Sunday evening under the moonrise. 7:10 PM. Photo: JH.
Warm weather weekend. Thursday I had lunch at Michael’s with Susan Gutfreund and Albert Haje, both interior decorators, who had not met before (save a brief howjado years before). I hadn’t planned the meeting but instead had double booked lunch (which I’ve done before). Mrs. Gutfreund, who cut a wide and edit-copy gathering social swath in New York in the 1980s is as actively involved in her interests as ever – although her interests have transferred almost entirely to the decorative arts. Long a student, and now a knowledgeable one, she launched herself in the business about six years ago. This year she’s in the Kips Bay Showhouse which is at 4 East 75 Street and opens with a benefit preview this Wednesday.
Susan’s room at the showhouse was originally the house’s garage (which she pronounces in the British style: gah-ridge – as do I). The garage of course had no windows and not much else to speak for it. To make matters worse, right after she had the paneling installed, one of the pipes sprung a slow unfixable (for the time being) leak. So the solution was to move the wall away from the leak and change the rooms dimensions. Goodbye original proportions, including the center of the room where the chandelier was supposed to hang.
DPC and Susan Gutfreund
DPC with Susan and Albert Haje
We heard about this over lunch, while I listened to two decorators talk about their business, their experiences and What Went Wrong. There could be a couple of volumes of What Went Wrong for decorators. They could be novels, even movies. Comedy.
Nevertheless, they love their business, these two – although Albert is writing a novel right now – and Mrs. Gutfreund’s work will be something to follow. She is a most fascinating woman with a strong curiosity and a tenacious grasp of her objectives especially in the social and decorative arts.
Meanwhile, speaking of related subjects. After lunch I walked a few blocks up Fifth Avenue. It was a beautiful afternoon and there was a lot of activity on the block overlooking the Plaza Hotel, much of which is now being converted into condominiums. On the East Side of the Avenue, there is a large black square constructed on the Plaza of what was originally the General Motors Building. A new Apple Store will open here. And across the street, beyond the fountain, the grand old hotel that has stood there for a century, is going through a transformation.
The hotel was owned for awhile in the 1980s by Donald Trump (who also owned the General Motors Building more recently) , who sold it to an Arab who later sold it to some Israelis who are doing the conversion. It’s been a somewhat controversial transition because people lamented losing the great tradition of a hotel there. Furthermore the prices of the apartments are all in the millions, leading others to think it might become an empty ghost of a building and right in the center of the city.
Walking past the Plaza
However, good news all around. More than half of the new apartments have been sold and occupancy won’t be available until next year. Many buyers are buying more than one apartment and making larger apartments. A 782-square foot one bedroom pied a terre is going for $2.5 million. Buyers are mainly Americans who are multi-residential. That aforementioned one bedroom gives the guy from Oklahoma a little piece of the historic Plaza, all his own and always there when he wants it.
Meanwhile, the Israelis are said to have sold the hotel part of the building back to the Arab who will open the newly renovated Plaza. Aside from the astounding success of the new venture, there is another more important, more trenchant reality here: Arabs and Israelis working together, tolerating each other enough to be neighbors. This is why New York is living proof that it is possible for all of us to live together on this planet. Of course we need the circumstances – Central Park, the Plaza, SoHo, Harlem, the Upper West Side, the Upper East, Chelsea, the East Village, Wall Street, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Prospect Park, Queens and Morningside Heights, and all you New Yorkers out there who are just trying to get through the day so you can enjoy a little bit of the city (or the country) for yourself.
When I was a kid — six, seven, eight — one of the traditions of American life was the Sunday dinner, which was a lunchtime meal, where you wore your Sunday best and sat down with the family for the big meal of the day. Afterwards many families went “out for a walk,” or the Sunday ride. That usually began in Sunday mid-afternoon. For this kid, it was the only time during the week that I rode in a car. Cars were by no means rare but children, as well as most adults, in small towns got around on foot, on bicycle or the bus. That included trips to the store for our mothers or fathers.
My father, who had been a chauffeur in Manhattan when he was a young man, loved cars, and because he had the opportunity to drive them, he loved the top of the line. As a much older man he continued to revel in the memories of driving Black Jack Bouvier’s Stutz Bearcat (with Bouvier aboard) 90 mph on the highway out to East Hampton. I reveled along with him and continue to this moment to retain a very clear memory of that trip (that occurred about two decades before I was born).
