The Wait Is Over!

I got an email this morning from the big white performing arts center on the Potomac. The subject line was: [acronym of presenting organization withheld] single tickets now on sale for all of next season!

Scrolling took me to an image for each of 10 shows, with the show’s title, dates, and tagline, plus a link to buy tickets. (When I clicked on the links, my obsolete phone informed me that “Safari cannot open the page because the network connection was lost.” and “Safari could not open the page because the server stopped responding.”)

Never mind what I think of phrases like “bubbly comic masterpiece,” “delightful tale of love,” “riveting modern classic,” and “soaring immortal tragedy”—let’s talk about timing.

The earliest of these events will take place Sept. 18. The opening production in the season will run Sept. 22–Oct. 2 and the latest May 6–21, 2017.

Today is July 13, 2016.

If the point of keeping the single-ticket window of opportunity closed is to encourage the purchase of season subscriptions, why open it more than two months before the first performance (and nearly 10 months before the curtain goes up on the last production of the season)?

Why seek to build excitement around the start of single-ticket sales, which, to some extent, cannibalize subscription sales?

One reason is that single-ticket prices are generally at least 25 percent higher than the per-show price of a subscription. Single-ticket butts (bums, across the pond) are worth more on a given evening than those of subscribers, in other words.

Second, the subscription model is on life support. According to the conventional wisdom, no one wants to commit to so many dates, especially so far in advance. The number of subscribers, even to mini-subscriptions (Pick 3s), continues to head due south. “We’re just going through the motions until the last of the Baby Boomers is institutionalized,” the marketing director explains, fumbling for vape juice.

Going through the motions is right. The subscription collateral that’s out there looks a lot like it did in the 1980s — except it’s gotten harder to tell one presenter’s from another’s. (Now see what you’ve made me do: defend branding.)

In a couple posts from three years ago, “Act One: Autumn in the Country” and “Killing It On the Boards,” I tried to make the case that the subscription model could be given new life. If not, presenters, you will either single-ticket yourselves into exhaustion, discount yourselves into penury, or both. (“Don’t worry your little head about earned income,” the development director interjects, lighting a cigarillo.)

To reprise: Whether you like it or not, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and most of your business has gotta come from a fraction of your customers (roughly 80% from 20%). That’s the fraction you need to build and bond with.

What if, in the middle of summer, I’m just now getting ready to consider subscribing to [acronym of presenting organization withheld]? This morning’s email doesn’t offer that option.

Here’s an idea from the museum world, where visitors can apply the price of admission to membership. If I buy a single ticket to a concert or a play, why not invite me to upgrade to a subscription for the difference in price? Let me know if you know of a presenter that does this; I bet they’re out there.

(Of course, a growing number of museums have given up on paid admission. Once they do, seeing that paid membership has become a lost cause, they consider the next step: instituting free membership — the latest stroke of brilliance!)

Another idea, first executed with panache by Amazon: Say I buy a single ticket. Why not remarket other offerings to me using the “if you liked x, then you might enjoy y” tactic? Again, please share performing arts examples.

If I go for the “if, then,” I’m on my way to subscribing. But the incentives have to go beyond a 25% discount, “early” access to the “best” seats, the right to exchange without penalty, and a free dessert at the joint up the block. Offer a lot more, amounting to genuine insider/V.I.P. treatment, and the word will get around.

As for single-ticket buyers, my recommendation is: Make them suffer! Force them to wait until two weeks before, provide only folding chairs with semi-obstructed views, and charge them through the nose (this does not apply to impoverished students, if such still exist).

Next week, still grouchy, I will share some thoughts about the current plague of musicals.



Some Ecclesiastes for the Days of Awe:

The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

In last week’s post, “You Say Patina and I Say Patina,” I wrote about Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s Diana the First, who was too big not to fail—as a weathervane, that is.*

Diana the Second, five feet shorter and hundreds of pounds lighter, turn, turn, turned. Saint-Gaudens sculpted her in the round. But why did he give her such a detailed beauty, impossible to appreciate from Madison Square, 347 feet below? (And from Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit!)

Well, one could use opera glasses or binoculars or a telescope (“The Square is now thronged with clubmen armed with field glasses.”—New York World, 1891), and buildings of similar height could reasonably be expected to rise nearby.

In fact, Madison Square Garden’s 32-story tower was out-erected in 1909 by the 50-story, Sons-of-LeBrun-designed Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, soon to be an Edition Hotel (Ian Schrager plus Bill Marriott, what could go wrong?).

Better reasons: Diana was a labor of love. The Saint waived his fee for the Beaver, his fellow Tile Club member Stanford White, the Garden’s architect. And it’s no great leap to suppose that she was a shot at immortality—both for the sculptor and for his model, Saint-Gaudens’s handsome Swedish-American mistress Albertina Johnson Clark, with whom he had a son, Louis, nicknamed Novy.

Saint-Gaudens’s name for Albertina was Davida. She was his female David. He intended Diana—not sure if this is documented—to stand with the David and with the surviving masterpieces of the ancient world (also Michelangelo’s “competition”).

So in this sense it is appropriate for the Philadelphia Museum of Art to give Diana the place of honor in the niche (pronounced NEESH by the British art historians I studied with, who also said PAT-ina, not pa-TEE-na) at the top of the museum’s Great Stair Hall.

In my post “Busted! Ben’s Busted Bust on a Bus,” I offered a HOPE (as in Diamond) acronym to determine the drawing power of an object: Historical Significance, One-of-a-kindness, Provenance, Excellence.

Philadelphia’s Diana is well-endowed in all four categories. She is the one-and-only. Big sister is gone for good and the cast at the Metropolitan, though not Tinker Bell, is desk lamp-sized.

