Members of the Manhattan Sideways team stood in awe when we entered the New York City Center and realized that the extraordinary exterior matched the majestic interior. One of the most beautiful facades on the side streets is here on 55th, but behind its doors is a restored treasure trove. Hawley Abelow and Stanford Makishi, two passionate personnel from the marketing and programming departments, greeted us as we arrived and proceeded to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of what they termed to be “The family business of performing arts centers of New York. ” Stanford called it the “most ‘un-corporate’ large venue” he has witnessed, and he and Hawley both have the credentials to make that judgment, having worked at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Both went on to say that even though they have to book acts with a certain amount of popularity in order to be financially viable, they are mainly concerned with what they put on the stage, rather than the profits. City Center also displays a refreshing lack of competitive spirit: “Other philanthropic programs are our colleagues, not competitors, ” Stanford explained, while detailing his amicable dealings with some of the big theaters in the city. We started out walking on the center stage itself, where we could stare out at the breathtaking view of the tiers of seating. Each level was an intricately carved masterpiece, reminiscent of a Russian cathedral. Stanford said that dancers, actors and musicians love performing at City Center because the theater is built so that every seat feels close to the stage. He told us that their left wing is legendary, as there is a wall only a few feet from the edge of the stage. Apparently every ballerina knows not to make extravagant leaps off the left side unless they have someone waiting to prevent them from smashing into the wall. Stanford is qualified to speak about the performer’s experience, since he was a dancer for many years, and City Center was the first New York location at which he danced. On our particular visit, the stage was getting set up for that evening's performance by Bjork. Though Hawley is not a dancer, her career has similarly come full circle: when we explored the downstairs theater spaces, used by the Women’s Project and Manhattan Theater Company, she relayed that she started in the Production department at Manhattan Theater Company. Though not as grand as the main performance space, the downstairs theaters are more versatile. Stage 2 appears to be a “black box” theater, in which producers have more freedom with how they decide to set up the audience seating and set. Stage 1, on the day we saw it, was completely bare. This is not to say it was empty: cords and lights and ladders filled the stage, showing us a surgical biopsy of the theater. “This is as raw as it gets, ” Hawley commented. We also had the privilege to peek into one of the City Center’s dance studios, where we observed men and women twisting like tilted windmills. Stanford and Hawley told us that the spaces, which are rented out to different companies, are heavily sought after because they are much larger than many studios in New York. Broadway casts covet them, but they often go to not-for-profit groups. “Broadway is not our priority, ” Hawley stated. There was a "throne" at the back of the room, which was originally built as an auditorium for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, an appendant body to the Freemasons. Stanford told us that they used to hold their secret meetings in the spaces that are now studios, and the man presiding would sit on the throne. It was when Stanford and Hawley began speaking about “Fall for Dance, ” an event that aims to bring the “highest quality dance to the largest possible audience, ” that they became especially animated. As Holly declared, “You can’t come to this show and not fall in love with dance. ” The performances take place in the early fall, and apparently people line up in the middle of the night to be first to purchase tickets when they go on sale the following morning. Our tour continued to the lobby, which reminded us of a receiving hall in a palace. The design is neo-Moorish with murals depicting desert scenes. Hawley remarked that the colorful, intricate designs had been painted over in white during the 1970s due to a misguided sense of aestheticism, but in the recent renovations, they hired specialists who uncovered the original design. At the same time, screens were installed that display rainbow rivulets. Stanford informed us that the video was specially curated by the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. Another dazzling piece of art was a mural that stretched across an entire wall of the Patron’s Lobby. It was created by a Cuban artist, and had been borrowed to complement his country's dance troupe’s performance. “We try to make performances meaningful for the audiences, ” Sanford commented. Every element of the theater is in place to enhance what is on the stage.
"Practice! " has been the immediate, entertaining response when asked how to get to Carnegie Hall - at least for its would-be performers. For the rest of us, the formal entrance to the concert hall is either on Seventh Avenue or 57th Street. Carnegie Hall has been a premier concert destination since 1891. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the building is a stunning ode to Italian Renaissance architecture and boasts excellent acoustics. A New York City icon, the hall continues to attract classically trained and modern musicians from the world over, including the Beatles who performed two shows during their first trip to the United States.
The Sideways team's walk through the Essex House was an historical rumination on the character of the Art Deco designs that recall the hotel's founding years in the 1930s. The chandeliers, the marble and even the elevator doors were splendid and recalled a time when the hotel played host to prominent members of society.
Opening in 1948, the Paris initially show-cased French cinema on its single screen. Today, the theater continues to include foreign films as a core element. The theater seats 586 people, and features a balcony, which is a rarity in modern cinemas. With no ads preceding the start of a film, the Paris Theatre opens up the curtain and offers a more classy and classic movie watching experience.
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.