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Showing posts from March, 2009

A Lunchtime Concert at the World Financial Center (Diana Krall and Orchestra)

The word evidently got out about the free concert celebrating Diana Krall's new album, "Quiet Nights," the one today at 1 p.m. in the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center downtown, because by the time I got there at 12:30 p.m. the place was filling up. And what a place! The large curved glassed atrium, dotted with soaring palms, seems a good place for a concert, and indeed, the one today had the feeling of a spring renewal. Though many in the assembled crowd, some standing, some sitting on the curved raked steps, looked dressed for work, there was an air of informality, like summertime.

Diana Krall and her orchestra took the stage promptly, and the audience greeted her entrance warmly. She played songs from the new album, a sexy, lingering affair, including classics of bossa nova. It's a tall order to sing "Quiet Nights" (Corcovado) and say something different from the memorable one recorded by Astrud Gilberto. With her breathy but full vocalizations…

Straightening Out the Minettas

In Greenwich Village, on the east side of Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) between 3rd Street and Bleecker Street, several little nooks and corners of this area bear the name of Minetta, a reference to the trout-filled stream that once meandered in this place. Native Americans called the stream "Mannette," meaning "Devil's Water." Variations of the name over the years include Minnetta, Menitti, and Manetta. Let's look at the various Minettas, all within yards of one another in lower Mannahatta.

Minetta Triangle. Near Bleecker Street, Minetta Street, and Avenue of the Americas. the historical sign (NYC Parks & Recreation site) on the park fence explains the park's naming for Minetta Brook, once a real stream that originated near what is know Gramercy Park and meandered through Greenwich Village to the Hudson River near W. Houston Street. The stream has since been diverted and paved over with decades worth of concrete. Basements along the way sti…

Freewheelin' Jones Street

From Spring 2009
I assume most of the civilized readers of these pages would be familiar with Bob Dylan's second studio album titled The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan from 1963. The covers features Dylan walkin' down the street with Suze Rotolo, his girlfriend at the time. They're walking down the middle of the street, and there's snow on the ground. The street on the album cover is Jones Street (pictured above) in Greenwich Village, a small street west of 6th Avenue and between Bleecker Street and 4th St. (positively!), and in 2009, it doesn't look too different from the photo on the album (taken by Don Hunstein, a photographer with CBS).

Jacques Brel, Songs of the Street, and On Bleecker Street

Last month, Eric Blau passed away at the age of 87. A resident of Manhattan, the multi-talented Blau, a man of several careers, was best known as the creator, along with composer Mort Shuman, of the musical review, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. (obit from the NYT here). The review opened on January 22, 1968 in the Village Gate and played for over four years. When I was younger, I didn't think there was anything better than the songs of Jacques Brel. For the review, Blau translated Brel's lyrics into English without losing any of their sensitivity and power. I can still remember most of the lyrics from "Jacques Brel," hearing "Amsterdam" and "Fanette" even as I write this.

I pass by the former Village Gate most every day while strolling along Bleecker Street. The sign for Art D'Lugoff's famous spot, notable for its legendary jazz performers, is still there. The new venue, Le Poisson Rouge, now occupies the space, and i…

The New York Hotel That Looks Like It's in Miami

From Spring 2009
(revised) Originally named The Summit (later, Loews New York and after, the Metropolitan, before the Doubletree), the hotel was the creative inspiration of architect Morris Lapidus. Opened in January 1961, the building seemed way outside the limits of New York architectural tastes. Flamboyant and excessive, it stood in contract to the more minimalist designs of International Style buildings nearby, classics such as the Lever House (SOM) and the Seagram Building (Mies van der Rohe in collaboration with Philip Johnson). According to an article in the New York Times from March 2005, "When the Summit Hotel (now the Doubletree Metropolitan) opened on Lexington Avenue at 51st Street in 1961, with its curving facade coated in sea-foam-colored brick, the joke was that it was too far from the beach."

Lapidus is most famous for his Miami Beach hotel, The Fontainebleau, built in 1954, so naturally, this dramatic building on Lexington bears some resemblance to that reso…

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on East 52nd Street

"-S'il vous plaît… dessine-moi un mouton!"

Like many others, I learned French in school by reading Le Petit Prince, the charming and thoughtful story written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. So I was delighted, even in a child-like way, to come upon a charmer of a building, 3 East 52nd Street, and to see on the exterior a plaque honoring the French author and aviator.

According to Christopher Gray, in an April 2001 NYT Streetscapes article about the building, the organization La Section Americaine du Souvenir Francais put up this plaque memorializing Saint-Exupery. It's not where he lived, as I shall explain.

