The Church of St Nicholas of Tolentine dominates the busy intersection of University Avenue and West Fordham Road in the Bronx. The parish was erected by the archdiocese in 1906 and has been served by Augustinians ever since then. The present church is a modern gothic creation from 1927, and probably one of the most handsome Catholic churches in the borough — it is often nicknamed “the cathedral of the Bronx”. (Though that style is sometimes also ascribed to St Jerome’s in Mott Haven).
The church is of suitably grand proportions, but the effect is somewhat diminished by the unfortunate use of bulky wooden pews. They are ill-suited to such a large church, and detract from the spaciousness of the interior. This is unfortunately a very frequent problem in the United States, where clumsy pews crowd even great cathedral churches like St Patrick’s in Manhattan or the glorious Cathedral Basilica in St Louis. Regardless, St Nicholas of Tolentine is a splendid ornament in this borough of many churches. (more…)
One of the thorough-going irritations of New York is that, for all its glories, one can’t help but feel that the individual, the human being, is simply not the priority there. This intriguing and worthwhile proposal from Massengale & Co, Dover Kohl & Partners, and H. Zeke Mermell, if executed, would go a long way to making the Upper East Side of Manhattan a much more people-friendly place.
It takes its inspiration from the Ramblas of Barcelona, one of the greatest streets in the world. While their written proposal (below) is couched in anti-car talk, I frankly don’t care about reducing auto use in New York City. The much more important priority is increasing people places in the city; that is, increasing the amount of public space in which it is clear that people have priority. (This will almost certainly have the same effect as the intention of reducing auto use, I’ll concede.) The city has taken some admirable steps in that direction in recent years (the increasing in pedestrian-oriented spaces, including previously unheard-of outdoors tables and chairs for the use of all and any).
The Yorkville Promenade proposal for Second Avenue is eminently suitable to its particular place and location, especially coupled with making First and Third Avenues bi-directional. It is a worthy attempt to tame and civilise streets that all too often feel quite inhumane, and should be enacted.
FOR SO MANY REASONS, we must reduce auto use in New York City. Studies for Mayor Bloomberg showed that living on a high-traffic avenue in Manhattan is un-healthy, particularly for our children. To add insult to injury, 80% of Manhattan residents do not own cars, and only 20% of our out-of-town commuters drive to work. Our ugly, unhealthy avenues are more for the benefit of others than Manhattan’s workers and residents.
Most Manhattanites live in small apartments and spend a lot of time in public life. When the weather is nice, we spend lots of money to dine next to places designers call “auto sewers”: noisy, smelly streets made to move cars quickly, with wide, one-way lanes and no parking at rush hour so that the speeding cars and trucks are inches from the sidewalk. It doesn’t make much sense.
Then there are the problems of Climate Change and Peak Oil. We have built our way of life on an inexpensive but non-renewable resource that is simultaneously starting to run out, becoming more expensive than we can afford and changing the earth for the worse.
The Yorkville Ramble is an idea for a new way to rebuild Second Avenue, after the completion of the new subway under construction below the avenue. Inspired by the famous Ramblas of Barcelona, the design gives the center of the wide avenue that was once two-way to a new car-free linear park for walking, biking, sitting, dining and people watching. Cafés and restaurants along Second Avenue would be licensed to have tables on the center island. Narrow traffic lanes and short term parking lanes to each side would let cars and deliveries come and go while eliminating speeding traffic from Second Avenue.
Construction would be timed to work with the construction phasing for the subway, which will initially run from Sixty-Third Street to Ninety-Sixth Street. The Ramble would be a special place that enlivens the Manhattan grid, like Broadway on the Upper West Side and Park Avenue on the Upper East Side, with a vibrant street life unlike staid Park Avenue.
WEST OF THIRD AVENUE ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE, the introduction of Madison and Lexington Avenues into the normal city grid produced shorter blocks that made the grid more interesting for pedestrians and thereby increased the value of the real estate.
Yorkville’s longer blocks are less pedestrian-friendly, and Second and Third Avenues both used to have that New York oxymoron–the elevated subway–depressing real estate values and building quality for decades. In recent decades the area has boomed, and the Yorkville Ramble will give it a linear neighborhood center unique in New York City, drawing from both the neighborhood and the access provided by the new subway line.
Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City DOT have proposed a congestion zone for the city. London’s congestion zone shows that roads like the Second Avenue design proposed by the DOT will then be oversized and inappropriate for the amount of traffic they will have. First and Third Avenues could go back to being two-way, as they once were, and traffic would move in a more civilized fashion. We don’t need to make express auto routes in and out of the city when we have the best mass transit in the country.
The bicycle lane in the DOT’s new design for Second Avenue is a good idea, but the design for the road shown above is still a traffic engineer’s dream, with wide, one- way lanes and no parking shielding the pedestrian from the speeding cars, buses and trucks. Studies show that walkers don’t like the visual clutter of all the signs and multi-color lanes that the engineers want. Walkers also of course want wider sidewalks.
Second Avenue is currently torn up for the subway con- struction and its rebuilding will start in the next few years. Combined with changing attitudes and perceptions about the car in the city, that makes now the perfect time for a humane and beautiful new type of post- auto road for New York.
Manhattanites and denizens of the neighbouring boroughs and counties might be used to going to the Church of St Thomas on Fifth Avenue to hear the best choir in New York, but this evening the house of worship is hosting the Westminster Cathedral Choir, the best choir in London. If you haven’t made plans for the evening, there are still tickets available here.
Tonight’s concert will feature some Victoria, some Elgar, some Guerrero, and more, but most appealing to me is the Christus vincit by James MacMillan — Scotland’s greatest living composer. If you share my tastes, you avoid music by any composer who hasn’t been dead at least half a century, but MacMillan is good enough to be elevated to the realms of the honorary deceased. He’s also commented on this blog in the past!
In August, I enjoyed a lazy, espresso-fuelled afternoon in this place with Herr Doktor Zmirak and D. Riccardo.
On Sunday 21 August 2011, the Church of St Agnes on 43rd Street in Manhattan was host to a group of Catholic ambassadors to the United Nations for the regular 11:00 Extraordinary Form Mass, offered by Fr. Richard Trezza OFM. (Fr. Cid, a recently ordained Franciscan priest was also in choro). The group included representatives from Grenada, Haiti, the Philippines, Korea, the United Kingdom, and the Empire of Japan.
The informal gathering, formed just this year, is open to Catholic Permanent Representatives and Deputy Permanent Representatives — the first- and second-highest ranking diplomats at national missions to the U.N. — and has heard Mass at a number of different parishes around Manhattan. (more…)
“PRACTICALLY PERFECT in every way” was how the nanny Mary Poppins described herself in the Disney film, but fashion designer Ralph Lauren has given birth to an architectural grande dame on the Upper East Side that might justifiably make a similar claim. In this age of fashionable-today-dated-tomorrow starchitecture, the Bronx native has swum against the current and delivered for the people of New York a most welcome piece of architecture with his new store on the corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street.
Those familiar with the neighbourhood might be a bit confused: doesn’t Ralph Lauren already have a beautiful French chateau on that street corner? Worry not, the old Rhinelander mansion has not been demolished. Rather, its interior was recently given a ‘masculine makeover’ so shoppers can peruse and purchase any of Ralph Lauren’s men’s lines there.
Across the street, meanwhile, with his new women’s store, Ralph Lauren has reinvigorated Manhattan’s faded glory with a new injection of Parisian splendour. The unremarkable “taxpayer” two-storey on the site was razed and a completely new four-storey structure has risen in its place. Two smaller wings flank the middle, which is recessed above the ground floor’s triumvirate of skilfully curved arches. The two central storeys above are topped by a more reserved attic, with the facade clad in American-sourced limestone throughout. (more…)
THIS MONTH IT’S already three years since the death of dear Dempsey Heiner, who went to his eternal reward on 16 January 2008. Demspey was a real gem of a man: a scholar and a gentleman, capable of relaying brilliant insights easily and who, at least once, exhibited his skill in the art of the gentlest intellectual rebuke of a presumptuous young intellectual fellow-Catholic (i.e.: yours truly), backed up with a remembered citation of François Mauriac.
