The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902


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All this was as effective as it was exemplary, one of the best things in its kind in New York, we repeat. It is at once depressing and irritating to see what the Vandal has done with it. When he set his workmen chipping away the brickwork of the well- studied arches, the instructed passer inferred that he thought he needed more light for the openings of the principal story, and that he was going to square them out to the line of the ceiling and lintel them.

Not at all. He gets not a square foot more of light, if he even gets as much.

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His alterations are exclusively architectural. The perfectly commonplace and meaningless assem- blage of round arches with protruding keystones over seg- mental arches also furnished with protruding keystones, with which he has hidden a work of architecture is a wonder. The new basement is a mere sheathing of artificial stone in imita- tion of white marble absolutely incongruous, in material as well as in treatment with the honest brickwork of the superstruc- ture.

It is an amaz- ing exhibition of presumptuous ignorance and unconscious impu- dence. At least it ought to be amazing, and would be if we did not recall other like examples of the same qualities. Nobody who is entitled to an opinion would maintain the skyscraper which has succeeded the American Exchange Bank, or would expect the sky- scraper which is to succeed the Continental Bank to be architec- turally as valuable as the work it displaces. But in these cases there are legitimate commercial considerations for the displace- ment of the architecturally better by the architecturally worse.

The owner has spent good money, though to be sure the minimum amount and in the meanest way, in spoiling good work because he liked bad work better, or expected that his tenants would like it better, and that he could more easily get them to take quarters behind the stupid sham with which he has fronted and hidden a piece of architecture than be- hind the architecture itself. It is a strange calculation, almost in- sulting to those upon whose bad taste he so confidently counts.

He is a subject for the psychologist. Or is it possible that he saw nothing but the com- mission he was to get for spoiling the building, and that he had no qualms about obliterating the work of his intellectual superiors? These are questions of a certain interest. But the result is the same, a piece of impudent vandalism.

When anybody tells you that the public taste in architecture is improving, you just show him a picture, or appeal to his recollection, of the Morse Building, and then walk him to the indicated corner and tell him to contem- plate the Nassau-Beekman. Hempstead, L. Hunt, Architect. IOI Hempstead, L. Broadway and 71st Street, New York City. The Church Glass and Decorating Co.

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The economic aspect of the unrestricted construction of sky- scrapers is not a matter which has ever received very serious at- tention. It has been generally assumed that however they may mar the appearance of a city, they are undoubt- edly a great business convenience, and a fertile source of real estate values. But in the light of certain recent de- velopments of skyscraper economics in New York and elsewhere, we are justified in putting a question mark against this commonly received opinion.

From the point of view of the majority of the property owners, it can be conclusively shown to be a drawback rather than a benefit. The erection of tall office buildings makes for the concentration of business in small specially favored localities, such as that within a radius of four hundred yards of the Stock Exchange. A limitation on the height of such buildings, on the other hand, would make for the distribution of this business over a larger area, and the consequent distribution of the real estate value created among a larger number of property owners.

The effect of the distribution on values would be to diminish the cost of real estate on certain parts of Broadway, Wall St. Assuming that the same amount of business would be transacted under a regulated as un- der an unregulated system, this business would require, of course, a larger number of smaller buildings, and the augmented demand for space all over the city, caused by the purchase of sites for a larger number of buildings would bring about a pretty general increase of values.

Moreover, it would not decrease the amount of rentable space within the peculiarly advantageous localities as much as may be supposed, because the owners of eighteen and twenty story buildings have found it necessary in a great many cases to purchase adjoining property, in order to protect their light and air. Life, the Park Row, the Commercial Cable, the Atlantic Mutual, the Singer, and many other buildings in New York City, and the result is that many very well situated parcels of real estate are withheld from improvement, which in case there had been a limitation of the height of buildings to eight or nine stories, would have been most assuredly improved.

The amount of property so withheld varies in different streets, but probably, on the whole, it would amount to as much as a fifth of the space occupied by the tall buildings. The disadvantages of wider distribution of office buildings would in some cases make no difference at all; and in all cases it would be partly neutralized by the constant use of the telephone, and an efficient system of surface transit.

