Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lincoln Restaurant and Lawn

How many restaurants do you know of where you can walk on the roof? Lincoln, the ultra expensive new stand alone restaurant at Lincoln Center (average check for a glass of wine and two courses is $120 per person), offers a steeply angled 10,000-square-foot rooftop swath of green for picnics and sunning. I’m not making this up.

The 147-by-70-foot lawn offers much needed green space to the Lincoln Center campus, which has undergone a recent transformation with a price tag of more than a billion dollars. That’s billion with a “B.” They hired the firm behind the Bellagio fountains in Vegas to rework the Lincoln Center plaza fountain, and new wide steps leading up from Broadway have risers that have LCD lights spelling out promotions.

The Henry Moore sculptures, reflecting pool and grass-roofed restaurant, looking toward the Juilliard School. A corner of Avery Fisher Hall is on the right.

The southwest edge of the restaurant roof is at plaza level, but ascends up nine grassy steps to 23 feet in height. The tall grass surface (90 percent fescue, 10 percent Kentucky bluegrass) is energy-saving, temperature-regulating, and storm-water-absorbing. The restaurant structure straddles the steps that connect Avery Fisher Hall and the Vivian Beaumont Theater, descending from the plaza level down to West 65th Street, facing a reworked Juilliard building and Alice Tully Hall.

The scene from an upper floor of the Juilliard Building looking across W. 65th St. toward the Met. Avery Fisher Hall is to the left, the Vivian Beaumont Theater to the right.

The grass roof lies just a few feet above the restaurant's wood slat ceiling (shown below right)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Grand Central Terminal Laser Light Show

See a spectacular kaleidoscope light show displayed against the famous Zodiac ceiling, walls and pillars of Grand Central Terminal, the world's largest train station. The light show is a holiday tradition established in 1999 and is enough to stop even the most frazzled and jaded commuters in their tracks.

To the strains of Duke Ellington’s “Take The A-Train,” lasers on the ceiling show two commuter trains arriving from opposite directions. The trains pull to a stop, and a reindeer leaps out of each one and crosses over to the other train. Then a laser beam traces the outline of one of the zodiac constellations painted on the ceiling. The crab (Cancer) leaps to life and becomes a train conductor, sidling down the center aisle of the car, punching the reindeer's ticket stubs with its claws.

Delighted tourists hold on to each other as they lean over backward to gaze at the overhead display. Another show starts. The familiar music of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite fills the enormous room. As “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” begins, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building sprout arms, bow to each other, and begin waltzing across the ceiling. The show ends with giant sprigs of mistletoe appearing over the heads of the commuters and tourists. Cell phones come out of purses and pockets as tiny flashes capture affectionate real-life kisses and lingering hugs by those who just watched the show. Ah – Christmas in New York City!

Main Concourse, from December 1, 2010 through January 1, 2011, every half hour between 11:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. daily. FREE!

Grand Central Terminal: 87 East 42nd Street

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Building – 405 Lexington Avenue at 42nd Street – was built in 1928-1930 by Walter P. Chrysler. Its design was a 77-story tall triumph of Art Deco, and it was one of the first skyscrapers to make a major use of metal in its construction and adornment. Many consider it the most important Art Deco building in the world.

Until his departure in 1920, Walter P. Chrysler had been vice-president of General Motors in charge of operations and president of their Buick division. Five years later he had bought out the Maxwell Automobile Corporation and reorganized it into the Chrysler Corporation. In 1927 he bought the much larger rival Dodge Brothers Company and renamed it the Dodge Division of Chrysler.

Heady from that success, Walter P.Chrysler teamed up with architect William Van Alen for the design and construction of an office skyscraper. Van Alen was essentially given a blank check to come up with a design to fit the car magnate's ambition.