Dennis Clinton Graham Heiner was born in New York in 1927 to Robert Graham Heiner and Frances Eliot Cassidy, friends and fellow-travellers of Margaret Sanger, the notorious racial eugenicist & founder of Planned Parenthood. Dempsey’s parents enrolled him at St. Bernard’s, where he was in the same year as George Plimpton, the founder of the Paris Review and twentieth-century embodiment of the gilded amateur. Plimpton (who died in 2003) described Dempsey as “the brightest boy in the class, a genius” and remarked that since leaving school he remained something of an enigma. (more…)
Some consider winter the time of death and desolation but I disagree. Winter for me is the incubation, the child in the womb, the seed beneath the soil waiting for the moment to sprout. Autumn, rather, is the time of melancholy and retrospection. Most of the trees here in New York are now bare, but before the leaves fell our friend the Brooklyn-based graphic & web designer Emily E. Owen (website here) caught these photographs of New York in the brilliant crepuscular light. The views are from Fort Tryon Park at the very top of the isle of Manhattan. (more…)
THE CHURCH OF Saint Thomas on the corner of Fifty-third Street and Fifth Avenue in New York is one of the artistic gems of the city: both as an architectural marvel designed by Ralph Adams Cram & Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and as a musical paradise with its renowned choir of men & boys formerly under the tutelage of Gerre Hancock. (It’s foolish for anyone in the city during Advent to miss the Service of Lessons & Carols). The parish of the Episcopal Diocese of New York was established in 1834, and its first building was erected in the Gothic style on the corner of Broadway and Houston.
In 1870, after that neck of the woods became less fashionable, the congregation moved to its current location at 53rd & Fifth, to a new Gothic edifice by Richard Upjohn. That church hosted the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. When it burned down in 1905, a competition was held to select the design of the new Church of St. Thomas, then perhaps at the peak of its high social status among Manhattan’s Protestant congregations. (more…)
“I have a general disgust for Catholic architecture since the 1950s,” says Brother Gary Cregan, the Franciscan friar who is principal of St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington. The friar was quoted by the once-great New York Times in a 2008 article on the new chapel built by the Catholic school on Long Island, recently featured on the NLM blog. The Franciscans, according to the Times, “believe that the new chapel, with its soaring 30-foot ceilings, will teach teenagers that they are ‘worshiping God, not each other.’” Many of the chapel’s furnishings were bargain finds on eBay including the confessionals, the pews, a 110-year-old stained-glass window, and a century-old statue of St. Anthony. A new bell for the chapel’s tower would’ve cost $20,000, but Brother Gary (or “Mr. Cregan” as the newspaper referred to him) found an old one for $4,000. (more…)
No. 54, East Sixty-fourth Street
“FOR 17 YEARS,” writes Peter W. Kaplan, “since The New York Observer entered city life in 1987, it has existed within a red brick and white-marble-stepped townhouse on East 64th Street.” Designed by Ernest Flagg and Walter B. Chambers during their brief partnership, No. 54 East Sixty-fourth Street (between Park & Madison) was built in 1907 as a private residence for Robert I. Jenks. The AIA guide accurately describes it as “four stories of delicate but unconvincing neo-Federal detail… a minor Flagg.” In 1947, the townhouse was converted into offices for the Near East Foundation, which was founded in 1915 to provide relief for Armenian refugees from the Ottoman Empire and later took on greater responsibilities in North Africa and the Levant. It was then bought by Arthur L. Carter, the founder and publisher of the New York Observer for use as the salmon-tinted newspaper’s headquarters.
In 2004, the Observer moved down to Broadway, two blocks south of the Flatiron Building (and just a few blocks up from The New Criterion whose founder, Hilton Kramer, was for nearly two decades the art critic for the Observer). The townhouse was sold by Carter to the Russian-born Janna Bullock, real estate developer & sometime Guggenheim foundation board member for $9.5 million in the year the newspaper moved out. In 2005, Bullock renovated the building and had it used at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House for the year before selling it on to the Irish investor Derek Quinlan for $18.74 million. Quinlan put it on the market for $36 million but last year the asking price was chopped to $27 million.
Twenty-five feet wide, five stories, and with over 10,000 square feet, No. 54 was probably the only newspaper headquarters to feature nine working fireplaces, rosewood panelling, and oak wainscoting. But the best feature, by a mile, is the splendid iron-railed staircase, which looks like it was lifted straight from Paris. Elegant and graceful, a rare century-old survival in Manhattan. (more…)
These photos come from an issue of Architectural Digest from the 1980s that some chap scanned and put online. The article that these pictures accompanied was about the New York apartment of a collector specialising in military items, but unfortunately the scanner did not post any further information. (more…)
BACK IN MY school days, there was a girl in this building who threw rather good parties. Even at a decent event, however, one or two are bound to show up that really ought not to have done so, and at one of these parties at 120 East End Avenue just such a person got wildly drunk, seized a half-full bottle of vodka (Smirnoff, I believe) and launched it out the window. As luck would have it, gravity deposited the vessel many floors below, landing right on top of windshield of the doorman who happened to be serving that night.
