Though we did not see anyone entering or leaving this mysterious, magnificent marble building, something about its high-columned entrance and grand, stone stairs made me walk up to the entrance and open the high front door. I could not have made a better decision – this is the New York State Appellate Division Courthouse, a historic landmark, architectural wonder, and site of many important rulings and government decisions. The limestone Beaux-Arts building was designed by James Brown Lord in 1896, and its exterior is surrounded by white marble sculptures, while the inside is painted with absolutely stunning allegorical murals by multiple American artists. All of the artwork and original furniture in the building have been restored to excellent condition. Equally stunning are the twenty-seven stained glass windows, including a massive ceiling dome consisting of sixteen radiating panels – the building resembles a sort of temple to the American justice system. This is the building where Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt cracked down on city corruption; where the development of New York’s railroads, subways, and famous libraries were decided; and where every graduating class of the New York Bar Association is sworn in. This building is bursting with history and beauty.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.
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.
Adereth El is considered to be the oldest synagogue in New York that is still operating out of its original location. German Jewish immigrants founded the congregation in 1857, and the building was constructed in 1863. To this day, Orthodox Jews attend services on a daily basis. Until his passing in 2013, Rabbi Sidney Kleiman had been the head of the congregation for sixty years - the longest serving rabbi in the country. Not all of the original architecture remains, as the shul had to be renovated twice during the 1900s, but its old world charm is prevalent throughout. The stained glass windows, the wooden seating, and even the prayer books took us back in time.
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.
This classic townhouse is a replica of the home of Theodore Roosevelt, the first U. S. president to be born and bred in Manhattan. After being rebuilt in 1919, the house did not open as a memorial museum until four years later, featuring many of the twenty-sixth president’s furnishings and heirlooms. Visitors may view Roosevelt’s Rough Riders uniform and the shirt he wore when he was shot in Milwaukee a few years after his term ended. Displayed next to these are the eyeglass case and folded speech he had in his pocket that slowed the bullet enough to allow his survival. A series of Teddy Bears are also laid out in the space — an addition that would likely have irked Roosevelt himself, who was said to hate the nickname “Teddy” that was used by his first wife. When she died in 1884 within hours of his mother’s passing, those closest to him agreed to stop using the moniker.
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. ”