#New York City history
AskBwog: The Little Fortress

croton1199The abandoned stone structure on 119th and Amsterdam sort of looks like a medieval castle – a very, very small one. It isn’t quite the stuff of architecture classes, but the little building stands out – you’ve probably wondered what it is or was as you passed the forgotten, weedy lot. It’s not like there’s a dearth of old buildings around here, but everyone knows the deal on St. John the Divine, the old St.Luke’s hospital buildings, and you know, Columbia. Bwog unveils this final mystery – a riveting tale of the forgotten, the clandestine, the underground… literally.

The trail of the underground aqueduct in Manhattan

The trail of the underground aqueduct in Manhattan

It turns out that the 119th street gatehouse, as it is called, is part of a now defunct and closed off aqueduct system that runs from the Croton River upstate, through the Bronx and under Amsterdam. The gatehouses give access to the New Croton Aqueduct and pumping mechanisms underground. The original Croton Aqueduct began construction in 1837 after a really big fire made it clear that a growing city needed a real water source and a real distribution system. Two reservoirs were constructed to hold water for the city brought in from Croton – one where the New York Public Library now stands and one on what would become the site of the Great Lawn in Central Park.

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This Week in Procrastination: Six Weeks Left

It’s the final stretch.  Post-break, you might have time for a few distractions.

 Photo via mycaricatures.co.uk

Monday

Society, Toleration, and the Jews: Ira Katznelson, professor of political science and history, will discuss toleration “as an alternative to persecution.”  Sounds good to us.  6:15 PM @ Low Rotunda.

Tuesday

Brinkley, Foner, and Stiglitz: Capitalism is in crisis.  How will it affect our politics?  Probably the same way every other economic crisis has: protectionism.  7:30 PM @ 309 Havemeyer.

Indian Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati: Interpreting the country’s relatively new constitution in favor of broad human rights.  5:00 PM @ 101 Jerome Greene Hall.

Wednesday

New York City at 400: Representations of the island through time; part of a year-long celebration of a really old city.  7:00 PM @ Deutsches Haus 420 W. 116th St

Thursday

Free screening of Defiance: Hosted by Ferris Reel.  7:30 @ Roone Cinema.

Unexpectedly Dancing in Boise: A CC senior’s thesis has gone off-broadway.  TRF, 8:00 PM @ The Producer’s Club Theatres, 44th St. between 8th and 9th Ave.

Friday

Chowdah: Brand new, sexy material.  9:00 PM @ Wien Lounge.

It All Looks Better in a Display Case
 Image via morningside-heights.net

The poor, defenseless buildings of Morningside are under siege from the ravenous monster that is Columbia University.

Or so local residents would have us believe.  More than a decade ago, locals petitioned the Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect Morningside Heights (which includes a large number of older buildings with their original architectural styles) as a historical district; a “sustained, exuberant, cogent expression of the American Renaissance,” they wrote, obviously for some kind of coursework.

The New York Times has an update as to the status of that battle, fluffed with some fascinating local history.  Somewhere in city offices, the 200-plus-page document is sitting in a dusty corner next to your thesis, a “Pending” stamp across the cover.  The article begs for your pity with pictures of dilapidated, soon-to-be-demolished buildings labeled “threatened brownstones.”

Columbia of course did not respond to the heartstring tugs: though PrezBo declined to comment, spokesman Robert Hornsby said that a designation is “unnecessary” because Columbia has been a “steward” of preservation. Far more importantly, though, in Bwog’s view, it might set back dorm renovations, and that just can’t happen.

Obama’s Roommate, Plus Obama’s New York

Two pieces of (somewhat) Obama-related media: first, one of his first college roommates writes about their time together in the fall of 1981. Phil Boerner ’84, who transferred with Obama from Occidental, remembers Obama that, “as a host and roommate, he sometimes did the shopping and cooked the chicken curry.” Oh, and Obama may have spent so much time in the library because “our apartment had irregular heat, and we didn’t enjoy hanging out there once the weather got cold.” The pair also hit up establishments that Columbia students still haunt, including Tom’s (“for breakfast”), the Met, and the Central Park jogging loop.

Meanwhile, in the New York Times, author Kevin Baker ’80 decides that, because he “came to New York, and to Columbia University, just a few years before Barack Obama arrived in 1981,” he should remind us what New York was like in the early 80s. “It was a dirtier city then, more violent, more interesting,” he writes, “more accessible to poor, eager young people.” Still, “everything seemed like a revelation, right from the first day at Columbia, when my art humanities professor took us to St. John the Divine and explained what a Gothic cathedral was.” Some things never change.