Monthly Archives: September 2020

9/11 Memorial

Day One Hundred and Seventy-Four: 9/11 again

Today is the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We just got back from the 9/11 Memorial for Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and it still reminds me of that morning when I was still living in California. I still can’t believe that 19 years have gone by in the blink of an eye.

I have students who were not even born when it happened or I have to hear “I was in elementary school when that occurred’. That is surreal for me. Everyone generation has their moment. Our’s was 9/11.

In memory of that day I have enclosed the beginning of my novel “Firehouse 101” and the events that lead the main character, Alex Livingston, to return to New York City. This book can be found on the IUniverse.com website and can be purchased through that site, Barnes & Nobel, Amazon.com or any online book store.

This book is dedicated to my best friend, Ahilya Mangroo, who survived the falling of the towers that day by having to go to a doctor’s appointment in the City first before she had to go to the office that morning.

To Ahilya:

The Introduction of my novel “Firehouse 101”

                   September 11th, 2001

                             3:30 am

There were fifteen hundred Japanese business people and their families in Waikiki this week. The Singi Group, an Internet company was meeting at The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu. Alex Livingston had been on the job all day and it looked like he was going to be there through the night and into the next morning. He had a thousand goody bags to finish by 7:00 am and he and the staff had to set them up for an early morning breakfast pick-up. The goody bags were filled with many little gifts for the employees as a token of appreciation for their hard work. The Singi Group staff was a trying bunch. Their demands had been exhausting from the start and the staff had been on their toes since their Friday arrival. Alex was accustomed to this as he had worked in the casino industry before moving to Hawaii and was used to the demands of the high rollers.

Marriott Waikiki at night

Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa 9/11/2001

The silver goody bags had to be folded in a particular way and their ribbons had to be tied a certain way. The group’s meeting planner, who had yelled at the staff in both Japanese and English on how these bags should look, had supervised the first five hundred bags. After she finished yelling, she showed Alex and his staff how to do it and watched the next couple hundred being made in front of her. It annoyed Alex that any client would sit in his kitchen to watch what he did this early in the morning.

When Alex finished helping with the last of the goody bags, a few of the staff headed to the hallway to help the banquet set up crew get the early morning breakfast buffet finished.  A special set up had been arranged with the flowers positioned in a way that guests would believe it brought good luck. At 3:30 am, all Alex could think about was the good luck he would have when this group checked out at the end of the week. Thursday could not come fast enough for Alex.

“Yo, Cuz!” Maka yelled from down the hall, “We’re all done outside. The banquet people are done and the captain is setting up.”  Maka was Alex’s lead Room Service Captain. “Maka, can you help me with these bags? We have to get them outside,” Alex yelled back. In the distance, the staff could hear several Japanese businessman in the bar yelling at the television set. They were finishing watching a sporting event that had been taped for them by the hotel. Others had arrived late from Tokyo and had been drinking through the night.

The bar had technically closed a few hours earlier but it was kept open by the hotel for the convenience of their arriving guests. The bar manager had left in a huff an hour earlier. Since Alex had to stay until six in the morning to help banquets get the tour guests out, he had said he’d stay and watch the group. Alex went in the bar every half hour to check on them. They were having a grand old time watching the end of the game and watching another channel that was being broadcast from the East Coast, so Alex felt he had nothing to worry about.

The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

As he helped the staff get the goody bags out, Maka and Robert (the other Room Service Captain), spoke with Alex about Maka’s son’s first birthday party, which had been the week before. “You know, Cuz,” Robert said to Maka, “you should have had more food. You ran out.” Maka turned to Robert and said, “My mom did not expect thirty extra people at the party. She should have though, more people always show up for these events.” “Your mom can cook, Cuz,” Alex said, “I always enjoy going to your house.” Alex had been there a few times over the last year and a half. Ordinarily Alex would not have gotten this close to his staff members in the past, but he had worked with this group for over three years, so they felt more like family.

Alex had been Room Service Manager for the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on Waikiki Beach since he had moved from Las Vegas over three years earlier. A co-worker friend had recommended him for the job when Alex tired of casino life. The high rollers wore him down and he never really liked the tacky glitz of the city even though he had lived there for almost five years. There had been a big Polynesian population living and working in Las Vegas while he was there, driven there by better paying jobs and a lower cost of living. Most worked in the hospitality industry. His friend, Sean, had recommended Alex for the job in Waikiki when Sean’s cousin moved to Las Vegas. Alex jumped at the chance to get off the mainland and as far from his family as possible. In time, his staff at the hotel he become his surrogate family.