She was not surrounded by admirers earlier this month, when I went to see her new gold outfit. Perhaps it’s embarrassing to look too closely, as if you were checking her anatomical correctness (not 100%). Her body—Dudie’s?—is breathtaking.

Great care was taken in the surface treatment and lighting to arrive at a muted effect, a golden glow that the sculptor would have approved (as far as can be determined). Saint-Gaudens was particular about the appearance of his outdoor works, “Sick of seeing statues look like old stove pipes,” wrote his son Homer. He himself paid for the double gilding of his Sherman Monument, unveiled on Memorial Day in 1903 near the southeast corner of Central Park, opposite the Plaza Hotel (Henry Hardenbergh’s Plaza, the one we know today, followed four years later).

To learn about the “Saint-Gaudy” regilding of the Sherman Monument in 1990, which upset Frances Lear and others, and for which Donald Trump was unjustly blamed, read “Gilding the Sherman Memorial” by Mark Rabinowitz, a September 26, 2006, article on the website of Conservation Solutions, Inc. Conservation Solutions carried out the most recent regilding of the monument, in 2013.

I found the work on Diana, though tasteful and historically informed, somewhat off-putting if not indecent. Being this close to such a gorgeous naked woman…isn’t there a commandment about that? It felt as if I were standing before the Golden Calf, or had made Actaeon’s little blunder:

As soon as he reaches the cave mouth dampened by the fountain, the naked nymphs, seeing a man’s face, beat at their breasts and filling the whole wood with their sudden outcry, crowd round Diana to hide her with their bodies. But the goddess stood head and shoulders above all the others. Diana’s face, seen there, while she herself was naked, was the colour of clouds stained by the opposing shafts of sun, or Aurora’s brightness. [Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book III, trans. Anthony S. Kline]

Being turned into a stag and ripped apart by your own hounds is not the way I want to go.

We were not meant to look upon Diana up-close—surely Madison Square Garden would last forever, just like Pennsylvania Station—but she is a masterpiece and it is rewarding to do so. For me, this experience was lessened by the regilding. Without getting into Marxist and Feminist theory (which have plenty to say about the Gilded Age), all that new gold seems to overemphasize the connection between Fornicatio and Avaritia.

And what about the American antiques commandment, Thou Shalt Not Refinish? In Objects of Desire: The Lives of Antiques and Those Who Pursue Them, Thatcher Freund writes about dealer Roger Bacon, who:

refused to refinish anything. He loved what he called a “crusty” thing. When he saw a thing with “good surface,” he’d say, “It’s right as rain.” Bacon developed a following—something like a cult—of dealers who saw the tragedy of refinishing. [Chapter 9]

In a July 24, 2012, post about weathervanes (remember: that’s what Diana is), Stephen Fletcher, executive vice president and Americana head at Skinner Auctioneers, notes:

We’ve sold weathervanes with fabulous surfaces that have had big bullet holes through them; they still brought a lot of money. Weathervanes were sometimes used for target practice, and as long as there aren’t too many bullet holes, it’s not necessarily going to matter too much—as long as the weathervane has great original surface.

Okay, enough of this superficiality, let’s go past the surface…

Poised in her lighted niche between two Ionic columns with painted capitals—ironically, the regilding makes her stand out less than when she was dark green—Diana has elevation, but not rotation. If the museum had wanted to suggest her original appearance and function, that would have been the way to go.

Unless you stumble across one of the two wall labels, you’d never guess that she’s a descendant of the Faneuil Hall grasshopper. She looks like she escaped from a French fountain. (Before the regilding, it’s true, she looked like some Greek fisherman pulled her up in a net.)

Her only sculptural company in the Great Stair Hall is the large Calder mobile Ghost (1964), the white panels of which block your view of Diana when you stand at the balcony window facing the Rocky Steps.

Ghost is there to make a point: you can look out the window straight down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philly’s Champs-Élysées, and see the Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Circle, designed by Calder’s father, and, beyond it, the statue of William Penn on top of City Hall, designed by Calder’s grandfather.

(You can also look to your left, where there is a pediment at the end of the museum’s north wing, flanked by two of those green griffins I told you about, containing—speaking of ghosts—one of the most ghastly sculptural groups in America: 10 figures plus an owl, a lion, and a serpent in multicolor glazed terracotta designed by C. Paul Jennewein and John Gregory in 1932.)

Continuing up the stairs to the left of Diana will take you to European Art 1100-1500; passing her on the right will take you to European Art 1500-1850. Behind her is Arms and Armor. She looks stunning when the museum throws parties in the Great Stair Hall (see the inside front cover of the Fall/Winter program guide), but shouldn’t it be easier for visitors to do more than soak up her aura?

Where’s American Art, you ask? Go back down the stairs, make a right, walk through a corridor of prints and drawings, and there’s Davida again! Here she’s the Angel of Purity, a marble work of 1902 by Saint-Gaudens, commissioned as a memorial to 22-year-old diphtheria victim Maria Mitchell by her parents. (The Philadelphia church it was designed for sold it to the museum about 10 years ago.)

Same face, but everything else is different. For one thing, the only exposed parts of the winged figure, holding up a tablet, are her head, her neck, and the area just below her neck; her forearms from the elbows; and her toes. There is barely any sense of a female body under the gown. Bulging folds under the figure’s breasts obscure them.

Head deeper into American Art, now, until you reach Gallery 111, where several works from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition reside (including—when it’s not at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts—The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins, perhaps the greatest American painting of them all, which narrowly escaped the clutches of Alice Walton and the National Gallery in 2006).

