The old wall that now forms one side of the Hunter College High School used to be part of the Squadron A Armory, built in 1895. Though the armory was demolished in the 1960’s to make way for the school, the grand façade remains.
Squadron A was an elite cavalry that was formed in 1884 when a social club, the New-York Hussars, decided to begin military drills. In 1889, the group joined the New York State National Guard. They raised money for the armory, which was built to imitate a Norman castle with square towers and turrets. In what is now the Hunter College High School playground, the armory contained a riding ring.
Squadron A took part in many World War I and World War II battles during which, they were incorporated into the 101st Cavalry. After the world wars, the Squadron became a social organization, hosting polo games on Saturday nights, until New York State abandoned the armory and decided to build a school. In 1966, however, right before workers were about to demolish it, the Madison Avenue side of the armory was declared a landmark. The school complex, therefore, built around the wall.
The Synod of Bishops Russian Church is the base for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in New York City. ROCOR, which was formed in response to the policies of the Bolsheviks in the early twentieth century, was a separate religious entity from the Russian Orthodox Church for ninety years. In 2007, however, the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate was signed, making ROCOR a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The administrative building on 93rd Street contains two churches within its structure: The Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign and St. Sergius Church. The building was presented to ROCOR in the mid-twentieth century by Serge Semenenko, a Russian banker. The mansion was built by the architect William A. Delano in the Georgian-Federal style in 1918.
“We have a unique mission in this neighborhood, ” Judy Counts, the executive director of the House of the Redeemer, told me. It is true that the house was unlike anything else I had come across in over ninety side streets. The non-profit organization is under the umbrella of the Episcopal Church, but it is considered “a place apart for all faiths. ” The House serves many purposes for those in the neighborhood: it is a space for weddings, memorials, and other meaningful events; but it also offers housing. Judy made it very clear that the House of the Redeemer is “not a cheap hotel. ” The guest rooms in the house provide shelter for those who are in need. Over the years, they have offered lodging for religious retreats, not-for-profit art collectors, and traveling church officials. They also have rooms for those with family emergencies, such as people visiting relatives at the nearby hospitals. They particularly do a lot of work with Mount Sinai, providing a place for their cancer patients to recover from treatments. There is no online booking: instead, interested parties must call the House of the Redeemer and answer the questions of a House representative, at which point they may be invited to stay at the House for up to a week. The House is also home to a priest-in-residence from September to June. When I visited, the clergy-in-residence was a female bishop from the West Coast. Because the house is landmarked, it is not centrally air-conditioned, so many of its residents leave in the summer. Every weekday, there is a morning and evening prayer in the chapel at 8am and 5pm, which is “absolutely open to all. ” Additionally, the house offers yoga groups meditations, bible studies, and lectures. Beginning our tour of the house in the butler’s pantry, Judy showed me an ancient box filled with bells that had been used by people in upper rooms to call a servant. There is also a dumbwaiter and a safe that was used for the silverware (“It now holds wine and cereal, ” Judy informed me). Judy pointed to the upper level of the pantry, indicating that this was where the housekeeper’s office was so that she could keep an eye on the other servants through the partition. In the year 1920, the mansion was home to five family members and thirteen servants. The building has a fascinating history. It was completed in 1916 and housed a debutante ball in 1917. It was designed for Edith Shepard Fabbri, the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Edith married Ernesto Fabbri, a wealthy Italian, which could explain why the house is designed with a very Italian eye. As I entered the dining room, with the vaulted, round stone of an Italian villa, Judy suggested that the House of the Redeemer may be the only building in New York designed in the style of an Italian Palazzo. The dining room, which is now called “the refectory”, is decorated with eighteenth century paintings that have each been appraised by Sotheby's. In 1949, after being inspired by a sermon, Edith Fabbri donated the house to the Episcopal Church to be used as a religious retreat house, giving it the name “House of the Redeemer. ” Nuns occupied the building from 1950 to 1980, until they were unable to handle the finances, and then a secular staff was brought in to take care of the building's affairs. One of the biggest ways in which the house has earned an income is by renting out the rooms to television and movie producers. Judy revealed that a wide variety of shows have shot scenes here, including Law and Order, The Good Wife, Burn After Reading, and the Nanny Diaries. The House is particularly attractive to PBS – the network has conducted many interviews in the historic rooms. Judy assured me that she takes each request very seriously and is always sure to show the house in a good light. Continuing our walk into another room, we entered the salon, which was set up for a bible study. The walls, I learned, had, at one time, been covered in red fabric. A large portrait of Edith Fabbri dominates the space, but the real centerpiece is the ceiling. Judy said that academics from the Frick, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Columbia University had all come to study the ceiling and had discovered that it came from the same exact part of Italy as the fixtures in their library. Judy then took me into the Chapel - originally the family’s living room. “The light in here at 3: 30 is unbelievable, ” Judy assured me, and I could see why, as the room was surrounded by large windows. As in the salon, the exquisite ceiling was transported from Italy. I was surprised to learn, however, that the triptych at the front of the room was not an antique, but was created by one of their board members. The library was our next stop, and I found it to be the most awe-inspiring part of the house. Not only is the two-tiered enclosure absolutely stunning, but it was also incredibly high-tech considering the year that it was