Saturday, April 9, 2016


Hurrah for the bold, bright paint job of the Erin-Ann! I always enjoy walking past it. Despite a rash of new buildings on the north side, this block of 8th still has a wonderful range of architecture. The old Higgins ink factory, the small brick & frame row houses (with a back house or two, to boot), the six & eight-family staples, a couple of free-standers, St. Savior's church & parochial school buildings at each corner of Fourth. Even the pale, unattractive modern townhouse, half pseudo nineteenth-century, half Brooklyn de Chirico, gains a modicum of melancholy charm as it looms over the parking lot of the Van Brunt PO. Here there is variety, here there is context and here you can see a piece of a borough in different stages of its evolution.

The charms of a street of almost identical brownstones arriving all at once on a block of empty lots at the end of the 1800s, can seem stuffy and conformist in comparison. Handsome, yes, but sometimes oppressive.  Secure in land-marked good looks, yes, but constrained by regulation. Increasing in wealth & attendant propriety, they can seem a little stiff & hidebound.

Give me idiosyncrasy! A street like 8th.  A mixed-use industrial/residential one, or a block of alternating brick and wooden dwellings - rooftops flat and pitched, a porch or two, or three, or four, one house set below street level & betraying its age, one house sitting right at the front of its lot, another hugging its back fence.  A stretch of short brick houses as small as cottages.  Mixed facades. Siding on the front, shingles on the sides. Asphalt brick papering, aluminum awnings. An eyebrow window here, an attic dormer there.  Multiplicity! The pitch of tall frame apartment buildings settled with age, none of them lining up straight to the eye - one listing forward, another leaning back, holding each other steady.  Delicate old creatures, age-worn, but still beautiful.

Irish Erin-Ann is comparatively modern, one of the eight-families built around the time when the Fourth Avenue subway came in. You'll see plenty of these round here, but I like this one especially for its defiant, energetic color.  It makes me think of Frank O'Hara's My Heart:

                                                        ... I 
don't wear brown and grey suits all the time, 
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera, 
often. I want my feet to be bare, 
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart-- 
you can't plan on the heart, but 
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.


sqkarn said...

Thanks for this. I keep a copy of that poem pinned above my desk. Sarah from 16th St.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Thanks. I have the old MTA Poetry in Motion poster of O'Hara's poem. It was above my desk for many years too & I think the kids know it almost by heart. Needs to go back up again!