“The more I know New York, the more I think of it,” starts the Cole Porter song. “I like the sight and the sound and even the stink of it.”
Yes, indeed, I happen to like New York! Here are some more reasons why that I discovered during our tenth trip to the city.
See the bright-red door logo at 663 Fifth Avenue, near E. 52nd St.? That marks the current location of the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, where women have been going to look and feel their best for decades. Elizabeth Arden – the former Florence Nightingale Graham – introduced women to cosmetics, encouraged their exercise regimens, and created the “cleanse, tone, nourish” system of skin care products, all adorned with satin bows in pink, what Arden believed was the most flattering shade for all women. A master of branding, she commissioned artists, as well as set and fashion designers, to create her salon interiors. For example, the decor of her “Gymnasium Moderne” complemented Miracle Flower, Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting created especially for the space. There, clients “unfurled” while stretching on satin-backed cashmere yoga mats, had treatments in pastel-colored “withdrawing rooms,” and shopped for selections from a wardrobe of lipsticks that included “Montezuma Red,” a shade Elizabeth Arden created for the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and “Saratoga Red,” reflecting her passion for racehorses. Her ever-popular “Blue Grass” fragrance recalls her horse Jet Pilot, who won the 1947 Kentucky Derby.
Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night may draw some to the Museum of Modern Art, but I wanted to see its Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. In 1953, architect Philip Johnson and landscape architect James Fanning designed this tribute to Mrs. Rockefeller, one of the museum’s founders, whose townhouse once stood on the site. Pale-grey marble pavers make a path through water features, small groves of silver birch trees and beds of ivy seasonally planted with white tulips and purple pansies. Modern sculptures like Picasso’s She-Goat, Ellsworth Kelly’s Green Blue, and a 36-foot-tall rose Isa Genzken fashioned from stainless steel, aluminum and lacquer are exhibited here.
My lunchbox is modeled after the 1965 Volkswagen camper bus, with a surf board handle, but Carol Channing’s was a silver box made by Tiffany & Co. Since opening its original stationery and dry goods store in 1837, Tiffany’s has carried well-designed, high-quality products like that, in a range of prices that everyone can afford. From simple key rings to brilliantly set solitaire diamonds, Tiffany products are artfully displayed and packaged in their instantly recognizable robin’s-egg blue boxes.
Since 1940, the Tiffany & Co. headquarters has been on the southeast corner of Fifth Ave. and E. 57th St. After admiring its holiday window displays for years, this time we went inside to the fourth floor, where the Blue Box Cafe stylishly serves high tea, as well as classic breakfast and lunch fare. From the banquettes and chairs to the walls and the plates, the room is covered in trademark Tiffany blue, giving visitors the feeling of being inside a Tiffany box.
“Quiet, picturesque, but dignified.” That’s how the New York Times described the home of Andrew Carnegie, now the Cooper-Hewitt, at 2 E. 91st St. The Smithsonian museum presents the best of design, but we were there to focus on the existing features of the home Carnegie had designed to be simple, modest and comfortable.
The front door is set within an arch carved with oak leaves and acorns, protected by a Tiffany-style bronze and glass canopy. Leading up to it is a drive laid with yellow bricks, beveled so that horses would keep from slipping on it as they pulled carriages up to the front door.
Walking alongside the iron fence surrounding the house, we entered the garden at the rear of the house. Azaleas, rhododendrons and other flowers and shrubs that bloomed in the spring and fall when the Carnegies were in residence surround the central lawn and rock garden. Sugar maples, elms and poplars line the property; one original silver poplar is still standing at the far east side of the garden. The magnificent original wisteria was in full bloom on the terrace.
