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The Conservatory Garden in Central Park

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I recently took a free tour of the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. Joe, who hails from Wisconsin, was the volunteer/gardener leading us on this tour.  His love for the garden showed as he went into detail about the annual and seasonal plantings, while winding us through the 6 acre maze. It was mainly a horticultural event with a few history facts tacked on.  We learned that this was the 2nd most dangerous spot in Central Park in the 1970’s.  Good to know that  criminals appreciate beauty as well.  A lot has changed since then, in terms of safety, and now this part of the park is dominated by wedding ceremonies, Women’s Luncheons of the Central Park Conservancy, and tourists.

It’s worth noting that perhaps the end of summer is not the best time to visit, nonetheless, the majestic year-round beauty of the Central Park’s only formal garden, keeps everyone’s senses on high alert.  If one wanted to be awed by nature at its very extreme, then it would be worth to visit at the end of May when the wisteria blooms. Not to be missed are the crabapple trees that come into their own around the same time, with blush pink that fades to white.

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Central Park

The Garden’s main entrance is through the Vanderbilt Gates located at 5th Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets.  These gates were made in Paris in 1894. They later  graced the Vanderbilt mansion on 5th Avenue and 58th Street before being donated and installed in 1939 at their present location. Once you enter you are immediately confronted with the Italian Garden, one of the three gardens that make up the Conservancy Garden. The other two being the French and English gardens. The Italian Garden includes the great expanse of lawn, the central fountain and the surrounding hedges bordered by two allees of crabapple trees. The steps at the western most end of the garden lead one up to the pergola, which is covered with wisteria. There are  13 medallions located on the walkway underneath the pergola. They are inscribed with the names of the 13 original states.  When you’re perched up high on top of this walkway, you are confronted with an amazing view of the garden as well as the Cardinal Cook Health Care building, just across the street on 5th Avenue. It has this Spanish/Florida style, confusing many into thinking they’re not in the middle of NYC, but rather on some grand Palm Beach estate.

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Central Park 4

The north side of the garden is known as the French Garden. It includes a very pleasant fountain topped with a statue of “Three Dancing Maidens” which was once  part of the Samuel Untermyer estate in the Bronx. This part of the garden is known for it’s seasonal display of tulips, about 20,000 in all. Many of the flowers are donated by the public and later given back.  Come late autumn, the public is invited to pull out the mums and take them for themselves.  A win win situation.

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The southern part is known as the English Garden. In its center is a sculpture by Bessie Potter. It’s a tribute to Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of the Secret Garden. When I visited there were a couple of painters enjoying the serenity of this intimate spot. Hostas, calla lilies and many other fragrant flowers surround the fountain in the middle and add to the sensory overload. It’s no wonder why artists choose this spot.

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Central Park 7

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Written by agnesbstanton

September 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Parks, Upper East Side

The Former Barbizon Hotel Gains Landmark Status

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The Barbizon Hotel Gains Landmark Status

During a seething summer evening in 1953, Lexington Avenue on the corner of 63rd Street received a sprinkling of clothing, an entire wardrobe really, thrown from the rooftop of the Barbizon Hotel. The intoxicated young woman, demonstrating her unhappiness during her last night in the city, was Sylvia Plath. Her summer stay at the Barbizon Hotel would later figure prominently in her most famous autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar.

The Barbizon hotel’s story begins in 1926 when it was built specifically as a “Club Residence for Professional Women”. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that its reputation blossomed as THE hotel for young single and gorgeous females. There were other hotels in New York City specifically for women, but the Barbizon stood apart, namely due to its exclusivity. A woman had to have two letters of recommendation along with impeccable manners and dress in order to be allowed a room at this semi-dormitory style hotel.

Between 1940-1970, such famous names as Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Cybill Shepherd, Candice Bergen, Joan Didion, and Betsey Johnson made the Barbizon their home. Eileen Ford who ran the Ford Modeling Agency regularly rented rooms at the Barbizon for many of her models. In the 2010 April issue of Vanity Fair, the author Michael Callahan describes it well; “If the Barbizon had a face, it was that of Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”: A-Line dresses, opera gloves, and smart pillbox hats with netting”.

With so many beautiful and talented women in one building, it was no wonder men were always trying to find a way to sneak it. Security would not allow them above the first floor, but with enough motivation, some would try posing as a doctor or father to gain entry. The hotel officially started to admit men in 1981 as times were changing and all-women’s hotels were a thing of the past.

Nowadays, this former hotel is known as “Barbizon 63” after its conversion to condos in 2006. The insides have been gutted and refurbished and one would need a pretty penny in order to own an apartment there. Nonetheless, it will always be a city icon, symbolizing a safe retreat for career women during most of its existence. The recent landmark status it gained this past April will keep its beautiful coral brick façade from changing and its memory from becoming a pretty thing of the past.
Barbizon Hotel Gains Landmark Status

Written by agnesbstanton

July 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Condos, Upper East Side

550 Park Avenue & Diana Vreeland

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I took a walk across Central Park the other day and marveled at the leaves that now litter the ground. September, my favorite month, is gone, replaced by October ever so quickly. My strides led me to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. The Documentary on Diana Vreeland “The Eye Has to Travel” was playing and since such movies only play in three or four theaters in the city, I decided to go to the one on the  West side.  Angelika theatre  on Houston Street was too far, and I don’t particularly like City Cinemas across from busy Bloomingdales.

