Blue Notes, May 2014

For all its history, the Metro Theater on 99th Street and Broadway strikes me as little more than an eyesore beside the slick glass facade of the skyscraper condo next door. The formerly grand 1930s cinema is decaying. Ads cover the old ticket booth window, while its marquee rusts.

Local sentiments towards the vacant property range from sour to almost protective. Tenants in neighboring apartments complain of rats and loiterers and would be amenable to a revamp, while others worry about losing a tiny piece of history if the building were to be replaced. Although the theater is a registered New York City landmark, only its art-deco exterior is protected by law, allowing developers to potentially repurpose the interior.

The original Landmarks Commission report advocating the designation of the Metro as a landmark defends the theater’s historical value. With the rise of Hollywood, the 1920s saw the construction of lavish movie palaces capable of seating thousands of people. During the Great Depression these theaters continued to operate, but economic conditions meant new projects were smaller in size.

Architects turned to the art-deco style not only because it was fashionable, but also because its modern, simplistic design made construction more affordable. Before long, tiny cinemas were ubiquitous in Manhattan. “If one were to have strolled this section of Broadway between 59th and 110th Street in 1934, one would have had a choice of eighteen theaters in which to see movies,” writes one researcher for New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Metro is the only one still standing.

City Councilman Mark Levine hopes to preserve the building’s legacy, and has proposed to convert it into a community arts space. If approved, the project would bring a lesser-known but classic Upper West Side monument back to life.

Dan Singer 

In our world of interchangeable parts and industrial everything, it’s a surprise to come across a place where craftspeople sit on their benches all day creating functional works of art. From a small foundry in the West Village, the employees of P.E. Guerin produce brass objects of all descriptions—from lamps to door handles to taps—using nineteenth century techniques. Every mold is made by hand, and smiths still pour every fixture and chisel every accessory. Founded in 1857, P.E. Guerin is the oldest foundry continuously running in New York, and the only remaining one in Manhattan.

P.E. Guerin was one of the key players in the foundry business at the turn of the century—the go-to firm for the fixture needs of many architecture firms. Among them was McKim, Mead & White, the illustrious group that designed some of New York’s most famous landmarks, including the main branch of the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Museum. They also designed Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus and all of its original buildings.

Like the institution that its accessories once furnished, P.E. Guerin has moved upmarket to compete. The company’s headquarters on Jane Street is as much a showroom as it is a workshop with some production moved overseas to Spain and Portugal. Door knockers that once were once made on a large scale now cost the bronze connoisseur $4,000.

After a century of renovations to Columbia, most (if not all) of the original fixtures have been replaced or removed without any regard for historical accuracy. Without the originals or records of when they were replaced it is all but impossible to ascertain who manufactured the University’s original fixtures, though it is likely that P.E. Guerin created at least some of them. Now it may be too late to find their beginning.

Kat Whatley 

Contrary to popular belief, there is a world that exists outside Columbia University–or the “Columbia Bubble.” This world is called the Upper West Side.

We, and the other people of the Upper West Side, have deeply-rooted needs and desires. Everyday, we struggle with questions like “When will I learn how to play the marimba?” or “Why IS being a dad so scary?”

When we find ourselves plagued by these questions, clawing for solace and aid in the empty stage of existence, and our hearts burn lustily to expand the boundaries of our minds, we usually turn to the community pillar in the back of the Hungarian Pastry Shop.

It’s a surefire solution for any problem. Trust me. Your boyfriend broke up with you? Come look at this flyer that has no contact information on it and just the word “Aleinu.” What comfort!

It’s hard to pick the most useful service listed on the pillar, but one of the most practical is surely Dunkirk’s private miming lessons. This one is a DO NOT MISS! Trained by Russian masters, Matt Dunkirk could mime his way out of a locked room! If you ever have a lull in your studies, just give him a ring and he will come to your dorm room to teach you all the essential miming skills you need to wow your friends and loved ones.

If miming isn’t your cup of tea, call Linda, who will teach you the ancient art of quilting. Although her lessons aren’t cheap (about $150 an hour), they’re worth every penny, as you’ll soon find your dorm full of wonderful quilts that can be used as tapestries, bedding, towels, drapes, carpeting, shelving for your textbooks, comfortable seating for guests, places to secure your valuables, and containers for transporting food to and from dining halls. Or you can even make a fashion statement going to class after wrapping your body in 20 quilts!

But don’t just take my word for it—give it a try yourself! Walk into the Hungarian, strut over to that pillar and go wild on that thing. Trust me, you’ll find yourself so happy with your newfound skills that you’ll come to absolutely loathe the person you were before you started playing the marimba. And isn’t that what we all want?

Scott Fischbein 

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