Tag Archives: nyc

Confessions of a Designated Fat Taxi Driver?

aka a two-in-one review because I started and finished two books in the last three days

Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver by Eugene Salomon and Jennifer Joyner’s Designated Fat Girl. Two very different subjects but the right level of reading depth I was in the mood for this weekend. I started with Joyner’s on Friday and packed a dead-tree copy of Salomon’s for a walk when I knew my iPad battery wasn’t charged. I finished that this morning and then Joyner’s this afternoon. At the gym, no less.

I enjoyed both equally, but I found that I connected more with Joyner’s book, although my weight struggles luckily never went so far. I’m so glad to see she’s still working at the radio station and it’s nice to put a face to the name after reading about her personal struggles. Unlike many who publish a book about their struggles, Joyner doesn’t appear to blog. I think that’s what made for a more intriguing and cohesive narrative. It wasn’t cobbled together from a series of blog posts. There were a few moments where I was confused as to when a moment was during her weight gain-loss-gain-loss-gain-loss “for good” but overall it was a quality, eye-opening read.

Eugene Salomon, on the other hand both blogs (including on hot-button topics like Uber) and writes for TIME.I hoped his photo blog would have one of the infamous llama, alas no such luck. Converting from a blog wasn’t an issue in this case as the book was mostly an anthology of his stories grouped by themes. It was a very good and quick read and I loved that Salomon put a date in each story to set the context for his story.  Although this was only published in 2013, it’s mostly the story of an NYC long gone. Jackie O being gone for 20+ years though is just sad. As an aside, I got this at the wonderful Tenement Museum Shop-great place to direct deposit your wallet when looking for your next good read.

Oh and both titled counted for the A-Z challenge. 1/6 of the way through the year my totals are:

#GoTheDist? Pfft Bridge The Dist

after a renewed interest in bridges of late, I have been on a mission. By borough I have crossed as follows:

Bronx to Manhattan:

  • Macombs Dam Bridge  in May 2013

Manhattan to Brooklyn:

  • Brooklyn Bridge: more times then I can count, also via bike
  • Manhattan Bridge: June 2014
  • Williamsburg Bridge: Summer 2013

Manhattan to Bronx:

  • Macombs Dam Bridge

Queens to Manhattan:

  • Queensboro Bridge, June 2014

Other:

  • GW Bridge and back, July 2013
  • Wards Island Pedestrian Bridge, May 2013
  • Triboro (Randalls Island to Manhattan)

That’s all the major bridges with the exception of the Henry Hudson since there’s no pedestrian access on the Verrazano and the High Bridge has not yet re-opened. I really don’t have an interest in walking to the Rockaways so those are out.

What’s my next Great Manhattan Loop related goal? Riverside Drive! I’ve done it up as far as 125th St. but time to do the northern spur that I skipped in favor of a riverside walk two years ago.

Then and now: Eldridge Street Synagogue

Interior: Museum at Eldridge Street

Interior: Museum at Eldridge Street

“I made a couple of calls and believe the sign will be safe,” she said. And so, for the moment, would be one other vestige of the Jewish Lower East Side.

In reading In Chinatown, Remembering the Origins of a 126 -Year-Old Synagogue I did what I always do and go down a rabbit hole of research.

The Eldridge Street temple, the first synagogue built by Eastern European Jews on the Lower East Side, the was completed in 1887 to the designs of the Herter Brothers, architects. It is the home of Congregation Khal Adath Jeshurun with Anshe Lubtz, another congregation that joined after the building opened.

”An Orthodox synagogue follows the congregation,” Justice Bookson said, ”or the congregation follows the synagogue, because we can’t ride on the Sabbath.”

The Museum at Eldridge Street aka the Eldridge St. Synagogue is one of the prettiest buildings on the Lower East Side and one of the most amazing interiors in the city. It’s sad to think of how far it fell during the time that the Orthodox population of the Lower East Side dwindled. Sad, but not surprising, due to the general state of the Lower East Side in the 70s and 80s.

Justice Bookson noted that the temple’s centennial is close to that of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. ”The immigrants passed by the statue,” he said, ”and came right here to this neighborhood. So we’re right on the mark. Of course, we hope to restore the synagogue with a lot less money.”

After the 90-minute gathering yesterday, after the applause and amens, the sanctuary was empty again. For now, it will remain silent. And waiting.

They did that, and even more.

Never mind the 126 year old Congregation, the Friends of the Eldridge Street Project is older than I am. By the time I started to work with the Museum in 2007, it was called the Eldridge Street Project and was in the middle of the grand reopening. The amazing Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival was seven years old and the museum/synagogue was well on the way to being the marquee tourist destination that it is.Kiki Smith’s wonderful window was installed three years later and it seemed as if the restoration was complete in time for the 125th anniversary.

