Watching over the fascinating conversation that I was engaged in with Emily Lansbury, chairwoman of the board and Laurie Sanderson, executive director, was a blue elephant statue, once Florenz Ziegfeld's personal mascot. Today, it guards this small office where a hidden piece of theatrical history lies. Located on the fifth floor of the Central Presbyterian Church - where the women who originally founded the Ziegfeld Club were members - are a few remnants of old show posters and photographs of Mr. Ziegfeld and his "girls."
I learned from Emily and Laurie that the club was founded in 1936 by Billie Burke, the widow of Florenz Ziegfeld - and the actress who played Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz. During a time when there was no social security or unions and there were no safety nets for many women in the theater world, the Ziegfeld Club was founded in an effort to raise awareness and finances for the dancers who became destitute. Yes, some of these women married well, usually to men in the business, but many suffered great hardships when they were no longer able to perform.
Once upon a time, the Ziegfeld Club was a million dollar charity. Although they have managed to maintain its office inside the church all these years, Emily and Laurie have now taken on the task of deciding what should happen next. Together, they are firmly focused on the future, and are working hard to find a balance between honoring the group's past, and finding its place in the present day Broadway community.
The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is named for its founder, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she invited me to No. 152. Having first opened in SoHo in 1982, by the late nineties, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that by the late nineties she was ready for a change, and so she moved the gallery closer to home – in fact, into the building on 65th Street where she had been living for twenty-two years. Since 1997, the gallery and Mrs. Shapolsky have shared a home. The relationship is truly a symbiotic one. "What would you do in a house without art?" she exclaimed. "They take the paintings down between shows, and I'm sick with nothing on the wall." Her bedroom is tucked into the second floor of the building, concealed behind accordion doors, and in another room of the gallery, a shoe closet is just ajar.On the day that I sat down to speak with Mrs. Shapolsky, the feature exhibit, , was by the artist Russell Connor, whose art riffed on classic painters, pairing them and their masterworks with references to other, more modern pieces. Mrs. Shapolsky said that she thinks of it as an educational show, as it exposes visitors to art history, and brings the old and the new together. Having been invited to a lecture by the artist, I had the pleasure of meeting Russell Connor, and listened as he elaborated on a number of the paintings; each one has a hidden joke for the seasoned art historian. This exhibit was a change from Russell Connor's accustomed style; he usually prefers abstract art for which the Anita Shapolsky Gallery is best known.When Mrs. Shapolsky opened her gallery, she decided to focus on the Abstract Expressionists of the fifties, especially those of the New York school. She had no experience at the time working in or running a gallery, only a great passion for art. "It was madness, sheer madness," she told me. But despite the mad ambition of the project, the gallery has been a great success. Mrs. Shapolsky drew on her connections to other artists and friends in order to bring the appropriate pieces into her space. Although she knew that the aesthetic was not popular at the time, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that she had grown up with the abstract expressionists, and felt that they represented an important artistic avante garde.The Anita Shapolsky Gallery excels not only at exhibiting important art, but also at connecting that art to people. To be both in a gallery and a home is a unique experience, and meeting Mrs. Shapolsky was a privilege. She is as much a part of the gallery as is the art. On the day that I met her, she was wearing a piece of art around her neck. Her jewelry was made by Ibram Lassaw, whose work can also be seen at the Guggenheim.