built. The fixtures in the room had been dismantled from a castle on the outskirts of Urbino and shipped to New York in the middle of World War I. The pieces were sent on two boats, because if one boat was torpedoed, the artists would still have half the room from which to replicate the rest. The library is filled with hidden compartments, including one that leads to the servant’s elevator. Along the upper bookshelf, there is a hidden crawl space that some believe may have been where the family hid alcohol during Prohibition. Opening another secret panel, Judy announced, “I like to call this their stereo system. ” Inside were the rolls for a player organ, and the pipes for the organ are hidden behind the bookshelves. The clever engineering did not stop there: behind the main body of the organ is the original projector room. Early movies would be projected onto a sailcloth while someone played music on an organ. Music is still an important part of this room: the Fabbri concert series, which was started by board members as “a way of opening the house to others, since it was a very closed environment, ” takes place here every year. As we returned to the entrance, Judy pointed into the courtyard, showing us where there would have been a massive turntable to help turn around the motorcars, the early models of which only went forwards. I was shocked at how innovative the designs for the original house were. “This is a living museum, ” Judy agreed. She has worked at the House of the Redeemer since the early 2000s, so she has formed a fond attachment to the structure. “It is mostly a very peaceful place, ” and then reminded me that the House is always willing to give walking tours by appointment – something I highly recommend.
The story of the Church of the Heavenly Rest begins in 1865 when Dr. Robert Shaw Howland led the first services on 42nd Street. In 1868, the congregation was officially named the Church of the Heavenly Rest and construction began on a new church on Fifth Avenue near Grand Central Station. By the early twentieth century, the area had grown into a bustling business district and the congregation started looking to make the move to a more residential neighborhood where they would not have to compete with as many midtown places of worship. In 1924, Andrew Carnegie’s widow sold the church a plot of land across the street from her new home (now the Cooper Hewitt Museum). This is where Heavenly Rest built its now-landmarked sanctuary. I learned from Marion Morey, a parishioner who volunteers to greet visitors to the Episcopalian church (“We’re like the Catholics, but different, ” Marion tells each person who enters), that it is thanks to Mrs. Carnegie that the landmarked building looks the way it does. “She didn’t want the church to build a steeple, because it would cast a shadow on her lawn, ” she said with an amused smirk. In addition to the lack of steeple, the church is unique in that it embraced the Art Deco style that dominated skyscrapers at the time it was built. Marion pointed out that the sanctuary uses both Gothic and Art Deco designs in a seamless blend of aesthetics. She is especially fond of the cross behind the altar, which appears flush with the background at the bottom, but rises up and out towards the viewer near the top. “It means a lot to me, ” she said, elaborating on the themes of resurrection and rebirth that the church embraces. Marion also spoke to me about the fleur de lis designs in the chapel and the International School that is part of the church (“It’s a very good school, ” she commented, approvingly). I found it interesting to learn that the church serves as a women’s shelter, one of the few in the city. Ten women are invited to sleep in the sanctuary every Monday through Wednesday, with volunteer parishioners looking after them. When I visited in the spring of 2016, Marion was excited to announce that the church was undergoing some construction, adding a kitchen, elevator, and new bathrooms in the coming months. “We are building our own congregational space, ” she explained. Marion went on to say that there would soon be meeting rooms: before the construction project, the only place for church officials to meet has been the sanctuary, often in the choir stalls. Despite the changes and expansions that the church will undergo, Marion stressed that they will continue “to run like a very humble church. ” It was heart-warming to speak to someone who obviously had so much love for this house of worship. She told me in a low voice, “In the middle of the night, it’s extraordinary. It’s filled with so much spirit. ”
In 1904, the Jewish Museum was founded in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s library, making it the oldest Jewish museum still in existence. It was not until 1944 that the museum moved from its original location to a mansion donated by Frieda Schiff Warburg, widow to philanthropist Felix Warburg, on Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street. Officially opened in 1947, the former Warburg mansion has had an important presence on Museum Mile ever since. The museum’s permanent collection was initiated with just twenty-six pieces of ceremonial art donated by Judge Mayer Sulzberger, and has grown to become one of the largest of its kind with almost 30, 000 works to date. Titled “Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, ” this collection narrates the evolution of Jewish culture from biblical ages to present day, a journey catalyzed by the efforts of Jews to uphold their identity when faced with adversity. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, and videos are just some of the forms of artistic expression employed to capture the physical and emotional experience. In 1981, the museum established the National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting, and the New York Jewish Film Festival made its debut in 1992, a collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Today, the museum also includes a sculpture garden as well as the Albert A. List building, which is used for additional exhibition space. The Cooper Shop, located in the lobby of the museum, sells a variety of pieces that connect with the museum’s exhibitions including decorative objects, books, jewelry, and even reproductions of some of the artwork. Though most of the rare Judaica and high-quality pieces are found next door at Celebrations, the Cooper shop also sells select housewares and ceremonial items. In 2016, Russ & Daughters opened a location inside the Jewish Museum with an entirely kosher menu. The fourth-generation, family-owned restaurant has been on Houston Street since 1914 when Joel Russ, a Jewish immigrant from Southern Poland decided to open a fish shop. It is most recognized for its world-famous smoked salmon. This is just one more reason to visit the beloved and historic museum.
