cityscape

Posted by Ellen

Cranes fuss over the spires of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona.

Posted by Ellen

I'm sure there are more than two stories that can be linked to this street corner in Washington, D.C., but I see two in the photo.

The first one is a tale of two gas stations: The year is 1925, cars have only been on the road for a few years, but already here we see a derelict gas station, rundown, boarded up, the gas pump already removed. The parked car may or may not be a junker, but it's not much of an advertisement for the carwash service. But look across the street, at the far right edge of the picture. You may want to enlarge the photo to see full detail. (Or ask me to send you the very high-resolution original photo, 2.6 MB file.) That's a brand spanking new Standard Oil Co. gas station, the original category killer--so Story #1 is about how Mr. Rockefeller probably put this guy out of business and blighted this corner of my hometown.

Story #2 is about the corner itself. It's 2nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, which is stunning to those of us who feel they know Washington. Mass Ave is one of the businest streets in the city, and the intersection is in the heart of downtown, about four blocks from Union Station. In 1925, there wasn't even a line painted down the middle of Mass Ave. Furthermore, based on the trees and their shadows, we can deduce that  the picture was taken in late afternoon or early evening--rush hour. Perhaps it was Sunday, but still--the wide-open emptiness is not consistent with our notions of a major downtown artery. This scene feels like a small town, or the edge of a city, not the center of the nation's capital, just eight blocks from the U.S. Capitol building.

What's there today? Nothing. Grass and a couple of curving walkways--I think the local term is pocket park. It's an unusual park, however, built on the air rights above the I-395 freeway as it dives underground just north of Massachusetts Avenue. Rumor has it that behind this park, they're planning to build offices and even stores and apartments, all on the I-395 air rights. This is said to be the biggest construction project in Washington right now that hasn't been suspended--maybe it hasn't been suspended, but it's not yet what they call shovel-ready.

And for what it's worth, the Standard Oil station isn't there any more either; that corner is occupied by a medium-sized brick office building that serves as Washington headquarters for a business association.

Posted by Ellen

I'm not a New York person, but this view of the Savoy Plaza and other Midtown towers has got to be one of the most gorgeous cityscapes anywhere, ever. It was shot in Central Park in 1933 by architectural photographer Samuel Gottscho. Today, the view from the same spot would be dominated by tall glass office boxes; the Savoy and many of the other old towers have been demolished.

Gottscho worked as a traveling lace and fabric salesman for 23 years before he could work with his camera full time. He specialized in pictures of houses and gardens, but also branched out into nature photography.

A new novel by E.L. Doctorow uses a heavily photoshopped version of this picture on the cover.

Posted by Ellen

In 2004, Iranian-Canadian photographer Sam Javanrouh went back to Tehran, his hometown, for a photo shoot. Here, he shows us Tehran's Eskan towers framing a glimpse of the Alborz Mountains. "Brings back so many memories," says Javanrouh.

Posted by Ellen

When the Custom House tower opened in 1913, tthe zoning code for the city of Boston limited building height to 125 feet. Because the Custom House was a federal installation, it could flat-out ignore the restriction; this tower is 496 feet high, making it the tallest building in Boston until 1964. The exterior is essentially unchanged to this day, though the interior has been drastically redesigned. It's now a time-share condo complex operated by Marriott.

Underneath the tower is a large Doric temple built in 1847, an imposintg structure that housed the warehouses and regional  financial offices of the customs service. Most of the federall government's income in those days came from import levies, so in port cities such as Boston, custom houses were typically the nicest buildings in town.

In this picture, the clocks at the top of the tower have no hands. This is probably because repairs were being attempted; the wooden minute hand was so big and heavy--22 feet long--that the clock mechanism struggled to push it up from the 6 toward the 12, often failing. Until the hands were replaced with plastic a few years ago, the clocks rarely kept good time.

 

Posted by Ellen

Midtown Manhattan, looking south from the 68th floor of Rockefeller Center.