Monday, November 24, 2008

Carlton on Madison Avenue Hotel

88 Madison Avenue 212.532.4100

Built in 1904, this 11 story luxury hotel comprises 305 rooms plus 15 suites in a handsome Beaux-Arts building at the corner of 29th Street and Madison Avenue (Murray Hill). The spectacular three story lobby, designed by architect David Rockwell, features a curved limestone staircase and a unique flat waterfall sculpture that flows over a photograph of the original 1904 building. Near the Empire State building, Morgan Library, Madison Square Garden, Penn Station and two subway lines.

Member of Preferred Hotels group. Two restaurants: the acclaimed Country (with its original Tiffany stained glass domed ceiling) and a café. Champagne bar. Features: complimentary WiFi Internet access, iPod docking stations, complimentary daily newspaper, Frette linens, down feather comforters, executive work desks.

Trivia: Graucho Marx once worked here as a bellhop, when the hotel was known as The Seville.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rockefeller Center

Top of the Rock Observation Deck
Open 365 days a year 8 am to midnight.
360˚ views from 3 levels 70 stories above Rockefeller Plaza.
Adults $20, Seniors +62 $18, Children $13.
Allow a minimum of 45 minutes for a visit (many stay for 2 hrs).
Extensive Rockefeller Center multi-media exhibit at mezzanine level.
Fifth Ave. at 50th Street (restrooms at the top!).

After closing in 1986, the observation deck atop the GE Building (originally the RCA building) at Rockefeller Center reopened in late 2005. After a $75 million reworking, access is now spread among three levels. Views of Central Park are far better than from the top of the Empire State Building, because Rockefeller Center is 15 blocks farther north. The Top of the Rock is also the undisputed best vantage point for observing the majesty of the Empire State Building.

Jersey Boys

2 hours 30 min., incl. intermission
August Wilson Theatre
245 W. 52nd Street at 8th Avenue

Tony Award winning Jersey Boys is a documentary-style musical based on the lives of one of the most successful 1960s pop groups, the Four Seasons. The show uses many of the group’s hit songs to tell the turbulent story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ rise to fame. The musical’s success has spawned two current national tours, a London production, a Canadian production (Toronto), an Australian production set to open in July, 2009, and a new purpose-built Las Vegas theater at the Palladio Hotel & Casino designed expressly for this show (opened May, 2008).

The August Wilson Theatre, located on West 52nd Street at 8th Ave., opened as the 1,240 seat Guild Theatre in 1925. In 1981, the theater was purchased by Jujamcyn Amusement Corporation owner and board member Virginia McKnight Binger (renamed the Virginia Theatre in her honor). Jujamcyn derives its name from the names of the Bingers’ children: Ju[dith], Jam[es], and Cyn[thia]. Former Yale drama professor and Broadway producer Rocco Landesman (president of Jujamcyn Theaters, the third largest Broadway theatre organization), bought the Virginia Theatre in 2005. On October 16, 2005, only 14 days after Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson's death, the Virginia Theatre was renamed the August Wilson Theatre and thus became the first Broadway theater to bear the name of an African American.

Neighborhood dining:

Bar Americain
152 W. 52nd St. at 7th Ave.; 212.265.9700
Sat/Sun brunch 11:30-2:30; dinner from 5:00 pm. Especially handsome interior; seats 200.

Brasserie Maison
212.757.2233; 54th & 7th Ave. (;
Open 24 hours.
Moderate prices, extensive menu.

The Carnegie Club
Restaurant and cigar bar; Sinatra tribute crooner sings with an 11-piece orchestra Saturdays at 8:30 & 10:30 ($30 cover)
156 W 56th St (east of 7th Ave)

Red Cat Restaurant

The Red Cat
227 Tenth Ave. (between 23rd & 24th Sts.)
212-242-1122 (dinner from 5:30 pm)

The Red Cat purrs with informal bonhomie and good, unpretentious food. Its interior is clad in rescued wood from a falling-down barn, and butcher paper covers the tabletops. A casual crowd fills the restaurant to capacity early on; the bar also accommodates diners. Good-natured waiters proudly trot out owner Jimmy Bradley's flavorful dishes. Tempura green beans go great with drinks. Mushroom and chicory is paired with bacon and egg, and crispy fried oysters accompany truffle creamed baby spinach. Several vegetable appetizers get a cheese counterpoint and well-battered sweetbread schnitzel even comes with spätzle. The kitchen may not be flashy, but it isn't timid about intriguing flavor combinations. Paprika-roasted cod, for instance, sharing a plate with spicy escarole and anchovy-almond sauce, is another prime example of the slightly edgy yet still familiar dishes on offer here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Village Vanguard

