Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Times Square Building in Rochester

One of the most well-known skyscrapers in the Unites States is New York City’s Chrysler Building.  This 77-story example of art deco styling was built between 1928 and 1930 and was the world’s tallest building for a few years.  It was recently sold for a little more than $150 million, which is said to be a bargain since its future is uncertain.  My favorite art deco high-rise is Vancouver, Canada’s Marine Building.  It used to welcome visitors, but the last time I was there all the info about it had been removed.  I was surprise during our time in Rochester, New York, to find that it too has a downtown art deco structure.  It’s called the Times Square Building (TSB), and it’s topped by huge and unusual wings, making it look rather strange today.  I don’t know why it’s not called the Wings of Progress Building, but I did discover that it was built at the same time as the Chrysler Building.  However, at 13-storys TSB’s not nearly as tall.  Some sources of information say that it has 14 levels.   I didn’t count them.

The Chrysler Building’s unforgettable spire was put together the day before the stock market crash in 1929 according to the brochure that was handed to me by the man at the Times Square Building’s entry desk.  Lacking the Chrysler Building’s awesome size and beauty despite its many art deco details, The Times Square Building’s cornerstone was laid on the same day as the Chrysler spire was begun.  TSB’s architect, Ralph Walker, was highly respected at this time and very active.  According to the brochure, Frank Lloyd Wright called Walker “The only other honest architect in America.”  The TSB’s first tenant, the Genesee Valley Trust Bank, went out of business in 1955.  The bank’s 38 ton vault is still in the basement.  Today TSB at 45 Exchange Blvd. contains commercial ventures and T’s Times Square Cafe, which wasn’t opened when Ruth and I were there. 

One of TSB’s more intriguing features is a time capsule that’s to be opened on the 100th anniversary of its first day of construction in 2029.  I was also fascinated by the fact that an active nest of Peregrine Falcons has lived on its roof under the Wings of Progress since 2008.

Is it worth a trip to Rochester just to see this art deco building?  No.  So add the George Eastman home and complex to make it a completely worthwhile trip.



Wright’s Gammage


Frank Lloyd Wright was still working on a couple of designs at the end of his life.  One, First Christian Church, was completely built after he died.  Another, the Gammage Auditorium, was the project he was working on when he died.  First Christian Church is in Phoenix.  The Gammage is in Tempe, which has become part of the Phoenix megalopolis. Neither design gets much publicity.  The very active First Christian Church, which I wrote about on March 5, 2019, under the title “Wright’s Unknown Phoenix”, only gives tours by appointment.  The Gammage on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, has become Phoenix’s main live entertainment venue and, for now, only gives tours on Monday at 1, 2, and 3 pm.

Two years before Frank Lloyd Wright died, the President of ASU, Grady Gammage, was hoping to create a university auditorium on his campus.  He knew Wright and phoned him.  Wright had designed an opera house to be built in Baghdad, Iraq, but that project fell through, so he offered this design to Gammage.  This circular auditorium seating more than 3,000 that the President  OK’d wasn’t completed until 1964, 5 years after Wright’s death.  Construction began in 1962.  The entire building was competed for $2½ million because common materials like colored cement plaster and ordinary bricks were used.  The colors chosen mocked the hues of the desert with 57 shades of terra cotta employed.  Turquoise accents provided contrast for this building that is equal to an 8-story building.

Wright, known for his innovative architecture, provided a huge venue for ASU with no seat more than 115 feet from the stage and all seats arranged for maximum viewing.  He was known by this time for perfecting acoustics, but the sound in Gammage needed work.  Adjustments were made when renovations were done.  Performers can be unamplified and still be heard throughout the theater.  That’s part of the reason why Broadway comes to Phoenix in this building.  Over time, the structure has proved versatile, and it serves both university and community needs.  When a show like Hamilton or Book of Mormon comes to the area, it plays at The Gammage.

 Frank Lloyd Wright was involved in this huge project for the last 2 years of his life.  Another major complex Frank Lloyd Wright designed before he died at the age of 91 that was completed after his death was the Marin County Civic Center.  The Gammage is an understated yet impressive building.  I would never have known who designed it if I hadn’t learned At Taliesin West where Wright was spending every winter had been responsible for creating the only public building in Arizona designed by America’s most famous architect.


