*This blog is dedicated to Lucy, whose input and cheerleading for this blog has been much appreciated and to another memorable lunch!
I have been volunteering at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen for almost nineteen years and over the years you become friends with the other volunteers. Lucy and I have gotten to know one another over the years. Last Spring, we had gotten together for an amazing lunch over pizza from Lions & Tigers & Squares on West 23rd Street.
Maybe it was the pizza, maybe it was the weather or maybe it was just the view of the Flatiron Building in the background as we were eating lunch by the plaza next to Madison Square Park or maybe all of the above. It was just an amazing lunch.
Over the Fall and Winter months we had kept in touch and the conversation always went back to that amazing lunch and just the beautiful view of the Flatiron Building in the background while we ate. I had commented to her that all over the world people wished they could be in the very spot that we were in eating lunch and here we were eating there. There is sometimes a moment in time that are just perfect.
When Lucy came in again, I had been through a lot lately losing my friend, Barbara and some family issues. So, it was nice to have someone nonpartial to listen. I was going through a lot at one time.
Having had pizza the night before and for lunch the day before that, I really did not want to go back to Lions & Tigers & Squares at 268 West 23rd Street (See reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) so we on a whim tried S & A Gourmet Deli at 240 Eighth Avenue (See reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for a sandwich.
Talk about another excellent lunch. The sandwiches there are excellent. S & A Gourmet Deli does a great job with their food. I ordered Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich ($8.99), which was two freshly fried chicken cutlets topped with Swiss Cheese and Ham topped with spicy mustard on a fresh hoagie roll. Each bit was amazing.
The Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich at S & A Gourmet Deli
The two of us had a nice afternoon talking about what was going on in our lives and just enjoying the warm weather. What was strange was only about an hour before it was pouring down rain and then as we met it cleared up. By the time we finished lunch, it was almost the same weather as the time we had lunch last year, sunny and warm and in the 70’s. I guess God was listening.
Having lunch outside with the Flatiron Building in the background is amazing!
After lunch was over, we said our goodbyes and I was off to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to see the Magnolia trees blooming and the breathtaking Daffodil Hill, where thousands of daffodils would be blooming at one time around a 100-year-old Oak Tree.
With everything going on, I am getting a little leery about traveling by subway but off I went. The ironic part is that the trip was smooth and quiet and non-eventful. I found out later on that evening that the N Line earlier the morning had been hit with a smoke bomb and a shooting. Talking about shattering an imagine. Thank God I did not know all this on the trip down to Brooklyn.
The Entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at 990 Washington Avenue
The weather was even better when I got up the stairs on the Number 2 line outside the Brooklyn Museum. It had gotten even warmer. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden was the busiest it had been all season with people taking pictures of the now blooming Cherry trees and Japanese Garden coming to life in the early Spring months.
Daffodil Hill was just as spectacular as the many years before. The daffodils were in full bloom and the hill on the other side of the Japanese Garden next to the flowering Magnolia trees which were also in full bloom. The scents were wonderful with scents of sweet jasmine and candy.
There are very few places in the world that are perfect but the bench by Daffodil Hill is one of those spots. To sit there and just admire Mother Nature at work at her best is just something. I look forward to this every year and is one of the main reasons why I keep renewing every year. For one afternoon, I just want to sit at that exact bench and admire Mother Nature’s handywork.
The Japanese Gardens are starting to bloom
The Cherry Trees in the Japanese Gardens on the other side of the hill were just coming into bloom as well and the whole effect showed that Spring is here and not a moment too soon. Everyone needed the warm weather to come and relax us. It has been a long Winter.
I ended spending over two hours just walking around the gardens and relaxing under a tree like everyone under the Cherry Tree Esplanade that has not bloomed yet. The soft grass and the relaxing sounds of contemporary music on every half hour was a nice way to spend the late afternoon.
Once left the gardens, I was going to go to the Brooklyn Museum, but it was closed and the weather being so beautiful I decided to walk to Downtown Brooklyn and see how the reconstruction of the Fulton Mall was going. So I took the long walk around the circle and walk down Flatbush Avenue towards Downtown Brooklyn. I made a few detours along the way and explore Brooklyn.
