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MAS West Midtown Timeline Depicts Unprecedented Development & Need for a New Penn Station

24 million visitors headed for Hudson Yards through aging tunnels and a train station already operating at 3x capacity

West Midtown TimelineThe Municipal Art Society of New York unveiled an interactive timeline summarizing into one story the enormous development underway on Manhattan’s west side, and underscoring the need for a plan regarding how the overcrowded Penn Station would handle such growth.

Although each project is worthy in its own right, the current patchwork of infrastructure projects impacting West Midtown—Moynihan Station, East Side Access, the 7-line extension—will not be sufficient to address the overcrowding problems at Penn Station or alleviate the burden on our crumbling Hudson River tunnels:

Moynihan Station is not enough:

Moynihan Station will primarily serve passengers on Amtrak, who account for less than 7 percent of current commuter and intercity passengers at Penn. Moynihan will only serve as a waiting area and an alternate exit point for these passengers; it will not increase the number of trains that can run into West Midtown. Furthermore, Amtrak expects train traffic along the entire Northeast Corridor to nearly double in the next 30-40 years, and Penn is the busiest train station along the Corridor.

East Side Access is not enough:

East Side Access will divert directly to Grand Central Terminal a specific group of Long Island Rail Road passengers—Midtown East-bound passengers who currently have to travel from Long Island into Penn Station only to double back to reach their Midtown East destination. In essence, it will deliver Midtown East-bound passengers to their destination faster, but it will not directly alleviate the passenger crush coming to Midtown West with the completion of Hudson Yards.

Extending the 7-line is not enough:

The 7-line extension will offer a new path to West Midtown for New York City residents, but cannot serve passengers who originate in New Jersey. NJ Transit currently brings as many passengers to Midtown West as the 1/2/3 subway line and the A/C/E line, indicating that the Midtown West daily commuter population is made up of more than just city residents.

Gateway is not enough:

Even with the Gateway Plan—which will bring new capacity to the station through the construction of additional tracks, tunnels, and a southern annex—a majority of passengers will still continue to use the existing Penn Station complex between 31st and 33rd streets. Furthermore, the Gateway Project remains unfunded and more urgent every day.

Penn Station was constructed to accommodate 200,000 riders daily. NJ Transit alone brings 160,000 daily passengers per day to Penn Station, and those are the numbers as they exist today, prior to the opening of Hudson Yards. Hudson Yards will be the size of downtown Minneapolis once it’s completed, adding 24 million visitors to the neighborhood annually. This incredible revitalization of the Far West Side warrants a serious plan for the future of its beleaguered train station.

Become part of the Penn 2023 campaign and join our call for a new Penn Station.

Statement to City Council Regarding Airbnb

MAS Executive Director Margaret Newman submitted a comment regarding Airbnb for today’s City Council hearing.

The Municipal Art Society is committed to making New York a more livable city for its residents. Global cities around the world allow Airbnb to promote affordable choices for travelers, visitors and residents.

MAS supports the integration of new technologies into the life of our city and Airbnb’s efforts in NYC. We hope that a solution permitting Airbnb to operate here can be explored allowing visitors to experience the diversity and variety of NYC’s neighborhoods along with an appropriate framework protecting residents and visitors alike.

MAS Testifies in Support of Controversial Pier 55

Excerpted from testimony (PDF) given to Manhattan’s Community Board 2 Parks & Waterfront Committee Meeting:

We support the Hudson River Park Trust’s proposal to transform an unsound pier along the Hudson River into a new waterfront park space. We believe that the proposed Pier 55 park and performance spaces will be an exciting addition to Manhattan’s west side, and we appreciate HRPT’s promise of community involvement in programming and design choices.

This project, and the public-private partnership that will make it possible, comes at a crucial moment for New York City and New York State’s approach to parks funding. We need look no further than the crumbling Pier 54 to see the impact that decades of steady decline in maintenance dollars have had on our parks and public spaces.

Rendering of Pier 55

Rendering of Pier 55

This proposal does more than promise the transformation of a neglected pier into a celebrated public space; it also includes a pledge by its backers to maintain the park and performance spaces for the next twenty years.

MAS applauds HRPT for devising an innovative plan to restore and enhance this stretch of our public waterfront. And we call on the city and state, not just to approve this proposal, but to treat its 20-year pledge as a call to action. Let the new Pier 55 serve as a deadline: we have two decades to get our house in order and devise a funding plan that meets the needs of all our parks, from vast Flushing Meadows to the bustling Highline to the unsung playgrounds of Bed-Stuy and Hunt’s Point.

