Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Once a building is gone, it is gone forever"

The Wall Street Journal excerpts David Freeland's book, "Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville," released Aug. 1 in paperback. And here's an excerpt of the excerpt.

Almost anyone who has written about New York has pointed out how it lives in a perpetual state of renewal: built, torn down, and rebuilt in an endless cycle. This is not a process exclusive to New York: it has occurred on the South Side of Chicago, in the area surrounding Memphis’s Beale Street, in Miami, and in other cities throughout the United States. But in New York — and particularly Manhattan — the rate of change seems intensified.


Manhattanites have often seemed remorseful at having ignored their physical history, having treated it so callously. At the same time they have sought to accept change as an inescapable element of life in the metropolis. "In Downtown: My Manhattan" (2004), Pete Hamill writes poignantly of this experience:

The New York version of nostalgia is not simply about lost buildings or their presence in the youth of the individuals who lived with them. It involves an almost fatalistic acceptance of the permanent presence of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same . . . Irreversible change happens so often in New York that the experience affects character itself.

But we never make total peace with the destruction of architecture. As evidenced by the popularity of Web sites such as and, our anxiety has grown in recent years, as more and more of the city we know has been replaced with new construction. The elegiac posts on these sites indicate that the process of coming to terms with architectural loss occurs in stages: first shock that something beautiful could have been destroyed; then resignation; and, finally, determination to appreciate the treasures that remain. If, as Hamill suggests, we approach loss with a fatalistic perspective, it is because we understand the irreversibility of destruction. Once a building is gone, it is gone forever.


NYCDreamin said...

Sounds like a great read, I'll put it on my list. Thanks for the heads up!

David Freeland said...

EV Grieve,

Thanks for the posting. FYI, I will be doing a lecture, slide show, and book signing tomorrow (Tuesday the 11th) evening at the Tenement Museum bookshop on Orchard Street, 6:30 p.m. Please feel free to drop by and say hello!