Christopher Gray reports for The New York Times: Down the Block, Deep in the Stacks. Nearly 30 Years of Documenting New York.
Michael Sterne, then the Real Estate editor of The New York Times, conceived of the Streetscapes column in 1986, and paid me the compliment of hiring me to write it. Now, with my final column, it may be appropriate to present an apologia for what I hoped to do, and what I have done.
The landscape of local history, particularly the history of buildings, was pretty bare in 1975, when I was fresh out of Columbia’s School of General Studies. Rather than take up the work of a poet or a cabdriver, I decided to go for the big money: architectural history.
Traditionally, the field had been restricted to the tour bus monuments that academics studied for years at a time: the Duomo in Milan, the United States Custom House in New York — maybe even, for the adventurous academic, the Chrysler Building. To me, these did not capture the essence of the city. It was the little dead ends, the deserted loft districts, the old ethnic clubs — these were what were interesting.