Posted in Architecture, Photography, Religion, Travel, Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian history

Dormition Church of Lviv (церква Успіння Львіва)

I originally intended this post to be part of my 2022 April A to Z series on Ukrainian history and culture, but I stuffed it into the drafts folder because I couldn’t find enough information about the church’s history, artwork, and architecture for a substantial, detailed post. Yet again, I didn’t allow myself any time to work on a post about my radical rewrite of The Very Last, so here’s that bonus A to Z post.

New additions are in bold.

Copyright Konstantin Brizhnichenko

Throughout history, Lviv’s Dormition Church has had four incarnations. The first, probably constructed during the High Middle Ages, was burnt in 1340 when Polish feudal lords attacked the city. Church #2, built of bricks and first mentioned in 1421, was destroyed in 1527 when a great fire swept through Lviv. Peter the Italian, an architect from Lugano who became a citizen of Lviv, rebuilt the church from 1547–59. Alas, the third church fell victim to another fire in 1571.

The Chapel of the Three Saints was built nearby from 1578–91, and the Italian architect Pietro of Barbona rebuilt the Kornyakt Tower, which had collapsed in 1570. Both of these structures were joined by a fourth church which was constructed from 1591–1629 by Paolo Dominici Romanus, Wojciech Kapinos, and Ambrosiy Prykhylnyy. The ikons were painted by Mykola Petrakhnovych-Morakhovskyy and Fedir Senkovych.

Copyright xiquinhosilva

Many people financed the construction, primarily Moldovan rulers (both male and female). It was originally built of brick, but midway through construction of the walls, the Assumption Brotherhood replaced it with hewn stone. The church was consecrated on 26 January 1631 by Lviv Bishop Yeremiya Tissarovskyy and Kyiv Archimandrite Petro Mohyla.

On 3 January 1584, prior to the start of construction on the fourth church, the Catholic Archbishop of Lviv, Jan Dymitr Solikowski, attacked the existing church. He expelled congregants, scorned the priest and ignored his authority, and sealed the church.

And what was the unspeakable crime committed by the Orthodox faithful? Not adopting the Gregorian calendar and continuing to use the Julian calendar, which was ten days behind by the 16th century, on account of a never-corrected error from the Council of Nicaea.

This intolerant archbishop also forbade Ukrainians from ringing church bells on their own holiday dates and attacked the Church of the Epiphany that same year of 1584.

Copyright xiquinhosilva

In the 18th century, noblewoman Feodosiya Strilbytska, wife of parish priest Oleksiy Strilbytskyy, donated 6,000 złotych to the church. Out of gratitude, a painting of her was put on display. It’s now in the Lviv National Gallery of Arts.

Yet another fire damaged the church in 1779, and it was rebuilt in 1796 with a few changes. Perhaps surprisingly, given the era, it was beautified with stained glass windows designed by Petro Ivanovych Kholodnyy in 1926–27. Though Soviet rule was atheist, Stalin hadn’t yet risen to full, unquestioned power and begun cracking down on the use of non-Russian national languages and cultures. During the 1920s, national expression flourished in republics which had long been under the heel of enforced Russification.

Copyright Швітланьо (Shvitlano)

Copyright Aeou

Lviv artists Kostyantyn and Yakiv Kulchytskyy carved the coats of arms of donors Simeon and Iyeremiya Mohyla above the northern and southern doors.

Some of the ikons in the ikonostasis have been with the church since the fourth iteration opened in the 1630s. The most valuable are from the Passion Cycle, made by Fedir Senkovych and Mykola Petrakhnovych-Morakhovskyy.

Copyright Alexander Skrypnyk

The church was restored and repaired from 1965–73.

The Lviv Assumption Brotherhood, the non-clerical Ukrainian Orthodoxy fraternity who founded the church, remains active to this day. Members patronize the Sunday school, care for the building’s upkeep, and organize the cultural and spiritual life of the church.

Copyright Kugel at WikiCommons

Copyright Oleksandr Kaktus

On 29 November 1989, the church came under jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Sunday school began in 2008, with three age groups, and a children’s choir was formed in 2012.

