Monday, April 15, 2019

Fire Fire Everywhere

Big news over the weekend was another fire in Ocean Grove.  Actually probably not that newsworthy, certainly not unusual.  Ocean Grove has a lot of fires.  Most of the town was constructed almost 100 years ago, mostly wood, houses are only a few feet apart, near constant wind- any fire gets going and it likely takes out several buildings before they can bring in under control.  The hotel in the center of town where my brother had the reception for his first wedding went down in a big fire shortly after that.  A few years ago a former hotel caught fire one night and burned well into the next day. (I saw it on the news as I was getting ready for work)  Several adjacent houses also burned that day, as they pumped water from a nearby lake onto that neighborhood as part of the effort to extinguish it.  The news reports a few days ago mentioned the boardwalk, which is the opposite end of town than my Studio, so that was good news.  Actually what burned was a large building on the beach side of the boardwalk, occupied by various stores, etc.  No great historical significance, and weeks before the holiday season, no customers to be hurt.  I was a little concerned because the closest building to it is the old Asbury Park Casino/Carousel building, which is a bit decrepit, but a historical landmark, and I've seen parts of it on t-shirts, in movies, and even in a tattoo on the arm of a nude model I used to work with a lot.  It's a favorite of my college friend Jenny and her family, that and pizza is probably the main reason they ever visit.  The burned building is the closest building, but there is a little bit of space around it, and they were able to contain the fire to the first building.  In the end, no great loss, though it's an odd time of year for this kind of thing- boardwalk fires ofter come after the tourist season is over, not just before.

But today that fire was overshadowed by news of a bigger fire, this one in Paris, where the Cathedral of Notre Dame went down today.  Spread very quickly, and most of the building was gone in just a few hours.  The very recognizable tall spire in the center of the roof came down when the whole nave went up.  They rapidly worked to pull out and save as much loose artwork and religious relics as possible, but anything on the walls or part of the architecture was lost.  By the evening the fire was mostly contained, though not completely out. The two massive masonry bell towers that dominate the facade were still intact for the moment.  At the moment, I'm not too worried about this loss.  It was a very large and impressive building, and I would have enjoyed a chance to see it, but that opportunity has passed.

I'm a huge fan of Gothic cathedrals, and know more than a little about them.  Once in grad school I even took a class about the Gothic period (billed as a Renaissance class which is why I took it in the first place) and on multiple occasions I had to explain things to the teacher that she didn't understand or had gotten very wrong.  (always in private- no need to embarrass her)  I've covered the art and architecture in various studio classes I've taken, and I've taught art history a few times.  So I know that Notre Dame was a very good example of Gothic cathedral design and construction, but I don't think of it as that special.  It's not the first, not the largest, not the tallest, not the most innovative, not even the only Gothic cathedral in Paris- France has a lot of them.  Just the name that most people know of, especially if they don't really know about art.  Most cathedrals were built over hundreds of years, with designs often changing with each new generation who worked on it.  It is expected that this cathedral will be rebuilt, and I would expect those masonry bell towers to be incorporated into the new design.  A lot of donations will be needed, as I doubt that the Catholic Church has that kind of money to spend on construction these days.  A lot of stained glass was lost, but that can be made again, if they want to.  When large buildings that old burn down, they rarely get rebuilt exactly as they were- many see it as an opportunity to have a better building.  (the desire for these new Gothic style cathedrals with their soaring heights, and huge stained glass windows was preceded by a wave of Romanesque cathedrals all over Europe mysteriously burning down, requiring the new ones to be built) Over the past 300 years, the oldest building at my old college (the Wren Building) had burned down and been replaced often enough that no one is sure what it looked like originally.

One thing the fires in Ocean Grove and Paris had in common is that no one was injured, and that's a good thing.  And another common thing is that I expect both will be rebuilt in some way.  Eventually there will be a new Cathedral of Notre Dame, though unless some billionaires or corporations get involved, probably not in my lifetime. The large building on the nearby beach will probably happen sooner, as with the new Taylor Pavilion that replaced the old one destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in Belmar- larger, more accessible, better balconies, other modern touches.  There are long term plans to rebuild the Casino building to something more like what it once was, which likely will have some kind of influence on what happens with this adjacent beach and boardwalk property.  Stay tuned for news.


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