As I got to the turn off to Atlantic Avenue just off Flatbush Avenue near the Barclay’s Center, I decided to make the turn and explore a neighborhood I knew well. This part of Brooklyn I had used for my novel, “Firehouse 101” and I spent many a day exploring the streets of Boreum Hill and Cobble Hill for my book, noting the streets, parks and businesses. There are lot of memories of me walking this neighborhood almost twenty years ago.
My novel “Firehouse 101” set in Boreum Hill and Cobble Hill Brooklyn
I can’t tell you how many times I walked Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Smith Street and Court Street for inspiration. Many of the observations of those afternoons were written into the book as I tried to make it as real as possible.
When I got to the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street, I made the right turn and walked the length of Smith Street in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. It also amazes me how a neighborhood keeps changing as new businesses keep opening and closing changing the complexity of a neighborhood and how the long-time businesses still chug along and watch it all happen. There are those family-owned enterprises that make the City unique.
As I rounded Smith Street, admiring all the new gift boutiques, gourmet shops and small restaurants, I crossed over Degraw Street to walk the ‘border’ of the neighborhood in my novel and walked to Court Street and walked up the street. I needed to stop a few times at some bakeries that I had been to many times on my walks here.
As I walked all over Atlantic Avenue, I saw all the new little boutique bakeries with their $5.00 cookies and $7.00-$9.00 pies that looked delicious but were not worth the money. No pie that is about three bites is worth $7.00. When I visited the longtime neighborhood favorite, Monteleone’s Bakery at 355 Court Street the woman at the counter reminded me why this bakery has been around for 100 years. Quality and service.
The pastries at Monteleone’s Bakery are delicious
The prices and selection are also a nice part of the bakery. Their miniature pastries which are nice sized sell for $2.00 a piece and the selection of them is extensive. I bought a pastry stuffed with cannoli cream and a mini cream puff with vanilla cream. I had the woman put them in a bag so that I could eat them along the way. They both lasted barely a block.
When I mentioned to the woman about the $7.00 pies and $5.00 cookies at the bakeries on Atlantic Avenue, she just laughed and said this is the reason why Monteleone’s is so popular and has been around so long. They know their customers. I know that I will be back when I visit the neighborhood again.
I was still hungry as I walked down Court Street to the Fulton Mall and downtown, so I stopped at the Court Pastry Shop at 298 Court Street for another pastry. I love my sweets and had not been there in a few years. It is funny that the Court Pastry Shop was used in a very funny scene in my book “Firehouse 101” so I always remember my trips there in the past when I was doing location spots for my book. Their cream puffs and eclairs are delicious.
I eyed my favorite eclair in the case and bought one immediately ($3.50). I swear it had been at least three or four years since I had had one and they are still the best. They had such a thick layer of chocolate icing on them and filled with the most delicious vanilla cream.
Now being full of sweet snacks, I continued up Court Street to the Brooklyn Court House and then walked back down Fulton Street to the Fulton Street Mall. At this point most of the Fulton Street Mall has been demolished and replaced with new apartment and office buildings. This was part of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to revitalize downtown Brooklyn with a broader retail selection and replace many of the older buildings.
It is not quite done yet but within five years most of Downtown Brooklyn should be redeveloped. It looks so much different from even two years ago. This was documented in film “My Brooklyn”.
The film on Downtown Brooklyn “My Brooklyn”
It was such a nice afternoon, and I was enjoying the sunshine so much and I had a lot of energy with all the desserts in me, I decided to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, which I have done many times and never tire of looking at the view.
Talk about the perfect afternoon to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was clear, sunny and about 70 degrees. It really looked like the tourists were back because people were taking pictures all over the bridge from every angle including ready to fall off the bridge because they were leaning so much over the rails. The view of Lower Manhattan was just spectacular.
By the time I got to the Manhattan side of the bridge, I was starved. I decided that I had the energy to walk to Chinatown which is only a few blocks away from the bridge entrance. By the time I got to Chinatown, it was almost seven in the evening and found that most of the smaller places were closed (it was a weekday). So, I walked all over Mott Street, East Broadway, Catherine Street, Henry Street and the Bowery and decided on an old standby which I love Dim Sum Go Go at 5 East Broadway.
