Known as Bryant Park Place today, this Renaissance Revival structure was originally built by Andrew Carnegie, in 1907, to house the Engineer's Club, a professional group of men who were creating an important niche for themselves in the world of business. It was Mr. Carnegie's strong desire to pay tribute to "ordinary men doing extraordinary things. " Members included President Herbert Hoover, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Today, No. 32 is completely residential, with Royce' Chocolate and Gotham Beauty Lounge located on either side of the stunning lobby. The exterior of the building remains almost the same, with its magnificent entryway and white stone facade.
The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is named for its founder, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she invited me to No. 152. Having first opened in SoHo in 1982, by the late nineties, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that by the late nineties she was ready for a change, and so she moved the gallery closer to home – in fact, into the building on 65th Street where she had been living for twenty-two years. Since 1997, the gallery and Mrs. Shapolsky have shared a home. The relationship is truly a symbiotic one. "What would you do in a house without art? " she exclaimed. "They take the paintings down between shows, and I'm sick with nothing on the wall. " Her bedroom is tucked into the second floor of the building, concealed behind accordion doors, and in another room of the gallery, a shoe closet is just ajar. On the day that I sat down to speak with Mrs. Shapolsky, the feature exhibit, , was by the artist Russell Connor, whose art riffed on classic painters, pairing them and their masterworks with references to other, more modern pieces. Mrs. Shapolsky said that she thinks of it as an educational show, as it exposes visitors to art history, and brings the old and the new together. Having been invited to a lecture by the artist, I had the pleasure of meeting Russell Connor, and listened as he elaborated on a number of the paintings; each one has a hidden joke for the seasoned art historian. This exhibit was a change from Russell Connor's accustomed style; he usually prefers abstract art for which the Anita Shapolsky Gallery is best known. When Mrs. Shapolsky opened her gallery, she decided to focus on the Abstract Expressionists of the fifties, especially those of the New York school. She had no experience at the time working in or running a gallery, only a great passion for art. "It was madness, sheer madness, " she told me. But despite the mad ambition of the project, the gallery has been a great success. Mrs. Shapolsky drew on her connections to other artists and friends in order to bring the appropriate pieces into her space. Although she knew that the aesthetic was not popular at the time, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that she had grown up with the abstract expressionists, and felt that they represented an important artistic avante garde. The Anita Shapolsky Gallery excels not only at exhibiting important art, but also at connecting that art to people. To be both in a gallery and a home is a unique experience, and meeting Mrs. Shapolsky was a privilege. She is as much a part of the gallery as is the art. On the day that I met her, she was wearing a piece of art around her neck. Her jewelry was made by Ibram Lassaw, whose work can also be seen at the Guggenheim.
Visions provides services for the blind and visually impaired; it is located in Selis Manor, a twelve-story apartment building dedicated to housing and assisting blind and otherwise handicapped New Yorkers of all types. Visions holds braille courses, exercise and rehabilitation classes, music programs, and various events and lectures.
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
Here is a special gem right off of a street that is already filled to the brim with historic wonders. Between No. 113 and 109 West 10th is Patchin Place, an iron-gated side street that has just ten small homes built in the middle of the 1800s. Theodore Dreiser, e. e. cummings and Marlon Brando are among several well known names that have had the unique pleasure of living here.
What began as an 1878 brownstone would be hard to recognize today. The dramatic transformation is owed to Frederick J. Sterner, an English immigrant and architect who remodeled many of New York's brownstone buildings in the early part of the twentieth century. Sterner drew influence from foreign and historic styles, converting the rows of monotonous residences into architectural gestures towards another time and place. The New York Times called Sterner "one of the city's most innovative architects. "Completed in 1921, Parge House was the last building that Sterner remodeled. Its name refers to the technique of decorative plaster modeling that was applied to its facade. The walls are adorned with flowers, long skirts, and wings – described, in 1924 as a "riot of arabesques. " At the time, the building was used as Sterner's home and office. Though Sterner is now long gone, the decorative Parge facade remains a surprising stylistic break in the homes along 65th.
