I would not have guessed, walking through the room hung with sparkly princess dresses and pink china, that Judy Famigletti used to be a hockey mom. The owner of Let's Dress Up, an event center for little girls, told me that she has two sons who both played ice hockey through college. She would go with them to their different games and formed her own business while traveling: she designed sports-themed Christmas ornaments, which developed into a broader home accessories business. While she greatly enjoyed painting, sewing, and decorating, most of Judy's creative power was directed towards sports and practicality. She had no use for frills and sparkles. Once her sons were grown, Judy moved to the city and set off on a new path. She knew that she wanted to have her own business that involved home decorating and that she wanted to work with little girls, since she was already very familiar with the world of boys. She reminisced about how she used to walk around her neighborhood when she was little, asking people for old jewelry and wearing her big sister's dresses. Judy began designing the concept for Let's Dress Up, meanwhile getting in touch with her feminine side. Needing to be resourceful in her first few years, as she no longer had a house in which to hold Let's Dress Up, she decided to barter with a restaurant. They allowed her to use their private room in return for decorating the eatery for the holidays. In 2005, she began holding events in the restaurant's back room, decking it out with her old hats and dolls. Shortly thereafter, Judy was able to move into her own space on 85th Street, followed by another location in Connecticut in 2010 - in an effort to be closer to her son and three of her grandchildren. "My granddaughter practically lived in the store until Kindergarten, " she said with a smile. Her sons also helped her with the business. In 2015, tragedy struck. Because the traveling was starting to become a hassle, Judy decided to close the Connecticut location and focus on the 85th Street spot. Shortly after making that decision, however, a fire broke out, ruining all of her old hats and dolls, and causing the space to require a complete overhaul. When I had the pleasure of meeting Judy at the end of 2015, her feathers did not appear to be ruffled. She had just finished renovating and moving her Connecticut dress-up things into the store. "After the fire, I decorated it based on the new girl, " Judy shared, showing me a wall hung with Disney princess outfits. Instead of her classic, vintage items, she had bright, shiny new things, with an emphasis on Disney's Frozen. "Elsa has replaced Ariel as the favorite princess. "Judy was inspired by the number of little girls who stopped by when she was renovating to ask, "When are you going to open? " She began thinking of new ways to expand Let's Dress Up, beyond the tried-and-true birthday parties. When I visited, she had just started offering special "Classes in the Castle" that little girls could come to with a play date. During these classes, the girls do craft projects, play with the dress-up items and learn the rules of princess etiquette from "Lady Judith" - Judy's persona in her shop. Judy showed me an example of one craft, in which little girls dressed a Pinkalicious dress-up doll after listening to one of the stories in the series by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. Judy has now expanded into a summer camp and occasionally holds seasonal workshops; however, she assured me that her main passion will always be the parties. Each of the parties is all-inclusive, beginning with a special tea party invitation that is sent to the guests. On the day of the event, the hosting family arrives fifteen minutes early so that the birthday girl can select her favorite dress and be ready to greet her guests. Once all of the girls are dressed in the various gowns, purses, tiaras, wands, and jewelry, they get glitter nail polish and sparkly, clear lip gloss. Judy then puts a pink screen up so that the girls can take group and individual photos. The various parts of the party last only fifteen minutes, which Judy feels is the perfect amount of time for short attention spans. When I inquired about the age range, Judy told me, "The most common age is five. I can tell when they outgrow it because they start asking why there's no prince. "Once the pictures are taken, all the little princesses sit down to their tea party, set with proper china. I asked if any of the china ever breaks and Judy shook her head vehemently, saying, "When they dress like princesses, they act like princesses. " Judy took all the tea party equipment out of pretty striped hatboxes, laying everything out on a doily. "The piece de resistance is the glass slipper, " she said, putting a tiny slipper at the top of the place setting. She also showed me the little party favors, composed of sparkly bracelets in a mesh bag. Judy has used the same party favor throughout the years "because it's the right one. "Each tea party is comprised of the same ingredients: a bagel with cream cheese or butter, strawberries, cheese sandwiches cut in the shape of a heart, and cupcakes or cake. After listing the different courses of the princess feast, Judy informed me that she used to do her parties for the Museum of the City of New York. They requested that she hold high-end birthday parties in their Dollhouse Room. Though the parties were fun and the room was beautiful, it was a massive undertaking. Today, Judy sticks to her spot on 85th Street. Judy has also allowed others to take over her space, as there is enough room for a long table. She is looking forward to the day when someone chooses to have a baby shower in her space. Until then, Judy already has a lot on her beautiful pink china plate, with as many as four parties in one day. On my way out the door, I saw a wall full of knightly coats of armor, often used by little boys who are invited to the parties (although there are times when the boys are perfectly content to wear the dresses). I asked if the girls could be knights, instead of princesses. Judy answered with a benevolent smile, "They can be anything they want to be. "