The Village Vanguard
178 7th Avenue South

This windowless, wedge shaped basement room, also known for its perilously steep, red stairwell, formerly housed the Golden Triangle, a speakeasy busted during Prohibition. When it opened as the Vanguard on February 22, 1935, owner Max Gordon (1901-91) booked beat poets, cabaret artists and comedians. Judy Holliday, Betty Comden and Adolph Green were all on stage there. Since the switch to an all-jazz policy in 1957, the club has hosted a veritable who's who of jazz: Thelonious Monk, of whom Lorraine was an early champion, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Dinah Washington, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, just to name a few. The great Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra made its residence there on Monday nights beginning in 1966; the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is its present-day incarnation. There is no argument that the Village Vanguard is a veritable jazz institution famous throughout the world - a sort of holy ground of jazz culture.

Numerous live recordings have kept close account of the musical dialogue within its walls and brought the venue to the forefront of jazz consciousness. Among the most famous are: Sonny Rollins' A Night at the Village Vanguard, John Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard, Bill Evans' Sunday at the Village Vanguard, and Dexter Gordon's Homecoming Live. The room has more recently been a recording studio to Tommy Flanagan, Joe Lovano, Brad Mehldau, and Wynton Marsalis. Many musicians say that the wedge shape of the room gives the sound a special focus, and that is what makes so many jazz musicians want to record live albums here.

No credit cards, no food, no distractions (the proprietress, Lorraine Gordon [widow of Max Gordon] will shush you if your party gets too loud).

Monday, November 17, 2008

St. James Theatre

246 W. 44th, between 7th & 8th Aves.

The St. James Theatre, was built by theatrical producer Abraham L. Erlanger on the site of the original Sardi's restaurant. It opened in 1927 as The Erlanger, seating 1,510 patrons, but was renamed the St. James by the Astor family, who became its owners in 1930.

Notable Broadway productions at the St. James (with opening dates):
Oklahoma! (March 31, 1943)
The King and I (March 29, 1951)
Hello, Dolly! (January 16, 1964)
The Producers (Apr 19, 2001)
Gypsy - A Musical Fable (March 27, 2008)

Trivia: The theater has only one men’s lounge, making intermission a challenge (for guys).

Area Dining:

Café Un Deux Trois (French)
123 W. 44th St., between 6th/7th Aves. 212.354.4148
Busy, sometimes frenetic place in the heart of Broadway’s theater district. The best things are the retro décor and the $30 three-course theatre menu (price includes coffee/tea).

Carmine’s (Italian)
200 W. 44th St., between 7th/8th Aves. 212.221.3800
Tourist central, extremely popular. Big food.

Becco (Italian)
355 W 46th St./between 8th/9th Aves. 212.397.7597
$17.95 pre fix lunch menu; $22.95 pre fix dinner menu (antipasti or Caesar salad with unlimited tableside servings of 3 pasta preparations); à la carte menu, as well. All wines priced at $25 a bottle. Busy, busy, busy - so reserve.

Trailer Park Lounge

Trailer Park Lounge
271 W. 23rd St. at 8th Ave. (Chelsea)
Open daily noon to 3:00 am

You can't miss it. Look for the spare tire and the pink toilet parked outside the garage door. Then, once you enter this place through the screen door, it’s like being trapped in a John Waters film. Trailer Park Lounge is an over-the-top ode to white trash. Pabst Blue Ribbon served in a can with a side of tater tots. Chili-macs and Moon Pies. No lie.

Did I mention the wall of Tonya Harding memorabilia? Elvis on velvet? Astro turf? No? Well, it’s all there, in lurid living color. Pick your way through the rubbish that passes for decor (folding lawn chairs, a sixty year old gasoline pump) and you'll find a pink flamingo or two, even a couple of bowling alley lockers. Check it out for yourself. Signature drink: Jim Bob’s I.Q.

