info 05.29.03

New York Streetscapes

In spite of one ghastly error in judgment on the part of the publisher, Christopher Gray's book New York Streetscapes (Harry N. Abrams, $35), is a must-have for any New Yorker interested in the city's architecture or history.

Two hundred or so of Mr. Gray's "Streetscapes" columns from the Times are compiled here, along with beautifully reproduced black and white photos. Some of the city's better-known buildings are included but, as Mr. Gray says in the introduction, he is "more interested in minor-league, oddball structures than in tour-bus monuments…"

There are so many interesting stories: we learn about Gertrude Whitney's studio on Macdougal Alley, which Mr. Gray calls, "eye-popping, one of the great unknown interiors in New York…" You can see William Randolph Hearst's armor hall (we'd call it jaw-dropping) inside the Clarendon at 137 Riverside. And the oldest saloon still in existence is at 279 Water Street. It's now the Bridge Cafe, but it's been around at least since 1847 when it was a bar with a brothel upstairs. The place was described as "filled with river pirates and Water Street hags."

It should be pointed out that a couple of pages are blurrily printed, at least in our copy. And the publishers, in our view, showed terrible judgment in choice of cover image. It depicts, in sepia tones, a dozen or so buildings set impossibly askew along a cobblestoned street. They look uprooted. One of those buildings is the Essex House, which appears teetering and about to topple. The whole tableau calls September 11th sickeningly to mind. The clouds in the background, looking like smoke, don't help.

In spite of that, Mr. Gray's book is a wonderfully engaging read, which you can dip into anywhere and experience the marvels of time travel.
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