People’s Hearing

“Ladies and gentlemen of the commission, I hope somewhere, wherever you are, that your ears are itching to what has been said today,” exclaimed white-clad author and 2 Columbus Circle enthusiast Tom Wolfe.

Of course, the ladies and gentlemen of the Landmarks Preservation Commission were nowhere to be found. Yet, each commissioner’s name was scrawled on eleven empty chairs at today’s “People’s Hearing” on the fate of architect Edward Durell Stone’s iconic building. Several community and preservation groups are fighting proposed changes to the structure’s marble façade.

Around 150 people sat in the spectacular General Society for Mechanics and Tradesmen Library, and listened to speakers give their reasons (both historical and personal), as to why a hearing is necessary.

“I happened to be working for the New York Herald Tribune when Huntington Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art was opening. I was sent there to cover it,” said Mr. Wolfe, who mentioned speaking to the 98-year-old Mr. Hartford earlier this morning. “When I arrived, I saw a graceful, elegant, white marble monolith.”

Other speakers shared Mr. Wolfe’s enthusiasm, including architect and Yale dean Robert A. M. Stern, who called the commission’s decision not to hold a hearing “inexplicable.”

[The] city’s great buildings will not be vulnerable to the politics of the moment,” said Mr. Stern about the need for historical preservation.

New York Assembly Member Richard Gottfried called the meeting to order, and historian Francis Morrone offered an (admittedly biased) research report.

Mr. Wolfe-—who penned two lengthy op-ed pieces in the New York Times in 2003-—hammered home his points regarding Mr. Stone’s decisive break from the modernist style that was in vogue at the time.

“[Stone] decided that it was folly to have an architecture in New York, or the United States generally—the great battle line of capitalism—based on a work of art or sculpturist movement of the 1920’s in which all bourgeois elements were to be removed, including easy chairs. Easy chairs were anathema to International Style.”

And what good is any ivory tower theory that deprives the Lumpenproletariat the modest comfort of an easy chair?

– Michael Calderone

People’s Hearing