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The Battle of Trenton reenactment 1

Battle of Trenton: The Revolution Will Not Be Reenacted

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A spontaneous Saturday train ride to Trenton had us wandering its empty downtown, engaging in real estate fantasies (entire townhomes for sale for about a years worth of NYC rent! entire office buildings to lease for a song!) and wondering what this eerily quiet place was like during the week when the loud crack of gunshots drew our attention: finally, here were some people!

The Battle of Trenton reenactment 1Armed with muskets and a cannon, volunteer actors in revolutionary costumes were playing “The Battle of Trenton” with live black powder explosions, moving the skirmish line past the nail salon and deli in a loosely choreographed routine of loading, firing, walking down the street.

The Battle of Trenton reenactment 2On the high ground between an apartment complex and the bank parking lot, the actors had placed a loud cannon lobbing smoke, flame & sound north over the Assunpink Creek, not far from their out-of-state cars.

The Battle of Trenton reenactment 3It was a terrific spectacle, but as we walked the abandoned streets back to the train station, past the forlorn Mercer Cemetery, we were struck by an unsettling statistic: more people were murdered in the city last year (at a rate over 3x that of NYC) than were killed in the whole Battle of Trenton.

It made us wonder what downtown Trenton’s residents thought of this day of gunfire, and whether their daily battles would ever be reenacted…

The cast & audience of a Brooklyn Middle School's Nutcracker performance

MS Nutcracker: NYC Happy Holidays

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The cast & audience of a Brooklyn Middle School's Nutcracker performanceThe cast & audience of a Brooklyn Middle School’s Nutcracker performance

A middle school auditorium packed to the gills with young performers and their fans, the building a well-seasoned & comfortable 60-year old vessel, standing between us and a freezing season to give everyone’s mind the freedom to be focused on the spectacle of light & music itself – there are few higher purposes to Architecture. Here’s to a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2014.

Cast Iron Loft Deconstruction An orange wall hidden for decades

Abstract Expression: Deconstruction in a Cast Iron Loft

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Cast Iron Loft Deconstruction An orange wall hidden for decadesAn orange wall hidden for decades.

Cast Iron Loft Deconstruction Glimpses of Malevich in a purple and black ceilingGlimpses of Malevich in a purple and black ceiling.

Cast Iron Loft Deconstruction utilitarian load-bearing arch of the 19th Century peeks from behind the horsehair plasterA utilitarian load-bearing arch of the 19th Century peeks from behind the horsehair plaster.

1965 (PH-578) by Clyfford Still; the abstract expression of deconstruction...1965 (PH-578) by Clyfford Still; the abstract expression of deconstruction…

There are inspirational moments in the renovation of a space when the building reveals its history and secrets in a way that gives fresh thoughts to the eye and imagination – removing the accretion of recent decades to expose matter placed by hand a century ago, a picturesque of color and gesture neatly captured by the great Abstract Expressionist painters of the 1950s and 60s; how long ago that moment seems now…

Civic Virtue in its new setting at The Green-Wood Cemetery, October 2013; the original fountain base, as designed by architect Thomas Hastings, remains in Queens

Civic Virtue: Fountain as Social Movement

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In connection with the recent completion of our design for the new setting of Frederick MacMonnies’ controversial statue Civic Virtue as relocated to & restored by the Green-Wood Cemetery (marble restoration by Kreilick Conservation) from its forlorn condition in Queens, we learned a fascinating 19th century social movement: Temperance Fountains.

Civic Virtue in its new setting at The Green-Wood Cemetery, October 2013; the original fountain base, as designed by architect Thomas Hastings, remains in QueensCivic Virtue in its new setting at The Green-Wood Cemetery, October 2013; the original fountain base, as designed by architect Thomas Hastings, remains in Queens.

A neglected Civic Virtue atop its fountain base, Queens, October 2012A neglected Civic Virtue atop its fountain base, Queens, October 2012

Temperance Fountains were an ill-fated effort to persuade men against entering saloons by slaking their thirst with fresh water, deployed by the (sinisterly naive) 19th Century forces that grew after the Civil War to bring us the Prohibition of the 18th Amendment in 1919.

Temperance fountain in Tompkins Square Park, gift of Henry Cogswell to the Moderation Society in 1891, photo courtesy of Famous AnklesTemperance fountain in Tompkins Square Park, gift of Henry Cogswell to the Moderation Society in 1891, photo courtesy of Famous Ankles.

Angelina Crane, the posthumous patron of Civic Virtue, willed upon her death in 1891 the enormous sum of $50,000 ($1.3m in today’s dollars) to NYC for the erection of a “drinking fountain”; for temperance or horses, is not clear.

Civic Virtue as originally installed at City Hall in the 1920s. Some drinking fountain: note the parched onlooker against the rail, both man & beast kept from slaking their thirst by fencing and lawn (photo courtesy Public Design Commission)Civic Virtue as originally installed at City Hall in the 1920s. Some drinking fountain: note the parched onlooker against the rail, both man & beast kept from slaking their thirst by fencing and lawn (photo courtesy Public Design Commission).

It took thirty years for her gift to be turned to marble by MacMonnies, and the result, an arrogant nude man standing amid the entanglements of sirens & pelagic creatures, is anything but temperate…

A horse drinks at a public fountain, the provision of which was the direct result of activism by Henry Bergh and the ASPCAA horse drinks at a public fountain, the provision of which was the direct result of activism by Henry Bergh and the ASPCA.

But it is critical to remember: the Temperance Movement, with all its faults, was enmeshed with a remarkable tide of mid to late 19th century American social emancipation efforts, including Abolition, Women’s Suffrage, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The legacy of these efforts grace our lives in untold ways, and despite its conflicted imagery, Civic Virtue stands as another physical totem of these remarkable movements that began in New York City, with something as simple as a drink of water.