If I was a better Catholic -– and it doesn’t look that I’m likely to become one any time soon -- I could probably tell you what St. Mark was the patron saint of. As it happens, however, I can’t. When I hear his name invoked, I’m less inclined to think of any halo-sporting religious figure or even that picturesque basilica in Venice and more likely to conjure in my head images of St. Marks Place -- leading me to assume, these days, that St. Mark was the patron saint of vaping, bongs and one-dollar pizza.
Of course, St. Marks Place actually took its name not from the saint in question, but from a storied institution just a couple of blocks to its north, that being St. Mark’s Church on Second Avenue. But even when I think of St. Mark’s Church, I still don’t think of it as a house of worship so much as the launching pad for the literary and musical endeavors of folks like Jim Carroll and Patti Smith.
To some, as a result of its association with those poets-turned-punks, St. Mark’s Church is something akin to the spiritual epicenter of the East Village, and a suitably uncluttered patch of New York City. Stand on the corner of East 10th and Second Avenue and scan your eyes over it, and it seems largely untouched by the rampant development evident around the rest of the city. Likewise, the strip of East 10th Street between Third and Second Avenues it calls home – lined with stately, age-old brownstones in varying states of repair and decline – retains a lovely “old world” vibe. I once encountered the afore-cited Jim Carroll sitting on one of those stoops, enjoying a bologna sandwich. As I sheepishly began to derail his lunchtime reverie, he gave me a withering “beat it, kid” glance, and I left him alone.
But it was almost all not to be.
In 2016, we are all too conditioned to expect the unsolicited erection of any number of gaudy, imposingly tall and comparatively artless towers. Every week, it seems we lose some corner or much-needed square of wide-open, airy space to construction. It’s been said before, but downtown seems dead set on replicating the dystopian cityscape from the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.”
But via the afore-cited Old New York Tumblr, I just saw evidence of the plans to construct a cluster of massive towers literally around St. Mark’s Church, which I’d originally read about via Ada Calhoun’s excellent “St. Marks is Dead.” Making this concept even more bizarre is the fact that the project was initiated in 1929, with designs by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright, who was pretty much the Iggy Pop of American architecture. Check out the plans…
As it turned out the Great Depression took hold before the ambitious plan could break ground, and the towers were scrapped. But one wonders what effect they might have had on the neighborhood had they been built.
I was struck by another thing, though. Check out these bird’s-eye-view plans of the proposed towers…
Is it just me, … or despite the fact that the floors of the towers were purportedly "intended to radiate from a concrete 'trunk' like the branches of a tree, don't they look vaguely like swastikas?