Primary Fun with Highways: New York

It seems that all the interest in the primary season has faded, with the outcome all be inevitable. And perhaps our primary highways series could fade as well. But I would be remiss if I did not at least cover New York. It is a different experience to try and observe one’s home state and try and condense that experience into a short road-centric article; and experience familiar places and note those that are left out, as many others have for their own states over the course of this series.

My experience of New York has revolved around New York City, “The City” which still sets my personal standard for what a city is.

Here we see one of New York’s most iconic landmarks, the Empire State Building, from the vantage point of one of the newest landmarks, the High Line. The High Line is a public park built on an abandoned elevated rail line in the formerly industrial west side of Manhattan. It is now an integral part of the Chelsea neighborhood and the area still known as the “Meatpacking District”. I spend quite a bit of time here during my NYC trips to walk the High Line and visit the many art galleries.

And in terms of landmarks there is the Brooklyn Bridge:

In this photo, taken from the very trendy Brooklyn waterfront, we see not only the venerable bridge, but many newer buildings of lower Manhattan. The tall twisty building in the center is a new Gehry-designed residential tower. In the back we see the incomplete but already quite tall One World Trade Center, the main building in the new complex.

It is interesting to see how much the city changes every time I return, especially in comparison to what things were like in the 1980s and early 1990s. The neighborhoods that we are looking at these photos, Chelsea, Lower East Side, DUMBO in Manhattan, were nothing like what they are now. There is a bit of nostalgic charm looking at the old run-down scenes that I remember, but I know this is probably for the best.

Another thing that makes talking about New York different from talking about other cities in this series is that there aren’t many highways to talk about, especially in Manhattan. New Yorkers take the subway. But there are still highways even in some of the denser areas of the city. The FDR Drive along the eastern edge of Manhattan is narrow and winding but offers good views of the East River and the changing skyline of the city as it passes underneath the bridges.

[By Bob Jagendorf from Manalapan, NJ, USA (Downtown) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

On the Brooklyn and Queens side, there is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, (I-278, the BQE). It zig-zags through some of the densest areas of Brooklyn on a narrow double-decker path among tall buildings. With the contemporary focus on Brooklyn, the highway has also taken on a significant identity for those who live and work there. There are even multiple art and music pieces dedicated to it, such as this piece from Performa 2009.

It is impossible to in an article like this to even scratch the surface of the city’s cultural offerings, both large institutions like the Museum of Modern Art as well as the numerous galleries and small performance spaces. So with limited space, I share with you one of my own performances in New York, at Theater Lab near Union Square in late 2011.

I could not discuss New York City without giving a shout-out to The Bronx, the borough to which I have the most family connection. Though once the “new” section of the city with fancy apartments lining the Grand Concourse, the Bronx fell into deep decline in the 1960s through the 1980s, with scenes of derelict and burnt-out buildings particular in the South Bronx commonplace. Charlotte Street perhaps was the most infamous of all such scenes.

[By User Incantation on en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Having only seen the Bronx since the 1970s and 1980s, this is what parts of it looked like. It was just part of the landscape. And I wonder if it influenced my deep interest in the aesthetics of urban decay. But these images never told the whole story of the borough, either at its nadir or during its current rebound. The Bronx has long been home to respected institutions like the Bronx Zoo and Wave Hill, and newer cultural gems like the Bronx Museum. The museum is part of the revitalization of the corridor along the Grand Concourse in the central and south Bronx.

[Wave Hill]

[The Bronx Museum of the Arts.]

The Bronx is bisected by Interstate 87, the Major Deegan Expressway, which travels with length of the borough south to north, passing by Yankee Stadium. As it crosses the city boundary into Westchester County, I-87 becomes the New York State Thruway. The Thruway cuts through the southern part of the county before meeting I-287 and crossing the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee Bridge.

[By Sev! on Flickr [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

This is the Hudson River Valley, known for its scenery and for inspiring the “Hudson River School”. The paintings may look rather trite and dated now, but the scenery that inspired them is still quite spectacular. One of the more dramatic points along the river is the Bear Mountain Bridge, which carries US 6 and US 202 from Westchester on the east side to Orange County and Bear Mountain State Park on the west side, spanning large hills on either side.  It also connects up NY 9D on the east and US 9W and the Palisades Interstate Parkway on the west.

