Builders of 20th Century America Public Works
Recent Newspaper and Time Magazine Archive Compiliation of Views on Robert Moses
EMINENT DOMINION by PAUL GOLDBERGER Rethinking the legacy of Robert Moses.Issue of 2007-02-05
For a generation, the standard view of Robert Moses has been that he transformed New York but didn’t really make it better. This view was shaped by Robert Caro’s epic biography “The Power Broker”—published in 1974 and in print ever since. (Parts of it initially ran in this magazine.) Caro portrays Moses as a brilliant political operative who perpetuated his power by means of grand public works, filling the landscape with bridges and tunnels and parkways, heedless of people or neighborhoods that might get in the way of them. The notion of Moses as the evil genius of mid-twentieth-century urban design got a boost last spring in obituaries of and tributes to Jane Jacobs, a longtime antagonist, who was instrumental in defeating one of his most outrageously wrongheaded schemes, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have destroyed much of SoHo. Almost every article about Jacobs included a swipe at Moses, whose arrogance and lack of interest in the texture of the city seemed a harsh contrast to Jacobs’s love of neighborhoods, streets, and, by implication, people.
Jacobs’s book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” published in 1961, all but put an end to the idea that the way to improve old urban neighborhoods was to tear them down and replace them with towers and expressways. By the time Moses died, in 1981, his tendency to see public works as a form of machismo had fallen almost entirely out of fashion. Whereas he celebrated big things and his ability to build them, Jacobs changed the way people thought about cities by teaching them to focus on little things.
Moses—who began his marathon career under Governor Al Smith, in the nineteen-twenties, and was forced from power by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1968—has been gone for more than a quarter of a century, and New York, which was decrepit and nearly bankrupt when Caro’s book appeared, is a different place. Moses is clearly due for a reëvaluation, and this week sees the opening of “Robert Moses and the Modern City,” a huge exhibition that surveys his impact on New York. Organized by Hilary Ballon, an architectural historian at Columbia, the exhibition extends over three institutions. The broadest installation, at the Museum of the City of New York, is called “Remaking the Metropolis,” and presents Moses’s highway system and the big institutions, like Lincoln Center and the United Nations, that he helped build. “The Road to Recreation,” at the Queens Museum of Art, documents Moses’s new parks, playgrounds, and swimming pools; and “Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution,” at Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery, shows his inventive mastery of the federal government’s Title I slum-clearance programs, and the results, both good and bad. Ballon and Kenneth Jackson, a prominent historian of New York based at Columbia, have put most of the visual material from the three exhibitions, along with several strong essays, into a forthcoming book, “Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York” (Norton; $50). The title is an obvious retort to Caro’s subtitle, “Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” and the book presents itself as a cautious corrective to Caro’s view.
Caro called Moses “ America’s greatest builder,” and perhaps the most distinctive service of the exhibition is to bring home the sheer scale of his achievement to a new audience. There are models of many Moses projects and exceptionally elegant color photographs, by Andrew Moore, showing the current state of those projects. The photographs are so beautiful that they make you yearn for a time when enhancing the public realm was a serious calling. Moses built the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Henry Hudson Bridge, the Southern and Northern State Parkways, the Grand Central Parkway, the Cross Island Parkway, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, the Throgs Neck Bridge, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Long Island Expressway, the Meadowbrook Parkway, and the Saw Mill River Parkway. He built Jones Beach State Park (an early masterwork), Orchard Beach, the Niagara and St. Lawrence power projects, the New York Coliseum, and the 1964 World’s Fair. By his own count, Moses added six hundred and fifty-eight playgrounds and seventeen public swimming pools to the New York City park system. In Central Park, he added the Conservatory Garden, the Great Lawn, and the Zoo. He played a major role in the creation of Shea Stadium, Stuyvesant Town, Lenox Terrace, Park West Village, Lincoln Towers, Kips Bay Plaza, Washington Square Village, and Co-op City. At one point, Moses held twelve New York City and New York State positions simultaneously. He served under seven governors and five mayors, and a popular joke had it that Moses wasn’t working for them so much as they were serving under Moses.
Even more significant, perhaps, than Moses’s productivity is the fact that he was one of the first people to look at New York City not as an isolated urban zone but as the central element in a sprawling region. In the early nineteen-thirties, he would charter small planes and fly back and forth across the metropolitan area to get a better sense of regional patterns. His vision of New York was of an integrated system with an urban center, a suburban ring, and a series of huge public recreational areas, all connected by parkways. Although the Regional Plan Association had proposed looking at the metropolitan area that way in 1929, Moses was the only public official who both grasped regionalism as a concept and had the ability to do something about it—which meant not only transcending local politics but also figuring out ways to pay for huge projects. He did this by establishing a series of public authorities, which allowed him to issue public bonds at favorable rates while leaving him with nearly as much autonomy as he would have had if he were running a private corporation. He moved among his various offices via a fleet of limousines—the highway-builder never learned to drive. His home base was in the headquarters of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, a small building on Randall’s Island, nestled under the Triborough Bridge, where he held court in lavish offices that were hidden from public view.
It is this image of Moses—unseen, omnipotent—that dominates Caro’s biography. Thirty years after its publication, the book remains remarkable both for its exhaustive research and for its almost Shakespearean scale and complexity. At the same time, it can be melodramatic (“He had learned the lesson of power. And now he grabbed for power with both hands”), and it sometimes underemphasizes the extent to which, extraordinary as he was, Moses was still a product of his time. Caro points out, for example, how many subway improvements could have been bought with the money Moses spent on highways, but in Moses’s day cities all over the country were building highways at the expense of mass transit, and New York was far from the worst. Some critics, like Jacobs and Lewis Mumford, were complaining that highways damaged urban neighborhoods, but most people didn’t see this until long after the damage had been done. Moses’s view of “urban renewal” was no different from that of officials elsewhere, and in some ways it was far more imaginative. Moses didn’t bring down New York, and he didn’t single-handedly sell its soul to the automobile. Indeed, New York probably comes closer to having a workable balance between cars and mass transit than any other city in the country.
One of Caro’s most damaging accusations is that Moses was motivated by racism both in his designs for certain projects and in his decisions about what neighborhoods would be given priority for new parks and pools. In an interview with Paul Windels, a colleague of Moses, Caro turns up the bizarre detail that Moses believed that black people preferred warm water and decided to use this supposed fact to deter them from using a particular pool in East Harlem: “While heating plants at the other swimming pools kept the water at a comfortable seventy degrees, at the Thomas Jefferson Pool, the water was left unheated.” The essays in the exhibition catalogue go into the issue of racism in some detail but do little to rebut Caro’s claims. They show a willingness to give Moses the benefit of the doubt, where doubt exists. The architectural historian Marta Gutman points out that the placement of swimming pools was in almost all cases determined by the location of existing city parks. She also confirms that the pool in East Harlem contained the same heating equipment as the others (although, of course, there is no proof that it was turned on). Kenneth Jackson makes a more general point: “The important questions, however, are not whether Moses was prejudiced—no doubt he was—but whether that prejudice was something upon which he acted frequently.” Jackson argues that Moses’s strong commitment to the creation of expansive public works more than compensated for his tendency to skimp on facilities for black neighborhoods. It’s also worth pointing out that, no matter what planners think or do, architecture is ultimately defined by patterns of use that emerge over generations; today, Moses’s pools, situated in multiethnic neighborhoods, serve entirely different communities from the ones he envisaged.
Whatever Moses’s racial views, the swimming pools he built were monuments that conferred grandeur, even nobility, on their neighborhoods, and they suggest that Moses believed that the public realm deserved only the best design. In the summer of 1936, he opened one swimming pool per week. Each was architecturally notable; each was different; and the biggest ones could hold thousands of people at a time. A few, like the Crotona Pool, in East Tremont, and the McCarren Pool, in Greenpoint, were masterworks of modernist public architecture. Gutman writes that Moses managed “to integrate monumental modern buildings into the fabric of everyday urban life,” and she persuasively asserts that the buildings were “unique in the United States during the New Deal.”
Oddly, for all that Caro tried to destroy the myths about Moses, he never challenged the biggest one of all—that of his omnipotence. Moses is portrayed as rarely losing a political battle, but in fact he lost quite a few. One of the most important was the struggle, in the early nineteen-fifties, to extend Fifth Avenue south through Washington Square, splitting the park in two. It was as indefensible as the Lower Manhattan Expressway plan, a few years later, and Moses’s inept handling of opposition to the Fifth Avenue plan from residents of Greenwich Village contributed directly to Jane Jacobs’s radicalization and, ultimately, to the growing interest in preserving urban neighborhoods. In 1958, in a speech titled “Washington Square and the Revolt of the Urbs,” the urban planner Charles Abrams said, “It is no surprise that, at long last, rebellion is brewing in America, that the American city is the battleground for the preservation of diversity, and that Greenwich Village should be its Bunker Hill. . . . In the battle of Washington Square, even Moses is yielding.” Lewis Mumford, writing in this magazine in 1959, described the fight to ban traffic from Washington Square as “a heartening sign of the way in which a stir of intelligence and feeling not only can rally far more support than one would expect . . . but can bring to a halt the seemingly irresistible force of a group of experts and ‘authorities.’ ” Caro barely mentions the battle over Washington Square. By contrast, he devotes three chapters to the saga of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, in which Moses trampled over the neighborhood opposition.
Caro enhances the sense of Moses’s power by minimizing the influence of less flamboyant players, such as Austin Tobin, the head of the Port Authority from 1942 to 1972. Tobin managed to wrestle control of the city airports from Moses, construct a container port, expand the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge, and to build the World Trade Center.
When Caro’s book was published, Jane Jacobs’s views were on the ascendant, and it seemed reasonable to connect the city’s troubles to Moses’s imperious way of doing things. But Moses’s surgery, while radical, may just possibly have saved New York. For every Moses project that ruined a neighborhood, as the Cross-Bronx Expressway did East Tremont, there are others, like the vast pool and play center in Astoria Park, Queens, or the Hamilton Fish Pool, on the Lower East Side, that became anchors of their neighborhoods and now are designated landmarks. Lincoln Center, whatever you may think of it, jump-started the revival of the Upper West Side; if Moses hadn’t pushed it through, there is little chance that the high-rise condominiums, multiplex theatres, restaurants, and stores that now fill the neighborhood could have sprung up when they did. We are lucky, of course, that Moses’s last big project, a bridge across the Long Island Sound connecting Rye and Oyster Bay, was defeated on environmental grounds, but it is difficult to imagine the New York region functioning without the Triborough Bridge or the Grand Central Parkway.
And Robert Moses got things done. In the age of citizen participation, this has become harder and harder. For more than five years, we have been fighting over what to do at Ground Zero, and the future of much of the sixteen-acre site is still unresolved. The idea of Moynihan Station—a conversion of the classical Farley Post Office, on Eighth Avenue, into an improved Penn Station—was first proposed a decade ago, and it still hasn’t happened. By contrast, Moses’s plan to cover miles of train tracks on the Upper West Side with an extension of Riverside Park took under three years from design to completion. In an era when almost any project can be held up for years by public hearings and reviews by community boards, community groups, civic groups, and planning commissions, not to mention the courts, it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgic tug for Moses’s method of building by decree. It may not have been democratic, or even right. Still, somebody has to look at the big picture and make decisions for the greater good. Moses’s problem was that he couldn’t take his eye off the big picture. He was so in tune with New York’s vastness that he had no patience for anything small within it. Caro brilliantly immortalized Moses’s indifference to neighborhoods and people at a time when the city was weak, when the wounds from his high-handed approach were raw, and when Jane Jacobs’s focus on the fine grain of neighborhoods held fresh promise. But there is a price to pay for thinking small, just as there is for thinking big. Thirty years later, we are still trying to find the balance.
February 2, 2007 NY Times Complex, Contradictory Robert Moses By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Few shows force you to rethink an urban legend. That's the challenge posed by ''Robert Moses and the Modern City,'' a sweeping, scholarly exhibition that breathes fresh air into one of the most tired, overworked and misunderstood subjects in the city's history.