Architects Van Alen and H. Craig Severance, the architect of the Bank of Manhattan's building at 40 Wall Street, had been former partners but were now ardent rivals – both wanted to build the tallest building in the world. Severance had just finished the structural work on his Bank of Manhattan building by a winning margin of less than one meter, so Van Alen revealed his trump card on October 23, 1929, just one day before the stock market made its first plunge. To hide the last design revision to incorporate a needle-like top, the pieces for the 27-ton vertex were hoisted to the 65th floor, assembled inside the spire and, with the help of a derrick, raised that day in just one and a half hours to add another 37.5 meters to the building's height – a total of 1,048 feet – exceeding the Eiffel Tower (then the tallest structure in the world). It was the first building ever to exceed 1,000 feet in height. However, four months later the rapidly ascending Empire State Building caught up and overtook the Chrysler Building’s height. Nevertheless, it remains the world’s tallest brick building.

Elevator door detail:

Completed at a cost of $20 million, the Chrysler Building was officially opened on May 27, 1930, and Van Alen was already in trouble. He was accused of taking bribes from contractors and Chrysler refused to pay his full percentage-based fee. Van Alen hadn't made it any easier for himself by not making a written contract with Chrysler for the design commission. Although Van Alen would later reach immortality with this building, he had lost his good reputation as an architect and never worked on a notable commission again. Moreover, the building was scorned by critics, who saw it merely as an oversized advertisement for Chrysler with little architectural merit.

The building is clad in white brick and dark gray brickwork is used as horizontal decoration to enhance the window rows. The eccentric crescent-shaped steps of the spire are made of chrome-nickel steel as a stylized sunburst motif, and underneath it immense steel chimeras depicting American eagles, which stare over the city. The building has a lot of ornamentation that is based on features that were being used on Chrysler cars of the day. The corners of the sixty first floor are graced with eagles, replicas of the 1929 Chrysler hood ornaments. At the thirty first story, the corner ornamentations are replicas of 1929 Chrysler radiator caps (see photo below).

Although Walter Chrysler had his personal office here for a number of years, contrary to popular belief, this building was not built or financed by the Chrysler Corporation. Instead, it was a personal project of Walter Chrysler to be given as a business venture for his sons, Walter Jr. and Jack, who were not interested in the automobile business.

The three story high, upwards tapering entrance lobby has a triangular form, with entrances from three sides, Lexington Avenue, 42nd and 43rd Streets. The lobby is lavishly decorated with red Moroccan marble walls, sienna-colored travertine floor and onyx, blue marble and steel in Art Deco compositions. The ceiling mural, the largest in the world at its completion, was painted by Edward Trumbull and praises the modern-day technical progress – and of course the building itself and its builders at work. The lobby was refurbished in 1978 by JCS Design Assocs. and Joseph Pell Lombardi.

Unsurprisingly, a street level showroom for the Chrysler line of automobiles was incorporated in 1936 by Reinhard & Hofmeister. All of the building's 32 elevators are lined in a different pattern of wooden paneling; eight varieties of wood from all over the world were used in the elevator decor. The doors are of a fantastic design that perhaps better than anything indicates the great influence of ancient Egyptian designs on the birth of Art Deco – the burst of Deco's themes and the uncovering of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 being a good coincidence.

Inside the metal pyramid, on the building's top floors, a duplex luxury apartment with triangular windows was built for Walter Chrysler's use, completed with a walk-in fireplace. During the Prohibition, the fashionable Art Deco-style Cloud Club at the top of the building, on floors 65 and 66, was an exclusive male club with a jazzy atmosphere for the social elite. A large mural on the club wall depicted the city as seen from the clouds. On the 71st floor, an observatory deck – living its heyday from August 1930 until the opening of Empire State's observatory eight months later – sported a ceiling mural depicting the night sky. The club and the observatory deck have been closed for decades, and all the interior decor of those spaces was removed at the request of the current tenants.

A recent owner of the building, Jerry Speyer (who co-owns Rockefeller Center) bought the building, together with the neighboring Chrysler Building East, for an estimated $220 million in 1997, with an additional $100 million worth of repairs waiting to be carried out. The most recent transaction was in July, 2008, when the government of Abu Dhabi bought a 75 percent stake in the landmark building for $800 million.

The Chrysler Building was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1978. In 2007, The Chrysler Building was ranked #9 on the American Institute of Architechts “150 America's Favorite Architecture” list. National Historic Register #76001237.