[By Ahodges7; cropped by Beyond My Ken (talk) 19:13, 27 June 2010 (UTC) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

On the west side of the Hudson, one can continue north on the Thruway to Albany, the state capital. However, on the east side, one could take the scenic Taconic Parkway. It begins in suburban Westchester County just north of the city and not far from where I grew up, and then continues north through picturesque rural landscape for the remainder of its route. It is in fact the second-longest continuous road listed in the National Register of Historic Places after Virginia’s Skyline drive.

[By Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand. Cropped and color-corrected by Daniel Case 2009-12-31 prior to upload (Taconic Parkway, New York, 7 Nov. 2009) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

In Albany, we turn onto I-787, which parallels the river through the downtown. This circle-stack interchange connects to US 20 and to the Empire State Plaza.

[By Foofy at en.wikipedia ([1]) [CC-BY-SA-1.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

The Empire State Plaza, conceived and built by then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, is a huge government-building complex built and arranged in the futuristic international style of the 1960s, a bit like Brasilia. As a result, I am quite fond of it. Nearby along US 20 is the State Capitol building, which is quite different from most others. It is not the Classical style with columns and a large dome or rotunda, but instead looks more like a rich family mansion that one might find in New York in the 19th century. It is a mixture of Roman, Renaissance and Victorian styles all put together.

[By UpstateNYer (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

From Albany, one can continue on I-87 north towards the Canadian border. Along the way, the highway passes through the Adirondack Mountains. In the northern part of the Adirondacks, one can leave the interstate for smaller roads like Highway 86 through the mountains to Lake Placid of Winter-Olympics fame, and nearby Whiteface Mountain.

[By Mwanner (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

Meanwhile, the Thruway continues west from Albany with I-90, through many of the other cities that dot western New York, such as Syracuse and Rochester, passing north of the Finger Lakes. The longest is Cayuga Lake. On the south end is the town of Ithaca, home of Cornell University whose campus is on a hillside overlooking the lake, and whose official school song references the lake. Near the northern end of the lake is Seneca Falls, a famous location in the history of women’s rights in the United States. From Seneca Falls, we can also follow the Erie Canal westward. The canal, which was an important transportation route in the nineteenth century, runs largely parallel to the present-day Thruway. It is known for its complex series of locks, such as these at the appropriately named town of Lockport.

[By Leonard G. at en.wikipedia [see page for license], from Wikimedia Commons]

The Erie Canal and the Thruway continue westward to the city of Buffalo. We leave the main Thruway and continue on I-190 towards the downtown on the shore of Lake Erie. It is the second largest city in New York State, but I have yet to visit it. It’s location on the edge of the Great Lakes and its industrial past make it seem much closer to the cities of the midwest, such as Cleveland and Detroit, than to the rest of New York. Indeed, one of the city’s landmarks, Buffalo Central Terminal reminds me a bit of Michigan Central Station in Detroit: a once grand art-deco station that has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.

And yes, Buffalo wings do come from here.

We can head north from Buffalo on I-190 to Niagara Falls.

[By Victor Ip (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

This image contains the smaller American falls, with the larger Horseshoe falls off frame. Next to the falls is the Rainbow Bridge, which connects to Canada, and concludes our trip to New York. Even as I finish writing this, I think of all the comments I could write about what was missed in this brief trip. But I know I will be writing about New York again in the future.

Fun with Highways: Super Tuesday, Part 2 – Ohio

Today we devote the second of our “Super Tuesday” Fun with Highways articles to the state of Ohio. Although the state is often known for its agricultural and industrial heritage, we choose to focus on its major urban centers here. Although not originally intended as such, it could be called “fun with bridges.”

We begin near Cleveland, the state’s largest metropolitan area. I-90 comes in from the east along the shore of Lake Erie. At “Dead Man’s Curve”, the highway makes an abrupt and rather angular turn to the south to become the Innerbelt Freeway along the edge of downtown.

[Burtcbl at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

The above view shows old and new aspects of the city’s skyline. The Terminal Tower is the classic deco skyscraper from the early 20th century is visible in the distance. The highly geometric and sleek Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a contrast along the waterfront. In between, the Key Tower, the tallest in Ohio, combines elements of both.

I-90 intersects with the northern terminus of I-77 at a rather complicated interchange before continuing across the Cuyahoga River on the “Innerbelt Bridge.”

[Photo by GandZ on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

The bridge crossings over the Cuyahoga in Cleveland are numerous, and perhaps define the city as much as the skyline, if not more. Even the image above showing the Innerbelt Bridge carrying I-90, we see several others. There is a low-lying rail bridge crossing underneath at an angle. It is one of many low bridges that can be raised for water traffic on the river. I believe this one is no longer in use and is permanently in the raised position.

