Hike Report: City on the Edge of Forever

To celebrate the 55th anniversary of New York City’s Landmark Preservation Law the 15 participants were brought into New York of the past in this 5-mile walk.  Three types of sites were visited:  1.  At the community level are the former sites of Hooverville, Seneca Village, and San Juan Hill; 2.  At the residential level are the mansions of the Gilded Age built along Fifth Avenue; 3.  At the level of art and decorative elements are the sites of Diego Rivera’s mural Man at the Crossroads, a Mantle piece formally installed at the Vanderbilt Mansion, and a LaFarge stained glass window.

Communities

Hooverville was a Shanty Town of homeless people built during the Great Depression located in Central Park’s Great Lawn.  It was removed by the parks department in 1932 for lack of running water and sanitation facilities.

Seneca Village which predates Central Park was a community of 250 freed African Americans built between 81st to 89th St.  It was the largest African American Community in New York at the time.  It was razed in the 1860’s to make way for Central Park.

San Juan Hill, the setting for West Side Story, had 7,000 low-income families, and 800 businesses removed to make way for Lincoln Center with the promise of new housing for those displaced–a promise broken.

Residences

At the residential level, the walk along Fifth Avenue, once filled with homes built during the Gilded Age between the 1870’s to the early 1900’s was home to the Rockefeller’s and Vanderbilt’s with their French Chateau’s and mansions.

Art and Decorative Elements

At the art and decorative level three pieces stand out:  Diego Rivera’s mural Man at the Crossroads; a surviving mantel piece installed in the Vanderbilt mansion; and a surviving LaFarge stained glass window.

Diego’s Rivera’s mural was commissioned and then destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller the day before it was to be completed as it included a picture of Lenin.  Probably due to its mindless destruction it gained more fame.  Mr. Rivera recreated the mural in a similar style; called Man as the Controller which sits at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and is now on loan and may be viewed at the Whitney Museum of Art.

The mantelpiece installed at the Vanderbilt mansion consisting of two caryatids, Amour and Pax, support the mosaic mantelpiece above with its welcoming message.  It is permanently installed in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A LaFarge stained glass window which was saved from the razing of the Bliss House was the most complex stained glass completed.  It is also permanently installed at the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A city to remain vital and relevant has to balance the preservation of its past, meet the needs of its current residents, and plan for its future.  Decisions made by previous generations affect how we live today as decisions made by us will affect future residents of this city.

Relive Video of City on the Edge of Forever:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgfYF2CT7Gk

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