Monday, April 28, 2008

Philadelphia firehouse to fall

No multipart tirades ... for now. Just pictures of a few of the six firefighter gargoyles on the former headquarters of the Philadelphia Fire Department. The building is scheduled to be demolished as part of the expansion of the Philadelphia Convention Centre, which I thought was plenty big enough as it was when I was there last month. It's said that these gargoyles will be saved, along with some other architectural ornament on the building.

Just before Christmas, two heritage buildings were demolished despite their protected status. (The Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic Inga Saffron documented the whole sorry mess in the newspaper and on her blog.) When I was in Philly for a conference last month, TV monitors throughout the convention centre played and replayed tape of the demolitions.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Naming rights (part 4 - coda)

The poor fellow with a toothache (right) is in a good place, affixed as he is to the Evans building, the flagship building of the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The building went up in 1915, and I’d like to think that since then, his toothache has been attended to and he is simply howling in sympathy with students, faculty and alumni who are upset about the renaming of Logan Hall, previously the home of Penn’s medical school, business school (Wharton) and currently several departments of the School of Arts and Sciences.

Logan Hall was named in memory of James Logan, William Penn's colonial secretary and a founding trustee of the College of Philadelphia, the University's predecessor. According to Penn’s Website, Logan Hall is an “integral component” of the National Register's University of Pennsylvania's Historic District.

But it’s about to be renamed in memory of Claudia Cohen, a recently deceased alumna who earned a bachelor’s degree in communications there in 1972 — and went on to become a gossip columnist for the New York Daily News. She was also an entertainment correspondent for the TV show “Live With Regis Lee and Kelly Lee,” and garnered some boldface mentions for herself for her lucrative divorce (rumoured to be $80 million) from husband Ronald Perelman, the billionaire chairman of Revlon and a Penn alumnus.

It’s Perelman — or rather, his $20 million donation to Penn — that effected the change.

In 1995, the year after Perelman and Cohen divorced, he donated the unprecedented sum for the renovation of the Perelman Quadrangle which includes Logan Hall. The university, in turn, gave him the option to rename Logan Hall. He’s taken up the offer, and according to a Penn news release, “the name change (to Cohen Hall) will take place over the summer in order to be ready for the fall 2008 semester.”

Cohen died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56.

But the renaming is not something Penn faculty, students and alumni are happy about. For example, history professor Richard Beeman, who was Dean of the College from 1998-2005, said he had not been informed of any potential name changes.

He also told >the Daily Pennsylvanian that although naming buildings after donors has become a common practice, it's unusual to completely rename a building when they can carry hyphenated names of both the original name and the most recent donor.

Ronald Shur, a 1977 Wharton graduate, commented that the Logan Hall designation should stand because the building is an "icon … not a whiteboard that you can constantly erase."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Naming rights (part 3)

Back in the first part of this series, I wrote that the name of Stephen A. Schwarzman—the exceedingly generous donor who just gave the New York Public Library $100 mil and for whom the iconic Fifth Avenue building is being renamed—would not actually appear on the building because the building is protected by landmark status.

Now the New York Times reports that Schwarzman’s name will indeed appear on the building—FIVE TIMES.

According to the story by Marc Santora, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission agreed to not only the name change but also to affixing it at the base of each of the two centre columns leading to the main entrance; on a gold plaque on the marble floor just outside the front door; and in two locations at the 42nd Street entrance.

His name will not be as big as those of the library’s founders (like Astor and Tilden), but will be from 1 to 2.5 inches high. And it will appear FIVE TIMES.

Check out the Times story – there’s a link to a PDF file prepared by the Landmarks Commission that shows you just where Steve’s name will appear and what it will look like.

I don’t get it. What kind of ego or insecurity is it that drives people to pay to have their names plastered everywhere? There’s Schwarzman and the NYPL, all the people whose names adorn Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital and I just noticed that the names of Hilary and Galen Weston are etched into plaques near the old main entrance of the Royal Ontario Museum. The Westons coughed up $20 mil, and, a ROM press release says, the museum will name its 1933 heritage wing on Queen's Park for Hilary and Galen and the Weston family in perpetuity. (Note to all high-priced donors: “perpetuity” ain’t what it used to be.)

Christopher Isherwood, in a New York Times article last December, called this “the graffiti of the philanthropic class” and asked, “Whatever happened to Anonymous?”

“The naming game is getting a little out of hand, as every nook and cranny of these gleaming buildings is tagged by some wealthy, generous and obviously not publicity-shy donor,” Isherwood wrote.

His article also tells the story of the non-naming of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s business school. The dean was selling the name for $50 mil and no one came up with the dough. He discovered, however, that several donors were willing to contribute to a fund that would ensure that for at least 20 years, the school wouldn’t be “branded.” The no-name fund eventually reached $85 million.