Shown at three New York locations, the exhibition traces Moses' remarkable career as parks commissioner from 1934 to 1960 and as a leader of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority from 1934 to 1968, when he oversaw a radical transformation of New York through the construction of bridges, expressways and public parks and vast slum clearance projects. It paints a nuanced portrait of a man who, in the public imagination at least, has become a caricature of the ruthless bureaucrat.
Most effectively, the show maps the extent to which Moses' decisions were governed by the larger forces shaping the 20th-century city: a booming car culture, panic over middle-class flight to the suburbs, the rigid orthodoxies of late Modernism. In the process it demolishes the polarizing arguments that still define New York architecture and planning debates a quarter-century after the master builder's death. Organized by Hilary Ballon, an architectural historian at Columbia University, the show should be required viewing for all government bureaucrats involved in urban policy -- no, for anyone who loves New York.
For a generation of New Yorkers, Moses' reputation was defined by his bitter battles in the 1960s, like the one with Jane Jacobs over a freeway proposal that would have condemned large sections of Lower Manhattan to the wrecking ball. It was cemented by Robert A. Caro's ''Power Broker,'' the 1974 biography that famously portrayed Moses as a villainous figure who, through his control of federal slum clearance and highway money, was able to trample tens of thousands of lives, uprooting entire neighborhoods in a quest to impose his megalomaniacal vision: a city of dehumanizing superblocks strangled in ribbons of expressways.
The show's intelligence is that it doesn't shy away from Moses' dark side. It includes one of his most shameful projects, the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, which displaced thousands of souls and pitilessly erased the thriving middle-class neighborhood of East Tremont.
And there are delicious discoveries, like a series of models at the Museum of the City of New York that the show's organizers salvaged from a forgotten storage room beneath a footing of the Triborough Bridge, a few yards from the innocuous office building on Randalls Island where Moses plotted the city's future. For example, a 22-foot-long wood scale model of the proposed Mid-Manhattan Expressway depicts a narrow section of the city, with the expressway marked by a dark gray line carving down its center.
That single line, cool yet menacing, testifies to Moses' surgical detachment from the city he was operating on. It also links him to a modern urban tradition extending back through Le Corbusier's vast theoretical schemes to the work of Baron Haussmann, the 19th-century planner who carved his grand boulevards through Paris's medieval fabric with equal ruthlessness.
The human cost of Moses' legacy -- in displaced families, obliterated communities, lost historical memory -- is impossible to measure. But using a wide array of architectural renderings, archival photographs and historical documents, the show also makes the point that, despite his reputation as an omnipotent planner, he lost plenty of battles along the way. Many of his most scorned proposals, from the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge from Red Hook to Battery Park in the 1930s to the expressways coursing across Midtown and Lower Manhattan, were never built. And many of Moses' highway projects, especially those from the early decades, were major triumphs that integrated cars and nature.
The much beloved Riverside Park, for example, built by Moses in the 1930s over a strip of decrepit rail tracks, lumber yards and docks, neatly masks the view of cars streaming by below, in what remains a model of thoughtful urban planning.
For East River Park, a tree-shaded esplanade with recreational amenities completed in 1939, Moses reshaped the shoreline near the Williamsburg Bridge along Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and the East River. A pedestrian overpass completed two years later acts as a hinge, connecting it to an existing 19th-century park and culminating at a small, entrancing amphitheater (now in ruins, as a photograph in the show testifies), with the East River as its backdrop.
Projects like these, in which Moses sought to weave a densely populated metropolis into a broader regional network animated by the freedom of the open road, sprang from a heartfelt populist agenda.
Of course, Moses is far better known for more ignominious acts, like his plan, magnificently recounted in Mr. Caro's book, to destroy a playground to expand the parking lot for the Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park. When local mothers rebelled, Moses ordered the bulldozers in at night, creating a public scandal.
Yet Moses created much of the same park that is so beloved by parents today. When he was appointed city parks commissioner at the height of the Depression, Central Park was dotted with fetid Hoovervilles. Moses reseeded lawns, planted flowers, repaved walks, transformed the old Croton Reservoir into the Great Lawn and built a necklace of public playgrounds along the edges of the park, as well as ball fields and the Wollman Memorial Skating Rink.
Perhaps the most powerful architectural expressions of that mission were the 23 public swimming pools with bathhouses Moses built in a five-year period beginning in the mid-1930s. A graceful colonnaded arcade shelters the shops and restaurants at Orchard Beach; the vivid geometric forms and intricate tile and brick work of the McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, celebrate the therapeutic value of communal exercise. For Moses, those projects were part of a broader strategy to reinforce middle-class neighborhoods and deter residents from fleeing to the suburbs.
But in many ways Moses was just a product of his times. In the 1930s, many American city planners had begun to recognize that suburbs posed a threat to the future of American cities. That panic peaked with the boom in postwar suburban development and passage of the federal highway act of 1956, which poured billions into the construction of a network of roads that spurred the exodus from cities and transformed the nation into a society dependent on cars.
Modernism, too, was changing. By the 1950s, the utopian visions generated in the early decades of the 20th century had calcified into a dogmatic formula: the functionalist city of high-rise residential blocks, distinct commercial and residential zones and a near total disregard for the neighborhood's historical fabric. The impact can still be felt in places as far-flung as Detroit, Paris and Moscow.
This type of thinking was codified in the United States in a web of government and financial regulations. In the exhibition at Columbia University, a page of the manual for the Title I program, which provided the federal money for most of Moses' housing projects, warns that ''patching up hopelessly worn-out buildings'' will only hinder large-scale slum clearance efforts.
Nor did Moses ever see good design -- that is, innovative architectural form -- as an instrument of public policy. Over the course of his career, he worked with many talented planners and architects, from Gilmore Clarke, the designer of Riverside Drive, to I. M. Pei. But it was left to private developers to choose the architects they worked with. Andthose architects had to navigate a maddening maze of federal and city rules.
When Mr. Pei was hired to design Kips Bay Plaza, completed in 1963, for instance, he struggled with Federal Housing Administration restrictions that not only limited a project's cost per square foot but also gave preference to buildings with balconies. The deep-set concrete grid of his facade, creating the illusion of balconies, was an elegant ploy to circumvent these regulations.
If the formulas have changed since then, the preservationist arguments have only gained in intensity. By the time Moses died in 1981, the preservation movement was firmly established, and the wholesale destruction of urban neighborhoods was no longer a possibility. Yet historicist formulas like those embodied in recent projects like Battery Park City pose their own problems, injecting an incongruous note of suburban homogeneity. Middle-class housing developments like Stuyvesant Town, which Moses used as a model, are being sold to private developers who will drive out working families. And the city is virtually unable to build a park without corporate sponsorship these days.
The joy of this exhibition is that it recognizes that the issues facing cities today are more complex than choosing between a respect for the past and an embrace of the future. Moses, once a symbol of reckless change, is now part of our history too. We can see the beauty in some of his projects without denying the destructiveness of others.
Three Aspects of New York's Master Builder
Here is information about the Robert Moses exhibition. In addition to the individual Web sites, information about all three displays can be found at learn.columbia.edu/moses:
'Robert Moses and the Modern City: Remaking the Metropolis,' at the Museum of the City of New York, Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, (212) 534-1672; mcny.org. Through May 28. Sunday at 1 p.m., a tour of the Moses exhibition with Hilary Ballon, the curator. On Feb. 11 at 3 p.m., Robert A. Caro, author of ''The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,'' will discuss Moses' career; $15; members, $10; registration required, Ext. 3395.
'Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Road to Recreation,' at the Queens Museum of Art, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park; queensmuseum.org. Through May 27. Also reopening at the museum on Sunday is the Panorama of the City of New York exhibition. Special events tied to the exhibition include a bus tour of sites associated with Moses (Feb. 24), a walking tour of the former site of the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (April 28) and a bicycle tour past sites associated with Moses in the Rockaways (May 12).
'Robert Moses and the Modern City: Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution,' at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, Schermerhorn Hall, eighth floor, Broadway and 116th Street, Morningside Heights; columbia.edu/cu/wallach. Through April 14. ''Robert Moses: New Perspectives on the Master Builder,'' a two-day event organized by the gallery with discussions and visits to the three displays, will take place March 2 and 3; information: www.columbia.edu/cu/lehmancenter.
Correction: February 10, 2007, Saturday A picture caption in Weekend on Feb. 2 with a review of exhibitions devoted to Robert Moses at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University referred incompletely to the Chatham Green housing project in Lower Manhattan. While Moses oversaw the development plan and chose the project's sponsor, it was the sponsor -- the Association for Middle Income Housing -- that selected the architect and constructed the buildings, not Moses.
January 23, 2007 Architecture Rehabilitating Robert Moses By ROBIN POGREBIN
FOR three decades his image has been frozen in time. The bulldozing bully who callously displaced thousands of New Yorkers in the name of urban renewal. The public-works kingpin who championed highways as he starved mass transit. And yes, the visionary idealist who gave New York Lincoln Center and Jones Beach, along with parks, roads, playgrounds and public pools.
This is the Robert Moses most of us know today, courtesy of Robert A. Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography from 1974, “The Power Broker,” which charts Moses’ long reign as city parks commissioner (1934-60) and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1946-68). A 1,286-page book that reads like a novel, it won a Pulitzer Prize and virtually redefined the biographical genre by raising the bar for contemporary research. Today it remains the premier text on the evolution of 20th-century New York, a portrait of a man who used his power without regard for the human toll.
But according to the Columbia University architectural historian Hilary Ballon and assorted colleagues, Moses deserves better — or at least a fresh look. In three exhibitions opening in the next few days — at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and Columbia University — Ms. Ballon argues that too little attention has been focused on what Moses achieved, versus what he destroyed, and on the enormous bureaucratic hurdles he surmounted to get things done.
With the city on the brink of a building boom unparalleled since Moses’ heyday — the reconstruction of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, an overhaul of the Far West Side, sweeping redevelopment downtown — Ms. Ballon and other scholars argue that his legacy is more relevant than ever.
“Living in New York, one is aware there has been no evident successor or successors to Moses,” she said. “There aren’t master builders. Who is looking after the city? How do we build for the future?” All around New York State, she suggests, people tend to take for granted the parks, playgrounds and housing Moses built, now generally binding forces in those areas, even if the old-style New York neighborhood was of no interest to Moses himself. And were it not for Moses’ public infrastructure and his resolve to carve out more space, she argues, New York might not have been able to recover from the blight and flight of the 1970s and ’80s and become the economic magnet it is today.
“Every generation writes its own history,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a historian of New York City at Columbia who with Ms. Ballon edited “Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York” (W. W. Norton), the catalog accompanying the exhibitions. “It could be that ‘The Power Broker’ was a reflection of its time: New York was in trouble and had been in decline for 15 years. Now, for a whole host of reasons, New York is entering a new time, a time of optimism, growth and revival that hasn’t been seen in half a century. And that causes us to look at our infrastructure.”
“A lot of big projects are on the table again, and it kind of suggests a Moses era without Moses,” he added.
As for Mr. Caro, 71, he said he was not informed of the exhibitions in advance, nor is he part of a symposium Thursday at the Museum of the City of New York or other panel discussions pegged to them. Asked how he felt about having been excluded, Mr. Caro said: “When I am writing a book, I try always to give all sides a chance to express their viewpoint. I guess they didn’t want my viewpoint expressed, and not inviting me is certainly an effective means of accomplishing that.”
He will make a solo appearance at the museum on Feb. 11, but only because one of the exhibition’s financers, the philanthropist Roger Hertog, argued that Mr. Caro should be included. “The exhibition elevates Moses’ achievements to historic — almost grandiose — accomplishment, yet he’s a complicated person,” Mr. Hertog said. “If you’re going to really think about this, there is this looming presence, this thousand-pound gorilla, in the middle of the room, and it’s Caro. His interpretation has to be heard as well.”