Metropolitan Opera House

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center
Broadway and West 65th Street

The Metropolitan Opera was founded in 1883. The first Metropolitan Opera House was built on Broadway and 39th Street by a group of wealthy businessmen who wanted their own opera house. In the company’s early years everything was sung in Italian (even Carmen and Lohengrin), soon followed by a shift to German (including Aida and Faust), before finally settling on a policy of performing works in their original language.

The Metropolitan Opera House (Broadway at 39th St.) in 1905.

Enrico Caruso first sang at the Met in 1903, and by the time of his death had performed there more times than with all the world’s other opera companies combined. Arturo Toscanini made his debut in 1908 (there were two seasons with both Toscanini and Gustav Mahler on the conducting roster). Later, Bruno Walter, George Szell, Fritz Reiner, and Dimitri Mitropoulos contributed powerful musical direction. James Levine made his debut in 1971 and has been Music Director since 1976 (holding also the title of Artistic Director 1986-2004).

Almost from the beginning, it was clear that the opera house on 39th Street did not have adequate stage facilities. However, it was not until the Metropolitan Opera joined with other New York institutions in forming Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts that a new home became possible. The new Metropolitan Opera House, which opened at Lincoln Center in September of 1966, was equipped with the finest technical facilities. Seating capacity is 3,800.

Hansel und Gretel was the first complete opera broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera on Christmas Day, 1931. Regular Saturday afternoon live radio broadcasts quickly made the Metropolitan Opera a permanent presence in communities throughout the United States and Canada. The Met continues its hugely successful radio broadcast series — now in its 77th year — the longest-running classical music series in American broadcast history, which is now heard in 42 countries around the world.

In 1995, the Metropolitan introduced Met Titles, a unique system of simultaneous translation. Met Titles appear on individual computerized screens mounted in specially built railings at the back of each row of seats, providing libretto translations into English, Spanish and German. “Met Titles” are provided for all Metropolitan Opera performances, and have recently expanded to include Spanish and German for select operas.

In the 2006-07 season, the company launched Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD, a series of performance transmissions shown live in high definition (HD) in movie theaters around the world. The series expanded from six to eight opera transmissions in 2007-08, reaching over 600 participating venues in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Each season the Metropolitan stages more than two hundred opera performances in New York. More than 800,000 people attend the performances in the opera house during the season, and millions more experience the Met through advanced new media distribution initiatives and state-of-the-art technology.

Click images to enlarge.

Hotel Roger Williams

131 Madison Ave • 212-448-7000

In the low-key Murray Hill neighborhood, this hotel offers stylish, well-proportioned rooms at a modest price. Newly renovated in 2005, the hotel’s public areas enjoy a sleek modern look that is cozy, not cold. Honey-tone maple paneled walls and plank floors, subtle modern art and chrome accents create an inviting look in the light-filled double height lobby. The small lounge beside reception takes in the prime Madison Avenue views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Dining is up on the mezzanine overlooking the lobby. The breakfast here is a delicatessen-like affair, with selections from some of the city’s best grocers and bakeries.

The guest rooms boast eye-popping primary colors. Quilts top the beds, and modernist table and floor lamps add interest. The rooms are arranged with platform beds, desks, dual-line phones with voice mail and data ports, flat-screen TVs with DVD and CD players, mini-bars and coffee makers. High-speed Internet access is standard. The small baths have translucent glass walls and stainless-steel sinks with exposed plumbing. The smallest Classic rooms are 200 sq ft, but for a nominal up-tick in rates, the larger Superior rooms are a better bet. In warm months, book one of the limited number of Garden Terrace rooms, which are more spacious units appended with furnished terraces with city views. The small but helpful staff offers attentive service. Hip thirty-somethings comprise the lion's share of the clientele. Over sixteen floors, the 196 rooms are housed in a 1928 building. Tip: check out the rest room near the lobby level elevator; you'll have an entirely new concept of orange.

Trivia: Formerly an apartment house (Roger Williams Apartments) the property takes its name from the founder of Rhode Island, who was a champion of religious liberty, an interesting association, since the Madison Avenue Baptist Church is next door. Author Henry Miller stayed here when he was living in New York in 1935, pursuing Anais Nin; he finished his novel Black Spring while in residence. Across the street, at No. 120, is the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, founded in 1884 as the Lyceum Theatre School of Acting. The school later moved to this fine 1907 Stanford White designed edifice, originally built for the Colony Club, a private organization for women from old-school high society. Academy alumni include Cecil B. DeMille, Edward G. Robinson, Spencer Tracy, Rosalind Russell, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly, Anne Bancroft, Robert Redford, Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes.