Cousins of Diana, well worth comparing, include two marble sculptures, La Première Pose (1873-76) by Howard Roberts and The Lost Pleiad (c. 1874-82) by Randolph Rogers; and the stained-glass window Spring (1900-1902) by John La Farge.

So, to me, the isolation of Diana means that two important educational opportunities—not just art-historical but aesthetic—are less accessible to visitors: that of seeing and understanding her in the context of Saint-Gaudens’s oeuvre and that of seeing and understanding her in the context of the Gilded Age.

There are other directions in which Diana could point—no shortage of virgins and goddesses in world art of all periods—if she weren’t affixed to her pedestal and gilded into silence (figuratively speaking). These could be mapped in guided and self-guided tours or discussed in what the museum calls Spotlight Gallery Conversations. However, outside of the party photo I mentioned, our heroine is absent from the Fall/Winter program guide.

Right now she’s aiming her arrow at the warriors in the Sea Battle between the Fleets of Constantine and Licinius, part of The History of Constantine the Great, a set of 17th-century tapestries, some by Rubens and others (including this one) by Pietro da Cortona.

Constantine and Licinius were the two emperors who proclaimed the pro-Christian Edict of Milan in 313. If you were a Roman goddess, you’d want to put some holes in those guys too.

* After being farmed out to the Agriculture Building at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (the Women’s Christian Temperance Union objected to her placement on the Women’s Pavilion), she lost her lower half in a fire. Her upper half made a second Chicago appearance in 1909 at the Art Institute’s tribute to Saint-Gaudens, who died in 1907, then was scrapped.

You Say Patina and I Say Patina

Word association. Don’t think, just blurt out whatever comes into your mind when I say…GRIFFIN!

Did you say Merv (my mom would have) or Alice in Wonderland?

Lewis Carroll called his winged lion with an eagle’s head the Gryphon: ‘No, no! The adventures first,’ said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: ‘explanations take such a dreadful time.’ [Chapter 10]

Anyone say Philadelphia?

The griffin is hanging on by its talons as the symbol of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Guardian beasts, the Llasa Apsos of antiquity, griffins have been depicted in art for millennia and heraldry for centuries. Fittingly, there are big, bronze, horned ones at the corners of the museum’s roof.

But if you go looking for griffins in the Fall/Winter program guide, you won’t find any. The museum’s clean new visual identity, created by Pentagram (clean new visual identities are their thing, if you’ve got the gelt), comes with a name-only logo in which ‘Art’ is bigger than ‘Philadelphia Museum of.’ The ‘A’ in ‘Art’ is to be customized with various fonts and treatments, such as replacing it with thumbnails of artworks in the collection.

This rebranding coincided with the announcement in late June of the revival of Frank Gehry’s expansion plans. Though Gehry said, “The idea of not touching the exterior was part of my brief from Anne [d’Harnoncourt, former PMA director],” his design includes punching a window into the so-called Rocky Steps, at the bottom of which stands a 10-foot movie-prop statue (A. Thomas Schomberg, 1981) of the iconic Philadelphian created and played by New York-born, half-Italian Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone.

The constant stream of visitors to the statue and up the steps, only some of whom trickle into the museum, must make George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer Timothy F. Rub twitch. You don’t even have to drive, taxi, bus, PHLASH, or aerobically propel yourself the length of Benjamin Franklin Parkway if you’re willing to accept the shorter, Tussaudish Rocky in Sweats at the Independence Visitor Center (and many tweeters are).

For those with longer attention spans, Visit Philadelphia has a brand-new Rocky Tour:

Recreate his famous run up the Art Museum steps; grab an authentic cheesesteak at Pat’s, the very place he stopped at in the original Rocky; walk through the Italian Market; and then stop by an old-school butcher shop, where — SPOILER — they’re probably not going to let you go in the back and use the meat as a punching bag.

The first Rocky (budget $1 million, box office $225 million) was released around Thanksgiving in 1976, when Stallone was 30. Sly is aging, but his character appears to be immortal. In Philadelphia, the Italian Stallion has his foot on the griffin’s neck.

National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the new Chinese owners of Saab Automobile, did not license the griffin (gripen in Swedish, still the name of a Saab Group fighter plane), but our furry feathered friend continues to appear on the logos of United Paper Mills (Finland) and Vauxhall Motors (U.K. but owned by G.M.); on the blazon of Trinity College, Oxford; on the seal of Purdue University; and as the mascot of several other colleges and universities, including William and Mary (Hark upon the gale!).

The map I picked up last week at the museum—still using the griffin-silhouette logo—has a color photo of one of the rooftop critters on the cover. And the color is verdigris.

Steel oxidizes to a beautiful Serra Orange and bronze to verdigris, literally “green of Greece.” This skin, or patina, becomes part of a work’s beauty and meaning. You don’t want your silver to tarnish or your chassis to rust, but if you expose your bronze to the elements the green is foreseen.

Is the patina Nature’s Paint Job or skin cancer? That depends. [Wikipedia: Typically bronze only oxidizes superficially; once a copper oxide (eventually becoming copper carbonate) layer is formed, the underlying metal is protected from further corrosion. However, if copper chlorides are formed, a corrosion-mode called “bronze disease” will eventually completely destroy it.]

It took about 30 years for the Statue of Liberty to fully patinize. She was Penny Pretty to the huddled masses who came over between 1886 and the early 1900s. The sea air did a number on her torch, which was replaced in 1986. The new, gilded “flame” reflects rather than radiates light.

In her new book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, Elizabeth Mitchell recounts a tortuous (nyuk, nyuk) process. You will recall from elementary school that Emma Lazarus wrote: “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” In fact, the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a gold-plated, working lighthouse (ad campaign idea: “Two Ancient Wonders in One!”).

