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As Close To As

There’s a game that click-bait websites sometimes play, saying something is as close to the current day as it is to some point that seems to be in the distant past. For example, Apollo 11 landed on the moon just about 54 years ago. 53 years before that was 1916. So the first moon landing was closer to the Battle of Verdun than to today. It can be an interesting game when played, like this, with general history, based on the different way we perceive events in our lifetime versus events before we were born. I recently started thinking about it in terms of buildings.

I spent a lot of time researching and writing about early skyscrapers, mostly built in the 1880s and 90s, with my ending cut-off date in 1900. That’s 123 years ago. 122 years earlier is 1778, when nothing much was being built in New York because the city was in its second year of occupation by the British army. In other words, the end of the early phase of skyscraper construction is closer to the Revolutionary War than to the present.

I live in a building in Battery Park City constructed in 1985, 38 years ago. 37 years earlier, in 1948, there was no Battery Park City, only the piers lining West Street along the Hudson River.

I’ve done some research and writing about the Empire State Building, which was completed in 1931, 92 years ago. 91 years before the Empire State was 1840, when New York was still recovering from the Great Fire of 1835, and there were only a handful of buildings in the city that contained structural cast iron, the first new construction material (after wood and masonry) to be used here.

We completed a project at Castle Clinton last year. The fort was built in 1808, 215 years ago. The village of Nieuw Amsterdam was founded in 1624, which is 399 years ago. So Castle Clinton is closer to the first European colonization of the New York area than it is to today, even though it is still here today.

This trick doesn’t create any new information, but it gives some perspective on the rate of change.