“Yo, Alex. Stop daydreaming!” Robert yelled as he and two of the other room service servers brought the goody bags out. Alex could still hear the loud shouts of the Japanese businessman in the distance. At least someone was having fun, he thought. Some of the early morning staff walked by Alex on their way to work and nodded hello. They looked just as tired as he did.

“Alex, how long you been here?” Maka asked. “Since 2:00 pm yesterday, when they threw a last minute box lunch meal at us and I had to help the Banquet Manager,” Alex replied exhaustedly. He had worked non-stop since he had walked in that afternoon and had not even realized the time until it was way after midnight. “Go home after breakfast,” Maka said. “I am, Cuz, I am,” Alex answered. Alex had slowly picked up the local dialect, “Pidgin” English, over time much to the disgust of his father. His father would yell at him on his visits home and tell him to stop speaking like an uneducated islander. Alex never realized it until it was pointed out to him while he was talking to another employee.

It took fifteen minutes to get the tables organized. Finally Alex, Maka and Robert could relax. The three other servers were now assisting the banquet staff with the remainder of the set up. “So Cuz,” Maka asked Alex, “are you going home for Christmas this year?” “No way,” Alex remarked, “I no deal with that.” “Don’t you miss them?” Maka asked, never understanding why in the three years he knew Alex he never went home for the holidays. ‘Too busy’ was Alex’s usual answer but he quietly answered “Sometimes.”

Alex had a strained relationship with his family that had started in his childhood. He always felt that his older sister Lisa, seven years his senior, had gotten everything while he got the leftovers and hand me downs. He adored his mother, a jovial and hardworking C.P.A., (who ran her own business out of New Haven, Connecticut), but he realized that she harbored her own secrets about her family. Like her son, she rarely talked to her own immediate family. What kept Alex from going home was the constant insisting of his father on how he should make something of his life and becoming an investment banker like himself and other members of his family. Alex Senior, as he was known, did not want his son in the hotel industry.

Alex Senior was constantly on his son’s back about his joining the firm and making some real money. He understand neither his son’s dropping out of Penn State to go to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, nor his fascination with the hotel industry. “It’s horrible pay, lousy hours and dealing with picky people,” his father would say. “It’s never dull,” Alex would say, “I get to travel and the money will come as I move up the ladder.” Whose fault was it anyway? Alex would think to himself. His father had taken the family on two foreign vacations a year from the time Alex could walk until he transferred colleges. Alex and his sister, Lisa, even in the lean years that the family experienced, had now been around the world five times.

It had always fascinated Alex how the hotels where they stayed worked. Every chance he got, Alex would peak behind closed doors. His biggest thrill was when he was ten. While the rest of the family stayed by the pool, the General Manager himself escorted Alex on a tour of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. The General Manager was impressed that someone so young would be interested in his hotel. Getting to see how the hotel worked, who cooked the food and cleaned the rooms plus the rich history of the hotel drew Alex in. After that, Alex wanted to work in the hospitality industry.

“Besides, I hate snow,” Alex continued getting out of his daydream, “I like Christmas when its 86 degrees and can go swimming in the middle of the winter. Don’t believe people when they say they want a ‘White Christmas’. Who the hell wants to shovel all that snow? In addition, I would rather sing, ‘Mele Kalikmaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day’ than ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’. Bing Crosby probably never shoveled snow before.” Maka started to sing, “Mele Kalikmaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day” as Alex and Robert joined in on the second chorus. They were laughing their heads off as the rest of the staff joined in. It was 3:45 am.

Singing ” Mele Kalikimaka”

As the group of six was singing, there was a commotion in the bar and then a scream from one of the banquet captains. “What’s going on now?” Robert asked. “Mouse?” Alex asked. “Mouse,” Maka answered. The banquet captain ran out of the bar area into the hallway where everyone was working and hollered, “Everyone get in here. The World Trade Center in New York was just hit by a plane!” “What the hell?” Alex said.

Everyone scrambled into the bar to see the crowd glued to the television. Smoke was billowing from one of the towers and the television reporter had no idea what was going on. Maybe it was a military aircraft like the one that hit the Empire State Building fifty years ago, Alex thought. The reporter was rambling so fast that no one could understand what had just happened. The restaurant manager ran into the bar with his staff. They were also setting up for the onslaught of breakfast patrons that would be dining with them in two hours.

9/11

Watching the events unfold on Honolulu time at the bar

About forty people were now glued to the television and nothing was being done. Alex thought of his sister and father, who were both working on nearby Wall Street. It was now almost 9:00 am in New York. They were probably in their offices at this point, on the phone, having their morning coffee. He debated calling home but could not take his eyes off the television. He stood there like everyone else, transfixed by the horror he witnessed.

