Enjoying the Architecture of Manhattan

Ernest Hemingway’s famous memoir about his time in the French capital contains the line: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."  Although I’m not exactly sure what Hemingway was referring to, I imagine that the city’s stunning vistas and architecture had something to do with it.  Being a Francophile snob, wherever I go, I tend to make comparisons to Paris, subconsciously or not.  It was probably Woody Allen’s film Manhattan which first allowed me to discover the beauty of New York City.  Uncovering architectural gems in the Big Apple may take a bit of searching, but they are definitely there and worth the effort.  An interesting website pointed me in the direction of a couple of unforgettable buildings.

On our latest trip to the city, I dropped in to the St. Regis Hotel, located at 5th Ave. and 55th Street.  Funded by millionaire businessman (and eventual Titanic victim) John Jacob Astor IV, the building was designed by Trowbridge and Livingston in the Second Empire Baroque style developed at the École des Beaux-Arts so popular in early twentieth century American architecture.  Named for a lake in the Adirondacks, the eighteen-story building was the tallest hotel in Manhattan when it opened for business in September 1904.  Today the St. Regis is still considered one of the city’s prime hotels; it was designated this year to the Gold List of Condé Nast Traveller’s best places to stay in the state of New York.  The very exterior of the building lets you know that you’re in for something special, but the lobby is a model of luxury.  With its marble floors, crystal chandeliers, murals on the walls and ceiling, and especially its gold-trimmed  reception area, the hotel brings you back to the extravagance of another age.  Of course, the cheapo side of me would never allow me to book a room in such a place, but it was a delight to wander through admiring the hotel and taking a look at people who did stay there.

Just a few blocks away from the St. Regis between 50th and 51st on 5th Avenue stands the Cathedral of St. Patrick.  While I’ve visited the well-known church several times in the past, I was especially interested in seeing a Gothic Revival building after posting on medieval French cathedrals a few weeks ago on this blog.  The brain-child of Archbishop John Hughes, the “new St. Patrick’s Cathedral” was to replace the original on Mulberry Street; controversy surrounded the decision to  build in a near-wilderness area of the island.  Construction began in 1858, but because of the delay caused by the Civil War, the cathedral wasn’t dedicated until 1879.  The first thing you notice is the symmetrical beauty of the white marble exterior.  Walking in, visitors can’t miss the heavy bronze doors, which celebrate immigrant saints like Isaac Jogues, Frances Cabrini, and the native-born Elizabeth Seton.  The brightness of the soaring nave inside is indeed impressive, as are the stained-glass windows and the dozens of side altars that ring the interior.  Notable events such as the funerals of Babe Ruth and Robert Kennedy have taken place here.  Too bad that tours are not regularly scheduled in the cathedral; it seems that it would be a good way to help subsidize its planned multi-million dollar renovation now going on.


 So much to see and do in New York; I can't wait for the next visit!

posted under | 0 Comments

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

By the 1950s Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side of Manhattan had fallen on hard times.  As part of an urban renewal project in the early to mid-1960s, more than 16 acres between 60th and 66th Streets were razed and, with funds provided largely through the efforts of John D. Rockefeller III, were refashioned into Lincoln Center.  Anchored by three main venues—Avery Fisher Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Koch Theatre—the performing arts complex now comprises 29 indoor and outdoor facilities.  Tours of the Lincoln Center plaza are available daily on the half-hour between 10:30 and 4:30.  Tickets can be purchased for fifteen dollars across the street at the David Rubenstein Atrium on West 62nd Street. 

At the north end of the plaza sits Avery Fisher Hall, home to the New York Philharmonic since 1962 when it relocated from Carnegie Hall.  The hall was renamed in the 70s in honor of a benefactor, inventor, and audio specialist who loved classical music.  Our guide, Tom, explained that the hall can be rented and that any type of music can be played here.  However, tinkering with the design of the building when it was originally constructed to increase seating capacity has caused repeated problems with the acoustics.  This led to a substantial renovation by acoustical engineer Cyril Harris and architect Philip Johnson.   Plexiglas and baffling have been added in recent years to try and correct the sound quality.

