Both a space of learning and of performing, Kaufman Music Center is home to Merkin Concert Hall, Lucy Moses School, and Special Music School. The organization was founded in 1953 and receives most of its funding through donations from music enthusiasts. The Merkin Concert Hall has been around since the 1970s and was renovated with the rest of the building in 2007. Vocal and acoustic performances of classical and new music send resonating sounds throughout the spacious 450-seat room, with its well-lit stage and impressive grand piano. Each year, the concert hall hosts the Ecstatic Music Festival, which presents one-night-only artist collaborations from across the spectrum. The Special Music School is the only public school in the city to offer music as a core subject to its gifted students, and the Lucy Moses School offers a variety of classes in music, dance and theater. "Lots of people will come back to play here as an adult having taken classes as children, " explained Communications Director Joan Jastrebski. In the summertime, the classrooms turn into musical theater workshops where specific age groups work with writers and choreographers to develop a performance for their final recital. Because every good show needs its props, a team of designers gets together to go over every last detail. Alex, one of the interns, shared with me the story of how the team scurried around to fabricate a prop microphone out of tape and foam when one went missing from the set, only to find it moments from show time. "What is exciting about the center is what people are doing, " Joan added when she took me to watch little ones dance passionately to playful music in the Ann Goodman Recital Hall. She also allowed me a peak into one of the private practice rooms on the third floor where Genya Paley, who had been with the center for over three decades, was giving a piano lesson to a young boy. "Yes, right, " said Genya as the child played each chord individually, "Now put it together. " The lovely harmony that followed exemplified the intersection of practice and performance.
Since 1907, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue has continued to build upon progressive Jewish thought in adherence to the values of its founder, Rabbi Stephen Wise, who stressed the importance of offering a free pulpit. In addition to today's Senior Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch’s sermons on matters concerning the State of Israel, amongst other topics, and the traditional services held Friday nights and Saturday mornings, the congregation is a “singing community” in line with the aspirations of Cantor Daniel Singer. A professional five piece band livens up Shabbat services. Since 1988, the temple has performed nationally renowned Purim Spiels written and directed by Norman Roth, including Megillah Musicals playing on Mamma Mia, Grease, and Glee. The Spiels have gained an international reputation and are now performed in synagogues around the globe. For members outside its community, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue has been performing mitzvahs for decades. Every Saturday morning volunteers offer food packages to those in need. Most inspiring to me, the synagogue voluntarily began running the Next Step Men’s Shelter in 1984 (after Mayor Ed Koch spoke at the synagogue), housing ten selected men for the majority of the year, providing them warm meals and a safe place to sleep at night. In accordance with the play-based learning philosophy, children of the Balfour Brickner Early Childhood Center even decided to tie-dye some bed sheets in an effort to make the space homier. According to director of communications, Samantha Kessler, while other synagogues in the city are struggling to survive, Stephen Wise continues to grow. She was quite proud to expand on the appeal of the Rabbi's stimulating sermons, the emphasis on music, strong engagement in public outreach, and a continued focus on education and religion. It is no wonder that the congregation supports the synagogue's efforts.
The greatest treasures on the side streets often take the form of art studios, theaters, non-profits, innovative exercise spaces, and specialty lodging. I was delighted, therefore, to find all of these facilities inside the West Side YMCA. According to Wyndy Wilder Sloan, the senior director of the Y, I was not unlike numerous others who admitted to having had no idea that this extraordinary building existed on West 63rd. Sharing the fascinating history of the Y with me one morning while touring the building, Wyndy simply stated that not many people stroll down their street and those that do rarely notice what has been here since 1930. Wyndy was crowed that they have at least 5, 700 active members, 397 guest rooms, an off-Broadway theater, and an art space in addition to its vast array of fitness facilities. At the start, the Y even owned the McBurney School next door, which is still marked with a sign for "BOYS. " Wyndy informed me that the West Side Y is the largest YMCA in the country. My first stop on the tour was on the newly renovated tenth and eleventh floors to see the selection of guest rooms, which Wyndy described as "a hostel that is not a real hostel. " Wyndy shared with me that guests are frequently European travelers, mostly form the UK, with the average age between eighteen and twenty-four, but national youth groups, like the boy scouts, also take advantage of the facilities. Traipsing down the white walls marked with shapes in cheery bright colors and the names of countries from around the world, I peeked into a room and found a spotlessly clean bunk bed that had a view of Central Park. Descending down some flights, I went to the fitness floors, which were astonishing. There, I found enormous studios that offered classes from Aerobics to Zumba and everything in between. Learning that the YMCA "invented" basketball and volleyball, I gazed upon the spacious court encircled one floor up by an elevated track. When I commented on the spectacular racquetball courts, squash courts, and, particularly the original machinery still decorating the walls in the boxing room, Wyndy proudly admitted that they were available for promotional shoots. In the gym, I was met with one of the most enormous collection of ellipticals and treadmills I have ever seen. "You never have to wait for a machine, " Wyndy said. "We have every piece of equipment you can imagine, " and she went on to tell me that all Y's in the country lease