Copyright Ivan Sedlovskyi

Copyright Ivan Sedlovskyi

Posted in Architecture

My ideal home

As I’ve mentioned previously, growing up in a certain type of city and dwelling creates a state of mind, a deeply-embedded way of being. Because I’ve mostly lived in detached houses with yards and small walk-up apartments with lots of green space, in small and mid-sized cities, that’s what I seek for myself.

Suburban housing developments bore the life out of me. I’m not anti-suburb, but if I were to live in one of my own volition, it’d have to be an exurb or a city which started out as a suburb (e.g., New Rochelle, NY) but has long since developed into an independent city in its own right. I’d also only accept a unique, older house outside a development.

I’m all about Queen Anne Revival, since it has such a neat, unique look, kind of like a haunted house. I also love Tudor Revival, Storybook houses, and Art Nouveau. They’ve so much more character, personality, charm, and history than modern architecture.

While in fantasy I’d love a grand, sprawling estate with countless acres for gardens, walking paths, and horseback riding, in reality I’m more suited to a smaller house if it’s only me. Should I ever find a husband and have kids, an upgrade to a house with more square footage would be in order.

Just because many families in the past lived in fairly small homes and made it work doesn’t mean that’s ideal or will make everyone happy. Non-rich people lived like that because there was often little choice. They didn’t voluntarily seek out two-room tenements of 350 square feet or tiny bungalows of 700 square feet!

I most strongly want to move back to my native city Pittsburgh. It’s a big city with a smalltown feel, and not a giant metropolis like NYC or LA. I also love how it’s very traditionally proletarian and lower-middle-class. Given my upbringing, I’m most comfortable in that environment. There are also lots of other people with Eastern European ancestry, and of course Pittsburgh has a huge Jewish community.

My second choice is Boston, which I’ve probably visited at least a hundred times since I was a small child. I love how historic and friendly Boston is, with so many great museums, schools, bakeries, restaurants, and types of neighborhoods.

My #3 is NYC. Though I love the idea of living in a beautiful, spacious prewar apartment or gorgeous, historic townhouse, I’m more suited in real life to a detached house in a suburbanesque neighborhood like Queens Village, Victorian Flatbush, Marble Hill, or anywhere on Staten Island.

I want a city that’s highly walkable, where I can go almost anywhere on foot and take public transportation the rest of the time. My car would only be necessary for longer trips out of the area.

Though I prefer bigger cities, I wouldn’t mind moving back to Amherst or living in a nearby city like Northampton or Stockbridge. I had a very happy two years in Amherst, and wish I’d attended UMass for four years. (I transferred from community college after getting an associate’s degree.) The Jewish community is quite small, but it’s very active and close-knit, and there are so many lovely little shops.

There’s also an awesome farmers’ market grocery store, Atkins, which sells handmade gifts in addition to all sorts of foods. Nearby horseback riding is also a great big plus.

Other important ingredients of a city are museums, libraries, a variety of schools, parks, interesting and regular communal events, used record stores (like Amherst’s Mystery Train Records), restaurants, bakeries, places to take hikes, within a few hours of a beach, and old cemeteries. I’ve spent countless happy hours graving.

Of course I won’t constantly be using those resources, but it’s nice to know they’re there when I want them.

A wide variety of architecture is also a great plus. The world would be quite boring if everything and everyone were exactly the same.

Posted in Architecture, Books

Yeas and nays of city planning

Setting itself out as “an attack on current city planning and rebuilding,” this book said a lot of radical, shocking things for 1961. Today, however, most of them are regarded as just plain common sense and have long been common practice.

The four main arguments are that, to be successful and vibrant, cities need to be mixed-use, have short blocks, be densely-populated, and have buildings in a range of ages.

Other topics are border vacuums, where best to place landmarks like libraries, the most effective layouts and locations of parks, unslumming (now known as gentrification and usually done by outsiders instead of locals), gradual and cataclysmic money, housing projects, the disastrous effect cars have on cities, and city governance.

