I contemplated correcting a few Wikipedia errors again tonight, and went looking for sources to cite. In the course of this, I came across a page with an article titled Popcorn in the Bauhaus: The Unlikely Relationship Between Hollywood and Architecture which appears in the on-line archive of Blueprints Magazine, which is published by the National Building Museum. The museum's history page informs us that it is a private, non-profit institution, created by an act of Congress in 1980. It occupies an impressive renovated Victorian building in Washington D.C. which once housed the Pension Bureau. While I'm pleased that this laudable institution exists, the article I mentioned above turned out to be about as impressive as the error-filled pieces characteristic of Wikipedia.
For one thing, the name of the author apparently appears on the page three times (one of them is a photo credit, and I'm only assuming that it is the same person who wrote the article.) The problem is (and this is why I can't be sure that the photo credit refers to the author) that the authors surname is given three different spellings. At the top of the page, she is Julie Dercie. At the bottom, a brief biographical note names her Julie Derde. The photo credit is given to one Julie Dercle. This is a publication of a large institution dedicated to providing information to the public, and they can't even provide consistent spelling of the name of one of the magazine's contributors! Well, maybe the web version was just typed out by an intern or an uninterested, low-wage clerk. Maybe they got it right in the print version. But, still.
Reading the article reveals worse problems. The author (whatever her real name) is said to be a doctoral candidate at Berkeley, so she must have a masters degree already. The biographical note doesn't say what her degree is in, but I can say for sure that it isn't in accuracy. (If it's in writing, I tremble. Better prose can easily be found with the LiveJournal random button.) One would expect an article in a magazine published by an institution such as the National Building Museum to contain accurate information. Behold this egregious error:
" Universal City, as it was dedicated in March 1915, was even a municipality in its own right with its own Town Hall, post office, police and fire departments, hospital, restaurant, garages, and zoo. Today, it is the largest studio in the world -- and one of Southern California's most popular tourist attractions -- with 34 soundstages and other buildings covering 420 acres, a population at times around 6,000, and still an incorporated city."It would be extraordinarily easy to confirm the legal status of Universal City, were it in fact an incorporated city. It is only slightly more trouble to confirm that it is not an incorporated city. Even Wikipedia gets this right!
While the remainder of the article doesn't have any errors of fact quite so glaring (as far as I know-- there might be some I've just not spotted because I lack sufficient familiarity with the subject-- it does give me the impression of being about a place I've never seen. As I spent most of my life in Los Angeles, I'd say that's a bad sign. Statement after statement rings false. It reads more like an piece of opinionated op-ed fluff than a semi-scholarly article of the sort one would expect in a museum's official publication. There is one statement I'll point out, because I found a bit of amusing unintentional irony in it. Discussing the influence of movie design on architecture, she says;
" If the gigantic interior of John Portman's San Francisco Hyatt Regency looks familiar, it is because we have seen it before as the city of "Everytown in the Year 2036," William Cameron Menzies set for his 1936 Things To Come."I'd say that if the Hyatt Regency looks familiar to people who actually know something about the history of American architecture, it's because the giant atrium was a common feature of 19th century buildings. Here is the caption of a photo (from the museum's own history page) of the atrium of the National Building Museum, designed in 1881 and completed in 1883:
"The Great Hall is 316 feet by 116 feet,Well, perhaps the designer of this Hyatt-Regency-like space, civil engineer and U.S. Army General Montgomery C. Meigs, had a time machine and visited 1936 and saw Menzies futuristic movie, then returned to 1881 to design his version of it.
and 159 feet tall(approximately 15 stories) at its highest point. The Corinthian columns are among the tallest in the world at 75 feet high, 8 feet in diameter, 25 feet in circumference, each built of 70, 000 bricks"
Of course, all this sloppiness in this context is just trivial crap. Julie Dercie/Derde/Dercle isn't doing anything crucial to anyone's survival, such as running FEMA. George is President, for crap's sake! If sloppy people get university degrees and then publish sloppy pap in magazines with minimal circulation, it's hardly that sort of disaster. But, damn, why is there so much of this going on? WTF happened to scholarship? Maybe I'm misremembering, but it seems to me that thirty years ago stuff this sloppy couldn't get published in any magazine with pretensions to any degree of sophistication beyond that displayed by T.V. Guide. Well, maybe in Esquire, but nobody with a brain ever took that magazine's pretensions to sophistication seriously. Now I come across crap such as this all the time. Did everybody take stupid pills? If so, why didn't I get mine? If I were stupid, this intellectual offal probably wouldn't bother me. I want my stupid pills, dammit!
Crap. Rants wear me out. And they keep me up too late. I blame whatsername.