Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
The Synod of Bishops Russian Church is the base for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in New York City. ROCOR, which was formed in response to the policies of the Bolsheviks in the early twentieth century, was a separate religious entity from the Russian Orthodox Church for ninety years. In 2007, however, the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate was signed, making ROCOR a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The administrative building on 93rd Street contains two churches within its structure: The Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign and St. Sergius Church. The building was presented to ROCOR in the mid-twentieth century by Serge Semenenko, a Russian banker. The mansion was built by the architect William A. Delano in the Georgian-Federal style in 1918.
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.
Nicknamed “The Batcave” for the emblem painted on the floor on the walkway inside, this particular fire station has been an active part of the FDNY’s network since 1865. Previously, it had been a Metropolitan Fire station starting in 1861, and before that it was run by volunteer firefighters. Firefighter Alex Laird was kind enough to give the Manhattan Sideways team a full tour of the historic building. The establishment is so old that it used to house horse drawn engines. Some of the original architecture still remains, most notably the spiral staircase that now sits alongside the modern fireman’s pole. Sadly, this firehouse lost five members in the attacks on 9/11. The station still has the original flag and radio from that day and has them on display out of respect for their fallen brothers.
Ramth Orah had its modest beginnings in 1941 when a small group arrived in Manhattan from Luxembourg having escaped the Nazis. As luck would have it, there was a church - West Side Unitarian - being built on 110th Street since 1921. Unfortunately, they ran out of cash ten years into their project, and had to abandon the uncompleted church. It was here that the Orthodox congregation was able to find a home, purchasing the building in 1942. Today, the structure has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.
My visit to the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel came only a year after it merged with the Church of St. Thomas More in 2015. Though the two buildings remain open, the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel is considered the parish church. The reasons for the merger were spiritual, financial, and community-based. It is the hope of the combined parishes that they continue to grow stronger under one pastor. As for the history of the Our Lady of Good Counsel, the church had its beginnings in 1886 and moved into its current home in 1892. Though its origins were Irish and German, the Roman Catholic Church now embraces a diverse community and offers Spanish masses every week. Louisa, a member of the staff, led me into the beautifully ornate sanctuary. The altar was decorated with cherry blossoms for springtime, an attractive addition to the stained glass and marble. The vast, two-tiered space is blindingly colorful and features an enormous working organ. Music, Louisa informed me, plays a central role in the congregation. Louisa spoke to me about an event called Catholic Underground that happens on the first Saturday of every month from September through May. Hundreds of people, often young people in their teens or twenties, fill the sanctuary for an hour of “Eucharistic adoration. ” After the ceremony, everyone goes downstairs to the lower church where singers, bands, or individual musicians play. The musical groups come from around the world. As Louisa explained, the event began as a way of “bringing culture to the people. ” This did not originate in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, but has taken place there since the early 2000s. Though everyone is invited to attend, Catholic Underground’s primary goal is to connect with young people in the community... and it appears to be working nicely.
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School, owned by Joseph Bruno, has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Joseph contends that a bartender’s success is determined by conversation, “no matter how good the drink is. ” That being said, technical skill is far from lacking at this institution. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. After decades of experience bartending in and managing drinking establishments, Joseph has seen a new devotion to the craft of mixology. Up-and-coming bartenders have tested innovative flavors, homemade syrups, and the “farm-to-table” use of fresh ingredients. He has taken particular pleasure in the resurgence of drinks not popular since the Prohibition era. Perhaps it is a sign that we still have a chance to relive some of the best aspects of the Roaring Twenties.
Down the street from the Firemen's Memorial on Riverside Drive, Engine Company 76 has its home, earning it the nickname "Monumental Pride. " The firehouse is one of the largest in the city, since it was formed from what used to be two separate stations. In chatting with one of the firemen, I mentioned what appeared to me to be a firehouse on Amsterdam Avenue but belongs to Brusco Realty. When I inquired, he explained that this used to house the other half of Engine 76, thus the exterior resembles a firehouse. Oh the knowledge one gains when speaking to people in the know. While discussing the Firemen's Memorial, this devoted young fireman told me that on the second Wednesday in October, every year the entire Fire Department of New York assembles around the monument. "It's very impressive, seeing 8, 000 blue suits lining up, " he proudly stated. Right then and there, I added it to my calendar and have every intention of attending this event come the fall of 2016. As the fireman pulled down the firehouse calendar to find the exact date, a tiny firecracker went off, causing him to jump backwards. "The pranks around here are non-stop, " he declared with a wary smile. I was glad to know that firemen have such a keen sense of humor.
The Church of Saint Thomas More has only been known by that name since 1950. However, the church that it resides in is much older. The religious structure on 89th Street was built in 1870 using sandstone from Nova Scotia. It was inhabited by the Episcopalians and a Dutch Reformed congregation before it became a Roman Catholic church and was rededicated to Saint Thomas More. In the summer of 2015, the parish merged with Our Lady of Good Counsel on 90th Street.
This Swedish Lutheran church is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2015. The church, organized by two missionaries, was named for Gustavus II Adolphus, who was King of Sweden from 1611-1632. Though the church opened in 1865, it was not until the early 1900s that English services began on a regular basis and electricity was installed in the building. The membership fluctuated over the years that followed, as the church introduced attractions such as the Sewing Club, Help Our Neighbors Eat Year-Round, and the Basement Coffeehouse Program for college students and young adults. In 1961, the church had the honor of hosting a memorial service for the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. In celebration of this milestone anniversary, Gustavus Adolphus is renovating its interior, and replacing the chandeliers and stained glass windows in preparation for a festival in the fall of 2015.