Friday, July 11, 2008

65 Liberty Street

So the weather over the Fourth of July weekend prevented me from doing as much biking and picnicking as I would have liked, but I did manage to get a ride in late Sunday afternoon. I rode from my apartment in Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge and found myself in Manhattan's financial district, that great labyrinth of towering skyscrapers and historic buildings that sits at the tip of the island. And of course, being the dedicated archivist that I am, the first thing I thought was that I would like to ride by 65 Liberty Street, former home of the New York Chamber of Commerce. It's an address that is now burned into my brain since I've read it about a million times now on NYCC correspondence.

This has been one of the true pleasures of working on this collection so far--living in the city that the collection documents and originates from allows me a ready knowledge of the geographical details of the collection. I wouldn’t say that I have an intimate knowledge of the financial district, but I've wandered around in that area enough to know what it feels like. I've stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, the hotel where the Chamber held many of their banquets and luncheons (I can't say I've dined or danced in the ballroom although I did have one very expensive drink at the bar). And when someone complained in a letter about having to trek from upper Manhattan all the way out to Brooklyn, I could definitely relate.

So when I rode up to 65 Liberty Street, I have to admit that I did get a tiny thrill from finally seeing the building, up close and personal. I'm not one of those people who carry around a digital camera, so all I had to document the occasion was a camera on my phone that I rarely use. I took a picture of the seal on the door that says NYCCI (which means the seal was made post-1973 when the New York Chamber of Commerce merged with the Commerce and Industry Association and became the New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry), only to realize later that I don't have whatever multimedia capabilities are required to email photos from your phone. Disappointing, right? So instead of showing you that, I will just point you to this photo of the building that I found on Flickr:

It's probably a much better photo than I could manage anyway.

Now the building is home to the International Commercial Bank of China. I'm pretty curious about what it looks like inside nowadays, and I'm wondering if there are any old vestiges that might be indicative of its former residents. If I ever manage to get inside, I will be sure to have a camera with me.

[UPDATE: After looking around online to see if there was a way to get a tour of the inside of the building, I came across this New York Times article. It says that when the Chamber moved out, the exterior of the building was designated as a historic landmark, but that the interior was not. I guess that means that its very unlikely I would find any traces of what the building looked like while it was occupied by the NYCC.]

As an aside, thinking about this post reminded me of the issue in the archives/special collections profession of keeping collections in or near the areas they originated from versus selling them off to the highest bidder or most prestigious institution, even if that institution might be far removed from the source of the collection. I'd be curious to hear thoughts from anyone who has an opinion on the subject. Personally, I am strongly in favor of keeping collections in close relation to their source, and I think working on this collection has only strengthened that belief. But I know there are dissenting opinions out there, so if you have one, feel free to share it.


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