Named for a New York native who was the first woman to swim the English Channel, The Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center sports numerous facilities including a computer room, a basketball court, a workout center, and a dance studio. When it was first built in 1906, however, it was one of many baths opened under New York State law to bathe the poor and homeless. The term "baths" in this case meant showers, since actual tubs were hard to clean and caused jealousy among bathers who would soak for hours. The pool, housed by the magnificent Georgian bathhouse designed by architects Werner & Windolph, existed for those who had already cleaned themselves. When it was realized that most swimmers used the pool in the summer to get cool rather than clean, the center's purpose gradually shifted from sanitary to recreational.
The greatest treasures on the side streets often take the form of art studios, theaters, non-profits, innovative exercise spaces, and specialty lodging. I was delighted, therefore, to find all of these facilities inside the West Side YMCA. According to Wyndy Wilder Sloan, the senior director of the Y, I was not unlike numerous others who admitted to having had no idea that this extraordinary building existed on West 63rd. Sharing the fascinating history of the Y with me one morning while touring the building, Wyndy simply stated that not many people stroll down their street and those that do rarely notice what has been here since 1930. Wyndy was crowed that they have at least 5, 700 active members, 397 guest rooms, an off-Broadway theater, and an art space in addition to its vast array of fitness facilities. At the start, the Y even owned the McBurney School next door, which is still marked with a sign for "BOYS. " Wyndy informed me that the West Side Y is the largest YMCA in the country. My first stop on the tour was on the newly renovated tenth and eleventh floors to see the selection of guest rooms, which Wyndy described as "a hostel that is not a real hostel. " Wyndy shared with me that guests are frequently European travelers, mostly form the UK, with the average age between eighteen and twenty-four, but national youth groups, like the boy scouts, also take advantage of the facilities. Traipsing down the white walls marked with shapes in cheery bright colors and the names of countries from around the world, I peeked into a room and found a spotlessly clean bunk bed that had a view of Central Park. Descending down some flights, I went to the fitness floors, which were astonishing. There, I found enormous studios that offered classes from Aerobics to Zumba and everything in between. Learning that the YMCA "invented" basketball and volleyball, I gazed upon the spacious court encircled one floor up by an elevated track. When I commented on the spectacular racquetball courts, squash courts, and, particularly the original machinery still decorating the walls in the boxing room, Wyndy proudly admitted that they were available for promotional shoots. In the gym, I was met with one of the most enormous collection of ellipticals and treadmills I have ever seen. "You never have to wait for a machine, " Wyndy said. "We have every piece of equipment you can imagine, " and she went on to tell me that all Y's in the country lease their machines for three years so that they can easily update to new models. Through the clean, flower-filled women's locker room, I arrived at the magnificent pool. The space is a palace, decorated with red and yellow tiles in a stunning mosaic pattern. Wyndy explained that King Alfonso of Spain donated all the tiles to the Y as the building was being erected. Slipping inside to view the smaller pool - used more for classes and therapy sessions than for laps - was possibly even more extraordinary, with dazzling white and blue designs covering all four corners. Tearing myself away from the pools, I walked into the art annex to see a painting class in progress. Down the hall, students filled a ceramics studio that boasted two kilns. I now understood from where the cases full of colorful mugs for sale in the lobby hallway came. On my way to the "Little Theater, " which sported sloping bannisters and comfortable audience seating, I caught a glimpse of rounded traditional Spanish doors and more of the magnificent tiles in an event space named the "King Alfonso" room. After a whirlwind tour, where I saw so much original architecture, artistic craftsmanship, first-class facilities, and happy members, I was shocked that I had not heard more about the building as a lifelong New Yorker. Though I knew of its existence, I had no idea of all the valuable resources and facilities inside. Wyndy conceded that is a challenge that the West Side Y is trying to overcome: "When you're a landmark building on a side street, it's hard to maintain visibility. " It is, however, definitely worth seeking out. As Wyndy noted, "We are unique among other gyms because we are non-profit. When you sign up as a member, you know your money is going to a good cause. "
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.