I would not have guessed, walking through the room hung with sparkly princess dresses and pink china, that Judy Famigletti used to be a hockey mom. The owner of Let's Dress Up, an event center for little girls, told me that she has two sons who both played ice hockey through college. She would go with them to their different games and formed her own business while traveling: she designed sports-themed Christmas ornaments, which developed into a broader home accessories business. While she greatly enjoyed painting, sewing, and decorating, most of Judy's creative power was directed towards sports and practicality. She had no use for frills and sparkles. Once her sons were grown, Judy moved to the city and set off on a new path. She knew that she wanted to have her own business that involved home decorating and that she wanted to work with little girls, since she was already very familiar with the world of boys. She reminisced about how she used to walk around her neighborhood when she was little, asking people for old jewelry and wearing her big sister's dresses. Judy began designing the concept for Let's Dress Up, meanwhile getting in touch with her feminine side. Needing to be resourceful in her first few years, as she no longer had a house in which to hold Let's Dress Up, she decided to barter with a restaurant. They allowed her to use their private room in return for decorating the eatery for the holidays. In 2005, she began holding events in the restaurant's back room, decking it out with her old hats and dolls. Shortly thereafter, Judy was able to move into her own space on 85th Street, followed by another location in Connecticut in 2010 - in an effort to be closer to her son and three of her grandchildren. "My granddaughter practically lived in the store until Kindergarten, " she said with a smile. Her sons also helped her with the business. In 2015, tragedy struck. Because the traveling was starting to become a hassle, Judy decided to close the Connecticut location and focus on the 85th Street spot. Shortly after making that decision, however, a fire broke out, ruining all of her old hats and dolls, and causing the space to require a complete overhaul. When I had the pleasure of meeting Judy at the end of 2015, her feathers did not appear to be ruffled. She had just finished renovating and moving her Connecticut dress-up things into the store. "After the fire, I decorated it based on the new girl, " Judy shared, showing me a wall hung with Disney princess outfits. Instead of her classic, vintage items, she had bright, shiny new things, with an emphasis on Disney's Frozen. "Elsa has replaced Ariel as the favorite princess. "Judy was inspired by the number of little girls who stopped by when she was renovating to ask, "When are you going to open? " She began thinking of new ways to expand Let's Dress Up, beyond the tried-and-true birthday parties. When I visited, she had just started offering special "Classes in the Castle" that little girls could come to with a play date. During these classes, the girls do craft projects, play with the dress-up items and learn the rules of princess etiquette from "Lady Judith" - Judy's persona in her shop. Judy showed me an example of one craft, in which little girls dressed a Pinkalicious dress-up doll after listening to one of the stories in the series by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. Judy has now expanded into a summer camp and occasionally holds seasonal workshops; however, she assured me that her main passion will always be the parties. Each of the parties is all-inclusive, beginning with a special tea party invitation that is sent to the guests. On the day of the event, the hosting family arrives fifteen minutes early so that the birthday girl can select her favorite dress and be ready to greet her guests. Once all of the girls are dressed in the various gowns, purses, tiaras, wands, and jewelry, they get glitter nail polish and sparkly, clear lip gloss. Judy then puts a pink screen up so that the girls can take group and individual photos. The various parts of the party last only fifteen minutes, which Judy feels is the perfect amount of time for short attention spans. When I inquired about the age range, Judy told me, "The most common age is five. I can tell when they outgrow it because they start asking why there's no prince. "Once the pictures are taken, all the little princesses sit down to their tea party, set with proper china. I asked if any of the china ever breaks and Judy shook her head vehemently, saying, "When they dress like princesses, they act like princesses. " Judy took all the tea party equipment out of pretty striped hatboxes, laying everything out on a doily. "The piece de resistance is the glass slipper, " she said, putting a tiny slipper at the top of the place setting. She also showed me the little party favors, composed of sparkly bracelets in a mesh bag. Judy has used the same party favor throughout the years "because it's the right one. "Each tea party is comprised of the same ingredients: a bagel with cream cheese or butter, strawberries, cheese sandwiches cut in the shape of a heart, and cupcakes or cake. After listing the different courses of the princess feast, Judy informed me that she used to do her parties for the Museum of the City of New York. They requested that she hold high-end birthday parties in their Dollhouse Room. Though the parties were fun and the room was beautiful, it was a massive undertaking. Today, Judy sticks to her spot on 85th Street. Judy has also allowed others to take over her space, as there is enough room for a long table. She is looking forward to the day when someone chooses to have a baby shower in her space. Until then, Judy already has a lot on her beautiful pink china plate, with as many as four parties in one day. On my way out the door, I saw a wall full of knightly coats of armor, often used by little boys who are invited to the parties (although there are times when the boys are perfectly content to wear the dresses). I asked if the girls could be knights, instead of princesses. Judy answered with a benevolent smile, "They can be anything they want to be. "
