Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

Blog and project archive about transdisciplinary design, media theory and creative coding

General Patton Memorial Museum

Comments Off on General Patton Memorial Museum

General Patton Memorial Museum
62-510 Chiriaco Road, Chiriaco Summit, California 92201

“A Military History Museum
With Exhibits from World War I through the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars
And our Tank Yard with Armored Vehicles from World War II through Vietnam”

In spite of the above self-description written by the museum itself, I felt that the General Patton Memorial Museum, and especially the “Ed Hastey Military Vehicle Park” next to it, has some elements embodying the basic principle of the “Museum of the Future” as I conceive it. No longer composed of exhibits bringing the “there” and “then” to the “here” and “now” (the information presentation structure developed in the mid-20th century by the Museum of Natural History in New York and re-used by every museum in the world for nearly all exhibits nearly without exception up to this very moment today) where information is presented on the model of an “other” that is seen or displayed to me the subject of the gaze and of knowing – a spectacle of knowledge – but rather a true immersion where the subject is destabilized and the “objects” of knowledge are brought to life via an interface which is artistically authored from within the groundswell of the objects’ very own experiences.

My father Murray Shapiro was the son of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine who owned a grocery store in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Eleanor Roosevelt was a regular customer in my grandfather’s store, as was later the wife of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball legend Pee Wee Reese. Murray enlisted at age seventeen in the U.S. Army. He served as Private First Class and an anti-tank specialist with the First Infantry Division. He fought the “Battle of the Bulge” (die Ardennenoffensive, la Bataille des Ardennes) in Belgium. Murray was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. After six months in combat, a shell exploded a few feet from his head. He was thrown violently to the ground from his gunner’s position and cracked his skull. After several days of unconsciousness, Murray woke up in the hospital, partly deaf with ringing in his ears for life. “We didn’t sleep day or night,” he told me. “We slept whenever we could, in fits and starts. We took turns. We were hungry, cold and tired all of the time.”

The American men and women who risked their lives in World War II fulfilled their fundamental moral duty; they fought an enemy whose “evil” was an unambiguous given. Courage and personal sacrifice were the routine conduct of this “band of brothers.”

The survivors came home to a postwar America of unprecedented prosperity and economic opportunity. In the 1950s and 1960s the collective project of making the American dream a reality unfolded in classic form. Thanks to the 1944 “GI Bill of Rights,” affordable higher education and loans for new home construction were readily accessible to returning veterans. Murray Shapiro earned a degree in civil engineering from The City College of New York. Like his mentor James Ruderman, Murray also had a keen academic interest in structural engineering. He pursued his graduate studies at Columbia University.

Murray Shapiro was a great engineer. Others – like Jack Rudin and Howie Zweig – can speak about his skills and accomplishments with knowledge infinitely greater than mine.

Howie Zweig is a retired principal of my father’s consulting engineering firm, the Office of James Ruderman. Murray was Howie’s mentor and close friend.

I will only say on this subject that I love and have always loved the Pan Am Building. In the absence of the World Trade Center, the Pan Am Building takes on even greater significance.

In the early 1960s, my father engineered the structural integrity and worked out the painstaking safety logistics of the monumental Pan Am Building (now the Met Life Building, recently sold again), constructed over the north shed of Grand Central Terminal and atop an eight-story base of granite. Completed in 1963, the skyscraper owned initially by America’s foremost international airlines is the largest commercial office building in the world — nearly four hundred thousand square meters of rentable space. Eclipsed in size later only by the World Trade Center, the vertical structure clad on the outside with concrete panels “towers over the middle of Manhattan.” See Clausen, Meredith L., The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004). Professor Clausen conducted an extensive interview for her book with my father Murray Shapiro.

The Office of James Ruderman, Consulting Engineers was founded in 1927, following a working stay of several years by Mr. Ruderman in post-Revolutionary Moscow.

In the 1950s, on the outskirts of New York City, agricultural tracts were converted to housing developments. In my earliest memory, my mother, Florence Morrison Shapiro, is buying fresh corn at the farm that was a few minutes’ walk from our newly erected split-level house. We moved to our suburban community in 1958 when I was two years old and my brother Fred was four. Summer was my favorite time of year. Fred and I inherited our love of baseball from our Dad, and Fred passed on this passion to his two sons, Andy and James. Murray remembered many details of the first game he ever attended at Ebbets Field — in 1937 at age twelve. The great Carl Hubbell pitching for the Giants. Van Lingle Mungo on the mound for the Dodgers, the high-kicking righthanded desperado fireballer. Two and two, what’ll he do? Buy a Goldberg’s Peanut Chew.