Another Allentown Attraction

Pennsylvania’s 3rd largest city, Allentown, is a travel surprise.  Unlike Erie, its population is growing as its industrial past gives way to a service economy future.  Closeness to both Philadelphia and New York City is causing an influx of people from all demographic groups to move and live here, but it still has a rather small town feel as it sprawls in all directions.  There are a number of viable things to see, like the already written about Liberty Bell Museum.  Another worthwhile stop, which is close to the bell, is this city’s main art museum, an island of culture in a typical old city downtown.   Rather expensive to visit, this art repository has some offbeat temporary and permanent attractions.

As is the case with many urban art museums, it’s in an old, city-owned Federal Style building that has had an expensive and extensive renovation within the past 10 years.  It still shows and the volunteer staff is still interested in it.  The Allentown Art Museum’s 1st floor mostly contains its permanent collection, but it has a few temporary installations too.  Its 2nd floor is given over to big temporary shows, an interactive family gallery, and an education center.  Photography is featured in its lower level.

The 2 current temporary pieces on floor 1 are both interesting.  Artist Sol LeWitt died in 2007 but left behind wall drawings with specific directions.  He believed that the idea for a design was far more important than the finished work.  Recently 4 artists put his #793A on a wall in the Allentown Art Museum.  It took them 3 weeks to complete this project, and it will only be up for another year.  The photo above shows just part of this wavy, colorful design.  The other temporary display is Stephen Antonakos’ light filled Room Chapel.  It will only be on view until Sept, 2019.  Ruth loved the Sol LeWitt installation and insisted that I photograph it, an impossible task.  Both are partially shown above.

Thus museum’s permanent holdings contain a few recognizable names.  However, I found myself more invested in Gifford Beal’s painting of a local event.  Ruth & I had just visited the Liberty Bell Museum, and Beal’s depiction of 18th century American patriots hiding that bell in Allentown was still resonating.  This painting will probably be up forever.  The other permanent installation is a Frank Lloyd Wright library.  Wright designed a house for the Little Family early in his career.  When the house was demolished, the Little’s living room went to New York’s Metropolitan Museum and their library came to the Allentown Art Museum.

Allentown’s sister city in the Lehigh Valley is Bethlehem, which is also doing a better-than-average job of re-inventing itself.  Bethlehem Steel’s plant here was one of the world’s largest.  It closed in 1995, leaving a 4½-mile-long facility to either decay or be re-purposed.  Both are still happening. The Lehigh Valley is Pennsylvania’s smallest geographic region.


Erie’s Tom Ridge Center

It looks like Erie, Pennsylvania’s population peaked in 1960 at 138,440.  Ruth & I went there because I read that its population in 2018, when I was compiling a list of cities over 100,000 that we hadn’t yet visited, was 101,786.  When we entered Erie’s Tom Ridge Environmental Center at the entrance to Presque Isle, I was asked why I was there.  I told the man and woman at the welcome desk that we were visiting cities like Erie, which had more than 100,000 people.  The lady winced.  “Not any more,” she informed me, so I checked when I got home and found that she was right.  Erie’s official population is now 97,369.  Erie is an aging industrial city with bad weather that is getting smaller.  It is, nevertheless, rather likable and Ruth & I had a fine time there despite the fact that it snowed until late afternoon in April as we were trying to see some of Erie’s attractions.  After marrying, my mother’s sister Jeanne lived in Cleveland, Ohio.   When anyone asked her about the weather there she would say, “We have 2 seasons.  Winter and August.”  Like Pennsylvania’s Erie, Ohio’s Cleveland is on Lake Erie.  These cities are only 103 miles apart.  Now I understand my aunt’s comment.

