Hats off to the New York Times' "Streetscapes" columnist Christopher Gray for his impassioned tour of Prospect Park's not-quite-derelict arches in last Sunday's paper, and for his walking "requiem" tour last night to follow up. Gray's cri de coeur about the graffiti in the Meadowport Arch makes a nice counterpoint to the Brooklyn Museum's recent moaning about having to cancel a scheduled exhibit on such "street art" (boo-freakin'-hoo):
At first glance it appears that the 19th-century paneling of its long, cedar-sheathed tunnel is, by some miracle, almost intact, although damaged. But a stone plaque in the ground makes it clear: This marvelous, inspiring work, a 100-foot-long Grand Central Terminal waiting room of polished cedar, with rounded benches and a cross-vaulted pavilion, was lovingly recreated in 1988, barely a generation ago.
Now, after all that intention, money and effort, Meadowport Arch is a madeleine for New York of the 1960s and 1970s. The graffiti vandals have sprayed their way through the interior, and the city has seen little choice but to paint over four long runs of the casing. Only the topmost ones, out of reach, are intact, almost perfectly so — reminders of the humane sensitivity of the original design. The paint job is slapdash, with drips on the benches, but that only reflects the native tragedy — that we had this beautiful, democratic thing, freely given to all, and yet destroyed it.
The arch’s fragmentary survival recalls Charlton Heston’s encounter with the postapocalyptic remains of the Statue of Liberty on the beach in “Planet of the Apes” — “You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you!” There’s no point asking the Department of Parks to fix it if the civil order is such that civic beauty cannot survive the barbarians.
I think he's being a bit harsh about the condition of the arches, but then I'm comparing today to the 1970s, when one would have expected each archway space to have conjured Mr. Heston in the Valley of the Lepers in Ben-Hur. When I wrote about the Meadowport Arch in 2008 here, I found evidence of a lone but bookish sleeper, and felt simple gratitude that any wood furnishings survived at all in the vaulted space. Shows you how a child of the Seventies defines deviancy: anything short of a smoking ruin or an open-air asylum seems gentrified.
Anyway, I wish I'd been able to tag along on the march last night; it looks like quite a crowd turned out. We have lived for decades in a world where Lexan and welded steel, not mortised cedar, is the stuff of public amenities; it's nice to see how many people care for the delicate bits that somehow remain. More coverage of the walk can be found at Backyard and Beyond.
Photo, left: Prospect Park Flickr stream