For thirty-five years, my father commuted five or six days a week – by bus and subway, later by car – between Long Island and midtown Manhattan. He knew all the secret shortcuts to avoid traffic. While I was in high school, I worked two summers at the Office of James Ruderman and sat in the passenger seat of the car twice a day for an hour while he drove. Take the Grand Central Parkway past the World’s Fair Grounds and LaGuardia Airport to just before the Triborough Bridge. Turn left under the el and cut through backstreets and “Sneaker City” – where teenagers had thrown dozens of pairs of sneakers tied together with laces over telephone wires – down to the 59th Street Bridge. Along the way, you could save three minutes by hotrodding it through the exit and re-entry ramps of a service station while the car on your left stood still.

My father sometimes worked sixty-four hours a week and I saw him on Friday evenings and on Sundays. He sat with me on a pew-like lacquered wooden bench in the temple at Shabbat services. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote about the deeply meaningful communication between I and Thou – sometimes in silence, without words – and this deep contact is what I experienced in synagogue and all my life with my father. He taught me to ride a bicycle. I remember vividly the moment he let go. We played catch together. We flew kites. He taught me about stamp collecting. We climbed bedrock in Central Park. My Dad did all kinds of stuff with Fred and me on Sundays, while my Mom exhibited her paintings in the Washington Square outdoor art show. He took us to the Museum of Natural History and to the movies. We saw Robinson Crusoe on Mars, the first science fiction film I loved. We saw PT-109. I would say the Kennedys were our symbolic hope. I met Senator Robert Kennedy on Sonny Fox’s Wonderama show when I was eight. We had a serious discussion about civil rights and the nature of leadership. During my last conversation with my father, when he was still fully alert, I told him that Bobby Kennedy was my childhood hero. “As well he should have been,” Murray replied with calm emotion and great grammatical precision. Bobby should have been President.

My most cherished memories of my father are the times I spent with him at countless Mets games at Shea Stadium, at the Jets, Giants, Yankees, Knicks, and Rangers games we went to in the 1960s, and on the golf course at the Glen Head Country Club. Golf started for us when I was a kid with Pitch N’ Putt at Jones Beach, then 9 holes at Christopher Morley State Park, and 18 holes at Eisenhower Park. Recently we played many rounds at Van Cortlandt Park. Sitting with my father in the loge reserved seats at Shea or in our golf cart at Glen Head, I experienced exactly Martin Buber’s privileged dialogue of I and Thou. Indirectly, Murray recounted to me during those many sessions the story of his life.

What was the fundamental lesson that my father transmitted to me? What was the wisdom of the Jewish philosopher Murray Shapiro? I claim for my father the noble title of philosopher, because at the core of his being was his sense of deep moral responsibility. Within my father’s soul, there was a powerful sense of the sacred. Some men start and justify wars by saying that God has spoken to them. But as Judaism teaches, one does not write the name of God, meaning that one does not speak of the sacred directly. One speaks of what is sacred or holy indirectly through one’s deeds. Murray kept that which was sacred to him a secret. He never said it in any catch phrase or sound bite. But if one listened carefully – and I will always try to listen more carefully in my memories of him – there was much that was sacred to Murray. The Brooklyn Dodgers were symbolic of something profoundly sacred. Providing for your family and helping others who are in need were sacred responsibilities for Murray. My father financially supported many family members – including myself – when they were in a crisis or without income.

Murray had a keen sense of play and a great wit. Work for him was play. “Enjoy life and give yourself things to look forward to,” he often told me. Murray’s vintage New York humor was a big part of his humanity. Groucho Marx was his favorite: “My name is Captain Spalding, the African explorer, did someone call me schnorrer? Hooray, hooray, hooray.”

Florence, my wife of 23 years Helga Augustin (now my ex-wife), and I share a beautiful memory of Murray’s 80th birthday. It was a warm and dry summer’s day, July 5th, 2005. The four of us drove downtown and took a walk on the West Side promenade. We drove in light traffic over to the Lower East Side. Visiting from Germany, I went into the St. Mark’s Bookshop and was delighted to discover that they had sold ten copies of my media studies book on Star Trek and wanted to order five more. We ate dinner in Katz’s Delicatessen. Katz’s had not changed a bit since we went there many times as a family during my childhood. They gave us a special table in the back. The owner was sitting at the table next to us. Our waiter told fascinating anecdotes of the restaurant’s history. The portions were huge and delicious. Murray told a story of his Bar Mitzvah in 1938. His father picked up the food for the Bar Mitzvah party at Katz’s Delicatessen. Murray Shapiro was a great New Yorker.

What the heck, when all is said and done Murray and I had a lot of fun together. And here’s the surprise: there’s more fun ahead. Whenever I’m having fun – or playing at work – I know that my Dad will be standing next to me, rooting me on. Murray would like us to enjoy and celebrate life.

Comments are closed.