simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: June 2007
2 ... 2 ...

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Whoopi Too

Yes, that's Whoopi Goldberg (two photos bottom left) getting her highly coveted iPhone a few minutes after the release of the new, heavily promoted device at the Apple Store in SOHO at 6 PM, Friday June 29th. People had camped out in line around the block outside the store as early as since Tuesday. Some had paid others as much as $150 to wait in line for them. This scenario was played out in Apple stores around the country. Two guys had set up a ping pong table to pass the time (upper right photo). There was cheering when UPS made their delivery in the morning. All manner of press was there with reporters doing interviews. The whole scene was sheer lunacy, since iPhones were readily available just hours later with no lines whatsoever. Apple employees assured me there was adequate inventory - an estimated 2,000 phones were delivered to this location alone. Also, the phones were simultaneously released at AT&T stores, where I understand the lines there were negligible. Apple's ability to inspire a cult following and religious zeal among their customers - (as documented by Guy Kawasaki in The Macintosh Way) and their ability to create buzz and hype for a product is remarkable. An iPhone search on Google brings 96 million hits. The actual product has received very favorable reviews, however. David Pogue, in an article from the New York Times - The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype, refers to the product as "amazing." He also reports that over 11,000 articles have been written on the iPhone in just the six months. I'll find out good this product really is this weekend with some hands on time - a friend purchased one last night when we visited the Apple Store at 10:30 PM ...

Friday, 29 June 2007


This is the residence of Michael Bloomberg, mayor of NYC. Elected in 2001 and for a second term in 2005, Bloomberg opted to live in his Manhattan residence rather than Gracie Mansion (the official Mayoral residence since 1942, when Robert Moses paved the way for Fiorella LaGuardia to become Gracie Mansion's first resident.) The 5-story, 7,500-square-foot townhouse at 17 East 79th St. was built in 1889 and purchased by Bloomberg in 1986 for $3.5 million - ($17 million today). Don't be deceived understated elegance of this building - these small townhouses and limestone mansions between Fifth and Madison on the Upper East Side are among the most coveted properties in NYC in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the world - this is super prime real estate. Bloomberg has been a unique office holder, not coming from the world of politics. With a B.S. in electrical engineering from John Hopkins and a Harvard MBA, he certainly had the intellectual acumen and academic achievement for his forays into the business world using his background in technology, after his stint at Salomon Brothers. A self-made billionaire from a humble background, Bloomberg is in various Forbes' lists as one of the world's richest men with homes around the world. His Bermuda home has billionaire Ross Perot and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as neighbors. He has a 20-acre farm in North Salem, NY, a Victorian townhouse in London and a condominium in Vail, Colorado. He is a private pilot with a fleet of aircraft at his disposal. Yet, ever to be practical and demonstrate that at some level he is still one of us plain folk, he continues to take the subway every morning to City Hall (albeit with bodyguards) and list his address and phone number in the white pages (yes, I checked) ...

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Light on Bobst

My recent interest in the evening and night sky prompted this photo. It is remarkable how out of touch with the natural world city dwellers can be - there is a serious dearth of knowledge in subjects like plants, animals, insects, astronomy etc. Recently, I have noticed some very brightly lit heavenly bodies - however I was not able to find anyone who new what these objects were (by studying some online star maps, I was able to confirm my suspicion that Venus was one of them). The photo was taken at sunset of the Bobst Library, which houses over 3 million volumes and is one of largest academic libraries in the US. This massive red sandstone edifice on Washington Square South was designed by Philip Johnson for NYU (New York University) and completed in 1972. It has been steeped in controversy since its construction: 1) To begin with, there were substantial delays in its construction. 2) There has been much criticism of its bulky, monolithic form and how it towers over Washington Square Park. The work of Johnson himself has been the subject of much criticism. 3) The library was named after Elmer Holmes Bobst, who made a $6 million dollar contribution. There was embarrassment for the University, however, when it was learned that Bobst was a Nixon supporter, had been accused of a corrupt contribution to Nixon and made antisemitic remarks. 4) In 2003, Bobst made big news with two suicides in one month - students jumped from the open-air catwalks to the marble floor below. 5) Steven Stanzak, an NYU student unable to afford his housing costs became homeless and took up residence in the basement of the Bobst Library for eight months from 2003-04 ...

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Mermaid Parade 2007 Part 2

This is part two of the 2007 Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. Please click on the photo for an enlarged, detailed view. This collage represents a small number of the 300+ photos I took at the parade. I endeavored to show the diversity of costumes that were present. As you can see, the themes of art parades in NYC are not policed and many of the costumes certainly go beyond what one would expect in a Mermaid Parade - hula hoopers, goth garb, ghoulish characters, alien invasions, geishas, visual puns (like the Seapranos), Coney Island postcard groups and creative assemblages. Of course there were mermaids, anemones, nautiluses, brassieres from shells, seahorses, lobsters and a myriad of other sea creatures. The creativity was overwhelming and tough to absorb and process with the volume and speed at which these remarkable displays pass by the spectator. Trying to get decent photos in this intense environment was a challenge. If you check back here in a day or so, I should have a link for more photos of the parade on myFlickr site...

