Mayor Bloomberg has set an ambitious agenda for his final two years in office. No, not finally fixing the schools, reforming the pensions or redeveloping Willets Point. Those are the easy ones.
“You should know that Frank and I had a conversation backstage,” the mayor said at the opening of the Signature Theater today, “and we both committed to each other that we would get 10 more Frank Gehry projects going here—in the next 700 days. If my math is any good, Frank, that is one every 70 days, so we should meet some time later today to get going.”
New York has actually faired quite well in the Frank Gehry department. The Signature Theater—now known as the Pershing Square Signature Theater thanks to a $25 million donation from hedge fund manager Bill Ackman—is his third building here. It follows after Barry Diller’s IAC Building and Bruce Ratner’s New York by Frank Gehry, that undulating apartment building downtown, of which the mayor is quite fond. “Every day I walk out of City Hall, I look at a Frank Gehry building,” he said, calling it “a great building.”
Gotham has delivered Gehry some notable failures, particularly the new Times headquarters and an East River Guggenheim, and the World Trade Center performing arts center, where he first met the Signature team and where the Joyce still plans to go, continues to languish. Still, New York boasts more Gehrys than any city outside of California, including another of his performance center at Bard, just a MetroNorth ride away.
It turns out Mr. Gehry’s connection to the city, and the site of the new Signature, at the corner of 10th and 42nd, is quite strong. “My father was born in New York City in 1900,” Mr. Gehry, wearing a tweed blazer, black t-shirt and jeans, said from the dais. “He was a street urchin in Hell’s Kitchen, it was a very poor family, and he was worried all his life, he kept calling me a dreamer, and he said ‘you’re gonna have trouble making it in this world as a dreamer.’ So I want to say, Pop, I hitched my wagon to the most incredible group of dreamers you’ll ever imagine, including the dreamiest dreamer of all, the mayor of this city, Mayor Bloomberg.” Dreamy!
And yet Mr. Gehry is not as familiar with his latest project as one might think.
“He said it’s going to be in an office building, and that has its problems,” Mr. Gehry said, referring to the early plans to relocate the Signature from Ground Zero into its new home at MiMA, a dark, 60-story glass tower developed by the Related Companies. “Putting three theaters in an office building, with the column spacing that an office building has…”
“Frank?” blurted out Related boss Steve Ross. “Frank. It’s an apartment building.”
After the laughter died down, the Pritzker Prize-winner continued. “You get to be 83, you can’t remember anybody’s name or anything,” Mr. Gehry said. “Anyway, it was formidable to come in and look at the plans and figure out where we could fit everything in.”
The real challenge will be fitting 10 more of his buildings into the city. “It was my idea,” Mr. Gehry told The Observer after the ceremony. “I said to the mayor, we need to do 10 more things like this.” And what might those be? “I don’t know,” he replied. “The Joyce Theater would be nice.” Any other dream projects in New York? “Oh, I don’t do that. I’m very superstitious.”’