The first Pio Pio location opened in 1994 in Queens, and since then, the restaurant has expanded to nine locations throughout the boroughs. Pio Pio is the place to go for chicken, as they have gained a strong reputation for their numerous Peruvian poultry dishes: the menu pairs the juicy meat with a variety of different sauces. The staff assured me that Juanita’s Chicken is especially popular, as are the combos that come with fries or salad, but it is Pio Pio's special green sauce that is the shining star.
Despite its limited size, one could spend an entire day in George Glazer Gallery and probably still not see everything that the space has to offer. There are fascinating items covering every nook and cranny, from the ceiling to the staircase to the bathroom. Though there are many pieces, as George says, it is “exciting clutter” rather than overwhelming clutter, and a true treasure hunt to look through. I kept finding surprises, such as a column made from the inside of a piano, a set of miniature fire tools, and strings of scorekeeping devices for games of pool dangling high above my head. After years as a corporate attorney, George embraced his love of collecting art and opened his gallery in 1993. He began on the corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street, on an upper floor, but recently moved north due to rising rents. As he pointed out, however, the internet has made it so that it is no longer as important to have a prestigious address. According to George, having a well-maintained website and good social media skills is far more crucial to running a successful antique business. He also assured me that he has a strong international client base that reaches out to him online. Even though he has moved away from Madison Avenue, George is very happy to have found his current side street location. He loves the ceilings, which remind him of the original definition of “gallery, ” a room in an English country house with tall ceilings. There is a garden out back that George occasionally uses for storage and events. The biggest change he has encountered, however, is foot traffic. Now that he is on the ground floor, he has more people coming by to stare in the window and occasionally wander in. Though many pieces originate from outside the United States, such as a long Tibetan instrument mounted on the wall and the Venetian glass sconces made in the shape of clowns, most of the items in the gallery were purchased in the States. “There’s a remarkable amount of stuff here already, ” George commented. He not only collects pieces: George is also somewhat of an artist in his own right in the way that he arranges things, along with his gallery manager, Jeffrey. For example, I saw an old employee time card grid covered in various antique ornaments. The result was a visually fascinating display. “We make our own little art, ” George said with a smile, gesturing to a figure of Humpty Dumpty sitting on a bed of coral above the doorway. George’s passion is definitely globes. He has a vast collection, spanning from a rare celestial globe to an enormous thirty-six inch specimen. More generally, George’s taste leans towards items that have a practical or scientific purpose. He also collects judges’ gavels and has a fair number of door knockers. After observing as much as I could upfront, we proceeded to the back of the shop where George puts pieces that he is particularly fond of close to his desk so that he can appreciate them most of the day. My eye went right to a wooden satyr face and an odd madmen-esque desk sign that reads “MISS PARR. ”After showing me the back room where he occasionally fixes things, and telling me about a few prop-rental projects he has taken part in, George became introspective. “This place is an alter ego, ” he admitted. “It’s for sale, but it’s what I like. ” He continued on to say that his very specific style is not for everyone, but at the same time, he is confident that his often minimalist, modern antiques can fit into a wide variety of design schemes. His gallery is purposefully set up so that customers can see how things might look in a lived-in space. “It’s more like a place where people live. ” That is, if the people living there are slightly eccentric. “We have a lot of odd things, ” George confessed laughing.