I read with interest this morning of the death of architecture historian Henry Hope Reed. Reed’s passing marks the death of two great architecture critics this year; Ada Louise Huxtable died in January. I don’t believe they saw eye-to-eye on all things, but Reed and Huxtable at least shared the sentiment that the buildings and spaces we live, work, and unwind in matter in our lives. This was an especially important sentiment in the 1950s and 1960s, when urban planners seemed to have forgotten the importance of continuity and historical memory. Tension between the past and present is inevitable, and even healthy when kept in proper balance. Sadly, though, in New York it took the razing of Pennsylvania Station for some people to learn this lesson. Reed and Huxtable were on the right side in the struggle.
Reed was one of the founders, for lack of a better term, of the walking tour movement here. He led excursions of Central Park in the 1960s in which he taught people about the park and its history. Today we take Shorewalkers, Big Onion, and other organizations as a given, but in the New York of Mayor Lindsay they were anything but. It was something of an adventure in that much grittier and more crime-ridden era, and took a great deal of faith and foresight on the part of people such as Reed. Yesterday I took the train to Albany to visit the New York State Museum. The trip up the Hudson is scenic and majestic, especially when the season are changing. Near FDR’s Hyde Park one passes the Poughkeepsie Bridge, which is now the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. Such sites, broadly speaking, were made possible by the forward thinking of people like Reed. He had some misses too. He was vehemently against concerts and events he saw as intrusions in the park. Imagine the history of New York City, however, without such defining moments as Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park. Still, Reed and people like him gave us so much to be thankful for. It’s something to think about the next time you are cutting across the Sheep Meadow.
(image courtesy NYPL)