Trivia: Chrysler ran Buick successfully for the full term of his contract, but resigned his position in 1919 when the term had been fulfilled (upon his departure, Chrysler was paid $10 million for his GM stock). Walter Chrysler had started at Buick in 1911 for $6,000 a year, and left one of the richest men in America.

Chrysler was then hired to attempt a turnaround by bankers who foresaw the loss of their investment in Willys-Overland Motor Company in Toledo, Ohio. He demanded, and got, a salary of US$1 million a year for 2 years, an astonishing amount at that time. When Chrysler left Willys in 1921 after an unsuccessful attempt to wrest control from John Willys, he acquired a controlling interest in the ailing Maxwell Motor Company. Chrysler phased out Maxwell and absorbed it into his new firm, the Chrysler Corporation, in 1925. In addition to his namesake car company, Plymouth and DeSoto marques were created, and in 1928 Chrysler purchased Dodge. He personally financed the construction of the Chrysler Building in New York City. In 1929, Walter Chrysler was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Roosevelt Hotel

Madison Avenue at 45th Street

A Grand Dame of Madison Avenue since 1924, the building spans a full city block on Madison Avenue across from Grand Central Terminal. Named after President Theodore Roosevelt, this midtown hotel was built as part of the thriving Grand Central Terminal City project of the 1920s and is the only one of the group still operating in its original form. The Roosevelt Hotel was linked with Grand Central Station by way of an underground passage that once connected the hotel directly to the train terminal.

In 1996 the hotel underwent a $65-million top to bottom renovation of its public spaces and all 1,015 of its rooms. The hotel recently added a rooftop lounge that operates under the name “mad46.”

Guy Lombardo performed “Auld Lang Syne” for the first time in the hotel’s Roosevelt Grill, and Lawrence Welk began his career here.

The Roosevelt Hotel has been seen in several major motion pictures, including “Maid in Manhattan” starring Jennifer Lopez, “Wall Street,” “Quiz Show,” and “The French Connection.” The hotel is currently owned by Pakistani Airlines.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park is a nearly 10-acre public park that is a landmark in the Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village. An open space with a tradition of nonconformity, the park’s marble Arch and fountain areas have long been popular spots for both residents and tourists. Most of the buildings surrounding the park now belong to New York University, which rents the park for graduation ceremonies and uses the Arch as a symbol. Although NYU considers the park to be the quad of the school's campus, Washington Square remains a public park (click plan image to enlarge).

Located at the foot of Fifth Avenue, the park limits are defined by Waverly Place, West 4th Street, McDougal Street and University Place. In the early 1600s the native Americans who lived here were attacked by the Dutch, who drove them out. By the mid 1600s the Dutch farmers gave this land to slaves, thus freeing them, as a reward for protecting the area from Indian attacks. In 1797 the land, then not part of the city proper, was purchased by the New York Council for use as a public burial ground; during the yellow fever epidemics of the early 1800s, most of the victims were buried here, safely away from town, as a hygienic measure. To this day, the remains of more than 20,000 bodies rest under Washington Square. The cemetery was closed in 1825.

In 1826 the city leveled the area and laid out a public square to be used as a parade ground for use by volunteer militia companies. The streets surrounding the square became one of the city's most desirable residential areas by the 1830s, and the protected row of Greek Revival style row houses on the north side of the park remain from that era. By 1850 the parade ground had been reworked into a public park, and a fountain was added in 1852.

Inspired by Roman triumphal arches, the Washington Square arch, at the southern terminus of Fifth Avenue, celebrates the centennial of George Washington's inauguration. It replaced an 1889 arch, a temporary structure made of wood and stucco. Having met with overwhelming popular approval, McKim Mead & White's original design was rebuilt in marble in 1891, in the fashion of the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Decorated with sculptures of Washington in both his civilian and military guises, this arch became the symbol of a new America devoted to the arts. In the first decades of the 20th century, the West Village became an increasingly bohemian neighborhood, and this arch became a site of artistic and social rebellion.