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Mermaid Parade 2007

This has become my favorite parade - it's on the boardwalk, at the beach (yet reachable by subway), in NYC, beautiful mermaids, blue everywhere, Astroland with the Cyclone and Wonderwheel as backdrop, manageable in size, imaginative creative costumes and a spirited atmosphere. Add a sunny day with blue skies and what's not to like? Surprising how many have still not heard of the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2007. Click here and here for my postings of the 2006 parade. Founded in 1983 by Coney Island USA, the not-for-profit arts organization that also produces the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, the Mermaid Parade pays homage to Coney Island's forgotten Mardi Gras which lasted from 1903 to 1954. The Mermaid Parade celebrates the sand, the sea, the salt air and the beginning of summer, as well as the history and mythology of Coney Island, Coney Island pride, and artistic self-expression. The Parade is characterized by participants dressed in hand-made costumes as Mermaids, Neptunes, various sea creatures, the occasional wandering lighthouse, Coney Island post card or amusement ride, as well as antique cars, marching bands, drill teams, and the odd yacht pulled on flatbed. Each year, a different celebrity King Neptune and Queen Mermaid rule over the proceedings, riding in the Parade and assisting in the opening of the Ocean for the summer swimming season by marching down the Beach from the Boardwalk, cutting through Ribbons representing the seasons, and tossing fruit into the Atlantic to appease the Sea Gods. In the past, David Byrne, Queen Latifah, Ron Kuby, Curtis Sliwa, Moby, and David Johansen have presided over the assembled masses. Click here for their official website. Even though I set aside the day to see the event, I still missed many of the events: floats and autos on Surf Avenue, the costume judging and the Mermaid Parade Ball. Tomorrow I will post a collection of the best photos of the hundreds I took ...

Monday, 25 June 2007

Pride March

This weekend was one of parades and marches - on Saturday we had the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island and the Dyke March ; on Sunday the 2007 NYC LGBT Pride march. The gay pride march in NYC, produced by Heritage of Pride, is the big kahuna - marchers included mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the nation's most prominent openly gay elected officials. Religious groups led the parade this year with a float from Dignity, a gay Catholic group, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum who heads the world's largest gay synagogue, Reverend Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church and a Buddhist group. A big issue at hand locally and nationally is the issue of gay marriage, so there was cause for marchers to celebrate the recent passing of a bill in the New York State Assembly legalizing same-sex marriage - Govenor Eliot Spitzer supports the bill, although it is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate. Tens of thousands attended the march which started at 52nd Street, proceeded down Fifth Avenue turning west along 8th Street, finishing in the West Village. Spectators lined the route. At this point in time, after 38 years, the march has become an institution and in spite of the usual coterie of exhibitionists - dancers in bikini briefs, drag queens, Dykes on Bikes - and their voyeurs, the march is no longer the controversial event it once was ...

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Dyke March

This is Gay Pride Week (6/17/07-6/24/07) - an international phenomenon now taking place in 140 cities around the world. Manhattan's own celebration includes parades, marches, festivals, rallies, dances and parties. Yesterday was the 15th Annual New York City Dyke March, taking place the day before the big Gay Parade (today). The Dyke March has been growing in size which is particularly interesting, given that even in NYC, the lesbian community is still a relatively invisible group, particularly in comparison to the gay men's community which has made large gains in the last 40 years with visibility and approval in many spheres and sectors - witness the TV program Queer Eyes for a Straight Guy, e.g. Much of the populace now sees various sexual orientations as just part of the human condition - a percentage of the population has been gay/lesbian since the dawn of time and will continue to be so regardless of of any efforts to eradicate these groups. I believe that one of greatest problems facing full acceptance of the gay community is the continuing position of the various churches that view homosexuality negatively. Social mores in this country still trickle down from religious doctrine owing to a history largely as a judeo-christian society rather than secular ...

