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Parades on Fifth Avenue
While I was in Germany last month pondering the rebuilding of Dresden and the Bauhaus building in Dessau, Nancy Romeu and the project managers of our studio were moving into our new offices on lower Fifth Avenue overlooking Madison Square. This new place also has many historic associations and I hope over the next months this blog will branch into them. As in Germany, there is a graphic conflux of history reflected in the built environment.
The approach to our new location is dramatic with views of the nearby Flatiron Building, Metropolitan Life Insurance, and New York Life Insurance towers, all prominent parts of the city’s skyline. These all face Madison Square Park, with its remarkable landscape and historic features, including one of America’s most important sculptures, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Admiral Farragut. Also of merit in a different category is the Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s haute hamburger stand inside the park.
Thomas Jayne at this year’s Gay Pride March, looking up Fifth Avenue from West 26th Street.
The immediate view from our studio is of trees in full leaf, offering up a dappled screen of green. However, if you walk to the windows or sit in the window seat framed by turn of the century bowed plate glass, you will see the tops of the buildings rise above the park and find a striking view of the Flatiron building.
I did not fully fathom all this architectural richness, or as we used to say in architectural college, “the genius of place,” until two Sundays ago when I had my Monday blog deadline before me and I was in the studio wondering what subject would be the most interesting to write about. At that moment, the big windows with remnants of their awning hardware lead me to write last week’s posting on awnings and tents. Later that day, with the arrival of the Gay Pride march, these large windows again lead me to today’s topic: the genius of place and parades.
A view of a Suffrage parade in 1918 taken from almost the same location as Thomas Jayne’s vantage point.
My partner Rick Ellis, along with our friends Chuck Hettinger, the painter, and Alphonso Diaz, a commentator for the Spanish language broadcasting network, NTN24, joined me. We all crept onto the shallow, decorative balcony to take in the view. It was impressive. We could see north for 30 blocks and south beyond the Flatiron building for 20. It struck me how dynamic Fifth Avenue is for marching. It works so well because of its central location within the heart of Manhattan. The canyon like space formed by the many handsome buildings creates a dramatic setting. Parades and marches work especially well here because they potentially draw millions of spectators. It is a perfect formula.
Many of these parades are celebratory, but as these historic photographs show here, many are of protest: women parading for voting rights, African-Americans marching for equality, and the Gay community, at this point both seeking equal rights and celebrating its quasi-liberated status. Over a million people watched this year’s parade.
The Boys in Blue torchlight parade in 1880 honoring those that had served in the Civil War. Note the hand of Lady Liberty which sat in Madison Square Park for 8 years until the statue was completed in 1886.
This parade was especially noteworthy as it commemorated the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. There were over 600 contingents and it lasted more than five hours, a remarkable difference from the first march 39 years ago on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots the year before. Then a small group of about 100 marched up Sixth Avenue, literally afraid for their lives. Times have somewhat changed and there is room on this broad avenue to celebrate.
As Fifth Avenue illustrates, a grand parade needs a reason, a place and a crowd. Furthermore, a parade can reinforce the importance of a place.
An image from the Silent Protest Parade on Fifth Avenue on July 28, 1917, in response to the East St. Louis race riots.
Photos one through three by Chuck Hettinger.