I was hungrier than I thought. I started with Shrimp and Mango Rolls ($5.95), Duck Spring Rolls ($5.95), Pork Soup Dumplings ($6.95) and Steamed Shrimp Dumplings ($5.95). After devouring all of that, I ordered the Pan-Fried Pork and Chive Dumplings ($5.95) and the Steamed Roast Pork Buns ($6.95). Everything was so delicious and fresh and came out steaming hot. Even on a weeknight I was surprised by how full the place was and it seemed that people were ordering more than me.
I especially loved the Shrimp and Mango rolls with the breaded and fried ground shrimp mixture with a piece of fresh mango in the center. It had a nice sweet/savory flavor to it and was fried perfectly golden brown. All of the dumplings were cooked to perfection and the pork and chive dumplings had a nice flavor to them (See review on TripAdvisor).
The Soup Dumplings at Dim Sum Go Go are excellent
By this point it was twilight and just getting dark, but it was still so nice out that I decided I wanted to walk through the East Village to see how busy it was that night and to see how many NYC students were out and about. Plus, I wanted to see if the Anthology Film Center was still open on Second Avenue (it was closed that night). I walked up Second Avenue past all the trendy little restaurants and closed shops which were packed with students. I could not believe how busy the area was this time of night, but it was still in the 60’s and just a nice night to mill around.
By the time I reached 14th Street, I figured I might as well walk back to Port Authority and walked up a combination of Second, Third and then by East 23rd Street, up Lexington Avenue through Kips Bay and ‘Curry Hill’ which I had visited a year ago. All of the Indian restaurants were busy as well and the smells of cumin and curry wafted through the air. I always love walking through this neighborhood.
I walked across East 34th Street and arrived at the doors of Macy’s and Herald Square was just as busy as the rest of Manhattan with people walking around the plazas of Herald and Greeley Squares. Koreatown on West 32nd Street off Broadway was also packed with students and tourists going out to dinner and enjoying the dessert restaurants. The restaurants serving Bubble Teas and Korean Cheesecakes has long lines to them.
I finally arrived at the Port Authority at almost 10:00pm and could not believe how far my journey took me. From the Brooklyn Botanical Garden to the Port Authority. This is the power of wonderful warm weather, a nice evening breeze and good food. It gives you the energy to keep going.
I returned to the NoMAD (North of Madison Square Park) neighborhood after the holidays were over on a rather cold and cloudy day. What a difference three weeks makes in the mood of New York City. What ever was left of that little Christmas cheer that was in Manhattan was over. The streets had gotten really quiet again. Not the same when I walked the neighborhood on Christmas Day but still the busiest place in the neighborhood was Madison Square Park. Those little kids really love that playground and the dog walkers are finding refuge in the Dog park. Madison Square Park has been a blessing in disguise for many people in this neighborhood.
I started my walk on West 30th Street and Broadway. I have walked this part of Broadway many times on my full length walk of Broadway from 242nd Street to the Bowling Green Park at the tip of the Island and recognized many of these buildings from previous walks. This part of Broadway is so impressive in architecture and played such an important park of the City’s development as a business district.
My ‘Walk down the Length of Broadway’ has been done four times:
As the neighborhood as started to gentrify before my eyes (I have never seen so many buildings being gutted and sandblasted back to life), a new generation of upscale stores and restaurants are finding a home on Broadway between 30th to 26th Streets. Broadway right now is closed off for outdoor winter dining in the era of COVID. I could not believe the way people are bundling up to eat outside.
One of the most impressive buildings on the edge of the neighborhood that is currently under renovation is 1200 Broadway, former The Gilsey House Hotel.
This elegant Victorian confection was designed by architect Stephen Decatur Hatch with a cast iron facade in the Second Empire style. The hotel opened in 1872 as a luxury hotel catering to well-heeled guests when this was the main business district. I now is being renovated for residential use (Wiki).
One of the most beautiful buildings on Broadway is 1181 Broadway, The Baudouine Building, at the corner of Broadway and West 28th Street. The building was built for furniture maker Charles A. Baudouine with architect Alfred Zucker. The building was completed in 1896 (Daytonian).
