The Flatiron Building is one of New York’s first, and most beautiful, skyscrapers. Originally named the Fuller Building, this terra cotta, brick and limestone structure was dubbed the Flatiron by locals for its wedge-shaped, triangular plan. The northern peak of the triangle divides Fifth Avenue from Broadway, and marks the base of 23rd street, a major downtown thoroughfare. Its landmark status, intricate façade, and central location contributed to the city renaming the neighborhood right below it – between 23rd Street and Union Square – the Flatiron District. Many of the buildings in this area are similarly designed with bold stone, cast iron, and terra cotta detailing, large windows and high ceilings. The Flatiron Building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. Originally run by The Fuller Company, today it holds the headquarters of several publishing groups and houses retail and food stores on the ground floor facing Madison Square Park.
Having made his comeback as the namesake of electric cars, Nikola Tesla accomplished quite a bit in his lifetime, much of it while living in New York City. Living and working out of this very building, the father of alternating current electrical systems pioneered radio wave communication in 1896 - giving the building its current name. During Tesla’s time, it was known as the Gerlach Hotel, built in 1883. Now, it houses businesses rather than travelers, but it has not forgotten its past: Broadway Wireless Center (an intellectual descendant) occupies the first floor and decorates its windows with neon and fluorescent tubes - also inventions of Tesla. A plaque hangs on the front of the building, honoring the great inventor. Drury Event Group, where our very own Creative Director works his day job, is also a tenant.
The current Grand Lodge of the State of New York, built in 1875, rests on the site of the original Masonic Hall of New York that was built in 1782. GLoNY, as it is called, is the governing body of the over 60, 000 Freemasons that reside in the northeast. The towering limestone building, with its intricately carved mansard roof, columns of clerestory windows, and deeply grooved base, is impressive – tours of the interior can be scheduled by appointment. On one such tour, we learned that a lodge is both a local chapter of Masons and the physical space in which they meet and socialize. The inside of this nineteen-story structure contains the meeting quarters of three New York State lodges per floor – high-ceilinged, ornately painted and decorated rooms with seating, mailboxes, and office spaces for regular, monthly lodge meetings. An interesting history and find in the middle of such a busy commercial street.
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.
Crossroads Trading Company now has almost thirty locations around the United States, but even in Manhattan they keep their original relaxed Bay Area vibe. The company began in Berkeley in 1991 and has since become a hub for recycling both men and women's clothing with the goal of helping the environment and working to eliminate waste. Locals are welcome to come in and sell their gently used garments for cash or credit... and while there, hopefully browse for something
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
When Ashley Van Goehring, Hotel Giraffe’s director of sales and marketing, led me up to the rooftop bar as part of a tour of the entire building, I did not expect to find such a quiet nook. Despite being in the middle of the busy Flatiron district, the patio’s height and warm red brick border meant that the sky-high courtyard is reasonably silent. It is also beautiful: every inch appeared to be carefully designed with hanging plants, potted shrubs, and striped deck furniture that hinted at the hotel’s name. There is even a metallic giraffe statue in the corner, named after owner, Henry Kallan's granddaughter, Jesse. The seasonal rooftop does not remain quiet at night. Though the garden is only open to guests during the day, at night it turns into a cocktail bar, run by Bread and Tulips, the restaurant attached to Hotel Giraffe. The tucked-away space is also attached to the hotel’s private event room, which has a little roof terrace of its own. Ashley told us that the room had been used as Big’s apartment in the Sex and the City movie, and pointed out the little details that can be seen in some of the film scenes. The small attached patio shows just as much care and attention to detail as the larger rooftop bar, with potted flowers and warm, giraffe-inspired colors. Staring out at the sunny view, Ashley turned to me and said, “It’s nice to be reminded that this city is not just the place where I live. It’s a magical place. ”
Whenever Rebecca, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, asked her glamorous college roommate from Arizona where she had bought whatever fabulous item of clothing she was wearing, the answer was always the same... Buffalo Exchange. Founded in 1974 by Kerstin Block in Arizona, it was one of the first used clothing shops to open in the country. The store offers its patrons a place to buy, sell, or trade second-hand garments so that they can find a new life in someone else's wardrobe. Today, Kerstin continues to run her company with the help of her daughter, Rebecca, and they have expanded to forty-seven stores nationwide. The company has maintained its funky, fun vibe and reasonable prices even as it has grown so large.
With all the centers we have discovered dedicated to children, pets, students, and shoppers, it was refreshing and intriguing to come upon Senior Planet – “the country’s first technology themed center for over-60s. ” The center offers courses, skill-shares, workshops, special events and lecture series that help senior citizens deal with the ever-changing technological world. 22 computers, 3 Skype stations, a gaming area, a projector, mobile devices and a lounge create a space that one might think is fit for a youngster, but is, in fact, the perfect space for the senior folks. “Aging with attitude” is their motto. Computer basics, advanced computing, introduction to the iPad, digital photography, social networking and more are all taught in a welcoming environment. What a brilliant concept!