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Father Demo Square

This was the ceremony for the eagerly awaited reopening of the newly renovated "vest pocket" park at Father Demo Square. Although this park space may appear small and inconsequential, park spaces large or small are very important to the fabric of the city - these urban oases provide the only outdoor space most New Yorkers ever see. The park is also at a very strategic location - one of the busiest intersections in the Village. The triangular park is bounded by 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas), Bleecker Street and Carmine Street. The square is named after Father Antonio Demo (1870-1936) who was pastor of the neighboring Our Lady of Pompeii Church in 1935. Residential buildings also flank the park - many visitors forget that there are residents live amidst all this, so apart from the physical deterioration and much needed repair, one of the concerns was crowd control. Historically people were in this park all hours; the homeless started setting up home, performers attracted enormous audiences, noise, revelry and fights were common. Hence the decision to include a 3-foot high perimeter fence to the design. The renovations were overseen by the Parks Department (with George Vellonakis was the landscape architect) and David Gruber, local resident, real estate developer and president of the Carmine Street Block Association. The renovation included decorative tiles, a new fountain, trees and flower beds. The $1.3 million dollar project took somewhat longer than anticipated - there were additional issues involved since the park was located over the 6th avenue subway lines. The ceremony, which included live music, was presided over by David Gruber. Attending were Borough Park president Scott Stringer, the pastor of neighboring Our Lady of Pompeii Church, NYPD sixth precinct commander Theresa Shortell (the sole female police precinct commander in New York) and the general contractor for the project. I also recognized a number of local community activists. For reasons unknown, the Parks Commission decided to cancel their attendance at the last minute. Word has it they plan an official ribbon cutting in a couple of months ...

Friday, 22 June 2007

Fête de la Musique

One of the most amazing things about living in New York City is that you can easily miss a major event. Like this one. I learned about this from a coworker in my office at the end of the day (and caught two performances - one in the photo). Make Music New York was NYC's participation in the international Fête de la Musique which is celebrated in 340 cities around the world. On the first day of summer, public spaces in all five boroughs become informal musical stages for all New Yorkers, amateurs and professionals, to perform for friends, neighbors, and passers-by, turning the city into a festival of live music making. The idea germinated in France in 1982, when a memo was sent from Maurice Fleuret, Director of Music at the Ministry of Culture to his advisor Christian Dupavillon and lamented the fact that the French owned more than 4 million musical instruments, most of them in storage unused. A concept was born to encourage individuals to bring out these instruments and professionals and amateurs alike would play everywhere, completely freely indoors and out - in public squares, under porches and on covered walkways, areas of school playgrounds and hospital gardens, at entrances to music academies or under café awnings just for the sheer pleasure of playing. Read about it here. This was New York's first annual celebration click here for the NYC website. Schedules were available and printed in various publications and on the web - click here. New York was a little late to get on board - I hope that it becomes successful in the coming years. I love the quote from Berthold Auerbach: "Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life" ...

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Signs of Summer

These are signs that summer was coming which I have witnessed over the last 2 weeks. Starting with the photo on the left, we have gardening on Washington Square North. It is surprising how much gardening goes on in NYC - much of it out of view behind buildings. At the top photo we have a day that was a real steam bath - the humidity was so heavy you could easily see it as this afternoon haze - it looked like the deep south. At the far right we have two lovebirds in a PDA, but this time in the fountain (click here for last summer's frolick in the fountain). Kind of fun if you don't mind getting your clothes soaking wet. At the bottom we have a young woman sleeping - she was out cold. But not inebriated (the beverage was soda not beer). Today is the solstice and first day of summer in the Northern hemisphere (and the first day of winter in the southern hemisphere). This is the day where the sun is furthest north, or highest point in the sky and takes the most time to cross the sky. This means it's the longest day of the year. The days actually start getting shorter from here - so please enjoy your summer ...

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Gummed Up

I'm embarrassed to admit that I had lived in the city for many years before realizing what all those black splotches on the sidewalks and subway platforms were. I'm feeling a little better learning that this is the case with other New Yorkers I have spoken to; in fact many I questioned were still not aware, thinking the splotches may be part of the concrete, asphalt etc. Gum on the streets is not a new problem - Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia ran an anti-gum littering campaign in 1939 with the slogan "Don't Gum Up the Works," and pressured gum manufacturers to print requests on the wrappers that they be used for proper disposal of the gum. The NYC problem is particularly interesting in that New York is home to invention of the chicle base chewing gum by Thomas Adams and the world's first chewing gum factory, circa 1876, on Vesey Street - Adams Sons & Company. In spite of the fact that throwing out chewing gum on the ground is a violation of the littering law and costly to remove, I think the problem is one of those quality of life issues very low on the priorities scale. Many do not notice or find it a problem and the rest of us become inured. On an encouraging note, GumBusters International B.V., a Netherlands base company, has developed technology - steam equipment and a benign solvent - that easily removes the gum in seconds. They have divisions and franchises worldwide. The franchisee in New York, Gumbusters of NY, has been busy cleaning the streets for a myriad of businesses and was featured on the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs. Perhaps we should adopt the thinking of Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, where chewing gum is banned (precipitated by gum vandalism) who remarked: "If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana." :)

