Originally known as the Manhattan Opera House, 311 West has had an interesting history. Oscar Hammerstein built the theater in 1906, but after a few short years, the Metropolitan Opera House came to him requesting that he not compete with them, and made him an offer that he could not refuse. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hammerstein sold the building to the Shubert brothers where they continued to feature a variety of shows and concerts. In 1922, it was sold again, and this time a Grand Ballroom was added. Unbeknownst to the builders, they had created an outstanding acoustic setup where musicians from Harry Belafonte to the Grateful Dead have performed and recorded. Over the past twenty plus years, construction has been on-going as more multimedia studios have been added and a refurbishing done to the Hammerstein Ballroom to accommodate large private events.
The multiple theaters inside this center are stunning and the list of performances impressive. Mikhail Baryshnikov had his dream become a reality in 2005 when he was able to provide a state of the art space for people in the dance, music and theater world to rehearse and perform.
New York City means a lot of things to a lot of people. For many members of the Sideways team, it means nothing if not basketball. But while the game historically flourished in and even helped define life in (parts of) the City, it is nowhere near its historical apex these days. Perhaps the playground ‘ball is as lively as it ever was. But the New York Knicks, the currently flawed tenants of Madison Square Garden, have not won an NBA championship in thirty years. Once beloved for its prowess, the team now seems more beloved for its power to inspire griping and grumbling among its loyal fans. Throughout it all, though, the Garden has remained a hallowed basketball ground, a place that has inspired basketball luminaries to some of their most electrifying performances. It is, perhaps, basketball’s most storied arena. The Garden wears many hats. The New York Rangers, the City’s NHL team, also calls this arena home. Musicians and stage performers come through here on tour (with Billy Joel recently being named the Garden’s first entertainment franchise, essentially a musician-in-residence), college basketball tournaments (and Saint John’s home games) are played, even wrestling events. Underneath, meanwhile, lies the transportation hub that is Pennsylvania Station. Once upon a time, this station was a beautifully built, high-ceilinged architectural masterpiece, an elegant way to arrive into Manhattan. It was torn down, however, in 1963, replaced by a much less grand iteration. (This loss of a great landmark was perhaps inspirational in the movement to preserve the beautiful Grand Central Terminal. ) Now, the future of the entire complex is up in the air as many are pushing for a new Penn Station. The Garden, meanwhile, has a ten-year operating permit, at the end of which, it may be forced to move.
With construction starting in 1958 and finishing ten years later, Saint Vartan Cathedral represents the first Armenian Apostolic cathedral built in North America. Named after a saint who was martyred a millennium and a half ago defending Armenian Christianity, Saint Vartan Cathedral had a memorable beginning. During its construction and immediately following its completion, the building was visited by the highest authority within the Church, His Holiness Vasken I, marking the first such visit by a Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians in the United States. For a people so persecuted throughout history, and especially by the recent Armenian genocide, the building and consecration of this holy house was a monumental event in the community. His Holiness Vasken I, looking out at an assembled audience soon after Saint Vartan's completion, spoke of "an admirable picture of spiritual grace - a rare moment of spiritual bliss - to which we are all witnesses. " But far from being a relic, the church continues to thrive with the energy of the community it houses. I encourage any visitors to the church to walk through the intricately decorated doors and take some time to absorb the sheer size and depth of the church. Narrow strips of stained glass depicting biblical scenes and significant events in the history of the Armenian Church rise up to the impressive dome, which depicts Christian symbols in paint and stained glass, such as a human eye within a triangle (representing the omniscient Triune God), the wooden ship (representing the Church), and the white dove (representing the Holy Spirit). Closer to the altar, the “Head of Christ” is chiseled on a slate of stone in high relief. Silver and gold crosses decorate the distinctly Armenian altar. On the sides of the altar are paintings of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob, the two men credited with inventing the Armenian Alphabet, and a painting that seeks to honor the victims of the dreadful Armenian genocide.
Johnny Ivanac hopped on board a vessel from Croatia to the U. S. in 1968, with a background in hospitality and a dream of opening his own restaurant. When the ship stopped in New York, he decided to settle here and, thanks to the advice and generosity of the congregants at the local Croatian church, has never looked back. Johnny’s restaurant career kicked off when he was offered a job at a pizzeria, which he accepted with enthusiasm despite one small snag — he had never before tasted pizza. This did not deter him or the owner of the pizzeria, who assured him, “In a week you’ll be the best guy here. ” Sure enough, he was. When a restaurant owner learned of him from a fellow Croatian, Johnny joined his team and amassed a following of loyal customers who encouraged him to open his own place. Hesitant at first because of lacking funds, Johnny reached out to folks back home who pitched in to help him put a downpayment on a business that was about to close. He soon sent for his sister, Maria, and fellow Croatian, Chef Mili. The close-knit team was able to open their dream restaurant in 1981 and pay it off four years later. “With hard work, honest work, good work — you’re gonna make it. ” Villa Berulia has since become a neighborhood staple, uniquely melding elements of Johnny’s Croatian heritage with popular Italian fare. Customers call in advance to reserve a serving of cannelloni or decadent flourless chocolate cake (both recipes remain a closely-guarded secret). Johnny and Maria continue to spend time in the restaurant, but Johnny’s beloved daughter, Alex, and her husband, Steve, now run the everyday operations while carrying on that same “small family that extends to the customers. ”