It is impossible to miss Engine Co. 14 on a sunny afternoon. The ornate Beaux Arts design is simply eye-catching. Engine Co. 14 was erected in 1895 by architect Napoleon LeBrun, who was known for his decoratively designed fire stations. This style is typical of the earliest New York City firehouses. Today, Engine Co. 14 has been recognized as a historic landmark. For more than a century, firefighters have been working out of this building.
When my intern, Emily, walked past the fire station, the garage doors were wide open, and locals were wandering in and out to greet the friendly firefighters. One older veteran was smoking a cigar and chatting with a new member who had finished his training just six weeks ago. The two firefighters showed an eager little boy and his father into the front seat of their largest firetruck. The boy honked the loud horn, which all the firefighters exclaimed was “quite impressive” for someone his age.
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”
The National Arts Club has been promoting American artists and educating the public about the arts and art criticism since its founding in 1898. Located across from Gramercy Square Park, the Club is housed in the Tilden Mansion, a stunning, double-wide sandstone rowhouse built in the 1840s that was redesigned and re-ornamented by Calvert Vaux in the 1870s. The National Arts Club was a pioneer in showing multiple types of art in the same space and for bringing artistic mediums other than painting and sculpture to the cultural forefront. Throughout the years, a long list of highly acclaimed painters, photographers, musicians, architects, and actors have worked extensively with the National Arts Club, including Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, Alfred Stieglitz, Stanford White, Walter Damrosch, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, and Uma Thurman. Members of the Club have also included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight Eisenhower. While the public is invited to view various art shows throughout the year in the galleries down below, members have access to the upstairs dining room, and to the exclusive Gramercy Square Park.
This site, that now houses Starbucks, was the American novelist Edith Wharton's childhood home. 2012 was the 150th anniversary of her birth. Edith Wharton was one of the few New York writers whose feelings for the city were almost unambiguously negative. The author of classics such as The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth far preferred Paris, where she spent much of her adult life. However, her early years were spent here in a brownstone her family built.
Although privately owned today, this grand building at No. 17 has a rich history as a health clinic. Built in 1847 as a row of Greek Revival homes, this particular house had several residents until J. Noah Slee, Margaret Sanger's husband, purchased it in 1930 to house his wife's growing Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau. Over 10, 000 women were cared for in this clinic over the years, and contraceptive information was shared with all who entered. The clinic continued to function even after Ms. Sanger's death in 1966, and in 1993, under Bill Clinton's presidency, it was finally designated a National Historic Landmark.
A city landmark and a slice of Old New York, Pete's Tavern has been serving food and draft beer uninterrupted since 1864. It does not take much to envision Pete's as it was a century and a half ago. The scarred, carved bar, the high-backed booths, tin ceiling and functional 1950's register are reminders that this was once the favorite haunt of writer O. Henry, a speakeasy, and a pre-Civil War "grocery & grog. " Walking through the rooms, one can also discover hundreds of photos of people from our past - James Cagney, Mickey Mantle, and celebrities of today, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler. To drink here is to drink half in the past and half in the present.
New York has more than its fair share of yakitori houses and sushi bars, but this Japanese transplant is concerned with presenting its American diners with Teishoku, or home-style cooking. This chain, which opened in Japan in 1958, features nourishing, traditional fare, where a "healthy body and mind" are top priority. Throughout Asia there are over three hundred restaurants, and as of 2012, New Yorkers can dine in the light, airy interior of their elegant US flagship restaurant.
Ken Giddon likes to say that he went “from riches to rags” by leaving a career as a bond trader to reopen his grandfather’s men’s clothing store. Harry Rothman used to peddle his wares from a pushcart on Delancey Street in the 1920s before moving into a retail space. “He kind of created the concept of a discount clothing store, ” Ken remarked. Rothman's closed for a time after Harry’s death in 1985, but Ken revived the business a year later in a stunning, 11, 000-square-foot storefront on the corner of 18th Street in Union Square. “I love being on a side street. It gives us the ability to afford a bigger space while watching the movable feast that is New York walk by every day. ” Five years after the shop’s reopening, Ken invited his brother, Jim, to join him. “This is one of the true family businesses in Manhattan. ” The store, which carries both casual and formal attire from top designers, aims to make the shopping experience for men “as efficient and rewarding as possible. ” To this end, Ken and Jim scour the market, travel abroad, and attend numerous trade shows to find the best brands. “We try to provide our customers with that personal, small-town feel in the middle of the city, ” Jim said. Despite Rothman's more modern look and merchandise, the brothers strive to keep some core elements of their grandfather’s business alive, particularly by preserving his humble approach to owning a men’s retail store. As Harry used to say, “It’s not so serious what we do. We just sell pants for a living. ”