Back in my college days in the grim 1970s, this was my neck of the woods; Broadway was studded with shabby, atmospheric old dance studios, where I sweated and stretched between taking classes at the ugly new Fordham campus and standing in line for SRO ballet tickets at Lincoln Center. I didn't spend much time in Central Park, however; nobody did. It was more punchline than tourist magnet. But Central Park South held onto its dignity, a phalanx of elegant hotels gazing down on the green rectangle that sheltered the muggers.
These days, the park is safe and choked with tourists, all looking as if they are trying hard to enjoy their overpriced rides in sketchy pedicabs and horse carriages. The environs of Columbus Circle are a glossy bastion of retail, with the stunning Time Warner Center a welcome replacement for the long-rotting hulk that was the old New York Coliseum.
But it seems as if the skyline south of the park has gone a bit mad, like an athlete bulking up on steroids and menacing anyone in his path. The lush sculptures that gazed down on Columbus Circle in its sleazier days now seem to push back against the crushing volumes around them. Christopher himself seems taken aback...
...while the marble figures around the monument to the battleship Maine monument remain oblivious, even to perching pigeons and tired tourists, as they have since their unveiling in 1913.
But nothing prepared me for my first look at "One57," the middle finger of New York's new Billionaire's Row pointing skyward at 90 stories. The gilded "Columbia Triumphant" is no match for greed triumphant.
This shot gives some sense of its grotesque scale, as it dwarfs the iconic Essex House sign. The atrocity looms like an invading "War of the Worlds" ship over all it surveys. I am told that most of its multi-million-dollar condos are bought solely as investments, or "pied-a-terres"; perhaps the Russian, Chinese, and Brazilian oligarchs can hire someone to turn on the lights so that it will look lived-in. No, never mind. It will never look lived-in.
At right, another pair of architectural masterpieces visible from the park. One thing I love so much more about Prospect Park than Central Park is the sense you can get of being "lost in the country" within its borders. The rectilinear Central Park has always been visibly ringed with luxury buildings; this Singapore-like forest of newcomers will soon be "the new normal." But Prospect Park, too, is following suit, with shiny condo buildings springing up around its perimeter, encroaching on Olmsted's beloved illusion of escape from the city within. Maybe when all the rents are $5,000 a month and up, we can pitch tents in the parks for the working class, and they can look up at the skyboxes of our overlords. Me, bitter?