Bill Cunningham was a New York fashion industry institution and his devotees are trying to pay him a proper tribute.
As of this morning more than 4,500 have signed a Change.org petition asking New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to name a corner at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue in honor of the lensman, who died Saturday at the age of 87. An acquaintance of Cunningham’s for 35 years, Nick Nicholson said he started the campaign Sunday night, triggered by his emotional response to Cunningham’s death. Rather than go the Community Board route, which another group of Cunningham’s fans initiated more than three years ago, Nicholson opted to go straight to City Hall since the mayor could speed things along with his signature.
Designated a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2009, Cunningham spent more than a half century documenting the people on the streets of New York. Nicholson wants to have that corner where he captured myriad passersby going about their daily lives. “It is the least we can do for Bill. He gave the city so much,” Nicholson said Monday. “Many of my European friends called to say, ‘He gave us a look of New York every week.’ Bill was such a champion of New York. We really have to do something for him.”
Petitioners may have an easy sell in light of a de Blasio tweet on Saturday: “We will remember Bill’s blue jacket and bicycle. But most of all we will remember the vivid, vivacious New York he captured in his photos.” And the Mayor’s Office also tweeted from its account that day, “Today we lost a Living Landmark, not that he ever stood still. Let’s all be more fabulous in Bill’s memory.”
As a young man on the debutante ball circuit in the Eighties, Nicholson became familiar with Cunningham as an eagle-eyed photographer. Over the years, Cunningham was often armed and willing to shoot charity events whether that be the Merchant’s House Museum, the Russian Nobility Ball or the Lambda Literary Awards for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books, Nicholson said.
The idea to name a corner of 57th and Fifth for Cunningham was suggested more than three-and-a-half years to the Mayor’s office, and Community Board 5 representatives were approached earlier this month. Sharon Hurowitz, a member of FIT’s Couture Council, has been among those leading that charge. Wally Rubin, district manager of Community Board 5, said he had no recollection of such a suggestion and noted there has been a moratorium on street namings in the district for more than eight years. “If we approved all of the many very worthy names, our district would be unintelligible.” he said, emphasizing that that too much signage is confusing to tourists and drivers.
While the City Council could potentially override a Community 5 Board decision, they “tend not to do that.” Rubin said. Another option to street renamings is proposing a plaque in a person’s honor at a particular location, he added.
Designer Jeffrey Banks is also looking into another potential tribute – having a sculpture commissioned of a camera-wielding Cunningham on his bicycle that would be placed near his favorite 57th Street stakeout. That location was truly a second home to Cunningham, but for decades he also lived nearby in a studio apartment of Carnegie Hall. Isadora Duncan, Agnes de Mille, Marlon Brando and Leonard Bernstein were also residents at one time. The sculptor and artist Mark Beard, whose portfolio includes work for Thierry Despont and Abercrombie & Fitch is at the top of the Banks’ team’s wish list.
According to a spokeswoman from The Times, Cunningham’s funeral will be private and by invitation only. Cunningham’s family specifically requested no flowers. Condolences may be sent to his family via the following address: The New York Times c/o Anne Reid, 4th floor, Photo Desk, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018.