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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Paradise Lost: City Hall Station

"The only paradise is paradise lost." ~ Marcel Proust
If ever there was an inclination to compare a New York City subway station as an underground Shangri-La, downtown Manhattan's abandoned City Hall station comes close to earning such a title.
In 1900, construction began on New York City's City Hall Station in lower Manhattan. It opened October 27, 1904, as the city's showpiece terminal stop. It celebrated a newly innovative system of underground travel within city limits. 
Part of the first subway line operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), it ran between City Hall and 145th Street. Originally named the "Manhattan Main line", it is now known as the "Lexington Avenue line".

The architect and builder Rafael Gustavino, an immigrant from Valencia, Spain, designed the City Hall station.  Gustavino was noted for his use of self-supporting vaulted arches and his patented "Tile Arch System".  This system represented a brilliant structural, aesthetic and economic innovation. Gustavino adopted and improved upon the rediscovery of 14th-century Catalan system of timbrel vaulting and renamed it "cohesive construction".  He substituted bricks with 3/4- inch thick terra cotta tiles, and traditional mortar with Portland cement. He then layered the tiles over one another in patterns that followed the curves of the ceiling, resulting in wider arches and vaulting.  The comparatively lighter weight of the tiles to the traditional brick and stone construction likely explains this achievement.
Underworld opulence: several stained glass skylights emanated a heavenly light from above.  It was additionally lit with eleven chandeliers.

Early construction photo of City Hall Station.
Old photograph of station's ticket booth.

In 1945, the station closed due to lack of use; at the time, only 600 or so passengers used the station daily, and this was at the pinnacle of subway travel in New York City.  Additionally, train cars had been widened and lengthened for a growing population.  The train platform was not only not long enough to accommodate additional train cars, but it also had such a tight radius it was difficult for the trains to loop around the station in order to head back uptown.  Plans by the New York Transit Museum to reopen the station to the public were cancelled in the late 1990's. Today it remains abandoned and unused.

Original entrance outside of City Hall.

If you would like to catch a glimpse of this magnificent station, you have several options.  One would be to take the #6 train down to the last stop, Brooklyn Bridge station.  Remain on the train and it will eventually loop around, and, as you head back uptown, you'll be able to catch sight of it.  Another option is riding on the #4 and #5 trains heading from Brooklyn. Finally, you can actually enjoy a tour of the station if you become a card-carrying member of the MTA Transit Museum. 

This blog post was inspired by the recent hurricane that devastated much of the New York tri-state area and is dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Many people suffered losses of their homes, belongings and lost water and power. Three weeks later, many residents of particularly devastated areas such as Far Rockaway in Queens, are still without heat, electricity and water.  Much help is still needed if you'd like to volunteer and/or donate.  I am posting links to a few of the many organizations through which you can assist in the relief effort. Thanks in advance.

*Edited by Jennifer Vandemeer.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Some of My Favorite Haunts

It's Halloween time and I wanted to share some of my most favorite places that have left a deep, and yes, lasting haunting impression.

Kioni windmills in Ithaki, Greece

In 1989, I travelled with my father to the island of Ithaca, Greece, to meet my Greek relatives who had a house there. In the Ionian Sea, Ithaca is host to the Kioni windmills that were possibly constructed in the 12th or 13th centuries. No longer operating in their utilitarian capacities, they now grace the landscape as haunting mementos of antiquity having long since fused into organic extensions of this magnificently rugged island.