The Juilliard School, a performing arts conservatory for about 800 students, is also found at Lincoln Center.   In 2009 major renovations were completed at Alice Tully Hall.  Not only was the entrance enlarged, but the interior of Starr Theater was completely redone.  The walls were turned sideways, a fly space was allowed for, a pipe organ was installed in the wall, and sonic cones were added to disperse sounds.  The outer stage, now outfitted with cutting-edge technology, can be lowered to create an orchestra pit.

Unfortunately for us, because of a rehearsal taking place at the time of our tour, we were unable to see much of the Met other than the exterior and the lobby.  Russian-French artist Marc Chagall, who apparently wanted to create stained glass for the lobby windows, had to settle for gigantic murals of La Triomphe... and La Source de la Musique.  Our group was able to see the Grand Tier Staircase, which was quite an architectural feat in the early 60s since it required four stories of poured concrete and had to be built before the building’s exterior.

The pièce de résistance at Lincoln Center in terms of interior design is the David H. Koch Theatre, formerly known as the New York State Theatre.  Home to the New York City Opera until 2011, it still houses the New York City Ballet.  Created by Philip Johnson, the theater, which opened in 1964, is often referred to as the “jewelry box.”  Indeed, its bronze filigree balcony railing, its gold-leaf ceiling, its lovely color-scheme, and gleaming round lights make it a charming place.

One of the first things we learned during out tour was that “day-of” tickets for concerts are available for a reduced price at the Atrium.  That would be well worth remembering in the future! 

posted under | 0 Comments

A Visit to Carnegie Hall

Obvious to readers of this blog is the fact that we enjoy learning about the history of the places we visit.  What may not be as evident is that we are sometimes even willing to pay a small fee to obtain that knowledge!  Such was the case on a recent trip to Manhattan, where our hotel’s midtown location inspired us to seek out a visit to Carnegie Hall.  Currently celebrating 120 years of existence, the hall offers special guided tours at 12:30 on Wednesdays and Fridays or on Saturdays at 11:30.  For a mere ten dollars visitors can see Isaac Stern Hall, named for the celebrated violinist who saved the hall from destruction, the Rose Museum, and discover the history of the revered venue along the way. 

Our docent began by telling us that Andrew Carnegie—a Scottish-born steel and railroad magnate, philanthropist, and music lover—decided to invest one million dollars to construct a concert hall on West 57th Street to honor his wife, singer Louise Whitfield.  Through the Carnegies’ involvement with the Oratorio Society of New York, they knew William Burnett Tuthill, brownstone architect and amateur cellist whom Andrew Carnegie chose to plan the edifice.  Tuthill, who had studied the sound quality of great European concert halls, was said to have a “golden ear.”  Because of the simple design he created (without sharp angles, frescoes, or columns), the main hall has excellent acoustics and concerts are often recorded here.  Andrew Carnegie’s good friend Thomas Edison had convinced him that electric lighting was the wave of the future; for this reason no chandeliers were affixed inside the building.  Instead, coal-powered generators, installed in the basement, at first illuminated the rings of lights on the ceiling and around the balconies.  From the upstairs Dress Circle, visitors can admire the original red and black colors, the emblems of angels and bagpipes (representing Louise and Andrew), and the gold leaf decorations of the interior.  The so-called “Music Hall” was completed in 1891; Tchaikovsky was on hand on May 5th of that year for Opening Night.  

The guide pointed out that Carnegie Hall is not just for concerts.  Although Liza Minelli has had the most consistently sold-out performances, over the years everything from circuses to lectures have taken place at this location.  Icons of American and international culture from Amelia Earhart, Langston Hughes, and Sarah Bernhardt to J. K. Rowling have spoken or performed here.  The hall was even the setting for the memorial service of television newscaster Peter Jennings.  The Rose Museum, which opened in 1991, contains artifacts such as programs and records from past events, one of Benny Goodman’s clarinets, a sequined jacket from Judy Garland, and the silver trowel Louise Carnegie used to lay the cornerstone for the building.  A movement to destroy Carnegie Hall began in the late 1950s but Isaac Stern headed up a group which eventually saved it.  The building underwent substantial renovation in 1986 to add elevators and access for the disabled.  It is well worth seeing.

posted under | 0 Comments
Newer Posts Older Posts Home



Recent Comments