The completed torch section was brought to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park for the Centennial Exhibition (also the impetus for the museum). It made such an impression and raised so much money that the Statue might have ended up in Philadelphia.

Philly lost that match, but the city’s a Survivor, “Rising up to the challenge of our rival.” Sing with me now…

(Okay, we’re back.)

The second Madison Square Garden, built in 1890 (and actually located on Madison Square, go figure), was torn down in 1925 to make way for Cass Gilbert’s New York Life Insurance Building. Perched on the pinnacle of the Garden’s Giralda-esque tower, then the highest point in New York, was the only nude female sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Diana the Huntress.

An Amazon, but more than that. The Goddess of the Moon. Eighteen feet tall with perfect golden skin. Balancing on the toes of one foot, her bow fully drawn, yet motionless.

Which is a problem for a weathervane.

Less then a year later, she was sent packing to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Her younger sister, just 13 feet in height, took her place high above Madison Square in 1893, remaining there, visible for miles in electric floodlights, until the end came. Her snaky scarf was blown away around 1905. And the following year, on location, architect Stanford White was blown away by Evelyn Nesbit’s jealous husband Harry Thaw.

In E. L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime, Nesbit is said to have been the model for Diana, but she was too young at the time. According to Julia “Dudie” Baird, the model for the body was Julia “Dudie” Baird. The face of Diana was that of Albertina Johnson Clark, Saint-Gaudens’s mistress, to whom he gave the name Davida. (For more about Diana, Dudie, and Davida, read “Diana Of The Tower,” a May 28, 2013, post by Harry Kyriakodis on the blog Hidden City Philadelphia.)

It would have been nice to keep her in New York, but architect and preservationist Sidney Fiske Kimball, then director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, won out. In 1932, Diana landed on the landing of the museum’s Great Stair Hall (please, no more stairs!). She’s been there for 82 years and counting, far longer than her 32 as a glorified hood ornament.*

After those years in the open air, she was dark green, partially corroded, with just a few spots of the original gold leaf. No one seemed to mind. Then came what might be called Project Gilda. In July, she returned from a year of serious spa treatments. As her label (which takes a bit of hunting to locate) reads: “Diana gleams brilliantly once again through the support of Bank of America.”

Specifically, an elaborate and painstaking intervention—analysis, repair, restoration, and regilding—was made possible by $200,000 from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project. The metallurgically inclined will want to read more and watch the videos here:

So what do I think? I’ll describe my visit in next week’s post, as we go stalking the issues of authenticity and context.

* The model for the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstacy was Eleanor Thornton, Lord Montagu’s secretary and secret love.

Broad Strokes

A few years after college, in multiples of 40, I took every fifth grader in the five boroughs to Philadelphia to see Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, men sleeping on grates, Betsy Ross’s House, the Bourse (for lunch), the Mint (the U.S. Mint, not the Franklin Mint, which no longer seems to exist in three-dimensional space), Franklin Court,* and the Franklin Institute.

There was only One Child Left Behind out of thousands. It was the chaperones’ fault. Anyway, he was still there when we went back for him.

Over the three decades since, I’ve dropped in regularly. The Third (now Sixth) City hasn’t become second-nature to me the way that New York, D.C., and Baltimore have, but you might say I feel a brotherly love.

One of my sisters lived there and a cousin still does. That’s enough of a familial connection for me to detest the “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” advertising (“Con Cariño” in the Spanish version) that for several years has been disfiguring billboards, magazines, and social media.

Visit Philadelphia—also the source of the Uwishunu blog and the slogan “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay”—is very proud of the so-called love letter campaign, but it seems particularly unsuited to a town with…maybe not style, but taste. A noisy marriage of insincerity with ugliness, it reflects, I would guess, the tourism leadership’s impatience with the undemonstrative civility of the place (under which lurks, just to make things interesting, a certain amount of Mummerania, Balboa-tude, and other native traits).

A product of the to-thine-own-self-be-true school of tourism (my actual school of tourism was the New School for Social Research, as it was then known), I’m not big on reconstructive surgery. Whether you are Queens or Queensland, the less you affect to attract visitors and import to impress them, the better off you are in the long run, economically, socially, and—yes—competitively.

Those of you hanging on to your zip line for dear life, raise one hand (after checking that your harness is secure).

When I considered writing about Broad Street, Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, as a case history of an operation that was successful though the patient died, I hesitated. Do I know Philadelphia well enough to make this call? (Maybe not.) And by doing so would I be harming a city I care about? (Not much of a worry given that my readership is a small subset of my Facebook friends.)

Then, Googling around, I found something called Liberty City Press, “an independent weekly newspaper distributed by the Philadelphia Multi-Cultural News Network whose members include Philadelphia Sunday Sun, The Philadelphia Gay News, Al Dia, The Jewish Exponent, The Metro Chinese Weekly and The Metro Viet News.”

Here’s an excerpt from a July 15 editorial in Liberty City Press, “Wherefore Art Now Part 1,” with the subhead “Black clouds along the Avenue of the Arts”:

The avenue, which runs from Broad to Lombard, hosts the Prince Music Theater, Kimmel Center, Merriam Theatre, Wilma Theater and Suzanne Roberts Theatre. And there can be little doubt that [former mayor and later governor Ed] Rendell’s vision transformed South Broad Street, perhaps not into the Great White Way of Philly, but into a catalyst for residential development in center city. The question now is whether the Avenue of the Arts is sustainable. Recent signs of trouble among the art institutions that anchor it make this question one city leaders need to address sooner rather than later.

