Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Taking up residence

 St Raphael's church on 41st and 10th Avenue. 6:20 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017. Sunny and a mild 72 degrees all day in New York yesterday, with temperatures dropping into the upper 50s by late night.  As pleasant as it was, all seemed irrelevant what with the news coming out of Las Vegas. It’s an aspect of American life of the last half century. I grew up in a world where we didn’t lock our front door even when we went away for a week. Corruption, of course, existed, even flourished in a variety of ways, but the idea of someone taking a gun and shooting people at public gatherings was almost unknown except in war. In other countries.  Ironically, the Las Vegas public massacre occurred on the calendar at the same time the Ric Burns documentary series on Vietnam is being screened on PBS.

10 Gracie.
Meanwhile, back in the neighborhood, several news outlets in including the New York Post reported yesterday that the Obamas have been looking at/are considering buying an apartment at 10 Gracie Square, which is right around the corner from us. 

10 Gracie is one of the great cooperative buildings in New York that were built at the height of 1920s stock market boom. It is on the East River and covering the entire east side of the block between 83rd and 84th Street (which is also known as Gracie Square, overlooking Carl Schurz Park). It’s a wonderful, much quieter neighborhood (generally). It is named after Archibald Gracie who more than century ago owned the house known as Gracie Mansion which became the official mayoral residence in the city when Fiorello LaGuardia became its first official resident.

When 10 Gracie was completed in 1931, there was no East River/FDR Drive, but instead actual riverside where residents could moor their boats. Young John Hay (Jock) Whitney had one of the first apartments and often traveled downtown as well as to his family’s estate in Manhasset, on his yacht. Brooke Astor lived there when she was the widow Marshall, before she married Vincent Astor who lived around the corner on 85th and East End. Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the former Soong Mei-ling, lived there from the mid-1970s until her death at age 106 in October 2003.

When I returned to New York from living in California, I lived there briefly put up by a friend who has an apartment there. One weekday afternoon about five o’clock around this time of year, I was leaving the apartment, walking through auto passage to the door to the street when I saw what looked like plainclothes security men in two black sedans, one of which was carrying a tiny creature not quite visible from outside the car, sitting in the backseat between two of the security men. Once everyone was in the cars, they left the passage and drove out onto East 83rd Street. 
A view of the East River from an upper floor of 10 Gracie Square.
Naturally curious, I asked one of the doormen, “Who was that?” Answer: “Madame Chiang Kai-shek,” he told me, “out for her late afternoon ride. They go up to Grant’s Tomb on Riverside Drive and turn around and come back.” Oh.

Months later, I was at some event and seated at the same table as a couple whom I didn’t know but had seen coming and going from the building. We struck up a conversation (they’d seen me as well), and I told them about the incident of seeing Madame Chiang go out for her “ride” to Grant’s Tomb. 

The husband, who it turned out was head of the board of the building at the time, told me that Madame Chiang had 39 in staff (including security) on three shifts (13/13/13) around the clock. Because of the number, all staff members took their meals there, giving the cooks a round-the-clock schedule. They also, he added, used the great living room overlooking the river and Roosevelt Island and Queens as a smokehouse which over time attracted an army of cockroaches and other hungry creatures.
Soong Mei-ling and Chiang Kai-shek.
It got so bad that the infestation began to spread to other residents’ apartments. It was decided by the board that Mme. C had to dispense with the smokehouse, and that the entire building would have to be fumigated.

Madame Chiang strongly objected to the fumigation but was told that they had no choice. So it was done. When the project was completed, all the apartments had to be inspected to be sure of its success. When it came to Madame Chiang’s duplex, they came upon a closet off the kitchen that was locked.  As required by the inspection, it was unlocked for them to inspect. When they opened the door, they were met face on with the entire space packed with gold bars, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, back-to-front. But no cockroaches, thankfully.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek with Eleanor Roosevelt, the White House lawn, 1943.
As a private apartment residence, the gated drive through passage (entering on Gracie Square/84th Street and exiting on East 83rd Street) adds to the residents’ privacy. The building has three different elevators – north, middle, south for the 41 apartments. It is a very quiet area, devoid of the din of traffic, and becalmed by the river majestically flowing with the tides

Amongst the copious ongoing, seemingly endless construction activity on pastoral East End Avenue is the southwest corner of East End and 83rd Street – familiar to regular readers since I photograph it often. The Brearley School purchased three old tenement buildings – probably built at the beginning of the last century.  They were subsequently demolished, a big hole was dug, a foundation was constructed and this past weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, the entire block between East End and York Avenue was closed so they could bring in and construct, like a giant Erector Set, a crane twenty stories high.
Looking out at the southwest corner of 83rd Street where on Thursday, they were constructing a large platform looking to be strong enough to hold a lot of weight. On the lamppost with the orange square on it there was a sign anouncing that the block would be closed from traffic on both Saturday and Sunday.
A large tractor wiith wires extending down the street attached to the black structure.
Building the crane on site. Completed, it reaches as high as 17 floors of the building across the street.
Completed.
This little guy (17 months) is in awe.
Last night about down at the Park Avenue Armory (about a mile south from 10 Gracie), Cullman & Kravis hosted a book launch party for From Classic To Contemporary Decorating With Cullman & Kravis, the third book written by Ellie Cullman and Tracey Pruzan.

In the new book the authors explore how the venerable interior design firm applies principles of modernism to add a new and welcome tension to their more classical work, while in their more modern schemes, the classic principles of design guide their process. From modest revisions to ground-up construction and complete renovations, 14 interiors are featured in the book — all a collaboration between Ellie and her design partners Lee Cavanaugh, Sarah Ramsey, Claire Ratliff, and Alyssa Urban. 

Among the guests at the book launch party: Lucy and Mike Danziger, Jackie Weld Drake, Barbara Georgescu, Laurie and Peter Grauer, Marlene Hess, Jill Kargman, Thomas Kligerman, Heather Leeds, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Susanne and Bill Pritchard, Newell Turner, Peter Pennoyer, and Saundra Whitney.
Cocktail tables in the corridors of the Armory.
Cocktails in The Veterans Room.
This and the Library next door are the only fully extant interiors by Louis C. Tiffany, Associated Artists in the world.
This and the Library next door are the only fully extant interiors by Louis C. Tiffany, Associated Artists in the world.
Ellie Cullman with a copy of From Classic To Contemporary Decorating With Cullman & Kravis.
Click to order.
 

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