Hotel Boulevard Atlantico in Mar del Sur, Argentina

Hotel Boulevard Atlantico, Mar del Sur, Argentina

In 2007 I travelled with my husband to the sea resort town of Mar del Sur--a good five hours drive from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had heard enough about this idyllic, unspoiled spot and its resident imposing Neo-Classical structure known as the Hotel Boulevard Atlantico. I knew I would instantly fall in love with it. The Hotel Atlantico was built in the 1880's as a luxurious destination stop for the wealthy that could afford to flee the heat of the city and its cholera outbreaks. Ultimately, the train, which was intended to reach Mar del Sur, never made it that far and ended instead in Mar del Plata--a resort city 45 minutes away. The hotel's history is lonely and forlorn: it really never functioned as the luxury resort that it was built to be due to financial ruin of the original owner and it basically went downhill from there.  After a few short stints as a hotel, it was a hospital for cholera victims, many of whom are buried in the back of the hotel.  But it's most notorious tenants included Mafioso squatters in the 1990's.  Ultimately, time, the elements, and human indifference destroyed most of the structure. Yet, it still remains standing today as an imposing reminder of a once glorious past in a very humble town. The last time we tried to get a tour with the current owner of the hotel, the city had condemned the building. Some palms might have been greased, as the owner is back to conducting tours in order to raise money for renovation of the grand hotel and I look forward to finally seeing the interior of this magnificent building on our next visit. 

Morris Jumel Mansion, NYC
This is the house where my ancestor lived.  Built in 1765, the Morris-Jumel mansion that sits atop a hill in New York City's Harlem, is reputed to be very haunted, and yes, George Washington slept there.  My ancestor was Aaron Burr, who lived in this house with his wife, a member of the Jumel family. Though I did feel the presence of spirit in the house--how could one not? --I experienced no particular paranormal incidents. That said, it has been known to be fairly active in that respect, and I look forward to future visits.

Interior of a jail in Jerome, Arizona.

Ruin in Jerome, Arizona.
During Easter vacation in the mid-1970s, my mother and I traveled to Arizona to visit my great aunt Alice.  One day, we drove through the town of Jerome, a partial ghost town.  I never forgot the fascination of experiencing both the unease as an unwelcome stranger passing through an inhabitated ghost town, and the urge to stop and explore this dilapidated town. It appeared so unreal, it resembled a movie set.  But, it was the home of the living, and the dead, who regarded us as unwelcome strangers and beckoned us if we dared, come forward.  While driving through, a few Native Americans peered at us dully from their broken, windows as if to say: there is nothing here to see, white man, keep moving along.  We kept moving along and I am sorry we did as it's now a bustling tourist destination, and being far too crowded, the ghosts, I am sure, have long since moved out.

Fallen structure on Little Chebeague Island, Maine.

Little Chebeague is a small island connected by a sandbar to Great Chebeague island in Maine's Casco Bay.  Once a bustling summer colony and year-round home to a handful of farmers, the United States Navy took over the island for recreation and training during World War II.  Sadly, the houses fell to ruin and no one returned, so the island eventually became a state park. I have spent practically every summer on Great Chebeague Island and always went on a pilgrimage to Little Chebeague, where we explored and crawled through its decaying houses.  When I was a child, many of the houses were still standing with paint and plaster on the walls, and even full of some furniture.  I imagined who lived in the houses, what their rooms looked like, how they decorated their homes...
As I return year after year, I tend to feel the spirits strongly attached to their homes, long after so many of the structures have at last disappeared.
Ye Waverly Inn, Greenwich Village, NYC.
Having grown up in New York's Greenwich Village, my family dined many times at the historic Ye Waverly Inn, located on the corner of Bank Street and Waverly Place.  It was a favorite place to go when my grandmother came to town and took us all out to dinner. She favored American food and I remembered that their specialty was chicken potpie, which she always loved to order.  I continued to frequent the restaurant well into adulthood and went back fairly recently for a drink at the bar. It had been newly renovated and really looked lovely.  But I miss the the musty old place with splintered benches we once sat in for our quiet dinners by the fireplace. I understand it is now uber-trendy. Reputed to be one of New York City's most haunted places, I wonder if there is indeed any room for the spirits of the paranormal variety with the current influx of "A-list" celebs? There goes the fourth dimension...
Ansonia Hotel, NYC.
Ansonia Hotel, NYC.
At first glance you might think this building is in Paris, but it is in fact the Ansonia Hotel in New York City's Upper West side.  To me, it is one of the grandest, most dominating structures in the city. All my life I have felt not only in awe of the magnificent Beaux-Arts architectural masterpiece, but also, felt a bit of fear and intimidation whenever nearby.  My heart would actually start to beat, faster. Well, maybe I need some past-life therapy to look into the fear factor, but it is safe to say it is one of my most favorite buildings in the city.
Before it became a luxury apartment building, it was built as a residential hotel. A little known fact is that it was also intended as the original "green hotel" in that the architect envisioned a self-sufficient structure boasting the only known rooftop farm.  Many luminaries stayed and lived in the hotel, including Babe Ruth, Theodore Dreiser and Igor Stravinsky.
I had a personal relationship with the hotel; I attended many dance auditions back in the day when the building was somewhat rundown and renting out studio spaces. Thankfully, the plan to demolish the building (a popular thing to do in the 1960s and 1970s) was fought-off and the hotel became a landmark in 1980.