The Roosevelt House is primarily an educational institution, housing two of Hunter College's undergraduate programs and hosting a number of book talks, panels, and other public events. But, as the name reveals, it began as a family home. The Roosevelt's moved into this double townhouse in 1908, with matriarch Sara Roosevelt living on one side, and Franklin and Eleanor on the other, along with their five children. On my visit to the Roosevelt House, I participated in a guided tour that illuminated some of its history for me.The building itself, was designed by architect Charles Platt, who also made the plans for the nearby mansion that was home to The China Institute for almost seventy years. This elegant townhouse among the rows of brownstones would set the tone for many of the other structures in the area to be renovated or replaced.Deborah, the tour guide, took us through the many rooms and their pasts. I was surprised to learn that the house was built with two elevators, one on each side, a rare architectural choice for the early twentieth century. The elevators became especially important after 1921, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt fell ill with polio and was confined to a wheelchair. One of the elevators has been retained in its original state, and is shockingly small – the wheelchairs we use today would never fit - but Roosevelt's had a profile similar to that of a dining chair, and so was able to wheel in and out without difficulty. The second elevator has been expanded to allow full accessibility to Hunter College.Upstairs, the library functions as a little museum, containing a selection of books on the Roosevelt's, along with some historic artifacts. The real history though, is in the building itself. "A lot came out of this house," Deborah explained. President Roosevelt appointed his initial cabinet members in the upstairs library, and among them, the first woman. That same library is where President Roosevelt practiced tirelessly on crutches until he could stand and move sans a wheelchair during political gatherings. A few steps away, the drawing room was the site of Roosevelt's first radio address as president. One floor up is the bedroom where he recovered from polio, and where he often held meetings so that he could continue working minus the discomfort of his leg braces. I found myself lingering close to the walls, hoping they might whisper some of the things they overheard all those years ago.In 1941, Sara Roosevelt died, and the family put the townhouse up for sale. It was a difficult time to sell a house – everybody was at war except the United States, and the whole country knew that conflict was in the immediate future. The Roosevelt's still managed to find a buyer. Eleanor had a strong relationship with Hunter College, and so when they expressed interest, the family lowered the price, making it possible for Hunter to acquire this historic home in 1943. It was dedicated as the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House.Today, the Roosevelt House works to balance its legacy and contemporary function. The house retains all its original crown molding, but the furniture is new, allowing Hunter students and visitors to sit comfortably and not worry about causing damage to antique sofas or rugs. Students at the Roosevelt House study Public Policy and Human Rights, a fitting tribute to the Roosevelt family's influence on this country.
Specializing in nineteenth and twentieth century masterpieces, Achim Moeller opened his first gallery in London in 1972 followed by his New York gallery in 1984. On the day that I visited, I was able to view sketches by Lyonel Feininger. The exhibit focused on his early years, and was mainly composed of studies of houses and landscapes. I was especially drawn to a picture of a small cottage covered in snow, which was delicately mapped out using only charcoal.
Aaron gallery was founded in 1923 Paris by Jean Aaron. Just after World War II, it was taken over by her son, Didier, and formally renamed Didier Aaron. This 67th Street location was opened in 1977. Dating between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the gallery's art is comprised of paintings, sketches, and a sprinkling of antique furniture. "Just look at it, it is a beautiful space," explained Alan Salz, director and head of paintings and drawings, and an art history admirer. He was referring to the space and the natural light that the windows allow. Alan was pleased to share with me that he lives only a seven-minute walk from the gallery, enjoying his time in this part of the Upper East Side. "I look for what clients will like," he told me, "Something high-quality, with an interesting provenance."
The Society of Illustrators leaves anyone who enters with a yearning to create. At its core, the Society seeks to “promote the art of illustration through education and exhibitions,” as described by Executive Director Anelle Miller.This mission takes many forms. Visitors can attend a regular Sketch Night, where novice and advanced artists alike can gather to draw nude and costumed models or still-life pieces. As the only illustration society in the world that also houses a museum in its space, those seeking inspiration may meander through the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, peruse the illustrated exhibits on display, and watch video shorts in the screening room as they wait for the muse to strike.Under Anelle’s tenure, the Society has reached out beyond its doors to offer art programs for underserved and incarcerated youth and a wealth of online work-shops and lecture series. “We embrace everyone, and that’s what art is supposed to do.”Even those who have not personally visited the Society may be familiar with its reputation for hosting four of the biggest illustration competitions in the world, including the Illustrators Annual, a student scholarship competition, and a children’s book illustration competition — which Anelle referred to as the “Academy Awards for children’s illustrators.”In 2014, one of the best children’s books selected, Papa Is A Poet, was written by Manhattan Sideways founder Betsy Bober Polivy's mother, Natalie S. Bober, and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon.
Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was in a state of fevered anticipation when she realized we were inching closer to 64th Street, where the southernmost Alice's Tea Cup is located. The whimsical tea shop has three different "Chapters," and this is the second in the series. Unlike the original location, which sits on the ground floor, this chapter has two floors, decorated with Wonderland characters and Lewis Carroll's cryptic text.The tearoom is owned by Lauren and Haley Fox, sisters who have loved tea for as long as they can remember. And, they have always been passionate about everything Alice in Wonderland: they grew up on the Upper West Side, just a short distance from the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, and both adored Lewis Carroll's books. It made perfect sense, therefore, to open an Alice in Wonderland-themed teahouse in 2001. The eatery has become an enormous success, and has attracted many different groups of people: like the book, the tea house, though full of curlicues, bright purple hues, and fairy dust, is not geared towards children. Children are frequent and enthusiastic visitors, but it is just as likely that one might see a business meeting between two creative types, an exuberant reunion between friends, or a solitary adult diner nursing a pot of tea.The tea list is extensive and scrumptious. "List" is a misnomer – it is more of a booklet. Olivia has tried at least fifteen of their teas so far and has not made even a dent in their selection. Each tea is brought out in a personal pastel pot, to be poured into one of the eclectic mismatched cups and saucers that decorate the repurposed sewing machine tables. The tea also makes its way into the food menu: Olivia raves about the smoky Lapsang Souchong chicken breast, made using a Chinese black tea that smells and tastes like a bonfire.Despite the brilliant concept, the adorable decor and the excellent selection of teas, it is the afternoon tea service that steals the show. Diners can choose between "The Nibble," "The Mad Hatter," and "The Jabberwocky," depending on how hungry they are, and servers will bring them a heavenly three-tiered stand layered with finger sandwiches, desserts, and scones - without a doubt, the most popular being the pumpkin scone, drizzled with caramel syrup.So as to have the full Alice in Wonderland experience, there is a mini shop up front where Haley and Lauren's cookbook, Alice's Tea Cup, is on display alongside many other trinkets such as fairy wings, picture books, and anything one might need to reproduce their own magical tea party at home.
Nicolo Melissa Antiques & Art is a story that combines a personal relationship with a passion for the arts. Melissa Magid met Nicolo Camisa, originally from Italy, when he was studying English in the United States, and the two fell in love. Nicolo had been trained in the family's antique business since he was sixteen, and so it made perfect sense for Nicolo to open a small antique store in Manhattan with his new bride. Melissa admits that she did not know much about antiques before Nicolo, but when she traveled to Italy to meet his family, and found his home filled with treasured pieces spanning the ages, she recognized the importance of this world that Nicolo had grown up in. And it did not take her long to decide that she wanted to join him as a partner. Though their gallery is completely separate from Nicolo’s family’s business, Melissa told me that they frequently keep in touch with his Italian kin in order to trade secrets and discuss their acquisitions.A favorite story that Melissa enjoys sharing is when her older son, at the age of two, already seemed to have an eye for fine art: When they took him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he was staring up at some of the paintings on the wall, he gestured to his father saying, “Papa, bring this one home!” Because the young child was so accustomed to accompanying his parents on buying trips, he did not understand the difference between viewing art in a museum and their vast collection that his parents have amassed. Both in their home and at the gallery, Nicolo and Melissa’s two boys are surrounded by Renaissance bronzes, classical sculptures, and micro mosaics. Nicolo quickly added that despite the variety, their collection is carefully curated, and forms a cohesive whole that he hand selects both from travels around the United States and abroad. The gallery specializes in artwork, furniture, and decor from the 19th century and earlier. Melissa showed us some of her favorite pieces, including a Florentine 19th Century ebony cabinet and a pair of Cesare Lapini white marble angels. It became clear rather quickly that Melissa is quite proud to run a local, family-owned gallery. As she so sweetly described the first venture that they embarked on as a couple, "This is our first child.”