The most iconic of the many crossings is the Detroit-Superior Bridge carrying US 6 and US 20 across the river into downtown. The name seems a little odd, as we’re not in Detroit and Cleveland is on Lake Erie rather than Lake Superior. But it connects Detroit Avenue with West Superior Avenue and thus the name is quite appropriate. It rises high above the river and is quite picturesque against the downtown skyline.

[Burtcbl at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

Looking towards the lake from this bridge, one sees how closely packed the crossings are, and the diversity of shape, height, function, and level of disuse. In the picture below, we see the blue bridge carrying a major freeway, State Highway 2, beyond that a rail bridge, and in the front the ruins of the older Detroit Avenue viaduct.

[By Craig Hatfield [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The viaduct, like the unused rail bridge shown above, are quite interesting as artistic subjects, and even qualify as “hyperart” as described in conceptual artist Akasegawa Genpei in his book Hyperart: Thomasson (you can find out more about it here). Thus, it should not be surprising that I would very much like to visit this part of the city for artistic inspiration, to explore the bridges both in use and abandoned, as well as other places along in this industrial riverfront section of the city known as the Flats.

[Photo by Chris Hamby on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

Cleveland has actually long served as a magnet for artists interested in urban and industrial landscape, so this is nothing new. Indeed, the city has seen the same cycle of others where rundown or neglected neighborhoods attract artists in search of low rent and inspiration, and then the costs of living rise. But it still seems to have much to offer and I hope to get the chance to visit soon.

We depart Cleveland continuing on I-90, and then switch onto I-71 to journey diagonally across the length and breadth of the state. It winds through the suburbs, crossing many other highways before intersecting our friend I-80, which runs across the state as the Ohio Turnpike. The Ohio Turnpike is familiar from numerous cross-country trips, with the rolling hills and suburbs giving way to a much straighter road over flat terrain and farmland as one heads west. But in this instance, we continue south on I-71 towards Columbus, the state’s capital and largest city.

[Click image to enlarge.]

Columbus is in the middle of the state, and without much to get in the way it has developed the “standard” set of ring roads we see in many cities around the world: an outer beltway (in this case, I-270) and an inner belt around the downtown (a combination of I-70, I-71, I-670 and State Highway 315).

[Photo created by Alexander Smith on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Looking at the Ohio State House, it initially looks like something is missing: the dome that is ubiquitous on so many seats of government. It appears as if it has been shaved off. In actuality, this is part of the design, an older Greek Revival design that predates the current Capitol dome in Washington, DC, that was then used subsequently in most states.

Columbus does have its bridges as well, including the Lane Avenue Bridge which includes some classical elements in its otherwise modern design.

And of course I would be remiss if I did not mention Ohio State, as I have several friends who are devoted lifelong fans due to their connections to either the university of the community.

Leaving Columbus, we continue southwest on I-71 to Cincinnati.

[Photo by Rdikeman]

One stop we must make while in the city is to the Contemporary Arts Center. The CAC is perhaps most famous for its exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1990 that still resonates in discussions of “controversial art” (though honestly Mapplethorpe’s photographs themselves don’t seem that controversial anymore, I have seen on multiple occasions in recent years). But the museum is more recently known for its building with fragmented geometric sections designed by architect Zaha Hadid; and for programs that feature architecture and design.

The city is home to the Cincinnati Art Museum. It is a relatively conventional art museum with a wide-ranging collection, but it does include yet another piece by Mark di Suvero for us to encounter is this series. Atman is another large red metal outdoor sculpture, but without the typical rounded element.

[Photo by Adam Norwood on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

Cincinnati lies along the state’s namesake river, which forms the border with Kentucky to the south. As such the city has its own set of bridges, though nothing to approach the density of Cleveland. The most interesting perhaps is the John A Roebling Bridge. One can see many of the elements that Roebling would ultimately use in New York for the Brooklyn Bridge.

[Photo by Rick Dikeman on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Another Cincinnati Bridge that has been in the news is the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries I-71 together with I-75 south into Kentucky. The bridge is featured prominently in the city skyline image above. It also one of the 15 bridges labeled by the Federal government as “structurally unsafe”, which sounds quite bad (indeed, President Obama used it as a backdrop for a speech about rebuilding our infrastructure). The bridge itself made the case in 2011 when chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck to the lower deck. Proposals are currently being considered for a replacement.

