|ARTS AND SPORTS CENTER OPENING IN LANDMARK
The plant had been abandoned. Twelve years ago, Dr. George E. Murphy fought city officials to prevent its destruction. Today, city officials will help celebrate its preservation.
In 1972, developers and city officials agreed that the city's abandoned Municipal Asphalt Plant at York Avenue and 90th Street would make a nice site for three apartment towers overlooking the East River. Dr. Murphy, a local resident, and his wife, Annette, thought it would make a nice arts and athletics center.
Mayor Koch, Council President Carol Bellamy and other city officials will gather this morning under the landmark building's parabolic arches to inaugurate the George and Annette Murphy Arts and Sports Center.
''We fought City Hall 12 years ago, and now we are working together,'' said Dr. Murphy, a professor at Cornell University Medical College.
Instead of housing for 4,500 people in towers rising 45 stories, the 4 1/2- acre lot adjoining the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive now contains a playing field and a five-level community center with a (94-100)-seat theater, a photography darkroom, an arts studio, a running track, a weight room, locker rooms, a volleyball-basketball court and a gymnasium with space for classes in modern dance, aerobics, gymnastics, tumbling, wrestling, judo and karate.
Owned by the city, the center is to be run by Dr. Murphy's citizen group, Asphalt Green Inc. It will be open to all who pay for classes or pay membership fees, which range from $20 to $300, depending on age and family size.
Dr. Murphy is confident the old asphalt plant will quickly come to life. The playing field is used by about 150 school teams and community groups and most of the grass is worn bare. Next spring, artificial turf will be installed.
''This is the only field we can get in Manhattan,'' said Mario Quintanilla, the soccer coach at St. Agnes School on East 44th Street.
The architect for the building, Robert A. Jacobs, who is now retired, recalled in an interview yesterday what had inspired him to design the arch-shaped building, which when completed in 1944 became a conversation piece for millions of motorists driving the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.
''When I was a kid working in Paris,'' he said, ''I used to bike past the aerodromes for dirigibles at Orly Airport. It was the first use I had seen of the parabola.''
Robert Moses, then the City Parks Commissioner, criticized the building as ''the most hideous waterfront structure ever inflicted on a city by a combination of architectural conceit and official bad taste.'' He called it the ''Cathedral of Asphalt.''
In rebuttal, a jury at the Museum of Modern Art hailed ''the bold semi-ellipse'' and selected it as one of the 10 best-designed structures built in America between 1932 and 1944.
But city officials tended to share Mr. Moses' appraisal. After the plant stopped producing asphalt for New York's streets in 1968, a wrecking ball flattened all the surrounding buildings. The ball hit the reinforced-concrete structure with little effect.
The sight of the structure, shaped like half barrel, sitting alone on the empty lot led Dr. Murphy into a decade of activism.
Forming a group of Yorkville residents, Dr. Murphy lobbied skeptical city officials. First, the asphalt-covered site was bulldozed for a temporary playing field.
In 1976, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission declared the Cathedral of Asphalt a landmark. In 1980, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Finally, after several years of private financing, the center received about $2 million from the city, or almost two-thirds of the renovation cost.
''We greened the asphalt,'' Dr. Murphy said.
New York Times Article - October 24th, 1984