Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll find out why an old wall in SoHo is getting a new old look. We’ll also get details on the first steps toward a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River that would end train travelers’ dependence on two crumbling tubes built more than a century ago.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Robert Frost wrote in a famous poem. But in the case of 112 Prince Street, there seems to be a lot of love for a special kind of wall.
It’s the wall on the side of a building that once housed a mosquito-netting manufacturer and an underwear maker. Now the building is a co-op with multimillion-dollar apartments.
It has been nearly 50 years since the artist Richard Haas turned the wall on the side of the building into an outdoor canvas 75 feet wide and five stories high. The mural he painted looked like a continuation of the cast-iron facade around the corner, on the front.
Haas’s mural has deteriorated with time, as was clear in the photo above (from 2015), but he says it is about to be repainted. A team of painters on scaffolds is ready to bring the 55 faux windows back to life. Each floor will take four gallons of water-based paint, the same kind Haas used in the 1970s.
That means that the four painters will have to work faster than with the oil-based enamels they are accustomed to. Oil-based paint dries more slowly, said Robin Alcantara, who is leading the team that expects to spend about three weeks recreating Haas’s mural.
The result will be almost identical to what Haas painted, but not quite. Haas painted a cat that belonged to someone who lived in the building then. The refurbishing will add two animals that live in the building now: a dog rescued from Aleppo, Syria, and a cat.
For preservationists, word that the repainting was in the works was welcome news after years of concern that the mural would be left to fade away. David W. Dunlap wrote in The New York Times in 2015 that it had been damaged by time and graffiti vandals who had painted their way to the third floor. A couple of floors above, the windows and columns that Haas had painted were gone. Haas said that he felt “so strongly about the need to save it somehow.”
The building could not afford to refurbish the mural on its own; in 2015 the estimated cost was $150,00 to $250,000. Haas said a nonprofit he helped to organize had raised money, beginning with $100,000 from the real estate developer David Walentas, better known for working to revitalize the industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn that became Dumbo.
Haas was not the first to paint the wall of the building, which dates to 1890. Sign painters had been there in the 1940s, making known the presence of a company that imported porcelain. Haas has said that earlier signs were gone when he arrived. He wanted to make a statement at a time when the New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable declared that “urban walls tell the city’s history from grandeur to despair.”
“I had been doing many, many prints of SoHo buildings and their facades and had a reputation in that area,” Haas told me, “and, making many trips to Europe including, of course, Italy, I’d seen how the architects and painters there in the Renaissance had done architectural facades and enhanced the cities they were in. I wasn’t bringing coals to Newcastle, but I was bringing back to New York a concept that had been rampant and lost.”
His effort had backing from City Walls, a group devoted to commissioning public art that was led by Doris Freedman, the city’s first director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. Haas prepared drawings, working with an architect whose office was then in the building, and City Walls hired a company that sent two sign painters to the building in midwinter. Huxtable called it a “trompe l’oeil triumph.”
Haas went on to add color and wit to blank walls, from Phoenix to Philadelphia. But as preparation for the repainting on Prince Street, perhaps his most important works were three in Yonkers, N.Y. (Only one is left.)
“That’s what inspired me to do large-scale murals.” said Alcantara, 30, who worked on advertising murals before starting Blazay L.L.C. in 2020 to focus on crowd-funded projects and private commissions. “I grew up in Yonkers.”
Expect a mostly sunny day with light breezes. The high of 82 will drop to a low near 70 tonight, with a chance of storms after midnight.
In effect until Saturday (Rosh Hashana).
Our Patrick McGeehan, who has covered efforts to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson River since 2005, says work is about to begin again in New Jersey — not on the tunnel itself, but on a highway bridge that would elevate Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen. That would create room under the bridge for the massive machines that will eventually bore through the rocky palisade and under the river.
A $47.3 million contract for the bridge was approved on Monday.
If all this sounds familiar, that is because transportation planners have been here before. In 2010, work was already underway to do essentially the same thing in North Bergen on the way to providing access to an existing rail tunnel to New York. That project was canceled by Chris Christie, who was New Jersey’s governor at the time and is now a Republican presidential candidate. He said he was worried about cost overruns.
If that project had proceeded on schedule, by now a new tunnel would have been in use for a few years.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning in June, and I was visiting New York City from Italy for business.
I hailed a cab at my hotel near Central Park to go to 47th Street. The cabby had his windows open, and off we sailed down Fifth Avenue. I remember skyscrapers, blue sky and a big, bold sun filling the cab.
The driver was probably in his 60s and in a cheery, chatty mood, which led to some friendly banter between us. He was from Russia, and I spoke a little Russian, so I think it was a nice ride for both of us.
Suddenly, he opened his car door when we stopped at a red light, jumped out of the cab and ran toward the crowded sidewalk.
I couldn’t see him anywhere. I crept to the edge of my seat and looked at the red light, fearing it would turn green. Then I looked into the rearview mirror, worried about the cars coming up behind us.
The cab continued to idle, and I still couldn’t find the driver. Then, there was an opening among the pedestrians, and I saw him hugging and kissing a woman about the same age as him.