MAS is pleased to offer its support to this project and the new civic asset it will create for our city.

Michael Beschloss on the Original Penn Station

The demolition of the original Penn Station. Norman McGrath, NY Times

The demolition of the original Penn Station. Norman McGrath, NY Times

Michael Beschloss’ look back at the original Penn Station is a reminder that West Midtown was once a gateway to the city that New Yorkers could be proud of. With Madison Square Garden’s operating permit set to expire in 2023, we are in the midst of the most promising opportunity yet to reimagine this neglected neighborhood and create a train station—and a sports arena—worthy of our great city. We hope you will read Mr. Beschloss’ piece and join MAS in the Alliance for a New Penn Station.

Penn Station: A Place That Once Made Travelers Feel Important (NY Times) »»

Happy New Year from MAS

MAS in 2014

Happy New Year from MAS!

Thanks to our members and friends, we’re ending 2014 with an incredible string of successes for MAS. We advocated with residents across our city’s neighborhoods to keep New York vibrant and resilient. We continued to lead the campaign for a new Penn Station and the next Madison Square Garden. We offered more tours than ever before—across all five boroughs—and welcomed thousands of New Yorkers to our classes and public events throughout the year!

Next year, we will continue to promote New York’s economic and cultural vitality. Your support will help us preserve the character and authenticity that makes New York great, as we press for growth that is balanced and community-focused. Thank you for being there with us.

Make a year-end gift to MAS »»

Thank You to our Grand Central Docents!

Docent Appreciation DinnerThis week, we had the honor of hosting a celebratory dinner thanking our MAS docents, who volunteer their time year-round leading tours of Grand Central Terminal for visitors and New Yorkers alike.

Since we launched the program two years ago during Grand Central’s Centennial year of operation, four docent classes have completed a rigorous, 5-week course in the history of New York City, and brought their own research, insights, enthusiasm, and personality to nearly 16,000 tour-takers on more than one thousand tours. Their dedication to MAS and urban literacy is an inspiration to all of us.

This week, we celebrated the docents’ years of service at a very fitting place – a restaurant themed after a famous train.

We hope you’ll join them on a tour soon – and discover the many secrets of Grand Central.

See more:
About the docents | Photos from a recent tour & the docents’ celebration | All MAS tours

Landmarks Preservation Commission Withdraws Proposal to De-calendar 96 Items

MAS applauds the Landmark Preservation Commission’s (LPC) decision to withdraw a proposal to de-calendar 96 potential landmarks. We look forward to working with LPC on a solution to the urgent backlog of landmarks under consideration.

Read MAS’s letter in response to the now-tabled proposal (PDF) »»
Learn more in the New York Times »»

Revisiting Bolotowsky on Roosevelt Island

Prompted by the future Cornell Campus being built on Roosevelt Island, the New York Times recently profiled MAS’ work in finding and restoring a brilliant Bolotowsky mural in the Goldwater Memorial Hospital on the island. Here, Phyllis Cohen, the Director of the Adopt-a-Monument and Adopt-a-Mural programs, recounts how it was saved.

The mural painted by Bolotowsky at the Hospital for Chronic Diseases on Roosevelt Island, in 1941.

The mural painted by Bolotowsky at the Hospital for Chronic Diseases on Roosevelt Island, in 1941.

The Adopt-A-Mural Program was initiated on January 17, 1991–precisely the night that the Gulf War broke out and the air bombardment of Iraq led by the U.S. coalition began. That evening a panel of WPA scholars and friends assembled in the MAS Urban Center Gallery to discuss the extraordinary artistic achievements of the WPA and the important need to rescue many of those works from the late 1930s and 40s that had been neglected or painted over, such as the mural by the Russian-born Ilya Bolotowsky for the circular day room in Goldwater Hospital (Hospital for Chronic Diseases) on Roosevelt Island painted in 1941. The Gulf War ended four weeks later on Feb 28. But it took ten years, three mayoral administrations, countless bureaucratic changes within city agencies, and the steadfast consistency of our partners at Public Design Commission (formerly Art Commission) to return the Bolotowsky mural to public view in July 2001. It also took the shared generosity of the Judith Rothschild Foundation, Robert W. Wilson and Mike and Janet Slosberg and the Hospital itself to make this restoration possible.

Bolotowsky created four known murals for New York City while on the WPA. This one is the largest. The mural for the Williamsburg Housing Project, 1937, exists but was transferred to the Brooklyn Museum after it was restored in 1989. The mural designed for the Hall Of Medical Science, New York World’s Fair, 1938-39, was destroyed. The small mosaic created for Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx, 1940, remains above a water fountain in the school’s hallway. When a mural survives on the original site, it is a happy moment.