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

New York Stock Exchange

The first thing to know about the New York Stock Exchange building is that it is not located on Wall Street (click here for photo), but around the corner at 18 Broad. The New York Stock Exchange (the world's largest) traces its origins to 1792, when 24 New York City stockbrokers and merchants signed the Buttonwood Agreement outside 68 Wall Street under a buttonwood tree. In 1817 they drafted its first constitution. By the late 1800s larger facilities were needed and 8 NYC architects were invited to participate in a design competition for a new building. George B. Post's neo-Classical design won and in 1903 the new Exchange building with its six massive Corinthian columns opened to fanfare and festivity, recognized from the first as an example of masterful architecture (note - the flag was draped in front of the building after 9/11). Among some of its marvels (from the New York Stock Exchange website): The trading floor was one of the grandest spaces in the nation. It measured 109 x 140 feet and its marble walls rise 72 feet to meet the ornate gilt ceiling. The window wall: The entire front of the building is glass, making practically one stupendous window, 96 feet long and 50 feet high. Another window of the same size forms the New Street front. Skylight: The trading floor is surmounted by a vast skylight, 30 feet square. Air conditioning: The Stock Exchange building was one of the first structures in the world to employ it. There is even an emergency hospital with a physician in constant attendance. The great figural sculptures in marble on the NYSE building’s facade were designed by John Quincy Adams Ward and are among the building’s most recognizable features (click here). Entitled “Integrity Protecting the Works of Man”, the classical design depicts the 22 foot figure of Integrity in the center, with Agriculture and Mining to her left and Science, Industry and Invention on her right, representing the sources of American prosperity. The waves on either extreme of the pediment symbolize the ocean-to-ocean influence of the Exchange (the pediment required replacement in 1936). In 1967, Yippie founder and activist Abbie Hoffman threw dollar bills on the trading floor to proclaim the Death of Money. It never came to pass :)

Monday, 18 June 2007

Feeding at the Zoo

This is feeding time for the penguins at the Central Park Zoo. The public seems to be endlessly fascinated with penguins - their upright walk, lack of fear of humans and tuxedo-like plumage has endeared them to the public worldwide. They have become a virtual mascot of cuteness. Wikipedia even has a separate entry "Penguins in popular culture." The penguin and puffin house is one of a handful of habitats in the Central Park Zoo, one of the oldest in the United States, which originated in 1864 as the Central Park Menagerie. In more recent times, the trend has been to move away from the older menagerie style of zoo, where animals are caged for collection, exhibition and for entertainment purposes. By the 1980s, the Central Park Zoo was in very poor shape - a 1981 New York Times opinion called for closing of the zoo (Let's Do Away with the Central Park Zoo by Alice Herrington). In 1983 the zoo closed for complete renovation and reopened in 1988. The new design, which was applauded, featured more natural habitats - the trend in North American and European zoos. The focus is now more on conservation of endangered species, research and education, and secondarily for entertainment of visitors. Of course these natural habitats are still quite limited in size - the Central Park Zoo is small and does not permit the type of environments seen in places like the Bronx, Philadelphia or San Diego zoos. But it is a dramatic improvement - I had the unfortunate privilege to see the zoo in its former incarnation. Fortunately, my memories of it are quite indistinct ...

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Waldorf Astoria Clock

There is nothing that quite epitomizes the luxurious, elegant, classic, iconic New York like the main lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. It's a study in comfort with soft lighting from table lamps, dark wood, potted palms, sumptuous seating - I could sit in those beautiful Art Deco chairs for hours watching the ebb and flow of people. A visitor feels like they have sneaked into the world of the privileged - and in a way they have. Dominating this lobby is the famed ornately carved bronze Waldorf Astoria clock, set on an octagonal base made from marble and mahogany and topped with a Statue of Liberty. It is well known enough to have become a meeting place, much like the clock in Grand Central Station (click here). A small plaque below the clock reads:
"The Waldorf Astoria Clock was executed by the Goldsmith Company of London for exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. It was purchased by the Waldorf Astoria and was the focal point outside the Rose Room of the original hotel at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. This clock weighs approximately two tons and stands nine feet tall. Around the eight sides of the base are likenesses of Cleveland, Harrison, Washington, Grant, Lincoln, Franklin, Jackson and Queen Victoria. Under these are bronze plaques depicting various sports and scenes. Westminster chimes ring on the quarter hour."

There is a feeling of safety and stability here - the lobby is deep in the center of the city block edifice and the place just feels like it's been there forever and will go on unfettered by the changing times ...

Saturday, 16 June 2007


Last fall I posted twice regarding CBGB and their closing in October 2006, with numerous shots of the interior - click here and here. Of course, the closing of such a legendary club after 33 years was a big story and controversial - some felt the club should have been given landmark designation in order to save it; others felt the club had become more of a tourist mecca and no longer lived up to its original reputation. I thought I would take a final opportunity to photograph the club's original location while vacant, before a new tenant takes over the space. The media, in numerous stories and interviews, has reported that Hilly Kristal, the owner, has intentions to move the entire club to Las Vegas and take as much of the original club as he could: "I intend to take everything out of there that represents CBGB. We're going to take the bars, the toilets, the urinals, even the doors. We want to re-create the essence of the club." There have also been suggestions of franchises of the club other than Las Vegas. In the interim, a CBGB store has opened at 19-23 St. Mark's Place (bottom photo) which also serves as interim location for their fashion/merchandise line, their wholesale and online operations. I have not found any confirmation yet of their move to Las Vegas ...
Footnote: CBGB & OMFUG stands for "Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers," which reflects the owner's original intention for the type of music to be featured - the club ended up becoming the birthplace of American Punk and a venue for rock.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Blue Man Group