Many NYC residents are not aware that Fifth Avenue motor traffic passed under the arch until 1958. During the 2007-2009 renovation of the park, the fountain was realigned to be on an axis with Fifth Avenue and the Arch. Because public input was not sought or considered, this recent renovation created much acrimony between the city and area residents.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gemma: cum grano salis

Gemma Restaurant
212-505-9100; breakfast, lunch and dinner
335 Bowery at E. 3rd Street (the Bowery Hotel)

The best thing about this over-the-top trattoria is the decor. The worst thing is that you can’t make a reservation unless you’re a hotel guest. It’s noisy, packed with trendies and serves great pizza and roast chicken (be sure to order the zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta). And not too expensive. Check out the adjacent hotel lobby, described by a fellow blogger as "the phantom of the opera retires to a Tuscan villa." With a grain of salt, indeed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Breslin Bar & Restaurant

The Breslin, inside the Ace Hotel, is a veritable pork festival.

Corner of Broadway & 29th Street
212-685-9600; reservations not accepted
100-seat restaurant serves breakfast (from 7:00a), lunch and dinner (until midnight); closed 4:00-5:30 pm daily
Bar (seats 40 or so) open until 4 a.m. daily

This is the place to go if you weigh about a hundred pounds and just can’t seem to gain weight. Cure guaranteed. From the same folks who brought us the famed and trend-setting Spotted Pig, the Breslin, named after the hotel that occupied this location for many years, is an extravagant gastro-pub that opened last December. The menu is a paean to pork (vegetarians will run screaming), but the hottest item seems to be the lamb burger with feta cheese and red onions, served on a cutting board with a side of thrice-fried french fries (chips, as listed on the very Brit menu) and cumin mayo.

Housed in a 12-story corner building (c. 1904), the restaurant echoes a British pub, with tavern green walls, dark tufted leather banquettes and unfinished wood floors. Coveted booths sport plaid curtains and red cubbies to charge phones and computers. Those who need a touch more privacy can close the curtains and press a button to request a server (a light goes on outside your booth to signal the wait staff). How cool is that?

From the bar, try a “pickle back” – a shot of whiskey with a pickle juice chaser. I swear I’m not making this up. If the weather is truly frightful, try the egg nog with rum on the bottom, calories be damned. A popular main dish? Pig’s foot for two. Bar snacks? Semi-shelled boiled peanuts fried in pork fat. I swear to God.

Tip: Come VERY early if you don’t want to wait hours and hours for a table. This place is beyond hip and so full of buzz you’ll need insect repellent.

Direct from Portland, and also off the lobby of the Ace Hotel, is the east coast’s only Stumptown Coffee. Check out the hats on the servers and admire the street-facing floor to ceiling windows trimmed in black lattice. Is this place handsome, or what? Doesn’t hurt that they roast their own beans in Brooklyn. As if you needed added enticement to come to the corner of Broadway and 29th Street, the popular lobby of the Ace Hotel, stuffed with leather Chesterfields and tartan plaid wing chairs, is a destination in and of itself. At last midtown is waking up from its decades-old doldrums.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

De Lamar Mansion

233 Madison Ave at 37th St. (northeast corner)

Joseph De Lamar’s Beaux-Arts mansion at Madison Avenue and 37th Street is now the property of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland. One of the most opulent gilded age mansions surviving in New York City, the stone residence was designed in 1902 by Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert (1860-1952), a society architect whose stock in trade was extravagant private mansions; his list of clients included the Woolworths. The De Lamar house, distinguished by a particularly colossal French mansard roof, was awarded New York City landmark status in 1975.

De Lamar, born in Amsterdam in 1843, left home as a youthful stowaway, but went on to become a Dutch ship captain. He later settled in Martha’s Vineyard, where he operated a marine salvage business. By the 1870s he fell victim to Gold Rush fever and become a speculator in metals in Colorado, where he soon made a $20 million fortune, mostly in copper. He served one term in the Senate of the Territory of Idaho, and a southern Idaho ghost town, De Lamar, is named after him. By the 1890s he was one of the wealthiest men in the United States.

