New York Lives

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Conservatory Garden in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Monday, August 26, 2019. The weekend in New York was ideal, weatherwise. Not cool, but cooler. Low to mid-70s. Breezes here and there. The weather forecaster said it would be a taste of Autumn. This was even better than Autumn. The benches along the river in Carl Schurz Park were filled with sun bathers and people just finding solace in sitting by the river. It’s solace-center in this neighborhood and we are very lucky to have it.

Taking a selfie in the sun in Carl Schurz Park.

New York Lives. The other night I had dinner with a friend at Sette Mezzo. My friend and I are both collectors of information that fill out stories. And so we had a lot to talk about, and by eleven o’clock the neighborhood restaurant was empty except for us. I don’t like to keep staff hanging around just waiting for me to leave, so they can  go home. We were rushing to finish up our info-fest when … this guy comes in off the street, and I mean “off-the-street.” He’s real shabby looking, older, black greying hair to his shoulders, a black plastic-visered captain’s hat; maybe 60s or 70s, but shabby. Black jacket, maybe jeans, black, black heavy soled work shoes. I thought at first he was coming in asking for a meal or a left-over. Although he didn’t look “hungry.”

Except: he was followed by another guy, a little younger, long tall drink of water, kinda out of the same school of shabby; maybe a little neater. A pair. Except. Behind him were two younger women by which I mean maybe late 20s, early 30s. Not dressed to kill but just plain beautiful. 

And Andy, the “maitre’d, seeing them arrive immediately guided them to the back of the room in a corner table. My dinner partner from his seat could see the table was being set with some bottles of wine. They were settling in. 

It was a mystery until I asked: who are they? Answer: Al Pacino and Leo DiCaprio and presumably their girlfriends. At our table the conversation immediately turned to the movie they’re both in right now, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. 

I later learned that Mr. Pacino was a long time customer, and actually I’ve seen Leo DiCaprio there before. I don’t know either although I’ve seen Pacino on the street before. He always looks askew (the couldn’t-giva-sh*t version). When you see him looking like that it’s a surprise but interestingly all you can think of is the pleasure of watching him work: a thrill. And under the circumstances the other night, kind of endearing: an actor, a character, a story, many stories. You pay attention; you can’t help it. 

Although, that “look” is also a reflection of today among the movie stars. When you think of their counterparts from mid-20th century and the glamour days when no star left his or her house without being camera ready (that was the law of the studios), you can see that we’ve changed. No kidding.


Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio, and Al Pacino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Other stuff around the neighborhood. The tale of a neighbor. The house at 9 East 71st Street where Jeffrey Epstein lived stands right across the street from the Frick property. All of the land in that area originally belonged to the Lenox Farm. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 19th century and mansion builders on Fifth Avenue in the 50s that Fifth Avenue above 59th Street began to be developed. 

Isidor and Ida Straus.

It was the creation of Central Park that gave it its premium.  By the early 20th century, that area of Fifth Avenue and those environs had many mansions and even commodious apartment houses for the wealthy. 

In 1928 Herbert Straus, one of the sons and heirs of Isadore Straus (who along with his wife Ida died in the sinking of the Titanic), who co-owned RH Macy Company, bought the property with the intention of building a mansion to occupy it. He hired Horace Trumbauer to design it. 

It was very grand and tall and took years to construct, including rooms acquired in European houses. It was abuilding when the stock market crashed in 1929. Straus decided to complete the house but by 1931, it was not finished and the Great Depression was now being felt seriously. Mr. Straus was also in failing health. He decided to stop construction and died less than a year later. 

The house was boarded up, 90% completed in 1933. It stayed that way until 1944 when the Straus heirs donated the house to the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of New York.


The French interiors were replaced by white tile in 1943 as part of St. Clare’s Hospital. — photo NYPL Collection.

The new owners decided to convert the mansion into a part of St. Clare’s Hospital. Many changes were made in the interior décor, creating an architecturally institutional environment. Fortunately, two of the original rooms — 200-year-old interiors from France — were donated and removed to the Metropolitan Museum. Sixteen years later in 1961 St. Clare’s closed its doors. The building was sold to the Birch Wathen School, a private girls and boys school. 

In the late ‘80s the school moved to new quarters uptown, and 9 East 71st Street was sold again in 1989, this time to Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited stores, for $13.2 million. Mr. Wexner then spent “tens of millions” restoring the house to its original plans. And then he never lived there. 

For whatever reasons and agreements, as we have learned from the Epstein case, the house was transferred ownership to Mr. Epstein for the grand price of $1. somewhere in the late ‘90s. It is empty again.



Meanwhile, other places, other swoons.  Up in Newport one recent evening, with a gentle breeze rolling off Newport Harbor, guests arriving made their way to the lush lawn of the historic Eisenhower House for A Salute to Health — which was also honoring the Prince family for Newport’s “Powered by Prince” Fund at Newport Hospital. The Fund sponsors activities and programs for underserved, school-age children throughout Newport County.