While this book has become a blueprint for many modern urbanists, full of wonderful ideas which sadly weren’t considered when they were most desperately needed to nip urban decay in the bud when it was still relatively manageable, there are some issues I had with it.

1. It’s inevitably dated. I wish there were a special edition which laid out everything that’s since been widely implemented and the differences between now and then. E.g., kids just don’t play on sidewalks anymore, certain parks are no longer run-down ghost towns, and many cityscapes are now radically different.

2. I love her “eyes on the street” argument about streets being kept safe by constant watching, but modern society doesn’t enable that well. How many housewives gaze out their windows for hours while kids play stoop ball, and how many busybody “public characters” still exist?

3. Women don’t need their husbands’ permission to go somewhere anymore!

4. Mrs. Jacobs writes of a world where most women are housewives and men are the only ones working. Not exactly applicable to 2020 life.

5. After a certain point, the book starts to feel rather repetitive, the same few points made over and over again in different language.

6. She doesn’t give many citations, just her own observations and theories. I’m told many social science books in the Sixties were like this.

7. Not all cities or neighborhoods develop in the same way, and this isn’t a bad thing. E.g., because Manhattan (her most frequent example) was centered deep downtown and then gradually moved upward, the Upper East and West Sides are predominantly residential and academic.

People choose those neighborhoods to raise families or just have a quieter life for themselves, and thus are consciously rejecting the things she praises so highly about her own West Village. They have no interest in listening to saxophones in the middle of the night, fighting through throngs of kids while walking home from work, or living next to an old warehouse occupied by twenty wildly different businesses!

Part of the draw of the outer boroughs, prior to their mass discovery and gentrification, was this slower pace of life, with more green spaces, less density, and a suburbanesque feel. They cared less The Bronx supposedly had no decent restaurants or Brooklyn businesses closed at 8:00! Believe it or not, some people like that.

8. Likewise, there’s not a very diverse pool of cities represented. While I wouldn’t expect every single major city to be discussed, nor constant hopping back and forth between different cities, it would’ve been more balanced had there been a wider range of examples.

Manhattan is far and away the most discussed, with Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and L.A. also frequently mentioned. Every so often, a city like Baltimore or St. Louis makes an appearance.

Cities develop differently depending on the region. A city which started as a frontier town and has much more space to expand is radically different from one which grew up around an agrarian economy or a densely-populated city with little choice but to expand upward.

9. The Upper West Side, which frequently comes in for condemnation as not diverse enough or laid out properly, beautifully revitalized without chopping up its very long blocks!

10. So what if a landmark like a library doesn’t stand out in purpose and appearance? People know where their own libraries are, even if they look similar to nearby buildings!

11. I agree density is a positive force for diversity and vitality, but too much density is a bad thing. Just look at cities like Delhi or Beijing. No one normal enjoys living like that.

12. Even a city with relatively manageable density needs more than a few high-rises to comfortably accommodate everyone. They’re not inherently negative and impersonal.

13. Unslumming is a lovely ideal, but contrary to human nature. People tend to want to move on up as their socioeconomic situation improves instead of happily staying in the old neighborhood and investing beaucoup bucks into fixing up an old rowhouse or upgrading to a larger apartment.

It’s natural to upgrade to new digs reflecting a new status. Why in the world would someone who’s worked very hard to become middle-class voluntarily stay in a tenement, and why would a self-made millionaire want to stay in a strongly proletarian neighborhood?

14. It’s unnecessarily verbose, and could’ve easily been condensed to half its size, at least.

15. What’s the point of moving Central Park’s carousel and Chess and Checkers House to the borders so more people can use them after dark? Who goes to a park at night, no matter where attractions are located?

16. I fail to see why Garden Cities are so awful. They’re the best of both worlds, a suburbanesque neighborhood in a big city.

17. I don’t get her beef with the City Beautiful movement either. Who could object to beautifying cities and increasing quality of life?

18. Likewise, I didn’t get her issue with “too many” parks. The larger the city, the more parks are necessary. People crave green spaces. If you don’t live in a neighborhood, you’re not in a position to authoritatively declare a park is a failure!