He relocated to New York City, and after a divorce from his wife, a direct descendant of John Quincy Adams, De Lamar moved to Europe to educate his young daughter and collect art in Paris. Upon returning to New York he lived with his daughter and eleven servants in his new French mansion from 1906 until his death from pneumonia at seventy five years of age, in 1918. Although aloof and taciturn in his professional demeanor, he was an avid yachtsman and the life of the party among the New York City social elite. He commissioned a private manor house, “Pembroke” located in Glen Cove, Long Island, also designed by C. P. H. Gilbert (demolished in 1968). See note at end of post.

By the time his fabulous Murray Hill residence was built, the neighborhood was past its prime, but he chose this location to taunt J. P. Morgan, who lived just one block south. De Lamar had approached Morgan on numerous occasions, seeking a business collaboration, but he had been rebuffed every time. To say that De Lamar’s house put Morgan’s to shame is extreme understatement. Madison Avenue, which did not open until 1836, was named both for the square where it starts and for former President James Madison, who died that year. This avenue was not included in the original 1811 plan of New York, which assumed that few people would want to live in the middle of Manhattan Island, far north of the commerce of the shoreline at Manhattan's southern tip.

The vastness of scale, its numerous parlors and elaborately designed and decorated rooms met all expectations for humiliating J. P. Morgan. The first floor housed an expansive dining room, library and a billiard room. The main oval staircase incorporated a fountain surrounded by exotic plants and marble figurines. The second floor boasted a ballroom, a concert hall, and an art gallery painted in Pompeiian red with Tiffany stained glass illuminated by electricity, which made this magnificent structure quite modern for its time (J. P. Morgan, founder of General Electric, had the first electrified private house in the city; electricity for Morgan was supplied by a power plant built in his garden by Thomas Edison). Above the fifth floor, behind a classical mansard roof, was a terrace which exists to the present day. Artist and decorator Louis Schaettle completed the interior design, including finely executed murals. It is amazing that so much opulence could be contained on a plot of land measuring only 50 by 100 feet, purchased for the then staggering sum of $250,000. De Lamar spent three times that amount to build his house.

An unusual feature was a large metal plate flush with the sidewalk along 37th Street. It is the roof of an elevator designed to lower a horse and carriage to the basement (later used for automobiles). These days it is used to receive freight and facilitate trash removal.

De Lamar’s obituary described him as a Wall Street “man of mystery” and mentioned that he was an accomplished organist. He left an estate worth at least $32 million. After a brief stint as offices of the American Bible Society, in 1923 the house became headquarters for the National Democratic Club for fifty years. The Polish government acquired the mansion in 1973 and has restored it from top to bottom.

The public may visit the extravagant second floor rooms for lectures and concerts sponsored by the Polish government. A concert series to inaugurate the Chopin Year Celebration begins with a piano and cello recital February 23, 2010. Click the following link for particulars and subsequent events.

Note: Mr. De Lamar had one of the country’s finest residence pipe organs installed on the staircase landing at Pembroke, his Long Island waterfront estate in Glen Cove; he was himself an accomplished organist, a fact mentioned in his obituary published by the Boston Globe. In 1920 this 50-room mansion, also designed by Gilbert, was sold by De Lamar’s daughter to Marcus Loew, a founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer. It was here that Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned with Richard Burton. De Lamar’s 47-acre Long Island estate had a palm court with a cave and waterfall, and all its "significant" windows were of stained-glass designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The basement contained a movie theater, squash court and shooting range. The house was demolished in 1968 by an owner who thought it too unwieldy; he built a new, much smaller house on the property.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Murray Hill Carriage House

Click photo to enlarge.

149 East 38th Street (between Lexington and Third Ave.)

This two-story stable building was constructed in 1902 for William R. H. Martin, a businessman and real estate developer active in the Murray Hill section of the city. Architect Ralph S. Townsend designed this small building in a distinctive Dutch Revival style, with an elaborate stepped gable and oversized white granite quoins and voussoirs, which set off the Flemish brickwork. Oval inset panels of horse heads allude to the building's original function, while a bulldog near the top of the gable adds a whimsical element.