Now, doorman relations are important in Manhattan (as apartment building owners are quite aware). When Mr. & Mrs. Smith jaunt off to Paris, leaving Jenny at home, and some twenty-odd young lads & lasses show up requesting admittance to the Smiths’ place — the doorman knows all and sees all, and one must ensure that, upon Mom & Pop’s return, he doesn’t tell all. (more…)
The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World commissioned Selldorf Architects, previously responsible for the renovation of the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue, to restore and upgrade the townhouse at 15 East 85th Street purchased to house the Institute. The house was built in 1899 but altered beyond recognition in 1928 after its purchase by Ogden Mills Reid, editor-in-chief of the New York Herald-Tribune. After the editor’s death, Mrs. Reid sold it to the American Jewish Committee, who used it as their headquarters until its sale to the Leon Levy Foundation, which endowed the creation of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University in 2006. (more…)
Among the unfortunate recent victims of Manhattan’s extortionately exorbitant rents is the Librairie Française. Last year the venerable New York institution had its rent raised from $360,000 to $1 million per year. The shop was founded in 1928 by Isaac Molho a Sephardic Jew from Salonika, who was invited by David Rockefeller himself to rent a space on the Promenade in Rockefeller Center in 1935. The Maison Française, in which the Librairie was located, flanked the south side of the Promenade, with the British Empire Building flanking the north — the bit of greenery in-between is called ‘Channel Gardens’ accordingly. The sign on the façade said ‘Librairie de France’ but in conversation I have never heard it referred to as anything other than the Librairie Française.
During the Second World War, the shop also operated a publishing house called La Maison Française that printed Gaullist propaganda as well as titles by French writers like Jacques Maritain, André Maurois, Jules Romains, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It was the post-war period, however, in which the Librairie Française flourished. (more…)
I have commented before about the perils of over-restoration, in which a building’s owner becomes a little too enthusiastic about its preservation and ends up with a building that, except in style, looks almost new. Chelsea sits on a 500-acre preserve in Muttontown, L.I. which has come into the hands of the government of Nassau (the county on Long Island in-between Queens County and Suffolk). The county has managed to maintain the house and its grounds at exactly the appropriate level: not plastering over every crack to make it ‘good-as-new’, nor neglecting it so it becomes structurally unsound, but rather allowing it to develop and age naturally. These photographs from the ever-capable James Robertson admirably display the house and its grounds, including its shallow canal-moat. (more…)
Charles Courtney Curran, Early Morning, Madison Square
Oil on canvas, 22 in. x 18 in.
1900, National Arts Club, New York
Yesterday, in a beautiful sung requiem at St. Agnes, we paid our final respects to our friend Joyce Linton. I had known Joyce for quite some time before I ever actually met her because we tended to sit in the same neighborhood of pews (in the back of the church towards the left) at the 11 o’clock Mass at St Agnes every Sunday. While a schoolteacher by profession, she was also a trained vocal musician, and her voice carried as the congregation belted out our Credos and Glorias. She became known to me as “the Lady with the Voice”, and every so often I would see her making her way towards the church just before 11:00 and, without knowing her name, I would say to myself “That’s the Lady with the Voice”.
Eventually, I got to know Joyce well, and joined the regular tea-drinking crowd of which she was a devoted and prominent member. Vim. Moxie. Determination. Those are the words that come to mind when I think about Joyce, a spirited lady if ever there was one. But she was, also, a woman with a certain style. Think of 1950s New York, swanky, bright, and modern, but still traditional, and never out of date. That was Joyce.
Now, if there was one thing that undoubtedly went along with Joyce’s vim, moxie, and determination, it was that she had an opinion. She enjoyed a vibrant discussion and the interaction of ideas, but she made certain that even if you didn’t happen to share her opinion, you would at least be familiar with it. As it happens, Joyce and I were lucky enough to agree with one another on many things, but by no means all things. More than once did I attempt to refute her position on this, that, or another thing. After the back-and-forth had exhausted itself, she would say, “Well, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that”, I would shrug my shoulders and say “Perhaps”, and we would sip our tea and rejoin the larger conversation.