I have not done any theater on this site - photography during a theater performance is taboo and exteriors of most theaters themselves are not the most visually compelling. Plus, the shows themselves are quite well marketed and reviewed by those better qualified than myself. However, Blue Man Group has become more than a show (click here for their website). They are an institution and an industry with performances in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Oberhausen and Orlando. They have several CDs, DVDs, an online store with a plethora of merchandise and two musical toys developed for children. They have done film and TV scoring, commercials, television programs (like Scrubs and Arrested Development), and a children’s museum exhibit, Making Waves, which is currently touring the country. Their appearance in the Intel commercial campaign in 2000 brought them international visibility. The group itself was formed in 1988 by Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink, motivated by an interest in creating a show which involved audience collaboration. Their first theater performances were at La MaMa in the East Village - in 1991 they moved to the Astor Place Theater (seen in the photo). The characters are three mute Blue Men (played by rotating cast members) - their faces in blue grease paint and wearing nondescript black clothing. The extraordinarily unique performance art show, called Tubes, is heavily music oriented - numerous unique instruments were created by the group such as the tubulum, drumbone and airpoles. Comedy, satire, social commentary, irony, painting, percussion, clowning, sophisticated lighting effects are all there along with numerous substances (including food and paint) thrown and ejected, some of which may hit audience members - the first few rows are provided with plastic ponchos ...

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Physical Graffiti

Physical Graffiti is both the name of a small vintage clothing boutique at 96 St. Mark's Place shown in the photo and a Led Zeppelin album which used the very same building and the adjoining building at 98 St. Mark's Place for the album's cover (click here for photo). The building was also used as backdrop for a Rolling Stones music video - Waiting on a Friend (this can be found on YouTube). This shop abuts the subject of a previous post, Cappuccino and Tattoo, part of which can be seen on the right. Is this an obsession with St. Mark's Place on my part? Not really. New Yorkers know that St. Mark's Place has been NYC's (and one of the country's) epicenter of a number of counter cultural movements. Dominated by retail, the concentration of shops on St. Marks Place reflects the current flavor. The street has been home to hippies, yippies, punks, political activists and protest marches, renowned bookstores, music stores and clubs (e.g. Electric Circus), graffiti artists, cafes, clothing shops, restaurants, bars, theaters, gangsters, and St. Mark's Church - physical graffiti well describes the street itself.
Footnote: Let the (Internet) reader beware. Misinformation has always been a problem, but the ease of copying text using the Internet has caused viral proliferation. In researching this post, I found numerous references (including Wikipedia) that the Anarchist Switchboard was previously located at 96 St. Mark's Place - an interesting tidbit for this posting, except that it appears to be incorrect. The New York Times misreported this on Feb. 18, 2007 and printed a correction on March 21. I also found a number of references to the building's address for the album cover as 97 St. Mark's Place instead of 96 & 98 (97 is on the opposite side of the street - on east-west streets in Manhattan, even numbers are on the south side, odd numbers are on the north). Rolling Stone has the addresses as 94 & 96. You will probably find these erroneous pieces of info everywhere in perpetuity now, when doing online searches ....

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Shona Gallery

For years I have passed by York's Shona Gallery at 99 Spring Street and enjoyed seeing a large group of carved teak giraffe towering in their window - who doesn't love giraffe? The window display is now different but the giraffe (from one to 14 feet tall) can now be found in the main gallery along with other African art objects. Click here for more photos of the gallery. The owner, Michael Ahuja, hails from New Delhi. His has been in this business since 1978 and opened the gallery at its current location in 1985. Shona houses an impressive collection of imported African art works from places like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya: paintings, fabrics, masks, jewelry, instruments, crafts, iron and wooden sculptures. And an array of furniture carved from recycled African railroad sleeper bunks - these pieces are made from Jarrah, a species of Eucalyptus unique to the southwest of Western Australia. I love the furniture made from this spectacular hardwood known for its remarkable durability, extreme density and warm, deep mahogany-red color. Once seasoned, Jarrah is very tough (impossible to work with regular tools) and has been used for bridges, wharves, railway cross ties, ship building and telegraph poles. There are other reclaimed sources for the wood besides African railroad sleepers; also, a small supply of regrowth Jarrah is logged from a 5 million acre farm owned by the Australian Government and carefully controlled by the Department of Conservation and Land Management. The volume of timber harvested annually is closely monitored ...