We are not talking about the 900-pound gorillas on the avenue — the Kimmel Center and its tenant, the Philadelphia Orchestra. They are to the Philadelphia art scene what the school district has become to our education scene: unsustainable economic models perennially in need of greater public largesse. They have become too big too [sic] fail.

No, we are talking about the small theaters that transformed South Broad from the Academy of Music to, well, an Avenue of the Arts: one at the northern end, the Prince Music Theater, the other at the southern tip, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

(Part 2, published July 22, has the subhead “History Museums Sucking Wind on Independence Mall.” You think I’m provocative?)

To put the situation in the terms of last week’s post, “Edited Bunker in New Haven,” since 1993, when the nonprofit Avenue of the Arts, Inc., was created, several of Philadelphia’s cultural attractions have been extracted from their former neural pathways and transplanted to one—South Broad Street—that, despite a major upgrade, seems too weak at present to support them in their enlarged state.

Remember symbiosis? The plan, I’m sure, was (a) for the cultural organizations to benefit the Avenue by occupying existing buildings or building new ones on designated sites to which their current audiences would now be drawn, (b) for the Avenue to benefit the cultural organizations by raising their profiles and putting each near others with similar current and target audiences, and (c) for all to benefit from the economic activity generated as their audiences expand and “Live. Learn. Work. Shop. Play. Explore.”

It’s one thing, and by no means a sure thing, for a cultural organization to follow its dream (sometimes it’s the dream of a deep-pocketed board member). Examples of death by overreach are easy to point to in my own Baltimore backyard: the City Life Museums (d. 1997), Opera Vivente (d. 2011), the Contemporary Museum (d. 2012, reb. 2013).

(It usually takes much more than overreach to bring down a major institution such as, recently, New York City Opera, San Jose Rep, and the Corcoran.)

But what if an institution is the victim not of its own ambition, but of the ambition of a city’s political, corporate, and philanthropic leaders? In Baltimore, two nonprofit theater companies have recently relocated and expanded their operations to serve as cultural components of economic development plans.

Everyman Theatre went from 170 seats in an Off-Broadway-type space in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District on North Charles Street (just north of Mount Vernon—see “Table at the Stable,” two posts ago) to 250 seats in a long-vacant 1910 vaudeville-burlesque-movie theatre and sometime parking garage in the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District west of downtown. (Nice how they didn’t have to replace the E on the façade, which originally stood for Empire. And smart to increase the seating by half instead of tenfold.)

On September 20, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, formerly based a dozen miles from Baltimore in Ellicott City, will hold a grand opening gala in its new downtown home, the 1885 Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Company, most recently a nightclub. (From a Baltimore Sun article on the Velvet Rope club: In February of last year [2010], some 300 people tried to storm inside after a promoter oversold a Yo Gotti concert, attracting some 50 police officers and a helicopter to control the scene.)

I wish them both the best of luck, but if they do not survive, perhaps they should be considered collateral damage of Baltimore’s—and Maryland’s, in the case of Everyman—destination-building.

Definition review: A destination is place with a name connected to images in the minds of prospective visitors, accessible 24-7, and more than the sum of the attractions—gated experiences—it contains.

Philadelphia is a destination, and within it are others: Rittenhouse Square, Society Hill, South Street, Old City, Northern Liberties (Not For Tourists guide: Northern Liberties might be getting too hip for its own good–and it doesn’t help when people call it “NoLibs.” The post-hip yuppie types are moving in and rents are going up up up. Don’t let that scare you, though–it’s still a great ‘hood.)

But is an avenue of cultural bunkers, University of the Arts buildings, and hotels a destination? Don’t get me wrong. Downtown Philly is looking great these days, much better than most of downtown Baltimore, but I’d rather hang out on Chestnut Street than South Broad.

Most of us wouldn’t butt-surf from one performance to another even right next door on the same day (Tyler Perry at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 4, then Brandi Carlile in the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad, at 8). And there aren’t so many simultaneous performances on the Avenue of the Arts that you can decide what to go to when you get there.

(Will TKTS fold up when we’ve all got an Apple Watch and Google Glass? Will physical space become optional, as it is for the Franklin Mint?)

One of Philadelphia’s art museums, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is on the Avenue of the Arts, but on North Broad, on the other side of City Hall. Rather than go there, let’s plan to head west next week on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway—a bunker line-up every bit the equal of South Broad—for a date with a goddess.

* See post No. 9, “America: It’s Like Britain, Only With Buttons.”

Edited Bunker in New Haven

Here’s how you would lead a tour of Yale’s science campus during my Bright College Years:

• Start at Phelps Gate, top of the Green, cross the Old Campus (Nathan Hale went to Yale, Benedict Arnold went to Hahvahd), hope that no one is tossing dummies from Harkness Tower (James Gamble Rogers, 1921)* that day, and proceed north on High Street.

• Genuflect in Sterling Memorial Library (Rogers, 1930), then lead the group through Cross Campus and into Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Gordon Bunshaft, 1963). Allow them to ooh at the glow of the veiny panels, hand around a sample piece of marble, and explain how in the event of attack all the oxygen in the glass-walled stacks is replaced by carbon dioxide and any librarian in there at the time has seconds to chokingly bid the world farewell as the stacks descend into an impenetrable underground chamber.

• Back outside, have them lean over to see Noguchi’s Sunken Garden, then cut through the Bicentennial Buildings. Deploy armored vehicle-launched bridge to get your unit across Grove Street. Visit state-of-the-art Davies Auditorium in Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center (Marcel Breuer, 1970). Make the screen go up and down or something.

• Sneak through to Hillhouse Avenue (“the most beautiful street in America”—Dickens, supposedly) and stroll its tree-lined length, admiring the Italianate mansions converted to social science departments, the School of Management, and the President’s and Provost’s Houses.**

• Point out the Peabody Museum of Natural History as you begin to climb Science Hill. Looming at the summit and howling in the wind: Kline Biology Tower (Philip Johnson, 1966). Pop into Kline, then head for Osborn Memorial Laboratories (Charles Haight, 1913). Trudge upstairs, have them squeeze themselves into wooden desks in a lecture hall where Alfred Russel Wallace would have felt at home, and bring the tour to a close (applause, sometimes).

The science campus tour guides were the second string. It wasn’t based on your knowledge of science: I was a history of art major. In Osborn, I milked the one science course I took, Biology of Reproduction taught by Clement Markert (editor-in-chief, Journal of Experimental Zoology, 1963-1985), part of the team that created Sixy, the first hexaparental mouse. Non-biology majors couldn’t enroll in the lab, in which things that ain’t natural were done to cute little white mice and their embryos.

The only reason I was admitted to the course in the first place was that I got a 4 (out of 5) on my Advanced Placement Biology exam in high school. I’m telling you all this because this week’s post is somewhat technical in nature. No rodent embryology, but we’re going to be talking about neuroplasticity, permeability, and symbiosis.

You know, of course, that a neuron is “an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals [Wikipedia].” Get a few of these scrawny characters firing at each other and you’ve got a neural pathway.

Neuroplasticity is when neural pathways alter or form anew in response to “changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury [Wikipedia].”

When someone has a stroke, the flow of blood to his or her brain cells (neurons and glial cells) is interrupted. Neurons die, disrupting neural pathways. The good news—and the reason why neuroplasticity is such a popular topic at Ruth’s Chris—is that it is possible for the brain to rewire itself, at least partially restoring lost function.

Brief break for green tea…and we continue. Think of the science campus tour route as a neural pathway, the stops along it as neurons, the people on it as blood cells (I’m a platelet, obviously). Some of the neurons—Beinecke, for instance—are easily penetrated by blood cells of any type. Others—Becton, for instance—are only accessible to Old Blue blood cells. Because the blood flow and neural stimulation are relatively meager, this pathway is emerging very very slowly.

Compare Chapel Street (and Baltimore’s Charles Street, as described in last week’s post, “Table at the Stable”). Named in 1784, Chapel Street eventually became the longest street in the Elm City. It forms the southern border of the New Haven Green, the center square in a grid of nine two-block-by-two-block squares laid out during the founding of the colony in 1638.

The Chapel Street Historic District runs west for five blocks or so (what, no surface parking?) from Temple Street to Park Street. If you’re in town on November 29, Orchestra New England will present its 35th annual Colonial Concert on Temple Street at United Church on the Green. At the other end, a couple doors down from Park Street, is Group W Bench, “The oldest running head shop on the planet.”

In the middle of this stretch, at 1080 Chapel, is the Yale Center for British Art, the gift of Paul Mellon, class of 1929. Its architect, Louis Kahn, also the architect of the Yale University Art Gallery (1953), died in 1974 (count how many people cry in the 2003 documentary My Architect by Nathaniel Kahn). Marshall Meyers and Anthony Pellecchia completed the designs for the interiors and the Center opened to the public on April 19, 1977.

That fall I wandered into the place and, upstairs, with many others, looked out into an interior courtyard filled with natural light and chamber music. Most Yale buildings are impermeable, that is, off-limits to the outside world (much more so now than in my day). But with a large entrance on the corner of Chapel and High, the British Art Center welcomes the public for free, as does the Art Gallery. In other words, the blood cells that flow up and down Chapel Street can penetrate the membrane.***

If that were the extent of its permeability, the Center would still be a bunker, if not an arch bunker (see my post of two weeks ago, “Arch Bunker in Dublin”). In the original plans, it was a bunker joined to another bunker, the Art Gallery, by a bridge over Chapel Street. But inflation took its toll on Mellon’s generous cash gift—the collection was also his—and the scheme was simplified.

Though I don’t know who came up with the idea—Kahn, Mellon, Yale President Kingman Brewster, New Haven Mayor Dick Lee, his successor Bart Guida, or Professor and founding Director Jules Prown (the only one still alive)—“It was the first museum in the United States to incorporate retail shops in its design [Center website].”

I can’t think of one since then, but what a concept: you avoid interrupting the Chapel Street neural pathway—and giving New Haven a stroke—and you offer more reasons to come to your building. Besides, l’Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers. Here we have not an arch bunker that doesn’t play well with others, but a much more accepting “edited bunker.” (Edith: Mike is family. Archie: Gloria is family. What’s standing behind me is an accident of marriage.)

You can enter the museum shop, in a storefront space, either from the lobby or from High Street. Atticus Bookstore, 1082 Chapel, opened a year before the Center itself, expanding and adding a Kramer Books-inspired café a few years later. The rest of the line-up is: Hello Boutique at 1090, Indo-Chic at 1092, and Derek Simpson Goldsmith (almost as old as Group W Bench) at 1094.

Then there’s an outdoor staircase leading down to a restaurant with a patio. In my impoverished studious years (plus ça change), the tenant was West of Eleven, a name derived from its address, 1104 Chapel Street. We called it Chapter 11, though, because no restaurant in that spot was in business for long (coming any minute: Harvest Wine Bar).

It should be a great location for a restaurant, because it’s next door to Yale Repertory Theatre, a terrific adaptive reuse of the former Calvary Baptist Church (Rufus Russell, 1871). Around the corner are the School of Architecture (Paul Rudolph, 1963) and the School of Drama’s University Theatre (Clarence Blackall, 1924, with renovations by Rogers). And from there a path leads to the Yale Cabaret (built in the 1920s for Phi Gamma Delta).

This part of Chapel is one of the best examples of symbiosis—ideally a mutualistic relationship: read about the clownfish and the anemone—between the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector, Gown and Town, attractions and destination. Unfortunately, it is the exception to the rule, even in New Haven.

You’ve heard the saying, “The operation was a success, but the patient died,” right? That’s next week’s topic.

* Wikipedia: The witticism, attributed to various modernist architects, that had he to choose any place in New Haven to live he would select the Harkness Tower, for then he “would not have to look at it,” is apparently apocryphal, derivative of a similar story told of Alexandre Dumas and the Eiffel Tower.
** See the May 3, 1979, Harvard Crimson article by Jeffrey Toobin[!]: “Goldstein, Yale Provost, Quits After Home Remodeling Dispute.”
*** If there are any real biologists reading this, you know how I‘m fudging the blood-brain barrier. It was a good analogy while it lasted.

Table at the Stable

Monday is Rib Night at the Mount Vernon Stable, but I’m more often there on Tuesday for Steak Night, the guy—brown hair, beard gone white—way up in the window.

As I chew my 12-ounce New York strip ($13.95 with two sides), my eyes pull into the Parking Management, Inc., surface lot where numbers 906, 908, 910, and 912 North Charles Street used to be. What the heck could succeed there, assuming you could get it built? An Apple store? A high-end cheese shop?

Charles is Baltimore’s 42nd Street, “where the underworld can meet the elite.” The elite skipped out on Mount Vernon when grandpa was a boy, but ships of the city’s cultural fleet—the Peabody Institute, the Walters Art Museum, Center Stage, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Baltimore School for the Arts, the Maryland Historical Society—are anchored near the Washington Monument (Robert Mills, 1815), shorter and less severe than the D.C. obelisk, swaddled these days in pre-centennial scaffolding.

And the Maryland Club and a few more of that type (“In the Squash and Fitness area All White attire must be worn.”) continue to occupy their splendid piles (Mount Vernon Club, Tiffany-Fisher House, architect unknown, 1842; Engineers Club, Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, Stanford White, 1884, with additions by John Russell Pope; Maryland Club, Josias Pennington, 1892).

The name Mount Vernon is a tribute to the taciturn General, standing larger than life on a 178-foot Doric column (Melville gives the monument a shout-out in Moby Dick), which will reopen for knee therapy next year. Till then, please have a seat in one of the four rectangular squares and take in the babies, dogs, music students, Walters employees, Circulator riders, vagrants (only a few), wedding parties, and television crews (Veep and House of Cards).

It’s a Dupont Circular scene (see “And Abide Quietly in Your Home” from three weeks ago) with a similar history: the neighborhood declined and became hippified, then turned into the city’s gayborhood (my word of the month), less so now. But unlike Dupont Circle, Mount Vernon has defied gentrification. Though many are glad that the fight to restrict building heights in this historic district was successful, most would welcome more investment and a rise in property values.

I was ecstatic to find that rents were so much lower than in D.C. Entire rowhouses in Mount Vernon can be purchased with what you’d spend on a one-bedroom condo in Dupont (if I only had savings or credit or…). But as much as it’s Charm City at its charmiest, Mount Vernon is on economic life support.

We just came through the Great Recession, I know. Things were much worse in the ’90s, I know. People have been saying Mount Vernon’s a lost cause for 50 years, I know. This is Baltimore, Hon…BELIEVE.

The Stable (run by Lorraine Yagjian, whose husband Peter died in 2009) is planning some kind of 30th anniversary bash in October. It seems to be doing okay, thanks to a reasonably priced, something-for-everyone menu and late hours on weekends (though not as late as Never on Sunday, a few doors down, where the wee hours are a show in themselves). With its décor of architectural castoffs and theater props (Royal Tenenbaum: “Where’s my javelina?”), it is an island of Mount Vernon Stability.

Family-owned restaurants rarely last more than one generation. Some of the most prized in Mount Vernon and other neighborhoods have thrown in the cloth napkin over the past 30 years (see Sun restaurant critic Richard Gorelick’s “Nostalgic Baltimore restaurants then and now”). But there are still plenty, including a few destination restaurants—not how I define ‘destination,’ as you know—such as Qayum (brother of Hamid) Karzai’s Helmand, 806 North Charles, always packed.

The PMI lot I stare into from my table at the Stable would be bad enough if it were the only one, but it’s not. Looking left, there’s a giant one on the corner of Charles and Read, next to the Helmand. Out of sight to the right is another monster (about 50 spots plus 10 for Zipcars) on the corner of Eager.*

In fact, these are tiny principalities in the 67-year-old PMI empire, the ruler of which is Kingdon Gould, III, the great-great-grandson of robber baron Jay Gould. (I encourage you to read all about KGIII’s astounding family on Wikipedia.)

There have been signs—white, hand-lettered public notices—that PMI wants to build on the corner lots, but I haven’t heard any asphalt cracking. Besides, there are other parking barons in Mount Vernon. 926 North Charles is a gap in a corniced row of six (now five) houses, the driveway for a Central Parking expanse that faces a long fence on Cathedral Street.

Next to the Stable is a lot run by Jetset Parking with about 25 spots. People who work for the nonprofits in the green-tinged Latrobe Building (Edward H. Glidden, 1912, read the plaque)—at nine stories a Mount Vernon skyscraper—park there during the day. But at night, in all kinds of weather, a guy stands out in Charles Street flagging down the nightclub crowd, who can park until 5 a.m. or sobriety, whichever comes first, for the price of a spinach pie at Never’s.