A selection of vintage and new Bentleys from the opening night of the 2006 Auto Show.
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Cars were beautiful. During the Second World War, the automotive industry stopped manufacturing cars altogether (in order to produce arms and materiel). During that same time America was reaching full employment and there was money around to buy cars but the supply was limited. The romance of the car began with that longing. When the War was over the American automotive industry moved into high gear.
At that age, those Sunday rides to visit the relatives were occupied by counting the number of each different car and models. I knew them all by sight, including the year, as well as the companies that manufactured them. Many models that were charismatic for this kid are now forgotten: The Kaiser, the Fraser, the Hudson, the Nash, the Rambler (and the tiny two-seater Metropolitan), the Studebaker Champion and it’s higher end sister the Studebaker Commander, the DeSoto, the Chrysler Imperial, the Lincoln Continental (with the press-button doors), the Packard (“Ask the Man Who Owns One”), to name only a few of the models that were still in the national parlance.
This child’s romance with the automobile was commonplace among boys. American cars were the entire object of our affections. During the 1950s the marketing of the car took on a different meaning. I remember when Henry Ford II announced the making of the 10 millionth car. All of this was more than impressive. Foreign cars were still rarities and even disregarded as not as good as American cars. We had become, after all, a powerful nation of can-do. German cars still had the residual stigma of Hitler’s Germany. The Volkswagen didn’t start to interest motorists until the late 1950s and even then, it was considered a car for a teenager or a (low wage earning) teacher. You could buy a brand new Beetle for $1600. And if you took care of it, you could still have it forty years later.
Jamie Niven auctioning off the Bentley convertible
All of this recollection about cars was provoked by my brief visit last week to the Javits Center where the Automobile Show is going on. I lost that childhood interest and enthusiasm in cars a long long time ago for reasons I cannot explain other than I rarely could afford a good car and so it was just not a priority passion. However, going to the Automobile Show on Thursday night (to attend the benefit dinner for the East Side House Settlement), I was reminded once again of that old and wonderful romance. The cars, oh the cars, oh the dreams, still dreaming.
Bentley was very prominent when you entered. I took some pictures of various years of the Bentley. And wouldn’t I like to be sitting behind the wheel of any one of the models and wouldn’t I be just like some romantic figure from the novels or the movies? And wouldn’t I be cool? All that comes back, immediately.
At the dinner Jamie Niven of Sotheby’s auctioned off a new Bentley convertible with proceeds going to the East Side House Settlement. It’s a kind of Bentley roadster convertible, and the kid in me would have known exactly what the model is, but the man doesn’t have the foggiest. Except it was beautiful, really beautiful. The value of the car, according to Jamie Niven, was about $200,000. This was only a model: the first had not yet come off the assembly line and won’t be available until September, at which time it will be the only Bentley of its kind in New York for three months.
Niven started the bidding at $100,000 and it was slow going for a couple of minutes. Then it started to pick up, at which Felicia Taylor, who was sitting next to me, “it’s going to go for $350,000.” Soon after it hit 300, then 310, then 320 ... 330 ... 340 ... where it sold.
The Javits Center is gargantuan enormous. It’s blocks-long and several stories high. After the dinner I excused myself and went for a brief tour of the automobile exhibition. The boy in me looks at everything far too practically to lend much time to the dreams of these sleek creations. The man in me also thinks of the Smartcar which you see all over Europe, and thinks of the price of oil which if the experts (who some think of as skeptics) are to be believed, is going higher and higher. So instead I saw what I did not see: solutions to accumulating problems in our society today.
I realize that many will regard that last sentence as mere pessimism. I regard it as mere common sense. Nevertheless, the trip to the Javits Center is worth ... the trip. New York City has a different skyline for this Upper East Side boy down there on 11th Avenue in the 20s and 30s, and every bit as exciting. And, because it’s fresh to the eye, exhilarating.
Amy Fine Collins and Alex Hitz
Robert Rufino and Mish Tworkowski
Joanne and Roberto de Guardiola talking to Roger Altman