Hammershoi's Light

Dust Motes Dancing in Sunbeams, 1900, Wilhelm Hammershøi.
A room in the artist's 17th-century apartment building
which was
located in a busy area near Copenhagen's docks and factories.
Tall Windows, 1913
study of sunlight, 1906.
In art school a teacher said of Hammershoi, "I have a student who paints in a very strange way....
I think he'll become important."

Interior Courtyard, Strandgade 30, 1899
The artist c. 1885
a photograph I took at Governors Island 2012
Danish artist Wilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) travelled widely through Europe and painted landscapes, farms, and other rural scenes but his most compelling and recognized works are his quiet, melancholy interiors, mostly of the apartments he lived in in Copenhagen. Non-narrative yet with an oddly cinematic quality, Hammershoi's paintings capture nearly empty rooms, sometimes with a solitary figure, often his wife Ida. Painted within a tight tonal range of grays, and desaturated yellows and blues these rooms seem to murmur in a near hypnotic state. Air and light are almost palpable. Although these are not restful or inviting interiors, I'm unfailingly drawn to them.


Triangle Shirtwaist Fire remembrance

The smoldering Asch Building-- The Triangle Shirtwaist Co. (sign circled) occupied the top 3 floors.
Today it is the Brown Building, part of New York University.
Bodies placed in caskets on the scene nearby
Identifying bodies at the 26th Street morgue.

Mass funeral procession and memorial on April 5th, 1911
Funeral procession and memorial on April 5th, 1911
Obituary I saved for one of last 2 survivors, from 1999. Oddly, the last survivor died two years later,
also at 107 years old and also in February.
UPDATE: The 102nd anniversary of the Triangle Factory fire this week brings a call for entries to design a memorial to the victims and establish symbolic recognition for the changes in labor and safety laws. Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is holding an international design competition, to be judged by Deborah Berke and Daniel Liebeskind and other notables, for a memorial on the facade of the Brown Building (see below).

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, the workday was ending at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, housed on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building off Washington Square. Pay envelopes had been handed out when fire flared up in a scrap bin under one of the cutters' tables on the 8th floor. As fire devoured the bolts of cloth and wicker baskets of trimming, many of the men and women working there panicked as a key exit door had been locked, and many didnt even know there was a fire escape. Not that knowing about the single fire escape helped: it was extremely narrow and rather flimsy and gave way under the strain of dozens of workers fleeing. The elevator operator was able to make 3 trips before the cables stopped functioning. A few women jumped onto the elevator cable and tried to slide down. Several people were able to make it to the roof. Sixty-two died by jumping or falling from the ninth floor. The fire department arrived quickly but was unable to stop the flames, as there were no ladders available that could reach beyond the sixth floor. Their safety nets tore as the jumpers hit them. In 18 minutes 146 people died.

The company's owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, had fled to the building's roof when the fire began and survived. They were later put on trial, but the jury acquitted. They lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 and were held accountable for compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty.
The Asch Building is now the Brown Building of science, a part of New York University (NYU).//

Cornell University has created an incredibly thorough and comprehensive site on the Triangle fire and the resulting union, safety and legal implications.
Several of the images here are from the site. There are transcripts of interviews with survivors conducted 46 years after the fire, in 1957. So many small details that really make it real (italics are mine):

When we came downstairs, the firemen were not there yet but the first thing we saw were girls lying on the sidewalk. We thought they had fainted and one of my girl friends said, "Thank God we are not like them, we're alright. She went over to one of the girls lying on the sidewalk and bent over her and she was hit by another falling body and killed.

I remember my father was in a barber shop getting a shave and somebody ran in and said, "Your daughter is coming and her face is all with blood". You know, in those days when a fella asked a girl to marry him and she said no, they would cut up her face. So while we were walking down the block, rolling from side to side, Frank was a little drunk, we were hurt, my father came running out of the barbershop with the towels hollering who did it, who did it - I'll kill him. My mother upstairs looked out of the window and saw me with blood on my face and my father hollering I'll kill him and she came down running into the street wringing her hands and crossing herself and crying "Who, Who?"