On my way to the theatre I made sure to pass by Diana Vreeland’s former home at 550 Park Avenue. A very civilized building, nothing eye catchy about it. Diana lived with her husband Reed on the 9th floor. They did not have a particularly large apartment (for Park Avenue standards), but it was made distinctive by her choice of the color red used in her living room. She called that room “a garden in hell”. Lacking the serious money needed to properly decorate such an apartment, Diana instead chose a very inexpensive fabric, some would even call it hideous, and had her walls, her sofa, chairs and pillows upholstered in it. Other shades and patterns of red were added, and with her trained eye, the room came alive with excitement. It goes to show how you don’t always need a boat load of money when you have ideas. Designers such as Carolina Herrera and Anna Sui have paid homage to Diana’s inspirational room by having red rooms of their own. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

The documentary would not necessarily get a standing ovation but it was very informative. Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Diana’s granddaughter- in-law, was the director of this movie. She also wrote a book by the same name that was published in 2011.  The film mainly revolved around  the interview/talks that George Plimpton had with Diana in preparation for her autobiography “DV” which was published in 1984 and which Plimpton edited. One of my favorite lines in the film is when Diane is describing how to become a fashion editor and says in her deep drawn voice “One must first arranged to be born in Paris”. Indeed that was the city she was born in, (5 Avenue Foch) and the city she loved coming back to throughout her life.

Diana’s estate sold her apartment at 550 Park Avenue to W. Michael Blumenthal, a Carter-era Treasury Secretary. In 2008 Mr. Blumenthal decided to sell and combined his apartment with his neighbors for a total of about 6,500 square feet, making it one of the largest Park Avenue apartments in today’s era. I can think of a few larger apartments at 740 Park Avenue but not too many other buildings kept their 1920’s configurations. Socialite Phyllis Mack passed the board and now lives here, having paid only $20 million, a bargain.

Written by agnesbstanton

October 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Co-ops, Upper East Side

132 E. 65th St. “The Touraine”

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February 13th, 2012

April 8th, 2012

The difference a couple of weeks makes in the world of construction can be very profound especially in NYC, where a new floor goes up every week or two in some developments. The Touraine is a wonderful example of very solid yet frighteningly fast construction. The Toll Brothers are the developers behind this condo on the southeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 65th St. where the manor house called Crocodile Hall once stood. Due to the location being just outside the landmark district, the Toll Brothers were able to tear down the former 1920’s house designed by architect J. Stewart Barney who also resided there.

When finished, the Touraine will have 22 apartments and will be 15 stories tall. The quality is top-notch and is being marketed to a somewhat empty nester crowd as well as international buyers looking for pied-a-terres (very expensive ones I might add). Some features that the Touraine will have include  a roof-top terrace with an open air fireplace. Another less common feature will be a library. There are only a few other buildings in the city that have their own librarys as a recent NY Times article made note of. Both of these features will facilitate the neighbors getting to know each other, sometimes an unheard of concept in this fast-paced city. Because many Upper East Side buyers want a pre-war look with modern luxury finishes, The Toll Brothers are making an attempt to mingle these two styles effortlessly together. Since this is a boutique condo with a prime location, most units have already been sold.

Written by agnesbstanton

April 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Condos, Upper East Side

101 E. 63rd St. (Halston’s townhouse)

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This townhouse was once the home of the legendary fashion designer Roy H. Frowick, better known as Halston. It is now being sold by the estate of the late photographer Gunter Sachs, for a mere $38.5 million. Any takers?

A carriage house built in 1880 once stood on these grounds. The architect Paul Rudolph was hired by the real estate lawyer Alexander Hirsch and his partner Lewis Turner, to do a complete renovation. In a sense what Rudolph really did was build a new townhouse without there being any landmark official to stop him. The new townhouse was finished in 1967 but its fame would come in 1974 when Halston purchased it. He would own it until 1990, the year he died.

Photo of Halston: By Bob Colacello

Photo of Halston with Bianca Jagger: by Ron Galella

Halston was born in 1932 in Des Moines, Iowa. He lived in Indiana as a youth where he graduated from high school. After just a semester at Indiana University, he packed up his bags and headed to Chicago where he originally got his start assisting a milliner and taking night classes at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. His fame would come in New York after he designed the pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband’s 1961 Presidential inauguration. From then on everyone knew who Halston was especially the jet set crowd that came to his house parties. From Mikhail Baryshnikov to Liza Minnelli, Fred Hughes, Diane Von Furstenberg, Truman Capote, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Bianca Jagger, Gianni Agnelli, the list goes on and on. Steve Rubell would leave behind Studio 54 and come to Halston’s parties along with a few of his bartenders, aka the coke boys.