For the next ten minutes, there was the clamor of English, Japanese and Hawaiian being spoken so rapidly that it was unintelligible. Then it happened. In front of some forty people, the second plane hit the other tower. The whole crowd went silent as the explosion tore through the building. Some people started to shout and run out of the bar. Others stood stunned, not knowing what to do.

To the shock of everyone at the bar that morning another plane hit the towers

Some of the women started to cry and quickly were followed by some of the men. People made desperate cell phone calls to loved ones. Alex grabbed his cell phone and called his sister’s apartment in Manhattan but there was no answer. He then called his father’s office but again no answer. He then tried to call his mother, but by 9:30 am, she was probably stuck in traffic some where between Milford and her office in downtown New Haven. Alex did not know what to do, so he went back to the bar to wait with the other people.

Everyone in the room was either talking on cell phones, watching television or downing the complimentary drinks that the bartender was now handing out. This was no time to be sober, one man said. By 5:00 am, more people had entered the bar. Before anyone could say anything, suddenly there was a roar heard on the television. Everyone fell silent again. Tower One was collapsing in front of them. For a split second, there was silence in the bar, no one moved and no one said a word. Then people panicked, workers and guests started to run out of the room. Maka and Robert watched Alex’s face pale in horror and they ran over to console him. In disbelief, Alex started to run out of the room too.

“Where you going?” yelled a bewildered Maka. “I’m going to the General Manager’s office. I have to call my mother!” Alex stopped for a moment. His staff tried to console him and calm him. It did not work. There was a second rumbling and he watched the second tower collapse. No one could console Alex; they were in shock themselves. Alex raced out of the bar to the office without looking back. It was now 5:40 am Honolulu time.

September 15th, 2001

                                                    3:00PM

Planes were finally able to leave the islands and frightened tourists looked over their shoulders at the Honolulu Airport. There was no use singling out anyone with dark skin because the whole airport had a tan and no one was in the mood for jokes. Security was extremely tight. In newspapers around the world, everyone saw a photograph taken by Bob Hakamoto, a journalist with The Honolulu Advertiser. He had been on vacation with his family, getting ready to go to the observation deck of the Trade Center with his family when tragedy struck.

 Sending his family away to meet him later at the South Street Seaport, he ran around taking pictures of the towers and of the firefighters racing to the scene. Soon before Tower One fell; he snapped a picture of two firefighters assisting three frightened ladies that needed help leaving the tower. Not five minutes later, Bob ran for his life as the tower started to collapse. His picture depicting the bravery of these two firemen from New York was published all over the world as a symbol of the good in man. Because of a mistake in communication by cell phone, the picture was titled “Heroes save women and many others as Building Seven falls.” No one knew who the firefighters were or if they had died that day.

The famous Bob Hakamoto photograph in the Honolulu Advertiser on 9/12/2001

September 28th, 2001

                                                     1:00 pm

Alex’s girlfriend, Alice Fallon (or as she was called behind her back, Princess Alice) told him that as a class project, she was having the kids of her second grade class each write a letter and make a poster for the firefighters who helped those women. Alex’s mother had told him that his cousin, a fire chief in Connecticut, said that many firefighters had lost their lives that day, so he was not sure the two of them were alive. He told Alice that it was still a good idea as it might cheer some of the guys up.

Alice Fallon, Alex’s girlfriend, was the great-great grandniece of Queen Lili’uokalani and a member of the Hawaiian Royal Family

January 18th, 2003      

3:30 pm

Alex walked across a quiet courtyard and up the stairs to the pool area to drop off some paperwork. He waved over to some bored co-workers at the front desk who were yawning. They waved back. It was quiet at the hotel and now that Christmas was over, it was getting quieter.  Alex only had about ten orders that day and for the past year had not seen much of his staff. They only checked in to see if hotel occupancy had increased.

Waikiki Marriott

The resort over a year later

You can read parts of the book online at the IUniverse.com website or order the book to see how the story unfolds.

My novel “Firehouse 101” is available for sale online or can be ordered through any bookstore.

https://www.iuniverse.com/BookStore/BookDetails/101408-FIREHOUSE-101

https://www.amazon.sg/Firehouse-101-Justin-Watral/dp/0595367712

https://books.apple.com/us/book/firehouse-101/id512590359

Articles on my novel:

https://patch.com/new-jersey/hasbrouckheights/heights-fire-fighter-justin-watrel-promotes-his-firstede42418c1

https://www.tapinto.net/articles/local-aspiring-authors-shine-at-hasbrouck-heights

Justin Watrel promoting his book “Firehouse 101” after the Brooklyn Book Festival 2011

Murray Hill Brownstones

Day One Hundred and Seventy-Two: Walking the Avenues of Murray Hill from Madison to First Avenues August 14th, 2020

I have recently been reading articles about New York City and how ‘dead’ it has become and how ‘it will never come back this time’. It’s funny when people who did not come into New York in the 1970’s and early 80’s or were even born remember what we went through when visiting Manhattan. Some residents who came into the City in the last ten years see a much different place than what I remembered in all my years working on Macy’s on 34th Street. It was ‘no miracle in 1990’s when I started in the Buying offices and Seventh Avenue after 6:00pm was no better when left the store for home.