Our first view of the original portions of the Carnegies’ home was the former Great Hall. It is paneled in oak from Scotland, crowned by a custom-designed ornamental burlap and composition frieze covered with metallic paint. A large stone fireplace is at one end; at the other once was the console and pipes of an Aeolian organ that was played every morning at 7:00 to wake the family. The hall leads to a former parlor with its original Louis XV-style gilded plaster panels of musical instruments on the walls and ceiling, and the dining room with linenfold panel woodwork and a table spread with a white linen damask tablecloth. After dinner, guests would sign their names in pencil at their place setting, and servants would later embroider these signatures with white thread. The former breakfast room leads to the conservatory, which had unique features like a rockery with a grotto-like cork backdrop at one end and a hummingbird spigot for plant-watering.
Climbing the oak stairway to the second floor, we spotted the original bronze chandelier and wall sconces, then made our way to the Carnegies’ library, known as the Teak Room. Lockwood de Forest was commissioned to design this spectacular room. The wall panels, cornice, ceiling, shelving, and built-in cabinet were all carved from Indian teak. Gilt paper with reddish-toned Indian stenciled designs was placed on the walls and ceiling. A Tiffany-glass turtleback chandelier hangs overhead.
We stopped at The Carlyle, the hotel located at Madison Ave. and E. 76th St., to see a very special room. Ludwig Bemelmans, artist and author of the classic children’s books about Madeleine, painted the now-famous murals in the hotel’s bar in 1947, in exchange for 18 months’ room and board at the hotel. The murals depict whimsical scenes of ice-skating elephants and picnicking rabbits in Central Park, all executed in Bemelmans’ signature expressionistic style. Under the bar’s 24-karat gold leaf-covered ceiling, Art Deco-style nickel-trimmed black glass tabletops are topped by lamps with shades that feature drawings of New York City sights inspired by Bemelmans’ illustrations.
Looking for a moment of peace and tranquility during a busy day of sightseeing, we stopped outside the Frick Collection, Henry Clay Frick’s former home at E. 70th St. and Fifth Ave., to admire some of New York City’s largest magnolia trees, planted on the Fifth Avenue lawn in 1939. Pruning them every July helps to maintain their distinctive spreading form. Low beds of flowers line the garden’s decorative stone paths.In 1977, Russell Page designed the small, elegant formal garden on the E. 70th St. side of the Frick Collection to be experienced as a tableau, to be admired from the reception hall inside the building and from the street, rather than entered. Gravel paths and tree-planted lawns surround a rectangular lily pool, with low boxwood hedges and a colorful changing floral plantings in narrow beds around the perimeter of the garden. At Fifth Ave. and E. 84th St., the Ancient Playground is inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian art collection. Here’s where you’ll find one of the most important pieces of art in Central Park: the Osborn Gates. Created in 1953 by Paul Manship, best known for the Prometheus sculpture at the Rockefeller Center skating rink, the cast-bronze gates depict five vignettes from Aesop’s Fables. The gates originally stood at a playground named in honor of William Church Osborn, former president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, until the museum expanded the wing housing the Temple of Dendur in the early 1970s and the playground closed. The gates were stored for over 30 years, until they were restored and installed here in 2009.Ascending the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s famous steps, we saw a large tent being installed over them. That reminded us that two days later, many famous people dressed in the “Camp: Notes on Fashion” theme would climb those same steps to attend the Met Gala. Once inside the museum, our mission was to see the famous floral displays in the Great Hall, which we’ve been admiring ever since seeing this behind-the-scenes look and interview Martha Stewart Living conducted with Chris Giftos, the Met’s first in-house florist. When Mr. Giftos retired in 2003, Dutch florist Remco van Vliet began creating these immense arrangements, some reaching 12 feet tall. One towers above the information desk; four other bouquets are presented in neighboring sandstone alcoves. Inspired by the seasons or by the works contained in the galleries, the live flower arrangements are refreshed each week, thanks to an endowment provided by the late Lila Acheson Wallace, co-founder of Reader’s Digest.
Back down the steps, it was off to Madison Avenue to browse Barbour’s spring lines, track down daffodil prints at Yves Delorme and discover Liberty of London prints at J. Crew. Then it was off to 3 E. 66th St., to see where a highly regarded best-seller was written. Now home to a 10-story Art Deco apartment building, this is the former site of the home of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia. In 1881, a group of friends in Philadelphia raised money to buy the Grants a house here. The Grants lived there from 1881 until his death in 1885. Mark Twain visited Grant here often, and it was here that Grant wrote his memoirs, which Twain published after Grant’s death.