New York has its own version of the palace of Versailles and it is called the Baccarat Hotel. If anything in the city can be called “exquisite, ” it is this luxury destination on 53rd Street. The first time I entered the intriguing vestibule, I was greeted by a charming gentleman who immediately had me turn my head towards the “vertical chandelier. ” He proudly told me that it was made up of 2016 Baccarat crystal glasses stacked on one another, lit up in ever-changing patterns. Lined with mirrors, this small hall seemed to extend infinitely in either direction, but the magnificent chandeliers above my head echoed upwards into eternity. And then the doorman recommended taking the elevator one flight up to see the lobby. This is where the real sensation presented itself. As the elevator doors opened, I found myself in one of a series of salons lined with crystals, glass, and statuettes. I was breathless, feeling more like I was in a museum with artfully placed display cases filled with shimmering antiques on loan from the French government. The windows themselves, which are also visible from the street, resemble the ribbed exterior of a crystal decanter. This comparison is probably no mistake: the “Baccarat” of Baccarat hotel is indeed the same Baccarat of the world-renowned crystal company. Under new management, the brand has been expanded to include luxury hotels. Though New York is their first, there are already plans to open locations in Morocco and Dubai. As I continued to explore the veritable palace, I found a smaller room with a ceiling that seemed to be covered in cracked glass. It offered an extra level of privacy and sophistication. Back in the main room, a long table stood covered in breathtaking globes made of roses and a fountain of wine bottles surrounded by multicolor flutes. Guests sat in chairs lined with fur, drinking out of crystal glasses. Continuing down the hall, there was a pristine bar room with blindingly white chairs and an outdoor balcony with elegant monochromatic seating. Despite the elegance and grandeur of the Baccarat, there is not one drop of pretension. Every staff member I met was extremely friendly, and the sentiment was one of whimsy rather than austerity. An alcove demonstrated this playful character with shelves holding pure white books each marked with a different year. Every one was blank, except for page numbers. I discovered that their purpose is so that guests can write secret messages to future visitors. All the writer needs to do is give the recipient the year and the page number. The hotel hopes to see many wedding proposals made this way. On the last shelf there is one red book, marked with “2015, ” the year the hotel was opened. One red item is a Baccarat trademark: Before exiting, I entertained myself by gliding through the rooms identifying the red jewel in each of the glittering chandeliers. It did not take me long to find an excuse to return to this sophisticated fairyland with my family. I chose my daughter's birthday to dazzle them. Only this time, we sat at the sixty-foot bar, ordered cocktails and champagne and a favorite, gougeres - scrumptious cheese filled puffs. After this, we headed downstairs to dine at the splendid Chevalier Restaurant.
“We have a unique mission in this neighborhood, ” Judy Counts, the executive director of the House of the Redeemer, told me. It is true that the house was unlike anything else I had come across in over ninety side streets. The non-profit organization is under the umbrella of the Episcopal Church, but it is considered “a place apart for all faiths. ” The House serves many purposes for those in the neighborhood: it is a space for weddings, memorials, and other meaningful events; but it also offers housing. Judy made it very clear that the House of the Redeemer is “not a cheap hotel. ” The guest rooms in the house provide shelter for those who are in need. Over the years, they have offered lodging for religious retreats, not-for-profit art collectors, and traveling church officials. They also have rooms for those with family emergencies, such as people visiting relatives at the nearby hospitals. They particularly do a lot of work with Mount Sinai, providing a place for their cancer patients to recover from treatments. There is no online booking: instead, interested parties must call the House of the Redeemer and answer the questions of a House representative, at which point they may be invited to stay at the House for up to a week. The House is also home to a priest-in-residence from September to June. When I visited, the clergy-in-residence was a female bishop from the West Coast. Because the house is landmarked, it is not centrally air-conditioned, so many of its residents leave in the summer. Every weekday, there is a morning and evening prayer in the chapel at 8am and 5pm, which is “absolutely open to all. ” Additionally, the house offers yoga groups meditations, bible studies, and lectures. Beginning our tour of the house in the butler’s pantry, Judy showed me an ancient box filled with bells that had been used by people in upper rooms to call a servant. There is also a dumbwaiter and a safe that was used for the silverware (“It now holds wine and cereal, ” Judy informed me). Judy pointed to the upper level of the pantry, indicating that this was where the housekeeper’s office was so that she could keep an eye on the other servants through the partition. In the year 1920, the mansion was home to five family members and thirteen servants. The building has a fascinating history. It was completed in 1916 and housed a debutante ball in 1917. It was designed for Edith Shepard Fabbri, the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Edith married Ernesto Fabbri, a wealthy Italian, which could explain why the house is designed with a very Italian eye. As I entered the dining room, with the vaulted, round stone of an Italian villa, Judy suggested that the House of the