Getting to the Core

Featured image
The decorative pediment of 711 Fifth Avenue. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, 1_24_24. Temperatures in the mid-to-Upper 30s, as it was last night; and forecast at that temp for the rest of the week. Subject to change, of course; but for the last couple of years, our winters have been noticeably warmer with very little snow comparatively, but often with entirely grey skies.

Yesterday I went to lunch with JH. Although we’ve been partners on this website for 25 years, and communicate very frequently, often several times a day, we actually physically see each other only occasionally.

Lunch was to be at the newly completed headquarters of the Core Club, a private, members only club located at 711 Fifth Avenue and East 55th Street. I was particularly interested in our destination because I’d only ever been to that building once; and that was many years ago. It was memorable at the time because of its history. “Seven come eleven” is a longtime used phrase heard at the dice table “to attract luck.”

711 Fifth Avenue on the southeast corner of 55th Street and Fifth Avenue was originally built by Bethlehem Engineering Corporation in 1927. It has since served as the headquarters for NBC, Columbia Pictures, Allen & Co., and Coca-Cola. The building was purchased by Michael Shvo in 2019, who had originally planned to buy it for $711 million.
Zeroing in on the penthouse which is now the main dining room of the Core Club, and which reminded me of my visiting the building back in the early ’70s when the penthouse served as the offices of film director Otto Preminger. It was particularly memorable due to the gigantic size of Otto’s personal office, which has been replaced by the Club’s invitingly luxurious dining room surrounded by windows to a spacious and spectacular terrace surrounding.
The golden entrance to 711’s spectacular lobby recently re-designed by Peter Marino.

The Fifth office building itself was built in 1927. It was acquired in 1955 by two brothers — Jack and Harry Cohn — and a business partner Joe Brandt, who had started the Columbia Pictures studio in 1924. Harry was the most famous of the three because he ran the studio, chose the material, staffs/director/producer; and chose the stars. One of his most famous and popular choices was a little girl from Brooklyn-residing Spanish family of dancers. Her name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. Harry Cohn improved on the message and changed it to Rita Hayworth.

Harry Cohn and Rita Hayworth, 1953.

The last time I was in that building was in 1970 when I had what turned out to be a brief career as a stockbroker — or “registered rep” as they’d begun to call them. One of my clients was Otto Preminger, a very  famous Austro-Hungarian film director, enormously successful with films like Laura, Exodus, Anatomy of a Murder, Porgy and Bess, In Harm’s Way, to name a few.

Otto had the largest, most spacious private office I’d ever seen to this day. It was located in the penthouse of 711 and although I don’t recall its exact measurements, it is now the vast and comfortably inviting dining room of the Core Club with the exterior rooftop, a vast terrace for lunching and dining outside (in nice weather of course).

When it was Otto’s private office (it was the main part of an entire suite with other small offices for staff), it was carpeted and with no furniture except for his desk which had a quality of imperial moderne. The desk consisted of a wide slab of polished marble eight or ten feet wide and four feet deep, with nothing on it except a single telephone. And Otto (when present seated behind, was suited and distinguished-looking, like a modern king) was awaiting our entrance as we sat down in the two black leather Eames chairs on the visitor’s side of the desk.

The walls surrounding were hung with large canvases of Otto’s huge and distinctive modern art collection which also filled the public rooms of his East Side townhouse. Seated in our swivel chairs, we were surrounded by paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky, Sam Francis, and Diego Rivera on the white walls, that of course, also resembled Preminger’s town house.

I had been introduced to Otto by his son (by Gypsy Rose Lee) Erik. Otto had a reputation on the set of being difficult and highly insulting to performers if he didn’t like what they were giving him in a performance. Although in the office with me, the stockbroker and the man from a major financial firm which took care of his financial matters, Otto was formal and very pleasant. He had a bit of an Austro-Hungarian accent – but was totally attentive and decent with us.

Otto on a call.

At one point, however, our meeting was interrupted suddenly by his secretary’s voice over the speakerphone telling him he had a call waiting from a man who was creating the promotional art for Otto’s latest film, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, which was just being completed.

Otto politely excused himself and turned to the phone — without putting it to his ear — keeping it on speaker. Evidently the artist was returning a call Otto had made to him earlier in the day.

Otto began “explaining” to the artist in a very formal voice, that he, Otto, had quite a large knowledge of art and what was needed to draw attention to the film, and that he found some aspects of the artist’s work thus far needing some of Otto’s advice.

The artist at the other end of the line (which we all could hear him since the call was on speaker) was clear-spoken but almost indifferent in response, beginning by saying: “Well, Otto, all I can tell you is I make my living as an artist and if you don’t like it, you can go fukk yourself.”

Otto suddenly picked up the phone and, holding it to his face away from our ears now, told the artist that he was just making some suggestions and that he didn’t have to be so upset.

The phone call changed the mood of our meeting immediately, however, and Otto was in no mood to continue that day.

I did have the privilege of getting to know him a bit under more familiar circumstances when Sheila, my wife at the time, and I were invited to visit Erik and his wife (at the time) Barbara at the house Erik had inherited from his mother Gypsy Rose Lee in Beverly Hills. The entire experience had a beneficial effect on my further professional choices.

A section of the dining area with the 55th Street terraces in the background. Originally the penthouse of the building, there was nothing but rooftops walled in with windows.
A partial view of the dining room from our table.

The dining room of the presently re-designed penthouse has a commanding presence in the Core Club, very inviting and comfortable, smart and chic, with an excellent staff, great food and a view of a core part of Manhattan just a couple of blocks south of Central Park, and right across the street from the elegant St. Regis —  built in 1904 by John Jacob Astor IV (who went down on the Titanic) — which 120 years later remains one of the top rated luxury hotels in New York.

Looking west across the dining room towards the bar and the Fifth Avenue terrace.
The view from our table of the expansive terrace and the St. Regis across the street.
A wintertime view of the Fifth Avenue terrace with its view of the St. Regis (l.) and the Peninsula Hotel (originally the Gotham Hotel, built in 1905 one year after the St. Regis ) on the southwest corner of Fifth.
The St. Regis and The Peninsula across the avenue.
A closer shot of the handsome facade of the St Regis.
The Peninsula and the skyline looking west and southward.
The view of 55th Street west of Fifth to the Hudson.
And the view from the same terrace looking north up Fifth Avenue toward the Crown Building (built as the Heckscher Building in 1921 and interestingly one of the first skyscrapers in the city whose setback design was regulated by zoning) with Central Park in the background.
A closer view north and the facade of the Plaza Hotel which was built in 1906, one year after the Peninsula. These particular camera views did not exist/were not built until the debut of the 20th century. The Park, for example, was simply woods and hills and swamps and rocks and began to debut as The Central Park around the same time these hotels were built.

In closing about our interesting and fascinating visit to the Core Club yesterday afternoon, we left with a sense of something new and modern and elegant and comforting in the center of a busy weekday in Manhattan; enhancing this prominent business and residential area.

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