Mr. Caro spent seven years on his book, conducting 522 interviews and combing thousands of personal and public documents. To scholars who take a revisionist approach, he urges caution. “The enduring legacy of Robert Moses includes magnificent achievements, which I celebrated in ‘The Power Broker,’ ” he said. “But it is also necessary to look at his overall impact.”
He cited the ouster of more than half a million people from their homes in the Bronx, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, in Sunset Park in Brooklyn and on Long Island farms for the sake of new highways or “slum clearance”: evictions that largely could have been avoided by using alternate routes and that in some cases helped create new slums.
“His highways and bridges and tunnels are awesome all right, but no aspect of those highways and bridges and tunnels is as awesome as the congestion on them,” Mr. Caro said. “Congestion was always going to be inevitable in New York, but it could have been substantially less had he only combined his roads with the mass transit suggested by so many planners.”
The institutions involved in the exhibitions say they never sought to whitewash Moses’ legacy. “We set out to come to terms with the enormity of Moses’ achievements,” said Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum. “I really anticipated that the show was going to be a major indictment of Moses, and I was genuinely surprised at the result.”
Each of the exhibitions has a different emphasis. “Remaking the Metropolis,” which opens at the Museum of the City of New York on Feb. 2, focuses on Moses’ roads, like the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Cross Bronx Expressway; major buildings and monuments (Lincoln Center, the United Nations); and parks (the expansion of Riverside Park, East River Park and recreational spaces in Central Park). Opening Feb. 4 at the Queens Museum of Art (whose forbidding stone building Moses had built for the 1939-40 World’s Fair), “The Road to Recreation” documents his expansion of roads and recreation in the 1930’s: some 416 miles of parkways and 658 playgrounds. “Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution,” which opens on Jan. 31 at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, focuses on Moses’ ambitious 1950s urban renewal program.
In today’s frenetic real estate market, some of those projects are now in the hands of private developers. “Look at what is happening to Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town,” Mr. Finkelpearl said, referring to the middle-class apartments that were recently sold, driving rents up. “That is so out of the spirit of Moses and the public-mindedness of Moses.”
The shows also document the Moses projects that were never built, like a controversial extension of Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park, a bridge between the Red Hook section of Brooklyn and Battery Park, and two expressways, one slicing across Midtown and the other across Lower Manhattan.
MS. BALLON, who spent three years on research for the exhibitions and catalog, said she came away clear-eyed about Moses’ flaws, including his failure to grasp the social devastation caused by some of his projects. “He was perfectly positioned to recognize how any one thing had multiple consequences, like clearing a slum,” she said, yet “he purposely chose to ignore these things.” But as she studied the archives and traveled the city, Ms. Ballon said, she “became more and more interested in the tangible things he accomplished,” feeling they were somewhat underrepresented in the Caro book.
“I wanted to investigate Moses with this emphasis on the physical form,” said Ms. Ballon, who specializes in 17th-century European architecture as well as American urbanism and architecture of the 20th century. She said she was impressed by the majesty and durability of projects like Jones Beach’s state park, with its costly brick and sandstone bathhouses; Orchard Beach in the Bronx, designed in a graceful crescent after private bungalows were destroyed; and city’s vast and stately public pools.
“The grandeur of those buildings — all for the public,” Ms. Ballon said. “He executed 17 urban renewal projects in nine years. That’s staggering.” At Kips Bay Towers, the architect I. M. Pei “brought reinforced concrete construction to a new level of refinement,” Ms. Ballon added, “and the interior garden is a jewel.” And even the Moses-era housing projects and public buildings that were once scorned as grim and soulless are winning appreciation because they were built fast and built to last.
At the same time the catalog she jointly edited includes some pointed criticism. Martha Biondi, a professor of African-American history at Northwestern, faults Moses’ prominent role in supporting MetLife’s decision to exclude blacks from renting apartments at Stuyvesant Town; Ms. Ballon notes his “antidemocratic methods and indifference to community values.”
As Mr. Jackson puts it, “He looks like a pretty good public servant who was in many ways a jerk.” Yet Mr. Finkelpearl of the Queens Museum said the exhibition did not set out to make judgments on Moses’ character. “This show is not about Moses, the guy,” he said. “It’s about what Moses did.” Mr. Caro, though, argues that drawing such a distinction is impossible. “The man is inseparable from the story of New York,” he said. “The city now is trying to come to grips with the problems he left.”
Much of the city’s current development seeks to redress Moses’ legacy, including efforts to reclaim the West Side waterfront (where he built the Henry Hudson Parkway) for public use. To improve mass transit, the city is trying to extend the No. 7 line to 11th Avenue, as well as finally create a Second Avenue subway 50 years after Moses passed over that possibility by funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into roads and bridges for automobiles. Similarly, a major redesign of Lincoln Center by the architects Diller, Scofidio & Renfro aims to open up that campus and make it more inviting, rather than what was originally envisioned: an ivory tower for the performing arts with its back turned on Amsterdam Avenue.
Economically and psychologically it has taken city planners decades to forge the resolve to break ground again on a substantial scale. “We are in a period of time when we have finally overcome a fear of overdevelopment that was in part the result of Moses’ excesses,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. “Part of the reason we haven’t been able to do as much is because people overinterpreted the lessons from that period of time.”
Though the city is building big again, the process by which it’s doing so is forever changed. Planners point out that whether a project is driven by the city, like the Javits Convention Center expansion; the state, which initially led efforts to redevelop the World Trade Center site; or a private developer, like the Related Co. Time Warner Center or many other architecturally ambitious condominium projects, checks and balances now guarantee no one planner can wield the power of Moses.
With his multiple hats and broad authority as parks commissioner and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority chairman, Moses managed to steamroll community opposition and ignore preservation concerns. Today the Landmarks and Preservation Commission, established in 1965, reviews projects like the proposed 30-story tower by Norman Foster in the Upper East Side Historic District, whose height the commission rejected this month. The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, adopted in 1975, ensures that a project undergoes a thorough public review process.
“Can there be another time when you can get big projects done all over the city?” Mr. Doctoroff said. “I think the answer is yes, and we’re in one now. Could you ever have one person who with imperiousness, with concentrated power, with lack of community input, could get things done? The answer is no.” Nonetheless “with the exception of the stadium” — the Jets arena rejected for Manhattan’s Far West Side — “there hasn’t been a single project we have pushed through that hasn’t been approved,” he said of the city’s pet projects. “This is by far the most ambitious development agenda since the 1930’s, but we do it with ample public input to ensure that we get things done sensitively,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “We have really learned to listen very carefully.”
And while Moses had no interest in aesthetics (which may be one reason he could move so quickly), the current city administration emphasizes design in its approval of projects, with standards imposed by officials like Amanda M. Burden, the city planning commissioner, and David Burney at the Department of Design and Construction. The subtitle of Mr. Caro’s book is “Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.” But ultimately, the exhibitions’ organizers say, they felt it was important to judge Moses’ impact on New York in the context of what happened across the nation during his tenure, like middle-class flight from cities and the construction of highways that spurred the rise of suburbs.
“What was happening in Detroit and St. Louis?” Mr. Finkelpearl said. “Those cities died. Maybe the city was in decline, but not relative to other cities.” Ms. Ballon said: “Moses was symptomatic of a larger historical pattern. What was happening in New York was not so different from what was happening in other places.”
So if these exhibitions restore some of Moses’ stature, will they have the opposite effect on Mr. Caro’s? Not according to Mr. Jackson, who describes himself as a great admirer of Mr. Caro and uses “The Power Broker” in his courses on New York history. “I wish I’d written the book,” he said. But, he added, he also believes the times may call for a new take on Moses. “Did he get everything right?” Jackson said. “Of course not. He blazed a trail. Nothing stands forever. Not even Power Broker
Great Cities Need Great Builders Architecture By EDWARD GLAESER Special to the Sun January 19, 2007
Robert Moses still bestrides New York like a colossus. More than three decades have passed since Jane Jacobs and Robert Caro tore down Moses's once pristine public image, but his physical legacy remains standing. Our New York is Moses's New York. He built 13 bridges, 416 miles of parkways, 658 playgrounds, and 150,000 housing units, spending $150 billion in today's dollars. If you are riding the waves at Jones Beach or watching the Mets at Shea Stadium or listening to "La Traviata" at Lincoln Center or using the Triborough Bridge to get to the airport, then you are in the New York that Moses built.
If we are to realize Mayor Bloomberg's plans for a city of 9 million people with newer, greener infrastructure, then New York will again need to embrace construction and change. We will need again builders like Moses, who can put the needs of the city ahead of the opposition of a neighborhood. Yet Moses's flaws, which were emphasized so eloquently by Jacobs and Mr. Caro, have led many to see nothing but evil in Moses and his works. Moses's supposed villainy has established its place in the iconography of the preservationists who stand against growth.
The opening of a three-part exhibition on Moses — at the Queens Museum of Art on January 28, at the Wallach Art Gallery of Columbia University on January 31, and at the Museum of the City of New York on February 1 — gives us a chance to reappraise his achievements. We should avoid the excesses of Moses's early hagiography or his later vilification. The successes and failures of this master builder teach us that great cities need great builders, but that we must check their more Pharaonic excesses.
The lessons of Moses's life are taught by his projects. His best work, such as the parks and pools that had large benefits and modest costs, happened early in his career. When he was starting as Governor Smith's park tsar, Moses could get public funding for his projects only if they were popular. The need to build support didn't stop Moses from taking risks. Indeed, Smith accused Moses of wanting to "give the people a fur coat when what they need is red flannel underwear," but Moses's bold vision was just what the public wanted. Society was getting richer, and those parks and pools helped New York succeed as a place of consumption and as a center of production.
Most of Moses's bridges and expressways are also major successes. New York is a city of islands. The city's waterways were ideal in the ages of sail and steam, but they became a major headache in the age of the car. Despite his lack of a driver's license, Moses understood that New York needed to adapt to the automobile. His bridges made it easier for cars to cross between the city's islands. His parkways made it more pleasant to drive into New York. Boston's Big Dig should remind us that it is hard to retrofit a pre-car city for the automobile. By comparison, Moses's achievements look cheap and effective.
Some say Moses was wrong to build for the car. Some say the city should have bet exclusively on public transportation that would better serve the poor. But those critics ignore the millions of people who fled the older cities that weren't car friendly. Every one of the 10 largest cities in the country in 1950 — except for Los Angeles and, miraculously, New York — lost at least one-fifth of its population between 1950 and today. Moses's bridges and highways helped to keep some drivers living and working in New York. Those middle-class drivers helped New York to survive and grow, while every other large, cold city in the second half of the 20th century shrank.
Not all of Moses's transportation projects were winners. To build the Cross Bronx Expressway, Moses took thousands of apartments using the power of eminent domain. Neighborhoods were shattered as the highway smashed through a once-vibrant area. I cannot tell whether the benefits to the millions who have used the expressway outweigh the costs to the thousands who were evicted, but I am sure that the process was deeply flawed.
To any friend of liberty, Robert Moses's use of eminent domain represents big government at its most terrifying. At the stroke of a pen, entire communities can be wiped out because someone in government thinks that this removal is in the public interest. Without eminent domain, however, large-scale projects will either flounder or cost as much as the Big Dig. Mayor Bloomberg's dream of a renewed New York will need eminent domain.
But I hope that eminent domain in the post-Bloomberg era will become much fairer than it was during the era of Robert Moses. The state should develop better legal infrastructure to oversee takings. Perhaps there should be a state-level commission, independent of local government, with both elected and appointed members, that can subject each use of eminent domain to cost-benefit analysis and determine just compensation for the evicted. The right response to Moses's excesses is not to renounce eminent domain, but to strengthen the process so that it can play its needed role.
Mr. Caro criticizes Moses for catering to the prosperous by destroying low-income housing to build roads, housing, and amenities for the rich like Lincoln Center. This criticism may be apt, but the problem lies not in the man but in his situation. Moses was an appointed official whose career depended on the approval of elites, not the votes of the poor. While elected officials have an unfortunate tendency toward shortsighted populism, appointed officials have a tendency to cater to the well-connected. One of the most bizarre responses to the unelected power of Moses was to create the unelected power of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which seems almost designed to empower the most eloquent of squeaky wheels. A better response would have been to seek pro-growth solutions that combine the involvement of appointed and elected officials.