Known simply as “101”, Halston’s townhouse definitely stood out on E. 63rd Street, but it was never an eye sore. Rather, it knew how to blend in. I’ve walked by this townhouse many times never noticing it. I’m glad I now know its story. But there’s a bit more.  Halston sold it in 1990, two months before his death to Gunter Sachs and Gianni Agnelli who bought it together. No they were not romantically involved, in fact Gunter Sachs was Brigitte Bardot’s third husband and Gianni, well he definitely liked women. Gunter and Gianni probably thought it was a  good business opportunity to do together. The price paid in 1990 was $5 million. Gunter quickly bought Gianni out and owned it solely until his recent death in May 2011. His estate is now trying to sell it for $38.5 million. With a three story living room, 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths and 10,000 square feet, most of it great entertaining space, this town-home seems like it might sell to a very wealthy bachelor.

Written by agnesbstanton

February 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Carl Schurz Park

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This park is one of New York City’s best kept secrets. I love Carl Schurz Park because whenever I come here for a stroll, I immediately feel as if I’ve taken a trip to a far away land. It’s one of the most serene peaceful escapes you can have in a hustle and bustle city like New York. There are never really any tourists here. It is a park that you would only discover if you had a reason to come all the way to the East End between 84th and 90th Streets or if you happen to live nearby.

Roughly 14.9 acres, this park is part of the New York Department of Parks but has a dedicated volunteer group called the “Carl Schurz Park Associatation”.  They came together in the 1970’s in order to clean up the park’s playground and ensure that it was made safe for neighborhood children. Due to the economic turmoil during that era, the association did quit a bit more than just maintain the playground. They pooled resources and were able to transform the entire park one step at time. With their help, Carl Schurz Park has been able to look pristine and feel safe ever since.

I used to come to this park the few times when I was visiting 10 Gracie Square, but it wasn’t until this past spring of 2011 that I began to regularly spend time here. I had just had a baby and I needed to lose a few pounds, so I signed myself up for Strollercize classes. The morning class at 9am took place at Carl Schurz Park with Lizzie our fun-loving instructor. I found this to be the most exciting way to get my body back into shape, which I was able to do, thank you very much. Thanks Lizzie!!!

I no longer need to do strollercize classes, but I continue to visit Carl Schurz Park. This summer I had a few picnics on the grass, along with long strolls on the promenade, watching the East River flow south one day and north on the next. I found Gracie mansion, located inside the park, to be a very iconic building. This federal style mansion is the official residence of the major of New York, although Mayor Bloomberg prefers to stay in his Beaux-Arts townhouse located at 17 E. 79th St.

Another icon of Carl Schurz Park is the Peter Pan Sculpture. Originally created in 1928 by Charles Andrew Hafner, this bronze sculpture of Peter Pan spent its early years in a fountain located in the lobby of the old Paramount Theater in Times Square. In 1975 it was donated to Carl Schurz Park and has been there ever since were it not for an incident that happened in 1999. Peter Pan mysteriously disappeared only to be later recovered from the bottom of the East River by the New York Police Department. No suspects were arrested and Parks Commissioner Stern made light of this by saying ” We thought his only enemy was Captain Hook”. Peter Pan was reinstalled more securely this time around, just in case another vandal decided to test out Peter Pan’s flying abilities again.

There’s lots to see and do at Carl Schurz Park such as basketball or hockey that can be played on the courts. Children have a wonderfully maintained playground with a fun water fountain in the summer. There are also two doggy parks, one for little dogs and the other for big ones. I also enjoy taking a jog once in a while on the promenade by the river. Do take a moment to visit Carl Schurz park this autumn, but keep it hush hush. I wouldn’t want the tourists to invade.


Written by agnesbstanton

October 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Parks, Upper East Side

4 E. 75th St. “The Harkness Mansion”

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Larry Gagosian is the new owner of the Harkness Mansion, a very historic and especially wide (50Ft.) townhouse just off Fifth Avenue. It can be sometimes confused with the Harkness House which is the more grand mansion located at 1 E. 75th St. and home to the Commonwealth Fund. Gagosian bought this half gutted mansion from J. Christopher Flowers who needed to sell due to his divorce and financial issues at hand. Flowers originally paid $53 million in 2006 and put in a couple million towards his renovation project which did not get completed. Gagosian paid $36.5 million, a steal, even in today’s down market. A local resident told me that in the 80’s this mansion’s second floor was being used as a dance studio with a cafe down below. Gagosian will probably not be able to turn his mansion into a gallery space due to stricter zoning laws these days. His neighbors, undoubtedly, do not want a Chelsea scene, but I’m predicting many parties will be thrown at 4 E. 75th Street.

Written by agnesbstanton

September 21, 2011 at 8:54 am