The Tom Ridge Environmental Center was terrific.  It was also a bit misnamed.  It is about the environment but it’s also a research facility, a place to view IMAX type films in its Big Green Screen Theatre, the Visitors’ Center for Erie and Presque Isle, a child’s delight, and a provider of information about the Great Lakes.  I asked the couple at the main desk what was going on in the Joseph M. Thomas Research Center and was told by the lady that Lake Erie’s many shipwrecks were being studied and that plant pollination was ongoing.  But then her voice trailed off as she said something about stuffed owls.  The man told me that this foul-weather day was the start of trout season. Ruth & I watched award-winning Amazon Adventure, the true story of scientist-explorer Henry Bates, on Big Green before gaining an education about Lake Erie, the only Great Lake teacher Ruth had not yet experienced.   I learned upstairs at Tom Ridge that the Great Lakes contain 6 quadrillion gallons of water.

I learned downstairs that Lake Erie is not like the other Great Lakes.  It’s the shallowest of the 5 and, consequently, the first to freeze over.  From late fall to early spring arctic and tropical air collide over it, generating high winds.   Because of those shipwrecks, this area is known as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.  In the winter when ice lays thick on Lake Erie, ice dunes form thanks to freezing spray.  The craters and peaks created protect the shoreline but also seem to cause population loss.  I also learned what the history books left out about The War of 1812.   I’ve often wondered why a major battle in this war was fought on Lake Erie.  I now know that the Americans fighting the country that had set fire to the White House maintained 11 ships at the port of Erie, and that 9 of them fought in the Battle of Lake Erie. This major sea battle on a lake in 1813 helped the American forces defeat the British navy and caused the Brits to retreat to Canada.

That red, purple, and green blob above that looks a bit like a human head is inside the most popular children’s attraction in the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.  Called an Augmented Reality Sandbox, it uses virtual sand to create a watershed, and I watched as a little girl played with it for what seemed like a long time.


Binghamton’s Bundy

Someone at a gathering Ruth & I attended on Easter Sunday said there was nothing to do in Binghamton, NY.  I disagree.   It’s the home of the multi-purpose Bundy Museum of History & Art, a 5 Compass destination.  Local citizen Tom gave us a wonderful tour during which he shared his recipe for Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes.  Tom recently made 240 of them for a relative’s wedding.

The Bundy House is not just another dwelling to tour.  It is, in my opinion, one of the best period-furnished family homes I’ve ever been in, and the house itself is only part of what the Bundy experience has to offer any visitor.  The Bundy home was built and lived in by Harlow E. Bundy and his wife Julia.  His name might not mean anything to you unless you already know about his unquestioned place in business and Binghamton history.  Julia had money and provided the funds to build the Queen Anne Victorian mansion that they lived in with their growing family for 14 years.   Today, it would probably cost about $2,000,000 to build and furnish.  This mansion is deservedly on the National Register.  The current very Victorian furnishings were not owned by the Bundys, but the fireplaces, staircase, windows, and carefully selected decor provide a genuine glimpse into Victorian Era splendor.  There’s even a brief glimpse of some wallpaper originally used in the house.  Harlow was, by reputation, not well liked but he did have a business mind.  For example, he made a crafty deal with the organizers of the famous 1893 Chicago Columbian Expo to exhibit his products.  They were a hit.

Harlow and his brother Willard, a local jeweler, founded the Bundy Manufacturing Company.  This company made accurate and dependable time keeping devices, among them were clocking-in time-keepers that were useful in an era when local industries were growing.  The Bundy Manufacturing Company owners created a complimentary company called International Time Recorder.  By 1924 their business acumen evolved into a company called International Business Machines, more commonly known today as IBM.

The Bundy home is far more than just an elegant Victorian mansion that has become the main museum part of the Bundy experience.  Its 3rd floor has been transformed into an art gallery and locally popular facility attracting photographers.  In the Annex and Carriage House is a radio station, a clock exhibit, a theater, and the Rod Serling Archive.  Rod Serling was host and contributor to an early, very popular TV show called The Twilight Zone, which ran for 5 years.  Serling was from Binghamton.  His roots influenced his work, and this, surely the world’s main Rod Serling exhibit, explores his life and career with film props, memorabilia, and more.  Jordan Peele of Get Out and Mad TV fame, has revived The Twilight Zone in 2019.

Please let me re-emphasize.  The Bundy Museum of History & Art is far more than just a period mansion that travelers can visit.  It’s a valid reason to go to Binghamton, New York, when you’re in the area.