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

New York Central Building

What is perhaps most striking about this building is its superimposition over the Met Life building. Before construction of the MetLife (then the Pan Am Building) in 1963, the New York Central Building (now the Helmsley Building) at 230 Park Avenue (34 stories/560 feet) reigned supreme over the neighborhood and prestigious Park Avenue - it was the tallest structure in the Grand Central Terminal complex. Built in 1929 by the New York Central Railroad Company and designed by Warren and Wetmore, the building sits over the north end of Grand Central and the southern end of Park Avenue at 46th Street. Traffic was beginning to become a problem at the time of its planning and New York Central Railroad negotiated leases and easements for construction of the building - in exchange they wove both lanes of Park Avenue through the building (and over Grand Central), creating a mini-raceway from 46th to 40th Street connecting to Park Avenue South and making it NYC's favorite drive-through building. The large, cavernous openings for the two tunnels can be seen flanking the entranceway to the building, with an opulent, detailed lobby. The design echos elements of the Grand Central facade (click here) with ornamental clock and sculpture (click here). The chateau-like pyramidal roof is its most distinctive feature with round dormer windows and crowned with a lantern cupola and spire ...

Monday, 11 June 2007

Mosaic Man

This story about Jim Power, aka Mosaic Man, has been told and retold. In fact, a paper was written by Eric Miller, PhD candidate in folklore and folklife at UPenn (click here). In 2004, he won a City Lore People’s Hall of Fame Award. Power is part of the fabric of the East Village - he has also been an activist artist (click here for His first foray into public mosaic work was in 1985 when he made mosaic planters around tree trunks in Astor Place. He began decorating lampposts with mosaics in 1988. After an altercation with the police, Power negotiated a settlement with the Department of Transportation which permitted him to do 80 lampposts. Last count there are 67 which can be found in a loop - starting at 8th Street and Broadway, across St. Marks Place to Avenue A, down Avenue A to 4th Street, across 4th Street and back up to 8th Street. The lamppost mosaics are themed - many commemorate events. Power came to the US from Waterford, Ireland. After a two year stint in Vietnam, he held a number of positions - blues/jazz guitarist, Con Edison worker, carpenter and stone mason - as a stone mason he earned as much as $2700 per week. His interest in art and injuries from his prior work led him to pursue this passion and give up his livelihood. He has since lived on the fringes of society accompanied by his dog - squatting and crashing in a variety of locales including the Cave collective. There are typically thousands of tiles on a lamppost - it takes as long as 3-4 months to complete one. The tiles themselves are a medley of ones purchased and donated. Although I remember some controversy and range of opinions regarding his approach initially, I think time has done well for his work - in a period where there is substantial gentrification and influx of store chains and mass merchandisers, the mosaics provide a break in the homogeneous direction the city has been moving in ...

Sunday, 10 June 2007


The Hare Krishna Parade starts at 59th Street and works its way down Fifth Avenue, with devotees pulling three chariots (with wooden figures of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra). It ends in Washington Square Park, where booths were set up for the all day Festival of India. A stage is set up for entertainment, showcasing Indian cultural and spiritual performances. There's free food, display booths of books on bhakti-yoga, meditiation, information on vegetarianism and Krishna consciousness. It was a very colorful event - those saris were beautiful. Click here for last years posting. Technically this is the Lord Jagannath's Ratha Yatra Parade - Hare Krishna's celebration of Ratha Yatra, a 5000 year old Hindu festival associated with Jagannath, a deity form of Krishna - the supreme god of Hinduism. If all this sounds a little complex, it is. Hinduism has many scriptures and incarnations and deities of God - it has elements of monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and monism. It is generally seen as henotheistic - a belief in a central God with other manifestations of God. The Krishna movement (International Society of Krishna Consciousness - ISKON) in this country is relatively new but is based on Gaudiya Vaishnavism and the practice of bhakti yoga. The American movement was founded in in NYC 1966 by Swami Prabhupada. He led a group of followers to Tompkins Square Park, where under an American elm tree they began to chant the distinctive 16-word mantra: ''Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.'' The tree considered sacred by the Krishna adherents and in 2001, NYC's Parks Department officially recognized the historical significance of the Hare Krishna Elm tree ...

Saturday, 9 June 2007


Many years ago I became acquainted with the acronym PDA - no, not Personal Digital Assistant, but Public Display of Affection. According to the 17th revised edition of Emily Post's Etiquette (which is up to date with sections on cell phone behavior, Internet behavior, drugs etc.) the PDA is "In public, holding hands and exchanging pecks on the cheek with your significant other can be charming, but prolonged and passionate embraces and soul kisses are always inappropriate." Although views of this behavior vary considerably across various cultures (in France we have "démonstration publique d'affection"), generally it is frowned upon. In some countries it is outlawed. Although some are OK with this behaviour, most of my reading on the subject saw words and phrases like yuck, ick, disgusting, tacky, not cool and the ever popular suggestion "get a room". This couple in the photo was going at it for a minimum of 2 hours, barely coming up for air (Click here for a previous post of a different romantic encounter.) I had reservations of posting this photo and opted for a deliberately processed photo to minimize recognizability of our two lovebirds. I hope you like the result...

