Bring Back the Plaque

The following request would probably be more appropriate — and potentially more effective — on Twitter, but it’s a cause too near and dear to my heart to relegate to the trenches of social media discourse.

New Yorkers love to celebrate the wonders of the city that never sleeps by citing all the history that it has to offer. On a daily basis, Big Applers literally walk past, among, next to, and often inside buildings and landmarks (and sometimes — though not nearly enough — landmarked buildings) that shaped the contours of the concrete jungle, America at large, the world, and even humanity itself.

Even if this history is always felt at least subconsciously, I wonder how many five-boroughers take the time to learn about the specifics of the history around them. It’s actually a rather fitting metaphor for society’s relationship to history; many portions of our lives are dictated by it, often unbeknownst to all of us too caught up in our own minutiae.

Which is why I make a concerted effort to take note of the noteworthy moments from the past that unfolded on the steps before me decades ago. Though the likes of Google and Wikipedia provide our fingertips with instant resources that once required (oh the labor!) actually opening history books after shlepping to public libraries — many of which in New York contain history both of the textual and architectural variety —  I, like many others, often don’t even think to research storied blocks we traverse daily.

Which is why I worship small public plaques that commemorate significant spots. Whenever I spot one, I always stop the hustle and bustle of my life for a few minutes to read these micro-doses of education. Unlike the internet’s endless reservoirs of knowledge that often intimidate me out of delving into them, these plaques concisely describe the bare-minimum necessary to understand the importance of whatever occurred on a given plot of land. If I’m intrigued to find out more, I can of course WiFi myself down further rabbit holes of information. But without these visual reminders, I’m often too absorbed with my digital life of 1s and 0s to remember to take stock of my historical surroundings.    

All of this is to say — talk about burying the lede! — plaques are integral to fully experiencing my ideal New York. Which is why I was so baffled when I saw the confounding placement of this one:

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What’s it doing all the way up there?! Are they trying to educate the birds?! I guess some people travel around New York with binoculars and Peeping-Tom camera lenses, but what about all of us without such high-powered equipment?!

That’s in front of City Center, home to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s off-Broadway ventures, Encores!, and a wide range of other programming across multiple artistic mediums. It’s one of the most gorgeous venues in New York City, and one of the oldest not on the Great White Way.

And yet, how is a curious passerby supposed to know they’re walking past living history when the plague designating it as such is located miles above their meandering eyes?! Sure, the exterior looks ancient enough that anyone interested could theoretically Google Map their location to find out more. But again, Manhattanites and tourists alike are much more likely to open up the proverbial books of history when it doesn’t require opening up anything at all. What could be less work than simply stopping and reading?

Theatre folk deal with sight-lines all the time as a part of their jobs; since their art is for the audience, it’s imperative the audience can actually see the art. The audience to the art of City Center’s plaque is comprised of every single person that walks by day in and day out. As such, it’s time the powers-that-be over there set their sights on the sight-lines outside of their stages: lower the damn plaque so that as many people as possible can fully appreciate the beautiful site before them.

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