But it is probable that a legal restriction as to height would have raised the rents in buildings very favorably situated in the Wall St. It may be doubted, however, whether these increased rents would occur in any except the Wall St. The explanation in general seems to be that in this country private and special interests always have more energetic and insistent advocates than the wider public interests.

Even Chicago, where a limitation of height to ten stories has pre- vailed for a good many years could not stick to its guns, but has recently given the favored property owners their own way. As for New York, in spite of its claims to metropolitan eminence, it has always been as clay in the hands of the real estate owner and speculator, and the con- sequences of this let-alone policy, which in another direction has cost the city so much in the way of alienated franchises, are in this matter both irremediable and disastrous.

This is an aspect of the matter which is too frequently overlooked. If during the next twenty-five years there are con- tinued to be erected an unlimited number of from twelve to twenty story buildings on the narrow streets and infrequent avenues of a city, badly planned as they are for the distribution of traffic, the outcome will be a congestion of street traffic and transit, of which the Brooklyn Bridge at present gives some inkling, and when this times comes the remedy for this congestion will be as expensive as its perpetuation will be intolerable.

It stands to reason that if very tall buildings are erected in large quantities upon streets that were laid out only for very small ones, and if steps are not early taken to adjust this street system to the increasing demands which are being put upon it, this combination of energetic private building, with negligent public administration, will do more to damage the business interests of the city than any amount of restrictive regulation. If so much be admitted, can the thesis be car- ried further? Can it be said that good art is a paying investment?

As it happens, this ques- tion has recently received an answer which is aggressively and unequivocally affirmative. Brook Adams, at a dinner of the National Art Club, tried to convince his hearers bv many appeals to history that it was a sound commercial instinct which led a people to devote much of its talents and energy to the creation of a great and original art. Such an art was very prof- itable for two reasons — because in the absence of a great art Good Art as an Advertisement. All this sounds plausible, but we are not convinced. Art is not in this sense profitable to the people that produce it ; rather is it profitable to their descendants, which is a very different thing.

What we need in America, in order to have an art that pays a good ten per cent, on the investment, is an inherited ancestral art legacy, and our ancestors were, I am afraid, entirely callous to our opportunities of profiting from their artistic work. Art is not very much of an advertisement until it becomes history or conscious tradition ; and then it simply takes its place among the other relics of a former time. It is the atmosphere of consciously recognized and valued historical tradition which Americans seek in Europe, and will con- tinue to seek, even after they become much more fruitful and dis- tinguished in artistic expression than they are at present.

True, they flock to Paris in large numbers, and Paris is superficially a modern city — the one great conscious attempt to make a city that shall have some pretence to formal beauty ; but they flock in num- bers quite as large to London, which is not beautiful at all, but which in its strong individuality and characteristic manners and remains has an equal fascination.


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Moreover, the city of Paris, modern as it is, is alive with traditions and memories. Its very present is a sort of monumental composite photograph of a thousand years of architectural history. A hard-headed American business man, in order to be con- vinced that art was a good investment, would want returns for himself and his own generation.

He does not care about invest- ments that begin to draw interest a century after his death. As for the Parthenon, I can well believe that the Pericllean transformation of the Acropolis was a cheap piece of advertising, for the businesslike Athenians of the 5th century showed their commercial instinct by obtaining the money to pay for it out of the treasuries of their allies.

I can well believe, also, that it was an effectual piece of advertising, be- cause the Spartans, if no others, certainly evinced a masterful desire to visit the city. But I should like to point out that the in- come on the investment did not amount to much until some cen- turies later, during the period of Graeco-Roman civilization, and that thereafter for more than a thousand years it paid no interest at all, and that only in the 19th century has this cheap piece of advertising been particularly profitable.

