Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
Adereth El is considered to be the oldest synagogue in New York that is still operating out of its original location. German Jewish immigrants founded the congregation in 1857, and the building was constructed in 1863. To this day, Orthodox Jews attend services on a daily basis. Until his passing in 2013, Rabbi Sidney Kleiman had been the head of the congregation for sixty years - the longest serving rabbi in the country. Not all of the original architecture remains, as the shul had to be renovated twice during the 1900s, but its old world charm is prevalent throughout. The stained glass windows, the wooden seating, and even the prayer books took us back in time.
A boutique luxury hotel, run by the Spanish company, Eurostars, Dylan brings a European flair to midtown hospitality. The connected Benjamin's Steakhouse, one of the finest in the city, offers breakfast and room service for hotel guests. The building that the hotel occupies was once the Chemists' Club, which played host to a group of chemists meeting for reasons professional and social but ultimately moved further north. The building still bears the Chemists' Club name outside, which adds an air of alchemy to the facade.
At the gravitational center of Manhattan stands the Empire State Building, built in 1931 to be the tallest structure in the world and retaining that title for forty years. While other buildings may scrape higher skies, few can capture the imagination as does this towering symbol of our favorite metropolis. A few fun facts: a virtual tour of New York City, Skyride, is available inside, as is a trip to the celestial observation deck. After the tragic fall of the World Trade Centers, the Empire State Building was again, briefly, the tallest building in New York before recently being surpassed by the Freedom Tower - One World Trade Center. It is, however, currently the tallest LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) building in the United States, to which we tip our hats.
J. P. Morgan was more than one of the most influential financiers in American history – he was a collector of impeccable taste. While still a young businessman, he began to acquire quite an impressive set of books, manuscripts and drawings. Later in life, as his wealth grew, he amassed art and historic artifacts. When he died in 1913, his estate was valued at a then astronomical $60 million. A decade after his passing, his son ceded his fantastic collection to public stewardship. The museum, which has grown vastly from its original home, now covers half a city block with a smorgasbord of buildings and spaces representing distinct architectural schools and periods. The holdings of J. P. Morgan still represent the core of the collection, but new holdings are constantly being acquired and donated. In addition, the Library hosts many excellent and inspiring exhibitions. Over the years, I have appreciated a number of the shows, especially those related to children's literature, a passion of mine - Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters; Where the Wild Things Are: Original Drawings by Maurice Sendak; Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors; and, most recently, The Little Prince: A New York Story has opened. Special Note: Free admission is offered on Friday evenings from 7-9pm.
The West Side’s airy Bella Abzug Park, designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc, features a new seating area of plentiful benches as well as wire-rimmed tables and chairs complete with umbrellas for shade. The team behind the West Side green space is known for its large-scale public plazas, including recent renovations on Brooklyn Bridge Park as well as the downtown Jacob K Javits Plaza. Bella Abzug (originally known as Hudson Park and boulevard) began renovations in 2010 at W33rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues to expand the park to accommodate for the extension of the 7 train to 11th Avenue, as well as the rapid influx of residential, retail and commercial development in Hudson Yards over the past decade. The park was renamed in 2019 to honor Bella Abzug, the stalwart Bronx-born lawmaker and activist known as “Battling Bella” who championed civil rights, LGBTQ and women’s equality in New York State and nationwide. “As any observer of New York politics would tell you, Bella Abzug was a potent force for the West Side and, in fact, the entire country, ” said former Manhattan Borough President and current City Council Member Gale Brewer at the dedication. “She was a friend and mentor, and naming this new park for her will, in however small a way, educate and inform future generations about this one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life New Yorker. ”The Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance — a West Side Business Improvement District not-for-profit organization — maintains the care of the park and curates its programming, which features seasonal events ranging from yoga to concerts to movie nights. The park also hosts frequent temporary art installations, including the BIG APPLE statue by Canadian artist Félix Marzel, King Nyani — a 4-and-a-half ton gorilla sculpture by Australian Artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, and the recent Photoville summer gallery showing. This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "There’s More Room for Relaxation as Bella Abzug Park Expands at Hudson Yards. "