The ornate building has a unique feature on the top in the form of a small Greek temple on the roof that was once used for the Baudouine Realty business. There was a succession of businesses using the building over the years but it has now given way to apartments (Daytonian). You really have to walk around this building to admire its details done in terra cotta and limestone.
The Greek Temple roof at 1181 Broadway
Walking down Broadway, I passed 1133 Broadway, The St. James Building. It is another building that makes you stop and take notice of the detail work on the outside of the building. The St. James was built in 1896 by architect Bruce Price in the Beaux Arts style with a limestone exterior and noted for its arched windows (New Yorkitecture).
1133 Broadway The St. James Building
The buildings in this section of Broadway became more commercial towards the turn of the Ninetieth Century in a ‘race to sky’ with the rise of early skyscrapers (Flatiron Partnership).
One building that stands out in the neighborhood that sits right near Madison Square Park like another overgrown confection amongst the other buildings is 1132 Broadway (also known as 210 Fifth Avenue), the Cross Chambers Building, once home to the Marc Cross & Company leather goods store. This detailed building was designed by architect John B. Snook & Sons in the Beaux Arts style (Daytonian).
1132 Broadway-The Cross-Chambers Building (210 Fifth Avenue)
This marble clad building stands guard impressively amongst the surrounding buildings and you really have to look closely of the details in design to see its beauty. Walking closer to the park, another stand out building is 1128 Broadway (212 Fifth Avenue).
This impressive building is next door to 210 Fifth Avenue and faces Madison Square Park between West 25th and West 26th Streets. This former commercial building was converted to residences in 2016. The building was built in 1912 by architects Schwartz & Gross in the Neo-Gothic and Romanesque style. The building is amazing when it is lit at night (Flatiron Partnership).
210 & 212 Fifth Avenue (1128 and 1132 Broadway) across from Madison Square Park
Making my way through the park, I relaxed by the playground again and could not believe how busy it was for a late afternoon. I was wondering if these kids were in school or had virtual classes and were taking a break. If the parents were cooped up in the apartments surrounding the park with their kids, maybe it was them that needed the break and the fresh air. Either way, the kids were having a ball and climbing all over the place while the parents talked amongst themselves happy to see other adults.
From the park, I started my trip up Fifth Avenue from 25th to 30th Street. Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between the West Side and the East Side of Manhattan and has been almost the cultural divide between these two sections of Manhattan over the years.
For years when I was working in Manhattan in the Rug industry, this had been the Handmade Rug District and the Textiles District for the Garment Industry. Slowly this is giving way to more residential and commercial use for other industries such as the growing Tech, Advertising and Multi-Media industries that have been growing since 1998. It has been because of the fiber optic cables that line Eighth and Ninth Avenues along with beauty of all these classic buildings. More and more people want the charm of these Beaux-Arts style buildings that just a decade ago were considered obsolete and were being knocked down.
I finished my afternoon by having dinner at AweSum Dim Sum at 160 East 23rd Street. Since dining inside was still closed in the City, I had to brave eating my dinner at one of the outdoor tables in the 40 degree evening with no pool heaters in site. I could not believe the other five tables were filled as well. It shows the popularity that this restaurant has gotten in the four months I have been visiting this neighborhood.
I explored the Dim Sum menu and settled on an order of Fried Rice Dumplings, an order of Spring Rolls and for dessert an order of Baked Cream Buns. Everything was nicely wrapped in small containers and boxes and I ate the furthest table by East 23rd Street. Talk about a view at twilight. All the lights were coming on and surprising the traffic around the restaurant was busy.
The food here is excellent and reasonable. The Cream Buns especially were crisp on the outside due to the rice dough and sweet on the inside. Everything on the menu here is terrific.
The Cream Buns here are amazing
Fifth Avenue has so many charming buildings as well. Walking up Fifth Avenue from Madison Square Park I passed one of the most impressive buildings at 225 Fifth Avenue, the former Brunswick Hotel and called The Grand Madison. It presides over the northern part of Madison Square Park.
