New York City is, and always has been, a study in stark contrasts. The route of the IRT Lexington Avenue subway line, which travels from some of the lowest income neighborhoods in the city (the Bronx) through the highest income neighborhoods (upper east side) exemplifies such a contrast. And it seems rather fitting that the Lexington line continues south to make a stop at – where else? – Wall Street in the Financial District.
This week, the new Whitney Museum has opened with much fanfare, and I do mean MUCH fanfare. After many years in the making, the plans for a new Whitney have finally come to fruition. With a $422 million price tag, the museum’s new digs were designed by the architect Renzo Piano. The 200,000 square foot structure of steel, concrete and glass sits along the West Side Highway in downtown Manhattan in what is known around here as the “meatpacking district”. But don’t let that historical reference to New York’s long gone turn-of-the-century slaughterhouses and packing plants fool you. The meatpacking district is, today, one of the trendiest, “hottest” neighborhoods in the city, replete with high end boutiques and restaurants. The planners for the new Whitney chose their real estate wisely, as “location” is everything in this town. Flanked by the High Line and Gansevoort Street, the Whitney is the sleek spanking new jewel of New York City. With a glass-enclosed lobby and a panoramic view of the Hudson River, it is the new home of the museum’s American art collection of Hoppers, Warhols, Pollocks, and company.
Just a few miles north of the new Whitney, an art space of a different sort also held an opening, but with significantly less fanfare and without the First Lady, the New York elite, glitterati, or art magazine critics in attendance. The old Bronx Borough Courthouse, which had been abandoned, neglected, and boarded up for 35 years, has been rescued from its squalid, dilapidated state by an organization called “No Longer Empty”, which avails community engagement to “revive underutilized properties” according to their mission statement. Constructed in 1905, the four story Beaux-Arts building would have been most likely demolished had it not secured historic landmark status in 1981. But though it remained standing, the structure still fell into disrepair, its cavernous interior and stately architectural features sealed off from the public. Now, as debris is cleaned away and the light is let in, the Bronx Courthouse is experiencing a renewal as a space for art, installations, and symbol of the neighborhood’s heritage. You can read all about it on CurbedNY.
O Henry once said that New York “will be a great place if they ever finish it”. What O Henry didn’t know, presumably, was that New York will never be “finished”. Ever. Those of us who have lived here our entire lives can attest to the fact that the city will do whatever the hell it wants, and as New Yorkers our famously held skills of adapting and improvising are only strengthened in the process. Make no mistake, this is a town of deaths and births and reincarnations, relentlessly so. This town makes decisions that will either boggle the mind or thrill the spirit. This town will break your heart and ignore your tears. Some salivate over new constructions and state-of-the-art modernization, while others bemoan losses, cling to relics and shadows of the past. New York has certainly not thrown off its history, but its dogged impulse to surge forward will never be subdued. Nor should it be.
In the spirit of this diverse, crowded, maddening metropolis of contrasts and confounding changes, I offer a warm welcome to the new Whitney, and an equally warm welcome to the “new” old Bronx Courthouse.