Friday, 8 June 2007

Bleecker Tower

It's hard to imagine that this area of lower Broadway, part of what now is called NOHO (north of Houston), was pioneering ground in the early 1980s. The area was dominated by industrial businesses - leather distributors like Marap Leather who occupied an entire building at 678 Broadway or Commercial Plastics at 630 Broadway. In 1980, Unique Clothing Warehouse opened at 718 Broadway at Waverly Place (president Richard Wolland closed it and filed bankruptcy in 1991 with over $2 million in debt), beginning a wave of transition. In 1983, Tower Records opened at 4th Street and Broadway (recently closed). A few months later, the elegant Blue Willow restaurant opened at 644 Broadway in the building shown in the photo. Click here for more photos. This rock-cut brownstone, terra-cotta and brick structure was built in 1889 for the Manhattan Savings Institution (hence the monogram "MSI" at the top) and designed by Stephen D. Hatch. The building was in serious disrepair after years of neglect and in 1987 there was a complete restoration and conversion to residential loft apartments (known as the Bleecker Tower), already fetching millions of dollars in the late 1990s. It is alternately called the Atrium Building (not to be confused with The Atrium at 160 Bleecker), after clothing retailer Atrium who now occupies the ground floor. When safe to do so in NYC, remember to look up ...

Thursday, 7 June 2007


Here we have the Park Avenue Malls - a central 2.5 mile long median (broken by cross streets) extending from 46th Street (at the Helmsley Building, 230 Park Avenue) to 96th Street, where the Metro North railroad tracks surface to run above ground (they run under Park Avenue from Grand Central to 96th Street). The Fund for Park Avenue, a private organization, is responsible for the plantings and maintenance of the Park Avenue Malls. In the spring, tulips are planted - these flower along with the cherry trees. In the summer, when the tulips have faded, wax begonias are planted. According to Margaret Ternes, chairman of the Fund for Park Avenue, wax begonias are chosen for their hardiness - their waxy leaves retard pollution and begonias can stand the hot sun - they do not require the type of watering many flowers do, such as impatiens (there is no automatic watering system for the Malls). I was surprised to see a homeless person on the Mall - a rather uncommon and unexpected occurrence. More surprising was to see him cleaning his nails. Many aspire to live on the highly coveted Park Avenue. Some find unconventional ways of getting there, like Joe Ades, gentleman peeler - click here. But,there are necessary conditions for living here, such as wealth and many personal habits which would be highly recommended if one were to associate with high society. I would guess that good grooming is one of them ...

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Book Country

New York is book country - this is not only an accurate metaphor, it was the name of a major street fair which was held annually for several years along Fifth Avenue. New York City is widely perceived as the center of publishing in the United States, home to numerous major publishers of books, newspapers, magazines and electronic media, with all the service providers - editors, literary agents, graphics, advertising etc. We also have a huge number of bookstores with many renowned independents such as The Strand, Gotham Book Mart, Shakespeare & Company, St. Mark's Bookshop, Three Lives & Company, Labyrinth Books and Bluestockings (the book superstore chains have had a serious impact and the number of independents is fast declining. Time will tell whether this trend threatens the American literary future as many predict). Book signings and readings are also a big part of the NYC literary landscape, although signing tours of major authors mean these events are not so unique to New York itself. Last night at the Barnes and Noble superstore at 17th Street on Union Square, John Updike was doing a reading from a new book (Terrorist) with signed copies available. The event was well attended. Updike is a renowned novelist, poet, literary critic, essayist who has won numerous literary awards: PEN/Faulkner Award, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award (twice) and the Pulitzer Prize (twice). His writing credits are many - read about him here ...

Tuesday, 5 June 2007


In order to make this photo and story work, I wanted to make a case for the resurgence of the parasol. Perhaps a little spin on the facts. Certainly the use of parasols makes the utmost sense since avoidance of the sun is now of paramount importance with ozone depletion, skin cancer, sunburn, freckling. Plus, hats don't shield enough and can lead to the dreaded hat hair. And then there is the sun-shunning goth crowd. So in a way, I'm surprised that parasols aren't HUGE, since they can also be a fashion statement. I did uncover an article in 2005 from the Village Voice that proclaimed the parasol's emergence from the 1920s, citing two shops in the city that are a seeing a renewed interest: Rain or Shine and Brella Bar. The collapsible umbrella/parasol is of Chinese origin, dating back nearly 2000 years. They are still produced in large numbers with a variety of colors, patterns and materials, so Asian product stores like Pearl River are great places to go for selection and pricing. I do occasionally see more women with parasols on sunny, hot or hazy days. (BTW, the dog in the photo is a Wheaten Terrier). In 2001 there was a photo that rocked the world - personal assistant Fonzworth Bentley holding an umbrella over P. Diddy's head in Saint Tropez. Perhaps the male parasol is not too far away ...

