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Detailing Manhattan: Christopher Gray’s Legacy – David Brussat




by David Brussat, Architecture Here and There, contributing writer

Photo: This building is reprinted on the promotional material for next Thursday’s lecture. (OMH)

Christopher Gray was my favorite Timesman, which is news speak for reporter at the New York Times. (I’ll admit, that’s a low bar, these days at least.) I didn’t read him often because I don’t get the Times, but when I did come across his work, he always covered a building like white on rice – a simile I don’t quite understand, but let it go. Gray would dig into the History of a building such as the one illustrated above and tell us its History of ownership, when and for what purposes it was built, who had purchased it over the years, and what its current status was – newly renovated or newly demolished. These sound like relatively boring tidbits for all but the most die-hard buildingologist, but Gray would always manage to infuse them with meaning and delight.

Alas, Gray passed away on March 10, 2017, and has been sorely missed ever since.

The organization concerned with preserving Manhattan’s Upper West Side, LandmarkWest!, will host, next Thursday at 7 p.m., a Zoom lecture by Sam Hightower, current director of Gray’s library of building History, the Office for Metropolitan History. (Click on link to reserve your $6 ticket.) OMH sounds a little bit too much, for my taste, like OMA – the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, founded by the übermodernist architect Rem Koolhaas – but let that pass as well.

Andra Moss, who wrote the press material for the upcoming lecture, reveals that Gray has been replaced in writing Gray’s column at the Times by John Freeman Gill. I will have to check that out. Online. (Any relation to The New Yorker’s famous writer Brendan Gill?)

Hightower plans to take attendees through the OMH collection compiled by Gray during his 28 years writing the “Streetscapes” column in the real-estate section of the Times. He will “shed light on the research methods undergirding [Gray’s] work, highlight gems in the OMH’s private archive, and discuss the never-ending evolution of New York City’s built environment.” It seems that Gray was let go by the Gray Lady (no relation, and it would not apply anymore, anyway) in December 2014, about three months after I was let go by the Providence Journal. But let that go, so to speak, as well.

I wonder whether Hightower plans to refer to the “never-ending evolution” of the city as a devolution, indeed as a degeneration. A tedious gray box by OMA would fit in well on the streetscapes of today’s Manhattan. It is important to keep in mind that today’s city retains more, many more, than a handful of beautiful buildings of great historical significance. Too bad so many have been lost, and that those that remain are so regrettably swamped by stuff of much poorer quality.

So: 7 p.m. next Thursday evening (Office for Metropolitan History). Be there or be a glass box.


To read other articles by David Brussat:

My freelance writing and editing on architecture and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat, Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, [email protected], or call (401) 351-0451.

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