Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Last Supper

We had a lazy last day so as not to be tired for our journey tomorrow. We had a lovely late breakfast at Café Henri, a French bistro near our hotel in Long Island City. Excellent, except for the screeching baby.

In the afternoon we went for a walk down to Gantry Park one last time and snoozed in the sun for a while.

We had our final dinner at Fushia Restaurant in our hotel (I had their Pad Thai again, because it was so good from last time) and played a game of Scrabble.

What an excellent trip this has been!

Tomorrow we fly back from LaGuardia Airport.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Midtown Manhattan Walk

Today we again took the East River Ferry over to Manhattan. It’s such a quick ride, only about 3 minutes, and you’re right there in Midtown Manhattan. I don’t know why more people don’t take it. The Long Island City terminal is about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, mostly through a lovely waterfront park that we’ve been enjoying every day: Gantry Park. Its website calls it “one of America's most uniquely beautiful urban parks.” One always has to question the validity of those casual claims to be the best or biggest or most whatever. But it certainly is pretty and has great unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline. I would also agree with its website’s claim that it is “an oasis of tranquility” in an otherwise bustling and noisy city. We’ve been very happy with our choice to stay on the other side of the East River, away from the noise and the crowds.

We stopped for a bite to eat at Bagel Boss in the Murray Hill neighborhood, one branch of an establishment that opened in 1935, an event that warranted inclusion in the Kitchen Project’s History of Bagels. I had one with light scallion and lox cream cheese, and it was yummy.

Our ultimate goal was a walk in Central Park, but we passed several other landmarks along the way, as we once again trod the streets of New York on increasingly strong legs and tired feet.

The Morgan Library & Museum – a complex that encompasses both the home and magnificent private library of banker John Pierpont (“J.P.”), the leading financier of the Progressive Era. The library was donated to the public in 1924 by Morgan’s son, J.P. Morgan, Jr.
Grand Central Station – Built in 1871, during the heyday of American long-distance passenger rail travel, it has 44 platforms, more than any other railroad station in the world. It is a gorgeous building, a National Historic Landmark, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To many people, Grand Central is “not so much a train station as a metaphor for directionless mayhem, traffic run amuck, bodies barely dodging one another.” We had to move on from there to get towards our goal.
The main branch of the New York Public Library – an imposing Beaux Arts style building done in Vermont marble, completed in 1911. It too is a National Historic Landmark. Unfortunately the famous Rose Main Reading Room with its gorgeous ceilings was closed for renovation, but we still got to see the magnificent entry with its arched ceiling and grand staircases. The famous pair of lions guarding the entrance, nicknamed Patience and Fortitude, were sculpted by Edward Clark Potter. For once, an illustrious Potter that my family is not directly related to (as far as I know).
There was photography exhibit on at the library at the time and I took a quick peek at it. “Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography” is an interesting look at how people have made their photos public over time: individual prints passed around or framed and displayed in venues, photo albums and scrapbooks, reproductions in books and magazines, slide shows, all the way to the latest mode of dissemination: social media.

Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store on – you guessed it – Fifth Avenue. Founded in 1898 by Andrew Saks, the luxury department store chain is now owned by the Canadian retailer, Hudson's Bay Company. The building housing Saks’ headquarters and flagship store was built in 1924.
Rockefeller Center – This complex of 19 commercial buildings, named after John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who developed it beginning in 1930 (another “Rock”: he’s the same guy the Rockefeller Library at Brown was named after), was the largest private building project ever undertaken in modern times. The original 14 buildings are in the Art Deco style. Rockefeller Center is a National Historic Landmark.
The bronze Art Deco Atlas Statue in front of Rockefeller Center was created by sculptors Lee Lawrie and Rene Paul Chambellan and was installed in 1937. It is the largest sculpture at Rockefeller Center. The piece has since been appropriated as a symbol of the Objectivist movement and has been associated with Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (1957).
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the crowning achievement of architect James Renwick, Jr., who also designed Grace Church which we saw yesterday. It is a Decorated Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral, built from 1858-1878 (construction was halted during the Civil War).
Calvary Baptist Church is a historic church founded in 1847. The current building, dedicated in 1931, is an early example of urban high-rise, or "skyscraper" church. It is a 16-story building which also includes the Hotel Salisbury, an apartment hotel. Billy Sunday and Billy Graham have preached at Calvary. The inscription over the front door is “We preach Christ crucified, risen and coming again.” Emmanuel the “gate man” who let us in was very friendly and says it’s important for a church to always have a gate man, to let in anyone who may knock. He told us the story of one man who came wanting to be baptised, and he was able to send him upstairs to the pastor. He also thinks the end times are upon us and more and more people will be flocking to the church before Jesus returns. Not sure I agree 100% with his theology, but he was a sweet man and very earnest.
Carnegie Hall is a famous Art Deco style concert hall built in 1891, financed by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It is one of the most prestigious venues in the world for both classical music and popular music. The New York Philharmonic was resident there until 1962. Part of the folklore of the hall is the rumor that a pedestrian on Fifty-seventh Street once stopped violinist Jascha Heifetz (or some say it was pianist Arthur Rubinstein) and inquired, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" "Yes," said Heifetz. "Practice!"
Finally, we arrived at Central Park, designed in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, whom we’ve met before in this blog. It is a National Historic Landmark and is the most visited urban park in the United States as well as one of the most filmed locations in the world. The Park’s lagoon, with its ducks, features in the novel The Catcher in the Rye.
Sarah has noticed a curious phenomenon on our trip. Whenever I stop to take a photo somewhere, a bunch of amateur photographers gather round to take a photo in the same direction. She wanted me to test her theory by setting up my camera to take a picture off into some random space that had nothing particularly photogenic. So I did it a couple of times in Central Park, and sure enough, the copycats came out in droves. Hilarious. I wish she’d had a camera too, to photograph that happening.