During the early years of WWII, from January 1941 and April 1943, the writer lived much of the time in a penthouse at 240 Central Park South and in a rented mansion in the village of Asharoken on the north shore of Long Island. He also spent some time in Quebec City. He wrote The Little Prince in the Long Island mansion during the summer and fall of 1…

Modernist Escapes in Midtown Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan can seem overwhelming at times. The density created by the tall buildings, the crowds flocking to Rockefeller Center and Radio City, the flagship stores along Fifth Avenue, and the general mayhem that ensues on a day with parades or other special events makes Midtown the area to avoid among many natives. For residents and visitors alike, knowledge of quick escape routes and calming spaces nearby can make the difference between an exciting adventure in the city or a long and exhausting day in New York. I prefer to have a nice day.

I'm not crazy about crowds, but that's what you get when you want to see a parade on Fifth Avenue. Fortunately, I've developed an emergency kit of serene places in Midtown where I can escape for a little while. I've always managed to find Paley Park just when I needed it, a small space built in 1967 on the site of the former Stork Club at 3 E. 53rd Street. William S. Paley, the founder of CBS, donated the park and named it aft…

St. Patrick's Day Parade, Fifth Avenue (A Slideshow)

The clear skies and mild temperatures lured me to Fifth Avenue today to watch the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and like several hundred thousand others lining Fifth Avenue between 44th and 86th, it took a while for me to jockey into position so I could see anything. I started in the area near St. Patrick's Cathedral (why not?) and then walked north a few blocks to where I could get a closer look. The church you see in some of the images is St. Thomas, an Episcopal church on Fifth Avenue at 53rd St. I also spent some time at 54th and Fifth Avenue before I decided to press on to a calmer part of midtown. The only misgiving I have about this slideshow is that no sound accompanies it, and indeed, there was plenty of traditional Irish music issuing forth from many marching bands.

The St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York carries with it some heavy tradition, with important roles played in the festivities by members of the church and law enforcement. In fact, the police presence is…

St. Patrick's Day Parade and Pub Map

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Happy St. Patrick's Day to ye. A few hundred thousand souls, wearing their green, will be taking to Fifth Avenue today. The parade starts at 11 a.m. at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, and then marches north on the avenue, clan by clan, to 86th Street. Meanin' - if you were thinkin' about an easy commute to the area in question, you might consider your plans.

A little investigation mapwise reveals that many of New York's Irish pubs may be found in the area around Times Square on the west and then to the east over to Third Avenue, above 42nd St. and south of 57th St. I haven't even mapped many of them, and point of fact, the most famous Irish tavern in NYC, bein' the first, McSorley's, is way down in the East Village. You'll find some Irish there, for sure, but almost everywhere later today on the emerald isle of Manhattan.

Like Irish films? Over the past few days, I've been conducting an informal survey of everyone's favorite underrat…

Recent Books on New York City Life and Art: A List for Spring Reading

All I want is a week to browse through bookstores, and although I don't see that week in my near future, I have found time this weekend to scout out some relatively new and interesting New York-oriented books. A few of them deal with the city's everyday visual culture - murals, storefronts and subway art, for example, that makes the city stimulating and always surprising.

• On the Wall: Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City by Janet Braun-Reinitz (Author), Jane Weissman (Author), Amy Goodman (Foreword). Paperback. 288 pages. University Press of Mississippi. (February 1, 2009)
Based on six years of research and interviews, this book traces the story of many of the post-1968 murals that dot the city, recovering the context of these vibrant works.

• House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street
by William D. Cohan (Author). Hardcover. 480 pages. Doubleday (March 10, 2009) A well-received telling of the collapse of Bear Stearns. For those who ask …

After the Madoff Hearing, Reflections on the Pickpockets of Five Points, and A Trip to the Chopsticks Store

While standing with the pack of reporters, camera people, and producers facing the door of the Federal Courthouse yesterday morning, waiting for signs of movement in the Madoff case, I would occasionally turn around and watch people exercising in a group class in an outdoor playground in Columbus Park. The slow synchronized movements of dozens of people and the sounds of traditional Chinese music that played on tape made a good contrast to the media frenzy on the sidewalk.

Yet, the very place where these exercisers waved and stretched their arms and legs on a morning in a park, so peaceful a scene, was once one of the most notorious slums in New York. Known as Five Points, signifying the intersection of what is now Worth, Baxter, Mulberry, Mosco, and the defunct Little Water streets, the neighborhood's chief characteristics included desperate poverty, environmental degradation, crammed immigrant housing, poor sanitation, casual and revenge murders, exploitation, and education in …

Outside the Courthouse for the Madoff Plea Hearing

I hadn't planned on staying for nearly three hours outside the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan this morning, but I got drawn into the reporter pack covering Bernard Madoff's plea hearing. Just a handful of his victims were on hand to witness live the guilty pleas of the man who made off with their life savings, so a small army of mainly broadcast journalists took turns interviewing them. I found one crew that seemed efficient in relaying the events from inside the courtroom, so I was able to hear right away the "sorry" statements Madoff made to the judge. Most of the working press patiently awaited the most important news - whether the judge would grant bail or remand Madoff into custody. When the word "jail" starting buzzing around the crowd, there was a lot of excitement, but for most everyone, it was time to pack up. Madoff would not be coming out the door to greet the cameras.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple, March 12, 2009.