Guests were enjoying the beauty of their surroundings and the décor by Exquisite Events, with the music of Michael Walsh Quartet filling the air. The evening kicked-off with a champagne tasting offered by Vickers’ Liquors; a locally-sourced raw bar by Open Oyster; delectable food stations and hors d’oeuvres prepared by Russell Morin Catering & Events, vegan treats and pressed juices by Power of Juice, and the classic refreshments of Del’s Lemonade. You get the picture.


A Salute to Health co-chairs, Norey Dotterer Cullen, Holly Bannister, M.D., Dory Hamilton Benson, Isabella Dana Ridall, Anne Hamilton, and Kimberly Palmer.

The evening’s Co-chairs were Holly Bannister MD, Dory Hamilton Benson, Norey Dotterer Cullen, Anne Hamilton, Kimberly Palmer, Isabella Dana Ridall, and Sharon Wood Prince and helped raise $1,082,811 to support patient care and hospital programs with the most pressing funding needs.

Crista Durand, President of Newport Hospital, told the guests: “Your love for our hospital shone through tonight. We had an important goal to achieve, to bring the Beyond the Building capital campaign over the finish line, and with your help, we did it!” It will help pay for Newport Hospital’s new state-of-the-art emergency department, which will make an enormous difference in the lives of our patients for years to come.


Sarah Gerwiz and A Salute to Health co-chair Anne Hamilton.

The program concluded with a special presentation honoring “Powered by Prince” and the Prince family. In 2010, Elizabeth “Lisette” Prince and her children, Guillaume de Ramel, Diana Oehrli, and Regis de Ramel, donated $3 million to establish the Frederick Henry Prince Memorial Fund at Newport Hospital to fund activities for children who otherwise might not have access to such opportunities. Today it is recognized as “Powered by Prince.” Since its inception, it has granted more than $627,000 to dozens of organizations.


Rita Slom and Bernard Nemtzow.
Hope “Happy” van Beuren and Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, President and CEO of Lifespan.
Dory Hamilton Benson and Matt Hamilton during the fund-a-need blitz that raised $638,781 to support completion of Newport Hospital’s emergency department expansion.

On another beachfront: Out in Bellport, Long Island, the Bellport Brookhaven Historical Society presented “Working for Bill,” a conversation between the late New York Times photojournalist Bill Cunningham’s longtime collaborator, John Kurdewan and author-designer Steven Stolman.


Alexandra Lebenthal introduces John Kurdewan and Steven Stolman.

It was SRO with the audience of Bill Cunningham fans and admirers, women who were on occasion his favorite subjects (Bill religiously followed fashion to the moment) such as Alexandra Lebenthal who introduced the speakers, along with the Historical Society director Tricia Foley, and Dennis Miller and Milan Hughston, Charivari’s Barbara and Jon Weiser and Sarah and Gary Wolkowitz.

Following the presentation, guests moved to the Society’s gallery for cocktails, followed by an intimate dinner at Foley’s magical home overlooking Great South Bay.


L. to r.: Joyce Hanley; Sarah and Gary Wolkowitz.
L. to r.: Dr. Amr Abdelaziz, Victor Principe, and Paula Ludlow; Victor Principe, Margaret Doran, and John Renninger.
Jay Diamond and Alexandra Lebenthal.
L. to r.: Rich Wilkie and John Kurdewan; John Kurdewan and Tricia Foley.
Dennis Miller, Gail Levenstein, and Bruce Pask; Barbara and Jon Weiser.

While across the sea — Marianne and John Castle of Palm Beach and New York had had the pleasure of a business and private visit to London, starting with a long stay at Claridge’s, including dinners with several English and Royal Saudi friends.

They were given a private tour of Blenheim Palace, and later lunched at Lee Place, the Spencer-Churchill family not far from Blenheim, with Rosita, the Duchess of Marlborough.

From London, the Castles continued their trip on to Poland, Budapest, Vienna, Monte Carlo, Rome, Milan. When in Rome, they were given a small private mass in the Clementine Chapel next to St. Peter’s grave under the main alter of St. Peters Basilica in the Vatican. The photos capture the wonder of it all, at least for this viewer.


Marianne Castle, Rosita Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and John K. Castle.
Fr. Luke Sweeney, Marianne Castle, and John K. Castle at the Clementine Chapel (Chapel of St. Peter).
The Chain Bridge in Budapest.
The world Famous Lipizzaner Stallions at the Spanish Riding School in Austria.
Imperial Crown Jewels at the Imperial Treasury in Vienna.
The Emerald Unguentarium, a 2,860-ct emerald vase carved in 1641.
The Trevi Fountain in Rome.
The Spanish Steps in Rome.
Monte Carlo Harbor.
A View of Capri from the Amalfi Coast.

Photographs by Nick Mele, Andrea Hansen, & Kim Fuller (Newport Hospital).

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