National Geographic : 2015 Dec
92 national geographic • December 2015 have even announced plans to build “the Empire State Building of Brooklyn.” The consoling won- ders of the unlimited Brooklyn sky are vanishing, visible now only from those remote upper floors. So, yes, to some extent this is a lament written by another old guy fighting off the longing for a lost past. As I move through the once familiar areas of today’s big town, pausing the way I did in the past, too often I see people who are now long gone. Too many friends. A few lovers. How many times did I start a day with lunch at the Carnegie Deli? The table packed with friends, the talk a kind of chorus line, the laughter a torrent. Afterward, we would stroll along 57th Street, savoring the drama of the human show. Now it’s called Billionaires’ Row. Back then, it was just another neighborhood. Over there stood a hotel, the Drake, where I once spent two hours at the bar with a mob wise guy who made me laugh out loud. Down- town a ways, at the Hotel Wentworth, lived a press agent who knew Damon Runyon and got me to read him more carefully. Down that block was the state boxing commission, where I cov- ered weigh-ins while the regular boxing writer was on summer vacation. Over there was ... The new buildings replacing the old and fa- miliar are rising as many as 90 stories into the New York air, gnawing at the sky as if famished. The entire island of Manhattan, from Inwood at the top to the Battery on the south end, seems to be glistening with new buildings, their glass facades blinding us all on sunny days. In these supertall buildings, the owners are mostly the super-rich—often part of the global elite from China, Mexico, Brazil, Russia—and they don’t choose to reveal their identities, us- ing perfectly legal dodges to do so. Perhaps the most extreme example, on Billionaires’ Row, is 432 Park Avenue, 1,396 feet tall and 88 floors. It lords over its neighbors, looking for all the world as if it’s giving the finger to my city. Even classic older buildings are caught in the swift tides of time, modernized into luxury resi- dences. One of these is the splendid Woolworth Building, completed in 1913, briefly the tallest in New York. Its majestic presence still reigns over downtown, even though dwarfed by its newer neighbors. The Woolworth, you see, has been enriched by time. As a young man just out of the Navy in the 1950s, I worked at 120 Broadway, a three- minute stroll from Trinity Church, the tallest structure in New York until 1890. At lunchtime in good weather, I loved walking uptown a few blocks to City Hall Park, finding an empty iron bench, or the lip of a dry fountain, and staring up at the neo- Gothic ornamentation on the fa- cade of the Woolworth Building. I would imag- ine the superb European craftsmen working to make the walls speak. Hearing them speak to each other too, in musical streams of vowels. Rumor has it that the 8,975-square-foot pent- house in the pinnacle of the 57-story Woolworth tower will cost a buyer $110 million. Once, for that price, you could’ve bought my entire Visitors to the new Whitney Museum of American Art, designed by noted Italian architect Renzo Piano, explore its rooftop terraces, one featuring an art installa tion with brightly colored chairs. The 85yearold museum moved from tony Madison Avenue to the hipper Chelsea area, reflecting the city’s shift from a bastion of old money to a playground for new money.