Ford to the City

That famous cover from so many years ago

Still by doing this walking project I don’t see a ‘dead city”. I see a City going through another transition and adaption. New York City is unique in the way it changes over time. When I walked the streets of Manhattan at Christmas just nine months ago, I saw a City again in the process of changing. I had never seen so many homeless out on the streets and saw the streets and avenues get dirty again. This started the last two years under Mayor Bloomberg and continued under the current mayor.  I was not too sure what was happening or why it was changing considering all the building going on and renovations in parks, squares and pathways around the City.

Still as I started to walk the Avenues of Murray Hill, I did not see a ‘dead city’. I saw vibrancy and energy on each block. I saw adaption in restaurants with outdoor dining and delivery. I saw stores open to limited people but still open and display their wares with zest. I saw hopelessness next to enthusiasm but the one thing I didn’t see was everyone giving up.

From the delivery guys from GrubHub piling up orders to the men and women meeting their friends socially distanced at outdoor cafes all over the neighborhood to the little girl who was shooting hoops (and hitting every basket) in St. Varta Park park that afternoon. There is still resilience and things to do and get done in Murray Hill and all over New York City.

I really had a nice time walking around Murray Hill the other day and started today with a plan to walk all the Avenues of the neighborhood. Again I was amazed how quiet the City was this afternoon but more people are starting to sit in Bryant Park and the lines for the bathrooms there (the public bathrooms there are still the best in NYC) are getting longer.

Bryant Park Bathrooms

The Bryant Park bathrooms; they should all be like this

I am starting to see tourists slowly coming back as I am seeing more selfies in Midtown. Not like Christmas (not at all) but still slowly coming back in. There are still a lot of people (masks included) walking around the City taking pictures, searching for an open restaurant and sunning themselves in the park.

Bryant Park

Bryant Park is still alive with people and flora

I started the walk today walking down Eighth Avenue to see if some of the restaurants on my ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com site were still open. Restaurants have been closing like crazy but the small places still have staying power.

Check out the blog:

https://diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/

Fu Xing

Fu Xing at 273 West 38th Street

I stopped for an early morning snack at Fu Xing at 273 West 38th Street for some roast pork buns ($1.20) which they make homemade and when they come fresh out of the oven are amazing. They are soft and sweet on the outside and filled with freshly chopped roast pork. I ordered two and munched on them on the walk around Bryant Park. I was just happy that all the places in the Garment District are still open.

Fu Xing buns

The assorted buns at Fu Xing are available in the mornings and late afternoons

I took these wonderful little treats on my walk around the Garment District and back up to West 42nd Street and then cut across town back to the borders of Murray Hill. I started my walk again at the front of New York Public Library admiring the architecture of Fifth Avenue and passing it on my way to Madison Avenue.

When I was walking Fifth Avenue, even after all these years, it feels like I am seeing it for the first time. With not many people walking on the sidewalks, you have more time to look up and admire what is right in front of you. I never realized how from 34th to 42nd Streets was such a prominent shopping district before the move further up Fifth Avenue. The buildings reflect how retailers took themselves more seriously about setting up shop and how the exteriors should match the importance of the interiors. They were merchants that were there to stay (now mostly gone with the closing of Lord & Taylor).

424-434 Fifth Avenue-Lord & Taylor

The former Lord & Taylor Department Store headquarters on Fifth Avenue

Madison Avenue is still an important advertising and communications business neighborhood with many current office building renovations to workers who may or may not come back after the pandemic. It was really creepy to not see more than ten people walking down the Avenue.

I could not believe how many restaurants had closed and stores that have not reopened. The problem is that with all the office workers gone, the foot traffic during lunch went with it. So many restaurants that were packed just a few months packed up and closed. Still there are many bright spots that make Madison Avenue so unique.

The Library Hotel at 299 Madison Avenue at 41st Street is a beautiful spot on the Avenue with music drifting from the main lobby and outdoor tables from the cafe spilling on to the sidewalk with a few people dining in the early afternoon.