La Boîte en Bois Restaurant

La Boîte en Bois
75 West 68th Street (just east of Columbus Ave.)

Prix-fixe pre-theatre menu from 5 pm (starter – main – dessert); or à la carte

Tables are at a premium in this snug 45-seat step-down bistro, decorated to resemble a French country inn. The dark wooden ceiling beams, walls textured with horizontal strips of straw-like material, and antique prints and implements provide a calming effect on often rushed pre-theatre diners (Lincoln Center is in the immediate vicinity). Brick and barn-board, antique farm tools and copper pieces convey a rustic look (the name means “wooden box”), and simple, uncontrived dishes are the substance of the menu. Chef Gino Barbuti hails from Parma, Italy, so expect French Mediterranean cuisine incorporating black olives, anchovies and olive oil. Reservations are a must - if a table is available, this is always my first choice for a pre-theatre meal for performances at Lincoln Center. Check web site for Prix-fixe pre-theatre menu.

New York String Orchestra

The New York String Orchestra, in its 40th season, under the leadership and guidance of conductor and renowned concert artist, Jaime Laredo, is a training program for musicians, aged 15-22. Competitive auditions are held each year for the admission of about 60 students from high schools, conservatories, and colleges. They are awarded full scholarships to come to New York from around the country to spend 10 days attending seminars, playing chamber music and preparing two concerts presented at Carnegie Hall, one of which is always on Christmas Eve.

Carnegie Hall – Stern Auditorium
Corner of 57th St. and 7th Avenue

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Billy Elliot

Imperial Theatre
249 W. 45th Street (between Broadway & 8th Ave.)

The Imperial Theatre is a legitimate Broadway 1,490-seat theatre designed specifically to accommodate musical theatre productions. The Imperial Theatre opened on December 25, 1923 with the Oscar Hammerstein II-Vincent Youmans production Mary Jane McKane. Since then, it has hosted numerous important musicals, including Annie Get Your Gun (1946), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Dreamgirls (1981) and Les Miserables (1990), which played at the theatre for thirteen years, until 2003. The current production is Billy Elliot (2008). Among the famed composers and lyricists whose works were housed at the Imperial Theatre are Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Irving Berlin, Harold Rome, Frank Loesser, Lionel Bart, Bob Merrill, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne, E.Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen, and George and Ira Gershwin (Of Thee I Sing and Let 'Em Eat Cake).

PDT (Please Don’t Tell)

113 St. Mark’s Place, between 1st Ave. & Ave. A, south of 9th St.
Subway L line: exit 1st Ave & 14th St.
OR #6 Line: exit Astor Place

You get inside the way it was done in the days of the Speakeasy. Walk down a few steps from the sidewalk into a hot dog joint called Crif Dogs.

Amble past the vintage arcade machines and look for the phone booth against the wall on your left. Press the buzzer on the phone. If there’s room for you, the back of the phone booth will swing open, and you and your guests will be invited through.

Decor: Brick walls and a wood lath ceiling tricked out with a stuffed deer head, owl, and otter, and beneath the floorboards, a glass enclosed miniature landscape from a child’s train set – without a locomotive. Plus a few painted nudes.

Bartender Mag rated this one of the 20 top bars in the US! Seats only 50, and it's popular, so reserve. Hungry? Hotdogs are served via a hole in the wall from connecting Crif Dogs.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Café Sabarsky & Neue Galerie

Café Sabarsky (inside Neue Galerie)
1048 5th Ave., corner of 86th St.
Mon/Wed 9-6; Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun 9-9; closed Tue

The Café, which bears the name of Neue Galerie co-founder Serge Sabarsky, draws its inspiration from the great Viennese cafés that served as important centers of intellectual and artistic life at the turn of the twentieth century. It is outfitted with period objects, including lighting fixtures by Josef Hoffmann, furniture by Adolf Loos, and banquettes that are upholstered with a 1912 Otto Wagner fabric. A grand piano, which graces one corner of the Café, is used for cabaret, chamber, and classical music performances.

