Saturday, January 10, 2009

Relics



Park between Broadway and Throop - I found this tremendous set of six meticulously preserved brick rowhouses sitting unexpectedly amidst the sprawl of urban renewal that is northern Bed-Stuy. I don't know how they survived, as they don't seem to have any historic designation or landmark status, but they're in excellent condition and seem deliberately maintained to showcase their grand age. At this point, they look totally out of place on their original block, like the Italian grandmother who wakes up one day and discovers she's living in Chinatown.

Looming behind them is the Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, which the NYT called a "rust-colored machine of steel and glass . . . a monument to a different time - it recalls the days when the stark and often harsh lines of modernist architecture seemed to hold a promise of urban salvation" when it opened in 1982 (having sat completed but unused from 1978). The article pokes fun at the determined modernism of the building, which was outdated by the time it opened in an era of smaller, more intimate health care constructions, but then asserts that despite its overwhelming size, the interior layout is an "improvement" over "the kind of hospital building New Yorkers are used to." With 600 beds at its opening (it now holds 378), it was one of the largest hospitals in the city, and in recent years it has developed specific programming to serve the local community, including an award-winning childhood asthma center that partners with local schools.

Across the street are the mid-rise Sumner Houses, completed in 1958 and housing 2,554 people on a little over 22 acres. They were erected as part of the massive slum-clearance drives that remade the neighborhood in Le Corbusier's style, which also saw the building nearby of the Tompkins Houses (1964, mid and high-rise, home to 3,218), Marcy Houses (1949, mid-rise, home to 4,286 including a young Jay-Z), and Roosevelt Houses (1964, high-rise, home to 1,956 including a young Mos Def). That's over 12,000 units of NYCHA housing in the immediate area, which is to say that it's all the more impressive these little gems remain on display today.

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