their machines for three years so that they can easily update to new models. Through the clean, flower-filled women's locker room, I arrived at the magnificent pool. The space is a palace, decorated with red and yellow tiles in a stunning mosaic pattern. Wyndy explained that King Alfonso of Spain donated all the tiles to the Y as the building was being erected. Slipping inside to view the smaller pool - used more for classes and therapy sessions than for laps - was possibly even more extraordinary, with dazzling white and blue designs covering all four corners. Tearing myself away from the pools, I walked into the art annex to see a painting class in progress. Down the hall, students filled a ceramics studio that boasted two kilns. I now understood from where the cases full of colorful mugs for sale in the lobby hallway came. On my way to the "Little Theater, " which sported sloping bannisters and comfortable audience seating, I caught a glimpse of rounded traditional Spanish doors and more of the magnificent tiles in an event space named the "King Alfonso" room. After a whirlwind tour, where I saw so much original architecture, artistic craftsmanship, first-class facilities, and happy members, I was shocked that I had not heard more about the building as a lifelong New Yorker. Though I knew of its existence, I had no idea of all the valuable resources and facilities inside. Wyndy conceded that is a challenge that the West Side Y is trying to overcome: "When you're a landmark building on a side street, it's hard to maintain visibility. " It is, however, definitely worth seeking out. As Wyndy noted, "We are unique among other gyms because we are non-profit. When you sign up as a member, you know your money is going to a good cause. "
What began as a concept for a young British couple in the 1960s became a dream come true when they opened the doors of their prep school in 1969 on East 85th Street. In 1997, the school was relocated to West 68th, in what was once the building for the Jewish Institute of Religion, founded by Rabbi Stephen Wise in 1922. Today, there are several hundred students, with Ronald and Jayme Stewart still acting as Headmaster and Director of College Guidance.
Walking into Java Girl feels like coming home. In addition to the cafe being host to a friendly assortment of mismatched cushions, a cuckoo clock, an antique mirror, and other objects of curiosity, this was my go-to shop when I lived on East 67th Street. My friends and family members knew that I did not own a coffee pot and therefore we always had to stop by this neighborhood favorite. I was thrilled to be revisiting an old haunt, and on this particular day, I chose a seat in the window nook, settling in for a chat with Java Girl herself. In the mid-nineties, Linda Rizutto was working for a major retailer, wondering what it was that she wanted to do next. She would sit in a coffee shop with her journal and contemplate her options. "And then the opportunity came, " Linda told me. In 1998, the west half of Java Girl became available for rent. Linda decided to take her own journey as inspiration, and create a coffee shop that would give other people the space and time to think about their lives. In 2001, Linda expanded into the second half of the cafe. "It created what I was dreaming of, and that was a place to let people come and decompress, whether it's for twenty minutes or two hours. "Linda truly is the "Java Girl. " She has crafted an amazingly diverse selection of coffee offerings, each 100% Arabica and hand-picked, from the volcanic soil of Mount Kilimanjaro to the fertile Costa Rican rainforest. Java Girl's exotic beans are all roasted locally by third generation roasters in Long Island City and the flavored coffees are done so by hand without any chemical processing. Not only does Linda know coffee, she also has a well-curated and enticing selection of gourmet loose-leaf teas, some of which are blended in-house. In the mornings, her oatmeal smoothie is a popular choice and hearty kickstart to the day. Over the years, Linda's customers have become regulars, allowing her to develop strong relationships with many of them. On the day that I stopped by, Linda had purchased flowers for someone who had recently lost a family member. "We've also celebrated marriages and babies, " Linda proudly shared. Clearly more than just a coffee shop - Java Girl is a community. And a community is really what Linda set out to create. "I didn't have a business plan, I just had this idea... and it worked. "
Lovely classical music plays in the background of The Juilliard Store, home to official apparel, recordings, and books on all things drama, dance, and music. A children’s section is dedicated to recognizing the potential of young artists with baby bibs reading “little soprano” or “little tenor. ” The fun and whimsy continues with bags of music note-shaped pasta surrounded by an array of notebooks and coffee mugs. However, the gift shop is most recognized as being one of largest brick and mortar sheet music stores in the world. It is frequented by tourists, music-appreciators, and, of course, students of the Juilliard School.
In 1895, Slovakian immigrants originally founded the St. John Church on East 4th Street to be both a community center and a place of worship. However, as its congregation continued to grow and move uptown, it made sense for the Roman Catholic church to do the same. Since 1925, the Church of St. John Nepomucene has taken residence on 66th Street.
A Roman Catholic parish dedicated in May of 1918, the Church of St. Vincent is considered to be one of the most spectacular architectural buildings in Manhattan. In 1867, the first Cardinal in America, John McCloskey, requested that the Dominican Fathers and Brothers find a home in Manhattan. Mass was held in a small building on East 66th Street in that same year. A few months later, work began on the Gothic church that was completed in 1879. In 1914, however, it was decided to construct a new building, which stands here today. Above the main entrance is a magnificent carving of a crucifixion scene by Lee O. Lawrie. Guastivino acoustic tiling allows the preacher’s voice to project, and each glass window was placed opposite one of complementary colors so as to be highlighted fully in the sunlight. In August of 2015, the Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena was established, forming a connection between this church and the Church of St. Catherine of Siena on East 68th Street.