It’s the real deal, where patrons down Stiegl beer (from Salzburg) while perusing the pages of Die Presse and Der Standard. Others tackle a slice of Sachertorte with a melange on the side (all coffee orders are served authentically with a beaker of water). Heartier appetites are satisfied by goulash and spätzle.

Photo: Sachertorte mit Schlag

The building that houses the Neue Galerie museum and Café Sabarsky was completed in 1914 by Carrère & Hastings, also architects of the New York Public Library. It has been designated a landmark by the New York Landmarks Commission and is generally considered one of the most distinguished buildings ever erected on Fifth Avenue. Commissioned by industrialist William Starr Miller, it was later occupied by society doyenne Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III (Grace Graham Wilson). The family of Cornelius Vanderbilt III (universally known as Neily) was so against their marriage, that his father punished him with a paltry $500,000 inheritance, which his brother helped rectify by tossing in another $6 million after their father's death in 1899. This mansion was so much smaller than Grace and Neily's former mid-town 5th Avenue residence (77 rooms at 640 Fifth Ave., since demolished), that Grace referred to it as "the gardener's cottage." She lived in this "cottage" until her death in 1953. It was later purchased by Ronald S. Lauder (son of Estée Lauder) and Serge Sabarsky in 1994.

The glory of the museum’s collection of Austrian and German fine and decorative arts is Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) oil, silver and gold on canvas. In 2006, Lauder purchased Klimt's painting from Maria Altmann on behalf of the Neue Galerie for $135 million, at the time the most expensive painting ever sold. It has been on display at the museum since July 2006. The portrait, of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Jewish sugar industrialist and the hostess of a prominent Vienna salon, is considered one of the artist’s masterpieces. For years, it was the focus of a restitution battle between the Austrian government and a niece of Mrs. Bloch-Bauer, who argued that it was seized along with four other Klimt paintings by the Nazis during World War II. In January, 2006, all five paintings were awarded to the niece, Maria Altmann, then 90, who was living in Los Angeles at the time.

Neue Galerie – 212.628.6200
Hours: 11-6; Fridays until 9; Closed Tue/Wed
Museum admission: $15 incl. audio guide (students and seniors $10)

In the drawing room of her Fifth Ave. mansion at 52nd St., Grace (Mrs. Cornelius) Vanderbilt entertained en masse while her estranged husband sailed the world on his yacht; one year she hosted 30,000 guests. By the 1940s, however, the big house at 640 5th Ave. was sold, and Mrs. Vanderbilt moved to what she referred to as “the gardener’s cottage,” a 28-room mansion at 1048 Fifth at 86th Street (now the Neue Galerie/Café Sabarsky). With a staff of 18, she continued to entertain in large numbers until her death in 1953. Interesting and attractive men were, in her opinion, the key to a successful party. She kept a list of 138 eligible men broken up into categories like: “men who will dance,” “men who can lunch,” and “men who will go to the theatre but not the opera.”

Photo below: The Vanderbilt mansion photographed back in its heyday, when it served as the residence of William Starr Miller, years before Mrs. Vanderbilt lived here. The house was sold subsequently sold to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which completed important studies on the Yiddish language. Cash strapped, this organization sold the air rights above the mansion to the Adams Hotel next door on 86th Street, which was being redeveloped as a residential property, assuring some of the future owners an unobstructed view of Central Park. Ron Lauder and Serge Sabarsky bought the building in 1994.

Below: An archive photo of the room facing Fifth Avenue that now serves as the Café Sabarsky. Note the card catalog on the rear wall to the right of the fireplace and the library tables, a clear indication of the research that went on here during its days as home to the YIVO Institute.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Morgan Library

36th Street just east of Madison Avenue

The Morgan Library began as the private library of financier John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), one of the preeminent collectors and cultural benefactors in the United States. As early as 1890 Morgan had begun to assemble a collection of illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books (including a large collection of incunabula, i.e. items printed before the year 1501), and old master drawings and prints. They became so numerous that it was soon evident he needed a place to house and catalogue them together as a collection.

