Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll look at a Manhattan landmark that spent the weekend in the Hamptons. We’ll also meet the new police commissioner.
Dave Petrie, the director of the estate of the artist who created the Astor Place cube, gave it a spin at the Hamptons Fine Art Fair in Southampton, N.Y.Credit…James Barron/The New York Times
Like so many Manhattanites who have spent the weekend in the Hamptons, a familiar landmark had to go back to New York City.
The giant Astor Place cube was a big star in the East End of Long Island, if only because it is 8 feet tall, weighs 1,800 pounds and was right there next to the entrance to the Hamptons Fine Art Fair in Southampton, N.Y.
And it is no longer an immovable object. It can once again turn on its axis, something it stopped doing in 2021 after more than half a century “of being spun by drunk N.Y.U. students and curious tourists,” as Curbed once put it.
Now, fresh from the equivalent of a spa treatment with some orthopedic work, the cube is on its way to Manhattan. The art fair closed on Sunday; on Monday morning, a crane lifted the cube onto a truck that drove it away. The city Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the cube, scheduled the unveiling of the restored sculpture for this morning.
The cube’s motionlessness was one reason it was removed from Astor Place in May. There was also concern that it was leaning like the Tower of Pisa.
The transportation department had installed a cradle to balance the cube, horizontally and vertically. But that kept it from rotating — and spinning it was “part of the New York experience,” as Michelle Villar, who oversaw the art unit for the transportation department, put it last year.
How much a part of the New York experience it was came as a surprise to the artist who created it, Tony Rosenthal. He had expected it to be locked in place when it was new, but it never was. He said later that he “did not realize that the turning was such a factor in people’s enjoyment of it.”
Nor did Rosenthal, who died in 2009, expect it to last. He envisioned the cube — formally known as “Alamo (Cube)” — as nothing more than a temporary installation. But its planned six-month stay became permanent after residents petitioned the city not to remove it. Along the way, its name changed: Rosenthal’s wife, Cynthia Rosenthal, said its size reminded her of the 18th-century mission in San Antonio. Her husband’s original title was “Sculpture in Environment.”
The restoration sent the cube to a foundry in Connecticut that fabricates and fixes sculpture, where a refurbishing job estimated to have cost $100,000 was paid for by Rosenthal’s estate. Dave Petrie, the director of the estate, said the cube got a new weatherproof spinning mechanism that should keep it turning for 20 years or so.
From there, it went by truck to the art fair in the Hamptons, where some attendees did double-takes. “They can’t believe they’re seeing the real ‘Alamo,’” Petrie said. “They think they’re seeing a new sculpture. Five coats of paint.” It had even been painted inside, he said.
He spun it, slowly. So did Chad Johnson, the chief of staff for a nanotechnology company, who first pushed its weight around in the early 1990s, when he was still a teenager. “There were 15 of us guys,” he said. “It didn’t want to move.”
It did several years later, when he went back with a group of friends that included Jolee Sanchez, who was also at the art fair. “I don’t know if it was WD-40 down below, but it started moving,” he said. “It was the thing to do. It was ‘you are now a part of New York City. You spun the cube on Astor Place.’”
Prepare for a chance of showers and thunderstorms, persisting into the evening, with temperatures near the high 80s. At night, temps will drop into the low 70s.
In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).
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Caban becomes the first Latino police commissioner
Even the setting had significance: Edward Caban was sworn in as police commissioner in front of the South Bronx precinct to which he was assigned at the beginning of his career 32 years ago.
Caban, 55, became the first Latino to lead the New York Police Department. Mayor Eric Adams focused on what he called the “historic” importance of Caban’s appointment as a crowd of police officers and city leaders chanted “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie.” “This is an amazing moment not only for the Spanish-speaking community,” the mayor said. “This is an amazing moment for the entire city and country.”
Caban, who previously served as first deputy commissioner, had remained close to Adams during the 18 months that Keechant Sewell spent as commissioner. Sewell, who resigned last month, did not attend Caban’s swearing-in; people with knowledge of her experiences as commissioner said she had felt frustrated in her efforts to act with autonomy.
My colleagues Maria Cramer and Karen Zraick write that the new commissioner, whose rise from the 40th Precinct in the Bronx to police headquarters in Manhattan was punctuated by run-ins with departmental oversight agencies, is taking over the nation’s largest police department at a critical moment.
Morale has improved following successful contract negotiations with the city, but union leaders say that the department is still losing officers to early retirement or other agencies, with officers feeling overworked or disheartened in the wake of protests decrying police brutality. The police officers’ union has a new leader, Patrick Hendry, who has been a behind-the-scenes figure, in contrast to the man he succeeded as president of the Police Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch — “a take-it-or-leave-it megaphone for 21,000 active members” who had battled mayors for nearly a quarter-century, as my colleague Chelsia Rose Marcius described him.
And crime, which became a concern in the months after Adams took office in January 2022, has declined. Shootings in New York City have dropped by about 25 percent through the first half of this year compared with the same period last year. But suburbanites and many New Yorkers say they worry that they will be victims of crime on the street or subway.
Adams, speaking at the ceremony for Caban, credited him with helping Sewell preside over the department as shootings and homicides declined. Adams had pushed for Caban to become deputy commissioner last year, bypassing the department’s ranks of chiefs to give Caban the promotion. Several officials with knowledge of the relationships involved said that Caban then called the mayor frequently about police department business, sidestepping Sewell.
I came to America in 1971 to attend graduate school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
I worked nights at a hamburger joint to make some extra money. The night manager was a young guy named Pete who was about my age.
We became quite friendly and at one point decided to take a day trip to New York City. We drove down in Pete’s Camaro.
The only time I had been in the city was when I passed through on my way to Troy after landing at J.F.K. Pete had grown up in Utica and had never been to the city. We spent the day walking around and took the subway to Canal Street and back.
When it was time for dinner, Pete just stopped a guy on the street and asked where Mamma Leone’s was. I was quite surprised when the guy gave us directions to the restaurant. I still remember the wonderful dinner we had there.
When it was time to head back to Troy, Pete stopped the car in the street.
“Hey, can you tell us how to get to the Major Deegan?” he asked the driver in the car next to us.
“Follow me,” the driver said. “I am going that way!”
— Ranjan Sonalkar
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].