The stable was purchased in 1907 by George S. Bowdoin, who lived nearby at Park Avenue and East 36th Street. Bowdoin was a partner in the banking firm of J. P. Morgan and Co. and lived close to Morgan's residence, which was at the corner of 36th Street and Madison Avenue. In an arrangement typical of private carriage houses, Bowdoin's stable housed his horses and carriage on the ground floor, and had living quarters for the coachman on the upper floor. Bowdoin's daughter Edith inherited the building from her father, had it converted to a garage in 1918, and held ownership until 1944. As a rare surviving stable structure in Manhattan, this building serves as a reminder of the period of New York’s history when horses were an important part of daily life and their care and housing had to be taken into consideration; when this carriage house was built, there were approximately 4,500 stables in the city, accommodating more than 70,000 horses.

At the time the carriage house received historic landmark status in 1997, it served as a single family residence. Now owned by the Gabarron Foundation Center for the Arts since 2002, this unique space serves as a meeting place for organizations, corporations, government and individuals. The sun-lit contemporary interior is in striking contrast to the period facade. Recent bookings at the carriage house include product launches, culinary events, cocktail receptions, fashion shows, film shootings, private dinners, weddings, lectures and seminars. When not leased for special events, the Gabarron Foundation promotes Spanish and Latin American culture by producing public concerts, art exhibits, lectures, tastings and film screenings.

Trivia: A few doors down, at 133 E. 38th St., detective novelist Dashiell Hammett lived at this address in 1931, when he was writing The Thin Man. Across the street, near the corner of Third Ave., Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, lived at No. 166 from 1901-12.

Note: While many carriage houses faced the street, the vast majority were located in mews, off an alley (street front property being too valuable for a carriage house). Of course, most of the present day survivors have been converted into coveted private homes, a pleasant alternative to high rise living. A notable example is Sniffen Court (photo below), off 36th Street in Murray Hill, also between Lexington and 3rd Ave., where the former Civil-War era stables, designed by architect John Sniffen, were converted to ten residences during the 1920s. These homes are in high demand. Until she died while working in her Sniffen court studio, Malvina Hoffman (1887-1966), a New York City born student of Rodin who became an important American sculptress, kept a salon here, at the far end of the alley, where a hand pump once supplied water for the thirsty horses; Hoffman’s decorative plaques of Greek horsemen can still be seen flanking either side of the former studio's entry (bottom photo). Another American female sculptor, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880-1980), also a student of Rodin, lived at Sniffen Court until 1937. The homes are privately owned, except for two that have entrances directly on 36th Street: The Amateur Comedy Club (now a private membership club not open to the public) and the exclusive showroom of habersasher Henry Jacobson (to the left of the gate). The Sniffen Court Dramatic Society, an amateur theater group, used to perform plays in a theater located within the court.

Trivia: the cover for the Doors 1967 "Strange Days" album was shot here. But you knew that.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Colony Club

In 1903 Mrs. J. Borden Harriman (president), along with other wealthy women, including treasurer Anne Morgan, daughter of J. P. Morgan, raised the astounding sum of $500,000 and commissioned Stanford White, of the leading architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, to build a home for their newly formed women’s social club, known as the Colony Club. This structure, located on the west side of Madison Avenue just north of 30th Street and built between 1904-1907, was modeled on 18th-century houses in Annapolis, Maryland. The landmarked interiors, which still exist, were created by Stanford White's long-time friend Elsie de Wolfe, a former actress who had recently opened an interior-design business; her companion, theatrical agent Elisabeth Marbury, was one of the club's founders. Wolfe’s adept completion of this commission established her financially successful career as a society decorator. De Wolfe, who became known as America's first decorator, lived in the club during construction, designing interiors ranging from French reproduction to American neo-Colonial styles.