During the last twenty years of his life, J. P. Morgan (financier, railroad, coal, steel and shipping magnate) had been on the most epic art-buying spree in history, spending close to a billion in today’s dollars. Although Morgan collected paintings and other fine art, there was a stiff 20% import tax imposed on paintings and antiquities by the U.S. government; books and manuscripts were exempt from this tax. Much of his fine art and paintings remained housed in his London townhouse and at Dover House, his English country estate, for the purpose of avoiding this tax, which was not rescinded by congress until 1909. Thus Morgan concentrated on rare books and manuscripts for his New York City residence, and his ultimate private collection remains unrivaled today.

Of the forty-eight extant Gutenberg Bibles, the Morgan Library owns three, more than any other institution. Spread among four buildings are the finest collection in America of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, Old Master drawings, Coptic manuscripts, Near Eastern cylinder seals, and an important collection of musical manuscripts. It possesses the ninth-century Lindau Gospels (circa 880, made for Charlemagne’s grandson); the 1459 Mainz Psalter; the Hours of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1546) illuminated by Giulio Clovio; drawings by Michelangelo, Rubens, and Albrecht Dürer; the autographed manuscript of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony; literary manuscripts by Dickens, Balzac, Bob Dylan, and Mark Twain (Pudd’nhead Wilson, which Morgan purchased directly from its author), as well as the only complete manuscript of a Jane Austen novel. The only known manuscript of Milton's Paradise Lost is housed here, and the original manuscript of Charles Dickens's novella A Christmas Carol is displayed every Christmas season.

J.P. Morgan (1837-1913) was born into "old Yankee gentry" in Hartford, Connecticut. In addition to attending schools in the U.S., Morgan was educated in France and Germany; he spoke fluent French and German, and several other European languages, as well. He did the “Grand Tour” several times as a young man, and consistently spent six months of each year in Europe, where he moved in aristocratic circles. It was nothing for him to travel from Paris to New York, then hop on his own train to Washington to meet with the president of the United States.

Morgan served as president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1904 until his death in 1913, at which time 7,000 rare and valuable items were bequeathed to the Metropolitan. 4,100 of them were displayed by the Met from 1914-1916 in the first ever “block-buster” exhibit by a U.S. museum. It is a little-known fact that many of the finest holdings displayed in the city's Frick Collection were purchased from the Morgan estate. Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “Progress of Love”paintings were purchased by Frick in 1915 for $1.25 million; today these paintings rank among the most prized possessions of the Frick Collection.

Mr. Morgan's library, as it was known in his lifetime, was built between 1902 and 1906, adjacent to his New York residence at Madison Avenue and 36th Street in today's Murray Hill neighborhood (this house was the first electrically lit private residence in New York; Morgan was, after all, the founder of General Electric). Three brownstone mansions, all constructed in the 1850s, occupied the entire east side of the block along Madison Avenue from 36th to 37th streets. All of them were to become the property of Pierpont Morgan. He bought and occupied the one at the corner of 36th Street. Because Morgan was born into a family of fabulous wealth and prestige, he did not find it necessary to participate in the ego-assuaging practice of commissioning over-the-top private mansions, as was the habit of the so-called “robber barons,” the self-made industrialists of the age. Morgan was content to occupy a recycled house.

To the immediate north of Morgan’s home stood a brownstone built for industrialist William Earl Dodge, which Morgan purchased and demolished to make room for a garden designed by Beatrix Farrand, one of America’s leading landscape gardeners (and niece of Edith Wharton). Among the extant masterpieces of Ms. Farrand are the gardens of the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, DC.

The brownstone on the corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street was built for Isaac N. Phelps, whose grandson became one of the city’s prominent architects. In 1903 Pierpont Morgan purchased the Phelps mansion for his son Jack, who lived there until his death in 1943 (Jack founded the Murray Hill Association in 1914). Although it subsequently served as the headquarters of the Lutheran Church in America, this brownstone mansion came "back into the fold" of the Morgan complex in 1988. The house was used in filming the 1981 movie "Ragtime." Today the Thaw Conservation Center is situated on the top floor of the old Jack Morgan house. It’s an atelier where five to ten professionals and students perform the conservation work for all the Morgan Library’s works on paper. The ground floor of this building houses the museum shop, in the mansion's former ballroom, and a restaurant, located in the former dining room, both with their splendid architectural details intact.

