LMCC Open Studios Weekend / Offbeat Walking Tour with Robert Kaufman
Last weekend was the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's annual Open Studios event (coinciding, by the way, with TOAST), and while I think it's always sort of interesting to look at art within the artist's workspace—they're usually there and willing to chat, and the pieces are in varying stages of doneness—the real draw for me was the free walking tour. Last year I joined Red Dive and wandered around the financial district accompanied by dancers and musicians; the year the only tour was led by Robert Kaufman, author of Blockology, a loving look at the 36 most intriguing blocks below 14th Street.
The afternoon began at the LMCC studios on Hudson Street, right above Vestry. None of the art paricularly excited me, but there was free pizza and doughnuts and coffee and crudites and the atmosphere was all pretty friendly and laid back. Then at 3:00 I headed out with about 25 other people—and, I must say, it was a motley crew—to see what Kaufman could tell us about Lower Manhattan. Bottom line: he was good with the trivia, much less so with the stories that might have really brought the excursion to life. Here's a quick look at some of the more interesting stops....
The pedestrian walkway over back-in-time Staple Street, where sea-going merchants used to sell anything and everything that the more legitimate markets wouldn't take.
Kaufman on the corner of... wait, can you guess?... yes, it's Hudson and Beach.
Early American Express logo, on the company's ancient office building on (I believe) Laight Street. According to Kaufman, Amex first struck it rich when they won the right to become the exclusive money-changer on Ellis Island.
One of the city's three remaining James Bogardus cast-iron buildings, at 85 Leonard Street between Church and Broadway. Bogardus is regarded as the inventor of cast-iron exteriors, which was not only a boon to engineers (cast iron being much lighter than stone), but also to flourish-loving architects, who could now pick-n-choose from a pre-fab assortment of columns, porticoes, ledges and the like.
Kaufman told us that the tiny, triangular Duane Park, on Duane and Hudson Streets, is New York City's oldest public park. The official "Friends of..." website says it's actually the second-oldest... but either way, and as meager in acreage as it may be, it's been offering Tribeca residents a place to sit and relax since 1797.
This is 20 Vesey Street, across from Trinity Church. What's sort of interesting about this building is that those four figures near the top were created by John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, who also carved Mount Rushmore. What very, very interesting about this location is that inside was where I held my first-ever job, at the age of 17, at a company called the Document Management Group!
Anyway, the tour lasted about 30 minutes more than I would have liked... as I said, Kaufman was not much of a storyteller. But it was nice to have an excuse to walk around a neighborhood I'm rarely ever in, paying attention to all the small details that normally don't get noticed.
The LMCC has lots of interesting events and projects going on all year. For updated information and to sign up for their well-done newsletter, go to lmcc.net.