After visiting the newly opened Renwick, Olivia, Tom and I walked west to its sister hotel, the Gregory. Originally built in 1903 and known as “The Gregorian, ” its purpose was to house spillover guests from the Waldorf Astoria. It was designed to be reminiscent of Upper West Side homes, with rooms that were double the height of normal hotels. In the mid-twentieth century, the Gregorian closed and the building passed through the hands of different hospitality groups. In 2015, however, the Gregory opened with the goal of recreating the hotel’s former glory. Susan Richardson, the Director of Marketing at the time, was pleased to give us a tour of the newly renovated hotel and to share some of the history, while also pointing out the various amenities and features. The overall design of the hotel is inspired by elements of the fashion world, as it is located in the garment district. Susan also mentioned that the Gregory is the only hotel that is a member of the Save the Garment Center movement and that they have recently formed a partnership with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Susan explained that the hotel was designed with the goal of feeling "homey. " The lobby was built to have the comfort of a living room, complete with the bar, called “The Liquor Cabinet. ” The whimsical idea behind the name is that guests can “raid the Liquor Cabinet” during happy hour. While chatting, the bartender made one of their signature drinks, the Ginger Bootlegger, made with Bootlegger vodka, Cointreau, and ginger beer. The cozy, home-away-from-home atmosphere is enhanced by the concierge desk, where guests are encouraged to sit down in an armchair as they check-in and to feel the warmth of the fireplace during the colder months of the year. Similar to the Renwick, the Gregory focuses on trying to manufacture many of the features of the hotel in New York City. The lobby’s wood floors were not only made in Manhattan, but cut right here in the building. The shelves, which held fashion books, sewing machines, and other relics of the design world, were also cut in the lobby. Adding to their strong link to its history, we observed the pictures of the original hotel on the wall, along with an old menu and various artworks from the early twentieth century. Before heading into the elevator, we stopped into Brendan’s, the lively Irish pub connected to the hotel. The restaurant used to be the Gregorian’s Palm Court. “They are a great neighbor, ” Susan said. Upstairs, we stepped inside an impressive guest room. It was remarkable how different the Gregory and the Renwick are, but with the same careful attention to detail and emphasis on guest comfort. Where the Renwick has eclectic images and outside-the-box design, the Gregory has clean lines and simple patterns. As Susan so aptly described it, “The Renwick is the artist and the Gregory is the tailor. ” There are hints of the fashion world everywhere, including Do Not Disturb signs made of ties and framed clothing patterns on the walls. Like the Renwick, each of the beds are custom made for the hotel. Although both hotels are designed for the transient traveler, Susan feels that the Gregory appeals to a slightly younger crowd - one that wants a warm, communal place to work and network. With that in mind, guests are encouraged to come down to the lobby for coffee in the morning and mingle with one another. The tech industry has started drifting into the neighborhood and Susan feels that members of the tech world appreciate the chance to meet people and work in the living room environment of the lobby. “We are creating a culture of offering guests an experience, ” she said, smiling.
At Gallery 35, we were charmed, entertained and educated on the staff's commitment to their own work and the art community as a whole. Sharing space, one flight up, with others affiliated with the Community Church next door, Gallery 35 is only open on Saturday evenings. Each week they showcase the work of a collective of artists, using media and styles across the board – water colors, digital media, glass painting, quilts, wood cuts. Once a year, the gallery hosts shows featuring artists from around the world. The most recent rendition featured paintings and quilts from Cuban and Brazilian artists. I was particularly taken by the story behind the art that was exhibited in the winter of 2013. Vidho Lorville, a native of Haiti, who had been painting for over twenty years before the earthquake struck his country, was chosen to be the guest artist. His commitment to the people and the celebration of the rebirth of Haiti were not only displayed in his work, but he also chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from Gallery 35 towards programs in Haiti.
Stepping off the elevator on the 18th floor, we had the feeling that we might run into the Queen of Hearts lounging and looking out over the city. Our visit was not during peak hours, so we missed bumping elbows with the chic crowd that normally populates Monarch, but we did get a sense of the futurist atmosphere and the ever-lovely views afforded by a visit. The Empire State Building, long a favorite of our crew, towers majestically in unimpeded splendor to the south. Brick walls give way to geometric, angular wooden walls and ceilings. Lights hang down in mobile-like formations, while chandeliers drip aquatically nearby in a tented heated area that can be utilized throughout the year. The furniture is comfortable and swoopingly high-backed. When our friends want to feel like City royalty, we certainly know where to send them.
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.
For a small church tucked away on 28th, Our Lady of the Scapular has quite a history. Building began in 1865 after having been designed by James Renwick, the architect of famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral. From 1868-1879, Constantino Brumidi, whose work also shows in the United States Capitol building, painted a series of forty-five murals that still show to this day.