I feel that I’m lucky to work so closely with the museum. I know more about it then the average NYC resident. Maybe even more than the average Culture Vulture, but there’s so much about which I wasn’t aware. The article about the grand reopening is an amazing overview of the building and congregation’s history. We as a city are lucky to still have it as a part of our present.

By the mid-1950s, without funds or a substantial congregation, the main sanctuary was sealed shut; only a remnant of the original congregation continued to use the smaller ground-floor study hall. Then, in 1971, the water-damaged main sanctuary was surveyed with astonishment by Gerald R. Wolfe, a New York University professor, who founded the Friends of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Fifteen years later, the preservationist and journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz was so taken by its latent promise that she started the Eldridge Street Project, helped obtain its landmark status and began a fund-raising drive that gradually brought the sanctuary back to life.

But what purpose could such a place serve if its religious function and community were gone? Rather than leave it a monument to an earlier faith, the Eldridge Street Project turned the building into a symbol of a contemporary, secular faith. In the 1990s, the synagogue, its renovation unfinished, became a museum, a center, in the words of the Project, “for historical reflection, aesthetic inspiration and spiritual renewal.”

I had no idea of the buildings parallels with a series of tenements in Alphabet City. The history of the Lower East Side is really a connected one. The Synagogue’s own restoration led to the discovery of a mikvah on the adjacent property at 5 Allen St (now a Howard Johnson)

A clay pipe or a pottery shard is a fine day’s work for an urban archaeologist. Celia J. Bergoffen found a bathhouse.

I’m fascinated by the Lower East Side’s history. That’s obvious each time I do one of the Conservancy’s tours (and return for more like I did this past Sunday). I contemplate moving there if I win the lotto, but sometimes I wonder if I like its present as much as its past.

Further Reading:

Henderson Place

Henderson Place Historic District sign on E. 86th St.

Henderson Place Historic District sign on E. 86th St.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve walked past these buildings on E. 87th or East End and wondered what relic they were… and then I spotted the sign above. I finally had a name to research. And what better time to do so then on the brink of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the New York City landmarks law.

Although not the oldest in the neighborhood (Gracie Mansion was built in 1799), they’re certainly the most picturesque.

Built in Queen Anne style in 1881-2, twenty four of the original thirty two houses remain. They were landmarked in 1969. The houses are named after John C. Henderson and were designed by Lamb & Rich. Sometimes called “dollhouse architecture“, they were built for people of “modest means” although they soon became home to some of Manhattan’s upper class families. Their history, like the architecture, is fascinating.

I’ve apparently added more small historic blocks to my NYC bucket list.

neighborhoods: mini cities in their own right

as I was taking advantage of today’s brief flirtation with spring, and sitting, reading on one of the many Finley Walk benches, I plotted several errands I needed to run. One of them was on 96th St. and it felt so far away-even though it was only 10 blocks from where I sat. I wasn’t even sure if the store was still there, which got me thinking.

I only moved from E. 95th 4.5 years ago, but it feels like much longer. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve walked through the neighborhood since then, and the last time was a hot day last summer***. Even though I’m only 12 blocks south (and was only 10 blocks south for the 1st three years), it feels like a world away. I have almost everything I need within blocks of 86th. It also explains why my then-new neighborhood of E. 85th felt so new to me when I moved.

It’s like many small cities within even the island of Manhattan.

Today was gorgeous enough that I could have had 10K steps, but sometimes reading in the sun is more important than 10K steps.

***This applies to the avenues east of 5th. I’ve of course been to Museum Mile many times since.

Review: This Ain’t No Holiday Inn

 

Chelsea Hotel

Hotel Chelsea, February 28, 2014

 

Yesterday, I was in Chelsea for lunch and I found myself thinking of the Chelsea and decided to find it. When I did, and posted the photo (and the one above), I remembered this unfinished review and blog post from earlier this year. Time to remove the “un”.

“In 2001, he died of everything he had ever done.” ~James Lough

While the author wrote this of one of the personalities he met while researching the Chelsea’s colorful history, the same could be said of the Chelsea Hotel itself.

“If any place will make you believe in ghosts, it’s the Chelsea.” ~Gabriella Bass

James Lough’s This Ain’t No Holiday Inn: Down and Out at the Chelsea Hotel 1980-1995 is an interesting look at the history of the hotel within that era of New York City history. Reading it now was an interesting parallel to the New-York Historical Society’s AIDS exhibit this summer as there was significant overlap in time, characters and storyline.