19. Not everyone wants to live in Greenwich Village as it was in 1961. The magic formula for one neighborhood would never work for others, and not everyone wants the same thing out of a city.

20. Her vision of an urban Utopia is as much predicated on how people “should” react as urban planners’ “reforms” were. Both unable to understand the wider demographic picture.

21. While I share her dislike of suburbia, at least I understand why so many families were drawn to it in that era. Mrs. Jacobs constantly trots out Greenwich Village as the be-all and end-all of perfection which everyone should aspire to live in.

22. Even in 1961, the famous ballet of Hudson St. was unusual. She’s idealizing a way of life that was well on its way out. Unless something radically changes, bourgeois urbanity just isn’t coming back.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, Architecture, Historical fiction, Writing

Writing about the postwar exodus to suburbia

While the dark side of the postwar exodus to suburbia is well-known now, very few people had any reason to see it as anything but wonderful and a dream come true at the time. After all, those in charge of urban renewal and suburban expansion were motivated by noble intentions, wanting to help people.

Like so many other things in life, the serious, inherent problems only became apparent in hindsight, after they’d snowballed and led to many once-great cities’ absolute nadirs several decades later.

There was a severe housing shortage after WWII, with roots in the Depression. People were desperate for bigger homes, particularly as they started families, and wanted to get out of cramped apartments and in-laws’ houses.

The G.I. Bill guaranteed low-interest home loans to veterans, with the best deals on brand-new houses. Many of these guys had never owned their own houses before. The appeal was undeniable.

Thanks to the G.I. Bill, many vets also were able to attend college and thus move into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. The cost of living was much better in this era, and more and more people bought cars.

If you own a car, you’re not beholden to public transport and living in the same city as your job. And with your college education, you have improved career prospects with a higher salary.

Many of the early suburban tract houses were rather small by modern standards, under 1,000 feet, but that was positively spacious to guys who’d spent the last few years living in foxholes and huts, and families crammed into too-small apartments.

Their cookie-cutter sameness didn’t bother that many people, who just wanted their own houses regardless of the details. That sameness made them easy and quick to construct, move-in ready, even equipped with kitchen appliances and TVs.

After the war, everyone was eager to resume normal life, and for many, that included accepting a conformist culture where people blended in. Then as now, going along with the crowd was far easier than going against it.

People who chose to remain in cities were viewed as the strange ones, not the ones moving en masse to picture-perfect new suburbs.

Almost exclusively, these new suburbs were settled by couples in their twenties with very young children. It was easy for them to leave a city and start all over again. They didn’t have established careers, homes they’d lived in for years, children in school. Suburbia represented a perfect fresh start at the perfect time in their lives.

Everyone in the neighborhood was therefore a built-in friend, often from the same original city. The kids were roughly the same age and could grow up together, and the adults were from the same generation.

Another huge draw of suburbia was the guaranteed green space. People coming from densely-populated places had never had their own yards, or at most had had rather small, shared yards.

Yes, there are always parks, but as more and more cities went downhill thanks to disastrous urban planning decisions, the parks went downhill as well. Many people avoided them out of fear. And unfortunately, not all cities have a good distribution of green spaces.

Prior to suburban sprawl destroying many precious natural resources, there was also the appeal of living near a real woods and/or body of water, even right across from your own backyard. Cramped urban apartment, spacious detached house in the middle of nature?

As urban decay got worse, so did schools. Even private schools suffered when much of their former base relocated to suburbia. They either had to close or relocate themselves. Though there was still the issue of too-large class sizes in many places (owing to how many kids were being born in this era), there were at least better teachers and school systems.

This wasn’t a one-time move over a few years just after the war ended. People continued hightailing it to suburbia all through the Fifties and into the Sixties, particularly as most cities got worse and worse. Rising crime rates and devastating urban decay made many people afraid.

Some people saw or smelled smoke just a short distance away not long after moving to suburbia, leaving just ahead of the riots which tore many cities apart. Those who hadn’t already left, and had the means to do so, fled in the wake of these riots.

