Friday, August 2, 2013

Is a Park Better Than a Monstrosity?

One thing that surprised me when I visited New York City was the plethora of parks. I guess I had thought Central Park was the only one. Some of the parks in Manhattan are very small, but they offer respites of green space and refreshing fountains that city dwellers need. Battery Park, Washington Square, Market Square, Gramercy Park, Hudson River Park...Wikipedia says there are 74 parks in Manhattan!

The development of the city has a long history. Open spaces came and went over the centuries. In Book Two of the Ellis Island Series the male protagonist is a postman, so naturally I was interested in the main post office building of the time. What I discovered surprised me. Not that the building of that era no longer exists, but that it was so sorely disfavored from the time it was erected in 1880 to when it was demolished in 1939 in favor of extending City Hall Park. The main post office was considered "old fashioned" and an eyesore on the point of Broadway, Park Row, and Chambers Street.

In this photograph the building looks majestic.

Maybe it's the coloring or the perspective, but this photograph causes me to see the complaint. See the wee bit of green peeking out behind the left side of the building? That's the hidden City Hall Park.

It was designed by architect Arthur Mullet and dubbed "Mullet's Monstrosity." The post office was built in the style of the Second Empire Baroque. It's not that there weren't any other buildings of that style. One example is the Waldorf-Astoria, built later in 1893. At the time it was "the talk of the town." Perhaps New Yorkers thought the style better suited to a luxury hotel than a post office. However, this building (pictured below) was demolished ten years before Mullet's post office.


A 1912  New York Times article voiced concern that a proposal in Congress to demolish the Mullet Post Office might fail. Plans were to extend City Hall Park through the spot where the building stood.
"The Mullet Post Office has always been an architectural eyesore, and has, from the first, been unsatisfactory to the Postal Service and the Federal Courts also beneath its roof...The restoration of City Hall Park as a civic centre, with no superfluous building to mar its parklike aspect, so that old City Hall could remain as a historic landmark amid appropriate surroundings has been looked forward to..."

The issue, of course, was that it was Federal property that the city wanted back. No doubt that's what took so long. New Yorkers wanted the building gone almost as soon as it went up. Perhaps the fact that it stood on a point made it too overbearing.

The deed was done, however. Here's an early photograph from 1939.


And here it is today.


City Hall Park

City Hall Park - Lower Manhattan

So what do you think? Is the park better or do you like the elaborate old building?