A Morning Walk in SoHo: Two Roosters, the "Acting" Police, a Little Graffiti, Two Eggs and Some Home Fries

My walk this morning began with the sound of "Cockadoodledoo!" that you sometimes hear in Greenwich Village. No, not really, but last April 15, 2008 the neighborhood woke up to the same sounds. I don't know what's with the seasonal appearance of barnyard animals in LaGuardia Community Gardens, but these guys always provoke a few double-takes among passersby.



I really wanted breakfast, and so from stopping to watch the roosters strut their stuff I wandered south of Houston into SoHo. Approaching the corner of West Houston and Prince Street, I came across the sight of many policemen, some traffic police and others in riot gear. I was somewhat alarmed until I saw the fleet of catering and equipment trucks. I knew then that it was a location shoot, so I asked about it. I approached a young policeman, asking him if he was a real policeman. He said no, he was an actor, and pretty happy to be mistaken for one. I learned they were filming a TV show titled The Unusuals.


View …

Walking Arcades of the Theater District: Minskoff Alley and Shubert Alley

Continuing a look at walking arcades, please find below a couple of images of two walking passages near Times Square - Minskoff Alley and the famous Shubert Alley. Not far from the arcades in Midtown in the fifties, these alley passages show off the visuals of the area's theatrical culture. The Minskoff Theatre, opened in 1973, was refurbished for its long-running hit, The Lion King, the musical that arrived here in 2006 after playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre since its debut in 1997. The alley runs from 44th to 45th. The theatre itself is located in a tall office building, One Astor Plaza.


The older Shubert Alley runs between 44th and 45th, connecting the Booth and the Shubert Theatres and the back of the Minskoff Theatre. In 1975, A Chorus Line opened at the Shubert for an astonishing fifteen-year run. The theatre, opened in 1913, sports a decorated Venetian Renaissance exterior designed by architect Henry Beaumont Herts (also of the similar Booth Theatre). The auditorium and…

The Walking Arcades of Midtown

Those of us with a flâneur sensibility go into throws of sophisticated excitement at the very sight of an arcade. I'm not talking about a shoot 'em up palace of games, but the kinds of passageways first built in Paris in the 19th century. Here, let me pass the mic over to Walter Benjamin, our greatest collective biographer, for a description of the early ones:

"An illustrated Paris guide said: 'These arcades, a new contrivance of industrial luxury, are glass covered, marble floored passages through entire blocks of houses, whose proprietors have joined forces in the venture. On both sides of these pass ages, which obtain their light from above, there are arrayed the most elegant shops, so that such an arcade is a city, indeed a world, in miniature'. The arcades were the setting for the first gas lighting." 1935 From The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin


When I arrived at the New York City Center on W. 55th this past Sunday for a performance of Paul Taylor'…

Follow Your Money: The New York Financial Crisis & Recovery Walk

I think I've reached my bottom when it comes to bad financial news, a personal capitulation if you will, so I've devised a 10,000 step program to aid our road to recovery. Surveying the urban landscape of New York, the financial capital of the world, I've mapped out the pinpoints of flickering light (some have flicked off) - among them, AIG Private Client Group (70 Pine Street), Bernard Madoff's penthouse apartment (133 E. 64th St.), RIP Bear Stearns (383 Madison) until its purchase by JPMorgan Chase (270 Park Avenue), Lehman Brothers (745 7th Ave.), and several more. Feel free to connect the dots for a self-guided walk. And don't forget to stop in the increasingly relevant Museum of American Finance on Wall Street.


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"Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?"*

You may not know this, but the epicenter of financial forecasting is Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. For some reason, gr…

Snow Day: Washington Square Park

From Winter 2009
Some days are quiet in Greenwich Village, bespeaking the village origins of this community in lower Manhattan. The early mornings are almost always peaceful here, given over to runners and people walking their dogs, but gradually, the area around Washington Square Park picks up momentum when students start arriving for morning classes. On days with nice weather, the park is crowded by noon. When the weather really warms up in late spring, the area becomes a destination for residents and visitors alike to mill around the park, dine in cafes and restaurants, and drink in the pubs, bars, and taverns until the wee hours of the morning. But, on some days like today, with a major snow storm to keep people inside, life in the Village seems little different than in a rural hamlet.

Image: Washington Square Park, southeast corner, noon, after a major snowfall. March 2, 2009. The rust-colored building on the right is NYU's Bobst Library (Elmer Holmes Bobst), designed by Philip…