Initially serving as a resting stop for Scandinavian sailors when they disembarked in lower Manhattan, the Swedish Seaman's Church opened its doors on Water Street in 1873. The neo-Gothic building in which the Church currently resides was constructed in 1921 for "The Bible House" before being sold to the Church of Sweden in 1978. The Church's nautical past is evidenced in the model boats placed among the large collection of Swedish books. With a chapel, a library, and a coffee shop, the Church's doors are always open to Swedes. While tasting their delicious Swedish buns, I chatted with the staff who spoke enthusiastically about the function that the center plays in people's lives. For families, it provides a "wind" of Sweden whenever they miss their homeland. There are also multiple weddings conducted in the chapel each week, and people come from all over to celebrate holidays and shop at their Christmas Bazaar.
A psychological and cultural resource center combining a bookstore, libraries, training institutes, and continuing education, the C. G. Jung Center serves as a fulcrum for all things Jungian in midtown Manhattan. An air of learnedness wafts throughout the premises, awash in the smell of old books and older dreams. Carl Jung's wide-reaching areas of interest wind their ways through our unconscious, through dreams and myths and memories, and all are represented in the literature available here. The bookstore downstairs has readings on these and more from authors Jungian and otherwise, but the real treasure is the library on the fourth floor. We stopped in and chatted with Robin, a psychoanalyst-in-training who waxed historical on Jung's break with contemporary academics and with Freud, symbols, myths, and newer-age psychoanalytical practices. One of our writers, a once and future psychology student, spent quite a bit of time perusing the literary offerings, happily flipping through tomes from "The Presence of Siva, " to "Existential Psychotherapy" to "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" and "Psychopathia Sexualis. " The reading room is carpeted with a large, worn, oriental rug and furnished with colorful squishy seating. Chairs sit in a pleasantly haphazard arrangement around a wooden table, giving the impression that the ghosts of scholars remembered and forgotten were sitting in the room reading just before browsers arrived. Certainly, they have not strayed far from this house of learning.
Unbeknownst to most New Yorkers, the area around West 14th (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) was once “Little Spain. ” The Spanish Benevolent Society was once the heart of this thriving community, and is today one of the last remaining relics of this period. The club, founded in 1868, was created as a place to bring together Spanish and Hispanic-American citizens of New York. Early on, the club provided Spanish immigrants with essential support and services. It later became more of a cultural hub for Spanish avant-garde artists and writers, and a meeting place for political revolutionaries during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. It has played host to such greats as the artists Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, the director Luis Buñuel, and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The society, housed in a beautiful brownstone so discreet that most pedestrians simply walk right by, now serves as a repository for the rich cultural history of “Little Spain. ” The archives contain hundreds of photographs and documents relating to the history of the area, as well as a documentary made in 2010 by Spanish filmmaker Artur Balder telling the story of the society (he spent a year living there, researching and working as a resident artist). For those interested in Spanish art, literature, or culture, or the immigrant history of Manhattan, in general, the Spanish Benevolent Society is a lesser-known gem to be discovered.
When I asked Jacob Farber, the administrator and finance manager of the Center for Book Arts, what stood out to him as the most quintessential part of this fascinating company, he responded without hesitation: "We teach book binding and letter press classes. " He continued, "We even have hot rubber stamping machines. We are also a place for artists to come and learn how to make a book incorporating their own art. " Jacob encouraged me to walk through the space and check out what The Center for Book Arts has to offer. Every aspect of this third floor space is dedicated to the art and the appreciation of books in all of its forms. Opened in 1974, the non-profit Center is the first of its kind, devoting its entire attention to books. In addition to the classes that are held, there are on-going art exhibitions. As the owner of a bookstore for many years, I found my time spent on the third floor of this West 27th Street building to be absolutely fascinating. I was afforded the opportunity to learn firsthand about yet another aspect of the book business.
“We’re a space for organizing and connection, ” is how Communications Director Helen Buse described the LGBT Community Center. Though the seeds of The Center were planted following the 1969 Stonewall riots, it took nearly fifteen years for it to be founded at the site of a former trade high school on 13th Street. Since then, it has been the birthplace of a bevy of key advocacy organizations that went on to gain national prominence, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Queer Nation, and the ACT UP coalition to fight AIDS. It is now home to hundreds of groups that run the gamut from drawing classes to political associations to twelve-step programs. The Center’s own resources are equally as wide-ranging, including substance abuse recovery and wellness services, mental health support, economic advancement initiatives, career guidance, and an abundance of arts activities such as film screenings and in-house exhibitions. The Center has long been a locus for artists, activists, and academics to discuss and create work that celebrates the queer community and addresses the relevant issues it faces. Its first cultural event, known as Second Tuesday, has been running uninterrupted since 1985. It serves as an opportunity for those in academia, politics, and a myriad of other fields to read their work and converse with the LGBTQ+ community. Speakers from Black writer Audre Lorde to AIDS historian Sarah Schulman have lectured under this series, which is a Center favorite. Helen is proud to say that these direct resources are continually growing to respond to the needs of all who flock to the organization. “It makes me excited for what the future holds because the Center has a track record of expansion and evolution that is part of what makes it so special. ”The Center’s significance is not merely limited to what it provides, but also the building where it is housed. In the 1980s, a host of artists were invited to paint murals across the walls, many of which are still visible today. A piece by Keith Haring located in the second-floor bathroom is especially popular, and Helen always urges visitors to take a look. “They are a great part of history. ”
Kadampa is one of the most tranquil indoor spaces that we have encountered. The Center, which is run completely by volunteers, has been housed at various locations through New York for the past twenty years, but moved into its current location in 2012. Just as the volunteers are trusted to run the center, guests are welcomed with a level of trust and openness that feels almost alien. Upon entering we were warmly greeted, and offered the option of sitting in on a free meditation session, or even of availing ourselves of private meditation rooms downstairs. Unsure what to do, we sat in on a pre-recorded meditation. Our host, Margaret, set us up with books, cushions and water. We took off our shoes and read along while the speaker rhythmically took us through the passage. The text was surprisingly smart and proscriptive; it was completely devoid of fluffy affirmations or vague mysticism. Rather Kadampa emphasizes Buddha's teachings, which at this center is done through examining the writings of venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Still the meditations do not dwell on intellectualism, as the central thrust at Kadampa is providing a place of calm in our bustling city. When we were ready to step back into Manhattan, after feeling thoroughly serene, Margaret invited us back, telling us that even if we did not have time to meditate, we were always welcome to stop by to relax.
