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What Used to Be

Fresh from my start as Boor Bridges’ new studio manager, I set off for ten days in NYC to visit family and friends. I’ve found that repeat visitors and dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers can always find one common topic of discussion, which is the game of “Used to Be.” That Duane Reed store Used to Be a boutique, that fro-yo place Used to Be a punk record store painted screaming hot pink. Play the game with folks a generation or two older and it gets even more interesting:  that skyscraper Used to Be where my great-uncle’s delicatessen once stood.

Everyone has their own individual mental map, as if preserved in amber. There are routes through Manhattan that I still remember perfectly, alarming in their current-day discrepancy to their appearance in my memory. On this trip, we ended up on Gansevoort Street, climbing up stairs to the High Line. This location was one where I had entered the High Line before its restoration, by more illicit means. There used to be one spot where you could climb up an old service ladder, shimmy through a hole in the fence, and explore the wildly overgrown tracks, with an unbeatable panoramic view of the city around you. My friends and I were thrilled at sneaking into somewhere forbidden; and the post-apocalyptic vibe was beautiful to behold. The High Line now is lovely in a totally different way, but I must admit I felt a little disappointed and entitled when bumping along past the many tourists taking in the weak spring sun, or peering up at the Standard Hotel’s glass façade looking for exhibitionists.

Another stop on memory lane was the Whitney Museum, currently hosting its last biennial exhibition in its Marcel Breuer-designed building uptown before a move to (guess where?) the High Line. I have memories of visiting the museum as a child, when I was frightened by the dark staircase, and spent hours there while in art school, arguing in the lobby with my classmates about the works on display. One of the most popular pieces in the show was Zoe Leonard’s installation, creating a camera obscura from the building’s iconic trapezoidal window. The room was full, but also hushed, while the world outside passed silently along the walls. I thought it was a great homage.

I attended a wedding in a former foundry, a party in a former sweatshop. With so much turnover, it was a treat to get to spend an afternoon in one spot that is exquisitely unchanged. The National Arts Club, a private club founded in 1898, is a Gilded Age jewel box, with stained glass, oil paintings, grand staircases, and potted palms galore. My sandals just squeaked by the dress code, and my companion was given a blazer on loan to gain entry. Despite the formality that a couple of California kids were not used to, the National Arts Club was incredible to behold – proof that even in New York, some things cannot be changed.