"If I won the lottery, I would continue to do the same thing every day," Dennis Remorca told me as I stepped off the elevator and introduced myself to him. Clearly passionate about his fitness centers on the Upper East Side, Dennis went on to tell me that he has been training children from the age of seven up to a woman who is ninety-six. He emphasized the importance of the relationship that he and his fellow trainers have developed with each of their clients. Laughing, Dennis said, "I have like fifty moms always making sure that I eat." Trained in physical therapy, Dennis shared with me that he comes from a family who practice medicine, and they did not understand how he could make a career in PT. I believe that he has shown them that it is possible, for after four years owning his gym on 74th Street, he decided it was time to open yet another facility on 64th.Upstairs in the newly converted Weston House - a building that was completed in 1881 by architect Theodore Weston, founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art - the space is perfect for private training sessions. Filled with state-of-the-art equipment and a friendly staff - one was a principal dancer for American Ballet while another was a trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers - I have no doubt that this is a terrific environment for workouts. And, I learned from Antonia, the owner of Altesi downstairs, that in the warmer months, Dennis will be offering yoga classes outside in the garden of the restaurant followed by a healthy breakfast.
"A shoe is not an accessory, but a necessity," Vanessa Noel declared as I sat with the woman who has been a top shoe designer since the 1980s. I went on to learn that making a shoe requires equal parts design and engineering, because the success of a shoe depends on balance and form. As Vanessa explained, anyone can decorate a shoe, but to actually form a piece of footwear to fit a woman's feet is a truly difficult task. Vanessa is very conscious of comfort – "I can't stand when I see women who are unable to walk because of their shoes," she told me. "It is a sign that their shoes are not well made." Vanessa, who claims to often walk around the city in six inch heels, makes shoes that will not cause women to need to call a cab after two blocks. She is very proud of the fact that just the other day she "put a congresswoman back in high heels." Vanessa describes her shoes as "comfy, sexy, elegant, and beautiful." She designs the entire line herself, and has everything handmade in Italy. She loves discovering and playing with exotic materials. I was able to get a glimpse of her stretch alligator skin that she created herself, and which has become her trademark. It had twenty-four carat gold embedded in the high-quality Louisiana skin, allowing the brilliant shine and color to permeate through the entire material. Vanessa continued to walk me through her workshop as she shared a prototype of translucent alligator, which was streaked neon pink. While gazing at her treasure trove of shoes, she told me about an extraordinary order that she once produced: over-the-knee flat stretch orange python boots. Although customer service is a key element of Vanessa's business model, she is not solely concerned with the needs of her clients; Vanessa also tries to look out for the people producing her shoes. When she became aware that some of the ancient Italian tannery families were developing cancer because of the chromium used in their processing techniques, she commenced researching better methods. She then discussed her interest in being chemical-free more generally - and that passion drove her to open the ecologically friendly Hotel Green in Nantucket.Vanessa's most recent addition to the shop is a new line of handbags. She had been making them for herself for years, but was encouraged to design some for her customers after being spotted with one on a fashion runway. They come in a wide variety of bright, fun colors and are made with high-quality Italian leather, similar to her shoes. At this moment, while sitting and chatting, in strolled Emma, Vanessa's mother, the delightful inspiration behind some of the bags. I watched as Emma headed straight for these new additions and joked about taking one, before being told that the design was actually called the "Emma bag." Smiling, her daughter said, "you are welcome to take one." After looking very pleased, Emma turned to me and began sharing stories from her daughter's childhood, as Vanessa looked on with an amused grimace. Although difficult to believe, Emma said that Vanessa was "a monster" as a child, who once, at the age of four, with her little bit of cash, convinced a Greek herder to allow her to ride his donkey halfway up the mountain. I continued to be fascinated as Emma described their visit to the Emilio Pucci palace with her sister and Emma, and had dresses made for all three of them. Vanessa’s latest creative endeavor is the Noel Shoe Museum, which will be the first of its kind in the United States. It will display shoes from around the world, spanning several centuries, with an aim of showcasing their creativity and the history of their design and manufacturing. Nevertheless, Vanessa’s greatest mission remains to repair women’s relationships with luxury footwear. In her words, “I try to make glamorous shoes that essentially become an extension of a woman’s leg.”
The birth of the JNF began with a dream belonging to Zvi Hermann Schapira, a mathematics professor in Switzerland. He wanted a fund to be developed that could be used by the Jewish people in order to develop their own country. Theodor Herzl, a Viennese journalist, took Schapira's dream and ran with it. In 1901, the fund was created. Since that time, the JNF has planted countless trees, developed communities in need, and helped the Jewish people connect with the land of Israel.