Miss de Wolfe’s later marriage to diplomat Sir Charles Mendl in 1926 (she was sixty-one and became "Lady Mendl") was front page news in the New York Times, which revealed that “the intended marriage comes as a great surprise to her friends.” Since 1892 she had been living openly in a lesbian relationship. As the Times stated, “When in New York, she makes her home with Miss Elisabeth Marbury at 13 Sutton Place.”

When the Colony Club opened in 1907, the interiors established her reputation overnight. Instead of imitating the dark, heavy interiors of most men’s clubs, de Wolfe introduced a casual, feminine style making liberal use of glazed chintz (immediately making her “the Chintz Lady”), tiled floors, light draperies, pale walls, wicker chairs, clever vanity tables and the first of her many trellised rooms. Among her innovations was the installation of ceramic stoves in lieu of fireplaces. The astonished reaction of the members to her iconic indoor garden pavilion (photo below) put de Wolfe’s name on many lips and led to lucrative commissions across the country. Her contract with Henry Clay Frick, which paid commissions on every item she selected, made her a rich woman. Later clients included Cole Porter, Condé Nast and the Duchess of Windsor.

The Federal Revival style building has unusual header-bond brickwork applied in what is known as a diaper pattern (click top photo to enlarge). Sold after the club moved to larger quarters on Park Avenue, the structure serves today as the east coast headquarters of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, housed at this location since 1963. The building was awarded Landmark Status by the City of New York in 1966.

Though the original purpose of the club was to provide athletic facilities, its elite status cemented the social standing of the original 500 subscribers when it opened in 1907. The New York Times published a complete membership roster on the first anniversary of the club. Included were four Vanderbilts, four Whitneys, Mrs. John Jacob Astor and Mrs. Walter Damrosch (her father, Republican politician James Blaine, ran for president of the United States against Grover Cleveland). The ground floor had receiving rooms, and the second floor contained a double-height gymnasium with a running track on the balcony, and an elegant French-style ballroom at the front, with a musicians’ balcony above. In the basement was a swimming pool, which still exists, surrounded by white marble walls and floors, with an illuminated trellised ceiling.

However, there arose a significant problem within a month of the club’s opening. A law prohibiting liquor licenses within 200 feet of a church, without the church's consent, had not been taken into account. Across the street was Madison Avenue Baptist Church, which refused to grant such permission, reflecting its denomination’s strong stance on temperance. While club officers denied that the club even served alcohol, stating that members brought in their own, the presence of a wine room in the basement ran counter to that claim. Further, a disgruntled employee leaked receipts and other documents to the press, including a menu reading, “All wines will be charged by the bottle.” In fact, the club was not able to get a liquor license until it moved north to larger quarters on Park Avenue (photo below).

The club eventually replaced most of its women employees with men, because, as the New York Times reported, “A club officer said that the female employees put themselves on an equal plane with the members and talked too much.”

When vacated by the Colony Club, the original building soon became a WWI hospital, then a club for Catholic girls and later an arts center. When the American Academy of Dramatic Arts moved in, it converted the gym and ballroom to theaters, but made few other major changes. They have recently repaired and cleaned the exterior, and original custom lighting fixtures remain intact. Original mirrored walls also remain unaltered. Fortunately, the limited financial resources of the owners have prevented disposing of original decor and architectural elements. For instance, when the academy considered installing modern windows, its contractor priced new windows at $9,000 each, whereas repairing the original ones cost only $3,000 per window. Also, students do not live in the building, which decreases wear and tear associated with most college structures.

The Academy in New York was founded in 1884 to train actors for the stage, becoming the first school in the United States to offer a professional education in the acting field. Numerous students of the Academy have gone on to distinguished careers throughout the entertainment industry, receiving awards and nominations for Tonys, Oscars and Emmys. Graduates include Lauren Bacall, Anne Bancroft, John Cassavetes, Hume Cronyn, Cecil. B. DeMille, Brad Davis, Danny DeVito, Kirk Douglas, Christine Ebersole, Ruth Gordon, Anne Hathaway, Florence Henderson, Grace Kelly, Agnes Moorehead, William Powell, Robert Redford, Edward G. Robinson, Rosalind Russell, Gene Tierney and Spencer Tracy.