Obviously there are so many uncertainties and so much delay connected with this kind of investment that a business community which sunk too much money therein would soon become bankrupt, no matter how big were the dividends of their remote descendants. Seriously, to assert that New York should seek to be distin- guished as an art center because Athens and Paris have profited by art, is just about as sensible as to assert that New York should seek to be a religious center because Jerusalem and Rome have found the reputation of being Holy Cities a cheap and profitable form of advertising.

If New York ever becomes a beautiful city, and the seat of an original and popular art movement, it will not be because art pays, but because Americans become possessed of a craving for beautiful things, and because this craving is strong and general enough to make men work hard and long and late to satisfy it. The trouble with Americans is that art is for them too much of an advertisement and too little of an instinct. The first question they ask of a work of art is not what it is, but what does it advertise ; that is, what is its history, associations and meaning?

And so they come to pictures and statues with their heads full of ideas, but with their senses dull and their taste untrained; and the art of a thing, which is just the thing itself, escapes them. How futile, then, to try and persuade New Yorkers to beautify their city because art is, perhaps, more profitable to Frenchmen than the manufacture of steel is to Americans.

Virtue may not be, and frequently is not, its own reward, but beauty is, I believe, always its own reward — which is the reason it exercises such a perennial and irresistible fascination over men. Finally, it is not only futile to say art is a good investment, but it is untrue. Beauty has its compensations, but they are wholly sensuous and intellectual.

From the economic standpoint it is a sheer luxury — palpable and inexcusable unproductive consumption. When Mr. The picture has, of course, an economic value, and might produce a small income if exhibited for money, but in that case Mr. Morgan would merely be transferring part of his own loss to the people who paid the entrance fees. Moreover, beauty, besides being a rank extravagance, is, under modern conditions, pur- chased at a cost for which there can be on economic grounds abso- lutely no justification.

The industrial experimentation necessary to obtain efficient results is nothing to the fearful extravagance which men and women commit in the name of art.

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Think of the many thousand girls who sit pounding the piano for an hour or more a day in order that a few score may play decently well. Is all this dissipation of energy a good investment? Is there even any aesthetic compensation comparable to the enormous expenditure of time and work? The machine-made music of the Pianola is not art, but it is comparatively economical. In the same way when one remembers the prodigious number of second, third and fourth-rate pictures which have to be painted in order that a few dozen masterpieces may come into being and survive, one can scarcely avoid the inference that the methods of a profligate Italian prince of the 18th century was a good economy compared to those under which modern art is produced.


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  8. The conclusion cannot be escaped that art is essentially and irretrievably a matter of waste, and that beauty is a maiden who takes the eyes of men out of their head that she may empty their pockets. Let the facts be fairly faced : Art is a worthless investment and a dangerous advertisement, for the cities in which it has existed in greatest perfection merely advertised to the world that they were wealthy and in some measure politically weak.

    So it was with Athens and with Florence, and the same lesson, incomplete as yet, may be drawn from modern French history. In order to create a great art, a people must make great sacrifices and incur great dangers. If the Americans wish to be the commercial leaders of the world and nothing else, let them keep on making standard products at cheap prices ; let them keep their business methods and industrial machinery as fluid as pos- sible; let them turn over their output just as often and as thoroughly as they can; and let them, above all, abjure anything but an imitative, a half-hearted and purchasable excellence in the arts.

    The value-in-exchange of beauty is accidental. Its real value is final, inconvertible, self-contained and utterly unprofitable. Edited by Guy Lowell. This handsome book is the first fruits of the aroused American interest in the formal garden. Out of some fifty-five places illustrated in its pages, more than three-quarters are modern gardens — so very modern that, while none are perhaps more than a dozen years old, many of them have not been planted long enough to allow a good growth to the shrubs and vines.

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    And what a contrast between the old and the new! The old are so very old that they are going to seed; they are dilapidated and neglected, bespeaking, ex- cept in a few cases, owners who cannot afford or do not care to keep them up. But the new are equally trim and smart and up-to-date— pointing as plainly to- wards our American habit of rapid and ready achievement.

    The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902
    The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902
    The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902
    The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902
    The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902
    The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902
    The Craftsman Magazine-Volume 3, Number 3-December 1902

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