Continue reading

The difference being a fan makes

Manning Baas pregame warmups

Manning Baas pregame warmups

It’s no secret that I’m a Yankees fan. I also happen to be a quick hop from the stadium via the 4 train. Makes going to games easy peasy. Although I’m a Yankees fan, I don’t particularly dislike the Mets, but I find myself declining tickets more than I go. Why? Not because of their poor play, but rather because there is no easy way from Flushing to the Upper East Side. I’m 8.1 miles as the crow flies from Citi Field and a 25 minute dive from the stadium. Via mass transit, it’s 50m in a best case scenario, which has maybe happened once in the 5+ years I’ve lived in this neighborhood.

On the other hand, I’m a die-hard Giants fan. Met Life is 11.2 miles and a 28 minute drive. Last night’s game ended at 12:02 AM. Luckily most had left early and my seats were near the Bud Light gate (and therefore the train) so I made relatively good time and made the Secaucus connection by 12:4x. Of course that wasn’t direct. It was 2:03 AM by the time I walked into my apartment after NJT to Penn, the E to 50th, the A to 86th and the m86. No better and honestly, probably worse than Citi Field.

Despite being exhausted at work today, I’m pretty sure I never turned down Giants tickets and certainly not free.

That’s the difference being a fan makes.

More photos from last night here.

 

View east down Wall Street from the window of the Trinity Church ringing room

openhousenewyork: Trinity Church

I adore openhousenewyork weekend. Last year, it was a Vertical Tour of St. John the Divine. This year I opted for a tour of the Trinity Church Bell Tower. For someone whose time at religious services is limited to weddings and funerals, I am fascinated by church architecture and could easily make a weekend of the church sites. ETA: I’m not the only one. I may need to think of that for 2014.

I got down to Trinity early (OK, on time, but that’s early in NYC weekend time) and had some time to explore the churchyard, including Trinity Root, which I’d only previously seen through the fence. (Yes, as was the case with St. John’s last year, I had no idea Trinity was generally open and operational.) The story behind the sculpture is a fascinating read and for a time until it was installed, the stump was on display in the Trinity Churchyard. I’m not sure how much of this article is true, but the survival of St. Paul’s in some ways mirrors the survival of NYC after 9/11. When I read My Manhattan, I first learned of the connection between Trinity and St. Paul’s, but the more I read, the more of its history St. Paul shares. That’s a living landmark that can never be lost.

Anyway, derail aside… Trinity Church is amazing in its own right. I was glad that last year’s scaffolding is gone and that the work, which included a cleaning, left the church cleaner than it has been in years. I really didn’t know much about church bells, but I was curious. Yep, curiosity, my main openhousenewyork driver. We were welcomed by David Grider, the principal architect behind the restoration of the belfry in 2007 before climbing (and I do mean climbing including a ship ladder and spiral stairs!) up to the ringing room for an explanation of the bells, ringing and some history. The shutter bug in me, however, was distracted.

View east down Wall Street from the window of the Trinity Church ringing room

View east down Wall Street from the window of the Trinity Church ringing room

While this tour didn’t feature the views that the St. John’s Vertical Tour did, this unexpected view east down Wall Street was amazing and awe inspiring. It’s the reason I decided to explore down that way later in the afternoon.

After the ringers explained the basics of ringing to us, they let us hear the bells in action. I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect it to be such an aerobic workout or one that featured people from all ages. The Trinity Church Ringers are lucky in that many international ringers come there to ring due to the legacy of the church and its bells. Here‘s a decent overview for those similarly confused with a focus on the how and why (PDF) behind “change ringing” and some amazing behind the scenes photos from one of the church’s ringers. Church Ringers, the ultimate Odd Job? Although I was somewhat surprised to learn that the ringers pay to  ring (PDF), but don’t appear to be paid by Trinity.

Our tour and lesson over, we descended to the sanctuary and I spent another hour or so exploring the sanctuary and churchyard. The cemetery there is only one of the three that Trinity has, but I found this one to be the most historic and “home” to the most interesting people. Although Alexander Hamilton is not currently on view, many others old and new are.

Unsurprisingly, I found the churchyard peaceful before heading east into the chaos that was Wall Street.

Columbia University in the City of New York

Yep, that is apparently the school’s full name. Maybe that’s why it needs to expand so badly, it needs to be the same size as its name.

Friday was another Manhattan bout of sightseeing inspired by a whim rather than a plan. The sky couldn’t make up its mind and I didn’t want to be caught in the monsoon so  I decided it was a ride to nowhere day. The M104 (side note: the history on the parallels between bus & street car routes is fascinating even if that article isn’t at all well written) came and I just decided I’d figure it out as I rode.

I realized it went past Columbia and thought why not? I’d only been there twice and it was somewhere I’d wanted to explore more. Despite being an NYU alum, I love the Columbia campus. I like the idea of a campus and a quad and a place to meet up that isn’t “find a table in Bryant Park”. So I could have spent 3 hours sitting on the Low steps just people watching. Even three hours wouldn’t have given me enough to explore the Morningside campus.

