I AM OHNY is a campaign we began in late 2011 to highlight and celebrate Open House New York’s diverse community of supporters. Marilynn Davis is a partner at K2S Advisors, and previously served as Chief Financial Officer for the New York City Housing Authority and the Assistant Secretary for Administration of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Marilynn was recently elected to serve on OHNY’s Governing Board. We are excited to welcome her aboard!
What do you love most about New York City?
Of course, anybody would have to say that the energy in New York is special and quite unique. I think that this stems from not only the great diversity in the city—along so many dimensions—but also from the fact that we actually interact with each other constantly within a footprint that’s really quite compact for the size of the population, so everybody has to brush up against each other on some level–through work, food, culture and leisure activities or on the subway. There’s no escape. So, for most of us, it leads to a certain amount of tolerance, stemming from a broadening—however subliminal—of everyone’s perspective and worldview. And, at its best, it enables one to engage in intellectual and public discourse at a very high level about things that concern us as a society. That conversation extends to education and attentiveness around our built environment.
What is your favorite building and/or neighborhood in the city?
Cass Gilbert’s Brooklyn Army Terminal knocked my socks off the first time I saw it. I had the great pleasure of experiencing it at night, at a social event, so there was an al fresco dinner on one of its plazas, followed by a party inside the terminal itself. I’d never seen anything like it, and it was magical.
I grew up in Detroit during what was still its heyday, so I was imbued with the idea of the power of big industry being projected through its factories. However, I’d never seen any that were as elegantly configured as the Brooklyn Army Terminal, with the exception of those that were captured by Diego Rivera in his masterpiece, the “Detroit Industry” frescoes, that he did for the Detroit Institute of Arts. So I could imagine the Terminal during its peak years of use, when it was buzzing with workers amidst the ballet of the activity on the docks, the trains, the delivery of products by the overhead cranes to their respective levels, all in that cavernous space! Pretty amazing, and it expanded my partiality to modernist gems like the Seagram Building.
What was your most memorable OHNY experience?
I went on an OHNY cruise along the Hudson a couple of summers ago, where there were architectural and naval historians on board to tell us about the history of port development on both the NYC and the New Jersey sides and inform us about some architectural gems that are the more anonymous fixtures of the New York City skyline. And we were able to really appreciate the vast expanse of Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, and learn the history of Robert Moses’ vision for the area. The cruise went as far north as the George Washington Bridge, which I came to regard for the first time as a real beauty, perhaps on par with the Brooklyn Bridge, something that’s very hard to appreciate when you’re stuck in traffic on it!
If OHNY could grant you an all-access pass to any place in the city, where would you go and why?
There are two spots, the first of which would require some fairy wings. The Angel Orensanz Foundation is in the oldest synagogue building in New York and, until recently, it was open to the public for special events, which is how I experienced it. It was at night and the lighting created quite an ethereal atmosphere, but it was clear that the building was very fragile and, since then, it’s been closed. I’d love to be able to float through the space and really explore its altar and balcony, to the rafters and beyond.
The second place would require time travel: I wish I’d been able to experience the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem during the Jazz Age when artists like Bessie, Billie, and Cab set it on fire with their music! I’ve seen photographs of the space when it was originally built, as a vaudeville venue, and it was a real beauty through many iterations of use. It fell into disrepair, closed and, in this century, was reopened as a facility for multiple uses, including a banquet hall and bowling alley. I’d love to have been able to see the space as it was originally built and explore all its nooks and crannies.
OHNY is important to New York City because…
The built environment that envelops us, irrespective of the use or the budget for any particular part of it, has the ability to inspire or diminish our collective spirit. It’s important that the citizens who inhabit it have an opportunity to appreciate its history and promise. Welcoming forums like OHNY—outside of those that have traditionally been pitched to professionals—are important to this education and to the encouragement of the expanded perspective and awareness that characterize New Yorkers.
From the Annual OHNY Weekend to its year-round public programs, OHNY offers you opportunities to see the city like you’ve never seen it. With your support, OHNY can continue to open the city to tens of thousands of people throughout the five boroughs, tying us closer to the places, people and stories that make New York the most extraordinary city in the world. Together, we are OHNY.