I have often commented on how I wish there were more places to write about for children on the side streets of Manhattan. Each business that I have discovered has been fantastic; I just always want to come upon another. That is why I was so excited to find this fascinating indoor petting zoo and activity center. The Art Farm has been on the Upper East Side since 2002. Valentina Van Hise, the director, visited the Art Farm that Mari Linnman formed in the Hamptons in 1999. She worked and trained there as a teacher before deciding to open a location in Manhattan. When the Art Farm in the City first began, it catered to Mommy and Me classes. Today, the center offers activities for children up to eight years old, although everyone must be accompanied by an adult. Everywhere I looked I saw animals: examples of children’s art projects hung on the walls, depicting different creatures; murals of underwater scenes covered the bathrooms; and illustrations from animal-centric books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar decorated the first floor. In addition to a cozy playroom with a green carpet that imitates grass, the ground floor has a full kitchen, which is used both for baking and arts and crafts. Art Farm has what it calls “Friend Fridays, ” where children can come and do projects in the kitchen each week. “There’s no craft we don’t know, ” one of the staff members said with a smile. “The Farm, ” located downstairs, was the most remarkable feature. Impossibly fuzzy chinchillas rested in cages while bunnies hopped around a large central pen across from a chicken coop. We met Fluffy (a chinchilla who is “in a kind of retirement home to herself"), Maggie the guinea pig, and Russian tortoises named Boris, Natasha, and Yeltsin. In the back of the room, we found creatures without fur, including insects, amphibians and reptiles. I gazed in awe at the large orange Halloween Moon Crab and the walking stick insect. Farther back, there is a large birdcage and a fish tank. The Manhattan Sideways team was overcome, petting everything in sight and gazing into tanks at hissing insects, bearded lizards, and salamanders. The piece de resistance for us, however, was when one of the staff members quietly brought out a few baby chicks that had recently hatched. Happily, every class and activity involves the animals in some way. Even during baking activities, as soon as the treats are in the oven, the children are escorted down the steps to play with the creatures.
The Loop of the Loom, tucked below street level on 87th Street, is a center for SAORI weaving, a special practice that combines the art of weaving with the principles of Zen. The founder of Loop of the Loom, Yukako Satone, began her career as a graphic designer for fifteen years in both Japan and New York. She claims that she did not consider herself a “craft person” until she was introduced to SAORI weaving when her daughter was five years old. She became a certified SAORI instructor in Japan, thanks to a talented teacher, Misao Jo. Shortly thereafter, Yukako made the decision to open a studio in Manhattan, hoping to introduce this specific type of weaving to New Yorkers. The Loop of the Loom encourages anyone who walks through the door to find their own unique style while embracing earthy materials and the Japanese idea of “Mottainai" ("non-waste”). The threads are made from natural fibers and many of the tools are created from recycled materials. The repetitive, calming nature of the work is said to introduce mindfulness and healing to the weaver. When I visited Loop of the Loom, a group of young children were gathered for a special children’s class, celebrating a child's eighth birthday. It was a special sight to watch them calmly sitting at their looms, eager for their next instruction. In addition to her studio, Yukako often takes her portable loom out into the city to do demonstrations. She loves that her “happy weaving” can bring smiles and a sense of calm to passersby.
Asphalt Green is a non-profit organization that provides facilities and programs to all ages in the hopes of promoting health and fitness. The Upper East Side campus is composed of an entire city block between York Avenue and the FDR Drive. The organization was founded in 1972 by Dr. George E. Murphy, a Cornell professor of pathology, and his wife, Annette. Asphalt Green got its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the abandoned Municipal Asphalt Plant, which was declared a city landmark in 1976, thanks to the couple’s efforts. In 1984, the Upper East Side campus officially opened. Today, facilities include an enormous outdoor turf field, an Olympic-size pool, and a 15, 000 square foot fitness center. In 2013, a second location opened in Battery Park City.
St. Joseph’s was founded in 1873, when the German-speaking locals who represented a large portion of the inhabitants of Yorkville asked the Jesuits of St. Laurence O'Toole Church on 84th Street and Park Avenue (now St. Ignatius Loyola) to help them find a German-speaking priest. The Jesuits sent Father Joseph Durthaller, who became the first pastor of St. Joseph's. In 1880, St. Joseph's School was founded, and in 1894 the current church was built in the Romanesque Revival style to replace the original small Gothic structure that had been dedicated in 1874. In continuation of its German heritage, St. Joseph’s offers a German Mass on the first Sunday of every month, which is said by Father Boniface Ramsey, the pastor. Even though, like many churches in Manhattan, participation has dwindled over the past forty years, St. Joseph's still has an active community with over 750 congregants and about 350 children in the school. There is no longer a large German population, but St. Joseph's is now home to the New York Hungarian Catholic community, which has a Mass every Sunday afternoon that is conducted entirely in Hungarian. The Hungarian community came from St. Stephen of Hungary Church on 82nd Street, which was recently closed. Father Boniface himself attended St. Joseph’s School for a short time, but he never imagined that he would end up as the pastor. He calls himself an "Upper East Sider, " born and bred. Though his mother was German, she did not teach him her native tongue, since he was born in 1945, when the political climate caused German speakers to be unpopular. Instead, he studied the language in college. The church itself is medium size and beautifully proportioned, with elegant confession booths, stained glass windows, and colorful murals on the ceilings. At the front of the main aisle, just before the sanctuary, there is a mosaic worked into the floor. It is the personal crest of Pope Benedict XVI, who visited St. Joseph's on April 18, 2008. Despite the attractiveness of other features, my eye was drawn to the enormous, historic organ that dates back to 1895 and "hasn't been fooled with, " in Father Boniface's words. He told me that music is very important to St. Joseph's and that Alistair Reid, the church's organist, is "superb. " In addition to the organ, St. Joseph’s also has a piano and one of very few harpsichords to be found in a church. Leading me up into the choir loft, Fr. Boniface pointed out that the organ is particularly large in comparison to the size of the church. He believes that this is because the Germans who founded the church and installed the organ were probably hearty singers. He mentioned that a big choir is not needed to fill the space. "The acoustics are famous, " he said, and vocally demonstrated the four to five second reverberation. Father Boniface took me on a quick visit to the school next door, a building dating to 1926. It warmed my heart to hear the children playing in the street yell "Hi Father! " and to see him smile and wave at them. "I usually create a ruckus, " he said with a grin.