The elevator had made several trips. I knew this was the last one but it was so loaded that the car started to go down. The door was not closed. Suddenly I was holding to the sides of the door looking down the elevator shaft with girls screaming and pushing behind me. It was the old style elevator -- cable elevator ... That cable was at the side of the elevator shaft. I reached out and grabbed it. I remember sliding all the way down. I was the first one to slide down the shaft. I ended up on top of the elevator and then I lost consciousness. Others must have landed on top of me. When the rescue workers came to the shaft they pulled me out and laid me out on the street. I had a broken leg, broken arm. My skull had been injured. One of my hands had been burned by friction. Editors NOTE: (apparently this is a case in which the victim, taken for dead, was removed with the other bodies but separated from them when life was detected in time.)

I think that the girl right in back of me had her hair singed by flames -- that's how close the fire was to us. I don't remember how I got down that narrow staircase but I was cold, wet and hysterical. I was screaming all the time. When we came to the bottom I could not get out of the building. The firemen held us back in the doorway. The bodies were falling all around us and they were afraid to let us go out because we would be killed by the falling bodies. I stood there with the other girls screaming until the men saw a chance for us to get across and I remember they let me across the street and took me into a Chinese importing house where they tried to quiet me down and gave me milk to drink. I could see through the window how the bodies were still falling and would hit the sidewalk with a bounce.

I rushed with the other girls but just as I came to the door of the elevator it dropped down right in front of me. I could hear it rush down and I was left standing on the edge trying to hold myself back from falling into the shaft....Maybe through panic or maybe through instinct I saw the center cable of the elevator in front of me. I jumped and grabbed the cable. That is all I remember. My next thing I knew was when I opened my eyes and I was lying on my back and I looked up into the faces of a priest and a nun who were trying to help me. I was in St. Vincent's Hospital. ...I don't know how long I stayed in St. Vincent's but when I was well the Red Cross came with my clothing which they got from my family and took me straight to the mountains for a rest. At the same time, the Red Cross paid my family $10 a week for 10 weeks. I never got a dime's worth of help from the company.


Champagne Wishes, Caviar Dreams

A good portion of the residential advertising in the collection might be considered aspirational...
Very Don Draper!
The brochure (c. 1969) for 111 Livingston Street, a commercial office building in Downtown Brooklyn,
touted it as "5 minutes from Wall Street" (see below) with "high-speed, computer-controlled elevators,"
"prestige design", and "Its own energy system"— generators, water, the works... I can almost imagine the sleek, space-age "machine for living" (or working) they thought they were crafting.
The reality today is a stained and dog-eared International Style/Brutalist hybrid that's parked like a loiterer in Brooklyn Heights.
"attended lobby with message receiving service"...
"Manual for Tenants"... c. 1954
I stumbled across the online New York Real Estate Brochure Collection in Columbia's Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. It comprises 9,200 advertising brochures, floor plans, price lists, etc documenting residential and commercial real estate promotion in New York City from the 1920s to the 1970s. The collection was compiled over the years by the printer of these brochures.They were actually printing samples! While the collection is only as good as the caliber of work associated with this particular printer—and you need to have a fascination with floor plans to really get excited—there are some noteworthy pieces. I especially liked the iconic (might we say cliched?) mid-century advertising lettering. Also of note are the hundreds of leaflets for red brick and later white brick mid-rise apartment blocks. (And I do use that word in a considered fashion.) Untold legions of these buildings pockmark the city. Not nearly as bad as today's Fedders Buildings, they are a sad lackluster lot none the less. Ok, yes, I might possibly be able to appreciate a few of the formerly reviled white brick apartment buildings. (When they're good, they're actually a step up in a "That Girl", zingy kind of way.) It is the red brick buildings, typically with terraces, utilitarian to the extreme and without any hint of flair, that are, in a word, soulless. I know, I grew up in one.
a typical Outer Borough, mid-rise red brick apartment block


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