August 4, 2009
by Linda G. Miller

Event: 18th Annual MAS Summer Boat Tour: Along the Historic Hudson
Location: Circle Line Boat, 07.29.09
Speakers: Francis Morrone — Historian, Journalist, Author, Lecturer, Teacher; Firth Haring Fabend — Author
Organizer: Municipal Art Society

Thunder, lightning, torrential rain didn’t stop a Circle Line boatload of architectural enthusiasts from enjoying the Municipal Art Society’s (MAS) 18th annual boat tour and celebration of the Hudson River’s 400th anniversary. “The river and the waterfront are never finished, they are a work in progress,” said Vin Cipolla, MAS president. The boat tour also gave a platform for Roland Lewis, president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (spawned by the MAS), to talk about continuing efforts to make the waterfront more user-friendly for all New Yorkers.

Architectural historian Francis Morrone took the mic once the tour was underway, noting some of the buildings and infrastructure the city has gained and lost. “I have a thing for power plants,” Morrone said as we passed the Hudson River Powerhouse, designed by McKim, Mead & White to provide current for the IRT, NYC’s first subway line. The Beaux-Arts structure is a symbol of the City Beautiful era. The fledgling MAS was a proponent of that movement then, and is ardently part of the campaign to preserve the powerhouse. Morrone expressed shock that the building wasn’t already a designated landmark, and considers it to be one of the 10 greatest buildings in the city. (See “Con Ed Puts Wrench in Powerhouse Landmark Efforts,” by Matt Frassica, in this issue for more on the efforts to landmark this building).

It was news to most in the audience that John D. Rockefeller bought significant portions of the New Jersey Palisades to preserve the unspoiled views seen from the Cloisters, which he also owned. Passing under the George Washington Bridge with lightning flashing was quite magnificent and perfect time to give homage to bridge engineer Othmar Ammann, who also built the Bayonne, Triborough/RFK, Bronx Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges — the latter four built under Robert Moses’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Speaking of Moses, Morrone told a story about Moses, who while on the water in 1914, declared that the shoreline of Manhattan could be one of the most beautiful places in the world. He had his chance to do just that in the 1930 with his “Westside Improvement Project” that included the construction of the Henry Hudson Parkway.

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