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The British Invasion: A Walk on 72nd Street

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of 72nd St. to examine British influence in the former colonies.

(revised 2012 ) Many New Yorkers have spent much of the last 400 years or so trying to keep British subjects* uneasy about settling here. Even with the first encounter in 1609 the indigenous peoples of this area greeted English explorer Henry Hudson with some good trading deals but then shot arrows through his crewmen's necks.

It's been like that ever since. So I've poured some Lyle's Golden Syrup on my porridge this morning and unfolded the map of Manhattan next to me in order to plan the next walk.

I will first explain where I am not going. I am not walking up Greenwich Avenue, a street with some very good English-themed shoppes such as A Salt and Battery (fish and chips) and Tea & Sympathy. This past spring merchants along here organized a lobbying campaign to designate the avenue as Little Britain in the Big Apple. I wish them well.

Knowing that these repeated invasions from the British Isles have indeed made an impact far larger than afternoon tea, I walked west to east along 72nd Street, a journey that should serve as an exemplar of British power and might. 

OKAY! Now everyone shout out the answer - "Are you a mod or a rocker?"

Images: Letter from the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and a Union Flag. Click on the letter to enlarge.

* American Presidents born as British subjects: Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J. Q. Adams, Jackson, and W. Harrison.


Atlantic Overtures 


We were all on this ship in the Sixties. Our generation – a ship going to discover the New World. And the Beatles were in the crow’s-nest of that ship. We were part of it and contributed what we contributed: I can't designate what we did or didn't do. It depends on how each individual was impressed by the Beatles, or how shock waves went to different people. We were going through the changes, and all we were saying was, "It’s raining up here!" or "There’s land!" or "There’s sun!" or "We can see a seagull!" We were just reporting what was happening to us. - John Winston Lennon (9 October 1940 Liverpool, England - 8 December 1980 New York City) quote, from Anthology 201


Sept. 12, 1609. Very fair and hot. In the afternoon at two o'clock we weighed, the wind being variable, between the north and the north-west; so we turned into the river two leagues and anchored. This morning at our first rode in the river, there came eight and twenty canoes full of men, women and children to betray us; but we saw their intent, and suffered none of them to come aboard us. At twelve o'clock they departed. They brought with them oysters and beans, whereof we bought some. They have great tobacco pipes of yellow copper, and pots of earth to dress their meat in. It floweth south-east by south within. - Robert Juet, crewman aboard the Halve Moon, Henry Hudson's Third Voyage to the New World. The quote at top is from Juet's entry from the previous day, September 11, 1609.

The Hudson River

In 1609 Londoner Henry Hudson, hired by the Dutch East India Company to find an easy passage to China, sailed his ship, the Halve Maen, into New York Harbor and then up what is now known as the Hudson River. With no China in sight, he had to turn back. Hudson's 3rd voyage allowed the Dutch to claim the region and to establish fur trading. The rest is history.

Ian Chadwick knows everything about Henry Hudson. See his sitehere.

One of Hudson's crewmen, Robert Juet, kept a diary of the trip, and it makes fascinating reading. You can read the text here.

Image: The Hudson River and present-day New Jersey.


Strong Women

Walk from W. 72nd @ Riverside Drive to W. 73rd @ Broadway and visit two important sites:

1. Eleanor Roosevelt Monument. South entrance of Riverside Park at W. 72nd St. and Riverside Drive.
From 1899 to 1902 Eleanor Roosevelt attended the elite Allenswood Academy outside London. She wanted to stay a fourth year but her pushy family made her come home for her débutante ball. She never attended college, a fact she said she often regretted, and so she returned to New York from England, spending the days in idle and meaningless pastimes and not amounting to much.

Just kidding.* The American woman who I wish would have stayed away from England, for their sake, is Wallis Simpson. 


2. The Ansonia, apartment complex at Broadway @ 73rd St. Home to many famous actors and sports figures in the early decades of the 20th century, among them actress Billie Burke. Born in the US, Burke moved to London where her family settled, and she decided to become an actress while seeing plays in the West End. She lived in the Ansonia with husband Florence Ziegfeld. Her time in England, I believe, helps explain why Glinda, the Good Witch, the role Burke plays inThe Wizard of Oz, speaks with such elegant refinement, while the Wicked Witch snarls with a nasally midwestern accent. Margaret Hamilton was born in Cleveland. I love Burke in Dinner at Eight, a super New York movie.

