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.
The West Side’s airy Bella Abzug Park, designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc, features a new seating area of plentiful benches as well as wire-rimmed tables and chairs complete with umbrellas for shade. The team behind the West Side green space is known for its large-scale public plazas, including recent renovations on Brooklyn Bridge Park as well as the downtown Jacob K Javits Plaza. Bella Abzug (originally known as Hudson Park and boulevard) began renovations in 2010 at W33rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues to expand the park to accommodate for the extension of the 7 train to 11th Avenue, as well as the rapid influx of residential, retail and commercial development in Hudson Yards over the past decade. The park was renamed in 2019 to honor Bella Abzug, the stalwart Bronx-born lawmaker and activist known as “Battling Bella” who championed civil rights, LGBTQ and women’s equality in New York State and nationwide. “As any observer of New York politics would tell you, Bella Abzug was a potent force for the West Side and, in fact, the entire country, ” said former Manhattan Borough President and current City Council Member Gale Brewer at the dedication. “She was a friend and mentor, and naming this new park for her will, in however small a way, educate and inform future generations about this one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life New Yorker. ”The Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance — a West Side Business Improvement District not-for-profit organization — maintains the care of the park and curates its programming, which features seasonal events ranging from yoga to concerts to movie nights. The park also hosts frequent temporary art installations, including the BIG APPLE statue by Canadian artist Félix Marzel, King Nyani — a 4-and-a-half ton gorilla sculpture by Australian Artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, and the recent Photoville summer gallery showing. This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "There’s More Room for Relaxation as Bella Abzug Park Expands at Hudson Yards. "
After visiting the newly opened Renwick, Olivia, Tom and I walked west to its sister hotel, the Gregory. Originally built in 1903 and known as “The Gregorian, ” its purpose was to house spillover guests from the Waldorf Astoria. It was designed to be reminiscent of Upper West Side homes, with rooms that were double the height of normal hotels. In the mid-twentieth century, the Gregorian closed and the building passed through the hands of different hospitality groups. In 2015, however, the Gregory opened with the goal of recreating the hotel’s former glory. Susan Richardson, the Director of Marketing at the time, was pleased to give us a tour of the newly renovated hotel and to share some of the history, while also pointing out the various amenities and features. The overall design of the hotel is inspired by elements of the fashion world, as it is located in the garment district. Susan also mentioned that the Gregory is the only hotel that is a member of the Save the Garment Center movement and that they have recently formed a partnership with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Susan explained that the hotel was designed with the goal of feeling "homey. " The lobby was built to have the comfort of a living room, complete with the bar, called “The Liquor Cabinet. ” The whimsical idea behind the name is that guests can “raid the Liquor Cabinet” during happy hour. While chatting, the bartender made one of their signature drinks, the Ginger Bootlegger, made with Bootlegger vodka, Cointreau, and ginger beer. The cozy, home-away-from-home atmosphere is enhanced by the concierge desk, where guests are encouraged to sit down in an armchair as they check-in and to feel the warmth of the fireplace during the colder months of the year. Similar to the Renwick, the Gregory focuses on trying to manufacture many of the features of the hotel in New York City. The lobby’s wood floors were not only made in Manhattan, but cut right here in the building. The shelves, which held fashion books, sewing machines, and other relics of the design world, were also cut in the lobby. Adding to their strong link to its history, we observed the pictures of the original hotel on the wall, along with an old menu and various artworks from the early twentieth century. Before heading into the elevator, we stopped into Brendan’s, the lively Irish pub connected to the hotel. The restaurant used to be the Gregorian’s Palm Court. “They are a great neighbor, ” Susan said. Upstairs, we stepped inside an impressive guest room. It was remarkable how different the Gregory and the Renwick are, but with the same careful attention to detail and emphasis on guest comfort. Where the Renwick has eclectic images and outside-the-box design, the Gregory has clean lines and simple patterns. As Susan so aptly described it, “The Renwick is the artist and the Gregory is the tailor. ” There are hints of the fashion world everywhere, including Do Not Disturb signs made of ties and framed clothing patterns on the walls. Like the Renwick, each of the beds are custom made for the hotel. Although both hotels are designed for the transient traveler, Susan feels that the Gregory appeals to a slightly younger crowd - one that wants a warm, communal place to work and network. With that in mind, guests are encouraged to come down to the lobby for coffee in the morning and mingle with one another. The tech industry has started drifting into the neighborhood and Susan feels that members of the tech world appreciate the chance to meet people and work in the living room environment of the lobby. “We are creating a culture of offering guests an experience, ” she said, smiling.
At Gallery 35, we were charmed, entertained and educated on the staff's commitment to their own work and the art community as a whole. Sharing space, one flight up, with others affiliated with the Community Church next door, Gallery 35 is only open on Saturday evenings. Each week they showcase the work of a collective of artists, using media and styles across the board – water colors, digital media, glass painting, quilts, wood cuts. Once a year, the gallery hosts shows featuring artists from around the world. The most recent rendition featured paintings and quilts from Cuban and Brazilian artists. I was particularly taken by the story behind the art that was exhibited in the winter of 2013. Vidho Lorville, a native of Haiti, who had been painting for over twenty years before the earthquake struck his country, was chosen to be the guest artist. His commitment to the people and the celebration of the rebirth of Haiti were not only displayed in his work, but he also chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from Gallery 35 towards programs in Haiti.