cover image Lost in America: Photographing the Last Days of Our Architectural Treasures

Lost in America: Photographing the Last Days of Our Architectural Treasures

Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. Cityfiles, $40 (208p) ISBN 978-1-73386-905-8

In this arresting collection, historians Cahan and Williams (coeditors of River of Blood) spotlight architectural jewels of America’s yesteryear in photographs taken between 1933 and the present by the government-run Historic American Buildings Survey. Sober black-and-white shots capture spaces “on the verge of destruction,” including a row of lonely looking rooming houses in 1960 Los Angeles’s once wealthy Bunker Hill neighborhood, which in the early 20th century devolved into “an old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town,” a description the authors pull from Raymond Chandler’s 1942 The High Window; the 10-story, fortresslike Erie County Savings Bank in 1965 Buffalo; and a 1981 Detroit church that was displaced by a General Motors factory. The photos capture important public hubs, including New York City’s iron-and-glass Penn Station, built in 1910 and razed in 1963, while also highlighting minor architectural details, including the “lavish” ironwork of the Brooklyn Fox Theater and a hypnotic spiral staircase in the opulent Metropolitan Opera House, where “virtually every great singer” performed until its 1967 destruction. While a dignified beauty suffuses these pages, a looming sense of tragedy is inescapable as well: “a number of these structures were fought for... most slipped away unnoticed.” It’s a bittersweet record that gives worthy due to the spaces that shaped a bygone era. (Nov.)