Moses's greatest failures were his housing projects. More than 40 years ago, Jacobs attacked Moses for replacing well-functioning neighborhoods with Le Corbusier-inspired towers. She was prescient. Moses spent millions and evicted tens of thousands to create buildings that became centers of crime, poverty, and despair.
A simple but stark lesson emerged from Moses's travails as housing tsar: The government is not good at the housing business. New York is filled with apartment buildings that provide decent housing and a comfortable social environment for their residents. Almost none of them were built by the government. New York has an affordable-housing problem, but it is the result of government intervention in the housing market that has limited housing supply. Rent control and an increasingly anti-growth regulatory environment have ensured that new supply has not kept up with the demand to live in reinvigorated New York. We need people with the vision of Robert Moses building homes in New York, but they should come from a private sector that is less fettered by government constraints. Moses was at his best when he had to make sure his projects would fund themselves or would really appeal to the people of New York. When Moses acquired vast federal funding, he also acquired the freedom to pursue his own vision, and that vision wasn't always in the interests of the city. Mr. Bloomberg's plan for New York in 2030 needs its own Moses-like master builders, but the city will be best served if those builders are funded by and accountable to the city. Those builders must not be beholden to every neighborhood group or cadre of unelected elites. While Moses's successes would have been impossible under such conditions, his failures could have been checked if he had faced a greater degree of citywide oversight.
Mr. Glaeser is the Glimp professor of economics at Harvard, director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Robert Moses's Vision of New YorkAbroad in New York BY FRANCIS MORRONE January 19, 2007
Robert Caro's spellbinding study of Robert Moses, "The Power Broker," appeared 33 years ago. Mr. Caro's subtitle tilts his hand: "Robert Moses and the Fall of New York." In the 1970s, New York seemed to be in freefall. The city was on the verge of bankruptcy. Crime and unemployment were steadily increasing. Public parks and public housing had fallen into disrepair, and the subway cars were covered with graffiti. New York City had become the symbol of the urban blight plaguing the entire country. And Moses, who was the man most responsible for shaping the urban landscape as we know it today, was also guilty of hastening New York City's decline, at least according to critics such as Mr. Caro and the late Jane Jacobs.
In 2007, the world regards New York as a major urban success story. Five years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with construction booming all around the city, and with large-scale development projects such as the Atlantic Yards in the works, a re-evaluation of Moses's legacy seems in order. And that's just what we're getting at the month's end when the Museum of the City of New York, Columbia University, and the Queens Museum team up for a major exhibition, "Robert Moses and the Modern City."
As New Yorkers today fight over the best uses for our waterfronts, and as big waterfront-park projects have existed mainly on paper for several years, it's bracing to visit Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to see an example of comprehensive waterfront redevelopment that's the best thing of its kind in the city.
At 68th Street and Colonial Road, the charmingly named Owl's Head Park (though many locals call it Bliss Park) sits atop the beginning of the great glacial moraine that cuts a swath across Brooklyn. Like Fort Greene Park, Owl's Head is largely in the form of a hill, with breathtaking views across New York Harbor. The park had been part of the estate of the redoubtable Brooklyn civic leader Henry Murphy, then of industrialist Eliphalet Bliss. In 1928, after Bliss's death, the city purchased the land. Moses shaped the park when he became parks commissioner in 1934. Less than half the Bliss land went to the park; the rest got swallowed by other uses, including Moses's Belt Parkway, construction of which began in 1934.
Moses completed the parkway in 1940. The New York Times called it "the greatest municipal highway venture ever attempted in an urban setting." The Belt Parkway begins at Owl's Head Park and arcs 34 miles along the edges of Brooklyn and Queens to the Nassau County border. Along the Bay Ridge stretch, from Owl's Head to Fort Hamilton (at 101st Street), the Belt Parkway parallels old Shore Road — in much the way the Henry Hudson Parkway parallels Riverside Drive.
Moses had recently built parks and parkways farther out on Long Island, opening up formerly inaccessible lands for recreational uses, such as his Jones Beach. The Belt Parkway provided city dwellers with a means to access the amenities of Nassau and Suffolk counties. In addition, Moses saw the Belt Parkway as an opportunity to build new parklands between Shore Road and the Upper Bay. Today these parks contain recreational piers (like the one at 69th Street), playgrounds, bike paths, jogging courses, the beguiling Narrows Botanical Gardens, and more. Benches in the parks and on Shore Road provide mesmerizing views, unlike anything else in New York.
Moses made the views more awesome when he added the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the picture in 1964. Nowadays a New Yorker can take the R train to Bay Ridge, enjoy a lovely dinner in one of that neighborhood's many good restaurants, then sit dreamily on a Shore Road bench watching the lights of the bridge twinkle in the dusk. That perfect New York evening is ours in part by way of Robert Moses.
Longing for Robert Moses Francis Marrone - Special to the Sun August 22, 2005 URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/18958
New Yorkers love to hate Robert Moses, the city's "master builder" from the 1930s to the 1960s. But while Moses remains anathema to your typical Community Board attendee, in recent years the hatred has abated for many others. I encounter students and young architects every day who admire Moses. A group of German architecture students visiting New York recently asked me to show them only things Robert Moses had built. He did not, they told me, ruin the city by bringing the automobile into it; he figured out how to save the city while bringing automobiles into it. For these young intellectuals, Moses belongs to that moment in the history of modernism that is again all the rage - from Le Corbusier to Wallace K. Harrison. Moses fits right into the delirious weltanschauung of Rem Koolhaas.
Moses projects that were once chicly lambasted are being praised by a new generation of critics. In a New York Times Op-Ed in 2003, Columbia University professor Hilary Ballon, one of the country's leading architectural historians, lauded Moses's vision in creating Lincoln Center. The eminent New York historian Mike Wallace, in his eloquent book "A New Deal for New York" (2002), wrote that post-September 11 New York needed something like the three-way relationship among FDR, Fiorello La Guardia, and Moses to pull the city out of its funk.
The former New York Times architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, summed it up: "Today," he said, "many people are less inclined to judge Moses so harshly. The decay of the city's infrastructure has made it easier to look back with appreciation at a figure who was able to get so many public-works projects off the drawing boards." And early next year, a massive exhibition called "Robert Moses and the Modern City," curated by Ms. Ballon and the well-known urban historian Kenneth Jackson, will occupy three venues: Columbia University, the New-York Historical Society, and the Queens Museum.
This is quite a journey in 30 years. In 1974, New Yorkers were perhaps eager to find a lightning rod for their discontent. Arrogant old Robert Moses fit the role beautifully. In that year, Robert A. Caro's "The Power Broker" burst onto the scene as few biographies have ever done. This beautifully written 1,246-page book is the sort of breathless page-turner one wishes one had the stamina to read in a sitting. But there was something else.
The book's phenomenal resonance with New Yorkers in the 1970s is evident in the subtitle: "Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. "The "Fall of New York" was on just about everyone's mind in 1974. For a few years after World War II, New York stood paramount among the cities of the world - as perhaps no city had since ancient Rome. New York's industrial output outstripped any other city on earth. The seaport and wholesaling sectors boomed. The number of Fortune 500 headquarters based in New York was at its peak. And, for the first time in its history, New York became the undisputed culture capital of the world.
Yet New York rapidly squandered this capital - financial, social, and, broadly speaking, moral. Chaos and decay were the keynotes of the 1960s and '70s. Manufacturing steeply declined, the seaport moved to New Jersey, crime skyrocketed, and, amid financial chicanery at high levels, the city's physical plant endured shocking deterioration.
Moses was the public face of the changed New York. For Jane Jacobs, Mr. Caro, and just about everyone in the 1970s, Moses had ripped the heart out of New York. He had overseen the proliferation of high-rise housing projects and "high-speed" roadways that altered the cityscape forever. Mr. Caro's most acclaimed chapter, "One Mile," was the meticulous recounting of the building of one mile of the Cross-Bronx Expressway and its devastating impact on the East Tremont neighborhood. That expressway, Mr. Caro wrote, destroyed the soul of the South Bronx, and paved the way (no pun intended) for the galloping deterioration that followed.
Yet the mid-1970s consensus was, in turn, was a tremendous shift from what many had thought of Moses 30 years before that. Critics cheered what Moses accomplished in the 1920s and 1930s, and his work riveted world attention. Cities across the globe wished to emulate New York, as they had once wished to emulate Paris.
When Moses worked for the state in the 1920s, he built Jones Beach. Before Moses most of Nassau and Suffolk counties was inaccessible to the public. Meager country roads separated vast private landholdings, whether farms or country-house grounds. Moses changed all that, by building parks and parkways that transformed Long Island into a domain of pleasure for the city dweller with a motorcar. Seldom had a government built for its people something so splendid as Jones Beach. It was a great gift from on high.
In the 1930s, Mayor La Guardia got Moses to work for the city, initially as Parks Commissioner. In the summer of 1936, the mayor dedicated 11 municipal swimming pools that Moses had built. Like Jones Beach, these pools were unprecedented. No city had ever created such a thing, much less in the midst of a depression. Not only was there no comparable system of municipal pools in the world, but some of the pools, like the ones in Astoria Park in Queens and McCarren Park in Brooklyn, were among the most splendid individual pools ever built.
Again, Moses gave a great gift to the people. No wonder schoolchildren danced and sang songs of praise to Commissioner Moses in the 1930s. And no wonder Moses was allowed to mold the world's most prosperous city to his own vision of modernity.
To see the quintessential Robert Moses cityscape, both good and bad, you need only drive up the FDR. Moses built the drive itself, before the war. It is not felicitous in the way it cuts neighborhoods off from the riverfront. Starting from the Brooklyn Bridge, on the drive's west side is mile after mile of red-brick high-rise towers-in-a-park. This is the "Bad Moses" of the postwar years, the Moses of the Lower East Side projects and of the Cross-Bronx and Brooklyn-Queens expressways.
Tenements and row houses once occupied those miles along the FDR. In 1961, Jane Jacobs came to the defense of tenements and row houses in her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." Ms. Jacobs made the case that the Lower East Side, had "urban renewal" (i.e., Robert Moses) left it alone, possessed the same capacity for "spontaneous unslumming" as her own West Village. She led the fight against the Moses-proposed Cross-Manhattan Expressway on the line of Broome Street, which would have wiped SoHo and Little Italy off the map.
Beyond Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village (Moses's brainchildren, but built by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company) stands the United Nations. When Nelson Rockefeller made his 11th-hour purchase of the land to keep the United Nations from moving to Philadelphia, he knew there was but one person who could in a day expedite what might otherwise be months of red tape in transferring the land, and that person was Robert Moses.
Farther north one drives beneath the cantilevered esplanade of Carl Schurz Park, built by Moses. To the right is Moses's Triborough Bridge, which when it was completed in the 1930s was the greatest bridge-building project in history. Carl Schurz Park predated Moses. But it was redesigned when the FDR Drive was built. Moses liked formal gardens. The 86th Street entrance, off East End Avenue, leads to an allee culminating in a stone wall with symmetrical curving stairs. The wall blocks the view ahead, but the stairs, beautifully designed, beckon the pedestrian upward. At the top, at the esplanade cantilevered over the drive, the river and its islands and bridges burst into view in a controlled architectural sequence that's nothing short of brilliant. This is "Good Moses."
On the other side of the island from Carl Schurz Park lies Riverside Park, which many New Yorkers think of as an Olmsted creation. Olmsted did design Riverside Drive and the easternmost half of the park. But his park pulled up far short of the river. That's because the busy tracks of the New York Central Railroad separated the park from the water. In the 1930s, as part of his "West Side Improvement," Moses "completed" Riverside Park.