“We are pushing the boundaries of decorative arts, ” Jen Lau, the Sales and Marketing Manager, told me as we rode the elevator to the Alpha Workshops’ studios and showrooms. Jen was referring to the way the decorative arts are taught at the Alpha Workshops and viewed in the world: it is a sector of the art world that is often inaccessible to the average person, a reputation that Alpha hopes to blow open. She was also referring, however, to the purpose the decorative arts have in society. “We heal through art, ” she declared. The Alpha Workshops was founded in 1995 by Kenneth Wampler as a place where HIV-positive individuals could receive training and employment in the decorative arts. Kenneth, who came from a background working at the AIDS Resource Center, called his project “The Alpha Workshops, ” which referenced the Omega Workshops, an English design enterprise from the early twentieth century. As Jen quipped, “They were the last word in decorative arts and we are the first word in new beginnings. ” Many people get in touch with Alpha through caseworkers, flyers in pharmacies, or doctor’s offices. Today, the non-profit organization is expanding its community to include populations with other challenges, such as those living with autism, at-risk youth, and seniors, but the vision remains the same. Artists and students at Alpha Workshops are given a craft and helped to develop a plan for the future. While telling me about the series of classes that make up the Alpha Workshops school program, Jen emphasized that students are also taught how to represent themselves as artists, an important skill in a world where marketing can mean the difference between failure or success. The mission of the Alpha Workshops alone would make it an extraordinary institution, but the creations that come out of the studios offer proof of the extreme talent and creativity of the artists. “We have our own style, ” Jen said, showing us the signature Negoro Nuri pattern that they use in much of their work and that dates back to seventeenth century Japan. As Jen guided us through a vast array of decorative finishes, wallpapers, and demo furnishings, displaying faux bois finishes, verre églomisé (gilded glass), faux marble (Alpha designed the faux marble in Gracie Mansion), and countless other textured patterns, I was continuously impressed with each new technique that the artists had created. Everything in the workshop is art, from the wallpaper in the hallways, to the cube seating, to the uniquely crafted lamps. Jen pointed out a gold lamp in a pattern that mimicked rock candy. She told me the story of how the executive director came into the workshop with a stick of rock candy and said to Obadiah, an artisan at Alpha in the 1990s, “Obi, can you make this into a lamp? ” and so he did. The Eden Rock lamp is Obadiah's legacy, which lives on, though he is gone. Occasionally the studios will refurbish pieces, but mostly they are, in Jen’s words, “working with people who have ideas that they want to turn into reality. ”Though they are mainly known for wallpapers, venetian plaster, and fine finishes, their expertise covers the whole discipline of decorative arts. I had heard from Harry Heissmann about how Alpha Workshops helped turn his friend’s illustration of a minimalist Easter Bunny into a 3D rendering, but Jen shared more stories, some of which involved adapting existing creations. For instance, the artists once made a sixteen-foot ceiling sculpture using grapevine branches: The sculpture was so popular that it then inspired another client to create a chandelier from the same material. As for how clients find the Alpha Workshops Studios, they have pieces in many showrooms around the city and have garnered a reputation for being a hub of creative, highly skilled artists. It does not hurt that the organization is also helping society on a grander scale. “More established designers know about us because of our mission, ” Jen shared with a smile. Jen encourages any potential clients to come and visit the workshops, where they can see just how much the artists can do. Unlike many design centers around the city, Jen pointed out that clients “can visit the studios and classrooms right here and watch how it’s made. ” The Manhattan Sideways team was excited to explore, even without having a commission in the works. We saw artists working on everything from ornate toilet lids to hand-stamped wallpapers. Steel and blush, we learned, were the colors of the season, and so we saw yards of wallpaper patterns in the soothing metallic gray and light pink. The head of the wallpaper department pointed out the more traditional patterns as well as the new ones, describing his job as “so Zen. ” He explained that the mathematics of one geometric variation had been figured out on a computer before being completed by hand. “Artisanship meets technology, ” he said with a smile. “This is tactilely satisfying work. ”Our last stop with Jen was at street level where there is a showroom that doubles as an extra studio when there are no pop-up exhibitions. I have discovered many fascinating places as I have walked the side streets of Manhattan, but nothing that pulled at my heart strings the way that Alpha Workshops did. One person had a dream - a vision - and he was able to make it into a reality that some twenty years later continues to thrive. What was most important to me, however, is the number of lives that Kenneth Wampler has turned around, and in some cases, saved. I encourage anyone with an interest in art to discover this hidden gem, as the public is welcome to tour the facility.
Kadampa is one of the most tranquil indoor spaces that we have encountered. The Center, which is run completely by volunteers, has been housed at various locations through New York for the past twenty years, but moved into its current location in 2012. Just as the volunteers are trusted to run the center, guests are welcomed with a level of trust and openness that feels almost alien. Upon entering we were warmly greeted, and offered the option of sitting in on a free meditation session, or even of availing ourselves of private meditation rooms downstairs. Unsure what to do, we sat in on a pre-recorded meditation. Our host, Margaret, set us up with books, cushions and water. We took off our shoes and read along while the speaker rhythmically took us through the passage. The text was surprisingly smart and proscriptive; it was completely devoid of fluffy affirmations or vague mysticism. Rather Kadampa emphasizes Buddha's teachings, which at this center is done through examining the writings of venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Still the meditations do not dwell on intellectualism, as the central thrust at Kadampa is providing a place of calm in our bustling city. When we were ready to step back into Manhattan, after feeling thoroughly serene, Margaret invited us back, telling us that even if we did not have time to meditate, we were always welcome to stop by to relax.
The Jeanne D’Arc Home, originally founded in 1896 as a refuge for French girls separated from their families, has remained to this day a safe and welcoming place for women in Manhattan. Run by the Congregation of Divine Providence, the home accepts women from all religions and cultures - often women from other countries who have come to New York temporarily to study or to work. On any given day, the home houses 140 women, and the staff work to create a safe and warm community for all of its members. While it is a home, and visitors must respect that, it is also a wonderful historic site, representative of the hospitable spirit of New York.