Tortoise Strolls

Archive for the ‘Upper West Side’ Category

Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (89th Street and Riverside Drive)

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I lived on the Upper West Side for a short time only, nevertheless I feel privileged to have had that experience which opened up the doors for my appreciation of Riverside Park. It’s quit unique, hardly a tourist in sight, and there’s a very European feel to it. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument I would pass many times as I descended the ramp towards the Hudson River and made my way to the 96th Street tennis courts. I was never any good at the game but managed to find a partner here and there. What I loved best, and still remember, is playing in the evenings when the sun was setting on the Hudson a few feet away.  The water would sparkle and there would be a warm hue to it all. The perfect atmosphere for pondering the day’s events in between an ace. Of course it was always my partner who would get those aces:)

Designated a landmark in 2001, The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument commemorates the Union Army soldiers and sailors who served in the American Civil War. The Interior gets opened once a year for OpenHouseNewYork which takes place in October. The Monument is also home to the Hudson Warehouse, a not-for-profit theatre company. It’s akin to “Shakespeare in the Park” but on a smaller scale. This year’s lineup will be: “A Comedy of Errors” taking place in June. “The Rover” by Aphra Behn in July, and concluding the summer season will be “Richard III”.  Throughout the summer, don’t be surprised to see young lads and lasses practicing their lines in full Renaissance costumes. I’ve jogged past many of them thinking that they’re getting a better sweat than I.

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Written by agnesbstanton

April 25, 2012 at 10:36 pm

2109 Broadway “The Ansonia”

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It was a calm cool afternoon right before the showers were expected. The sky was dark, the air slightly humid and very still. I took the opportunity to take some photos of a magnificent building called the “Ansonia”. A little twinkle of a smile appeared on my face knowing that this building once had a chicken coop on the roof and a swinger’s club in the basement. It was originally built as a hotel for musicians and others who worked in the arts and opened in 1904 by W.E.D. Stokes. Doors to each apartment were made double width enabling grand pianos to be moved in, a luxury many of the singers and actors had demanded. With its Beaux-Arts style of architecture and a Parisian mansard roof, one would think the 7th arrondissement would be a more suitable spot for this monolithic, 50,000 square foot piece of history. Somehow  the Ansonia’s presence has always worked well with the Upper West Side having something to do with the drawl of talent who prefer the west side and its close proximity to Lincoln Center and other artistic venues.

In Steven Gaines’ book “The Sky’s the Limit”, there happens to be a detailed history of the Ansonia without any omissions of juicy details. There were so many in fact, that Gaines was probably forced to hold back a little. One such story involved Al Adams, known as the ‘Policy King” who moved into the Ansonia straight from Sing Sing, and ended up dead from a self-inflicted bullet wound in his room #1579. Jack Dempsey trained for the heavyweight championship of 1919 against Jess Willard while residing in the Ansonia. 1919 was also the year that the World Series was invalidated by the courts. The Ansonia hotel room of Arnold “Chick” Gandil was were the eight White Sox players met and agreed to throw the World Series for $10,000 a head. I guess they must have not been good actors because before the game was over, most people already knew it was fixed. Arnold “Big Bankroll” Rothstein,was never caught for bankrolling the fix, but all eight players were banned from ever playing professional baseball again. Conductor Andre Kostelanetz rented an apartment at the Ansonia, before moving to 10 Gracie Square. Many other musicians and opera stars did the same such as Geraldine Farrar, the Metropolitan Opera’s principal soprano for many years.

After W.E.D. Stokes died, the Ansonia fell into disrepair under his son Weddie Stokes’ ownership. Upkeep was minimal during the years of the Depression as well as World War II. In 1945 Weddie Stokes sold the Ansonia to a crooked landlord named Samuel Broxmeyer. As Broxmeyer went to prison, the Ansonia made it through bankruptcy court and into the hands of Jake Starr, the “Great Lamplighter of Broadway”. In 1967 Starr let opera singer Steve Ostrow rent the abandoned basement swimming pool. Steve turned it into the all-too-famous “Continental Baths“. This gay bathhouse had Puerto Rican drug dealers with their own cubicle, K-Y jelly was sold in the candy machine and a colored lights warning system tipped of patrons when the vice squad was making a visit to make sure no one was having any sex. Everyone did have sex at the Continental Baths and there were even peep holes allowing outsiders to look in, for a price. The most impressive event at the Continental Baths was the cabaret where as-yet-unknowns Bette Midler and her pianist at the time, Barry Manilow were given a chance to perform. One example is called “Fatt Stuff” and was filmed live at the Continental Baths in 1971. The Continental Baths closed in 1973 as gay men preferred more hard-core bathhouses opening up around the city. In 1977 the space was rented to Larry Levenson who opened a swinger’s club called “Plato’s Retreat”. He installed a fifty-person Jacuzzi as well as an orgy room as a finishing touch.  This documentary highlights what kinds of things went on in Plato’s Retreat. I especially liked how one man mentioned going there just for the food buffet.

