Although foreign missions and consulates are often hidden away behind locked doors in Manhattan, Argentina has opened its entire first floor to the public displaying the country's art, culture and natural beauty. The entranceway - easily missed among the restaurants and boutiques that dot the busy stretch of pavement between Fifth and Sixth Avenues - functions as a gallery and promotion center. For a serious diplomatic enterprise, the mood at the consulate was welcoming and lighthearted. When I arrived, a tango class was just finishing up, and I observed both foreigners and New Yorkers exiting the room together. Wandering around, first in the reception area, I found couches clustered around a coffee table covered with books about Argentina, and a station devoted to Argentine tourism. To one side of the room, an ornate staircase spiraled, one of the only reminders that the main purpose of the consulate lies elsewhere. I then walked into a beautiful wood-paneled room with a fireplace. On display was the work of Argentine photographer Lucia Fainzilber, her ultra-modern prints at odds with the nineteenth century aesthetic of the room.
What do Miami Beach, a drugs bust, God Bless America and the the People’s Republic of China have in common? They all come together in the dazzling (sometimes checkered) history of the Chinese Consulate on the corner of the West Side Highway and W42nd St. The oddly shaped building began its life in 1962 as a Sheraton Motor Inn, designed by Morris Lapidus (who also was the lead architect for Miami Beach’s famous hotels, including the neo-Baroque Fontainebleau and Eden Roc). In total, Lapidus designed 1, 200 buildings, including 250 hotels worldwide. During his career, his work was characterized by the American architectural establishment as gaudy kitsch. Ada Louise Huxtable, writing in The New York Times, said of the Americana in Bal Harbor. “The effect on arrival was like being hit by an exploding gilded eggplant. ”Art in America deemed his work “pornography of architecture. ”Lapidus tried to ignore the critical panning, but it had an effect on his career and reputation. He burned 50 years’ worth of his drawings when he retired in 1984 and remained bitter. New York Magazine always seemed to lead the charge. In 1969, in its first Annual Cityscape Awards, it gave the Sheraton Motor Inn the Miami Beach Laurels for “combining within the volume of a modest hostelry every single design cliche produced by the so-called International Style during the past 50 years. ”In 1971, the same magazine said: “Room service at the Sheraton Motor Inn … wasn’t it conceived as a cheaters’ hideaway? Would any tourist in full possession of their sensitivities really choose to lodge overlooking the drudge of the West Side Highway and the venomous Hudson? ”But Lapidus wasn’t without his supporters. In 1962, the editors of The New Yorker described the new Sheraton Motor Inn as “a startlingly classy pioneer in a somewhat declasse neighborhood. ”Architecture experts today do not consider the Consulate as a pure representation of Lapidus’s work. Kathleen Randall from Docomomo (an organization committed to the conservation and documentation of buildings in the modern movement), speaking in 2005, said: “The Sheraton Motor Inn at 42nd Street and the Westside Highway was completely reclad and reworked three years ago for a consulate building and is no longer recognizable as Lapidus’s work beyond the structure’s massing. ”This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Chinese Whispers — How Lapidus’s Sheraton Motel Became China’s Consulate. "
As I was approaching the corner of Madison Avenue, an unexpected breathtaking building stood in front of me. Built in the early 1900s Beaux-Arts style, and designed by C. P. H. Gilbert, this mansion was originally owned by Dutchman, Joseph Raphael De Lamar. Considered to be one of the wealthiest men of his time, he made his fortune several times over in the 1800s as a ship contractor, investing in the mining industry in Colorado and later on Wall Street. After his death, the American Bible Society purchased the De Lamar Mansion for one year and then, for the next fifty years, it was home to the National Democratic Club. Unfortunately, in 1973 when the Polish government purchased the house, it was in a terrible state of disrepair. Working meticulously on both the exterior and interior, Polish conservators were able to restore the mansion to its original splendor. Today, it is considered to be one of the most magnificent houses in Manhattan. Thanks to the deputy counsel general, we gained entry inside the five-story mansion to take photos, and to experience firsthand, how conscientious the Polish preservationists were in conserving the carved stone, gold crests, marble ornaments, murals on the ceiling and original Tiffany glass windows. With the Morgan Library directly across the street, these two masterpieces allow people to recall the days of grandeur over a century ago.