I have often commented on how I wish there were more places to write about for children on the side streets of Manhattan. Each business that I have discovered has been fantastic; I just always want to come upon another. That is why I was so excited to find this fascinating indoor petting zoo and activity center. The Art Farm has been on the Upper East Side since 2002. Valentina Van Hise, the director, visited the Art Farm that Mari Linnman formed in the Hamptons in 1999. She worked and trained there as a teacher before deciding to open a location in Manhattan. When the Art Farm in the City first began, it catered to Mommy and Me classes. Today, the center offers activities for children up to eight years old, although everyone must be accompanied by an adult. Everywhere I looked I saw animals: examples of children’s art projects hung on the walls, depicting different creatures; murals of underwater scenes covered the bathrooms; and illustrations from animal-centric books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar decorated the first floor. In addition to a cozy playroom with a green carpet that imitates grass, the ground floor has a full kitchen, which is used both for baking and arts and crafts. Art Farm has what it calls “Friend Fridays, ” where children can come and do projects in the kitchen each week. “There’s no craft we don’t know, ” one of the staff members said with a smile. “The Farm, ” located downstairs, was the most remarkable feature. Impossibly fuzzy chinchillas rested in cages while bunnies hopped around a large central pen across from a chicken coop. We met Fluffy (a chinchilla who is “in a kind of retirement home to herself"), Maggie the guinea pig, and Russian tortoises named Boris, Natasha, and Yeltsin. In the back of the room, we found creatures without fur, including insects, amphibians and reptiles. I gazed in awe at the large orange Halloween Moon Crab and the walking stick insect. Farther back, there is a large birdcage and a fish tank. The Manhattan Sideways team was overcome, petting everything in sight and gazing into tanks at hissing insects, bearded lizards, and salamanders. The piece de resistance for us, however, was when one of the staff members quietly brought out a few baby chicks that had recently hatched. Happily, every class and activity involves the animals in some way. Even during baking activities, as soon as the treats are in the oven, the children are escorted down the steps to play with the creatures.
The Loop of the Loom, tucked below street level on 87th Street, is a center for SAORI weaving, a special practice that combines the art of weaving with the principles of Zen. The founder of Loop of the Loom, Yukako Satone, began her career as a graphic designer for fifteen years in both Japan and New York. She claims that she did not consider herself a “craft person” until she was introduced to SAORI weaving when her daughter was five years old. She became a certified SAORI instructor in Japan, thanks to a talented teacher, Misao Jo. Shortly thereafter, Yukako made the decision to open a studio in Manhattan, hoping to introduce this specific type of weaving to New Yorkers. The Loop of the Loom encourages anyone who walks through the door to find their own unique style while embracing earthy materials and the Japanese idea of “Mottainai" ("non-waste”). The threads are made from natural fibers and many of the tools are created from recycled materials. The repetitive, calming nature of the work is said to introduce mindfulness and healing to the weaver. When I visited Loop of the Loom, a group of young children were gathered for a special children’s class, celebrating a child's eighth birthday. It was a special sight to watch them calmly sitting at their looms, eager for their next instruction. In addition to her studio, Yukako often takes her portable loom out into the city to do demonstrations. She loves that her “happy weaving” can bring smiles and a sense of calm to passersby.
Asphalt Green is a non-profit organization that provides facilities and programs to all ages in the hopes of promoting health and fitness. The Upper East Side campus is composed of an entire city block between York Avenue and the FDR Drive. The organization was founded in 1972 by Dr. George E. Murphy, a Cornell professor of pathology, and his wife, Annette. Asphalt Green got its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the abandoned Municipal Asphalt Plant, which was declared a city landmark in 1976, thanks to the couple’s efforts. In 1984, the Upper East Side campus officially opened. Today, facilities include an enormous outdoor turf field, an Olympic-size pool, and a 15, 000 square foot fitness center. In 2013, a second location opened in Battery Park City.