St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans, LA.

Ladies decorating a grave in St. Louis Cemetery in 1900.
'Je suis la papesse de voudoun' ~ Marie Leveau, a permanent resident of the St. Louis Cemetery ('I am the pope of Voodoo' in Creole)

The Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana, is the name of three Catholic cemeteries, the earliest of which was opened in the late 1700s.  They are exquisitely architected above-ground cemeteries designed in the European tradition.  One of the reasons I find above-ground cemeteries so fascinating is because they resemble small cities.  I remember being in New Orleans during the Jazz Festival and could only view the moonlit tops of the mausoleums behind stone walls.  New Orleans is a city that can safely be described as one of the most haunted in the U.S.  I had the pleasure of visiting three times, but the St. Louis cemetery only once, due to the fact that cemeteries are closed during festivals such as Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival.  It's best to go during a quieter season if you want to partake of the ultimate haunted experience in New Orleans.

Anne Frank House in  Amsterdam, Holland.
 “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” ― Anne Frank

The house where Anne Frank spent several years in hiding may be haunted with her spirit but not as a spirit in unrest, despite the horrendous eventual cause of her death. This catacomb of both hope and despair where she spent the bulk of her teenage years, fostered an illumination of thought virtually unmatched today.  She was basically a prisoner in her own home long before her family was sent to the camps. Like a prisoner in a jail cell, she suffered very little privacy (more than devastating to a teenage girl) and was only able to look out from the darkness into the light of the bustling world outside. No longer did she have the luxury to enjoy the gift of everday life.  Yet, she was so evolved that she was able to not only record her daily thoughts and grievances but to also move ahead of them: she found a light which included a deep understanding and love for all of humanity, despite what some of humanity was capable of at the time.

Bosque Energetico, Miramar, Argentina.
Photo by Dominique S. Williams
The Bosque Energetico is an energy forest located in Miramar, Argentina. Although I can't say that I had a life- changing experience, I did witness some unusual instances within this small forest along Miramar's coastal road.  There is a definite energy there as we, on numerous occasions witnessed twigs and branches of all sizes and weights level out right before our eyes when placed on the tips of pointed tree knots. The energy was so blatant, it was almost visible to the naked eye.  I did also feel a certain sense of calm and serenity within the forest but it is a forest and trees are good for grounding ourselves--it never hurts to hug a tree especially if it contains paranormal energy.  If you are ever in the area, check it out--it's worth the trip, and not far from a spectacular beach.

The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy.
I would be remiss if I were to not include the city of Venice, Italy in my list; one of the most magical and haunted cities I have ever visited. Sorry, Disneyland, I have no interest in visiting you, for this is the real magic kingdom. Hey, Venice survived plagues and occupations, Casanova and floods. What's not to love about the ghostly residue of this truly gorgeous city? It was even so beloved and revered that it avoided being bombed by enemy forces during World War II.

I would love to hear your feedback as well as your own favorite haunted spots! 