He ingeniously encased the railroad tracks inside a great concrete box, on top of which he built the long, landscaped pedestrian path that is, in fact, what most New Yorkers think of when they think of Riverside Park. Then Moses inserted the Henry Hudson Parkway, the epitome of the gorgeous sinuous landscaped parkways he liked to build in the 1920s and 1930s. Pedestrian underpasses lead to the water's edge, where Moses built a long es planade. Near its southern end, at 79th Street, Moses created a marina, accessible from within the park via an arcaded circus that also serves as a traffic rotary for the parkway.
The West Side Improvement also yielded the High Line. This was an elevated track for freight trains, leading south from the New York Central yards in the West 30s as far as the Moses-built St. John's Park Freight Terminal in Tribeca. The High Line ingeniously weaved among or passed straight through warehouses and factories along what was, in the 1930s, still one of the busiest working waterfronts in the world. After the line became obsolete, its southernmost portions were razed. (And so might the rest of it have been but for the Friends of the High Line, who wish to transform it into an elevated linear park like the Promenade Plantee in Paris.)
Finally, in Brooklyn, Moses built the Belt Parkway, opened in 1940. Along its Upper Bay path he created "ribbon parks" that are not only splendid in their own right but afford breathtaking views of the Moses-built Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Long Island and Staten Island. Even finer, Moses built Owl's Head (or to the locals "Bliss") Park, right at the northern edge of Bay Ridge. The hilly Owl's Head may be the least known of the city's great parks, and was carved from the grounds of the former estate of E.W. Bliss, who left the land to the city.
There is certainly much more "Good Moses" than most New Yorkers have given him credit for. But I cannot entirely get behind this revival of his reputation. The seeds of "bad Moses" were there from the beginning, even in the 1920s and 1930s. But in those days Moses, who had come up in reform politics and had enjoyed the patronage of left-liberals like Belle Moskowitz, delivered his goods with value added: parkways not expressways, beaches, playgrounds, waterfront esplanades, marinas, swimming pools. La Guardia kept a rein on Moses's excesses: Moses served a vision that was not his alone, but also La Guardia's. Later mayors - O'Dwyer, Impellitteri, even Wagner - would be dupes of Moses.
Moses was obsessed with Baron Haussmann, the master builder of Paris of the 1850s and 1860s. Aesthetics aside, where the comparison breaks down is that the comparatively weak regimes that followed that of Napoleon III, Haussmann's patron, continued the rebuilding of the capital, the grands projets, without missing a beat after Haussmann left office as prefect of the Seine. After Moses, public works in New York ground to a halt. Westway, anyone?
This, more than anything, is what is behind the new nostalgia for Moses. With his unexampled mastery of public administration, Moses knew the window of opportunity was short when it came to the massive projects not only he but many others felt essential to the city's future. The ruthlessness he exhibited after World War II points to the sad fact that in a city like New York major public works are extremely difficult to do, and if you're going to do them, you've got to be pretty ruthless about it. And that, alas, points to faults with our city's political culture. As Moses came to see it, it wasn't a question of a good highway design versus a bad one, but a question of highway or no highway. He felt that if he didn't build it, then it would never get built - and he was probably right.
It's just too bad he didn't care for subways.
May 11, 1987 SCRUTINIZING THE LEGACY OF ROBERT MOSES By DAVID W. DUNLAP New York Times http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE4D81731F932A25756C0A961948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print
LEAD: It is a measure of the force of Robert Moses that he left such an expansive legacy to be judged. It is a measure of his methods that the judgment is not settled, that partisans' blood can still be brought to boil two decades after the master builder stopped building. It is a measure of the force of Robert Moses that he left such an expansive legacy to be judged. It is a measure of his methods that the judgment is not settled, that partisans' blood can still be brought to boil two decades after the master builder stopped building.
As his centenary approaches next year, the question remains: was Mr. Moses the heroic creator of public works on an almost unimaginably generous scale or was he an anti-democratic, anti-urban despot who bent government to his will and threw thousands out of their homes? After the 1974 publication of Robert A. Caro's critical and influential biography, ''The Power Broker,'' it might have seemed impossible that nostalgia would develop for the way in which Mr. Moses conducted business.
But today, six years after the death of Mr. Moses, there are many builders and planners who feel frustrated by the very land-use and environmental controls that were designed to stem the abrupt, unilateral and sweeping construction projects for which he was both acclaimed and condemned. Against this backdrop, what may be the first installment of centennial revisionism has occurred. It was sponsored by the Municipal Art Society - that traditional bastion of the good-government, city-beautiful advocates who were sworn enemies of Mr. Moses.
The society organized a six-hour, three-borough bus tour last week titled ''Robert Moses Reappraised.'' It was led by Arnold H. Vollmer, chairman emeritus of Vollmer Associates. He is an engineer and landscape architect whose association with Mr. Moses spanned almost half a century. 'A Callous Disregard' ''His comment that one can't make an omelet without breaking eggs has often been cited as evidence of a callous disregard for little people,'' Mr. Vollmer said. ''But if anyone can tell me of a way of clearing a noxious slum without relocating the inhabitants, I'd be deeply grateful.'' With that, the bus took off for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the United Nations, the Triborough Bridge, Mr. Moses's headquarters on Randalls Island, the Grand Central Parkway, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the Whitestone Expressway, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Pelham Bay Park, Orchard Beach, Co-op City, Riverside Park, Lincoln Center and the New York Coliseum.
''Caro says that Moses didn't do anything for the poor,'' Mr. Vollmer said. ''This is the biggest bunch of crap I've ever heard in my life. Who are the people lying on Orchard Beach? Who are the people walking through Riverside Park? Who are the people living in subsidized housing?'' ''Between the mid-1920's and 1960's, Robert Moses was, and in my emphatic opinion properly so, a popular hero,'' Mr. Vollmer said. He was Chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, City Parks Commissioner, City Construction Coordinator, a member of the City Planning Commission, president of the 1964-65 World's Fair and a director of Lincoln Center. Among other things.
Becky Vollmer, who accompanied her husband on the tour, once worked for Mr. Moses. ''I did a little bit of everything,'' she recalled. ''Research. Writing. Getting out booklets. Inspecting ladies' rooms. Looking at housing facilities to make sure that Reds weren't using the meeting rooms. They weren't.'' 'I Want the Guggenheim Built' Beyond the well-known Moses projects, Mr. Vollmer revealed some surprises. He credited Mr. Moses with having broken the regulatory logjam that stalled Frank Lloyd Wright's unusual design for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue. Mr. Vollmer said he had witnessed an exchange in which Mr. Moses told the head of the city's Board of Standards and Appeals: ''Damn it, get a permit for Frank. I don't care how many laws you have to break. I want the Guggenheim built.'' And the Guggenheim was built.
Not everything got built. There are no elevated expressways running over 30th Street and Broome Street, as Mr. Moses wanted. The United Nations headquarters are not in Flushing Meadow, as he wanted. No vast bridge spans the Long Island Sound, connecting Rye to Oyster Bay, as he wanted. And it is doubtful that many of his projects could be built today. Con Howe, director of the Manhattan office of the City Planning Department, took the tour and noted that ''two of the projects we saw would probably have a hell of a time getting through environmental review: Flushing Meadow, being made on an ash heap, and Orchard Beach, being done by filling in Long Island Sound.'' 'He Skewed Spending'
Interviewed later, Mr. Caro sounded most interested to hear what last week's bus tour omitted. He asked, ''Did they give you a view of rush hour on the Long Island Expressway?'' -another Moses creation. ''The mark of Robert Moses is much more than anything you can see physically,'' Mr. Caro said. ''You have to analyze his influence in priorities because, for decades, he played a crucial role - and for many years, a decisive role - in determining where the city's resources would go. ''And for decades, he skewed spending away from the social welfare aspects of city government toward the physical construction of the city. When you see his huge projects, you also ought to remember the way he treated the people who stood in the way of those projects. ''It would be nice,'' Mr. Caro said, ''if we could remember the wonderful and inspiring things that the young Robert Moses conceived and created - such as Jones Beach and the early parkways - without trying to falsify history by pretending that his overall impact on the city and, indeed, all the cities of America, was inspiring or triumphant. Because it wasn't.''
Mr. Howe showed some sympathy for Mr. Moses. ''What strikes me about him is a deep-seated belief in mass recreation, mass culture and the need to bring public works to serve the people,'' Mr. Howe said. ''I think he must have been a democratic person at heart.'' Yet it would be difficult to find a private builder today who would speak with such open contempt of the time-consuming public review process as Mr. Moses did in 1974, in answer to Mr. Caro's book: ''The current fiction is that any overnight, ersatz bagel-and-lox boardwalk merchant; any down-to-earth commentator or barfly; any busy housewife who gets her expertise from newspapers, television, radio and telephone is ipso facto endowed to plan in detail a huge metropolitan arterial complex good for a century.''
That is the Robert Moses that Margot Gayle, who also took the tour, remembers with a shudder. For years, she has been a champion of 19th-century, cast-iron architecture and is responsible for drawing popular attention to the legacy of SoHo, which would have been heavily damaged by a Broome Street expressway. Ms. Gayle did not sound ready for reappraisals. ''Although we get impatient with the way contracts get held up,'' she said, ''I don't think the autocratic, emperor approach fits our outlook at all. But Moses is a figure of great fascination to all of us.''
Time Monday, Aug. 10, 1981 The Emperor of New Yo rk By WILLIAM A. HENRY III
Robert Moses: 1888-1981
"By courage and sheer logic and the ultimate ring of truth, men and women without conspicuously agreeable personalities have often won a place in history as great figures of their time."
Robert Moses, the author of that sentiment, was conspicuously disagreeable, and he never doubted he was one of the great figures of his time. He once likened himself to the Roman Emperor Titus (40-81 A.D.), who, like Moses, was an impresario of bricks and marble. The Moses empire embraced yachts, chefs, chauffeurs and 86,000 other minions. His power nominally depended on the chairmanships of obscure parks commissions and revenues from a toll bridge. In fact, he relied on a public as steadfastly admiring of him as he was contemptuous of them. He defied Governors and mayors for nearly half a century, outmaneuvered even Franklin D. Roosevelt, imposed his vision on millions of acres of New York City and State, and inspired the reshaping of the rest of urban America.
Neither planner nor architect nor lawyer nor legislator, just a self-described "senior ditchdigger," he was at once utterly pragmatic and utterly visionary. His skill, he said, was "getting things done." His genius was in seeing and serving the needs of future generations without flinching at the uprooting or expense he inflicted on the present one. When he died last week of congestive heart failure at 92, still in office as a $35,000-a-year consultant to the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, his legacy included: a metropolitan highway system in New York City bigger than the one in Los Angeles; the Lincoln Center cultural complex; the United Nations headquarters; and his last project, the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. Moses left behind twelve bridges, 35 highways, 658 playgrounds and more than 2 million acres of parks. He also built two Robert Moses state parks, a Robert Moses Causeway, a Robert Moses Parkway, a Robert Moses Dam at Niagara and another at Massena, which bears his name in stainless steel letters 3 ft. high. When he was forced out of power by Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, it was estimated he had spent the equivalent of $27 billion.
Robert Caro, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for a critical investigative biography of Moses, The Power Broker, calls him quite simply the greatest builder in American history. Says Urban Scholar Lewis Mumford, perhaps the most persistent critic of the immensity and impersonality of typical Moses projects: "In the 20th century, the influence of Robert Moses on the cities of America was greater than that of any other person." Like Frederick Law Olmsted, the 19th century landscape architect who built Manhattan's Central Park, Moses believed in the democratizing effect of recreation. His goal was not simply to preserve beauty or connect neighborhoods, but to change the way the common man lived. His vision, alas, was sometimes misguided. A champion of the automobile (though he always had a chauffeur and never learned to drive), Moses hated mass transit. He designed parkways on Long Island with overpasses too low to allow buses. He also favored big, sterile public housing towers of a kind now associated with alienation and crime.
His idea of urban renewal was to level a neighborhood and start afresh. He unhesitatingly displaced 250,000 New York City residents and razed their homes to build highways serving the suburbs. Moses answered critics with contempt. He liked to demand: "If the ends don't justify the means, what does?" Architects reviewing the plans for a building would sometimes discover it had already been erected. Legislators who in 1926 had refused to fund Moses' Moorish-fantasy bathhouses for Jones Beach State Park found he had spent the entire appropriation on the foundations. Moses was fond of saying "Once you sink that first stake, they'll never make you pull it up."
