DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
About The Location
Except for a day on a Brooklyn sound stage the entire film would be shot at or
just around Sailors' Snug Harbor in Staten Island, New York - legally within the
New York City limits but geographically and culturally (if that's the word)
connected to the New Jersey-Pennsylvania mid-Atlantic land mass which we had
always considered the probable locus of the fictional Seven Oaks.
Snug Harbor, also known as the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden,
is a collection of architecturally significant 19th century buildings set in a
park located along the Kill Van Kull on the north shore of Staten Island in New
York City. It was once a home for aged sailors and is now an 83-acre (340,000
m2) city park. Sailors' Snug Harbor includes 26 Greek Revival, Beaux Arts,
Italianate and Victorian style buildings. The site is considered Staten Island's
"crown jewel" -- "an incomparable remnant of New York's 19th-century seafaring
past" - and has been declared a National Historic Landmark District.
Snug Harbor was founded by the 1801 bequest of New York tycoon Captain Robert
Richard Randall who left his estate to build an institution to care for "aged,
decrepit and worn-out" seamen. When Sailors' Snug Harbor opened in 1833, it was
the first home for retired merchant seamen in the history of the United States.
It began with a single building, now the centerpiece in the row of five Greek
Revival temple-like buildings on the New Brighton waterfront. Captain Thomas
Melville, a retired sea captain and brother of Moby-Dick author Herman Melville,
was governor of Snug Harbor from 1867 to 1884.
Architecture of the Site
The five interlocking Greek Revival buildings at Snug Harbor are regarded as
"the most ambitious moment of the classic revival in the United States" and the
"most extraordinary" suite of Greek temple-style buildings in the country. With
the 1833 Main Hall as the centerpiece, five stately Greek Revival buildings
"form a symmetrical composition on Richmond Terrace, an eight-columned portico
in the center and two six-columned porticoes on either end."
The New York Times' architectural critic Paul Goldberger wrote, "Snug Harbor
has something of the feel of a campus, something of the feel of a small-town
square. Indeed, these rows of classical temples, set side-by-side with tiny
connecting structures recessed behind the grand facades, are initially perplexing because
they fit into no pattern we recognize - they are lined up as if on a street, yet
they are set in the landscape of a park. They seem at once to embrace the
19th-century tradition of picturesque design and, by virtue of their rigid
linear order, to reject it."
The 1833 administration building by Minard Lafever is a "magnificent" Greek
Revival building with a monumental Ionic portico, and is the architect's oldest
surviving work. It was renovated in 1884 with "an eye-popping triple-height
gallery with stained glass and ceiling murals," and restored in the 1990's.
Greenery of Sailors' Snug Harbor
All five of the famous row of Greek Revival buildings are individually
landmarked, as are the 131-year-old chapel, which has been renovated as a
recital and concert space; the Italinate Richmond Terrace gate house (1873), the
mid-nineteenth century iron fence surrounding the property, and the interiors of
the Main Hall and the chapel.
The buildings are set in extensive, landscaped grounds, surrounded by an
individually landmarked, nineteenth century cast iron fence. They include a
beautiful 1893 zinc fountain featuring the god Neptune, now indoors with a
replica in its place. According to the New York Times, "He sits in the middle,
astride a shell held aloft by sea monsters, his trident raised. Jets of water
spurt from the fountain's center and from bouquets of metal calla lilies to its
sidesâ€¦ Noisy New York and its busy harbor only 200 feet (61 m) away, beyond
Richmond Terrace, might just as well be on Mars. Or at least at the other end of
His Majesty's sea."
(Credit for Snug Harbor history: Wikipedia.)
Also on the grounds is a bronze statue of Robert Randall by Augustus
Saint-Gaudens and the Staten Island Botanical Gardens, which provide the
exotically floral setting for the cast to dance through during two stanzas of
George and Ira Gershwins' depression remedy, "THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!"
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