Redeemer may be the only building in New York designed in the style of an Italian Palazzo. The dining room, which is now called “the refectory”, is decorated with eighteenth century paintings that have each been appraised by Sotheby's. In 1949, after being inspired by a sermon, Edith Fabbri donated the house to the Episcopal Church to be used as a religious retreat house, giving it the name “House of the Redeemer. ” Nuns occupied the building from 1950 to 1980, until they were unable to handle the finances, and then a secular staff was brought in to take care of the building's affairs. One of the biggest ways in which the house has earned an income is by renting out the rooms to television and movie producers. Judy revealed that a wide variety of shows have shot scenes here, including Law and Order, The Good Wife, Burn After Reading, and the Nanny Diaries. The House is particularly attractive to PBS – the network has conducted many interviews in the historic rooms. Judy assured me that she takes each request very seriously and is always sure to show the house in a good light. Continuing our walk into another room, we entered the salon, which was set up for a bible study. The walls, I learned, had, at one time, been covered in red fabric. A large portrait of Edith Fabbri dominates the space, but the real centerpiece is the ceiling. Judy said that academics from the Frick, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Columbia University had all come to study the ceiling and had discovered that it came from the same exact part of Italy as the fixtures in their library. Judy then took me into the Chapel - originally the family’s living room. “The light in here at 3: 30 is unbelievable, ” Judy assured me, and I could see why, as the room was surrounded by large windows. As in the salon, the exquisite ceiling was transported from Italy. I was surprised to learn, however, that the triptych at the front of the room was not an antique, but was created by one of their board members. The library was our next stop, and I found it to be the most awe-inspiring part of the house. Not only is the two-tiered enclosure absolutely stunning, but it was also incredibly high-tech considering the year that it was built. The fixtures in the room had been dismantled from a castle on the outskirts of Urbino and shipped to New York in the middle of World War I. The pieces were sent on two boats, because if one boat was torpedoed, the artists would still have half the room from which to replicate the rest. The library is filled with hidden compartments, including one that leads to the servant’s elevator. Along the upper bookshelf, there is a hidden crawl space that some believe may have been where the family hid alcohol during Prohibition. Opening another secret panel, Judy announced, “I like to call this their stereo system. ” Inside were the rolls for a player organ, and the pipes for the organ are hidden behind the bookshelves. The clever engineering did not stop there: behind the main body of the organ is the original projector room. Early movies would be projected onto a sailcloth while someone played music on an organ. Music is still an important part of this room: the Fabbri concert series, which was started by board members as “a way of opening the house to others, since it was a very closed environment, ” takes place here every year. As we returned to the entrance, Judy pointed into the courtyard, showing us where there would have been a massive turntable to help turn around the motorcars, the early models of which only went forwards. I was shocked at how innovative the designs for the original house were. “This is a living museum, ” Judy agreed. She has worked at the House of the Redeemer since the early 2000s, so she has formed a fond attachment to the structure. “It is mostly a very peaceful place, ” and then reminded me that the House is always willing to give walking tours by appointment – something I highly recommend.
In the late 40's, a group who had suffered from mental illness started "We Are Not Alone" dedicated to helping others who had shared their troubles. They sought to fight against the stigmatization of the mentally ill. In 1948, "We Are Not Alone" developed the idea of Fountain House, an organization that would help the mentally ill recover by giving them an opportunity to actively live, work and learn. When we visited Fountain House, we were given a tour and introduced to the organization and its workings. Having been a member for a little less than a year, the gentleman speaking with us said that he still felt green at Fountain House, but nevertheless at home. Fountain House staff carefully selects people living with mental illness to join their community. Together, they help run the organization by working in one of the eight Units (Communication, Culinary, Education, Employment, Horticulture, Reception, Membership, and Research). We walked around the two connected buildings that make up Fountain House to see each Unit in progress. About 250 to 300 members and staff work daily to contribute to the operation of Fountain House and build communities in which members develop close-knit relationships. While touring Fountain House, the attractive facilities and congeniality of the members left an impression on me. Everyone in each unit seemed to be busy performing a task – sweeping the floors, making a call, and folding the monthly newsletter. Their approach to helping people with mental illness relies entirely upon members' participation and active work. The sense of belonging and purpose fostered at Fountain House has been proven to reduce the hospitalization of patients and improve the likelihood of completing their studies and, ultimately, being able to secure a job outside of the House. The organization has dozens of sister programs worldwide and has helped hundreds of thousands of people improve their lives, breaking the cycle of stigmatization and isolation.