Joe McKendry

(About art and books, rather than language.)

More from the Godine press, this time Joe McKendry’s One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World, a delightful history of Times Square for children (but entertaining for anyone). The text and illustrations are both by McKendry; there are maps, diagrams, and watercolors, but no photographs. One of the illustrations on the cover, as reproduced on the cover of the Godine catalog:

(I suffer badly from acrophobia, so this illustration makes me gasp.)

McKendry packs a lot into the book. The publisher’s description:

At the heart of the non-stop bustle of modern Times Square stands One Times Square, the former headquarters of the New York Times and the skyscraper – now all but invisible behind billboards – that gave the square its name in 1904. Around it, a once-humble district of carriage houses and coal merchants at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue evolved into “The Crossroads of the World.” Here impresarios and real-estate moguls vied to outdo each other as they built theaters and hotels, penny arcades and restaurants, dime museums and office towers in an unending cycle of reinvention and reimagination.

More than any other public space in New York City, Times Square is the place where Americans have gathered, in good times and in bad, to catch up on the latest news, to mark historic occasions, or just to meet a few friends. From the Stock Market crash in 1929 – when the building’s iconic “Zipper” provided up-to-the-minute information – to the celebrations marking the end of the Second World War, to annual New Year’s Eve festivities with the iconic descending lighted ball, the square and its tower have been an integral part of our history.

One Times Square explores the story of this fascinating intersection, starting when Broadway was a mere dirt path known as Bloomingdale Road, through the district’s decades of postwar decay, to its renewal as a glittering tourist-friendly media mecca. McKendry’s meticulous, lush watercolors take readers behind the famous Camel billboard to find out how it blew smoke rings over the square for 25 years, to the top of the Times Tower to see how the New Year’s ball has made its descent for over 100 years, and onto construction sites as buildings grow up around One Times Square to dwarf what once ranked among the tallest buildings in the world.

On the artwork, from a NYT review:

As an artist, McKendry is as versatile as Times Square itself, rendering sepia-toned watercolors just as adeptly as black-and-white line drawings, clarifying diagrams, streetscapes and full-spectrum painting. Much of the artwork feels deeply nostalgic, entirely appropriate to the subject matter–like leafing through an old issue of The Saturday Evening Post, with none of the pages falling out. Yet the layout, varied and lively but still with plenty of white space, feels entirely modern.


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