Now an AMC movie theater, this building was born in 1912 as the Eltinge 42nd Street Theater, named for the highly acclaimed actor of the time, Julian Eltinge. When hard times hit during the Depression, the theater entered the salacious world of burlesque and ultimately the perhaps tawdrier world of cinema. In 1954, the theater was renamed Empire Theatre, giving it recognition once again. Due to the decline of the area, the theater continued to face opposition as a "second-run movie house," and was ultimately closed in the 1980s. Because of its New York City Landmark status, however, when real estate mogul Bruce Ratner began implementing his plans for a large redevelopment project in 1998, he was essentially forced to move the building, in tact, seventy feet to the west. Today, the elaborate Egyptian decor remains inside a mega cinema complex with almost 5,000 seats.
Located in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Times Square lies a hotel that is the perfect blend of old world glamour and modern luxury. A landmark building designed by Stanford White and finished in the early 1900s, it was originally the home of the Lambs Club, an organization of actors, reminiscent of the previous London location. Opening its doors as The Chatwal New York in 2010, architect Thierry Despont oversaw the entire redesign of the hotel. He was incredibly meticulous about maintaining as much of its past as possible while also introducing it to the sophisticated clientele of the twenty-first century. His work has included the restoration of the Statue of Liberty, The Carlyle, Claridges in London and a host of others. After admiring the attractive lobby and bar, where we sampled two of their signature drinks - the Lamb's Club Cup (cucumber, lime, fresh raspberries, ginger syrup, white vermouth, St. Germain, gin, and topped off with club soda), and the Goldrush (honey syrup, lemon juice and bourbon), we were escorted on a small tour of the guest rooms upstairs. It was evident in the Producer's suite with its private terrace and view of Times Square, that they spared no expense in each appointment of the room. The cedar-lined closets as well as the drawer and door handles were wrapped in leather. We also took note of the old movie playing in the elevators and the hallways lined with classic movie posters. Richly decadent, sleekly fashionable, and consciously sexy, the Chatwal is a quintessential midtown hotel that took into consideration every detail necessary for an extravagant stay.
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters. The Actors' Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actors' Temple will continue to grow. "We are a well-kept secret, " she says, "but we don't need to be. " To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their "stage, " just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are "on the fringes of society. " She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors' Temple is a "no-guilt synagogue. " People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman's only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
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.
Alongside numerous restaurants and bars, The Church of St. Mary adds a European influence to the Times Square area. With vaulted ceilings and glorious stained glass windows, the church offers a level of contemplative splendor to an otherwise busy area. When I stepped inside for a few moments on my walk across 46th, I was in absolute awe. I could not wait to watch the reaction of other members of the Manhattan Sideways team when I brought them by a few days later. The 45th Street church was founded in 1868 and built on ground donated by John Jacob Astor, with the understanding that the church would remain “free” - meaning visitors did not have to pay pew rents. Radical in its time, this Episcopal Church could open its services to people from all walks of life while remaining dependent on contributions from wealthy parishioners. In 1893, after one of these contributors, Sara L. Cooke, left the church a large amount of money in her will, the church leaders decided to move to a larger location one block north on West 46th. Built in the French Gothic style, this building was the first church made with an iron skeleton rather than stonework. While walking through this breathtaking piece of architecture, I checked in with one of the Manhattan Sideways photographers, who was looking a little shaken. She told me that the sheer size and beauty had simply taken her breath away. St. Mary’s keeps her doors open everyday so that passersby can share in this experience.
The last theater commissioned by the Shubert brothers, the Ethel Barrymore was built by Herbert J. Krapp in 1928 to honor its namesake. The brothers decided to dedicate this to the actress when she came under their management as a way to convince her to take the lead role in The Kingdom of God, the theater's premiere play. Ethel Barrymore was part of the Barrymore family, an acting dynasty during Broadway's zenith. She was considered the "it" girl of her generation and starred in numerous successful Broadway shows. The building's design is based on the public baths of Rome and is among Krapp's most intricate endeavors. The front of the theater features a terra-cotta grillwork screen and French-inspired embellishment beneath the marquee. Through the Depression and Broadway's times of trouble, the Ethel Barrymore Theatre has persisted and continues to carry on the legacy of Ethel and the Barrymore family with shows like A Streetcar Named Desire and A Raisin in the Sun, which have gone on to revolutionize the theater, much like Ethel did throughout her life.
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.