Plato’s Retreat closed at the Ansonia in 1980 and moved to West 34th Street and 10th Avenue, until it was officially shut down in 1985. The Ansonia continued now under new ownership represented by Jesse Krasnow who made no secret about how he wanted to clean things up. The residents were not too thrilled as that would mean their rents would rise, so they banded together and hired a lawyer. They were now called the Ansonia Residents Association and they sued Krasnow claiming that all the repairs he made to the building were just touch ups. According to Steven Gaines, the Ansonia would become the single most litigated residence in the history of New York. At present there are still 29% rent-protected apartments where residents pay a few hundred dollars a month for rent. Some of these apartments are next to ones that have been bought for millions of dollars now that the Ansonia has gone Condo. Even if things are still a little dowdy at the Ansonia, at least there’s some charm left on the Upper West Side amidst all the new construction.

Written by agnesbstanton

November 20, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Posted in Upper West Side

Emery Roth’s Central Park West “El Dorado, Beresford, San Remo”

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I’ve recently had a chance to read a full account of Emery Roth’s life as an architect in the early 20th Century. “Mansions in the Clouds” by Steven Ruttenbaum gives an in-depth account of the famous buildings around the city that Roth designed. There are many worthwhile buildings to mention on Park and Fifth,
Sutton and Beekman, but I have chosen to focus on Central Park West, as three of his most famous creations are on that avenue; The El Dorado, The Beresford and The San Remo. Roth himself at one point lived in the Hotel Alden at 225 Central Park West, which nowadays has been converted to a co-op called the Alden. CPW deeply appealed to Roth for one reason or another, and we are fortunate to have such architecturally significant buildings in close proximity to each other.  The skyline that these buildings create is one of the reasons that eastsiders on Fifth Ave. value their views so much.

The least Roth-like building of these three would be the El Dorado located at 300 Central Park West between 90th and  91st Streets.  Roth only served as associate architect on this venture, with the main architect being Margon & Holder. Nonetheless, there are many features of the El Dorado that are clearly Roth inspired,  such as the twin towers which were modeled after the twin towers of the San Remo being built at around the same time.

The El Dorado was geared to appeal to a more middle-class and less affluent cliental. The apartment layouts were smaller and the outside styling was very Art Deco/modern, appealing to a less conservative crowd. The El Dorado was in essence “New Money” while the classical design and layouts of the San Remo as well as the Beresford were “Old Money”.  The variations are slight and the El Dorado till this day continues to be one of the finest Art Deco structures in this city with certain apartments selling for over 10 million.

Going down the avenue we come to the Beresford located at 211 CPA between 81st and 82nd Streets. At the time of its completion in 1929, it was the largest apartment house built to date. The Beresford took its name from the Hotel Beresford, which had previously occupied the site since 1889. There are three entrance awnings just as there are three majestic towers (one being the home to John McEnroe). The Beresford is unique in the fact that it has two major facades; the east-side facing Central Park West, and the south-side facing the park that is part of the American Museum of Natural History. This allows for at least half of the residents to have spectacular views. Ruttenbaum called the Beresford “an impregnable medieval fortress”. One thing is for sure, it’s a building you never overlook nor tire of admiring. If you are so lucky as to ever have a chance to pass through any of the three entrance lobbies, you’ll notice the “marble halls of your dizziest dreams”. The term opulent is an understatement, but for the pre-Depression era, such excess in luxury apartment living was the norm. There are 22 Floors in this building and about 175 apartments.

The 19th Floor alone has stars such as Jerry Seinfeld and Glenn Close, although Glenn is reportedly trying to sell her pad which once was owned by Rock Hudson. Earlier this year in January, Glenn’s apartment #19D was listed for $11.8 million only to be slashed to 10.8 million in March.  Somewhat mysteriously Glenn took it off the market for the time being. It’s only a two-bedroom, 2.5 bath for crying out loud. The outdoor terrace space is what you’re really paying for so their comes a point when you have to ask yourself, is it really worth the extra couple of million?

Located at 145-146 CPW between 74th and 75th Streets,  the San Remo, rather than looking like a medieval fortress along the lines of the Beresford, is more akin to a medieval cathedral. It was the first apartment building in New York to be built incorporating twin towers. Having served as the inspiration for Roth’s other work the El Dorado, the San Remo also inspired  two other CPW buildings not designed by Roth; The “Majestic” and the “Century”.

Famous residents who have at one time made the San Remo their home include Steven Spielberg (13th Floor), Demi Moore (South Tower duplex), Glenn Close (before she moved to the Beresford), Steve Jobs (bought his north tower duplex in 1982), Barry Manilow (who subletted his apartment to Raquel Welch), Dustin Hoffman, Steve Martin and Rita Hayworth (who lived out the remaining years of her life in the building).

Written by agnesbstanton

August 22, 2010 at 9:34 am

Posted in Co-ops, Upper West Side

Shakespeare Garden in Central Park

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One of my favorite places to sit down and enjoy a good book  is a particular spot in Central Park; The Shakespeare Garden. Not many people know about it as it’s easy to miss just as easy as it is to stumble upon it accidentally. Once you have found it, the best thing to do is keep it a secret. I’m only sharing my little secret spot to the few readers that are enjoying my blog. I’ll make a wise bet and assume most of you are not blabber mouths. I would hate for the tourists to find this pretty spot and invade it.

I like to sit on one of the three benches that face the evening sun. It tends to stay sunny up there as you are on a hill and you can enjoy the expansive views of “The San Remo”.  All the way at the top of the hill your views also include “The Beresford”. Both buildings were designed by Emery Roth.

Written by agnesbstanton

April 9, 2010 at 2:32 am