|Looking over the rooftops of the Frick Collection at Fifth Avenue and 71st Street, from its Art Reference Library toward the luxury apartment buldings of Central Park West. 3:30 pm.|
|August 24, 2010. Overcast and damp, yesterday in New York. Cool, with an occasional breeze to add to that. And beautiful, with the grey light that turned the green luminescent.
JH and I were over at the Frick Collection yesterday afternoon, working on a piece. The museum is closed on Mondays and so it was especially quiet. We also had the privilege of visiting for the first time the terrace of the Frick’s Reference Library which overlooks Central Park and Central Park West.
The Frick is a source of many interests aside from its great art collection and its art reference library which is one of the greatest in the world. It was conceived and constructed with great care by the man and then his daughter, Helen Clay Frick, who carried out his vision for close to three quarters of a century after he died. The result of this was a great treasure for New York, the world, and any and all who visit this institution. Each time we visit and have greater exposure to the Frick Collection, I find myself more enthralled not only by its collection but by its place in the history of the city. But this is for a later posting.
|The view looking across 70th Street to the top of 2 East 70th, a Rosario Candela building. The penthouse was once home to the legendary Joan Crawford.|
|Looking at New York. This view from the terrace above the museum was rapturous yesterday afternoon. Central Park West, the western sister of Fifth Avenue has always had a decidedly different demographic and a great attraction in the 20th century for the stars, directors, composers and producers of theatre and movies. It is to Broadway and Hollywood what Wall Street is to Fifth Avenue. In the past quarter century it has also become a hipper version uptown of new wealth and fame in New York.
First seeing it from this view yesterday, I was taken by the distant sight of The Dakota, on the right, three buildings in from the twin spires of the San Remo (far right). The first West Side luxury apartment building (1884) – with which I am not familiar (having visited only two or three times) – always reminds me of Mia Farrow and “Rosemary’s Baby.” I know that sounds gruesome but for some reason its vibe is exotic to this New Yorker, with its own special charm.
The San Remo, two blocks up the avenue, was built almost fifty years after the Dakota, on the block between 74th and 75th, and completed just as the Great Depression was starting. It didn’t help business, that’s for sure. But time eventually healed those wounds and today its history of residents is celebrity-studded. Such as: Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Glenn Close, Dustin Hoffman, Bono, Eddie Cantor (remember him?), Dodi Al Fayed (yes, him), Hedy Lamarr and the great Rita Hayworth, who spent her last years here. My friend Patsy Tarr, the great New York philanthropist of dance, grew up there and has lived there all her life.
Across the street from, to the left of The Dakota are the twin towers of The Majestic, also completed at the same time as the San Remo (built in the early 1930s by Irvin Chanin), and covering the block between 71st and 72nd. It was once home to composer Gustav Mahler, playwright Edna Ferber (“Showboat”), Walter Winchell and Conan O’Brien. It’s also been the nesting place of some of the Lucky Luciano crime family (which later became the Genovese crime family), including the legendary Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello who was once shot at in the lobby in a failed assassination attempt by Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. Also Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, another mobster known as the head of Murder, Incorporated.
|Irwin S. Chanin (left), and his brother, Henry I. Chanin (right) are shown driving in the last rivet in the steel framework of Mid-Manhattan's highest structure. IMAGE: © Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS.|
|Far to the left of the photo, two in from the dark glass Trump Tower (with one of the Time-Warner towers looming behind it), is the double towers of the Century Apartments, also built by Irving Chanin, and also completed in 1931. Among its famous residents have been Ethel Merman, Ray Bolger, Robert Goulet, Faye Wray.
Irvin Chanin was a very active and important real estate developer in Manhattan during the boom times of the 1920s. He had several major projects going at the same time. After the onset of the Great Depression, the real estate market in New York crashed also, and so did Mr. Chanin’s income. According to Christopher Gray in the New York Times, by 1934, Chanin’s only income was $500 a week from his management company.
The limestone tower between The Century and the Trump Tower is the avenue’s brand new jewel in the crown, Central Park West’s answer to 834 Fifth Avenue, Robert A.M. Stern’s 15 Central Park West. Brand new, completed four years ago, its roster of rich and/or famous residents including Sting, Norman Lear, Denzel Washington, Madonna, Lloyd Blankfein, Sandy Weill and Alex Rodriguez. New York, New York.
That said, this month’s editor’s letter in Quest at first presented a specific problem: how do you write something new about a subject that’s occurred more than a dozen times in the same magazine – namely the List. Solution: I looked in the table of contents and found something almost entirely unrelated. Coincidentally, it fit perfectly with the photograph JH took today from the terrace of the Frick Library ...