"It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Conversation pieces

Sometimes we talk a lot and say nothing and we write a lot and say nothing, but it sure looks pretty on fabric:

Fauteuil from Cote France

Several thousand years ago, writing was invented as an alternate means of communication to oral and illustrative forms traditionally used in historical documentation.  The invention of writing implemented the typographic use of symbols and signs in order to translate language two-dimensionally. Without going into depth about the evolution of the use of the written word since the high times of Mesopotamia, it is safe to say that we have repeatedly enjoyed it's use in art and interior decoration over the subsequent centuries:

The writing is on the wall: This fabric can be used to upholster furniture, as a window treatment or  wallcovering:

Document brown design fabric

             Shades of the past:

Shaker rug
Empire lampshade

 The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~Ana├»s Nin
bonjour bon nuit burlap pillow
Conversation rug


There seems to be something inherently comforting about being surrounded by visual conversational companions in the form script writing on the wall and on fabric and alphabetic characters on furniture and accessories. They are inanimate, they do not communicate audibly, they seem in fact, nonsensical. But is that really true? They do not seem to make a statement in the obvious sense but perhaps in a far more abstract one. What was formerly invented for the sole purpose of communication now finds itself regenerated as tangible poetic residue, ever reminding us of our important connection to one another. And though nothing replaces human companionship, the evidence of one of man's most important visual inventions created from the mysterious vault that we call the mind, breaks down the walls of cosmic dimensions.                                                                           

                                                        Talk to me:


Vintage container for metal parts, $165

Be obscure clearly. ~E.B. White

 The famous Belgian surrealist artist, Rene Magritte, used the written word in many of his artworks in order to impress a philosophical statement that what one might perceive to be real, was in fact not. This was a familiar theme in the philosophy of surrealism.  His famous paradoxical series: "Ceci n'est pas", used the written word as art in order to impress upon the viewer that what was thought to be a recognizable object in the painting was not really what it seemed to be, but in fact, a mystery that might never be solved.  In this case, the written word is used as a vehicle not to label or record what it is, but what it is not:     

Signs of the times: Ce n'est pas un signe.  (This is not a sign.)  
Signage, once created solely for identification, as a warning or for directional purposes, have in present times experienced a morphism into unique forms of decoration in many homes and commercial institutions. Ordinary objects now became artistic statements, a classic surrealist concept.  These ghostly apparitions of their former occupations now act as poignant reminders of the paradox of existence and non-existence.  
                                                                                                  Coming or going?

Enter-Exit Welcome Mat, $19


Ok sign, $2,400
Vintage bus destination map, $1,800

This just about says it all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Mansarded Italianate in Maine

The United States Customs House

I have spent almost every summer of my life in Maine and a good portion of it in the city of Portland where incidentally, I was born. After my parents retired and and moved up there from New York City in 1990, I have since enjoyed every season up there and to this day, it remains to be one of my all-time favorite cities. From the time of my childhood up until now, Portland saw a tremendous evolution in it's massive renovation from being a virtual ghost town back in the 1970's (which purely for romantic reasons, I confess to missing) to a bustling tourist and cruise ship destination which, according to a New York Times article written a few years ago, boasts the highest amount of restaurants per capita in the United States. The restaurants are good, too.

Portland, Maine once enjoyed the status of being one of  the most important seaports in the country with a rapidly growing customs business in the 1800's. After a massive fire destroyed most of it's commercial buildings in 1866, the city was rebuilt. 

A city rife with mostly Victorian style structures, it hosts an amalgam of many different revival styles conducive to the architectural era. The Customs House is one such prominent example. The Italianate style building that still stands today near the city's waterfront was completed in 1872 under the architectural supervision of Alfred B. Mullett.

Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, Italy
The Italianate style derived from the Renaissance Italian palazzos and was one of the most popular revival styles in the Victorian Era from the mid to late 1880's. The buildings were boxy in shape but had a more open and airy feel as well as less symetrically rigid design than the Greek Revival style. Most notable architectural details included the use of wide cornices, doors and windows with overhangs with the wide use of ornamental brackets underneath them. The building is dominated by rounded windows which are framed with attached doric columns and a balustrade surrounds the entire building.

The Neo-Baroque and Second Empire style became a popular architectural vogue in the United states in the 1870's and was heavily influenced by the fanciful architecture built under Napoleon III in the 1850's and 1860's in France. One of the most prominent characteristics included the element of the Mansard roof which is a steeply sloping roof shingled with slate as seen on the cupolas on the Customs House. Mansarded roofs became highly popular in both Europe and the United States after the construction of the Musee de Louvre in Paris and were designed to functionally create more interior space than traditional sloping roofs.

Mansard roof on the Louvre Museum
The Mansarded roof has always held a deep fascination for me as it strikes me as a mysteriously handsome design, yet also an elegantly disfigured and spooky one. The evolution of this roof style  historically traces back to the Gothic era. Today, we think of it as the archetypal element for haunted mansions infamously portrayed in such scary movies such as in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" and the majestically decaying abode that houses the twistedly wholesome Addams Family, one of my all time favorite cartoons created by the inimitable Charles Addams. Perhaps this is one reason it holds such a ghostly allure for me, but as an architectural enthusiast, the real-life counterparts are always a joy to behold.

Restoration of the building was begun in 1998 and it is listed in the National Registor of Historic Places. It has maintained most of it's architectural integrity due to very little changes made to it.

312 Fore Street, Portland, Maine.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I was looking at a design trend report today when I happened upon this um...chair from a well-known modern furniture company and felt compelled to feature it on my latest design post. The identity of the company and the designer shall remain nameless of course, but I do want to thank them for providing me with yet more comedic material.

You could look at this as a Rorschach test: for instance, to me, it looks like someone went out and shot the Michelin Tire Man, quilted him and then recycled him into a "cozy armchair suitable for any space". OK, that might be an extreme interpretation, but extremely tacky furniture is bound to foster some modicum of emotional imbalance. 

Going forward, I feel inspired to do a regular post on what not to furnish your space with. Perhaps I could call it: "The latest abomination of the week"? "Furniture from Hell"?  or, "Why oh why was this not on the Titanic"? 
Hey, this reminds me of the classic "Puffy Shirt" episode on Seinfeld.
OK, I'll stop. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Orange Crush

It's official: Orange is the new black!

PANTONE, the world's most renowned authority on color, named "Tangerine Tango" the color for 2012. These days, the bold reddish-orange hue is found worn on clothing, lips and nails and used in interior design to make a unique design statement.

Hand-blown confetti glass, set of 4, $34
Ottoman cube covered in vinyl fabric.

Color trend decisions are not random: there is always a method to  such choices and timing. Orange is a bright, warm and exotic hue. Countries known for embracing and encorporating bright, warm colors such as those in Central and South America have become popular destinations for many Europeans and Americans. Argentina is one such example. For the last several years it has been saturated with tourism, not only due to the strength of  the monetary exchange but also due to the enticing blend of both ethnic and European architectural and interior styles. Additionally, tango dancing has become a craze all over the world, and I am personally jonesin' to take a few classes myself!

Orangentinian tango (ouch...I know).

Orange colored wallpaper
Orange, a color traditionally used in signage and advertising, by it's sheer brilliance, commands attention. Psychologically it is a color associated with self-confidence, cheeriness, warmth and flamboyancy. These are traits much needed these days as our forlorn global economy has reaked emotional havoc on our collective psyches. Whether you are a fan of bright orange or of the more subdued variety, there is an orange out there for everyone and it blends and complements others very well. 
Oushak Carpet

Catch episodes of "Mad Men" on AMC
Immensely popular TV shows such as "Mad Men" which premiered in 2007, have catapulted the world into a renewed love of 1960's style. Items with bold patterns and coloring typical of the mid-century fashion and "Mad Men chic" have flown off of the retail shelves in the last few years. It is no surprise that a hue such as "Tango Orange" would have eventually found it's debut as color of the year.
Tangerine colored telephone

Shag rug.
Murano glass orange chandelier
Chair, sample sale: $1,950

Beaded Moroccan Mirror, $100

Antique Amalero Pots
This wall color would make a bold
statement in an entranceway, small
room or on one wall!

House in the Czech Republic
Why shouldn't orange animals be in vogue too?
To help save the orangutans, go to