Library Hotel II

The Library Hotel at 299 Madison Avenue

Their outdoor restaurant, Madison & Vine is a beautiful little cafe with an interesting menu and the few people dining there looked like they were having a nice time. I will have to try it in the future.

The Library Hotel

Madison & Vine at the Library Hotel

The hotel is housed in a former office building designed in the ‘sliver design’ facing East 41st Street across the street from the New York Public Library. The hotel is designed in the ‘Neo-Gothic style’ in 1912. Many of these historic office buildings have been turned into hotels while historic hotels like The Plaza and The Waldorf-Astoria are being turned into condos.

Madison Avenue in the East 40’s is mostly office buildings but here and there are architectural gems tucked here and there left over from the Gilded Age. At 205-209 Madison Avenue is the Church of the Incarnation, an Episcopal church that was built in 1896. The original church had been built in 1865 but was destroyed by fire in 1882.

Church of the Incarnation

The Church of the Incarnation

The original design for the church was designed by architect Emlen T. Littel and after the fire all that survived were the walls and the tower. The redesign of the church was built by architect David Jardine and added many of the features seen today. Many prominent ‘old families’ of New York were parishioners here like the Sedgwick’s, Delano’s and Roosevelt’s. Take time to look at the church’s details and stained glass windows (Wiki).

Church of the Incarnation II

The church is now an historic landmark

Further down Madison Avenue are reminders of the ‘Gilded Age’ in the form of the Morgan and De Lamar mansions built at a time when money was no object and there were no income taxes. These palaces of gracious living were a reminder of people who wanted to show their place in the world and Society welcome them with open arms (if Mrs. Astor allowed it).

The De Lamar Mansion, which is now the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland of New York since 1973. was built by C. P.H. Gilbert in the ‘Beaux-Arts style’ for millionaire Joseph Raphael De Lamar, a Dutch born sea merchant who made his fortune in mining and metallurgy. The home was completed in 1905. By the time the mansion was finished, he and his wife divorced and he lived in the house for another eight years until his death in 1918. The mansion was sold by his daughter shortly after on her move to Park Avenue (Wiki).

Joseph Raphael De Lamar Mansion

The De Lamar Mansion (now the Polish Consulate) at Madison Avenue & East 37th Street

Jan Karski Statue

Jan Karski Statue outside the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland/De Lamar Mansion

The statue is of Jan Karski who was a courier who served as part of the Anti-Nazi Resistance in German occupied Poland during WWII. The statue was created by Polish artist Karol Badyna. The statue was dedicated in 2007 (Big Apple Secrets).

Karol Badyna artist

Artist Karol Badyna

https://badyna.pl/

Karol Badyna is a Polish born artist who has studied at the Post-Secondary School of Conservation of Works of Art and Sculpture at Monuments Conservation Studio in Krakow, Poland. He currently serves a Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts (Artist bio).

The Morgan Library & Library is at 225 Madison Avenue is a wonderful little museum that holds the art and library collection of J.P. Morgan, the famous banker. The museum is made up of three buildings, the original library that J.P.Morgan built before he died, the annex building where the bulk of the museum collection is located and the brownstone mansion where the Morgan Dining Room and gift shop are located.

The first part of the building was the Italianate brownstone on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 37th Street that was built by Isaac Newton Phelps in 1854 who left it to his daughter upon his death. It was bought by J.P. Morgan for his son, J.P. Morgan II who lived there from 1905-1943. It houses the Morgan Dining Room and the gift shop (Wiki).

Morgan Library & Museum X

The Morgan Library & Museum-The Phelps Mansion and the Annex

The Morgan Library’s Annex building in the middle of the Museum was built on top of the original family mansion and was built by Benjamin Wistar Morris. This is where the exhibition hall and theater is located (Morgan Library Museum).

The last part of the building is the Morgan Library that houses the manuscript collection and artworks. The building was designed in the ‘Classic Revival Style’ by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White. The building was finished in 1907 (Wiki).

The former J. P. Morgan mansion is now the Morgan Library Museum.

Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library Museum Annex and Library buildings

Morgan Library & Museum VIII

The inside of the Morgan Library Museum Annex

On the corner of Madison Avenue and East 34th is the old B. Altman Department store, the final location for the iconic department store that closed in 1989. The store was the brainchild of merchant Benjamin Altman. The store was designed by Trowbridge & Livingston in 1906-1913 expanding from Fifth to Madison Avenues. The store was designed in the ‘Italian Renaissance style’ (Wiki).

B. Altman & Co. IV

The former B. Altman & Company at the Fifth Avenue entrance

The store was known for its exclusive designs, Couture clothing, it’s elegant wooden interiors, Christmas window displays and the famous Charleston Gardens Restaurant.