Fun with Highways: Colorado

Our “Primary Highways” series continues with a visit to Colorado. This edition is a bit different, in that I trace a family trip from a great many years ago, but insert more contemporary interests along the way.

We initially entered from the northeast on I-76. The road was relatively straight here amidst softly rolling hills of the High Plains. The landscape is dotted with farms amidst open grassland. The Rocky Mountains appear to rise from the plains quite suddenly, as does the city of Denver.

[By Hogs555 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

On that original family trip, we did not actually stop in Denver, but here we will do so. We turn south on I-25 along the edge of downtown Denver, passing through the interchange with I-70 known as “The Mousetrap.” We exit with US 6 which is surprisingly enough Sixth Avenue in Denver. Actually, it’s a freeway, the “Sixth Avenue Freeway.” Heading east in the freeway, it empties out onto city streets near the Santa Fe Arts District. A quick look at the websites for the galleries along the corridor suggests a relatively conservative selection, though I did see some interesting things from Sparks. Further north we find the Denver Art Museum.

[By Archipreneur (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

This building, which is just part of the museum, is designed by Daniel Libeskind, who also designed the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the plan for the new World Trade Center complex in New York. The shape of the building is intended to reflect the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, although such angles appear quite often in Libeskind’s architecture. In front of the museum, we also find once again another sculpture by Mark di Suvero, who we have encountered before in this series. This one is called Lao Tzu. The museum currently has an exhibit of Garry Winograd photography that I wouldn’t mind seeing.

We leave Denver on I-70 and head into the mountains, on one of the most spectacular stretches of interstate highway in the country. At the Continental Divide, there are two options. One can stay on I-70 through the Eisenhower Tunnel, or take a detour on US 6 up through Loveland Pass. We opted for the latter on that original trip, with spectacular views of mountains in all directions, and a chance to walk on a patch of hardened snow and ice…in August. Not surprisingly, it was quite cold. I don’t have any pictures from that trip, but here is what the pass looks like today:

Further west, I-70 meets the mighty Colorado River and winds its way through Glenwood Canyon, which was my introduction to the southwest with its distinctive colors and rock formations. The difference from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains and the peaks is dramatic. And while I loved the forested mountains, there is something personally compelling about the sheer red rocks. The highway itself is also quite a marvel, both in terms engineering and aesthetics as it attempts to be both functional and blend with the landscape.

[By Patrick Pelster [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons]

Along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon, one passes a turn off for a place called No Name. The community of No Name supposedly did not receive its name (or lack thereof) until the coming of I-70, when it was assigned to the exit because the area lacked a formal name. There is also No Name Creek and No Name Canyon, and a No Name Tunnel on the highway.

I-70 and US 6 descend from the Rocky Mountains into the town of Grand Junction, where they meet US 50. One can exit the interstate here and travel on State Highway 340 through Grand Junction and Fruita to Colorado National Monument.

[I, Daniel Schwen [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The formations in the monument have this distinctive bottle shape – not unique to this location, but I noticed more of them there. Another thing I noticed there was an upper layer of rock, more gray than red, then seemed to have been gone from the more well-known canyons and formations in Utah and Arizona. It was also my first chance to see the rocks up close and personal, touch them and observe the details.

From there, we took I-70/US 6/US 50 west into Utah. But, we later reentered Colorado from the Four Corners along US 160. The quiet and stark southwestern landscape particularly appealed to me then and still does now. We then headed north on what was then US 666 (the “Devil’s Highway”), but has since been renumbered as US 491. Honestly, I wish they kept the 666 designation. But it is what it is. The two highways separate in the town of Cortez, and one can continue on 160 east to Mesa Verde National Park.

[Andreas F. Borchert [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Cliff Palace was is largest of the cliff dwellings in the park. The geometric shapes and layout still present in the dwelling are quite interesting. There are distinctive towers, one square tower reaching almost to the ceiling of the cave, and the round tower; and also the sunken round spaces known as kivas. One can see the parallels in these ancient structures to contemporary southwest architecture as well.

I have not had much time to re-explore the southwest in recent years, except for a bit of Arizona, so I would very much like to return to Colorado sometime soon.

Fun with Highways: Nevada

When I still lived in New York, going to another state was not such a big deal. It just a short trip to Connecticut or New Jersey, and not too long to get to points beyond. But in California, it takes several hours and a couple hundred miles along I-80 just to get to our closest neighbor, Nevada. And with the Presidential primaries and caucuses next moving to Nevada, we thought we would pay our neighbors there a visit.

