Known as the "Center for Social Change," the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression." Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
In 1919, America's first major tabloid newspaper, the Daily News, was founded. In need of a home in 1929, the paper began construction on the Daily News Building, completing it a year later. The bold vertical stripes by architect Raymond Hood influenced his design of the subsequent Rockefeller Center. No longer headquarters to the Daily News (the paper moved out in 1995), it is still a showstopper, as it was the home of the Daily Planet in 1978's Superman. Remaining in the lobby is the enormous globe (although it is a bit out of date geopolitically), spinning slowly twenty-four hours a day. The lobby is visually striking, with the globe sitting under a black dome meant to simulate the cosmos. A compass of marble surrounds the globe, pointing the way to other cities, while astronomical measurements are detailed in ornate script. It is a spectacular site to behold for anyone in the vicinity.
An iconic piece of the New York skyline, the Chrysler building was the tallest building in the world upon its completion in 1930, before being surpassed eleven months later by the Empire State Building. To this day, however, the building remains a masterpiece of Art Deco in the center of Manhattan, an ever-present point by which to navigate while meandering through the side streets. Upon the buildings completion, fifty-five of the seventy-seven floors were used as office space, with the upper twenty-two a mixture of luxe dining rooms and a penthouse living space for Walter Chrysler (of automotive fame). Unlike others in the city, the Chrysler is not for tourists. The lobby is old-world and attractive, but that is all that visitors are allowed to view. No taking the elevator to the highest floor to gaze out over New York, although the crown it wears atop its impressive frame as it gazes skyward ensures that it will continue to capture the imagination of each of us from the ground.
The English Speaking Union was founded in 1920 as a partnership between the United States and Britain in order to solidify ties between the nations. In doing so, the organization hoped to preserve global post-War peace. In recent years, the English Speaking Union has added tutorials in order to help immigrants adjust to American life. The English in Action program offers one-on-one tutoring services, which are bolstered by movie screenings, talks about cultural assimilation, support groups and other such services. Combining the artful side of English with its more practical aspects, this non-profit organization enables visitors to unlock the power of language. When I stopped in their Manhattan headquarters, I found a few people on their way out the door to the New York rendition of a national Shakespeare competition for high school students, housed in the beautifully grand New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. Those students who do make the national finals, next compete at Lincoln Center for a scholarship to travel to England where they will study the Bard. This and other programs at the Union focus on the beauty of the English language and its ability to inspire.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
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.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.