New York, New York; it’s a wonderful town
The Bronx is up and the Bowery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the ground.
New York, New York….it’s a wonderful town.
Lyric by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Someone told me recently that there are no statues of women in Central Park. In this month’s Quest Doug Dechert and Alex Boyle tour the Park’s statues. Perusing it, you will learn that what I was told is not true, technically speaking. There are several statues involving females. There’s Lewis Carroll’s “Alice,” perhaps the most famous of the Park’s statues, especially with children.
But as far as a likeness of an actual female human being of then or now, it would seem that none has been graced in memory with a statue in Central Park. There is a campaign, however below the radar that it might be, to get a statue of Lena Horne. An excellent idea when you think of it. But I can think of many other New York-centric individuals who’ve come before who might make a very good statue in Central Park.
There’s Emma Lazarus, for example, and Caroline Astor – two women of another age who had a profound, albeit opposing, effect on the city, and whose mark continues to be subconsciously shared today. Then how about Amelia Earhart? Or Marian Anderson? Or even Florence Nightingale? Or Texas Guinan? Or Madame C.J. Walker? Talk about influence. Or the recently departed Judy Peabody and her “sisters” – real life angels who’ve ministered to those stricken with AIDS. Or Gael Greene who with James Beard started CityMeals-on-Wheels and fed millions of those of us who are/were infirm and shut-ins. Or Liz Smith, who’s raised millions for the city, for its citizens, and for its literacy? Or Evelyn Lauder? What about Martha Stewart, or Barbara Walters? Or Oprah, Or, if you’ll pardon my temerity, Hillary Clinton?
|I know, I know; you think I’m starting to lose it but I’m not kidding. I’ve mentioned only a handful of women – mainly contemporary – who have had an enormous influence on the city, its citizens and its attraction. Why not a statue of those stars who lighted up Broadway and the hearts of millions – a chorus of them – Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Katharine Cornell, Fannie Brice, Geraldine Page, Pearl Bailey Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, Margo Channing (whoops ... sorry). Seriously.
There are, it turns out quite a few statues of real men. There’s Alexander Hamilton (who’s probably turning over in his grave considering what’s going on with our banking system and securities markets these days). And Daniel Webster (Caroline Astor’s middle birth name was Webster, named after Daniel himself); And Arthur Brisbane (what, you’ve never heard of Arthur Brisbane?), and Giuseppe Mazzini (well, at least I’ve heard of Arthur Brisbane), and John Purroy Mitchel. No? Never heard of him? Ever heard of Michael Bloomberg? Mr. Mitchel preceded him (by nearly a century) as Mayor of New York.
|Then there’s Beethoven, (who never even came here although his music has remained a staple companion) and Victor Herbert (a prolific composer of the early 20th century – “Babes In Toyland,” “Naughty Marietta”), and the Duke – Duke Ellington – a most recent and long overdue – if you think that was easy! – memorial thanks to the late Bobby Short and his merry band of supporters. Among the men there are also liberators King Jagiello. No? Drawing a blank? How about Jose de San Martin? No, never heard of him either? At least you’ve heard of Hillary! How about Jose Marti? No? Grandfather of Cesar Romero. (Never heard of him also? Movie star of the mid-20th century.) Jose Marti was the great liberator of Cuba, well ahead of old Fidel, in more ways than one as history now demonstrates; alas, alack and all that. Talk about someone turning in his grave.
|Jose Marti.||Arthur Brisbane.|
|King Jagiello.||William Shakespeare.|
|The question begs, how did it happen that all the women statues in Central Park are myths and all the men are not mice but heroes? Could it be that that is how we still see ourselves? Let’s go for Lena and blaze a new path to reality. I think Barbara’s a good idea too, no? And maybe Bah-bruh too! (If she’d permit us.)|
|Victor Herbert.||John Purroy Mitchel.|
|Meanwhile this issue is the 17th annual Quest 400 List. I won’t bore you with its history which I’ve written here more than once before. I will say that it has, like a ship in the night, moved far from my editorial aegis and taken on a life of its own. Lists are like children, they grow up and become somebody else. These names are, however, like those statues existing and yet-to-exist in Central Park, also New York-centric.
It is a list, like all lists with good intentions, like those statues in the Park – many you know and many you’ve never heard of, as well as the not so few who’ve been inadvertently overlooked – the result of frailties of the human brain operating in the fast lane we call the Big Apple. Nevertheless, around this list exists a cosmos of New Yorkers who, like some of those suggested statues in Central Park as well as scores, maybe hundreds of thousands of now and yore, who make the city everything wonderful that it is. New York New York, it’s a wonderful town.