Designed by Charles McKim of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, Mr. Morgan's library was intended as something more than a repository of rare materials. Majestic in appearance yet intimate in scale, the structure was to reflect the nature and stature of its holdings. The result was an Italian Renaissance style palazzo with three magnificent rooms epitomizing America's Age of Elegance. Based on a 16th century Italian structure, its facade of Tennessee marble centers on an entrance in the form of a Palladian arch. The “dry masonry” of the McKim building, in which stone blocks were laid without mortar, in the manner of the ancient Greeks, bears example of its extraordinary refinement. To either side are lions carved by Edward Clark Potter and roundels and panels by Andrew O'Connor and Adolph Weinman. The refined simplicity of the exterior belies the richness of the interior. The entire structure is a virtual temple to books and art.

The Rotunda, an elaborate, colorful marble entrance hall, is crowned by a domed ceiling adorned with murals and plaster work by H. Siddons Mowbray. Mosaic panels and columns of lapis lazuli rise up from the marble floor, with its central porphyry disc, which owes its design to that of the Villa Pia in the Vatican gardens.

The East Library, pictured below (click photo to see details), is called one of the great achievements of American interior decoration. It is dominated by triple tiers of bookcases and ornamented with lunettes by Mowbry. This room houses 15,000 volumes, mostly in French, Italian and German. Above the fireplace is a sixteenth-century Brussels tapestry. Ceiling paintings feature portraits of great men of the past alternating with female muses and signs of the zodiac. A Gutenberg Bible c. 1455 (one of three in the collection), is always displayed on a table top in this room.

Completed three years before McKim's death, this library building is considered by many to be his masterpiece. In 1924, eleven years after Pierpont Morgan's death, his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr., realized that the library had become too important to remain in private hands. In what constituted one of the most momentous cultural gifts in U.S. history, he fulfilled his father's dream of making the library available to all by transforming it into a public institution. Over the years – through purchases and generous gifts – The Morgan Library & Museum has continued to acquire rare materials as well as important music manuscripts, early children's books, Americana, and materials from the twentieth century.

Without losing its domestic feeling, the Morgan expanded its physical space. In 1928, the Annex building (lower right corner in the photo above), designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris, was erected on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street, where Pierpont Morgan's private residence was demolished to make room for it. The Annex connected to the original McKim library by means of a gallery. The 1991 garden court was constructed as a means to unite the various elements of the Morgan campus. The brownstone mansion in the lower left of the photo is the Jack Morgan residence at the corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street.

Up close and personal with a Gutenberg Bible.

The largest expansion in the Morgan's Library's history, adding 75,000 square feet to the campus, was completed in 2006 after approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Designed by celebrated architect Renzo Piano, the project increased exhibition space by more than fifty percent and added numerous visitor amenities, including a new 250-seat performance hall/screening room, a main entrance on Madison Avenue, a new café and a new restaurant, a shop, a new reading room, and collections storage. Piano's design integrates the Morgan's three historical buildings with three new steel-and-glass pavilions. While there was no relation between the original J.P. Morgan brownstone mansion and the materials or design of his Italianate library next door, the 1928 library annex building blended in with and complimented the original library. Although the new Renzo Piano addition provides a soaring light-filled central court that connects the older buildings and serves as a gathering place for visitors, the Madison Avenue facade of Piano's structure is jarringly inappropriate and reminiscent of bad 1960s architecture; it has been dubbed the "tissue box" by its many critics. The interior is more successful, as it amounts to little more than a glass pavilion that connects the other structures; much of the additional space was gained from underground excavation.

The Pierpont Morgan Library and Annex was designated as a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966. The interior was designated separately in 1982. National Register #66000544 (1966).

The Study, pictured above, is the most sumptuous, yet personal, of the rooms and the one that best reflects the personal tastes of its original occupant. It was here that Morgan met with art dealers, scholars, business colleagues, and friends. He loved to play solitaire and smoke Cuban cigars in this room (he smoked dozens a day), when time could be spared from saving the nation's banks. Pierpont Morgan helped end the “Panic of 1907" by rallying fellow bankers to supply liquidity to shore up the endangered national banking system. The crisis was resolved in this room after he locked the doors and refused to let the bankers leave until they agreed to a rescue plan.

