May 23, 2021

Little Island in the Big Apple

Another major public space – a combo of park, art and outdoor theatre – opens this weekend in New York City, very much in the tradition of privately endowed benefactions from the very well endowed.  (Sandy wrote about a similar work by the same architect a few miles up the West Side called The Vessel – here.)

Here’s the architecture critic from the New York Times, with the story of Little Island:

Rising from the Hudson River, Little Island preens atop a bouquet of tulip-shaped columns, begging to be posted on Instagram. Outside, it’s eye candy. Inside, a charmer, with killer views.

Mega-mogul Barry Diller’s $260 million, 2.4-acre pet project and civic mitzvah, near 13th Street in Hudson River Park, is the architectural equivalent of a kitchen sink sundae, with a little bit of everything. Who knows what it will feel like when crowds arrive this weekend. I suspect they will be enormous.

 

I won’t dawdle over the mess that followed the island’s announcement. A real estate titan who had bones to pick with the Hudson River Park Trust supported a series of legal challenges. At one point, seeing no end in sight to the court fights, Diller backed out. A deal brokered by New York’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, ultimately rescued the project and also delivered public commitments to enhance protections for wildlife habitats and improve other parts of the four-mile-long, 550-acre Hudson River Park.

Hundreds of free and modestly priced concerts, dance and children’s programs are planned to get underway this summer. Trish Santini, Little Island’s executive director, told me that her staff has been working closely with community organizations to ensure free and inexpensive tickets get into the hands of underserved groups and neighborhood schoolchildren.

 

A second stage, called the Glade, at the base of a sloping lawn, tucked into the southeast corner of the park and framed by crape myrtle and birch trees, is custom made for kids and educational events. The main plaza, where you can grab a bite to eat and sit at cafe tables under canvas umbrellas, doubles as a third venue.

It’s on the route between the two gangways that link the island to Manhattan — and a stone’s throw from the High Line — so it’s sure to be mobbed. Santini also said the island will do timed reservations to prevent overcrowding. Little Island will need it, I expect. Two-plus acres is half the size of a city block. …

A century ago, the banker Elkan Naumburg paid to install a band shell in Central Park and even hired his nephew to design it. The Delacorte Theater was constructed in 1962 with money from George Delacorte and his wife, Valerie, after the producer Joseph Papp and actress Helen Hayes petitioned for an amphitheater to stage Shakespeare in the Park.

And of course the Metropolitan Museum of Art, privately endowed by wealthy New Yorkers, occupies a big chunk of public parkland.

Little Island is nothing new, in other words. From the beginning, for better and worse, this is how the city has worked.

Full article and more images here.

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