Charleston Gardens at B. Altman & Company

The Charleston Gardens Restaurant at B. Altman & Company

Walking back up Madison Avenue, I notice another sculpture that popped out at me. The sculpture of “Eight” by artist Robert Indiana located in front of 261 Madison Avenue.

Eight by Robert Indiana

Eight by Robert Indiana

Artist Robert Indiana was an American born artist who was involved with the ‘Pop Art’ Movement. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and Edinburgh College of Art (Wiki). He looked at art with images of small town America with the visual image of High Art. The result was what he called an “verbal visual forms’ (MIA).

Robert Indiana artist

Chronology

I rounded the corner from Madison Avenue to the open blocks of lower Park Avenue seeing Grand Central guarding over the Avenue. This beautiful ‘Beaux Arts Style’ building seems to define the elegance that is Park Avenue.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Station defines Park Avenue with its elegance

Just walking down Park Avenue you can see the difference in the way the Avenue portray’s itself with its elegant office buildings, Gilded Age mansions tucked here and there, private clubs and interesting pieces of street art creating an ‘open air’ museum to walk through.

Just outside of 90 Park Avenue is the interesting artwork “The Couple” by artist Arthur Carter. Mr. Carter’s extraordinary life took him from the military to Wall Street to publishing to farming to art. A Brown and Dartmouth graduate from a financial background is pretty much self-taught. His works are very impressive and this work does stand out.

Coupling

“The Couple” by artist Arthur Carter in 1999

Arthur Carter Artist

Artist Arthur Carter

http://www.arthurcarter.com/about

On the corner of Park Avenue and East 37th Street on the side of a building is the plaque for the home of the Murray family mansion (which the neighborhood is named after) ‘Inclenberg’, that once stood on the site.

Murray Hill Mansion II

The plaque to the Murray home “Inclenberg”

The Murray family were merchants and prominent business people at the time of the Revolutionary War. Robert Murray’s wife, Mary Lindley Murray, had delayed General Howe’s troops by several hours letting the Patriots escape by serving wine, tea and cake to the British soldiers and entertaining them with music and conversation (Wiki and Untapped Cities).

Murray Hill Mansion V

Mary Lindley Murray entertaining the British at her home

The Murray's home, Inclenberg

The Murray Mansion ‘Inclenberg’ now the site of Park Avenue and East 37th Street

The continued walk on Park Avenue brought me to the Union League Club at 38 East 37th Street. The club was founded in 1863 by former members of the Union Club who did not like the Pro-Southern activities of club members and created their own club with the Union League Club. The current clubhouse was designed by member Benjamin Wistar Morris and opened in 1931.

Union League Club

The elegance of the Union League Club at 38 East 37th Street

At 23 Park Avenue, another elegant mansion graces the beauty of Park Avenue and a reminder of its Gilded Age past. The home was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White with architect Stanford White leading the design. The home was built in 1890 for retired Senator James Hampden Robb and his wife Cornelia Van Rensselaer Robb. The mansion is now a co-op (Street Easy & Wiki).

23 Park Avenue-The Cornelia Robb House

23 Park Avenue-The Cornelia Robb House.

Another Gilded Age mansion is now the Guatemala UN Mission at 57 Park Avenue was once the Adelaide T. Townsend Douglas mansion. She had been the wife of William Proctor Douglas, a Capitalist and rumored to be the mistress of J.P.Morgan, the banker. Never divorcing her husband, she continued on as a New York Socialite (Untapped Cities).

The mansion was designed by architect Horace Trumbauer in the ‘French Classical style’ and it was completed in 1911. In 1978, the house was sold after several owners to the Guatemala UN Mission as their headquarters to the United Nations (Daytonian).

57 Park Avenue-The Townsend Mansion

57 Park Avenue-Guatemala UN Mission & the former Townsend Mansion

One of the little treasures I found on Park Avenue though was the alleyway of the Church of our Savior at 59 Park Avenue. This beautiful church has hidden off to the side of the building a tiny alleyway with a garden with statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. It is such a nice tranquil place to relax and think that I did not want to leave. It was a relaxing reprieve from the hustle of the City.

The Church of Our Savior

The Church of Our Savior at 59 Park Avenue-Check out the garden alleyway

Another building that stands out is 41 Park Avenue owned by the Stonehenge NYC. This beautiful and elegant building was built in 1950 and has all the pre-war details.

41 Park Avenue

41 Park Avenue

I was in a mood most of the morning because of some past events of the week and as I passed a small cafe on the corner of Park Avenue and 40th Street I heard a familiar song from the 1980’s that reminded me of college and immediately put me back in a good mood. It is amazing the power of the memories of songs.

‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Talking Heads

 

I was humming all the way to Lexington Avenue. The rest of the day just seemed so much better. The song brought me back to my wonderful college years.

Lexington Avenue was quiet for most of my walk down to East 34th Street. Lexington Avenue between it and Park Avenue has some of the most beautiful brownstones on the side streets. It looks like a classic New York neighborhood. That runs between about East 40th to East 36th Streets and then gets more commercial as you get closer to 34th Street.

Murray Hill Brownstones

Murray Hill Brownstones

What I was surprised by is the amount of restaurants that closed their doors on Lexington Avenue. I never saw so many for rent signs on buildings before. Some well known neighborhood places like House of Lasagna are now shut. One restaurant going strong with outdoor dining with a creative menu is Hunan Manor at 339 Lexington Avenue. I saw some of the patrons eating outside and their Soup Dumplings and Chicken dishes that I saw people eating for lunch looked really good. Another restaurant for the bucket list.

Hunan Manor Restaurant NYC

Hunan Manor Restaurant at 339 Lexington Avenue

Walking down Lexington Avenue was very different from Fifth, Madison and Park Avenues with their unusual architecture, interesting parks and street art. It was more of a combination of low rise buildings and commercial spots. There was one standout though and that was the Sailors Club at 283 Lexington Avenue.

Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Club

283 Lexington Avenue-The Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guard and Airmen’s Club

The Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guard and Airmen’s Club is the only private club of its kind to provide accommodations at a subsidized rate for service men and women and retirees, veterans and their families visiting New York (Club website). The club was founded in 1919 by Cornelia Barnes Rogers and Eleanor Butler Alexander Roosevelt with General John J. Pershing. The club is housed in two 1880 twin brownstones that once served the area as upper middle class housing (Club website and Wiki). Towards 34th Street you will enter the midtown campus of Yeshiva University.

Walking back up Lexington Avenue, you can see how both Lexington and Third Avenue are quickly changing. Gone are all the low rise and smaller buildings and their businesses giving way to large office high rises and commercial spots. The small rise buildings are being razed for larger buildings.

Here and there on Third Avenue are pockets of the old neighborhood below East 38th Street but the neighborhood is changing to a more modern commercial area. There are more smaller businesses as you get closer to 34th Street. One older restaurant, Sarges Delicatessen & Diner at 548 Lexington Avenue has been around since 1964. It offers traditional deli items such as Matzo-ball Soup and over-sized sandwiches. The restaurant was the idea of retired NYPD Sargent Abe Katz, who who loved Jewish style cooking and wanted to open a deli when he retired. The family has been carrying his tradition for all these years offering many dishes made from scratch in-house (Meat & Poultry-Fox 2019).

Sarges Deli Third Avenue

Sarges Delicatessen & Diner at 548 Lexington Avenue

All around Sarges though the neighborhood continues to morph into a commercial neighborhood where skyscraper office buildings are becoming the norm. Here and there tough are little touches of artistic creativity.

The sculpture “Windward” is sitting just outside an office building at 655 Lexington Avenue by artist Jan Peter Stern.

Windward Jan Peter Stern

“Windward” at 655 Third Avenue

Jan Peter Stern was a German born American  artist who specialized in contemporary, politically influenced artist of the Post-War era. He graduated from Syracuse with a degree in Industrial Design and married to artist Irene Stern.

http://www.artatsite.com/NewYork/details/Stern_Jan_Peter_Windward_contemporary_statue_Art_at_Site_New_York.html

The changes of Lexington and Third Avenues in the East 40’s is also changing the complexity of Second Avenue as well. In the upper parts of the neighborhood, the small buildings and brownstones that set the character as one of the last bastions of ‘old New York’ are giving way to office buildings and apartment high-rises. Second Avenue to me from 100th to 34th Streets still represent ‘old New York’ to me with the smaller buildings with character and the ‘mom and pop’ stores that still line the Avenue.

In the East 30’s there are still the quintessential small brownstone and low rise buildings with many ‘for rent signs’. A lot of the smaller ‘mom and pop’ have closed with the ravages of COVID-19 or just have not reopened. Some of the smaller restaurants have opened outdoor cafes and with the NYU Langone Hospital around the corner, there is a small lunch business when I visited but most workers take their lunches to the open garden courts and then get back to work. Still there is a lot of character to this part of the neighborhood.

One of the standouts in the lower part of the Murray Hill between Second and First Avenues is St. Vartan’s Park. This small oasis of green is very popular with families in this part of the neighborhood.