The son of a New Haven department store owner, Moses moved to Manhattan with his family as a child. He was educated at Yale, Oxford and Columbia, and entered New York City government in 1914 to test his theories about civil service reform. Hired by Governor Al Smith in 1918 to reorganize state government, he began as a builder in 1924, when Smith asked him to head two state park commissions. He parlayed those jobs into a dozen quasi-public posts, held simultaneously. The only time Moses ran for office, as Republican nominee for Governor in 1934, he lost by a record 800,000 votes. But within a few months he was back in public favor, and his impact steadily grew on the use of space throughout America.
When he started building parks in the 1920s, 29 of the 48 states had no parks at all. When he left the state park system in the early 1960s, not only did New York have 2,567,256 acres, but the other states, inspired by his example, had 3,232,701. Viewers of Britain's royal wedding at St. Paul's Cathedral last week were reminded that the church's architect, Sir Christoper Wren, is buried there beneath a marker that reads, "If you seek his monument, look about you." Robert Moses could be buried anywhere in New York State, perhaps anywhere in America, beneath a tombstone that says just that. —By William A. Henry III. Reported by Petor Stoler/ New York
Time Friday, Jun. 05, 1964 The World of Already
It returns the child's eye to the retinas of men. Emerging from subway, train or even hydrofoil, the visitor to the New York World's Fair feels that he is in a special world, full of runaway pylons, impossible cantilevers, and buildings that look like flowers or accidents of flowing lava. Is it the future? Not exactly. The 1964 fair both celebrates and illustrates the fact that in the last 25 years science has so far expanded the human imagination that anything seems possible. Crowds at the 1939 New York fair stared with skepticism at exhibits of air conditioning, television and the first nylon stocking. The 1964 fair displays not what might be done in the future, but rather what has already been done. 1939 fair was a promise. The 1964 fair is a boast.
Much of it, to be sure, has a tacky, plastic, here-today-blown-tomorrow look, as if it were a city made of credit cards. But much of it has grace and substance. From nations to corporations, everybody is there to hawk and hornblow. All the crammed buildings are engaged in a mad struggle for attention. And somehow, in its jostling, heedless, undisciplined energy, it makes a person happy to be alive in the 20th century.
The place has been open for a little more than a month now, and has at last settled down so that it no longer rings with hammers and confusion. More than 6,000,000 people have been there already; and the question in millions of other minds is whether or not to go. The decision should be yes.
Scant Martini. With more than 300 companies, 66 nations, Mormons, Methodists, Catholics and assorted amusement-park types all reaching for him, a fairgoer is lost without a plan, since it is possible to spend a whole day in a series of places that might better be avoided for a whole lifetime. A casual browser is better off in Death Valley than in Flushing Meadow, and the fair's avenues and promenades are already lined with the whitening bones of people who did not read up on the fair and map out their itineraries in advance.
One good way to start is to float over the grounds in a Swiss cable car. At 115 ft., the ride goes high enough to offer a sweep of the jumble below, but still low enough to make the rider feel the clash of the architecture and the overall dynamic of the vast bazaar. If his timing is lucky, he can almost feel the heat as tawny Samoan youths prance beneath on mats of fire, and only moments later he may be staring down into the whites of the eyes of a dozen Zulus. He flies from Denmark to Switzerland via Ko rea, Venezuela, Central America, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Polynesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Malaysia, and most of Africa, with the rest of the world stretching one way down a series of pools to the Bell System, and another way across the Unisphere to the sovereign republics of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.
The one-way cable ride costs 75¢,* lasts four minutes, and is thus like a two-ounce martini, slightly intoxicating but only enough to create a need for more. It should be followed by a fast 500 elevator trip to the top of the towers at the New York State pavilion, where one gets a panoptic, 360° aerial fix on the fair, standing on a platform more than 200-ft. high. All the insane collages that meet the eye nearer sea level straighten out up there, as one sees from above the order of the fair.
Creative Study. It is laid out along the patterned streets that were designed on the same site for the 1939 fair. Most world fairs have been masterplanned, their buildings a harmonic continuum expressing the genius of a committee. Robert Moses, president of the current fair, had no such architectural ambition. He merely leased lots and let everyone erect what he pleased.
This was probably the only instance in the past 75 years that New York's Robert Moses was permissive. Moses, whose vision has changed the face of New York State, is the sort of man who likes to knock things over rather than walk around them. When he took over as fair president, he forced the resignation of Robert Kopple, a lawyer from Long Island who conceived the idea in the first place and who raised the initial money for the fair because he felt that his children were ignorant of the world. Kopple had once made the mistake of opposing Moses on another city project. At least Kopple now has a free pass to the fair. Few other people do. Free passes are as rare as five-leaf clovers. The fair cost $1 billion. Moses is determined to make it profitable, so that there will be enough money left over to develop a park for the city.
Moses also shrugged off the International Bureau of Expositions, which refused to sanction this one on several grounds of finance and timing. So the fair is unofficial. But it has as great a spread of national exhibits as any previous fair, thanks to trade syndicates who hurried in where governments would not go.
Fins & Pylons. Moses once had a committee of architects somewhere underfoot, but they quit when they realized that no one was going to mastermind more than grass seed. Left on their own, many exhibitors predictably put up the sort of eyecatchers that suggest refreshment stands on U.S. 1. In the main, even the fair's most arresting and successful structures are not really buildings. They are events. They were built, after all, to last but two years and then be demolished. They were built as elements of a fair, not as gatehouses to stately cities. Described in words, they sound vulgar, but they are really just spectacular.
For General Electric, for example, architects turned a huge dome inside out, revealing its supporting lining of intersticed steel so that its overall look suggests tripes à la mode de G.E. IBM, in a glorious defiance of sanity, has set what appears to be a 50-ton egg on a nest of plastic in the tops of metal trees. Johnson's Wax has suspended a huge gold clam over a blue pool inside six slender white pylons that rise high and flare into unearthly petals. Eastman Kodak has built a plaza under an undulating roof of thin-shell concrete that plays hide-and-seek with geometry, now duncing up into conical pinnacles, now forming a hole so that real and artificial rains can pour through onto Sculptor Harry Bertoia's metal flowers below. People can walk up and down dale on the roof. Boys go there and control rains by pinching their fingers over dozens of brass nozzles, spraying girls below.
The eye stops appreciatively on the massive, floating box-and-cloister of Charles Luckman's United States pavilion, and disapprovingly on Bell Telephone's flying wing, which looks more like a big hunk of sedimentary rock than an airfoil. The three-acre building that houses General Motors' Futurama ends in one gigantic tail fin, which may be good as advertising but is ridiculous as architecture. The boldest structure at the fair is Architect Philip Johnson's New York State pavilion: 16 tremendous columns support an elliptical roof of colored plastics that is larger than a football field.
Beware Behemoths. Beyond architecture, one other characteristic of the fair stands out from above, and before descending to join the masses the fairgoer might do well to contemplate it. There are sometimes more than 200,000 people down there and half of them seem to be standing in lines. People have waited more than 2½ hours to get into Ford, two for General Motors, one for General Electric. There is obviously a number of minutes beyond which a show is not worth waiting for. The fair is full of fine things that demand no queuing at all.
Ford's Magic Skyway is worth a wait of perhaps 30 minutes, on a cool day. But lines mass there as if the company were giving away Fords. The superb showmanship of putting people in new automobiles and driving them past an assemblage of plastic reptiles and plastic cavemen by Walt Disney is more than the contemporary world is able to resist. The prehistoric pageant lasts only twelve minutes. The car radio announces: "This is the world that was," and the rider swerves past little dinosaur eggs hatching before his very eyes, while off to the left a two-story Tyrannosaurus rex is busily killing a tough stegosaurus. A caveman with Cro-Magnon bravado appears, confronting an 800-lb. bear. A pert little cavewoman turns meat on a spit, while her cave-baby warms his bottom beside her. Cavedaddy turns out to be the first tycoon. He invents the wheel.
General Motors, star of the '39 fair with its revelations of the future, has again attempted to be visionary. Its Futurama is built around the idea that the human population has ample room to explode, and proves the thesis with wonderful models of future machines and future cities in contemporary wastelands. Man will subdue the primordial jungle, for example, with a G.M. machine a couple of hundred yards long. Out in front of it, smaller machines fell the great trees with laser beams. Blink, blink. The red beams slice the trees and they topple. The great mother machine now takes over, moving forward to eat the trees and all the undergrowth, meanwhile extruding four-lane highways from its distant rear. Dazzling cities spring up out of the bush to either side. But for the rest, the present is abreast of the presumed future. There is an undersea hotel (Jacques Cousteau has already developed a five-man sea house),an aquacopter (just a baby submarine) and a space dormitory for moon travelers (it closely resembles the Indonesian pavilion half a mile away).
Egg & Carousel. IBM makes a show of its own mechanics. The audience of 500 sits on steeply tiered seats at ground level; and when the program is about to begin, this entire "people wall" is lifted 53 ft. into the air by two hydraulic rams. They end up inside the lofty IBM egg, watching nine movie screens at once, in a demonstration meant to explain how the human brain is just another computer. Of all the big shows, G.E.'s Carousel of Progress is one of the most frankly commercial, but it is so studded with million-dollar gimcracks that it is worth seeing. Six audiences watch it at once, revolving in their seats to stop in front of segment after segment of a central stage. The star is a man who looks like Lowell Thomas full of formaldehyde. He sits in his kitchen, taps his foot nervously, blinks, and brags about his household appliances. He is made of plastic—Walt Disney—and so is his dog, which grrrs and twitches on the floor. Caroline Kennedy saw the dog and wanted to take him home.
First the man crows about the faithful pump in his sink, the new icebox and his coal-burning stove. The year is about 1898. All these relics are choreo graphed to gush rusty water, pop open, or glow genially while he talks. The revolving audience sees him in three additional incarnations—in the '20s, the '40s, and today in his ultimate, modern G.E. home, with indirect colored lighting and clear-plastic, form-fitting kitchen chairs. The older appliances are wonders to behold. But the plastic man's life gets duller as it progresses.
Walt's Wonders. Disney's realistic robots, in fact, stalk the fair. Pepsi-Cola has about 350 of them, doll-size, flanking a boat ride that children seem to like more than anything else. Scottish dolls climb steep plaid mountains, Iranian dolls fly on Persian carpets, and French dolls cancan. The dolls sing an original tune about the cohesion of the peoples of the world that might have been composed by Wendell Willkie. Disney's final contribution to the fair is a modest attempt to revive Abraham Lincoln by rebuilding him out of steel, aluminum, gold, brass, soft epidermal plastic, air tubes, fluid tubes, pneumatic and hydraulic valves. Abe works a twelve-hour day at the Illinois pavilion. He does a show every twelve minutes, speaking without notes and repeating bits of six of his earlier speeches, reminding his countrymen that "right makes might."
With a Nudge. The World's Fair is so resplendently miscellaneous that it defies a blue ribbon for any one pavilion, exhibit or show. Nonetheless, there is nothing better on the grounds than a movie called To Be Alive!, presented by Johnson's Wax. It lasts 17½ minutes, has nothing to do with wax and does not even mention the company. Its technique alone is of great interest. It uses three projectors, like Cinerama, but it resolves the problem of Cinerama with a simple touch of invention: the screens are set a foot apart. The mind fills the gaps without noticing them. Moreover, the separate screens enable the film makers—Francis Thompson and Alexander Hammid —to use them in multiple combinations, now showing three aspects of one scene, now three separate scenes, now a three-dimensional, three-screen headlong ride down a plunging highway that kneads the stomach far more than the rollercoaster ride in the first Cinerama.