This impressive building also once the New York Gift Building was designed by architects Francis H. Kimball and Harry E. Donnell in the Renaissance Revival style in 1906. The outside of the impressive building is built with multi-color brick and limestone (StreetEasy).
225 Fifth Avenue-The Grand Madison/The former Brunswick Hotel
I had visited the museum in the Pre-COVID days (that seems like a lifetime ago) and visited the exhibitions on the “History of Pornography” in film and “Punk Lust: Raw Provocation 1971-1985”, an exhibition on the ‘Punk Music Scene’ during the height of the ‘sexual revolution’. There is some very interesting art in this museum as well as they were building ‘Funland’ while I was visiting so I have to go back and see the exhibition. Don’t miss their interesting gift shop.
‘Punk Lust’ exhibition at the Museum of Sex
At the corner of West 27th Street and Fifth Avenue, is 236 Fifth Avenue with a colorful painting of a Victorian woman by artist Triston Eaton. The painting has many meanings from the emancipation of women through the “Ladies Mile” shopping district where women could walk without being escorted by a man to the trail of the century of the Stanford White shooting.
“The Gilded Lady” on the side of 236 Fifth Avenue by artist Triston Eaton
Artist Triston Eaton is an American born artist who graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and started his career in the toy industry. He is now sought out today for his large-scale murals (Artist Bio).
Artist Triston Eaton in front of “The Gilded Lady” (Triston Eaton Bio)
As I continued the walk up Fifth Avenue, I passed another architectural gem at 242 Fifth Avenue, The Bow Building. This unique building was finished in 1885 and was converted to apartments in 2016 (CityRealty.com).
The building was the former home of John C. Ely, a real estate owner and was originally built in 1883 as a private brownstone home. In 1885, architect George Harding converted it from residential to a commercial building with the addition of the large bay windows and a cast iron front (Daytonian).
Just further up Fifth Avenue near East 28th Street is 256 Fifth Avenue which also has the most interesting facade. The building was built by furniture maker Charles A . Baudouine when he started to buy real estate. The building was designed by architects Alfred Zucker (who also designed 1188 Broadway for the same owner) and John H. Edelman and was completed in 1893. The building is designed in the Moorish Revival style and was designed for retail use that started to fill the area at the later half of the 1800’s (Daytonian).
At the tip of the neighborhood between East 29th and 30th Streets is the Marble Collegiate Church at 272 Fifth Avenue and 1 West 29th Street. The Marble Collegiate Church is one of the oldest churches in New York City being part of the Reformed Dutch Church. It was founded in 1628.
The Collegiate Marble Church at 272 Fifth Avenue at 1 West 29th Street
The church building was built between 1851 and 1854. It was designed by architect Samuel A. Warner in the Romanesque Revival style with Gothic Trim and is made of Tuckahoe marble (Wiki).
For dinner that evening, I made a detour back through Kips Bay to try Kips Bay Deli at 545 Second Avenue again for dinner. Indoor dining was still not available in Manhattan so I ordered a sandwich and took it with me to the little plaza across the street from Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone on the corner of East 34th Street and First Avenue.
The sandwiches at Kips Bay Deli are just excellent and can easily feed two people. I ordered a Chicken Parmesan on a hero roll and it was just excellent (see my review on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). The sandwich was stuffed with two large fried chicken cutlets with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. I was starved from all that walking up and down both Broadway and Fifth Avenue. It tasted so good on a cool night. I just sat and watched the doctors leave from their shifts that evening.
The Chicken Parmesan sandwich here is really good
My last afternoon in NoMAD, I explored all the side streets from West to East 30th to West to East 25th Streets again between Sixth and Madison Avenue. I saw a lot of the same buildings that lined both Broadway, Fifth and Madison Avenue before and it was nice to admire them from all angles. Even on the side streets, I can tell even in the era of COVID this is an extremely desirable neighborhood and buildings are being gutted and renovated.
I started back in Madison Square Park to figure out my game plan. On this cool day, the park was extremely busy. The dog walkers were all talking amongst themselves while the kids were all yelling and screaming in the playground.
