a few words about the Haughwout Building

I've always liked the Haughwout Building. I remember in the early '90s when it was ghostly and blackened and the clock face stood out sharply; I had sort of liked it that way. The original color of the building, as described in a contemporary account, was "Turkish drab" though now its a brilliant warm ecru. Today I went and took a few photos.

The store, numbers 488-492 Broadway, was built at the corner of Broome Street in 1856 for retailer Eder Vreeland Haughwout (evidently pronouned "HOW-out"). It was designed by John Plant Gaynor, who was inspired by the Sansovino Library in Venice, although if I'd read he'd been inspired by French pastry I would believe that, too. The facade,
one of two of the earliest surviving examples of cast iron architecture, is constructed from components fabricated by Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works and it is completely self-supporting. With 5 floors above ground, and 2 below, the building featured the first safely viable passenger elevator, by Otis. The elevator has long since been removed.

Like many of the retail "palaces" lining Broadway in the 19th century the store not only displayed and sold luxury items, it manufactured them as well. Haughwout's offered silver, antiques, bronzes, Parian statuettes and other goods on the main floor, glass, mirrors and china on the second , chandeliers on the third. Upper floors housed part of the manufactory with scores of women gilding and painting china, and men working on metalware. According to this site, Mary Todd Lincoln shopped at Haughwout's in 1861 and bought a set of custom china for the White House– an American eagle surrounded by a wide mauve border.

Saved from the path of Robert Moses' Lower Manhattan Expressway nightmare, the building was landmarked (surprising early) in 1965.

Top two illustrations from
Art and the Empire City, New York 1825-1861, Yale University Press and Metropolitan Museum; b/w images from Tom Fletcher's NYC architecture


the joy for things

I've been bogged down. I've been thinking about what it is, exactly, I want to say about collecting. Rather, about living with, and amongst, clutter, stuff, things. Historically, I have not been a collector so much as a diffuse acquirer– flea market paintings? of course, 19th century paper ephemera?, yes! pottery? green please, antique shoe lasts, why not, mysterious wooden tools, pieces of bone and horn, hotel silver... and on and on. Each item, at time of purchase or discovery, feeling like an imperative. Each item inspiring a sense, too, of self-important grandiosity: This must come home with someone who understands the significance! someone who appreciates the singular peculiarity! This, this, is the possession of someone who rejects decor from a catalog!

Yet lately I've had to confront increasingly ambivalent feelings about these acquisitions and my life amongst them. What do these things say about me? What does it mean to live in... a display?

Meanwhile, I had a wonderful visit from my friend Robert, collage artist, Master Printer at Bowne & Co., and quasi-magical personage (that's R, above, who came calling armed with scissors, a bone folder and a large bag). "Oh, your apartment! It's like a Joseph Cornell box!" he exclaimed and part of me was overjoyed. Robert, I should explain, is the King of Things. He has a hidden studio in the West Village where he works, amidst piles of oddments, on his collages. A stop there, as described in a previous post:

A highlight of the evening was a chance to see Robert Warner's basement workshop in the Village. Though there was a little hesitation on his part-- too many people? delicate sensibilities likely to be offended? embarrassing things left in view? rat poison? -- we prevailed. Down the stairs, through a door, along a narrow dilapidated corridor, right, through another door, out into a small rear courtyard and to the left, by the wooden stairs. We all crowded into the workshop past jars of lamp black and springs, boxes marked "marbles" or "better photographs", piles of papers, Howdy Doody heads, books, toy eyeglasses, drawers open and quietly exploding, and an ample sprinkling of glitter.
During his visit with me Robert extracted from his bag, one by one, some of his recent works-in-progress and we proceeded to discuss:
"Oh, chandelier crystals?"
"Yes, glitter is perfect there."
"Perhaps a postcard, instead?"
"I'm not sure about Myopia"
He pointed to virtually every detail of my apartment, obvious and not so, that had thrilled me when back I first saw it (way too many) years ago. He picked out, without prompt, each of the prized objets that I had framed, hung, piled, leaned or fussed over. Then he brought out a box for me filled with antique bits, collage pieces and inspiration. Right then, and for a while after, I felt an unequivocal joy for things.


now and then

Devotion to the past [is] one of the more disastrous forms of unrequited love.
Susan Sontag "Unguided Tour," quoted in The Past is a Foreign Country David Lowenthal

I was rereading an article from the April 16th New Yorker about an Amazonian tribe living in virtual isolation for thousands of years. Their language is, in certain respects, bafflingly "simple" and does not seem to adhere to current linguistic paradigms. They have no numbers beyond 2 or 3, no fixed color terms, no abstract ideas, no descriptive clauses, no perfect tense, no deep memory. That's what caught my attention:
Everett pointed to the word xibipío as a clue to how the Pirahã perceive reality solely according to what exists within the boundaries of their direct experience...“When someone walks around a bend in the river, the Pirahã say that the person has not simply gone away but xibipío—‘gone out of experience,’ ” Everett said. “They use the same phrase when a candle flame flickers. The light ‘goes in and out of experience.’ ” ...Everett...called it the “immediacy-of-experience principle.”
Essentially, they live eternally in the present. If something goes out of vision, it is out of experience and no longer of concern. This strikes me as humorously appealing only because, well, I need a little of that. It's very self-help and Power of Now, no?

In my endless preparation/procrastination for another post I've been lightly trying my hand at some Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History, on recommendation from the frighteningly erudite Dylan Trigg of side effects. Although the reading is for my next post, this seemed particularly apt for me, right now:
The person who cannot set himself down on the crest of the moment, forgetting everything from the past, who is not capable of standing on a single point, like a goddess of victory, without dizziness or fear, will never know what happiness is.
The more reading I do, the more my once-discreet ideas
on collecting, on the nature of the "museum", and on the past--personal, psychical--are now collapsing inwards and piling up. How ridiculous: to be caught in a stasis formulating ideas about the Past for some time in the future...

The incredible portraits of
Pirahã, at top, by Martin Schoeller seemed so 'timeless' they, ironically, reminded me of the inscrutable 2500 year old "archaic smile" of Ancient Greek art (kouros, and a figure from Ephesus)


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