She was a woman who was grateful for the graces in her life. She was grateful for the blessings of her family, though it was not without hardships. She was grateful for the magnificent inheritance of centuries of art and culture she was born on the receiving end of. She was a patriot if ever there was one — a proud American, but one with a devoted filial love of Europe, and especially of Italy.
I think the first time Joyce visited Italy was when she did her voice studies in Florence in the 1970s, and she never stopped going back. She had a devotion to Padre Pio and paid her respects to the great saint by pilgrimming to San Giovanni Rotondo. Towards the later years of her life she had a special love and appreciation for summer days spent at Gardone on the shores of Lake Garda, enjoying the intellectual stimulation of the annual summer symposium organized by the Roman Forum. The Italian airs invigorated her Celtic blood and she would return to New York in late summer rejuvenated and refreshed.
She always knew lots of things about New York. You can get great freshly baked bread here. They do a good brunch there. If you really want to do X, then you’ve got to Y at Z on Nth Street. I remember one drizzly November Sunday afternoon Joyce showed me “the best way to cut through Saks” as she and I made our way to the annual Choral Evensong & Flag Service for the Patriotic, Historical, and Hereditary Societies at the Church of St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue.
Joyce loved her job as a high school teacher at Manhattan Center on the Harlem River, just a few doors away from Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 115th Street. Any and all bureaucratic encroachments upon the teaching profession were vociferously opposed by her, and she had an enormous pride when her students did well (especially her girls). Latin was another excuse to spend time in Italy, where she studied the language under the famous Fr. Reggie Foster in Rome. She taught English as well, and was adamant that her students learn important lessons from writers like Orwell and Wilde, rather than a rote set of facts or ideas or quotes. She was always on the lookout for a new way of explaining the old truths to the students in her charge. She loved them, but she also loved her colleagues, and more than once had us praying for this one or that one.
When she was first diagnosed with cancer, many of us prepared ourselves mentally for The End. I think Joyce said to herself “Well I’m not having any of that.” She beat it the first time round (remember what I said about vim, moxie, determination?) to the surprise of many, probably her devoted doctor most of all. She went back to work, and her own hair grew back, allowing her to dispense with the peppy wig she had specially styled. Life, it seemed, returned to normal, for one last Halcyon day before the Hour approached. When the time did appear on the horizon, her descent was rapid. I’m glad I had a chance to see her one last time, surrounded as she was by friends in Lenox Hill Hospital.
Joyce would have loved her requiem, the priest in mournful black trimmed by resplendent gold, acolytes and torch-bearers aiding in the sanctuary, the Dies Irae rising from the choir loft, and those who knew and loved her pleading God’s mercy and quick remission of her earthly transgressions. It was beautiful — as the most beautiful things are — because it pointed towards that Heavenly place from whence our only glories come, where we pray “the Lady with the Voice” will enjoy perpetual light and rest eternal.
After the victory of America and her “co-belligerents” in the First World War, a temporary victory arch was erected out of wood and plaster to welcome the troops home from Europe. After the arch was dismantled, however, discussions soon arose on how to permanently commemorate the war dead of New York, with a surprising variety of suggestions made. A beautiful water gate for Battery Park was suggested, with a classical arch flanked by Bernini-like curved colonnades, so that a suitable place existed to welcome important dignitaries and visitors to New York. (Little did they know how soon the airlines would replace the ocean lines). Another proposal was for a giant memorial hall located at the site of a shuttered hotel across from Grand Central Terminal, while others suggested a bell tower.
An entirely different proposal, however, was made by the New York architect Alfred C. Bossom (later ennobled as Baron Bossom of Maidstone). Bossom, an Old Carthusian, was an Englishman by birth and eventually returned to his native land, where (in 1953) he gave away the future prime minister Margaret Roberts at her marriage to Denis Thatcher. He himself served in parliament from 1931 until 1959, excepting his wartime Home Guard service. Jokes were often made about his surname resembling both “bottom” and “bosom”. Upon being introduced to Bossom, Churchill jested “Who is this man whose name means neither one thing nor the other?” (more…)