I started my walk on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 26th Street and made my way down the street. I passed the now closed Museum of Mathematics at 11 East 26th Street and looked through the window. The museum finally reopened after its COVID closing in December of 2022. This interesting interactive museum is perfect for young children and their parents.
The museum is all about teaching children math from a hands-on approach. There are two floors of displays where children and adults alike can participate in the activity.
Museum of Mathematics at 11 East 26th Street is closed because of COVID
I found the Tessellation Display and the Human Tree to be fun for me to play at and create my own art while learning something about math and its distinctions. Still, it is geared for children under the age of twelve.
The Tessellation Display at the National Museum of Mathematics
Walking down from East 26th to West 26th Streets to Sixth Avenue, I passed many of the historic buildings on Fifth Avenue and Broadway again with their beautiful details and their impressive stonework. This is true until you get to Sixth Avenue with its modern apartment buildings that were built in the late 1990’s until today.
Slowly the borders and businesses of the Garment and Flower Districts around Sixth Avenue are slowly disappearing. There is still some small manufacturing and whole businesses left but little by little these buildings are being torn down for another building or gutted for an upscale merchant or restaurant. The character of the old neighborhood will be gone within the next five years.
As I made my back down West 26th Street and rounded the corner on Madison Avenue to East 27th Street, so many interesting small buildings stood out when you left the confines of the Avenues. There is one standout that has an interesting history at 13-15 East 27th Street, The Prince Edward Hotel.
The was designed by architect Howard Greenley in the Beaux-Arts style and opened in 1904 with a ‘British Flair’ with a “Ladies Tea Room’ and a “British Tap Room’ as noted by the signs outside. When it opened, it had its own celebrity clientele that spanned that era. The history changed 65 years later when in the 1970’s it was considered one of the most dangerous welfare residencies in the City. Today the hotel is going through another renovation to bring it back to its glory (Forgotten New York).
Another set of beautiful buildings you have to look up at to admire their beauty is 28-32 West 27th Street which was built in 1909 in the Beaux-Arts design and 34 West 27th Street next door which has a unique design itself and both are heavily decorated.
28-32 West 27th Street and 34 West 27th Street next door
There are two small places to eat on the way back down West 27th Street that you should not miss. Pastry Chef Dominique Ansel opened his new bakery, Workshop at 17 East 27th Street recently and the pastries are amazing and innovative (as unusual). The small bakery is very creative in its design to match the delicious treats being sold.
Dominique Ansel’s Workshop Bakery at 17 East 27th Street
I tried the Brown Sugar DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann), a type of caramelized brioche/croissant that is loaded with cinnamon and butter and baked in a muffin dish. You have to pull it apart to enjoy each sweet piece of pastry. I also tried a savory pastry, the Crispy Molten Comte Gougere which is a type of cream puff filled with Comte and mozzarella cheese and then topped with bread crumbs and then warmed up. It was heaven.
The other is a little hole in the wall pizzeria called French Pizza at 1158 Broadway on the corner of Broadway and West 27th Street. The pizza slice was a $1.00 and the pizza was quite good. The sauce was amazing and the guy working the counter was really nice. They have a selection of breakfast and lunch dishes that are all under $5.00.
French Pizzeria at 1158 Broadway is a reasonable ‘hole in the wall’ restaurant
Heading back down 27th Street to Fifth Avenue, I passed the Museum of Sex again and I could see through the window that the gift shop was busy. It was interesting that everyone was wearing masks because of COVID but it seemed rather suited for the museum.
My walk down East 28th Street offered similar architectural treasurers. As the neighborhood started to change from wealthy residential to commercial, the rich started to build their new mansions on the upper parts of Fifth Avenue around Central Park. This area became the new Midtown from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of WWI. It became home to many of the top hotels and the Hotel Latham from 4-8 East 28th Street became one of the top hotels.
The Latham Hotel was built 1904 and designed by architect Augustus N. Allen in the Beaux Arts style. The hotel opened as both an upscale residential and transient hotel. Like the Prince Edward Hotel, the modern era was not the best to the hotel and it was used for the homeless during the 1970’s and 80’s. Currently it is being renovated again (Daytonian).
One building I admired was at 34 East 28th Street. This small building has a unique facade that looks like it belongs in New Orleans. This brownstone with marble trim was built in 1910.