None of us who doggedly and devotedly stayed with this project over the years ever anticipated just how marvelous the Bolotowsky mural would be. It is a masterpiece of American Modernism.

For decades the mural lay hidden under seven coats of paint: speckled white, yellow, green, green, pink and a very ugly brown. It is suspected that sometime in the 1950s Bolotowsky’s mural fell victim to changing tastes or zeal to freshen up the hospital. The administration now certainly recognizes the beauty of the mural and was very helpful when we were restoring it seven years ago and remains so.

Luca Bonetti, the Swiss-born, Italian trained conservator skillfully carried out the conservation, with his staff, guided by the knowledgeable Andrew Bolotowsky, Ilya’s son, who had long championed that his father’s mural be preserved.  Jackson Pollack, found a scaled down version of Bolotowsky’s mural with WPA material; Lee Krasner, his wife, saved it and donated it to the Guggenheim. Andrew photographed the scale version to use for an acrylic reproduction which his father was working on before his untimely death in 1981. This was all very lucky because the reproduction enabled Luca to restore the mural exactly as it was created.

Bolotowsky mural during restoration

Hand-chipping off layers of paint with chisels

The conservator, working with 5 assistants chipped off the first 3 layers of paint with chisels, a painstaking process for a 350 square foot mural. For the next 4 layers he applied a paint removing solvent paste with a brush and then peeled off the layers with a special paper. Then they injected an adhesive where the canvas base of the mural was detaching from the wall.

Bolotowsky was founder of the American Abstract Artists in 1936, a group that included Mondrian. They created purely abstract art in a style known as Neo-Plastic. When Bolotowsky wrote his proposal for the WPA commission for the hospital (known as the Hospital for Chronic Diseases in 1939), he said “the most suited design for a hospital mural should contain no definite subject matter but should be generally soothing in its line and color.”  The painting begins at waist height, for the seated patients. He wanted them to feel the universe was bigger as they sat in their wheelchairs. When I went there the year before the hospital closed I asked a patient sitting in the room for lunch what he thought about the mural. He replied “I think it’s very nice; you don’t have to know what it is but it’s something pleasant to look at. Bolotowsky would have been pleased.

Andrew, a professional flutist, would return to the hospital annually to give concerts to the patients and to keep an eye on his father’s wonderful mural.

Phyllis Samitz Cohen
Director, Adopt-A- Monument/Mural program

Bolotowsky's Full Mural

2015 Brendan Gill Prize: Call for Nominations

Gill logo.jpg

The 2015 BRENDAN GILL PRIZE
Call for Nominations

Dear MAS Members and Friends,

Nominations are now open for the 27th Annual Brendan Gill Prize, MAS’s signature award honoring art and culture in our city! The Gill Prize, which includes an endowed cash award, is awarded each year to the creator of a specific work: a book, essay, musical composition, play, painting, sculpture, architectural design, film, or choreographic piece that best captures the spirit and energy of New York City. The nominee may be an individual or a group, a renowned artist or an emerging talent—the Gill Prize strives to bring attention to the constellation of artistic experiences that enrich our contemporary urban life.

All works submitted for consideration must have been produced and completed in 2014.  The award celebrates a singular contribution or project, rather than a lifetime of achievement.  The winner will be selected by the Brendan Gill jury, an esteemed group of nine experts intimately involved in the arts and literature of the city. The winner of the 2015 Gill Prize will be honored at a ceremony and reception during the MAS Annual Meeting this spring!

Please submit your nomination form via email to pcohen@mas.org before December 16, 2014. If preferred, hard copies with background material can be mailed to MAS at 488 Madison Avenue, Suite 1900, New York, NY, 10022, Attention: Phyllis Cohen. Download the nomination form now!

Download the Nomination Form (PDF)

Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for arts and culture with our organization. For more information, please visit mas.org/brendan-gill or call 212.935.3960 x1224.

RECENT HONOREES

2014 Michael Kimmelman for his New York Times articles on Penn Station
2013 Louis Kahn (posthumously) for Four Freedoms Park
2011 John Morse for Curbside Haiku
2010 Michael Van Valkenburgh for Brooklyn Bridge Park
2009 Mike and Doug Starn for See it change, see it split
2008 Sufjan Stevens for the BQE
2007 Sarah Jones for Bridge & Tunnel
2006 Christo and Jeanne-Claude for The Gates, Central Park
2005 Yoshio Taniguchi and the new Museum of Modern Art.

MAS Releases New Report: Madison Square Garden and the Future of West Midtown

Rendering by KPF | Marvel showing the Garden moved to the Morgan Post Office and Annex Site.