The Suburban Hook & Ladder Company No. 13 was formed in 1865, the same year that the cities of New York and Brooklyn were combined and the “Metropolitan District” fire department was officially created. With the creation of the department, firefighting became a profession, and firehouses were no longer filled solely with volunteers. The members of Hook & Ladder Company 13 are remembered for having helped during the deadly explosion on Park Place in 1891. It was referred to by the news as “one of the worst disasters that ever happened in this city. ” The firemen of Company 13 arrived on the scene on the third day to help reinvigorate the search for bodies. They also dealt with countless fires in the tenement houses of Yorkville, most notably a house fire at 60 East 87th Street filled with residents. The stories of the heroic deeds of the these firefighters could fill a book. In the twentieth century, the Company moved to 85th Street and the little brick house stood empty. In 1962, however, Andy Warhol rented the second floor to use as his very first New York studio.
After only spending a few minutes walking through Doyle's display room, I realized that Louis Webre, the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Media at the prestigious auction house, was correct - "Auction houses are one of the best places to go for free, cultural events in the city. " Though the room was filled with an exhibition on Impressionist and Modern Art when I visited, Louis told us that the shows change almost on a weekly basis. Once this particular show ended and the art auctioned, it would be followed by Post-War & Contemporary Art. "Every week it's something new, " Louis stated. William Doyle, who established the company in 1962, has continued his legacy through his wife Kathleen, the current Chairman and CEO, and his daughter, who also plays a substantial role in the company. Doyle holds about forty auctions a year, making it one of the premier auction houses in the world. "Our audience is very global, especially for jewelry sales, " Louis informed me. He added that part of the job of an auction house is to identify the new affluent populations of the world and to find out what international billionaires are buying. He then clarified this by saying "Almost all of what we sell, however, is from collections and estates within the US. "The auction house is a family company not only in its continued connection to the Doyles, but also because it is now working with clients who are third generation. Doyle employees have seen children and grandchildren of early customers come through their doors over and over again. Louis, who has been working for Doyle since 1987, has witnessed situations where parents have passed away and their children have offered the resulting estate, originally purchased from Doyle, back to Doyle. I asked Louis about the most impressive piece that he has seen auctioned over the years, and without hesitating he replied, "The pair of pearls. " He then shared the fascinating story with me. Doyle's appraisers have been working with the Antiques Roadshow since the late 1990s. During one episode of the show, Kevin, an appraiser, met with a woman who had brought in some of her grandmother's jewelry. She mentioned that she had one of the older woman's brooches with a pair of pearls, but that the piece had already been appraised at $1, 500-2, 500. After spending some time with this woman, Kevin's interest was piqued and he asked if she would mind sending the pearls to him. Upon receiving them, he immediately shipped them to Switzerland, the only place in the world that grades pearls. "They sent back a letter unlike any we had ever seen before, " Louis continued. The letter revealed the pearls to be a "treasure of nature" as it is extremely unlikely for two oysters to produce such large, identical pearls. They then traced the pearls' story and discovered that they once belonged to Empress Eugenie of France, but that France sold all the crown jewels in the 1870s. One of the largest buyers was Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany and Co. This explained how the jewels got to America, eventually ending up in someone's grandmother's safety deposit box. When the pearls were sold, they broke the existing record sale for a pair of pearls by $900, 000. The heart-warming ending to the story is that when the woman found out what the pearls sold for, she announced that she would use the money to purchase a new canine van for her animal rescue service. After sharing this extraordinary story, Louis enthusiastically continued his walk through the gallery while pointing out some of his favorite pieces of art. There were quite a few pieces from the painter Paul Cadmus, but a favorite was an early self-portrait from when he was living in Mallorca with his partner between the wars. The room also held a collection of Paul Kleinschmidt's paintings, including a portrait of the collector who originally owned them. After showing me a painting of a crowded Coney Island beach scene done by Reginald Marsh, Louis said, "It's unbelievable to me how few New Yorkers take advantage of this. " He gestured to the rest of the room. "It really is the greatest free show in town. "