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New Buildings to Carry Morse Code Tribute to Woody Allen's 'Manhattan'

By Leslie Albrecht | October 24, 2011 6:41am | Updated on October 24, 2011 7:31am
Woody Allen at the Cannes film festival in 2011.
Woody Allen at the Cannes film festival in 2011.
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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

UPPER WEST SIDE — If these walls could talk, they'd speak Woody Allen.

Two buildings slated to be built in Riverside Park South will carry a hidden homage to the famed cinema auteur. Aluminum sheeting on the structures will display the opening lines of Allen's 1979 movie "Manhattan" — in Morse code.

The mesh-like aluminum walls, to be used as shade-providing overhangs, will be marked with the dots and dashes that represent letters of the alphabet. The pattern will spell out lines from the opening scene of "Manhattan," in which the movie's main character, a writer played by Allen, is heard talking to himself as he attempts to write the first chapter of a book about his love of New York.

Allen's voice can be heard saying, "He adored New York City, he idolized it all out of porportion. Uh no, make that, he romanticized it all out of porportion. Much better," as George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" plays over a black and white montage of Manhattan sites.

A small building proposed for Riverside Park South will have an aluminum sheeting overhang marked with Morse code style patterns that spell out lines from Woody Allen's
A small building proposed for Riverside Park South will have an aluminum sheeting overhang marked with Morse code style patterns that spell out lines from Woody Allen's "Manhattan."
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Parks Department

"It's describing someone's love of Manhattan," said architect Peter Coombe, whose firm Sage & Coombe designed the two structures. "It gives the building another life. It gives it a richer sensibility. It's something more than just a screen."

The two Morse code-laden structures will be part of a new section of Riverside Park South scheduled to be built roughly a year from now, a Parks Department official said at a recent Community Board 7 meeting where plans for the new park area were unveiled.

The new section, whose final design still needs approval by various city agencies, will be constructed between West 67th and 65th streets, along Riverside Boulevard. Preliminary plans call for playgrounds for older and younger children, open lawns, dog runs and plaza areas with seating.

The two buidings with the aluminum sheeting overhangs will be in a plaza at West 66th Street. One of the small structures will house bathrooms, a Parks Department office and a food stand.

The architects came up with the idea of putting a secret message on the building after the Parks Department asked them to create overhangs that kids wouldn't be able to climb on. The building designers found aluminum sheeting that accomplished that goal, but to them, it looked "generic," Coombe said.

The dot and dash mesh patterns on the sheeting looked like Morse code, and so Coombe and his colleagues decided to have some fun.  But Woody Allen wasn't the first writer Coombe and his colleagues considered.

At first they wanted to find a work that referenced New York's waterfront, because Riverside Park South overlooks the Hudson River, Coombe said. They sifted through Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," which opens in Manhattan, but couldn't find anything they liked.

Next they pored through Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," and a collection of poetry about New York, but came up empty-handed.

Eventually, the team settled on Allen's "Manhattan" monologue, because of its loving tone toward the city, Coombe said. The scene ends with a splash of fireworks exploding over the Manhattan skyline.

Translating the text from letters to Morse code dots and dashes was a painstaking manual process that involved hand-drawing the dots and dashes with AutoCAD design software, said Sage & Coombe architect William Bryant. Those dots and dashes will be cut into the aluminum sheeting with a laser.

Coombe said putting a reference to "Manhattan" on the buildings seemed to make sense because they sit at the end of West 66th Street, which also runs through Central Park to the East Side.

"I associate the movie 'Manhattan' with both the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side," Coombe said. "It seems like it's that latitude, as opposed to an outer borough movie."