Rendering by KPF | Marvel showing the Garden moved to the Morgan Post Office and Annex Site.

A broad coalition of experts in architecture, engineering, and infrastructure finance, led by MAS and Regional Plan Association, unveiled the first comprehensive report on the leading options for the future of Madison Square Garden. The report, Madison Square Garden and the Future of West Midtown, focuses on the question of whether the arena should remain in place or be built anew on another site.

The report is the second in a series by the Alliance for a New Penn Station. The first report, Penn 2023, released in October 2013, summarized a new vision for West Midtown, including a comprehensive plan for the district; a completed Moynihan Station; an expansion of Penn’s transit capacity achieved through the Gateway Program and an expansion of Penn Station to the south; and construction of a new Madison Square Garden on a new site. Both reports offer analysis on the transit emergency in Penn Station, a facility originally designed to serve 200,000 riders a day, but that now serves some half a million, more than the daily impact at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark airports combined.

The report was released on the first day of the 2014 MAS Summit for New York City, which featured a panel called “Penn 2023: Where Will the Garden Go?” You can view a video of the panel discussion here.

Recommendations for Madison Square Garden
The Alliance’s analysis identified the Morgan Post Office and Annex as the most suitable future space for Madison Square Garden. The two block lot, bounded by 28th and 30th streets and 10th and 11th avenues, would allow for the construction of a safer, more modern Penn Station, the creation of new opportunities for retail, open space, and pedestrian amenities, as well as an improved stadium facility and new programming opportunities.

Also examined in depth are options for moving Penn Station to the Farley Post Office Annex located on 8th Avenue across the street from the current Garden and leaving Madison Square Garden in place atop Penn Station. The Farley option was found to be an exceptionally challenging site, sitting on top of landmarked property and active rail lines, and restricting opportunities for commercial development.

The Alliance also looked at leaving Madison Square Garden in place. This option greatly diminishes the opportunities for track and platform improvements at Penn Station, but available improvements could bring much needed light and air into the station, and better connect Madison Square Garden to the surrounding area.

Future reports by the Alliance for a New Penn Station will focus on the underutilized cultural richness of the Penn district and the numerous transportation, economic and development issues in West Midtown.

Read the report »»

Thank you, Ronda Wist

On behalf of the entire Municipal Art Society family, we wish to express our deepest thanks to Ronda Wist for her many years of service to MAS. As Vice President for Preservation and Government Relations, Ronda was instrumental in crafting MAS’ perspective on the role of preservation in our city, and bringing that balanced view to the City Council, City Planning Commission, and Landmarks Preservation Commission. From her earliest days as a student and public member, to her leadership on campaigns to save the garment district, green our historic buildings, and re-envision our public waterfronts, Ronda has contributed to MAS in innumerable ways.

As we look ahead toward next year’s 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Preservation Law, Ronda’s expertise, insight, and dedication to New York’s historic buildings will help us envision this movement’s impact in the next half century. As head of her own consulting firm in preservation, we’re sure Ronda will continue to have a direct impact on important historic preservation issues across the city for years to come.

Thank you, Ronda, from all of us.
margaret-newman-sig
Margaret Newman, Executive Director of the Municipal Art Society of New York

MAS Moves to the Look Building – a New York Landmark

Look BuildingOn September 2, 2014, the Municipal Art Society will be relocating from our current offices in the Steinway Building on 57th Street to 488 Madison Avenue, the landmarked Look Building.

From saving Grand Central to winning passage of New York City’s Landmarks Law, MAS has been a champion for the protection of New York’s significant historic buildings throughout our 120-year history. The Look Building will be a fitting home for MAS, with its esteemed history and status as a New York Landmark, while allowing for a more open, collaborative and modern office environment.

The Villard Houses and Steinway Hall

For almost 30 years MAS was headquartered at the Villard Houses, built in 1886 and designed by architect Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White.

Villard Houses The palazzo-style brownstone building, originally built as six townhouses, was designated as a New York City Landmark in 1968. In 2010, MAS moved to Steinway Hall, home of the piano manufacturing firm Steinway & Sons. Built in 1925 and designed by Warren & Wetmore, Steinway Hall was designated as a New York City Landmark in 2001.

MAS’s New Home

The 21-story Look Building, built in 1950, is exemplary of a minimalist aesthetic popular in architecture at the time. The building is most notable for its use of industrial materials to create sleek, setback elevations with rounded edges and its unique facades of alternating layers of ribbon-like windows and glazed white brick..

