Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Spectral Beauty of Decay at Temple Court in Lower Manhattan

Yesterday, as the sun set and rain fell intermittently, the lobster and the canary had a rare treat:

We got to visit the interior of the recently rediscovered Temple Court at 5 Beekman Street in lower Manhattan, just off Broadway by City Hall and across from the Woolworth Building-- a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. (A friend of ours is a wedding photographer who got permission to do a shoot yesterday in the now-famed building-- we tagged along).

Temple Court: a spectacularly gorgeous interior, now decayed after decades of abandonment, soon to be restored (plans are afoot to rehab the building as a luxury hotel). An oddity of life: beauty and romance hidden in plain sight. The lobster works very close to 5 Beekman, has walked past the building hundreds of times, and never paid it much mind. Until last year, no one paid the dilapidated hulk any attention, when suddenly a scene scout for films stumbled upon it. Click here for details, and for many pictures.

Built in 1881-1883 as one of the first nine-story buildings that marched up from Bowling Green (as NYC's commercial expansion drove the need for office space beyond the narrow confines of Wall Street and its immediate environs), 5 Beekman had 212 suites housing law firms, advertising and insurance companies. Above all, it had a glass-roofed central atrium, ornate iron grill work (some in the form of dragons), fireplaces, trapdoors for the hauling of safes, terra cotta and brick, colorful tiles on the floors.

The building began to shutter in the 1940s, and apparently wound down almost completely over the next decade. Today the interior is a ghostly, gaping place, with the names of long gone (indeed, long defunct) tenants etched palely on dusty glass. The walls are blotched and shadowed, the rooms empty except for echoes, the floors stippled with vague piles of refuse, oblique shards of light filter in from the panes far above.

Think of the Bradbury Building in Blade Runner.

Think of the decayed surfaces Rosamund Purcell captures in her photographs.

Here are photographs the lobster & canary took yesterday, to give you a sense of the layered mystery of Manhattan's Temple Court:

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