Danny Lyon on "The Destruction of Lower Manhattan"

No, not that one, it's about the one we ordered.

Danny Lyon 327, 329, and 331 Washington Street, between Jay and Harrison Streets

It's all gone now. Sixty acres of lower Manhattan's nineteenth-century buildings were demolished during the mid-sixties, including what became the site of the World Trade Center towers. There was also a new vehicle ramp to be added to the Brooklyn Bridge, Pace University was to be enlarged, and historic Washington Market was moved to the Bronx, its buildings reduced to rubble.

Danny Lyon writes today in The Village Voice about his documentation forty years ago of a massive "urban renewal" project in Manhattan:

It was a huge story in New York City at the time. (I'm from Queens, and when you're from Queens, you really admire Manhattan . . . and this was the most historic part of Manhattan. The oldest part of Manhattan was vanishing.) And it was an ignored story at the time, or I wouldn't have done it. Part of how I saw myself, as a journalist, was finding the truth and delivering it to the American people. To put it in a really crude way.

. . . .

You have to understand that I was—and still am, although I've aged and mellowed— I was obsessed with the power of photography. I thought you could take a bike rider, Harley-Davidson, roaring along, and that this photography was so miraculous that you could somehow contain that power in the negative. Unlike this guy who would go around the corner and die, or run out of gas, that the thing that you contained would be for all time. . . .

I had the power to use all of these buildings and preserve them for the future. And if anybody wanted to experience [the] Lower Manhattan that had stood there for 150 years, they would have to come to my photographs! Which would be washed and preserved and in the New York Public Library. . . .

. . . .

I understood that the way to deliver photography as news was to do books. That's what I think the news should be: an individual's statement about how he sees reality. Or as Ferlinghetti says, "The dog trots freely in the street and sees reality. . . . "

The book's about architecture. This country's committing architectural suicide. It's doing it right now, this moment. Not 37, 38 years ago. This is nothing, what they did down here: The 60 acres is nothing. We're destroying 6 billion acres of America, and we're doing it right now. We're doing it because you can get a mortgage for 5 percent.

Anybody can do anything anywhere.

We can't expect a city to remain the same forever, but we never needed any of the "improvements" for which these neighborhoods were sacrificed, and don't even mention the aesthetic crimes committed.

Danny Lyon is an artist and a poet.

[image from Gay City News, courtesy of the Edwyn Houk Gallery]

About this Entry

Published on July 21, 2005 12:44 AM.

previous entry: more on Smolkatown

next entry: Bethany Bristow in the gutter