The trip along I-80 is one made by many of us in the Bay Area, particularly at the end of August as part of the pilgrimage to Burning Man. We take the interstate past Reno to the town of Fernley, and then head north on State Highway 447 towards the Black Rock Desert. Arriving at “Black Rock City” at night is an impressive sight, with the electrical glow of a small city visible from miles away. And indeed, at the hight of the festival each year, Black Rock City is one of the largest cities in the state. Here is one of my favorite photographs from a Burning Man trip too many years ago:

Traveling back on 447 from Burning Man during daylight hours, one gets to see more of the landscape, including Pyramid Lake. The highway actually ends at the edge of Fernley, and one takes several small roads through town to get back to I-80. I saw these cars along the way.

On the way back along I-80, one can stop in Reno, which has the odd but cute nickname “Biggest Little City in the World.”

[By Renjishino (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

Its history and reputation as a center of the gaming industry, along with the glitzy lights and oversized casinos, predates the rise of Las Vegas. But it is also home to the Nevada Museum of Art, which bills itself as “the only accredited art museum in the state of Nevada.” The building itself is a work of art, and its design is meant to reflect the natural landscape including Black Rock Desert.

[By Rmart123 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

From Reno, one can travel south on US 395 towards Carson City, the state capital – one of only a few state capitals not connected to an interstate highway. From here we can either continue south on 395 back into California along the eastern Sierra, or turn onto US 50 into the interior of Nevada.

US 50 was the subject of our Nevada article last election cycle. It is nicknamed “The Loneliest Road in America.” Although the name was first used somewhat pejoratively, I find scenes like this with a straight line and stark natural landscape quite inspiring.

The road is not always this straight and empty. It crosses several mountain passes that break up the Great Basin and the Nevada desert, and passes by odd landmarks like this small castle-like structure, Stokes Castle.

[By Toiyabe at en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

I would love to travel US 50 through Nevada sometime, and of course do photography along the way. I am certainly not alone in this regard, which begs the question of how “lonely” the road really is. Another strong runner up for the title would be US 6, which intersects US 50 (and US 93) in the eastern town of Ely. Heading back west on US 6 from Ely, one travels a narrow two-lane road and does not encounter another town until Tonopah, 168 miles later. Tonopah is an old mining town, with old structures as seen is this photo:

It is hard to tell when this photo (which comes from the National Park Service) was taken.

US 6 is also the northern terminus of State Highway 375, otherwise known as the Extraterrestrial Highway. It derives its name from its proximity to Area 51 and popularly with UFO seekers, but it covers a much longer distance, parts of which are just as straight and empty as some of the others we have explored in this article:

[By Cooper, in Wiki Commons known as – 22:17, 20 August 2006 (UTC) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

This photo is from 375 in Sand Spring Valley, which contains the tiny town of Rachel (population approximately 100). Although it is quite small, it does its best to capitalize on Area 51 and the Extraterrestrial Highway with Alien themed business. A mailbox further south along the highway is purportedly used by UFO seekers to share information.

Highway 375 ends at the ghost town of Crystal Springs. This sounds like it would be interesting if some of the original buildings are still there, though I cannot find any photos of this. Nearby, one can pick of US 93 and head south towards Las Vegas. Our quiet journey through the interior of Nevada comes to an end as US 93 merges with I-15 and form a major freeway heading into the sprawling Las Vegas metropolitan area. The highway cuts into the city itself, and parallels “The Strip”, aka South Las Vegas Boulevard.

[By Lasvegaslover (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

I have to admit, my visit to The Strip in 2002 was not a particularly fun experience – although I did have a bit of fun with “fake New York.” It was a combination of factors that cannot be blamed on the city or its resort industry per se – though the expense of even basic items and services was an issue, and the fact that it felt more like a gigantic shopping mall with slot machines than an infamous den of vice and questionable entertainment was a disappointment. I would be willing to give it another chance sometime, particularly in the context of a larger travel and photography trip.

Turning onto I-215, one rejoins US 93 (and I-515). Heading south on US 93, the development thins out once more and the road continues to the Hoover Dam.

[By Tobi 87 (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

This is literally the end of the state.

Fun with Highways: Iowa

Our four-year civic ritual begins in its official manner today, and we at CatSynth are once again following the presidential primary schedule with our “Fun with Highways” series. Today, all eyes (or at least a great many of them) are focused on Iowa. A lot will be said about Iowa, it’s cultural and geographical stereotypes. But I would like to rethink the image of the state through my own interests, and thus begin with this image of Des Moines, the capital and largest city.

