After a mild winter, a stingy spring, finally aflower.
As a proud alumnus of Cooper Union, I write the following post with the heaviest of heart.
The quotes below come from the New York Times March 9, 1904, in a tribute to Peter Cooper, during which Andrew Carnegie and others expounded on the responsibility that comes with great wealth. The director of Cooper Union, Charles Sprague Smith, spoke as well honoring the gift of $300,000 by Carnegie that made Cooper debut free “from basement to roof.” He went on to honor Abram Hewitt, son-in-law of Peter Cooper, former mayor, and father of New York’s subway system: “I know that the supreme desire of his life was that Cooper Union should be free. Every part of it is now free in every sense.”
It is no longer.
The values espoused eloquently in 1904 — albeit in self-congratulation — have now been repudiated by the decision of the board of trustees of Cooper Union to charge tuition beginning in 2014. Those who have guided this institution in recent years have failed in their trusteeship of this treasure of New York and the nation.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Cooper Union is too small, too specialized, to survive in direct competition with larger better-funded institutions. The fact that it was a full scholarship — free — college put it in a class by itself. It brought the best students and professors together in an egalitarian community unlike any other in the world.
That unique community of intellect and creativity has been sacrificed. Unless another Andrew Carnegie comes to the rescue quickly, or some other scheme is devised to return the school to its former mission, Cooper Union, in its now comprised state, will not likely survive.
In the grip of a debt crisis brought on by Tea Party economic terrorism, New York appears placid at the start of the weekend–on the surface. One imagines the agitated garden party conversations out in the Hamptons among the captains of finance. How did the good faith and credit of the United States come to be held hostage by an ignorant rabble? The mind boggles. We all await Monday and the morning bell.
Couple feet of snow and huge drifts in New York. Walking from the subway on my way to Think Coffee on the corner of Bleecker Street and the Bowery I noticed two elderly people struggling to get over a wall of plowed snow. I snapped a quick picture of the scene, and then ran over to help the couple. I reached for the hand of the woman first, and then helped the man climb across onto the street. I asked them if they needed any more assistance, and then realized that it was Robert Frank (The Americans), and his wife, the artist June Leaf. I made sure they reached the door of their loft safely. I didn’t say anything more, or photograph them–aside from the accidental image above. Got my coffee on the corner.
Making my usual morning walk across town I came upon Cervin Robinson at Houston and Crosby Street. He was photographing the Bayard-Condict Building, Louis Sullivan’s only New York structure. Robinson has photographed this building before–and many other Sullivan buildings.
Here’s a screen capture of one his photographs of the same building made many years ago.
Photograph by Cervin Robinson
I didn’t linger to chat with Cervin because I could see that at that moment a shaft of low winter light was raking perfectly across the facade of the building at the top of Crosby Street.
I was drawn into Crosby Street just off Houston by the ASPCA truck with a large cat face gazing slightly upward. It was parked in front of Happy Paws Daycare with a lot of happy dogs cavorting in the windows along the street.
Unhappily there were signs on each plate glass window stating “No Photos Allowed.” Never mind the fact that a private business can not legally prevent one from taking pictures on a public street in this city or any other in the United States. See first amendment for reference.
A few blocks away I found this storefront.
Sometimes it seems like half he pictures on this blog are from Houston Street, especially the area between Broadway and Lafayette Street. It’s just that I’m there all the time coming and going, heading for the subway, walking across town, whatever. There’s been construction going on for years, rebuilding the underground infrastructure, resurfacing the pavement, and redesigning the streetscape.
Houston Street was–a long time ago–an ordinary width New York street. But at some point in the first half of the 20th century it was greatly expanded as subway tunnels were excavated, buildings were torn down, and we were left with this great gash across the urban landscape. It remains a noisy, near freeway–scene of much pedestrian and bicycle carnage–in the middle of this otherwise ped-friendly city.
That said, I love the visual chaos of it all, and today I was headed for the West 4th Street basketball court–sometimes called the cage–to continue working on this crazy project of photographing basketball with a 4×5 view camera. I set up my tripod just out of bounds behind one of the baskets, positioning myself as discreetly as possible, to avoid players crashing into me and my camera. You can’t shoot from behind the chain link fence because there’s not enough space for a wide angle lens to poke through.
At one point someone kicked a stray basketball from the other end of the court sending it rocketing directly, though not intentionally, at my camera. With the practiced awareness and dexterity of years of playing street basketball, I reached around the camera, and knocked the ball away. After the game, one of the players came over and expressed his surprise, if not amazement, that I had reacted so quickly.