I rounded the corner again to East 29th Street and stopped right in front of 2 West 29th Street. This elegant marble commercial building was built in 1928 and has since been renovated into condos. Don’t ask what the going price is to live here!
On the way back to the East Side of Fifth Avenue, I walked past 1186 and 1200 Broadway again with their scaffolding and sandblasting that will be going on for months. I also passed many small groups of Caribbean men who work at the wholesale stores huddling under the scaffolding to keep warm and dry on the gloomy afternoon.
As the buildings in this neighborhood go through the transition back to hotels and upscale retail awaiting the post-COVID days in the future I wondered how much longer they will all be working here. Almost all the buildings I have highlighted in the neighborhood are going through some form of renovation turning the neighborhood back to its glory days as the Midtown hub.
My last stop in the neighborhood was the Church of the Transfiguration at 1 East 29th Street. The church was built in the English Neo-Gothic style in 1849. The church had continued to be added onto during the late 1800’s with the tower and guildhall built in 1852 and the lych-gate designed by architect Fredrick Clarke Withers in 1869. The chapels were added in 1906 and 1908. The early claim to fame of the church was it had actor Edwin Booth (the father of John Wilkes Booth) Memorial stained glass window designed by John LeFarge in 1898 located in the church (Wiki).
The Church of the Transfiguration at 1 East 29th Street
What is nice about the church is the gardens in the front where you can sit down and rest and contemplate about yourself. The original architect of the church is unknown but designed these English gardens as a place of refuge. What I thought was interesting was that the church had been used in films since Silent films and the most famous current film was the Woody Allen film “Hanna and her Sisters” (Wiki).
Still even on a gloomy day, it was a nice place to just rest, relax and think about how this neighborhood is going through its own transformation as the rest of the City is during this time of COVID. What will be the end results and what will the City look and be like?
I ended my evening once again with a quick slice of pizza at Fresh Pizza and Deli at 876 Sixth Avenue. I don’t know why I love this little dump of a restaurant but the food is so good. The pizza is a $1.00 and on a cold gloomy night tasted so good. The cooks here keep giving strange looks like I am going to arrest them or something. The people that eat here are real characters that work in the neighborhood and like to defy City orders and eat their pizza and sandwiches at the small counter inside the restaurant. I found myself doing the same until they nudged me to the sidewalk.
I have never seen such a transformation of a neighborhood.
I finished Kips Bay right before the holidays and discovered the section between Lexington and Third Avenues was also considered part of “Rose Hill”, an old farming estate from Colonial times. The area had not been called “Rose Hill” since the mid-1800’s and was surprised why anyone would want to bring the name back. That’s the real estate market for you. Anything to sell an apartment in a neighborhood.
This area of the Manhattan is actually a cross section of three neighborhoods, the “Rose Hill” estate section, NoMAD (North of Madison Square Park) and the Flatiron District, dominated by the Flatiron Building located on the cross section of Broadway and Fifth Avenue. The area in question is between Fifth and Sixth Avenue from East and West 25th to 30th Street, which is part of both the Flatiron District and NoMAD with a block being in Rose Hill.
It must be very confusing for the residents to know where they live and what neighborhood association to join. That being said there is not much residential in this area as opposed to it being more of the start of the lower Midtown Business District. This is where a lot of your “hip” companies like to have their offices.
The neighborhood’s central point is Madison Square Park, a small oasis of green in the middle of what used to be the financial and retail district from the turn of the last century to about the Great Depression era. Most of the commercial buildings were built between 1890 to about 1930. This district shows that these companies believed in their businesses and built these spaces to last a lifetime. Many of the companies that built this district no longer exist. Still a few of the insurance companies and banks still own their buildings but in the era of COVID with everyone working at home, we will see what the future holds for them as well.
The upper portion of the neighborhood is what is left of the old “Wholesale” and “Flower District”, which are both starting to dwindle in relevance in this neighborhood. As the neighborhood slowly started to be knocked down in the early 90’s and replaced by high rises especially above 23rd Street along Sixth Avenue, it went from being an old commercial district to one that was middle to high end residential.
