City life now

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A Saucer Magnolia in Central Park ready to bloom. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020.  Cooler, and partly sunny yesterday in New York.  

With much of New York staying in, the crowds of this past Saturday and Sunday were gone. The avenue roads were often car-less on a business day. I’ve spent much of it at my desk — mainly reading, or on the phone. I was out only with the dogs for their walks, and those were brief once every pal accomplished what was needed. My favorite tree on the block has begun to bud, another good sign. 

Having ventured no further, I had no idea what midtown was like. I do know many businesses were closed, and many had stayed home. Many who can have moved out to the Hamptons where they have houses, intending to stay there as long as possible to avoid the madding crowds that probably aren’t crowding anyway. 

I heard a sort of funny (haha) story about one family who rents out there for the summer season for the (now very median) price of $60,000 a month. Because of the pandemic looming, and because the house they rent is otherwise empty after its summer occupancy, they sought to rent it for another month or two, presumably at off-season (much lower) prices. Yes, it was available. Although the owner had raised the price to $60,000 a week (!!!). Shocked, the renters nevertheless went for it. Charity begins at home. You just have to pay a little extra for it if the home is in the Hamptons, no?

Back here in my neighborhood, by nightfall there are a lot of lights out apartments in the residential buildings. One can easily assume their residents are out of the city, in places like the Hamptons or Palm Beach or Miami or wherever they summer. So  the mood here is No mood.

The city feels empty. I always welcome the quiet although because New York is such a people-place, I’m also used to getting out and seeing people, taking care of business, pursuing a story, and generally getting around town. The thought of going for weeks and even months like this is impossible to even imagine. It will just happen, I guess; and the mood will undoubtedly change to impatience and more worry under the present circumstances. There are so many ill-messages of forecasts about it, that I prefer not thinking about it and hoping for the best (in every way, for everybody).

This message artistically drawn in chalks by honschar on the pavement on Broadway near Zabars (from several years ago) says it all about what we usually live with. The great John Steinbeck (who had a townhouse on East 72nd Street between Second and Third Avenues articulated it best and thanks to the artiset horschar, I publish it again to remind myself and everyone else who’s interested that the city is still the city: 

Steinbeck wrote: “Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.” 

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but the famous parade in New York for the first time ever in two and a half centuries (this was to be the 259th) — the celebration with more than 150,000 marchers and at least 2,000,000 spectators — has been postponed, or canceled if necessary. Same thing in Chicago, and in Boston where there remains a large Irish-related contingent.  Even over in Ireland, they canceled all parades thanks to phantom beast called Covid-19.

However, another New Yorker, born and bred, of parents who were also born and bred, JH got out to look at the beautiful day yesterday, just to remind us what this amazing city is looking like as we approach the Spring season with hope in our hearts.

You think the residents of this private house on the Upper East Side are Irish? Maybe, but in New York there’s a touch of Irish in many of other backgrounds of our citizens. It’s an attitude that can come on just for the day itself.

The 91st Street block between Madison and Fifth with a clear view of the twin towers of the The Eldorado apartments on Central Park West and 91st Street. The stock market crash that followed the beginning of construction eventually overwhelmed its financing, and, by 1931, the building was in foreclosure. The Eldorado’s list of prominent residents is star studded both now and before, such as: Alec Baldwin, Garrison Keillor, Richard Dreyfuss, Carrie Fisher, Michael J. Fox, Faye Dunaway. Sinclair Lewis was one of the original occupants, in one of the towers’ penthouses.

On the East Side block where the crane is reaching up more than 15 stories either delivering or about to transport something from someone’s penthouse. The lower house on the left, barely visible, is the Andrew Carnegie mansion. When it was built, Mr. Carnegie owned the entire block between Madison and Fifth, north and south. He began to part with some of it when he sold the north corner on Fifth Avenue to Otto Kahn who built a beautiful palazzo which is now a private girl’s school. Later Kahn was followed next door by three mansion built for members of the Vanderbilt family as wedding gifts, one of which, now owned by the Russian Federation, was the childhood home of John Hammond, the legendary A&R man who discovered some of the greatest and most popular singing and musical talent in 20th century America including Billie Holliday, Lionel Hampton, Bob Dylan.

Young(er) New Yorkers meeting up for a Monday picnic lunch in Central Park. They are not exactly practicing social distancing.
Serenity, isolating under a flowering crabapple.
Behind the Met, the forsythia and daffodils are in business.
And in the front of the steps are six friends (again, so much for social isolation) who most likely had planned to visit the Met, although …
As you can see, it is closed.
Nothing but blue skies.
A cabbie sitting in a favorable place to pick up passengers, although …

The brick and limestone mansion across the avenue was built on spec between 1889 and 1891. It was purchased when completed by Benjamin Duke, a tobacco and energy industrialist and brother of James B. Duke, father of Doris.

The latter lived in the house when his own mansion on Fifth Avenue and 78th Street was being built. It was then occupied by a son of Benjamin, Angier Buchanan Duke. His sister Mary lived there after she married Anthony Drexel Biddle, and where their son Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr. grew up. Members of the Duke family owned the house for more than a century, selling it in 2006 for $40 million to Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire who also bought the majority stock in the New York Times.

Seven blocks north on Fifth is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s powerful creation completed and occupied in 1959. Not a humanoid in sight.
And then there are our patient canines waiting patiently for their master to continue their walks down the very quiet (for a Monday) avenue.
While another adored canine relaxes with his master sitting on a bench in front of the Church of Heavenly Rest on the corner of 90th and Fifth.

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