Margaret Thatcher once said “Europe was built on history, but the USA was built on philosophy.” I agree, but our country was built on utility and urgency as much as philosophy. This is evident in the author’s preface of his book, where he compares the buildings of New York with those of Britain and Japan. He recognizes the Harlem stoops from Sesame Street, the fire houses from Ghostbusters, the Brooklyn row houses from Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, and too bad the city looks nothing today like it did in Kojak, Death Wish, or The taking of the Pelham 1,2,3.
James Gulliver Hancock captures exactly what NYC buildings came from, and that is utility. The tenements of the Lower East Side, with their fire escapes, were meant to be built quickly (and escaped from quickly if there was a fire.) His style of drawing is perfect for the project, and he captures all of the tiny details that make our city’s architecture so unique. He makes 235 Bowery look exactly like it is-a big glass box, or as Prince Charles would say, “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a dear old friend.” Before that entire block was torn down in 2008 it would’ve have been quite a place to draw. But fortunately, now all of the Bowery is gone. It still has just the right touch of seediness.
But old 42nd Street from the movie Taxi Driver is gone. No more “25 cent peep show” signs. The artist would’ve had a field day with that one.