Beyond technique, however, Thompson and Hammid have made a film of surpassing excellence about the universalities of human experience. When it begins, it is speeded up like an old Charlie Chaplin picture, showing New York masses rushing to work. On the corner of 42nd and Fifth Avenue, buses and cars go by like military projectiles, and hundreds of people zip across the screen like clouds of buckshot. Then-ping—the whole wide scene suddenly contains nothing but a drop of water in a pool. The movie starts life over again. A little Chinese boy studies a land turtle he has found in a field. A little boy in New York stares through a prism with which he can change the very face of the city. A little boy in the jungle learns the rhythm of a drum. A narrator speaks in the first person, describing his life from childhood to manhood, while the images on the screen shift constantly from the familiar to the distant, from face to face, from suburb to desert, from young Africans flirting in canoes to young Italians at a wedding feast in the hills of Assisi. The film is funny, informative, poetic, moving, ingenious, instructive, entertaining and beautifully photographed.
Film Fair. After that one, the most discussed picture is Parable, presented at the Protestant and Orthodox Center. Its central figure is a whitefaced clown. The circus is operated by Magnus the Great—a kind of Barnum and Belial character who sits in his tent and manipulates human marionettes strung on ropes high in the air. The whitefaced clown releases the ropes that hold the marionettes and frees them from bond age, replacing them himself. Stabbed by the agents of the malevolent Magnus, he is lofted on high, bleeding and suffering. He lets out a cry of agony and dies.
Throughout the fair, films are a basic denominator. In the United States pavilion, audiences are ridden past dozens of screens that light up consecutively with moments from American history. The narration is straight from This Is Your Life, styled in the second person singular, telling each and every American that you tamed the wilderness, then you invented the electric light, and you are now assaulting the universe.
Both New York State and the Port of New York Authority show movies that are the ultimate in wide screens, being 360° around. Audiences stand in the center. The device works well, and the state's show is a bit better than the Authority's. Riding in a car up a highway, you can look out the back window and see the road receding, or look forward and feel its onrush, while fields and trees stream by on either side.
Plunging Roots. Socony Mobil uses films in a fine game for teenagers. Thirty-six kids at once sit in drivers' seats, hold steering wheels, adjust themselves to brakes and accelerators, and stare at a road ahead of them which is shown on small, individual screens. With a whoosh and voom, they're off, all 36 zinging up the same road in a contest to see who is the most economical and safest driver. They are graded electronically as they meet situations—a school bus discharging its tender cargo, an idiot driver warping and woofing all over the right of way.
A pavilion called Sermons from Science, one of the minor discoveries of the fair, presents the Word only as a kind of commercial at the ends of its excellent and varied movies on scientific subjects, which contain, among other things, fascinating studies in time-lapse photography: cumulus clouds boil upward, taproots plunge down through the soil like fast-moving snakes.
View It Yourself. Not all the fair's good shows, however, are on film or indoors. Several times a day, five Mexican Indians climb a giddy, 114-ft. pole outside the Mexican pavilion. One begins to dance on top of the pole; his four companions lean over backward and fall toward the ground. They are tied to long ropes which are wrapped tightly around the summit of the pole. Hanging upside down, all four men begin to spin in accelerating, expanding, awesomely descending circles as the ropes unwind, righting themselves just in time to drop lightly to the pavement.
At the State of Oregon's timber carnival, a talented sculptor named Ken Kaiser casually shapes human faces from massive logs, using a roaring, 30-in. gasoline-powered chain saw. Logrollers stand on thick timbers in the Flushing River, trying to jar each other into the scented currents. Hulking lumberjacks heave double-bit axes at targets, handbuckers go through 2-ft. logs in about 40 sec., and competing axmen hack chips the size of dinner plates out of the remnants of trees.
At the Coca-Cola pavilion, the visitor takes an amusing, self-propelled international walk, first through Hong Kong, where there are fish stalls in teem ing markets, with the smell of incense heavy in the air. For one startled moment, sniff again. Damned if the incense doesn't smell like Coca-Cola. Move on, turn a corner, and there is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, high in the Bavarian Alps, where the towering balsams have the unmistakable scent of pillows stuffed with Coca-Cola. A few more giant strides and there is a Cambodian jungle, where monkeys inhabit the high vegetation and Coke bottles dangle in cool rushing streams, secured by their necks to trailing, primeval vines.
Million-Dollar Touches. Two of the fair's most attractive edifices stand out for their sense of permanence in a garden of transience. Spain's incredibly beautiful pavilion could probably ride the meadow for a thousand years if it were permitted to, and it should at least be moved somewhere in 1965. It was designed by Architect Javier Carvajal, and somehow suggests the courtyards of Castile and the filigreed palaces of Andalusia in its unending surprises of space and light. Spain, bidding for new status in the conversation of international trade, has spared no expense to shine at its national best. Flamenco dancers of what Spaniards would describe as great purity perform in the pavilion's theater. From the Prado come Goya's great majas, clothed and nude. One could do worse than spend a day in the Spanish pavilion.
The Belgian Village looks as if it had been standing right where it is for at least 500 years—or will when it is finished. The biggest international exhibit at the fair, it is a giant section of a Flemish town consisting of 134 buildings. The roofs are being made of real slate and real tiles. The windows are leaded. The streets are all paved with cobblestones.
Three-year-olds and upwards are entranced by nearly everything at the fair, but there are certain stops, like the Pepsi-Cola ride, that are particularly smashing from their point of view. U.S. Rubber's Ferris wheel (50¢) is the largest replica of a tire ever made, and no child wants to miss it. The flume ride (95¢) is a bumping, bouncing, water-sprayed trip in a hollow plastic log through a reasonable simulacrum of rapids, ending with a plunge into still waters. General Cigar presents a brief but first-rate magic show. Sinclair's Dinoland is dinolated by nine prehistoric monsters made of fiberglass, scattered through a grove of pines. At the end, there are machines that make plastic dinosaurs. Put 500 in, wait a while, and out pops a little dinosaur like a hot dinner roll.
Cash Flow. One of the most common sights at the fair is of grown men wandering dazedly, holding their trouser pockets inside out in the timeless gesture of bankruptcy. People who have just rounded their first million sometimes go there to celebrate and are paupers by nightfall. No complaint is more frequently heard at the fair than the cries of the nouveau broke.
With a little foreknowledge, this need not be. Nearly all the better things at the fair are free, and those that are not cost little. Actually, the biggest money drain is the high cost of drinks. In Switzerland the gutters are full of kirsch, but at the Swiss chalet a petit shot costs $1.25. Cocktails and highballs are rare at $1, more common at $1.50.
Food is expensive too, and sometimes it is very good. Entrees at the major restaurants average $6. The most elegant room is the Toledo, downstairs in the Spanish pavilion, where the chef of Madrid's Jockey Club somewhat incongruously serves French cuisine. In Denmark's beautiful small building of latticed woods and spacious glass, a superb Danish smorgasbord is served for $6 a person. Sweden presents its own excellent smorgasbord for the same price. At the Indonesia pavilion, the Kambing Masak Bugis and Ajam Pang-gang cost $6.50. From Mexico (Came Asada Tampiquena, $7) to India (Chicken Masala Jaipure, $5.75), the fair abounds in places where one can eat well and pay well. But nothing much is missed if all of this is skipped. There is no lasting culinary memory to be taken from the fair, as there was in 1939 when the Pavilion's Henri Soulé made his U.S. debut at the French pavilion. Moreover, great Curnonskian meals absorb too much time. The smartest way to eat is to bring your own sandwiches or buy a quick one in Liebmann Breweries' oldtime tavern, where a fast beer and a ham on rye cost $1.10.
There are many other places to eat rapidly without surrendering to the hamburger and hot-dog stands, most notably in the International Plaza, a busy jumble of closely packed shops and food counters. The corner-lot boomtime atmosphere is a pleasant change from the more ordered pace of the rest of the fair. Ecuadorian banana dogs cost 50¢, Norwegian loganberry punch 25¢, and a 99¢ Belgian waffle covered with fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries can be a meal in itself. Peptic athletes can eat Egg Foo Yumburgers, Fishwiches, and frankfurters packed in cornmeal, and wet it all down with Philippine beer. The Luxembourg, a restaurant the size of a closet, serves all the sausage-loaded country onion soup you can eat for $2.
Traps & Troubles. There are a few flypaper palaces that have the bads and should be noted for it. The Hall of Education is full of plastic flower exhibits and other flotsam that has nought to do with education. The Better Living and Transportation & Travel pavilions are both traps. Their Kafkan walls are lined with booths from which predator salesmen claw for the jugular. The pavilion of American Interiors is only a big furniture showroom that charges 50¢ admission. The Underground House ($1) is the pavilion of American Interiors six feet under. Hollywood ($1.25) is a stockade full of tacky TV and movie sets, plus a museum that misspells the names of stars (Tallulla Bankhead).
The so-called Lake Amusement sec tor is merely a disaster area. Its trouble is simple: the amusements the area offers are almost all less amusing than the free shows of the industries. In 1939 this amusement area was four times as large, and there were nudes there. This time there are a few trained porpoises and the flume ride. But these things are not enough to draw crowds, especially when the main entrance to the fair is so far away. The major shows of the area would have to do that, and they are not succeeding. Texas' huge production, To Broadway with Love, costs from $2 to $4.80 and is an oversized, undertalented anthology of Broadway show tunes—done by performers who seem to have been drawn from the senior class at high school. A circus playing to 35 people is one of the rainiest sights in the world, and one can see it in the Ringling tent. The circus is a good one too. Finally, the entire amusement area is ringed by American Machine & Foundry's monorail, which is a good ride but commands a view of the dreariest part of the fair.
Fresh Sudanese dates cost 25¢, and 50¢ buys a look at the recently discovered 1,000-year-old Sudanese Madonna. You can watch a New York harnessmaker make a saddle and West Virginians blow glass. At the Singer exhibit, you can see jeweled woolen fabrics that cost $1,200 a yard. You can walk through the African pavilion, see Watusi dancers and royal Burundi drummers and have your eyes opened to a dozen nations you never knew existed, and a year or so ago you were right.
You can eat pastry flown from Tunis, drink Israeli orange soda, savor an Egyptian beancake sandwich, try a taco from Colombia, drink Greek wine, and sober up at an Indian tea bar. You can inspect benni seeds from Sierra Leone, pitchforks from Taiwan, and yourself on RCA color TV. You can see the Pietà of Michelangelo in the Vatican pavilion.
Totems & Pen Pals. You can see wonderful relics of the early West in a train that has come from Montana—an invitation to a hanging, a machine with which a bartender could mix drinks with his foot, Calamity Jane's thundermug, and Custer's watch. In Parker Pen's handsome pavilion, a computer can seine the world to find you a pen pal who matches your interests and talents. In the New York City building, there is a fabulous 100-ft. by 160-ft. model of the city, including every structure in all five boroughs, built at a scale of 1 in. to 100 ft. for $600,000.
You can watch Japanese warriors play vigorous sword games on a stage surrounded on two sides by water and backed by a thunderous Nagare wall. They smash one another over the head with wooden poles, shouting noises of guttural rage, bobbing, feinting, taking clever steps backward and occasionally falling by accident into the water. You can try on a Panamanian straw hat, test a Nicaraguan wooden spear, and talk to a stranger in California while you stare into his eyes on television-telephone. Alaskan Chilkat Indians will tell you how to make totem poles: start by floating the log in a lake until it steadies, then split off the upper third, since that is where the most knots are.
The great fair succeeds, in the end, because it so abundantly contains the variety of the world. You have only to walk through it to discover continents in the corners of your eyes.
Friday, Jan. 17, 1964 Out of the Bull Rushes
Pick up your left foot, pick up your right, Walk away from every care. This is your fun time, you are entitled to it, Fair is Fair.
And Moses is Moses. This week, in the world's most glamorous ex-dump, feet were being picked up in double time to the tune of Richard Rodgers' official Fair Is Fair march to prove that when Robert Moses says there is going to be a world's fair in Flushing Meadow in 1964, there damn well will be a fair.
