Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A bright, sunny birthday

The Stuyvesant and Mamie Fish mansion designed and built by Stanford White in 1900 at 26 East 78th Street and Madison Avenue. The house was purchased by Mayor Bloomberg a few years ago for $45 million and is undergoing extensive renovation. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
July 27, 2010. Yesterday, my birthday, was a bright and sunny warm summer day in New York. Blue skies, an occasional breeze, and lovely. My idea of celebrating my birthday is to take the day off and, if I feel like it, do nothing.

However, JH and I had already made an appointment to visit the Frick on the day it’s closed, to do some “research” on the mansion that is now a museum. The conception of the mansion/museum pre-dates the building of the house. Mr. Frick had a shrewd vision about his legacy; probably because of that it has evolved very successfully over its approaching centennial.

So JH and I met over there about noontime. It was a very interesting hour and we’ll be reporting on it in the near future when our research is completed.
The hallway of the bowling alley and billiards room located on a sub-basement level of the Frick. The two-lane bowling alley was built for Mr. Frick during the original construction of the mansion in 1912-14. After Mrs. Frick’s death in 1931 (Mr. Frick died in 1919 after living five years in his mansion) his daughter Helen began the process of transforming the house and collection into a museum. The bowling alley was covered over to accommodate the house’s library in preparation for the Reference Library which would be built later. The floor covering was removed in the 1990s when Charles Ryskamp was director of the museum, and they discovered the original flooring was in perfect condition. The cost of building the rooms, including paneling and flooring and equipment in 1914, was $800.
The birthday boy’s day-off. We left the Frick with the intent of going to Via Quadronno on East 73rd Street for a birthday lunch. Madison Avenue on a sunny day is always a good New York stroll. On the southwest corner of 72nd Street, Ralph Lauren is building a new shop that from the little you can see is clad in limestone and looks almost like it has just emerged from a time capsule. Or Avenue Montaigne.

It was in front of the construction site that we ran into these two girls who looked like a couple actors heading to some soundstage. Except wrong location.

It was about 1:30. So I stopped them and asked if we could take their picture. Delighted and camera ready. Then I asked them “where” they were going. They said they were going to “The Flaming Lips” concert in the Park. I didn’t know about that but many others do/did, I’ve no doubt. Many others.
A sneak peek at the Ralph Lauren store on 72nd and Madison.
Fans on their way down Madison to the Flaming Lips concert in the Park.
Yes, those are rabbit ears primed for a better reception. We ran into Cynthia Maltese, just back in town, on the corner of 73rd and Madison, just footsteps away from Via Quadronno.
On the next block, getting closer to our destination, we ran into Cynthia Maltese walking south. She told us she was just back in town after being at the beach all summer and all she could think was How Wonderful to Be Back In New York. “I just love being here!” she exclaimed like a first time tourist (Cynthia has had a beautiful apartment in the East 60s near her friend Joan Rivers for years). I share her enthusiasm but she also returned on remarkably beautiful day after a month of radiators.

Via Quadronno was busy as usual. If you didn’t know, it's the ne plus ultra soup and sandwich shop of the Upper East Side. The menu is much broader and more varied than that but essentially it is a very chic luncheonette with an Italian hue and a Japanese proprietor. It is very popular in the neighborhood because it is really good. A lot of people who live around the corner or Park or Fifth go there for dinner often.

I had the orchidea which is brie, ham, tomato and dash of tabasco on a sliced baguette. $13. Plus an iced-tea with lemonade. JH had the Americano and an orange juice and iced tea. Total: $43 including tip. Not for nothing are they ne plus ultra.
The Orchidea.
The Americano.
Continuing up Madison Avenue, we ran into a newly adopted puppy named Baxter. A rescue from a shelter in Oklahoma. A cutie.
JH was fascinated by this collection of trash on the corner of 74th and Madison. It was the remnants of a floral arrangement that caught his eye.
After Via Quadranno, time to get home we headed up to 79th Street where we could both catch a cab to head home (he, west; I, east). A couple blocks up we ran into Brenda Johnson, our former Ambassador to Jamaica under President George W. Bush.

With Pat Schoenfeld and Ambassador Brenda Johnson across the avenue from the Whitney.
She had just come from an interesting lunch with a prominent Washingtonian. And she happened to be wearing a gold and diamond pin that caught my eye. JH took a close up of it. It is a pin that is designed especially for Ambassadors. Anne Hand designed it. It’s not a government gift, Ambassador Johnson explained; she had to buy it.

As we were talking, along came Pat Schoenfeld. We introduced her to Ambassador Johnson and soon was the conversation was off in several directions. We decided to keep moving. In New York you can find yourself in an intense conversation on the street.

On the next block is the Stuyvesant Fish house, designed and built in 1900 by Stanford White for Mr. Fish and his social hostess wife Mamie. The Fishes had moved up from Gramercy where they occupied what later became known as the Ben Sonnenberg house. No doubt Mamie Fish who loomed large in Newport Society wanted to be farther uptown near her “peers.” Mrs. Fish, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, and Tessie Oelrichs were regarded as a troika who had replaced the aging Mrs. Astor as the social leaders in New York and Newport.

Mrs. Fish died in 1915 and Mr. Fish died eight years later. The house was occupied by businesses and non-profit organizations. Mayor Bloomberg purchased it a few years ago for $45 million to house his foundation and presumably provide office space for him and his activities once outside of office.
Ambassador Johnson's official ambassador's pin designed by Ann Hand.
Above: A long ago set of brownstones transformed by some imaginative developer/owner on Madison between 78th and 79th. I think JH took this shot to show that there were ugly buildings on Madison Avenue, too

Left: The townhouse in the middle on East 79th Street is the residence of Mayor Bloomberg. According to news reports, the Mayor has purchased some of the floors of the white stone house on the right to expand the size of his house.
Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park. JH took this picture because it reminded him of a birthday candle and therefore a tribute to me. Although it reminds me of Cleopatra's Needle. There are three of these -- one in London, one in Paris and the one behind the Met here in New York. They have no relationship to Cleopatra, although they are genuine ancient obelisks, having pre-dated the Egyptian Queen by more than a millenium. To finish out the day, the icing on the cake was dinner at La Grenouille with my friend (and hostess) Charlotte Ford. I had the Mushroom Risotto and the Dover Sole, she had the Asparagus vinaigrette and the scallops.
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