kottke.org posts about New York

Building the Empire State BuildingNov 04 2010

New York, the documentary film by Ric Burns, contains a great segment on the Empire State Building that is available on YouTube in three parts.

The first two parts are particularly interesting, especially the construction stuff that starts around the five minute mark of part one. Oh, and don't miss the steelworkers throwing red hot rivets around to each other...that starts right near the end of part one and continues into part two. Some other highlights:

- The original Waldorf-Astoria hotel was torn down (with no small amount of glee from the ESB's developers) to make room for the new skyscraper. The hotel was built by William Waldorf Astor, heir to the forture created by his father and grandfather (John Jacob Astor & John Jacob Astor III), on the site of his father's mansion. WW Astor's cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, went down on the Titanic and the Senate hearings into the disaster were held at the hotel.

- The steel beams were custom forged in Pittsburgh and shipped immediately to the building site...some arrived still hot to the touch from the furnaces.

- At the peak of construction, the workers were adding 4-5 stories a week. During one 22-day stretch, 22 new floors were erected. From start to finish, the entire building took an astonishing 13 months to build, about the same amount of time recently taken by the MTA to fix the right side of the stairs of the Christopher St subway station entrance.

- The building didn't become profitable until 1950.

(thx, lily)

The vanished gardens of CordobaAug 09 2010

Cordoba is a city in southern Spain that was capital of the Umayyad caliphate of the same name during the Middle Ages. In the tenth century, it passed Baghdad the largest city in Islam and may have been the largest in the world.

Cordoba House is the name of a proposed complex on Park Place in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center site, sometimes called the "ground-zero mosque."

Newt Gingrich thinks the name is "a deliberately insulting term" that tests "the historic ignorance of American elites." In particular, he cites transformation of a church in Cordoba into a mosque as "a symbol of Islamic conquest" over Christian Spain.

Carl Pyrdum, a graduate student who blogs at Got Medieval, wrote a long, well-footnoted post detailing the problems with Newt's history.

Notice how carefully he's phrased his claim to give the impression that during the medieval conquest of Spain the Muslims charged into Cordoba and declared it the capital of a new Muslim empire, and in order to add insult to injury seized control of a Christian church and built the biggest mosque they could, right there in front of the Christians they'd just conquered, a big Muslim middle finger in the heart of medieval Christendom. Essentially, they've done it before, they'll do it again, right there at Ground Zero, if all good Christians don't band together to stop them.

The problem is, in order to give that impression of immediacy, Newt elides three hundred years of Christian and Muslim history. Three hundred years. The Muslims conquered Cordoba in 712. The Christian church that was later transformed into the Great Mosque of Cordoba apparently continued hosting Christian worship for at least a generation after that. Work on the Mosque didn't actually begin until seventy-odd years later in 784, and the mosque only became "the world's third-largest" late in the tenth century, after a series of expansions by much later rulers, probably around 987 or so.

The Great Mosque was actually built to commemorate the defeat of the Abbasids, the Umayyad's rivals for control of Andalusia. Joint worship emphasized the legitimacy of the Cordoban caliphate and its superiority to the rowdy Abbasids. "Far from 'symboliz[ing] their victory'," Pyrdum writes, "the Mosque was held up by Muslim historians a symbol of peaceful coexistence with the Christians--however messier the actual relations of Christians and Muslims were at the time." Before the Christians, the site hosted ruins of a Roman pagan temple.

Pyrdum's post was picked up by Crooked Timber, the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan, and other popular sites and worked its way up from there. On Twitter, David Weinberger wrote: "It's why we have blogs, people."

Imagine a newspaper or television station reporting on this story twenty years ago; if they had thought to fact-check Newt's talking point, they would have either sent a researcher to the library or phoned an historical or Islamic studies expert for comment. Then it may have been cut for space or time. That's not how things work any more. Knowledge floats.

Update:Michael Berube notes that the name "Cordoba" in Cordoba House is a known reference to the deliberately insulting interior of a 1975 Chrysler.

School vending machines getting healthierMay 21 2010

Changes in regulations governing school vending machines by states like New York and California are making healthy options more prominent. This is a good thing.

This spring the Alliance for a Healthier Generation reported an 88 percent decrease in beverage calories shipped to schools from the first half of 2004-05 to 2009-10, mostly due to calorie reformulations and reduced container sizes.

(via Carrie Becker)

Subway yearbook?Sep 28 2009

A recent Improv Everywhere endeavor had a photo booth set up in a New York subway car. They told riders that the MTA had hired them to take photographs of every person who used the subway, and that there would be a yearbook at the end of the year. The result was one interesting, if misinformed, class.

NY transit and traffic status on TwitterJul 27 2009

Get traffic and transit updates for NY on Twitter...including NYC subway lines! There are separate accounts for the 123, ACE, JMZ, 456, BDFV, LS, 7, G, and NQRW. (via @bobulate)

Update: @NYCtrains also does NYC subway updates. (thx, pierre)

Tags related to New York:
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