Magazine article The New Yorker

END TIMES; Saved; Saved

Magazine article The New Yorker

END TIMES; Saved; Saved

Article excerpt

A walk last week through the denuded ex-headquarters of the Times, on West Forty-third Street, was kind of spooky for a citizen already in an apocalyptic frame of mind. The paper's empty offices, mid-gutting, suggested the twin desolations of war and obsolescence. But in the eyes of the "architecturologist" Kevin Browne, who searches modern ruins for loot, these wastes were full of possibility. Browne had come to the Times Building from another scavenge job (the old Queens County Courthouse--spectacular terra cotta) to look in on some of the spoils he'd been coveting since the Times decamped to Eighth Avenue, last month.

Browne, fifty, is the president of a salvage operation called Olde Good Things, which has showrooms in Chelsea, Chicago, Los Angeles, Florida, and Scranton, Pennsylvania. Olde Good Things is owned by the Church of Bible Understanding, a sect founded by a former vacuum-cleaner salesman. For a couple of decades, the church ran a cut-rate carpet-cleaning business that employed teen-age runaways. About a dozen years ago, Browne steered the church into the junk game. "It was totally Jesus leading us," he explained. In the Lord's name, he has salvaged artifacts from demolitions and renovation jobs all over town: the Plaza, Alice Tully Hall, the Morgan Library. The Times had already consigned most of its valuable stuff to be sold at auction. Now Browne had a shot at whatever leftovers he could find.

In the front lobby, Browne, a man with a Tommy Chong beard and a loping stride, put on a hard hat and led the way up some stairs to a vast newsroom. "You see anything you like, you can have it," he said. There wasn't much to like, just drifts of paper and trash: computer disks, laser printouts of war photographs, a sci-fi paperback ("Earth: Final Conflict--The Arrival"), a lei. Browne spoke into a walkie-talkie. "Junior, those glass doors to the newsroom that said 'New York Times'--they gone?" Junior assured him that they were not. "If it says 'New York Times' on it, it has value," Browne said.

On a wall by an elevator bank were spray-painted symbols, reminiscent of those in post-Katrina New Orleans: code for what could go and what should be left behind. Browne tapped a wall of what looked to be marble and explained that it was merely a travertine facade. Leave it. "We only take the original stuff," he said.

In the elevator, Browne began to explain the tenets of his church. "Science makes idiots out of Christians," he said, enigmatically, and the elevator stalled. But before panic, or further elucidation, could set in, the elevator resumed its climb to the fourteenth floor, where the doors opened onto a sombre lobby of salvageable marble. …

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