This time we walked back to our hotel via the Queensboro Bridge. We saw the Roosevelt Island Tramway right beside us as we went.
One last shot of the Empire State Building at night from the other side as we walked back to our hotel.
I mapped our whole route today, just for curiosity, using MapMyRun, and found that we had walked 7.65 miles (you have to subtract the leg that was the ferry trip across the East River, which was 0.52 miles). My pedometer app said it was 21,289 steps. I guess my walking stride is around 2700-2800 steps per mile, which is more than what they say is average.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Grace in the City

Once again we took the East River Ferry and walked a lot in Manhattan. Today’s main attraction was Grace Church (Episcopal), a historic church (founded in 1808) where my parents were married. Its present building (1843-1846) is a French Gothic Revival masterpiece designed by James Renwick, Jr. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The chantry, built in 1879, was designed by my great great great uncle Edward Tuckerman Potter. I got special permission to have it unlocked for me to go inside and photograph it, because I said I was a descendant of the man who designed it.

The baptismal font with its carved canopy was designed in 1894 by his half-brother, William Appleton Potter. The font is octagonal because eight people survived the biblical flood, Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives, illustrated in the mosaic on the wall behind the font.
Another brother, Henry Codman Potter, notable for his early leadership in the Social Gospel movement, was the rector there from 1868 to 1884. He presided over expanding programs offered by the church to immigrants, who were arriving in ever-increasing numbers; these included day care and teaching skills that would lead to employment.

I was fascinated to learn of one parishioner, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, a philanthropist and art collector who “helped launch the competitive cycle of giving that transformed museums in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, from the private pursuits of rich art lovers to professional institutions dedicated to educating large audiences and promoting modern art.” The great aim of her life was to give away her money wisely. She had great respect and admiration for Henry Codman Potter’s work, and a special affection for Grace Church. She donated the money for the Chantry, to be used as a Sunday School. She also paid for the construction of the parish house, between the Church and Rectory. She also donated the great East Window. This act of generosity provided an example for others to follow, and within ten years her fellow parishioners had given 36 of the 46 stained glass windows presently in the church. She bequeathed her art collection one of the largest in America, to the Metropolitan Museum, together with an endowment of $200,000."

A block up Broadway from Grace Church is Strand Bookstore, founded in 1927, by my estimation New York’s best and most famous bookstore. Known for its “18 miles of books” it takes up three and a half floors and sells both new and used books, 2.5 million of them according to a 2011 figure.

A few more blocks north on Broadway, at the northern end of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District (the location of some of New York's most famous department stores), is the Flatiron Building (1902), a National Historic Landmark. It is called such because of its wedge shape, like that of a cast-iron clothes iron. It has been called “one of the world's most iconic skyscrapers, and a quintessential symbol of New York City.” The neighborhood surrounding it is called the Flatiron District after it.

Nearby is Union Square, so named in the 19th century because it marked “the union of the two principal thoroughfares of the island.” It features an impressive equestrian statue of George Washington. Our friends Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (designers of Prospect Park in Brooklyn), were involved in the layout of tree plantings in 1872. Bronze plaques set in the sidewalk commemorate some of this historic events that have taken place at Union Square.
We had lunch at Village Taverna Greek Grill. Oh my, this is the best food we’ve had yet in New York! Lovely decor. I highly recommend it!

This is the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library – formerly Jefferson Market Courthouse. Built in 1874-1877 in High Victorian Gothic style, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historic Landmark. Its rescue from planned demolition and redesign as a library was “one of the first adaptive reuse projects in the United States, and a signal event in the historic preservation movement.”

In the afternoon we returned to Grace Church for Choral Evensong featuring Benjamin Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb.” It is an annual tradition of Grace Church in lieu of a blessing of the animals service, at the time of the year when other Episcopal churches do that. Britten’s text has lots of references to animals, and some strange bits too, but the music was lovely, sung by a choir of men and boys. The postlude was Maurice Duruflé’s “Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain” – very beautiful.

We had dinner at a Latin American/Cuban restaurant called Blend near our hotel which was recommended by a Hispanic guy behind the front desk. Yum! Highly recommended. We brought along a Scrabble set and played a game in the dim light there as we ate our meal.