Thursday, February 17, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (2/17/05)


On the side of the angels? Why do some local political candidates feel obliged to list their church affiliation as part of their credentials for public office?

La grande dame. You have driven past her so many times that you no longer notice her. Nearing the century mark, she sits proudly at the corner she has always occupied. Now a dowdy dowager, she will soon have a face lift of sorts. But it will take a skilled internist to figure out how to mend her ravaged innards. She is Ossining's highly visible Bank for Savings building. Now owned by the village of Ossining and a candidate for restoration, it shares with the First Baptist Church a triangular-shaped plot at a major intersection of the village. As the many architectural walking tours in Manhattan and Brooklyn attest, the idea of seeing architecture as works of art is coming into its own as a pastime.

Ossining is yet to have an architectural walking tour. If it did, the Bank for Savings building would be one of the stars of the show. At the time it was built--it opened in 1908--the Beaux Arts style was at the height of its popularity. In New York City, two grand examples of that style, Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library, were both under construction, and it came as no surprise that architect Lansing C. Holden selected that style for his Bank for Savings. Exteriorly, the Bank for Savings building abounds in classical details, a virtual textbook of the academic Beaux Arts style, lacking only its massive figural sculptures.

In addition to a commanding location at Route 9 and Main Street, among the architectural elements that make this creamy white limestone building notable are its symmetrical massing of strongly geometrical forms, the pairs of tall Ionic columns flanking each large window opening, and the carved stylized elements of the triangular pediments over the smaller windows at ground level. Architectural historian Frank E. Sanchis has called the cartouches, the elaborate scrolls under the cornice at the building's four corners, "particularly well executed and without parallel in the county." The entablature, the upper section of the building, also deserves praise, particularly the finely detailed cornice.

The architect. Information about Lansing Colton Holden and his work is not easy to come by. He was born in 1858 in Rome, N.Y., the son of William R. and Ann Elizabeth Davis Holden and attended schools in Utica and Buffalo. Biographies say that following graduation from the College of Wooster in Ohio, he began practice as an architect. However, College of Wooster records show that he never received a baccalaureate degree from that institution. In 1903, he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from the College of Wooster, at which his brother, Louis E. Holden, was then its fourth president. He had been wooed to the College of Wooster from the presidency of Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he had been a successful fund raiser. A great fire destroyed the college's principal building, named "Old Main," on Dec. 11, 1901. Lansing C. Holden, then a successful architect drew up plans for a series of buildings in the English Collegiate Gothic style. Exactly one year later, in the place of Old Main stood the handsome new Kauke Hall. Three other buildings by him also opened on that same day, a remarkable feat of design and building.

Although not large, his output included several interesting examples now on the National Register of Historic Places. Extant buildings include Brooklyn's Greene Avenue Baptist Church, now the Antioch Baptist Church (1887-1892) designed in association with Paul F. Higgs in a mixed Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne style; in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Scranton Electric Building (1896) in modified Beaux Arts style, at eight stories that city's first "skyscraper," the Oppenheim Building (1897), originally a dry goods store and recently restored as an office building; the imposing State Armory (1901), also in Romanesque Revival style. His residential buildings included the Watkins-Maxey House (1896), later the Hebrew Day School in Scranton, and the Everett N. Blanke House (1909) in Rowayton, Conn. The former was demolished and removed from the National Register of Historic Places; the latter was recently on the market and has been sold.

In New Jersey, the Bayonne Trust Company commissioned Holden to design a headquarters building for them. His 1912 bank building is an interesting variation on his Ossining Bank for Savings. He also designed a number of purely industrial buildings. Notable among these were portions of the huge complex of five- and six-story warehouses that occupy the block bounded by Gansevoort and Horatio streets between Washington and West streets. These once housed the Gansevoort Freezing and Cold Storage Company, an enormous cold storage facility operated by the Manhattan Refrigerating Company. Through a series of brine-filled pipes leading from these buildings, the meat wholesaling establishments of the district were able to keep meat cold.

In 1984, this building complex was converted to apartments and named The West Coast. Two smaller warehouse buildings at 173 and 175 Christopher Street in the West Village were designed for the Carbondale New York Company. Family legend has it that he also designed many textile mill buildings in New England; no record of these has been found.

Lansing C. Holden was elected a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and was largely responsible for the adoption of the institute's code of ethics. From 1908 until his death he was president of the Bronx Refrigerating Company and of the Tri-Boro Refrigerating Company. Lansing C. Holden died at his summer home at Kent Cliffs, near Carmel, N.Y., on May 15, 1930.

Did you know? The U.S. leads all other countries as the No. 1 exporter of cigarettes.

