What do Miami Beach, a drugs bust, God Bless America and the the People’s Republic of China have in common? They all come together in the dazzling (sometimes checkered) history of the Chinese Consulate on the corner of the West Side Highway and W42nd St.
The oddly shaped building began its life in 1962 as a Sheraton Motor Inn, designed by Morris Lapidus (who also was the lead architect for Miami Beach’s famous hotels, including the neo-Baroque Fontainebleau and Eden Roc). In total, Lapidus designed 1,200 buildings, including 250 hotels worldwide.
During his career, his work was characterized by the American architectural establishment as gaudy kitsch. Ada Louise Huxtable, writing in The New York Times, said of the Americana in Bal Harbor. “The effect on arrival was like being hit by an exploding gilded eggplant.”
Art in America deemed his work “pornography of architecture.”
Lapidus tried to ignore the critical panning, but it had an effect on his career and reputation. He burned 50 years’ worth of his drawings when he retired in 1984 and remained bitter.
New York Magazine always seemed to lead the charge. In 1969, in its first Annual Cityscape Awards, it gave the Sheraton Motor Inn the Miami Beach Laurels for “combining within the volume of a modest hostelry every single design cliche produced by the so-called International Style during the past 50 years.”
In 1971, the same magazine said: “Room service at the Sheraton Motor Inn … wasn’t it conceived as a cheaters’ hideaway? Would any tourist in full possession of their sensitivities really choose to lodge overlooking the drudge of the West Side Highway and the venomous Hudson?”
But Lapidus wasn’t without his supporters. In 1962, the editors of The New Yorker described the new Sheraton Motor Inn as “a startlingly classy pioneer in a somewhat declasse neighborhood.”
Architecture experts today do not consider the Consulate as a pure representation of Lapidus’s work. Kathleen Randall from Docomomo (an organization committed to the conservation and documentation of buildings in the modern movement), speaking in 2005, said: “The Sheraton Motor Inn at 42nd Street and the Westside Highway was completely reclad and reworked three years ago for a consulate building and is no longer recognizable as Lapidus’s work beyond the structure’s massing.”
This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Chinese Whispers — How Lapidus’s Sheraton Motel Became China’s Consulate."
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.