Panorama Part 1: New York Paleotectonic
What excites me most about the Queens Museum of Art's "Panorama of the City of New York" is that it is an exact replica of the city as it was in 1992. As buildings have fallen and risen, the Panorama has stayed the same. It's the city I fell in love with and it's the city I miss. But that's changing now.
As the Times recently reported, the museum is raising much-needed funds by offering real estate on the Panorama. You can adopt buildings and other structures, thereby making a donation toward maintenance of the Panorama--and its next renovation.
Wanna buy the Brooklyn Bridge? Now you can.
David Strauss & "New York Paleotectonic"
Ever since I first visited it, I've dreamed about seeing the Panorama up close and behind the scenes. The Adopt-a-Building program gave me the excuse I needed and I finally got my chance. It was, in a sense, a chance to say goodbye to the lost city.
David Strauss, director of the museum's external affairs, was my generous and gracious guide. First, in the administrative offices, he showed me something I'd long imagined: The final resting place where removed Panorama pieces are interred. I'd pictured a wooden case, the buildings arranged like trophies on the shelves, but the truth is very different.
Pieces removed in the 1992 update--lost warehouses, single-family homes, tenements, piers, and ships--are arranged behind Plexiglas in a piece of art entitled "New York Paleotectonic, 1964-95" by Richard Plunz and members of his design studio.
"New York Paleotectonic"
The pieces are arranged like strata beneath the earth, with houses up top and waterfront elements on the bottom left.
In an essay you can read here, Plunz and his team write about the art project and its rationale. They critique the Panorama's creator, Robert Moses: "His panorama of New York City is more than a historical monument to his megalomania. Now its revision records the final consequences of the Moses vision for our nation's metropolis. The geology of the panorama's deconstruction indicates just how much was lost."
close-up of the lost pieces
It was a thrill to look at the Panorama buildings up close. In the jumble of vanished New York, you can see U-shaped buildings jigsaw-cut from wood and hand-stenciled with tiny windows. There are odd churches. A handful of water towers. Tenements made of wooden slivers glued together like finger sandwiches.
building with water tower & neighboring tenements
People lived here. Worked here. They bathed in water from those towers. They labored on those piers, or typed countless letters behind the office windows. They kissed on the rooftops. Played music on the rooftops. Sometimes, they jumped off.
Here is the lost riverfront. As the creators describe it in their essay, "first the ships stopped coming, having new destinies which are the container ports of urban peripheries. Then the piers disappeared, slowly eroding, collapsing, burning."
ships, warehouses, & piers of the vanished ports
I asked David where will the lost city of today be stored? He's not sure. So far, only one structure has been recently removed: Shea Stadium has been replaced by Citi-Field. So, while the old ballpark is a pile of rubble, in the museum its miniature is currently being prepared for a special place among the World's Fair artifacts.
Adopt-a-Building is the first phase of the Panorama's "once-a-generation renovation," David told me. So far the responses have been strong. People from all over the world want a piece of the city. In exchange for adopting, you get a deed with your name on it and the address of your building. It may be the only way many of us buy real estate here.
As for the Brooklyn Bridge, it'll cost you $10,000. Not a bad deal. And saving the Panorama--even with its inevitable changes--is a good cause. Click here for info on making an adoption.
Next! Panorama Part 2--Brooklyn in a Book
Followed by! Panorama Part 3--A Walk Up the East River