Two second-generation, family-run businesses, the developers Uris Brothers and architects Emery Roth & Sons, successfully speculated on the new building’s success. Richard Roth, the lead architect, designed the building to be stylish, profitable and practical. The building’s style suggests that Roth drew inspiration from the 1931 Starrett-Lehigh Building and the 1947 Universal Pictures Building, both in Manhattan. Roth was also influenced by architect Erich Mendelsohn, a German Expressionist.

A Salute to 488 Madison

In 1998, MAS produced an exhibition: “New Life for a Modern Monument: A Salute to 488 Madison Avenue”

The building was named for Look magazine, the principal tenant upon completion. Once one of the most widely-read magazines in the day, Look remained at this location until 1971, when it ceased publication. Other notable past tenants include Esquire, Pocket Books, music publishers Witmark & Sons, and industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

In 1998, the Look Building underwent restoration by architects Hardy Holzman & Pfieffer. MAS organized a exhibition, New Life for a Modern Monument: A Salute to 488 Madison Avenue, which, at the time was just kitty-corner to MAS’s headquarters at 457 Madison Avenue. MAS’s event brochure commended the restoration stating that it “shows how successfully the best postwar buildings can be updated, rewarding investors and delighting passerby.” Ned Kaufman, an associate director of MAS at the time and a leading advocate of the preservation of modern architecture, presciently said the renovation would be ”a very valuable and important model.”

In 2004, the Look Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and was named a New York City Landmark in 2010.

Contacting MAS

Our mailing address is now:
Municipal Art Society
488 Madison Avenue, Suite 1900
New York, NY 10022

Our email addresses, phone and fax numbers remain the same. Call (212) 935-3960 or send an email to info (at) mas.org if you have any questions.

We look forward to welcoming you into our new space!

Congratulating Bob Yaro on 25 Years at RPA

On behalf of the board and staff of the Municipal Art Society of New York, we express our admiration and thanks to Bob Yaro for his years of service to the city as president of the Regional Plan Association. We have been honored to collaborate with RPA on some of the largest infrastructure projects facing New York, from rebuilding Penn Station to addressing post-Sandy resiliency. We have always valued RPA’s perspective as a regional voice in these discussions, and Bob’s invaluable role in helping to shape them. Deeply knowledgeable and ever insightful, Bob has been a tireless caretaker for New York and its surrounding communities for 25 years. Continue Reading>>

Tell the MTA: We Need the Move NY Plan and a New Penn Station

This is a trying time for our region’s transportation. Growing ridership, aging infrastructure, and climate change (seen with Superstorm Sandy’s immense devastation to our subways and tunnels) mean that we can’t continue with business as usual, with not near enough resources to maintain our current system, let alone one that New York needs for its future.

But with these obstacles, we also have opportunities. The MTA Transportation Reinvention Commission was recently formed to address these challenges. With 24 experts in transportation, planning, financing, business, real estate and more, the Commission has the leadership to call for new investment and new ways in thinking about how we move New York City.

What’s more: they’re looking for your help. They’ve opened the call up to the public to provide input. They’re asking: How do we move forward with transportation in New York?

Let’s tell them. We need to adopt the Move NY Plan – the most rational way to raise new revenue. With a $12 billion deficit, the MTA can’t afford to maintain the infrastructure it has, let alone build for our future. Fair tolling is the best way to fix this.

Also, critically, the MTA needs to work with other transit agencies and stakeholders to take action towards a New Penn Station. The current station is overcrowded, unsafe, and unattractive, and its limitations impede future growth in transit service in the city and region. Planning for a new station in tandem with Amtrak’s Gateway Project will ensure that the New York region can meet anticipated future travel demand while creating the city’s next great civic space.

We told the MTA what needs to happen (read our testimony here PDF). Now it’s your turn.

Tell the MTA: we need a fair tolling plan and a new Penn Station.

Remembering Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Gene Norman, Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, testifying to save St. Bart's Church. Credit: Albany Press, January 1984

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Gene Norman, Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, testifying to save St. Bart’s Church. Credit: Albany Press, January 1984

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, born July 28, 1929, would have turned 85 today. In 1975, she brought to the Municipal Art Society her commitment to the splendors of New York City — and sparked an unforgettable collaboration for which every New Yorker can be grateful for ever since.

Instrumental in saving Grand Central Terminal, Lever House and St. Bart’s Church, and preventing the intrusion of a shadow stretching from Columbus Circle to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ms. Onassis said at the start of the Municipal Art Society’s fight to save Grand Central: “If we don’t care about our past, we cannot hope for the future.” Today, we honor her. Happy birthday Ms. Onassis!