Walks in New York and elsewhere

My comments on buildings, shops, restaurants that catch my eye as I wander around New York City and other places.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

From 6th Avenue to 7th Avenue

The street signs still say "Avenue of the Americas" but not even tourists call it anything but 6th Avenue.

This stretch has eight New York City-designated individual landmarks...and they are not the only interesting buildings on the strip. Beginning with the last decade of the 19th century, these two blocks (it would have been three blocks, but we will get to that a little later) became associated with cultural, primarily musical, pursuits. Some of the sites are still in existence.

On the south side of the street is Shelly's New York, in a building that was built in 1937-38 to house a Horn & Hardart Automat. At one point, the current incarnation had a sign in red neon proclaiming "since 1937." Yes, the building has been there since 1937, but the tourists who patronize the restaurant were supposed to infer that the restaurant had been there that long, too. The sign came down in response to various complaints. Old-time NY-ers will remember that some time between the Automat days and the present-day restaurant, the building held Marboro books, a vast emporium selling remainders at the very deepest discounts.

Across the street, on the north side, at 107 W. 57th, was the Ritz, for used fur coats. The one-story building has been there for 63 years, although you can tell by the markings and the window patterns on the adjacent buildings that a taller building had been on the site earlier. (The earlier bulding was a 5-story clubhouse for the Freundshaft Society.) The Ritz building originally contained two stores, one a lingerie shop and the other a music store. The name of the latter, "Orpheum," can be read on the terrazzo floor of the entrance. Inside the store, there is a balcony rail in the form of an oversize music stand. The building is scheduled to be torn down for a taller building.

Next door to the Ritz, at 109-111 is Steinway Hall, a designated landmark designed by Warren and Wetmore and built in 1924-25. There is a recital hall inside. The building has a deeply concave window that allows the viewer to look inside without the annoyance of reflections. In the basement is a sea of pianos, often being played by a talented musician.

The Gothic revival ground floor of Calvary Baptist Church is deceptive.

Here's the rest of the building.

Angelo's Coal Oven Pizza at 117, is surprisingly good for this area. It claims an impressive pedigree.

Across the street is the Director's Guild of America, with its own movie theater.

At 118 W. 57th is the Parker Meridien Hotel, noted most notably on food boards as the site of the Burger Joint. The little restaurant is fun, one time, as theater, but is ultimately disappointing for food. It's tucked away at the 56th Street end of the lobby, marked only by a neon hamburger. You can keep walking all the way through to 56th Street.

Coin collector's heaven may be Stack's Rare Coins, at 123 W. 57th.

130 and 140 West 57th are two similar studio buildings, designated landmarks. A plaque says they were built in 1907 as co-ops for artists, designed by Pollard & Steinman. 140 has undergone a nice restoration, with metal anthemia (a classical ornament) running across the tops of the windows. Its neighbor still suffers from an overly large window, put in before designation. Childe Hassam and William Dean Howells lived in 130.

Window too big.

Properly restored window.

Next comes a an enormous black glass building, the Metropolitan Tower (we're supposed to be impressed) with a Starbucks and Body Shop as retail tenants. Ho-hum.

Even more depressing is the husk of the Russian Tea Room.
This design is what is left of restaurateur Warner LeRoy's disaster. After the restaurant failed completely following his death, the building was supposed to become some kind of sport museum -- golf? tennis? I don't remember -- for which it was totally unsuitable. The original restaurant occupied two floors of a five-story house, similar to those across the street. It was always Christmas at the RTR and a celebrity hangout. The food was an afterthought.

Carnegie Hall Tower, Cesar Pelli, 1986-90, is another tall building wedged in between the Russian Tea Room and Carnegie Hall proper. Somehow, it avoids being oppressive on the street.
On the north side of the street is the (former) Chalif Normal School of Dancing, G.A. and H. Boehm, 1916, now Columbia Artists Management. This building was constructed to house a school that taught teachers how to teach dancing. It, too, is an NYC-designated landmark.
All the ornament on the building relates to music and dance.

Carnegie Hall, another designated landmark related to music, on the southeast corner of 57th and 7th, was designed by William B. Tuthill in 1889-91, and the original studio wing by Henry J. Hardenbergh a few years later. The building has undergone a fabulous restoration by James Stewart Polshek and Partners that can't be fully appreciated at the moment because of scaffolding that is up for some minor facade work. It's hard to believe, but this building was one of the first, perhaps the very first, to have some kind of primitive air-cooling system.

It's hard to believe that this beloved hall came close to demolition 40 years ago.


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