Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"super" as in "over the top"

I've never developed any lasting fidelities to professional sports teams. It's true though that I've had an interest in the football Giants going back to the glory years of Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Roosevelt Brown, Andy Robustelli, Alex Webster, and, ultimately, the great old man, Yelberton Abraham Tittle. And so I'll be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday. And so also I've been reading Mike Tanier's blog postings in the NYT, hoping, as he does, that fortune will favor the New Yorkers while expecting that the Patriots will pull off a win.

Yesterday, Mike wrote about the transformation of the Super Bowl's host city. The post has an eye-popping typo in its headline which alerts you to the fact that this is a true weblog and not an article in the Grey Lady herself. The blog post is Everything Indy: The Invastion of the Roman Numerals in
The Fifth Down (New York Times N.F.L. Blog), January 30, 2012.*

Mike says "The N.F.L.’s fascination with Roman numerals is one of the league’s most bombastic traits, but the commitment to classical pretense pays off when the league builds on an epic scale. Park a giant '46' in the middle of a city, and passersby scratch their heads. Erect a hulking 'XLVI' into town central, and watch everyone stop to take pictures in front of it. ... While monolithic and omnipresent, the N.F.L.’s makeover is obviously temporary upon close inspection. The enormous numerals are made of fabric fastened over mesh, the sunburst pattern on the sides of the numerals resembling plywood when viewed from a distance."

{This image is in the public domain. Mike's blog shows one that's similar but copyright protected.}

The giant numerals remind me of another extravagant urban makeover, one that celebrated a naval victory over the Spanish Empire in 1898: the Dewey Arch.

Wikipedia explains:
The Dewey Arch was a triumphal arch that stood from 1899 to 1901 at Madison Square in Manhattan, New York. It had been erected for the parade in honor of Admiral George Dewey to celebrate his victory in the Battle of Manila Bay at the Philippines in 1898.

In spring 1899, planning for the parade, which was scheduled for September, began. Architect Charles R. Lamb found support for his idea of building a triumphal arch amongst the members of the National Sculpture Society, of which he also was a member. A committee of the society, comprising Lamb, Karl Bitter, Frederick W. Ruckstull, John Quincy Adams Ward, and John De Witt Warner, proposed the construction of an arch to the city of New York, which approved these plans in July 1899.

With only about two months left, it was decided to build the arch and its colonnade in staff, a material that had been used for the temporary buildings of several World's Fairs. Modeled after the Arch of Titus in Rome, the Dewey Arch was decorated with the works of 28 sculptors and featured a large quadriga (done by Ward) on top that showed four horses drawing a ship. At night, the arch was illuminated with electric light bulbs.

After the parade on September 30, 1899, the arch quickly began to deteriorate. An attempt to raise money to have the arch rebuilt with more durable materials (as had been done for the arch in Washington Square Park) failed, and thus the arch was demolished in 1901. The larger sculptures were sent to Charleston for an exhibit, and were destroyed afterwards.

Here is a photo of the Dewey Arch taken an employee of the Detroit Publishing Co. and found in collections of the Prints and Photos Division of the Library of Congress. It is a photochrom, that is to say a lithographic print made via an early type of colorizing that was generally used to make postcards.

{Caption: The Naval Arch at Madison Square, New York City, ca. 1900}

Here's the original from which the color version was made. It comes from a large-format glass plate negative.

{Caption: Madison Square and Dewey Arch, New York, N.Y., 1900, 1 negative, glass, 8 x 10 in.}

The photo just below is the right half of a panoramic view of Madison Square Park taken in 1905. It shows what the park and the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway looked like without the Dewey Arch. See my blog post, Madison Park 1905, for details from the photo-pair. (I've written frequently about the park and its part of the city. To find the posts, search 'Madison Park' in this blog.)

{Caption: Madison Square from the Flat-Iron [i.e. Flatiron] Building, New York, 1905, 2 glass negatives, 8 x 10 in.}

Here are some details from the Dewey Arch photo.

1. You can tell that it's 20 past noon on a warm day. The park is full of people enjoying the shady peace it offers. It seems to be a work day; in other photos there are prams and children, but not this one. As usual the streets have lots of pedestrians and you can see bicyclists, two in this case, one of whom you see here, framed by the massive arch.

2. The wagon catches your eye, but also the crumbling imitation rock (called "staff") out of which the arch is constructed.

3. The contrast between Corinthian capitals and self-absorbed bench sitters is pointed, as they say.

3. A nice contrast here, as well, between imaginary heroic figures and a a very real New Yorker, pedestrian, literally, but I think not figuratively.

4. A contrast here between mundane and angelic with our interest falling more naturally with the former over the latter.

5. The great tower atop the old Madison Square Garden shows the only advertising on view in this photo.

*Update: the headline has been corrected: Everything Indy: The Invasion of the Roman Numerals

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