Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Recommended Reading

Just finished reading Daniel Okrent’s marvelous 2003 book Great Fortune about  Rockefeller Center’s creation in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and quite unexpectedly came across two points resonant of BSI history.
            One has to do with Rockefeller Center’s principal architectural genius, the free-spirited Raymond Hood. At the same time that Christopher Morley and his friends were meeting in speakeasies in his literature-oriented Three Hours for Lunch Club, Hood and his architectural kinsprits were exceeding them at their own game: “[Hood’s] office in the Radiator Building vibrated with his rocketing success. He made a constantly shifting (yet always congenial) series of partnerships with collaborators, gave the young men on his staff free rein to proceed however they wished on the projects they were responsible for, and on Friday afternoons he’d confidently leave it all behind for a visit to the ‘Four-Hour Lunch Club,’ the all-talking, all-drinking weekly revel he shared with architect buddies like Ely Jacques Kahn, Ralph Walker, and Joseph Urban. Dream buildings scribbled in soft pencil competed for space with gin stains on the tablecloths at Mori’s or their other hangouts.” (Placido Mori, the Four-Hour Lunch Club’s Christ Cella, proprietor of a speakeasy restaurant on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.)
            In short, very much the spirit of Morley’s Three Hours for Lunch Club, save for architecture instead of literature as the excuse. The other point is a parallel, perhaps even the inspiration, for the late John Bennett Shaw’s famous (notorious?) advice about how to create a BSI scion society, “All you need are two people and a bottle. In a pinch, you can dispense with one of the people.” It is a point of doctrine by one-time New York City police chief Grover Whalen, subsequently Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s city greeter: “All you need is two bottles and a room and you have a speakeasy.” The BSI was gestated (marinated?) in a speakeasy, and in some of its better attributes bear the mark to this day.
            Great Fortune is a splendid book depicting not only the history of Rockefeller Center, but the spirit and sociocultural background of the times that gave birth to the BSI as well during the same years.  Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I enjoyed Okrent's contributions to Ken Burns' "Baseball" shown on PBS and will add this to my reading list.