Monday, 4 June 2007

St. Bart's

One of the unique features about St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church at 50th Street and Park Avenue, with its signature dome and cross, is the contrast with the surrounding architecture. Click here for more photos. Although this could be said of many churches, urban and rural, the dramatic difference in scale between this landmark limestone and brick structure and the surrounding monolithic buildings on Park Ave. (such as the 570 foot GE/RCA building behind it and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to its right) draws attention immediately. This is actually the third location for the congregation - it started in 1835 in a plain church in the then-fashionable Bowery area; in 1872 their growth and funds permitted them to build a new church at Madison and 44th. Designed by James Renwick, the architect of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the building was later embellished with a triple portal by Stanford White. In 1918, they moved to the current location at 50th Street and Park Avenue. A new structure was designed by Bertram Goodhue and designed to harmonize with the Romanesque Revival triple portal entrance, which was relocated from the Madison Avenue church. Over time, the interior was decorated in the Byzantine style with major mosaics in the narthex and over the high altar. In 1981 a real estate developer offered a plan to build an office tower on the site of the adjacent community house, ensuring a financial endowment for the church. Conflict developed within the parish and between the church and the city over air rights and the landmark status of the building; the case went to the Supreme Court. In 1991, the landmark law was upheld. The church is renowned for its pipe organ, one of the largest in the world, and played by the famous conductor Leopold Stokowski. The popular and successful Café St. Bart's with its outdoor terrace can be seen here. The church provides many community services, including a public music series and summer festival, a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen ...

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Babbo at Last

In one of my earliest posts on March 23, 2006, I wrote of Babbo (click here) - the restaurant of celebrity chef Mario Batali and my pending reservation for April 22 of that year for myself and family (who were coming in from out of state). Unfortunately, that and two other reservations were canceled for a variety of unavoidable circumstances including a hurricane and a blizzard. So it was with great anticipation that last night my family, a friend and I finally did get to eat at the famed establishment. One of the hallmarks of a good restaurant is service of course and our waiter immediately put us at ease by anticipating questions regarding menu structure and options regarding antipasti, primi and secondi. He translated any problematic menu item words and proposed a number of sharing ideas along with specific recommendations. We found Babbo a fun place, not stuffy in the least, which can frequently be the case with restaurants of this caliber. The place was packed, even at 6PM - normally a quiet time at such an early hour for NYC weekend dining. The food was excellent with many exotic touches - you can see their menu here. In addition to the waiter, our table was serviced by a large crew of individuals who made serving and busing a very quick and painless process. We give the food and service a very high rating - click here for a New York Times review. And, no, we did not see Mario. However, I have met him twice before - sitting on the steps of a townhouse across the street on a summer evening, taking a break from the kitchen with a glass of wine, chatting ...

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Wild Crash

On Thursday night while strolling near Washington Square Park in the Village, I observed rerouting of traffic and a helicopter hovering overhead - not typical at all. Suspecting a serious crime scene I walked towards Eighth Street and University Place to find a taped off intersection with a badly crumpled bicycle, smashed cars, police vehicles, ambulances and television equipment and crew. A stolen van had lost control while being pursued by police (driving an undercover car disguised as a taxi). The van made a hard right at the intersection, hitting a vehicle, a bicyclist, parked cars and nearly careening into a glass-enclosed dining area in the front of the Dallas BBQ restaurant. Apparently the scene in the restaurant was pandemonium - people seeing the oncoming van, afraid it was going to collide, began running with plates and food flying, the restaurant shaking. There was flying glass from the collision, injuring one pedestrian. The good news - a bystander, Sherwin Caton, chased and tackled the driver as he was trying to escape. And amazingly, there were only minor injuries ...

Friday, 1 June 2007

Etched in Stone

One of the great things in the city is to happen upon a juxtaposition of architecturally and/or historically important structures. It is surprising that we can still be awed and not jaded, even when exposed daily to vistas and landmarks. I think most New Yorkers still really do appreciate the things they see daily - crossing a bridge by car or subway. I always enjoy being in a part of town I do not frequent; it gives me that sense of newness one has as a visitor. This photo was taken on Fifth Avenue. In the background we have, of course, the Empire State Building, clad in Indiana limestone and granite. In the foreground, at 29th Street and Fifth, you have the Marble Collegiate Church, a Romanesque/Gothic building constructed from white marble, a contemporary of Grace and Trinity churches (the term collegiate refers to the practice of churches sharing ministers as colleagues). Apart from having such a prime address with photo op potential, this church has a very interesting history. Marble Collegiate Church is the oldest Protestant organization in North America - the congregation was founded as the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in 1628; the building dates to 1854. Read about it here. The church is perhaps best known for pastor of 52 years, Norman Vincent Peale, the highly influential author of 46 books including the bestseller The Power of Positive Thinking. Granite, limestone, marble - I love stone. And some things are just etched in it ...