In the flat-roofed headquarters building, the electronic countdown clock (Fair staffers call it "the Ulcer Machine") was ticking off the seconds, minutes, hours and days before the long-promised morning of Wednesday, April 22. With 14 weeks to go, it had finally become apparent to everyone that the deadline would be met. Finally, that is, to everyone but Fair President Moses: he never had any doubts. "All that remains," says he, "is to pitch in, let nothing slow our pace, and throw open the doors to those who said at the beginning that we couldn't make it."
There had been good reason for skepticism. The 1959 announcement of the world's biggest world's fair was greeted with a who-needs-it attitude by many of the nation's best-heeled potential exhibitors. The Paris-based International Bureau of Expositions huffily refused to recognize Moses' $500 million gambol in the meadow as a proper world's fair on the grounds (among other reasons) that there can be only one world's fair per country per decade, and Seattle was it. But the big corporations came round, and some nations skirted the bureau code by allowing private trade associations to take over the financing of exhibits; one member nation, Lebanon, defied it by going ahead with an official pavilion. More than 50 nations are represented, and of the major powers, only Great Britain, Italy and Russia abstain.
Belly Dancers, Dragons. Ever since Prince Albert masterminded the first one at London's Crystal Palace in 1851, world's fairs have been almost as frequent as revolutions. Many have influenced the architecture, the entertainment tastes and the commerce of their day. In the U.S., the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, with its acres of white plaster palaces, has been accused of setting the cause of modern architecture back by generations; it also established the belly dance as a U.S. art form. Forty years later, Chicago's 1933 Century of Progress Exposition helped spread the gospel of contemporary architecture with its buildings in the "modernistic" style — forests of blue mirrors, thickets of chromium stair rails, and jungles of neon tubing; it also gave America the fan dance. New York's 1939 fair brought a sense of monumentality combined with reason to architecture, with its carefully planned plazas of glass brick and fluted stucco. It also floated the Aquabelle.
Moses' fair has no architectural unity, and this fact may be its esthetic salvation. Architects and city planners screamed "hodgepodge" when Moses first revealed that it was going to be every designer for himself in 1964. But the resulting potpourri of styles, materials and shapes provides a laboratory for architectural experimenters who can afford to test new and nutty ideas on temporary structures—ideas which may give permanent builders in the U.S. something to think about. Buildings range in style from Architect Ira Kessler's Doric-columned Hall of Free Enterprise, through the gold and vermilion dragon's lair of the Hong Kong pavilion dreamed up by Painter Dong Kingman, and the fortresslike stone Japanese pavilion embellished by Sculptor Masayuki Nagare, to one of Eero Saarinen's last works, the egg-shaped IBM pavilion, which nests above steel treetops, hauls 500 spectators at a time up into its ovoid interior on a sloping "people wall" to view a nine-screen movie about computers.
Theme symbol of the Fair is the Unisphere, a stainless-steel skeleton of the earth complete with illuminated, cut-glass inserts marking capital cities. The 120-ft.-diameter globe is the gift of U.S. Steel, will remain on its fountainhead after the Fair closes. Visitors remembering the Trylon, the tricornered obelisk that towered 700 ft. above the 1939 fair, may wonder why nothing so tall or eye-catching looms above the 1964 exposition. The answer is "progress," in the form of a skyful of jets lowering for Kennedy International Airport six miles away or for La Guardia even closer at hand. The FAA has put a ceiling on the Fair. Tallest structure allowed is the 232-ft. observation tower of the New York State pavilion; on most other buildings, there is an 80-ft. limit. In place of a Trylon, a 13 billion-candlepower tower of light beaming up from the Electric Power and Light pavilion will lure fairgoers at night.
Enough domes have been decreed to make Kubla Khan's eyes bug. Buckminster Fuller's 159-ft.-diameter geodesic dome (TIME cover, Jan. 10) floats over the 2,100-seat World's Fair assembly hall (designed by Architects Eggers and Higgins). Welton Becket & Associates has designed for General Electric a "curvilinear lamella" dotted with lights; moon craters and mountains encrust the dome of the Transportation and Travel pavilion, designed by Clive Entwhistle Associates. The State of Alaska exhibit hunches beneath a concrete igloo conceived by Olson & Sands of Juneau.
The three largest exhibitors at the Fair are automakers. Behind a facade resembling a giant curving windshield, General Motors will present the 1964 model of the Futurama that it introduced at the 1939 fair, will tote 70,000 visitors a day into the future on moving lounge chairs. Ford has hired Walt Disney to whip up a Magic Skyway ride, an updated version of the old scenic railway, which seats visitors in shiny convertibles for an automated safari through a "time tunnel" into prehistory to observe the invention of that vital device, the wheel. In Chrysler's moated compound, between Ford and General Motors, something is going on, but only Chrysler knows what.
Next: Tomorrow. Robert Moses' 1964 catalog of "man's achievements in an expanding universe" (the Fair's theme) is, to a great degree, Grover Whalen's 1939 World of Tomorrow come true. Many of the predicted wonders of Whalen's tomorrowland already seem old-hat after 25 years: superhighway networks, air-conditioned homes and television are long-established faits accomplis. The 1964 Fair forecasts a tomorrow of computers, Plexiglas, and vacations in outer space. Other samplings of man's latest (if less than major) achievements: > "Touchtone" phones (1,400 of them), with pushbuttons instead of dials, which the Bell System is installing in its pay stations. Also loungelike "family booths," in which the whole family can talk to some isolated loved one via a centrally placed microphone —thus providing lifelike conversation, complete with interruptions. Bell will have another marvel to show as bait for future phone users: a device first perfected by the redoubtable Tom Swift in 1914 and now called "Picture Phone" will put callers on house-to-house TV.
> Pay-as-you-nap slumber rooms provided by the Simmons mattress company, where half-hour rest periods will be supervised by "Beautyrest Ladies," who will "check and gently awaken any guest who may have drifted from a light nap to a deep sleep." Price per half-hour snooze: $1. > A chance to photograph Mom as Serpent of the Nile on a set from Cleopatra at Hollywood, U.S.A., a concession masterminded by George Murphy, the former hoofer, now a candidate for the Senate.
> A lifesize, plastic Abraham Lincoln (in the Illinois pavilion) that wrinkles its brow, winks its eye, and recites the Gettysburg Address like a bewhiskered Chatty Cathy. > An actuary's-eye view of the U.S. in the Equitable Life pavilion, where a relief map will flicker with lights as citizens are born or die and a giant counter like a trip speedometer will chronicle the nation's minute-by-minute race toward population explosion. >Electronic pen-palships formed in the Parker Pen pavilion, where a computer will match the interests and languages of Fair visitors with those of overseas correspondents.
If the 1964 Fair promises to be high on achievement, it will be low on hootchy-kootchy. The Meadow Lake Amusement Area, a monorail-belted ghetto for fun and games, will have its share of dancing girls who will bump not, neither will they grind; the reason may be a matter of money as much as morals. Girlie shows at the recent Seattle fair were a financial disaster, and efforts by operators to stimulate business by stimulating the customers brought the paddy wagon for the peelers. But Concession Consultant former Judge Samuel I. Rosenman says that there is no objection to "artistic" shows like the Folies-Bergère or the Lido revue from Paris (though not so bare for the Fair). Says Rosenman: "We want entertainment, all right, but something the police won't raid."
Hot Dogs, Memory Lane. From the top of the heliport, which rears like a T square in the sky at the west end of the Fair site, Robert Moses stood in galoshes and windbreaker last week, looking upon his work in all its muddy, megalithic splendor. What Moses saw, however, was not the Fair and the 70 million visitors who would come to gape and ache and learn during the next two years. He saw what would remain after the last hot dog had been sold, the last blister soothed, and the last pageant had hung up its costumes.
Only the heliport, the Unisphere, and the Hall of Science, among the Fair's great buildings, will survive; the rest will be bulldozed down memory lane. Said Moses: "Even if their foundations were solid enough to make them last—which they aren't—what would we do with them? We want the land for people, for a new sort of super Central Park, with marinas and every outdoor recreation facility. Greater New York's population center has shifted out here, with new apartments rising all the time, and people must have breathing space. This is the last world's fair for Flushing Meadow, and it is going to be a great and wonderful fair. But our park will be even greater." http://www.time.com/time/magazine/0,9263,7601640605,00.html
Monday, Sep. 05, 1994 Jones Beach and the Decline of Liberalism By Charles Krauthammer
Take a drive out of Manhattan, first east, then south, and in about an hour you arrive at one of the most pleasing monuments to activist government to be found in America: Jones Beach, a magnificent ocean park built on a sandbar off the south shore of Long Island. Jones Beach opened 65 years ago, Governor Franklin Roosevelt of New York presiding. But the idea had erupted full blown from the mind of that public-works genius and master builder, Robert Moses. A few years earlier, arriving by boat on that desolate stretch of sand, he sketched on the back of an envelope the park you see today.
The wonder of Jones Beach is the way it was meticulously designed to serve the crammed and harried working classes of New York City, offering them the kind of ocean playground that until then had been open only to the rich. At a time when public beaches meant meager toilets in shabby wooden shacks, notes biographer Robert Caro, Moses sketched two enormous bathhouses a mile apart, with canopied terraces, vast swimming pools and even diaper-changing rooms. And in place of the barkers and hot-dog vendors of Coney Island, he decreed a serene, pristine boardwalk offering shuffleboard and paddle tennis, all at nominal prices -- no commerce allowed.
It was an enormous success. By the hundreds of thousands, workmen and their families poured out of the sweaty city to this marvel of a beach. You can still see it today. True, gone are the legions of sailor-suited college students picking up trash. Gone too, in this age of tort, the archery range and roller rink. But the rest is there, a grand beach park for yet another generation of working-class New Yorkers, with Hispanics and blacks now joining the original beach population of white ethnics.
At the time, writes Caro, designers and architects came from all over Europe to gaze at this wonder. An Englishman summed up their verdict: "The finest seashore playground ever given the public anywhere in the world."
Moses went on to build many more monuments. F.D.R. went on to erect social programs as promiscuously as Moses built state parks. But the point of such activism was plain: government was to produce something tangible, visible, usa- ble for the ordinary working-class -- now called middle-class -- American family. That was the theory of the New Deal, with its unemployment insurance, old-age pensions and assorted public works. That was the animating vision that allowed American liberalism to dominate national politics for four decades.
In recent years, faith in activist government has declined precipitously. The cause is not just Vietnam and Watergate but rather the fateful turn liberal activism took with Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society. Not content with the great middle-class programs like Medicare, Johnson launched a War on Poverty that has since poured trillions down a vast federal sinkhole, leaving little trace -- indeed coinciding with a dramatic rise in crime, homelessness and deviancy of every sort.
Bill Clinton's genius in the 1992 campaign was understanding the abiding power of the idea of activist government -- activism directed not, however, at the fringes of society but at the great middle that keeps it going. He campaigned for the "forgotten middle class." Forgotten, one might note, by modern liberalism. No matter. Clinton remembered.
Hence his national-service program, an echo of the G.I. Bill, aimed at working kids, who would repay their schooling with community service. Hence the crime bill he fought desperately to save, a $30 billion potpourri of prisons and cops, of therapists and social workers turned loose on the ordinary American's No. 1 nightmare: crime. Hence the piece de resistance of Clinton's activist vision: health care "that cannot be taken away." It addresses the quintessential middle-class fear: losing what you've got.
There is something valiant if archaic about Clinton's trying to resurrect activist government. Delivering the goods is far more difficult today. Government is broke. And the issue is not a bathhouse that can be built for a few hundred thousand dollars but a health-care entitlement that could cost trillions.
It is easy to admire the energy and drive behind Clinton's activism. Those skeptical of government's doing social engineering rather than bathhouse construction register a mixture of wonder and alarm at a President so fixed in a belief that runs against the tide of public opinion and the fiscal capacities of modern government.
But to succeed, Clinton must stick to his vision. The principal reason his ambitions for health care and crime met such resistance is that what started out as grand schemes to allay middle-class anxieties were increasingly seen as yet more remedial programs for the poor. Working people don't play midnight basketball. They go to Jones Beach. Build that, and activist government might once again become a going proposition.