Time to download SimCity: Mount Vernon Edition, young landlords!

Choice A: Maintain and pay taxes on several buildings well over 100 years old while renting to undercapitalized retailers and college students.
Choice B: Tear them down (if they let you), pave over, pay as little as possible in property taxes, lobby against higher parking-fee taxes, and count your money as the cars roll in.**
Choice C: Tear them down (if they let you) and borrow millions to build something, Lord knows what, that could conceivably provide an after-tax return on your investment.
Choice D: Unload them and get out of [insert hater’s nickname for Baltimore] before it’s too late.
Choice E: Sit tight because eventually the City or some other sucker will pay a king’s ransom to be rid of you.

Thanks for playing. See you next week, when we’ll visit an “edited bunker” (please review last week’s post, “Arch Bunker in Dublin”) on the Charles Street of New Haven: Chapel Street.

* On the other three corners of this bizarre intersection are Club Hippo, Grand Central and Sappho’s, and the Maryland Club, which, by the way, has flattened roughly half of the Stable side of the block for its own gated parking.
** The PMI lot at Charles and Eager charges a flat rate of $11.50 after 5 p.m. $11.50 x 50 spaces x 2 nights x 52 weeks = $59,800 per year just from the weekend clubbers.

Arch Bunker in Dublin

Arthur’s Day has been called off, and not because of Rosh Hashanah.

The last Thursday in September, this international music event was cooked up in 2009 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Guinness’s St. James’s Gate brewery by the stout-hearted marketers at London-based Diageo (“Keep Walking.” “To Life, Love and Loot.” “Gentlemen, this is vodka.”).* You were supposed to raise your glass to Arthur at 17:59, marking the year he signed the legendary 9,000-year lease on the four-acre Dublin complex.

Criticized for glorifying binge drinking, burdening ambulance services, and contributing to liver disease, Arthur’s Day morphed into Guinness Amplify, a five-weekend series of events “championing up-and-coming musicians across Ireland with over 500 live gigs and industry opportunities.” It wraps up in Dublin October 9-12.

When I went to Dublin a year ago June, I had never been to Ireland. It turned out that the people I knew who had been to Ireland had skipped Dublin, in most cases flying into Shannon. Some with Irish roots, some without, they had in mind the type of imagery deployed by an Irish Tourist Board (Bord Fáilte Éireann) advertising campaign of the 1980s: “Ireland, The Ancient Birthplace of Good Times.”

The campaign, which won four CLIOs in 1990, was created by Joe O’Neill and Tony Angotti, then of Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos. As described on the website of McPherson Chicago (David McPherson is a Hill Holliday alum):

Hill Holliday/New York’s planning and creative teams proposed that the real appeal of a trip to Ireland was to experience the Irish “postcard” that their target audience carried in their heads and hearts – that is that the land, its history and its people were what tugged travelers towards the Emerald Isle, and these emotional motivations needed to be communicated with a wit and charm uniquely Irish.

A few years later, the Celtic Tiger (An Tíogar Ceilteach) grew up and got loose (then struggled in the early 2000s and finally died in the Great Recession). Though I didn’t follow the shifts in the country’s tourism product and marketing, the word was that dog-eared village charm was at a premium.

The island is now being marketed as a whole. Tourism Ireland, established as part of the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998, works with both Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The slogan for the United States, pushing proximity, is “Jump into Ireland.” One of the current offers is called “5 night Capital Chic, Dublin and Belfast in Luxury” (book by November 30, from $999 per person).

According to Fáilte Ireland’s Dublin Pocket Guide, “Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s Number One Visitor Attraction and you simply cannot leave Dublin without having paid a visit.” We paid a visit (18 euros apiece), but had a hard time figuring out where to enter the high walls of historic soot-stained brick. It seems that only a small percentage of the million-plus annual visitors are the kind of hard-drinking art lovers who hoof it from the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

And this is my point. Guinness Storehouse is an attraction, that is, a gated experience (specifically, a St. James’s Gated Experience). It’s not a destination, that is, a place with a name connected to images in the minds of prospective visitors, accessible 24-7, and more than the sum of the attractions it contains (see my post of two weeks ago, “And Abide Quietly in Your Home”).

When an attraction barely interacts with its immediate surroundings and the majority of visitors arrive and depart in sealed vehicles (cars, taxis, shuttles, tour buses), we are dealing with fortress or bunker tourism.

By providing parking, shopping (Guinness Flagship Retail Store), dining (Arthur’s Bar, the Brewer’s Dining Hall, Gilroy’s Restaurant), exhibits (several floors covering Guinness history, how the beer is made, advertising since 1929, etc.), and programs (cooking demonstrations, St. Patrick’s Festival, etc.), Guinness Storehouse can induce visitors to spend more time and money within its walls.

To top it off, adult admission includes a pint in the Gravity Bar, with rooftop 360-degree views. Insider tip: Show good-natured enthusiasm for your pint and visitors who don’t fancy stout will offer you their coupons.

As an aboveground bunker, Guinness Storehouse would be called in German a Hochbunker. But it’s what I call an arch bunker, an attraction that chooses to bear the full weight of attracting visitors through its programming and marketing. Like their namesake, the paterfamilias of All in the Family, arch bunkers do not play well with others.

This is not to say that an arch-bunker strategy can’t succeed (obviously, it can, in a big way) or that it is harmful to the associated destinations (to be discussed next week).

Right outside the Storehouse when we left were horse-drawn carriages whose drivers “communicated with a wit and charm uniquely Irish.” We decided not to “Keep Walking.”

* Also the geniuses who changed the name of Sambuca Romana to Romana Sambuca.