With few exceptions, all the paintings, sculpture, and decorative objects in the Study where here in Pierpont Morgan's day. There is a painting of his son Jack, wearing the robes of Oxford University, from which he received an honorary degree after his father made a major purchase for the University. The paintings are primarily by Italian and Northern Renaissance masters; the art objects range in date from the third millennium B.C. to the nineteenth century, and give some indication of the original scope and diversity of Morgan's vast holdings.

Now open to the public for the first time, the Librarian's Office (above) is located at the north end of the Rotunda. This is the smallest of the McKim rooms and was the office of Belle da Costa Greene, Morgan's personal librarian, a leading figure in the international art world and the first director of the Morgan. This room continued to be used as a librarian's office well into the late 1980s. The librarian bore the mostly made-up name of Belle da Costa Greene.

Belle Greener, born in Alexandria, VA, where she grew up, was an African-American woman whose skin was light enough to allow her to pass herself off as Portuguese. An exotic beauty, a fashionable dresser, and a fiercely intelligent and strong-willed woman, Belle was a librarian at Princeton University and had an interest in illuminated manuscripts when Morgan hired her to manage his library and help build his collection. Belle’s father, Richard Greener, was Harvard’s first black graduate and a distinguished attorney and dean of Howard Law School in Washington, DC. Belle was introduced to Pierpont Morgan by his nephew Junius Morgan, himself an assistant librarian of Princeton.

It was only after her father took a consular position abroad and Belle’s parents dissolved their marriage that Belle and her mother, who lived together in New York City, changed their surname from Greener to Greene and began to pass themselves off as whites of Portuguese descent. It is said that Belle “moved her birth date around like a potted plant.” As agent, confidante, and adviser to Morgan, Belle became possibly the most powerful woman in New York City’s cultural establishment. With her outstanding knowledge, judgment and Morgan’s money, she was able to shape the markets in art and books. See photo below (circa 1911).

She traveled frequently to Europe, taking her thoroughbred horse with her to ride in London's Hyde Park. Described as smart, outspoken, and beautiful, she wore couturier gowns, feathered hats, and jewels to work. "Just because I'm a librarian, doesn't mean I have to dress like one," she said. Mr. Morgan left Belle a substantial amount in his will. She never married, retired in 1948, and died in New York City at the age of 66.

In his 20s at the time of the US Civil War, Morgan avoided military service by paying $300 for a substitute, a common practice among the wealthy at the time.

J. P. Morgan was a pioneer in industrial consolidation (he formed U.S. Steel and General Electric by purchasing and then consolidating competitors). A year before his death, Morgan, owner of the White Star Line, which built the Titanic, escaped a watery death by a quirk of fate. Morgan canceled passage on the Titanic mainly because when word got out that the financier would be on the maiden voyage of his great new liner, White Star was besieged by requests from an array of con men and Wall Street speculators, all wanting to book staterooms on the Titanic in the hope of cornering him at sea, where he had no escape, to badger him into funding their sure-to-make-millions schemes. He canceled his own booking, announcing he had no plans to return to the States until summer. At the same time he gave orders that his storied art collection, which was being shipped to New York that year, not be placed aboard. Morgan died in 1913 in Rome, Italy, at the age of 75.

Morgan's uncle, James Lord Pierpont, was a notable composer and church music director in his day. Pierpont was famous for composing the original "Jingle Bells" in the 1850s; it was originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh.”

Morgan was a major collector of gemstones. In 1911 G. F. Kunz, chief gemologist for Tiffany & Co., named a newly found gem "morganite," after his biggest customer. Morganite was first discovered on an island off the coast of Madagascar in 1910.

J. P. Morgan Library/Museum/Concert Hall
225 Madison Ave at 36th St., 212.685.0008

Musical manuscripts, 3 Gutenberg Bibles, 2 restaurants;
10:30a-5:00p Tue-Thu., -6:00p Sat/Sun; -9:00Fri; closed Mondays.

$12 Adults; $8 Seniors 65 and over; $8 Students (with current ID)
Admission is free on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Admission to the McKim rooms is free Tuesdays 3-5 p.m.; Fridays 7-9 p.m.; Sundays 4-6 p.m.

Admission is not required to visit the Morgan Shop and Morgan Dining Room.

Note: Much of the content of this earlier post was expanded and updated from information found in the January-February 2010 issue of HUMANITIES, a publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Volume 31, Number 1. The author of the feature article is Francis Morrone, a writer and historian who has written extensively on nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture.