this week in goodbye

Two more goodbye dinners this week.

First, dinner with my very close friend AWE; along with my friend NN who I mentioned earlier, these are my closest female friends.

I see AWE more than any other friend because we live in the same neighborhood and often meet for dinner. In New York City, that is a rare and wonderful treat, and we have really cherished it. But my friendship with AWE far pre-dates both our moves to Upper Manhattan. We've been through more than 20 years of life together, including a relationship with the same man. (Who has since died!)

Saying goodbye to AWE would totally floor me, if it were not for the fact that she is leaving New York City at the exact same time. In many ways, her move from NYC to L.A. will be as great a change as our move to Canada.

And last night we had dinner with our great friends Alan and Fred. (Alan is a loyal wmtc reader, who I sometimes refer to as Alan With One L or Alan The Handheld Evangelist.) I remember hanging out with A&F before they moved to London. Now they are in NYC and we're the ones taking off. I have no doubt our excellent friendship will continue beyond this move and others yet unplanned.

Although based on our conversation last night, we're all expecting flat-out fascism in the US and the UK, so perhaps we'll be neighbors again in Canada, sooner than we imagine.

* * * *

I was supposed to have another tourism report for you this week, but the City has nixed that.

A few years ago, the City of New York renovated the infamous Tweed Courthouse Building, restoring it to its former splendor. You've probably heard of Tammany Hall, the incredibly corrupt machine that ran New York City like an organized crime racket, under the monarchy of William Marcy "Boss" Tweed. The construction of the Courthouse - massive delays, budgets beyond budgets, kickbacks and greed that were shocking even for an administration whose name was synonymous with kickbacks and greed - became a symbol of Tammany corruption. There's a pretty good capsule history of Tweed and the Courthouse here.

Since its completion in the 1870s, the Tweed Courthouse had been standing around getting grimier and more dilapidated. (It wasn't used as a courthouse, just a government office building.) In 1999, the building was renovated and restored to the tune of $85 million. Several non-profits bid for the space, and it was finally promised to the Museum of the City of New York. This was an inspired choice. El Museo del Barrio was slated to move into the MCNY space, and everyone was very happy.

Enter Michael Bloomberg. After being elected mayor, Bloomberg decided the re-named Department of Education would move into the Tweed Building. This would supposedly lend the moribund, useless, corrupt, incompetent Board of Education some class, which supposedly would make it more effective. Uh-huh.

The decision sent shockwaves through the museum and preservation communities, as well as the tourist industry: as city offices, the Tweed Building would now be closed to the public. Two years and $85 million worth of renovations, and no one would ever see it.

After a public outcry, the city relented. Supposedly. You want public access? We'll give you public access. To tour the Tweed Building, you must plan weeks in advance, call a special phone number, wait for a return call, get security clearance and a special reservation, and you must be available whenever you are told the tour is running.

A Tweed Building security guard told me that tours are given every Friday at 2:30 p.m., and to call for a reservation. I can't think of a less convenient time to be in the City Hall area. But I love architecture, and I love New York City history, and I was determined to see this damn building.

So today was slated as Tweed Courthouse Tour Day, and I thought I'd see a few other sites in Lower Manhattan while I was there, such as the Irish Hunger Memorial. Wrong! "I'm sorry, we no longer have tours on Friday afternoon. You can take a tour at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, August 23, or else on September 2..." In other words, when I'm packing, or when I'm living in Canada.

It's obvious that the mayor's office was determined to keep this building closed to the public. Because the renovation was publicly financed, they were forced to allow some public access. So they allow it in principle, but make it as inaccessible as possible, thereby discouraging most visitors.


More photos of the renovated Tweed Building. For more information on the Irish Hunger Memorial, here is another good photo in context, and a poorly designed website with good information is here).


James Redekop said...

Tammany Hall also gave its name to the character Tammany Tiger from Pogo. Tammany Tiger helped run Pogo's incompetent presidential campaigns (which Pogo himself usually tried his best to avoid).

Does New York City have a "Doors Open" program? In Toronto there's an annual Doors Open event in which various prominent buildings throw their doors open for free public tours. Not only the usual touristy things like Casa Loma (which is always open to the public) but more obscure buildings, like the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant (which was Elsinore Brewery in the movie "Strange Brew"). Here's the start of a list of the buildings that will be open next year (10 per page, 140 in all).

laura k said...

Here's the start of a list of the buildings that will be open next year (10 per page, 140 in all).

Thanks for telling me about this! I'll be very interested in particpating. I love stuff like this.

Does New York City have a "Doors Open" program?

NYC isn't big on city-wide programs. In general there are public tours of many interesting buildings, but they're all run individually. Many neighborhoods have "open house" days. Two notable ones are the Harlem Brownstone tour and the Park Slope (Brooklyn) House Tour. I can't get links right now, but I'm sure there's info online about these and others.

James Redekop said...

The "Doors Open" program has been a huge success here, and it's starting to spread. Ottawa has one now, for example. Unfortunately, there are far too many buildings to see in a weekend, but there are always plenty to keep one busy.