The Continental Baths, a landmark in gay history, was located in the basement of the Ansonia in the early 1970s.

American author Theodore Dreiser wrote An American Tragedy while in residence at the Ansonia. The 1951 motion picture Place in the Sun was based on the novel and starred Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor (b. 27 February 1932, Hampstead, London), and Shelley Winters. Taylor is one of the most famous British-American movie stars of all time as well as a passionate humanitarian in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt. We love her. The Ansonia, truly an Oz for the Friends of Dorothy.
Image: Eleanor Roosevelt between King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. London, England. 23 October. 1942.

Image: Billie Burke as Millicent Jordan in Dinner at Eight (1933)

Image: Elizabeth Taylor in Giant (1956), another WOTBA fave, filmed in Marfa, Texas.

* WOTBA sometimes worries that schoolchildren will find this site and quote passages (unattributed of course) in their homework.

The British Invasion Walk, 72nd St. from the Hudson River to the East River. 


Food and Private Lodging on the Upper West Side

Continue the walk by returning to W. 72nd St. and proceed east. On the north and south side of the street you'll find cafés and restaurants representing the cuisines of the world. If you need to balance the British theme, I would like to recommend P.D. O'Hurley's at 174 W. 72nd. Other choices could include a Kosher restaurant and deli, a Thai place, and Earthen Oven, an Indian restaurant.

Several apartment buildings along the street derive their names from the British Isles. We have the Ruxton Tower Apartments, the Mayfair Towers, and the Oliver Cromwell, all on the west side of Central Park, and on the east side, we see The Wellesley, The Bayard, and Charing Cross House.

The Hotel Olcott at 27 West 72nd has been converted into residences. Once the home of "musician" Tiny Tim, the Olcott is part of the growing trend of hotel-to-condo conversions. WOTBA does not approve, because we like to frequent hotel lobbies of fading grandeur.

The fairest of all apartment buildings is The Dakota. Built in 1884 by developer Edward Severin Clark and designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh (also The Plaza, 1907) The Dakota blends an eclectic mixture of European styles - Victorian, Gothic, and French. The dining room on the first floor was modeled on a similar one in an English manor house.

Judy Garland lived in The Dakota in early 1961. Other famous residents include Leonard Bernstein, Lauren Bacall, José Ferrer, Boris Karloff, Carson McCullers, William Inge, Rudolf Nureyev, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon.

Image of skaters in Central Park with The Dakota in the background: from Moses S. King, King's Handbook of New York City, 2nd ed., 1893, p. 746

John Lennon, who many of us miss so much because his music and ideas gave so much definition to our lives, was shot and killed at The Dakota Apartments in 1980, nine years before these freshmen were born. John was 40. He would have been 67 next Tuesday, October 9, 2007.

His music is still here. His intelligence is still with us, just like that much much older Shakespeare fellow (or the collective entity known as William Shakespeare) who is so alive in Central Park.

I'm glad that we have memorials such as the one on the west side of Central Park near 72nd St. - the perfectly-named Imagine memorial and the adjacent Strawberry Fields, for people to connect with the Lennon of their own imaginations.

Time is immaterial. Imagination is alive. 

The End of the Trail 

To complete the British Invasion Walk , we'll stroll through Central Park and then pop out on the Upper East Side and keep walking east along 72nd Street.

While still in the park, perhaps at the glorious Bethesda Fountain, note that Frederick Law Olmsted, the park's famous designer, had an important British partner in this vast undertaking. His name is Calvert Vaux. The last name is pronounced to rhyme with "hawks." Vaux married the sister of a Hudson River School painter and became a U.S. citizen.

The storefront at 347 East 72nd St. is the home of The United Lodge of Theosophists. Co-founded by Madame Blavatsky and Wm. G. Judge, the U.L.T., based on a quick read of the pamphlets I brought home with me, does not engage in the usual Theosophist infighting. And I say, "Good for them!" They host all sorts of events, including Spanish study groups and "Theosophic Influences in Cinema, Theatre, and Literature."

Ralph Lauren store is along in here, too, on the south side of the street, peddling its cause to Americans for the adoption of an expensive manor-born British way of life.

Continue walking to York. Here we are. Sotheby's itself, the New York branch of the legendary British auction house, all nice in its glassy New World outfit. When I neared the building the other day, I heard a man on a cell phone tell someone, "But we need to know exactly who painted it!" And I thought, "Yeah, you do." 

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