The Church of the Holy Trinity began its life as a memorial. In 1798, William Rhinelander, one of the wealthiest men in New York, purchased a large parcel of land between Third Avenue and the East River. After his death, his granddaughter, Serena, selected a piece of that land on which to build a church in his honor. The Church of the Holy Trinity already existed on Madison Avenue and 42nd Street, but they planned on selling their midtown plot because the area was starting to become a business district. The church merged with St. James Church and moved to this uptown spot set aside by Serena. The church was consecrated in 1899 and Holy Trinity has provided a spiritual home to the surrounding neighborhood ever since.
Many New Yorkers recognize Gracie Mansion as the mayor’s residence, but few know that the first floor functions as a museum. Archibald Gracie, a prosperous merchant of Scottish ancestry, had the mansion built in 1799 as a retreat from the city, which at the time did not extend above Canal Street. Paul Gunther, the director of the mansion, explained, “This was their summer home, their Hamptons. ” The house stands on a spot that was used as a strategic location during the American Revolutionary War due to its position overlooking the East River. Gracie, a staunch federalist, was friends with Alexander Hamilton, who called a meeting at Gracie Mansion that culminated in the creation of what would become the New York Post. The house remained in private hands for almost a entury until it was seized by the city in 1896 for tax evasion. The mansion then underwent several metamorphoses, serving as public restrooms, a concession stand, and the first location for the Museum of the City of New York. In 1942, urban planner Robert Moses convinced the city to use the mansion as a residence for the mayor, and Fiorello La Guardia became the first to live there during the Second World War. Gracie Mansion’s personal savior was former Mayor Ed Koch, who established the Gracie Mansion Conservancy in the 1980s. By that point, the house had become slightly dilapidated and, over time, much of its original components had disappeared. Koch went about restoring his home to how it might have looked during its federal beginnings. Paul explained that Koch “had the Jackie Kennedy motive, ” because in the same way that she made the White House “correct” by reconstructing it to replicate its appearance during its glory days, Koch revived the residence to become what La Guardia once called “the Little White House. ”The developments at the mansion in more recent years are credited to Chirlane McCray, an activist, writer, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife. It was her idea to focus on the year that the mansion was built. She hoped to draw attention to the diversity that existed in the early 1800s by displaying portraits of notable Black figures such as abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Haitian slave-turned-philanthropist Pierre Toussaint. Her work, in Paul’s words, represents “a perfect balance of respect and change” — an admirable pursuit for New York’s historic sites.
Gregory Fryer, the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, is thankful for his church for many reasons. First of all, it was formed in the winter of 1863, right in the middle of the Civil War. Gettysburg was only a few months away, but Gregory sees the founding of Immanuel as proof that it was still "a holy time. " "It was the creation of a new church, right in the middle of wartime, " he said, with the soft, deliberate tone of a man who has spoken many sermons. The congregation met in various places on the Upper East Side, including what is now St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for the first two decades before building the 88th Street church. Gregory is grateful that that church, dedicated in 1886, was built with great care by the local German immigrants. The same men who worked in Rupert's brewery, ran the neighborhood bakeries, and lived in the tenement houses painstakingly built this beautiful church on 88th and Lex. "I'm honored every time I set foot in it, " Gregory asserted. Many of the immigrants were woodworkers, so the church stands out from its neighbors in that it is filled with wooden structures and hand-carved decorations from the Black Forest in Germany. The bells are also imported from Germany and were gifts from Empress Victoria in the late 1800s. They are named "Glaube, " "Hoffnung, " and "Liebe" which mean "faith, " "hope, " and "charity. " The bells are rung by hand at the start of each service and during the consecration – a practice that is quite fun for those who participate, judging by the twinkle in the pastor’s eye as he mentioned, “We enjoy pulling on the rope. ”"My call to be pastor here reflects the change of the neighborhood, " Gregory stated. He is the first pastor who does not speak German. "I am distinguished by a deficiency, " he said. The church stopped offering German services in the 1970's, resulting in some German-speakers moving to Zion St. Mark. Some of the older congregants, who have been coming to the church for over fifty years, still speak the language, but Gregory jokingly assured me that they "forgive" him for not knowing it. The older congregants are referred to as "the power table, " since they always sit together at coffee hour. Gregory calls them the "guardians of the wisdom of the neighborhood. " They are part of what Gregory describes