After Grant’s funeral, Twain and William Tecumseh Sherman went two doors down the street to the Lotos Club. One of the oldest literary clubs in the United States, it was founded in 1870 by a group of writers, journalists and critics to promote and develop literature, journalism, science, education and the arts. The club takes its name from “The Lotos-Eaters” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a popular poem of the day. Members include noted musicians, artists, historians and college presidents, who convene to enjoy concerts, literary roundtables, dinners and art exhibitions. In 1947, the club moved its headquarters here, to the French Renaissance building designed by Richard Howland Hunt in 1900 as a wedding gift for the granddaughter of William H. Vanderbilt.
We continued along and discovered 57 E. 66th St., the townhouse where Andy Warhol lived from 1974 to 1987.Then we made our way to Park Ave., passed the Met Breuer and continued one block to E. 73rd St. Turning there, we reached our destination: 11 E. 73rd St. After his McKim, Mead & White-designed mansion at 10 E. 55th St. burned in 1900, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer engaged Stanford White to design a home for him here. Pulitzer’s eyesight had deteriorated so that White had to prepare plaster models of his design for Pulitzer to handle. Completed in 1903, the grand Venetian Baroque building was Pulitzer’s home until his death eight years later. It was divided into luxury apartments in the 1930s.Our recently deceased friend Paul Berry may have been the most educated, refined and gracious man we have ever known. Paul made incredibly detailed drawings of American landmarks for the Historic American Buildings Survey; in 1990, he drew the Racquet and Tennis Club, at 370 Park Ave. between 52nd and 53rd Sts. To honor his memory, we took a long walk down Park Ave. to see it, passing luxury home goods store Scully & Scully a matter of hours after lawyer Michael Cohen spoke to the press from that very same spot. We admired our destination from the steps of the Seagram Building, the alcoholic beverage company’s headquarters that Mies van der Rohe designed to coincide with its 1957 centennial.
Completed in 1918, the new home for the club established in 1890 was the last project the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White undertook. Designed in the Palladian tradition of a 16th-century Renaissance palazzo, the building features the club’s emblematic shield and a frieze with stone panels carved with crossed racquets. A second-floor open-air loggia rises above ground-floor shopfronts; the third floor contains a gymnasium, squash courts, dressing rooms and a swimming pool; and the fourth floor holds the racquet and tennis courts.
Rockefeller Center was our last stop; specifically, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, to see Isamu Noguchi’s News.
This 22-foot-tall, cast stainless steel bas-relief Art Deco sculpture was installed above the main entrance in 1940. At that time, The Associated Press was the building’s main tenant, so Noguchi depicted five journalists intent on getting a story, using diagonal radiating lines to capture the fast-paced urgency of a newsroom.
There was another sculpture in Rockefeller Plaza depicting fast-paced action that day, but it was executed in a very different medium: roses. To celebrate the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby that day, Mr. Flower Fantastic created this one-of-a-kind piece for a pop-up display on the Today Plaza.
For more on these New York City destinations, read War Paint: Madame Helena Rubenstein & Miss Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry, by Lindy Woodhead; Tiffany & Co., by Grace Mirabella; Bejewelled by Tiffany 1837-1987, edited by Clare Phillips; Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum: The Andrew and Louise Carnegie Mansion, by Andrew S. Dolkart; Life of a Mansion: The Story of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, by Heather Ewing; Storied Bars of New York: Where Literary Luminaries Go to Drink, by Delia Cabe; Ludwig Bemelmans, by Jacqueline Fisher Eastman; Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeleine’s Creator, by John Bemelmans Marciano; and “An Author and a President: The Unlikely Friendship of Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain,” from the White House Historical Association. Watch Always at The Carlyle, the 2018 documentary about the hotel.