It was warm on Friday - almost the middle-upper 40s - and I took a brief walk to shake the cobwebs and get out and see things. Sometimes you see things that aren't there anymore. There's the blank wall that used to have seven swank red letters spellings BUSTERS, a bar built into a forbidding parking lot; gone more years than it ever existed, but I still see the letters, if only because they're not there. At the corner of Nicollet and 6th I saw another attempt to lipstick the pig, as they knock out a wall in the City Center to admit light into that godless bunker.
The interior of the structure is quite nice, because sane people with skill and a sense of what human beings prefer opened it up and brightened it up and did away with the brown beige puce that infected the original structure, but until they do something about the entire facade it will always be the event horizon of an aesthetic black hole.
Looked at the construction on the Nicollet Mall, which is being ripped up and redone. Decided not to check out the hotel on Hennepin, because the whole thing's covered in white plastic and there's no point, and even if it wasn't the building is nothing spectacular. Turned the corner, noticed the way the Opus towers curve together, thought (again): our Starritt-Lehigh. That was one of the most influential buildings of the early 30s, a sign of a new rational future that would be awesome of everything hadn't been in the crapper. It must have been frustrating as hell to be a forward-thinking architect at the time, with all these new ideas capable of shaping a rational future, but no money. All those unshaped people out there, walking in and out of buildings that suggested a bygone consciousness! Gah!
I don't love the intentions behind some of the styles, but I love the 30s buildings beyond measure - like the RCA building, for example.
Consider the enormous disconnect between these buildings, and the world in which they were set. I did a blog post on this at the workblog a while ago, because Pee Wee Herman had given an interview at the Walgreens at the corner of Sunset and Vine, the intersection where the NBC building stood. IIn 1931, nothing in the vicinity looked as modern as this. Nothing could. So you had this bright technological future appearing like an iceberg floating out of the fog, and around it was tired brick with a few historical pastiche-details. Here's the future, citizen-units! But the future was stalled; the economy had crashed, the engine had sputtered, and clumsy hands were under the hood trying to rewire it all without realizing quite what they were doing. The very idea these buildings embodied - the bright, rational, technocratic future - were the very ideas that kept it from happening, because the technocrats were busy trying to reshape the economy instead of let it work.
So these buildings looked like a pilot for a show that didn't get picked up.
Anyway: I walked around because it was warm, which is what we do. When it's not we take the skyways, and the New Urbanists hate the skyways because they prevent people from going outside and making the streets Vibrant. Never mind that the second level of the city is Vibrant; it's the wrong kind of vibrancy.
The view from my office gives you an idea of the extent of the system.
We're glad its there when it's cold. We're glad the system's there when it's raining. This was the actual urban future they didn't really see coming, and it's all piecemeal and individualistic. There are no WALK / DON'T WALK lights. There are different piazzas in every office building. It's never the same place twice, just like the streets - because of the people who use it.
But like I said, it was warm, and I walked along the streets, and thought the usual things. Including "damn, my knee is killing me." I wish it wasn't. It really is. But that's not what I thought about when I remembered the walk. Isn't that odd? Not the pain or the worry, but the hole knocked in the side of an ugly structure.
BTW: The NBC building was demolished in 1964, and I believe a Chase bank went up on the site. A dull, miserable 1964 building. More on that here.
For our above-the-fold feature this week and next, a trip to my favorite museum / antique store . . .
You never see old restaurant equipment. Not so much as a coffee pot or the handle of a milk dispenser. Yet somehow this survived:
It's not exactly streamlined or graphically compelling, but that was the early-60s style. I don't know who would buy it, except for someone who dresses movie sets.
The program was presented from a child's point of view. A 1953 magazine article reported, "Low-angled cameras see everything at Lilliputian eye-level, stories and activities are paced at the slow rate just right for small ears and hands."
A precursor to both Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the show was hosted live by Frances Horwich (aka "Miss Frances"), and at one point was the most popular TV series aimed at preschoolers.
Horwich resigned from NBC in protest of the commercialism of children's education. She refused to advertise products a child could not use or that appeared to glorify violence.
But in late 1955, a New York Times columnist, Jack Gould, cautioned Horwich over the use of a commercial for vitamins, implying that she inadvertently had encouraged children to swallow all pills that they found pleasing to look at: She "demonstrated how pretty the red pills were and how easy to swallow they were. 'To put it as mildly as possible, Dr. Horwich has gone a step too far in letting a commercial consideration jeopardize her responsibility to the young children whose faith and trust she solicits.'"
Swallow ALL the pills!
From tremendous talent comes . . .
. . . a geniune dud. It's directed by Fritz Lang, for crying out loud. And it has this fellow:
He was in his odd "weak, small man of an intellectual bent" phase, and while he was good at it, we'd really prefer him to shoot something. Or at least be hard and cynical, with a heart of gold.
His wife and daughter are away for the weekend, so he goes to The Club to sit in big chairs and wax philosophical. He makes an argument for men after 40 not consigning themselves to a withering decline, and you can tell by the book he takes off the shelf for bedtime reading that he is as het up and rarin' to go as possible.
What will cause his downfall? PORN:
A picture he can't stop visiting
To his amazement, the model appears right on the street. She asks him to have a drink, of course, because a stodgy stumpy college professor who's 15 years her senior is the most alluring thing imaginable. Also, he's probably a soft touch. She invites him up to see her etchings, and he goes with reluctance. After all, his prematurely sexless wife and their two small children just left on a vacation that morning, and here he is in another woman's apartment.
They have a civilized conversation, but unfortunately her boyfriend shows up, and starts beating everyone up. The poor college professor has no choice but to take the scissors offered by the woman, and stab the man in the back. So this evening hasn't gone as planned.
What to do now? Professor McGlands decides to dump the body way out of town, and they'll never see each other, and that's that.
A long body disposal sequence follows, and it's not very suspenseful. One of the Professor's friends is a policeman, of course, and he's involved in solving this murder, of course, and the Professor tags along to the crime scenes, of course. The entire movie sleepwalks. Then it threatens to come to life, when a newsreel Boy Scout discovers the body:
A rare bit of amusement, played for laughs, but by now the audience is so deep in REM sleep they may not have noticed.
Then the Very Bad Man shows up.
It's Dan Duryea, great actor of slimy, insinuating, seductive, violent, men in straw boaters. When he walks into a movie everything gets cold and jangly.