as "a very diverse congregation. "Immanuel fills a very important niche in New York: As of 2016, it is the only church in Manhattan that is part of the North American Lutheran Church. They were originally part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the more liberal group, but decided to become more moderate in order to give other Lutherans a place to worship in the city. After a year of debating, they applied to the NALC and were accepted in record time. When I visited in 2016, the church had just finished renovating its slate roof and steeple. "It took every nickel in sight to do it, but we did it right, " Gregory said proudly. The church could have used a cheaper material to fix their roof, but the congregation felt strongly that the church should honor the work that the original builders did by using the same materials. The process was long and arduous. Gregory told me how every detail was discussed at length and showed me one of the original nails, which became a centerpiece of a discussion about what hardware to use. Every congregant did his or her part. For example, Gregory took the bucket that he used to catch water from a leak in the roof and invited the children to a "noisy collection, " where they dropped coins into the bucket. Before commencing the work, Immanuel had the building appraised by a structural engineer, who declared it "solid as a rock, " suggesting that the congregation could hang a 747 jet from the rafters. A few months after the project was completed, the church was awarded the “Carnegie Hill Neighbors Enrichment Award” in recognition of the skillful renovation. An added bonus of the new roof is that the church is now insulated. Ever since a nearby department store's demolition project destroyed the church's plaster roof, it has gone without insulation. The church used the settlement money from the department store to buy the parsonage apartment where Gregory and his wife raised their family. The church never replaced the plaster because they realized that the church was more beautiful with the exquisite craftsmanship of the roof beams exposed – the rafters were never meant to be seen, but the German woodworkers put great care and skill into them anyway. Not to mention, the acoustics were greatly improved.
B’nai Jeshurun is the second oldest congregation in New York City, after Shearith Israel. I spoke to the current rabbi, Jose Rolando “Roly” Matalon, who shared his knowledge of the origin of synagogues in Manhattan. In 1654, Shearith Israel (also known as the Spanish Portuguese synagogue) was formed by a contingency of European Jews, many from Amsterdam, who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal. As more immigrants began arriving to Manhattan’s shores, a large group of Ashkenazi Jews - who were worshipping at the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue - decided to create their own synagogue. They formed B’nai Jeshurun and began meeting on Pearl Street on the Lower East Side in 1825. Over the years, the congregation steadily moved north until they settled in their current location in 1918. Throughout the twentieth century, B’nai Jeshurun became known for its devotion to social justice and activism. A long line of famous names spoke at the synagogue, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. The synagogue’s political activism, however, sprung into high gear around the turn of this century. Rabbi Roly spoke of Rabbi Marshall Meyer, his teacher and the orchestrator of a substantial turning point in the synagogue’s history. Meyer was an American rabbi who was a “defender of human rights in Argentina” for twenty-five years while he resided there. By the 1970s, B’nai Jeshurun was in a state of bankruptcy. The congregation reached out to Meyer to lead their revival in 1985. Rabbi Roly followed his teacher to New York shortly afterwards. As he describes it, under the tutelage of Meyer, the synagogue began to “address social issues very aggressively. ” They opened a center for the homeless and a food kitchen. B’nai Jeshurun was also one of the first synagogues to feature music during services. In Rabbi Roly’s words, “the synagogue was doing things that resonated with people, ” and so there was a large increase in membership in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the 1990s also brought a setback: in 1991, the ceiling of the sanctuary collapsed. B’nai Jeshurun was already in talks with the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew about how they could work on social justice programs together. The church offered their facilities to the congregation while the ceiling was rebuilt. “They were incredibly generous and kind, ” Rabbi Roly told me. The church and the synagogue still have a close friendship. In 2010, the synagogue requisitioned the back of the sanctuary’s building, which had been sold to the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in 1984. The building has been used to accommodate the congregation of over 1600 families. Rabbi Roly is proud to lead “a community that is devoted and engaged. ” He describes the congregants as “people who step forward and embrace their spiritual journey readily. ” Throughout the synagogue's history, its occupants have “always been ready for the next challenge. ” And to those who are not yet part of the synagogue’s family, he says, “We are always open and ready to welcome and embrace people who want to join our journey and explore community with us. ”