“A Ride on the 6,” 1983, Copyright Alfred Gonzalez

The only people left in cities after the riots were too poor to leave, just passing through while attending college, or the rare few who genuinely loved city life and wanted to be there more than in a suburb.

Sadly, the great life promised by suburbia wasn’t available to everyone, as we shall see in the next post.

Posted in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Architecture, Historical fiction, Writing

Writing about the post-WWII housing crisis in the U.S.

This is a story which begins shortly on the heels of the Stock Market crash. Serious problems never arise out of a vacuum or overnight, and this one was no exception.

Since so many banks failed and people lost their entire savings, they often were unable to stay in their homes. Many people also streamed into big cities looking for work, and they needed someplace to live.

Contrary to popular belief, a not insignificant number of people stayed wealthy, which enabled some hotels and luxury apartments in progress to continue construction, and others to be built entirely after the Stock Market crash. These people merrily carried on as though the party of the Roaring Twenties had never ended, or at most slightly scaled back their extravagant lifestyles to avoid looking insensitive.

However, that wasn’t the norm. Many luxury apartments went from miniature mansions to studios and SROs. Townhouses and rowhouses, by then unfashionable as single-family homes, were also divided, and multiple families crammed into detached houses.

And those were the lucky ones. Many more people had no choice but to live in tents, shacks, and cars, or take up squatting.

Since there were far bigger fish to fry during the Depression and WWII, new construction ground to a near-complete standstill, and existing homes fell into disrepair. By the time servicemen began coming back home and starting families, the situation was at crisis levels.

There was such a dearth of housing, many people were seriously pressured, if not outright forced, into letting their apartments be split up for returning GIs and the war refugees.

This desperate situation is depicted in films like The More the Merrier (1943), Standing Room Only (1944), So This is Washington (1943), Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1944), Apartment for Peggy (1948), Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949), and It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947).

Millions of veterans needed to find homes, particularly since many returned with war brides, were already married, or quickly married and began families. This wasn’t an era of casually dating random people for fun well into one’s thirties or indefinitely going steady for 5+ years, moving in together long before considering marriage, matter-of-factly having a couple of kids along the way, and getting married almost as an afterthought.

People had to be married to live together, have sex, and have kids without scandal, and society encouraged settling down and starting a family sooner rather than later. The average marriage age precipitously dropped in this era, as many couples didn’t even wait to finish high school before tying the knot (not always because of pregnancy).

Many couples were engaged within weeks or months of meeting, and engagements usually only lasted a few months. In the pre-Pill era, and with the Comstock Act making it illegal even for married couples to access information about contraception, children often started arriving 40 weeks after the wedding.

Thus, all these growing families needed a place to stay. Some lived with parents, but that created very crowded, awkward living situations. Even if you’re in a massive estate with separate wings, it’s no fun being stuck in your parents’ house when you’re a grown adult, esp. when you have a family of your own.

GIs also had first priority on housing, which meant people moving to cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. with romantic, idealistic daydreams had to wait their turn for a real home. Even GIs often had to accept rented rooms, SROs, or mere huts, shacks, or tents.

GIs who were lucky enough to come back to their own homes often weren’t very happy there. After spending the last few years living in foxholes, huts, tents, and appropriated houses shared with dozens of other guys, they were desperate for room to stretch out. When a spouse and kids are added to the mix, the need for more space multiplies.

Many of the homes which were available for purchase and within their means were in a state of disrepair (broken windows, rats, no heating, bad lighting, busted water pipes, backyards overgrown with weeds), and thus required a great deal of time and money to be made livable again.

Additionally, the Green Revolution put many small farmers out of business when they were unable to afford modern machinery and more land. When enough people leave a rural town, job opportunities dry up, and an exodus to larger cities results.

GIs or not, many people from such towns simply craved a better job market, and weren’t content to resume living in a quiet small town after the experience of seeing the world and meeting such a wide range of people.

The Second Great Migration sent over five million African-Americans to the Northeast, Midwest, and West in search of better jobs, in places without Jim Crow. They needed housing too.

About a million immigrants, half of them war refugees, also entered the U.S. in the early postwar years, and they likewise needed housing.

And then a seemingly perfect solution appeared.