Once known as the East 54th Street Public Baths and Gymnasium, the recreation center has undergone some changes in the past hundred years, but its underlying purpose has remained the same: to offer low-cost public bathing and gym facilities to New York City residents. Built in 1911, when most of the city's working class had little access to running water, the primary goal was to provide a place to bathe and a swimming pool that was open to children in the summer and adults during the rest of the year. In addition, a gymnasium was constructed. Today, the history of the Recreation Center can be seen in the building itself: at four stories, the neoclassical exterior is imposing, with brick columns leading to its two entrances. Inside, the staff is welcoming, and a window in the lobby opens onto the pool, which is reminiscent of how it must have looked in the early days of the twentieth century.
What began in 1978 as a block association established by single mothers with the goal of providing services and activities to children in the neighborhood, has now become a thriving community center. In this very colorful building, enrichment programs that focus on food, health and the environment are offered on a regular basis. They also run the Organic Soul Cafe and provide rental space for events. Before it became a community center, this building was home to Ahawath Yeshurun Shara Torah Synagogue. In 2015, Sixth Street Yoga Junction opened on the third floor, offering affordable vinyasa-based yoga for all levels.
Where can you find tech startups, senior and youth programming, an authentic Jamaican cafe, and racing turtles — all in one place? The answer is the Prime Produce on W54th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, a multidisciplinary space where creatives, community leaders, educators and entrepreneurs come together to grow a New York City where passion projects and people thrive. A sprawling, three-story building that includes a performance space, recording studio, technology library, coding spaces, a beetle sanctuary, rooftop garden and conference rooms, Prime Produce is a membership-based grassroots co-working collective as well as a 501(c)3 nonprofit incubator for many member-led projects such as PreProbono, a fellowship program for underrepresented students interested in going to law school, Emergent Works, an organization providing digital literacy and technical education to justice-impacted communities, Seeds to Soil, an urban ecology collective and GROW Externships, a community committed to creating greater accessibility in environmental science careers. For collective members, the shared space fosters collaboration between organizations, and sometimes even new initiatives and projects born out of the relational community, said Jerone Hsu, one of Prime Produce's founding constituents. The collective’s ethos is to take care of its members, organizations and collaborations like a living, breathing thing, he added, referencing the values in Prime Produce Limited’s mission statement: “Love demonstrated through action; not only organically cultivated (like produce), but achieved at the pinnacle of (prime) and simultaneously discovered at the root of (primary) human experience. The nourishment and stewardship of our communities through practices of intentional service. ” “We’re all on the same team, ” said Jerone as he showed us around the collective’s range of multi-use spaces. “A lot of very interesting collaborations come out of being here. What happens when you have a librarian that is helping out at the turtle race? Or a video media artist engaging with someone that they might not otherwise have met on the nonprofit side? We’re all about the relational approach to supporting projects. ” It’s a collision of collaborations that Jerone didn’t expect when he filed the original nonprofit paperwork for Prime Produce from his Columbia University dorm room in 2007. At that point, Jerone, his brother Percy, and a group of friends were looking for ways to “create opportunities to get people to engage and make tomorrow arguably less shitty, ” said Jerone. The first answer? “We were offering whatever we knew how to do — which was mostly throwing parties, ” he laughed. The group organized open benefits — a turnkey event service to fundraise for a wide variety of organizations. “We’d have a couple hundred people all come out for a huge party, and every organization that participated got 100% of the proceeds from the tickets that were sold in that organization's name, ” said Jerone. The model worked so well that the group eventually decided to look for a space of their own, where they could expand their event reach as well as work on new projects together. After breaking ground on the space at W54th Street in 2013 and a long renovation process, they opened their doors in 2018. “We had a couple of good years, ” said Jerone. Then the pandemic shut down in-person collaboration. Prime Produce prevailed however, maintaining a remote community with initiatives like distributing 1x1 foot garden box plots to members. As New York began to reopen, so too did other new relationships. “Chef Nicola [of the collective’s in-house public restaurant and caterer, Cafe 424] was in our GROW Externships program — that’s how we got to know her and decided to work together, ” said Jerone. While some members relocated during the pandemic, new members have also joined. “A lot of the other social-impact co-working spaces had to shutter, ” he added, “if you're looking for a co-working space that is social impact focused and cooperatively governed, this is one of the few games left in town. ” Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the collective is busier than ever, hosting everything from semi-regular noodle dinners to comedy shows, senior-focused concerts and yes, turtle races. They hope to grow the garden of community and collaboration that is Prime Produce. “We don’t treat it as an industrial thing, ” said Jerone as we walked through a senior-caregiver Rodgers and Hammerstein concert. “We care for this collective like a living thing. ”