Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Views from The Eyrie, New York Cityscapes by Everett H. Scott

                                     Views from The Eyrie
                                                          Cityscapes by Everett H. Scott


     Thirty years ago, in November of 1984, I shared a modest one-bedroom apartment on West 91st Street, in New York City. It was in a building typical of the Upper West Side, pre-war but recently renovated. It remains on the Northwest corner of 91st Street and Broadway. At the time, there was a Twin Donut shop on the corner and a Chinese hand-laundry in the basement. It was a sunny, South-facing apartment with windows over-looking a row of brownstone houses across the street. In one of the brownstones, directly opposite us, lived two of our neighbors, Michael Case, a young mid-westerner, whose miniscule studio apartment was so small that one could literally touch the opposite walls by simply stretching out ones arms. The dimensions of his apartment rendered all of his activities observable. On a lower floor lived a Latino man, employed as a doorman somewhere, but whose passion was making and dressing dolls. From our apartment, we could observe him hunched over his sewing machine, stitching together the voluminous satin and lace ball gowns he devised for the pink plastic dolls on his windowsill.  To insure our own privacy, we ordered wooden Venetian blinds, and John, my roommate, became adept at making draperies. I became practiced at temporarily “blacking out” the windows, with fabric and plastic bags, to avoid exposing my light-sensitive photography materials to sunlight.
     One morning, November 19th, I awoke and announced, to myself as much as  anyone else, “I need another apartment!” Mind you, I was one half of a duo, each of whom had burgeoning collections of furnishings, clothing and books. Then, as now, John, my partners, favorite activity was trolling the local auction houses – Tepper and Lubin galleries, downtown – where he found an endless variety of “objets” from other New Yorker’s estates. I had all of the paraphernalia required to operate a darkroom, which I attempted to maintain in our five by five foot bathroom. It was no small wonder that I was interested in finding more space. As anyone who has undertaken the task to find an apartment in New York – or any place else – can attest, this is a formidable task, generally thought to require “deep pockets,” lots of patience and “a willingness to compromise.” I may have had two of those three.
     Well, after my revelation about needing more space, I went about my days’ routines, which at the time included stopping by the Artweave textile gallery on the ground floor of 310 Riverside Drive, where my friend Ocsi Ullman was a dealer in antique textiles, or “schmattes” as he affectionately called them. Ocsi was something of a mentor to me, and he was plugged into a wide variety of social circles. He always seemed to know what was going on, and where. That afternoon was no different, and when, over a cup of tea, I casually mentioned my interest in finding another apartment, he immediately responded, “Well, you know, there is an apartment available in this building, on the twenty-third floor.” And that, as they say, was that. By four PM of the same day that I lifted my “prayer to the universe,” for an apartment, I found the apartment where the photographs in this portfolio were taken!
     Erected in 1929, The Master’s Apartments remain the tallest apartment building on Riverside Drive. It was the brainchild of the visionary and multi-talented Russian √©migr√©, Nicholas Roerich, (1874 – 1947) whose preferred activity was painting landscapes of The Himalayas. A museum devoted to his work is located on 106th St. He designed the building with the idea of housing artists, musicians and all manner of creative people. From the moment I first entered my apartment, I have regarded the views it affords me with a mixture of awe and fascination. Now, thirty years on, that sense of awe remains undiminished. I continue to marvel at the range of weather phenomena I can observe, often with several different kinds of weather – rain, snow, sunshine - occurring simultaneously. If the windows of my apartment on 91st Street offered a “micro” view of the city, the views from The Masters’ offer a “macro” perspective, encompassing all of midtown, East to Queens, North to Westchester and even deep into New Jersey. Inspired by these views, I have nurtured an appreciation of urban bird-life, which I find to be somewhat analogous to ocean-life on a reef: many smaller species represented in the shallows, i.e. at street level, with fewer, larger species patrolling the depths, i.e. higher airspace. Thus, the apartments name: The Eyrie - The nest of an Eagle or other bird of prey, built in a high inaccessible place.

     On 91st street, beyond the limited view from our location, was the invisible yet perceptible “aural” landscape of city noises that floated up to our apartment. The honking of buses, and taxis, and the voices of individual humans, going about their business, at all hours of the day and night that created their own imagery. Contrast this with the trills of an occasional Nightingale, perched, singing on a parapet to proclaim his territory that float into my un-shaded windows at The Masters. It is another world, from that which most New Yorkers are aware of, which I am happy to share with you, as best I can, in these pictures. They make me mindful of that old photographic enigma: that while a photograph may last forever, it represents the most fleeting of moments, changing even as one presses the shutter.

(Copyright Everett H. Scott 2014. All rights reserved.)