RZ’s great-greats lived just a few blocks from where we did, just after emigrating from England. It may have been on the very street pictured below, a few blocks away at most. How many of our ancestors lived in these row houses before heading elsewhere?

Park Slope


The most famous buildings in New York no longer exist. I was never inside of them, never saw them in person. But one of the very last things we did before we moved to Oregon was to visit the just-opened 9/11 Memorial. That thing took forever to be completed and made so many people really mad. Ten years of fighting went into its construction. The actual Twin Towers took only five years to complete. People even argued over its grand opening — there wasn’t enough space for all the families and the first responders. Everybody freak out!

9/11 Memorial

It’s a real shame, because it turned out to be maybe the most beautiful place in Manhattan. Amidst the craziness of the Financial District and all of the terrible decisions and human suffering it has come to represent, there is a massive public art project. The rushing water drowns out the sound of traffic, and even the voices of people standing a few feet away. Every type of person — every age, ethnicity, economic class, religion, sexual orientation — is represented by the thousands of names that surround the waterfalls.

It boggles the mind that so many years of hysterical finger-pointing could have resulted in something so tranquil amidst one of the least-serene zip codes on earth. It’s peaceful, it’s lovely, it’s only a little bit sad. If I worked nearby, I would go there to eat lunch every day.

The 9/11 Memorial opened only a few weeks before we moved away. I feel so lucky for that brief overlap.

9/11 Memorial


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One Response to Skyscraper Swan Song

  1. roya says:

    please share the ever-evolving google doc with me. This is something I’d like to follow along with, and hopefully join in on a few.

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