St. Varta Park NYC II

St. Vartan Park is between Second and First Avenues at East 35th Street

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/st-vartan-park

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/st-vartan-park/history

The park is named after the Armenian Orthodox Church nearby, St. Vartan Cathedral which is a nod to the neighborhood’s Armenian heritage (NYCParks). The park has a wonderful basketball court, playground and lawn space to run around on. The bathrooms were shut which was not helpful but still a nice place to just relax under a tree.

St. Varta Armenian Church

St. Varta Armenian Church at 630 Second Avenue

It was just nice to sit and relax both when I was walking Second and First Avenues. The shade trees blocked the sun and there was nice benches to sit down on and watch everyone playing basketball and paddle ball.

What really caught my attention was at the other end of the basketball court was this little girl who could not have been older than four throwing the basketball into the adult hoop. What was amazing was that she made it every time! I could not believe it. She would just throw it and it went right into the basket with no problems. I was mystified by it all how she did it.

St. Varta Park NYC

St. Varta Park between First and Second Avenue

After some rest in the park, it was time to finish the walk with a stroll down  First Avenue which I made on my border walk of the neighborhood a few days earlier.  The upper parts of First Avenue like everything between Lexington and Second Avenue is going through a big transition and must have been before the COVID-19 pandemic with the upper sections of the neighborhood. The low-rise buildings are giving way to new office and apartment buildings that offer views of the river and the changing Brooklyn and Queens skylines.

Just like the rest of the City during the Pandemic, the Murray Hill is quietly changing and morphing into a new neighborhood. It will be interesting to see what will develop here in the future. Like a flower in the Spring, it will show its ‘true beauty’ in the future.

 

My walk of the Borders of Murray Hill on August 13th, 2020:

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/mywalkinmanhattan.com/14324

 

Places to Eat:

 

Fu Xing (formerly New Li Yuan)

273 West 38th Street

NYC, NY  10018

(212) 575-6978

http://www.fuxingnyc.com/

Hours: Sunday-Saturday 7:00am-5:30pm

My reviews on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d14037661-Reviews-Fu_Xing-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12562531-Reviews-New_Li_Yuan-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/149

 

Madison & Vine Restaurant at the Library Hotel

299 Madison Avenue

New York, NY 10017

(212) 867-5535

https://libraryhotel.com/en/dining.html

https://www.facebook.com/MadisonAndVine/

Open: Sunday & Saturday Closed/Monday-Friday 12:00pm-9:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d1020156-Reviews-Madison_Vine-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Hunan Manor

339 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY  10016

(212) 682-2883/2886

Fax: (212) 682-2992

http://www.hunanmanornewyork.com/

Open: Sunday & Saturday 12:00pm-10:00pm/Monday-Friday 11:30am-10:00pm/Everyday from 3:00pm-5:00pm Closed.

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d2389603-Reviews-Hunan_Manor_Restaurant-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Pizza & Pita

344 East 34th Street

New York, NY  10016

(212) 679-6161/(212) 679-3183

https://www.pizzaandpita.com/

Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-11:00pm/Delivery until 1:30am

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d4727274-Reviews-Pizza_Pita-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

 

Sarges Delicatessen & Diner

548 Third Avenue

New York, NY  10016

(212) 679-0442

https://sargesdeli.com/

Open: Sunday-Saturday 11:00am-9:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d457802-Reviews-Sarge_s_Delicatessen_Diner-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Places to Visit:

 

Bryant Park

Between Fifth & Sixth Avenues and 40th to 42nd Streets

New York, NY  10018

(212) 639-9675

https://bryantpark.org/

Open: Sunday-Saturday 7:00am-9:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60763-d136347-Reviews-Bryant_Park-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on VisitingaMuseum.com:

 

 

St. Vartan Park

First Avenue & East 35th Street

New York, NY  10016

(212) 639-9675

Open: Sunday-Saturday 6:00am-11:00pm

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/st-vartan-park/history

 

Morgan Library & Museum

225 Madison Avenue

New York, NY  10016

(212) 685-0008

https://www.themorgan.org/

Open: Sunday 11:00am-6:00pm/Monday Closed/Tuesday-Friday 10:30am-5:00pm/Saturday 10:00am-6:00pm

Fee: Adults $22.00/Seniors (over 65) $14.00/Current Students with ID $13.00/Free to Members and Children under 12 accompanied by a parent. Free on Friday Nights from 7:00pm-9:00pm. Discount for people with disabilities $13.00-Caregiver Free. review

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60763-d107356-Reviews-The_Morgan_Library_Museum-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on VisitingaMuseum.com:

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/visitingamuseum.com/5208

 

All the street art and architecture I mentioned by Avenue and by Artist. Look up and around the neighborhood when you are walking or you may miss it.