Each theater on 42nd Street has an interesting story, whether it was built in the early 1900s or in the last few years. Built in 1903, the New Amsterdam was the home to the Ziegfeld Follies, and many other noted productions, but the Depression caused it to shut down and then reopen as a movie theater. Owned for a short time by the Nederlander family, it wasn't until Disney Theatrical Productions purchased the property and signed a ninety-nine year lease in 1993, that the theater was restored it to its original splendor. The Lion King opened here in 1997 (before moving to the Minskoff Theater) followed by Mary Poppins and today Aladdin has begun what promises to be a very long run.
The Manhattan Theatre Club is dedicated to helping artists in theater by offering educational programs and a varied repertoire in which they can get involved. Founded in 1970, it took off two years later under the leadership of Lynne Meadow, the organization's Artistic Director. She worked tirelessly to encourage and support growing playwrights, actors, and directors. The MTC has flourished and become a Theater District institution – garnering multiple Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and dozens of other distinctions. Well into its fifth decade, it remains a vital part of New York's artistic community. The Club moved into the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th street (previously known as the Biltmore Theatre) when it was newly renovated in 2008, and continues to produce shows and inspire the Broadway community at large.
Built in 1900 by famous impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, New Victory Theater was a relative newcomer to theater row on west 42nd Street. The venue was originally named Theatre Republic, but a series of ownership changes saw the name and theme changed every few years. It had a stint in the '30s as Minsky's Burlesque, New York's first Broadway burlesque theater, and a subsequent time as Victory movie theater (so named for the United States' success in WWII), later the first theater on the street to show pornographic films. This more sinful time coincided with the neighborhood falling on hard times. In 1990, New York City took over the theater together with a handful of others in an effort to refurbish the area, returning the theater to a more mainstream focus. In 1995, the Victory reopened as the New Victory and became New York's first theater aimed entirely at children and their families, making the return from vice to virtue complete. It now holds the distinction of being New York's oldest continually operating theater.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change, " the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression. " Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.