Who steals my name. Within the space of one week recently, I received email messages purporting to originate from eBay, Washington Mutual, Smith Barney and Citizens Bank, an online bank. They all reported that personal information had been lost, and my account was in jeopardy. The problem is, I have no accounts with any of these entities. On the Internet, it's called "phishing" (pronounced "fishing"), and that's what it is--using false email messages to induce recipients to furnish personal information.

What they urgently wanted from me was sensitive information: Social Security number, driver's license number, date of birth, credit and debit card numbers, bank account numbers, pin numbers, passwords, mother's maiden name--the kind of data that could be useful to someone who is up to no good. What I was experiencing was the first stage of what is known as "identity theft." Businesses refer to these as "spoofs," but that term is too innocuous when compared to the seriousness of the crime. With their extensive back-up systems for information storage, however, it is unlikely that any business would lose your records, nor would they ask that such information be repeated over the Internet.

Remarkably, the messages all bore the earmarks of genuine communications from the respective businesses: logos and copyright notices, even the padlock indicating a secure site. It turns out that these features can easily be appropriated from legitimate sites by "phishers." One clue to spotting counterfeit messages is the presence of grammatical errors or curious phraseology. The purported Smith Barney email read: "Technical Services of the Smith Barney [italics added] are carrying out a planned upgrade." These lead authorities to suspect that the scams originate overseas.

Prevent identity theft. To avoid being victimized, computer security experts advise Internet users to do the following:
+ Do not respond to emails with urgent requests for personal financial information. Instead, notify the purported sender that you have received such an email.
+ Do not use links in suspicious emails to reach other Web pages, especially if you think the message may not be authentic.
+ If you believe you have entered personal financial information into a fraudulent site, contact your bank and credit card companies immediately.
+ Regularly check your bank and credit/debit card statements to verify that the transactions shown are legitimate.

Stop press bulletin: As this was being written, I received a message purporting to come from Visa, the credit card company, asking for personal information for my protection. I do have a Visa card, but what made their message suspect was that it spelled "security department" as security departamen and "choice" as choise.

Did you know? Since 1998, the minimum number of children killed as a result of being left in locked cars is 219.

Far from the madding war. U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan collect an extra $7.50 a day, or about $225 a month, for facing roadside bombs and RPGs. Instead of "combat pay," the military now calls this Imminent Danger Pay (IDP). The cognomen is misleading. Even though they are hundreds of miles from combat, soldiers in such humdrum jobs as supply clerks at a warehouse in Kuwait or as swimming pool lifeguards at an Army installation in Qatar are paid the same imminent danger bonus as the grunts kicking in doors in the Sunni Triangle. Army bases in Qatar are considered so safe that soldiers stationed there are not even allowed to carry weapons. World War II soldiers in combat in Europe or the Pacific received a munificent 30 cents a day over and above their Army pay. Taking inflation into account, however, 30 cents was proportionally more than today's combat pay.

Bumper sticker spotted at ShopRite. "Support our troops. Bring them home."

Time's winged chariot. Write down your age in years. Divide that number by three. The result is the approximate time you've spent in dreamland. Think about it. That's one-third of your life. Sleep researchers have discovered that the need for the traditional eight hours of sleep is not an inherited trait of the human species. Despite these findings, respected medical organizations in their literature advise everyone to get eight hours of sleep every night. The popular wisdom is that we need that much sleep for health and well-being, and the segment of the population that gets less (or more) sleep than this artificial standard believes they have reason to be worried.

Many of history's leaders have been short sleepers. Modern political figures, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Presidents Truman, Kennedy and Johnson were all short sleepers, although Churchill also took daytime naps. But perhaps the best-known figure was American inventor Thomas A. Edison, who averaged between four and five hours of sleep a night and died when he was well over 84, at a time when life expectancy at birth was half that number.
Among contemporary personalities, Martha Stewart, Madonna, Jay Leno, actress Cloris Leachman and stand-up comic David Brenner all need little sleep. Many-talented comedian Jackie Gleason also got along on little sleep, as did prolific writer Isaac Asimov, author of some 500 books. He explained that he accomplished so much because he slept for only five or six hours. "I hate sleep," Asimov told an interviewer. "It wastes time." Shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and insurance millionaire John D. MacArthur attributed their fortunes to their habit of sleeping only a few hours a night.

Consider these statistics: If you are an eight-hour sleeper and sleep only one hour less each night, in the course of a year you will have gained more than two weeks of wakeful life. Sleep six hours a night, and this becomes a month, and two months if you sleep only four hours each night. If you reduce the hours you sleep from eight to seven at age 20, by the time you are 70, you will have achieved more than two extra years of wakefulness. The number jumps to four years if you sleep six hours. Sleep only four hours each night for 50 years, and you will have gained more than eight years of extra time. Stay awake, sleepy head! Your first million awaits you.


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