Herbert Klapper began selling spare parts to industrial sewing machine dealers in 1949. Today, Superior Sewing Machine & Supply is the largest wholesale distributor in the world. Oh the things that we find on the side streets!
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.
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!
A favorite of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Sarah Jessica Parker, New York Vintage is what co-founder Shannon Hoey describes as “a leader in fashion. ” Shannon has spent the past twenty-three years amassing an extensive collection of vintage clothing, which includes a downstairs retail space open to the public and an upstairs industry archive open by appointment only. Over the years, Shannon has dressed red carpet actresses and world-famous singers, and has worked closely with costume designers on a range of films and TV series, including Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama made a historic appearance in a New York Vintage Norman Norell dress, and since then, Shannon has dressed her on many occasions. When I first visited New York Vintage, I could not believe my eyes. The window display was stunning, as was the old-fashioned décor, complete with richly upholstered chairs, gilded mirrors, and ornate chandeliers. I was captivated by the wall of Vogue photographs, each one featuring a piece from Shannon’s collection, and of course, by the true treasure of New York Vintage: high-heeled shoes, flamboyant hats, and endless racks of beautiful dresses from designers around the world. Upstairs, the industry archive upstairs was filled with even more outrageous items, from a dress owned by Ulysses Grant’s wife to intricate McQueen headpieces. “Every piece here has historical significance, ” Shannon told me. “We’re an institution, a working museum archive. ” In fact, she added, many of the items at New York Vintage have been purchased from museums, and each piece is meticulously documented and entered into a database. Today, Shannon is one of New York’s foremost experts on fashion as an art form, so I was surprised to learn that she never set out to work with vintage clothing. “Fashion discovered me, ” she told me, explaining how her husband’s career in antiques first sparked her interest in vintage. It quickly became her passion, and within a few years, she and her husband co-founded New York Vintage. “He handles the business side of things, and I’m the creative director, ” Shannon explained. “So I get to do the fun part. ”But the vintage business can be difficult, too, and it took years of hard work for Shannon to build her collection. “The kind of fashion we seek is not easily found, ” she said. “It takes patience and capital, and you need to know what you’re looking for. ” In the early days, Shannon spent a lot of time searching for new pieces in Europe, but nowadays, with three young daughters, she travels much less. When I asked about her children, she said with a smile, “They spend a lot of time here with me, and they love playing dress-up. ”Shannon, unsurprisingly, also loves dressing up, and she told me that she has a lot of opportunities to wear items from her collection. “Halloween is my favorite holiday, ” she explained, “And last year I went to Allison Sarofim’s Italian futurism-themed party in a pink Mohawk and mod clothing. ” But Shannon’s favorite era is the 1920s. “I’m obsessed with all of it, ” she said. “The mindset, the freedom, the departure from women being bound and put in corsets. ”Still marveling over Shannon’s list of celebrity clients, which includes Julia Roberts and Beyonce, I asked if she ever gets starstruck. When celebrities first started flocking to the store, she told me, it was totally overwhelming, “like running from a tidal wave. ” But since then, the only time she has really been starstruck was her visit to the White House with the First Lady. “Some celebrities still catch me off-guard, ” she said, “Like the time Nicole Kidman showed up unannounced. But otherwise, I’m used to it. ”When I asked Shannon about the future of New York Vintage, she told me that they are hoping to expand overseas. “We want to open our doors to global clients, ” she told me, “maybe by opening an outpost in Europe. ” But until then, she told me, she will continue to do what she loves here in New York, working with designers, inspiring them and feeling inspired. For Shannon, the truly fulfilling part of her job is working with designers and models, creating with them and helping to communicate their vision. “I’m always inspired, ” she said with a smile. “I have the best job in the world. ”