April 2, 2009

Winston Churchill in New York: Sir Winston Churchill Square, New York's Downing Street, With a Note on the Opening of Topshop

For children growing up in postwar America, the real-life British action figure known as Winston Churchill looms large. We knew him on this side of the pond as a portly and clever world leader who smoked cigars and saved his country (that we got to know in lit classes) from Nazis. Even little Texas kids like me knew by heart some of the "We shall fight on the beaches" speech from June 4, 1940. Librarians and teachers encouraged young Boomers to read one of the many biographies of Churchill written for young people. He wrote books of formidable size on many different subjects, and he would have been the ideal uncle to any of our Jack and Jills or Tom and Hucks. We could imitate his accent and flip the V sign. Winnie.

While shopping on the foodie blocks of Bleecker, I frequently like to stop and sit in the charming Winston Churchill Square (NYC Parks page) near the meeting of Bleecker Street, Downing Street and Avenue of the Americas. When I was there yesterday, I realized that I had also recently visited the bookstore specializing in Churchilliana, Chartwell's, in midtown within the Park Avenue Plaza. This little park in the Village, across the street from the Minettas, borders Downing Street, and it doesn't take a genius to realize that, of course, Churchill once resided at London's 10 Downing Street. The park is often frequented by a group of older citizens who like to smoke, gossip, and curse. I like to imagine they've been hanging out there since 1943.

Winnie grew up with at least a half New York state of mind, because his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, was born Jennie Jerome in Brooklyn. She was a beauty, married three times, conducted numerous extramarital affairs, opposed women's suffrage, and she was rumored to have a tattoo of a snake wrapped around her wrist. When Winnie visited New York in the 1890s, he stayed at the home of a New York Irish-born politician, William Bourke Cockran, who served as host and role model for the future PM.

Churchill had a terrible accident in New York on December 13, 1931. He had taken a taxi from the Waldorf-Astoria to Bernard Baruch's house on Fifth Avenue. While crossing Fifth Avenue, he apparently mixed up traffic directions, being British and all, and was hit by a car. He was in Lenox Hill Hospital for a week. Winnie sent a telegram to an Oxford friend inquiring about the force of the impact, and his friend wired back to tell him that since Churchill was so chubby, it could have been worse.

The Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States, located on Madison Avenue, was founded by American friends of Churchill to support the Churchill Scholars, young American graduate students attending Churchill College at the University of Cambridge.

This post on Churchill in New York happens to correspond with the week that all eyes are on London for the G20 summit and less importantly, the day that a popular British clothing store, Topshop, opens on Broadway and Broome. WOTBA's got some swag, thanks to the little Topshop truck that's been tooling around the streets. For more British invasion themes, visit this additional WOTBA walk that opens on supplementary pages.

"If you're going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill

Images: Top. Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain. LOC. Office of War Information. 1942?. Below: Winston Churchill Square, New York.

1 comment:

Tinky Weisblat said...

Lov this post since I, too, grew up in the shadow of Churchill.

And OF COURSE it's always good to hear a reason why it's good to be chubby..........