The architecture of the campus is amazing, I wish Low was accessible to the public because it’s inside is jaw dropping. In some cases, such as St. Paul’s Chapel, the landmarked building’s tell the campus’ story as you look at it. Had no idea it was founded by the Church of England or that its history was so extensive. And of course, it’s a Markeroni Paradise.

As iconic as Alma Mater is, I found the Revson Plaza art to be more interesting. Maybe because they haven’t been photographed to death and retain some elements of surprise. Especially as the sun is going down. What took me the most on the campus though was the shadow that the chapel casts on the Casa Italiana. Columbia is a beautiful urban campus, but the sun makes it even prettier.

Jewish Harlem

Another Sunday, another day of exploration with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy (LESJC). Another day of not actually visiting the lower east side with the Conservancy, although I’m desperate to learn more about the neighborhood I’ve somewhat explored the last two Sundays. This time was Jewish Harlem, an area I haven’t explored in really any sense of the word. Not too many photos, not because it wasn’t photogenic (although pieces of Harlem certainly aren’t), but because it was hot. Yes, I think this is the last tour until fall for me. Heat and I are not friends so I was grateful for the shade of the tour’s starting point – the shade of the Adam Clayton Powell office building.

There’s no question that 125th Street is a major shopping thoroughfare today with stores aplenty (soon to be joined by Whole Foods), but standing in the shade provides a nice view of the street’s shopping history including Koch & Co. and Blumstein’s turned Touro College (home of Powell’s Don’t shop where you can’t work protest) with the “Waldorf of Harlem”, the Hotel Theresa, between them.

While the Apollo will always stand out by virtue of its iconic marquee, it’s very easy to get lost amid the chaos of 125th Street and I was grateful when the tour headed south along is it Lenox Avenue or is it Malcolm X Blvd. (yes, Harlem likes to confuse people with its street signs!) to the relative quiet. Quiet and churches.

If you didn’t know that Harlem was once home to the world’s 3rd largest Jewish population (Krakow, 1 and Lower East Side, 2), you wouldn’t know it today. It seems to be the city of churches. Ephesus, St. Marten’s, Mt. Neboh, Abyssinian (not on this tour). Religions of Harlem is an interesting and fairly comprehensive site on the neighborhood’s houses of worship as well as their histories including Harlem’s last remaining active synagogue, the Old Broadway synagogue.

That said, if you knew where to look, Harlem’s Jewish history is hiding in plain site.

“In its churches, of all places, Harlem reveals its Jewish past.” David W. Dunlap

  • Ebenezer Gospel Tabernacle (built as a Unitarian Church and the first north of 42nd Street before converting to Congregation Chebra Ukadisha B’nai Israel in 1918 and then finally to the church it is today in 1942.
  • Harlem’s Baptist Temple Church, under a state or two of demolition since its roof caved in, was a former home of Ohab Zedek, now on the UWS.
  • Salvation Deliverance Church, formerly Institutional Synagogue, aka the “shul with the pool, a predecessor to today’s JCC. Note: link covers a tour very similar to the one I took. A very interesting read from The Riverdale Press.
  • Mount Olivet Baptist Church at 120th and Lenox, formerly Temple Israel
  • Mt. Neboh, formerly the home of Ansche Chessed, now located on 100th St & West End Ave.
  • The Commandment Keepers whose former home beside Mount Morris Park is now under renovation.
  • The neighborhood was also home to entertainment luminaries including Milton Berle, Richard Rodgers, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, (“The Jewish Caruso”) and Lorenz Hart  as well as the founder of Lane Bryant.

Dunlap’s article, Vestiges of Harlem’s Jewish Past, referenced above, covers this in much greater depth then I could ever imagine. I’ll blame the heat for melting my tour brain.

Aside from its religious history (for Islam, Christianity, or Judaism), the neighborhood has some amazing architecture and history: the Mt. Morris aka Hispano Theater, the Renaissance Theater and Casino, and its many Queen Anne-style homes.  It’s also a treat for the nose and taste buds especially in summer with Sylvia’s, Rao’s, Red Rooster, the Malcolm Shabazz Market. It’s easy to lose a day or more in Harlem.

Above all, it’s a place of change. Harlem Opera House became the Apollo. Harlem’s churches became it’s synagogues, which became its churches. The Lenox Lounge closed and will become…

I’ll have to take the tour again in  2015 to find out.

Currently reading: Joseph Berger’s The World in a City, which I’d started years ago but never finished. Overlaps nicely with this weekend’s tour. Haven’t totally given up on Waterfront but the author’s style makes it almost unreadable.