No doubt you’ve been following our hard-to-avoid political theatrics on display at state primaries and caucuses. You’ve listened to campaign trail rants and debate shouting matches. And on the eve of tomorrow’s primary in Florida, you’ve witnessed violence and dust-ups. You’ve noticed a lot of talk – yelling – about bigness, from the gaping mouth of Donald Trump, the candidate with big bucks, super-size ego, tall order insults and alleged anatomical largesse.
Nothing small about the man, except his notion of taste. I was reminded of this character flaw, just one of many, right, when hearing about “The Polish Brigade.” That’s the gang of undocumented workers (from Poland) corralled by the Trump people in 1980 to demolish the old Bonwit Teller building, below, on Fifth Ave. to make way for the architectural clunker known as Trump Tower.
Just compare the two. Erected in 1929, the BT building was first known as the Stewart & Company store. Designed by the architects Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, traditional Beaux-Arts creators of mansions and clubs, it had an entranceway that was a “stupendously luxurious mix of limestone, bronze, platinum and hammered aluminum,” according to The New York Times. It was called “a sparkling jewel in keeping with the character of the store,” noted American Architect magazine at the time. “At the very top of the facade were limestone relief panels of two early naked (and therefore controversial) women brandishing large scarves, as if dancing,” The Times tells us. Check them out up close, above, during Trump’s demolition derby.
According to the paper, Trump had promised the limestone reliefs of the dancing women to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which wanted them for its sculpture collection. But they never made the trip up Fifth Ave. The workmen jackhammered them to bits. What caring follow through by the business man!
Now take a gander at the dark, soulless Trump Tower. What can you say about it? That it’s ugly? Check. That it lacks any notable architectural detail or historical import? Double check.
This whole out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new led me just a skip up Fifth Ave. where sits another venerable retailer, Bergdorf Goodman which has been at that location since 1928. Now the building is one of the backlogged properties The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is deciding the fate of. To grant landmark status to or not.
Talk about historical significance. First off, think what originally stood there: the 1883 Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion, the modest dwelling below, designed by George B Post and Richard Morris Hunt. Then realize had the city’s landmarks law been passed not a century ago, but just a few decades earlier, the Vanderbilt mansion would almost certainly be with us today.
Long may BG stand and just a few reasons why it should:
*Home to those classic lavender boxes with the fashionable ladies striding across the covers which I remember from my grandmother’s closet
*Launching pad for the designer Halston, first known for his millenary. Here, Halston adjusts one of his chapeaus.
*Set for Barbra Streisand’s 1965 show on CBS, “My Name is Barbra.”Below, Ms. B struts in GB’s fur department. Loved it!!
BG’s too pricey for me these days, but boy is it fun to window shop and browse its storied aisles.