From what I can tell by looking at maps of the city, this was taken looking north from a railway bridge. Des Moines is a small city but seemingly well laid out, taking advantage of its river to visual effect. It does have a somewhat dense and vertical downtown core, and a rather interesting feature, the Des Moines Skywalk.

[By Dsmspence (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The skywalk is a highway of sorts for pedestrians, allowing easy movement around the downtown area through elevated glass-enclosed walkways. As someone who dislikes cold, I’m sure I would appreciate it in January. The skywalk does seem like it would have had a bit of a futuristic quality to it when it was built, though not the dystopian beauty of New York’s High Line. But perhaps I speak to soon. Check out these images of a desolate Des Moines on the blog, for some beautiful images of an eerie empty city from the skywalk and elsewhere.

[By Des Moines Guy (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

Before leaving the city, we should also acknowledge the Des Moines Art Center, an architecturally interesting complex with pieces designed by Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier, with three differet styles of 20th Century Architecture, but all seemingly designed to take advantage of the horizontal expanse, open space and light that have long made the Midwest an inspiring setting for architects.

Just north of both the art center and the downtown core is I-235, the main highway running through the city. We will head east to where I-235 ends at a junction with I-80 and I-35, and then continue east on I-80. I have personally seen the expanses of farmland along this nearly straight stretch of highway, with the occasional road passing overhead on via artificial mounds and the connected with a diamond interchange. We cross US 6, which once stretched across the entire country but now ends in the eastern Sierra in California. We pass by Iowa City and give a shout-out to the infamous Iowa Writer’s Workshop. The program has turned out numerous winners of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, among other honors. My own experience with the world of writing is a bit limited, but it seems very different than the world of music.

As we approach the eastern edge of the state, we come to Davenport, which among other things is home to the Figge Museum.

[By Ctjf83 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

The museum it itself an interesting building, and has a varied collection. But perhaps most interesting is the collection from the University of Iowa that is being temporarily housed there (after the University’s building was flooded in 2008) and displayed in the exhibition A Legacy for Iowa: Pollock’s Mural and Modern Masterworks from the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Although it seems natural to explore the state along and east-west axis, one can also travel south to north. Indeed, Iowa has what could be dubbed a “concept highway” running north-south called the Avenue of the Saints because it connects St Louis, Missouri, to St Paul, Minneapolis. It was only designated as a single route, Iowa State Highway 27, in 2001, and mostly overlaps with other longer established routes. In particular, it overlaps with I-380 from near Iowa City northward, passing through Cedar Rapids, the second largest city in the state.

[By en:User:Interiority (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons]

Downtown Cedar Rapids was submerged in the massive 2008 floods (the same floods that damaged the University of Iowa Art Building and forced the collection to move to the Frigge). Many of its cultural institutions were damaged along with countless homes and businesses. One story of particular interest the Paramount Theater. The theater was severely damaged in the flood and the console of its historic Wurlitzer organ was destroyed. It seems so many stories with theaters named Paramount or Paradise or anything else that evokes the golden age of movie palaces have tragic overtones, but some do come back. From information provided by the city, the plans are for the Paramount to reopen later this year as a cultural center. The concept renderings of the lobby look to include the best modernist elements of Art Deco.

If anyone reading this knows more about what is happening in Cedar Rapids or any of the other cities profiled in this article, please do comment.

Fun with highways: Des Moines, Iowa

Like a lot of people, our attention today was focused on Iowa. And within Iowa, on its capital and largest city, Des Moines.

My only personal experience with Des Moines is traveling through on I-80, one of several major highways that meet here, including I-35, US 65 and US 6. The main highway through the city itself is I-235, which includes this cool pedestrian bridge overlooking the downtown. It actually reminds me a bit of the pedestrian bridge to the Marina in Berkeley, CA – which happens to span I-80, just a few miles to the west.

[click for photo info]

But this pedestrian bridge across Gray's Lake is even more interesting:

[click for photo info]
And yes, they hold this big event every four years in Iowa. And somebody gets to win it. This year, congratulations go to Barack Obama.

While we at CatSynth are not officially endorsing anyone (why would we do that?), we have enjoyed watching Obama's rise, along with the more youthful, energetic and sophisticated crowd that follows him – the same “college kids” that were sneered at in Iowa four year ago when they supported Howard Dean.

And of course we have no illusions about CatSynth's contribution, but it's a nice footnote if I he does go on to become President…