You really ought to read the whole of Isherwood’s article, but I’ll leave you with this:

“Some may ask what the big deal is,” he wrote. “Would you rather they kept the money to themselves, and left the arts to languish? Perhaps not, but I don’t much care for the feeling of being beholden to a law firm, an airline or an investment banking tycoon for the privilege of checking my coat….

“…don’t those who give to the arts do so expressly to benefit a public good? All this naming mitigates the ideally selfless spirit, if not the fact, of such giving.”

(Photo of “Anonymus” is a freely licensed media file from the Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Naming rights (part 2)

Apologies, once again, to my worldwide fans, for the dearth of posts lately. I have been on the road for my day job, but hope to make up for it with some long-overdue information...

...starting with a "thanks" to Walt (of Crackskullbob) for his comment (under "And now for something completely different") giving the most inventive attribution for "April is the cruellest month" I've ever read, replete with riffs on the Kennedy assassination and other events of the 1950s and 1960s.

...and "thanks" to the anonymous commenter who corrected some of the misinformation I posted about the New York Public Library.

Now to return to the issue of naming rights. Here is a picture of Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital (apologies for the light standards and other urban detritus obscuring the view, and the fact that the pic is ever-so-slightly out of focus):

Or is it Mount Sinai Hospital? The sign says it is also the "Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Health Complex."

Or is it? On either side, we see that two wings are also named, for Isadore Sharp (left) and Lawrence S. Bloomberg (right). Close-ups here:

So whose building is it? What's the name of this place?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Naming rights (part 1)

Lion sculpture pairs the world over — including those in front of the Art Institute of Chicago and inside the main entrance of the Boston Public Library — are staging a sympathy strike with their fellows at the New York Public Library. If they were lying down (couchant), they have risen up, and if they were standing, they are now reclining following the news that the flagship NYPL building on Fifth Avenue will be renamed for an admittedly generous benefactor.

The story is almost a month old, but in all the shock and indignation and whatnot over the Eliot Spitzer scandal, I failed to find a single letter to the editor of the New York Times about this.

The story is that Wall Street financier Stephen A. Schwarzman, who is also a library trustee, has donated $100 million to the library, toward a projected $1 billion expansion of the library system.

So the iconic Fifth Avenue building — currently officially known as the Humanities and Social Sciences Library but referred to as the “main branch” by locals — will be called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building when construction is completed in around 2014, the Times reported. The building is protected by landmark status, and so his name will not appear on its facade.

But still…

$100 million is a lot of dough, but if they guy loves the library that much, why not leave the name as is? I suppose it’s hard to blame Schwarzman who told the Times that the NYPL proposed renaming the building — but he said he replied, “That sounds pretty good.”

I bet no one calls the building by its new name, but still…

The Times story went on to say that the library isn’t the first cultural building to bear a donor’s name, but I bet it’s the first civic building that effectively sold naming rights.

About the lions: they’ve been renamed a couple of times in the nearly 100 years they’ve been guarding the building. They were modeled by sculptor Edward Clark Potter on the recommendation of August Saint-Gaudens, one of the foremost sculptors in the U.S. at the time.

According to NYPL PR, they were first called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after NYPL founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (even though they’re both male lions). In the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression.

But in this day of slapping a benefactor’s name on just about everything that doesn’t move (watch for a forthcoming post, with Toronto example of how ludicrous this practice can be), I’ll bet “Patience” and “Fortitude” don’t last much longer.

(Photo of NYPL lion is a freely licensed media file from the Wikimedia Commons.)

Friday, April 4, 2008

And now for something completely different

April is a lot of things - tax time; showery in order that May will be flowery; the cruellest month (for other reasons).
Speaking of April being the cruellest month, that's from a T.S. Eliot poem. All of you who know which one, raise your hands! (Better yet, post a comment.)
Which brings me to today's post. April is national poetry month, and in the U.S., the 17th of April is Poem in Your Pocket Day.
Poem in Your Pocket Day started out in New York City (of course) in 2002, and now the Academy of American Poets has declared the 17th to be national PIYPD. National = U.S., but it sounds like a good idea, so why not join in?
The idea is to select a poem you love, and carry it with you to share with family, friends, co-workers, strangers and anyone else that day.
On the PIYPD Web site, the Academy has PDFs of some little, portable poems, but unless you choose the Iliad or the Odyssey or some other epic poem (which you could do - you'd just need a pocket that would fit a book), almost any poem will do. I mean, you can print it on both sides of a piece of paper if it runs long, and just fold it up.
Or I suppose you could do what a woman I know is doing to exercise her brain and stave off dementia: memorize a poem. She's memorizing a couple a month. You need just one for the 17th. But put a copy in your pocket so you can share.