What is left of the old “Wholesale” district is now concentrated around the stretch from Fifth to Sixth Avenue along East 30th Street and a little along Broadway but little by little the stores are closing up.
All the department stores that the district used to cater to are long gone with the exception of Macy’s Herald Square and realtors have discovered that people really do love the old charm of these turn of the last century Victorian and Art Deco style architecture. These buildings are slowly are being converted back to their original use of hotels, stores and restaurants as they were in the early 1900’s.
Even the ‘Flower District’ is down to about a dozen stores. What was once lined with fresh flowers and decorative house plants as well as all sorts of gardening supplies have packed up and moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx along with the Fish Markets of South Street Seaport and the Meatpacking District in Chelsea. The buildings and land have just become too valuable and the areas are being zoned for residential.
During Mayor Bloomberg’s last term in office all of these and other areas of the City that were once commercial were rezoned for residential and have changed the complexity of these neighborhoods. Some for the better and some for the worse. In NoMAD, the area just keeps morphing even during the era of COVID.
I started my day walking down from Port Authority and touring through the first floor of Macy’s Herald Square. The changes in that store since I have worked there have been tremendous. The Christmas decorations are long gone (except from the Ninth Floor where the Christmas Shoppe was still going strong) and the store was preparing for Valentine’s Day like the rest of the retail industry. The store was pretty crowded for early afternoon and gave me faith that the industry was not dead.
I exited through the back door into Herald Square and walked through both Herald and Greeley Squares where people were eating their lunches and socializing on the park chairs and tables (socially distanced of course). It is surprising how busy the parks were a cool cloudy morning. I then walked around Koreatown on my way to NoMAD and the restaurants were really busy again like they were on Christmas Day. People still enjoy eating outside even at this time of the year.
I started my walk of NoMAD on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 30th Street. This was interesting because in all my years at Macy’s, this had been the Textiles and Handmade Rug showrooms during the late 80’s and through the 90’s. Now there was not much left. The few showrooms that were left in the handmade rug business were closed that afternoon and the commercial part of the block was really quiet. There were not too many people walking around so I could take my time and really admire the buildings.
Many of the wholesale businesses were open but they are becoming few and far between. Even in the Pandemic, I do not foresee them being here in the next two years. As the leases start to get broken or the buildings get renovated, they are slowly emptying out and there are many for rent signs on 30th Street.
Most of the buildings on 30th Street were non-descriptive until I reached the corner of West 30th Street and Fifth Avenue. At 284 Fifth Avenue is The Wilbraham Building, a beautiful Victorian building built between 1888-90 that was commissioned by jeweler William Moir. The building was designed by architect D. & J. Jardine in the Romanesque Revival style. The building has been home to Shalom Brothers Rugs for many years (StreetEasy.com).
284 Fifth Avenue at East 30th Street-The Wilbraham
Rounding the corner on East 30th Street to Madison Avenue, the border of the neighborhood is shared with the “Rose Hill” section of the neighborhood. Technically “Rose Hill” is the eastern section of the neighborhood by historical fact to the location of the original estate. Still on most maps, NoMAD stretches to the border of Kips Bay on Lexington Avenue. This is where the borders of all these neighborhoods got confusing.
So I walked around the block and walked up and down Madison Avenue, the main artery and border of the neighborhood to revisit some of the most beautiful and picturesque buildings on the avenue. This starts the border also of the residential and business district of the neighborhood.
Walking down East 25th Street, you realize as you start to border the Midtown area that the buildings take up more of the blocks and there are less smaller brownstones and tenements in the area. The dominate building on the block by Madison Square Park is 11-25 Madison Avenue, the Metropolitan Life Buildings. The building that lines this part of East 25th Street is the Metropolitan Life North Building (or 11 Madison Avenue).
Metropolitan Life North Building at 25 Madison Avenue
This beautiful building was the extension of the main headquarters next door on Madison Avenue. The building was designed by the architectural team of Harvey Wiley Corbett and D. Everett Waid in the Art Deco style in the late 1920’s as the tallest building in the world but the Great Depression changed the plans and it was built in three stages. The first finished in 1932, the second in 1940 and the third in 1950 (Wiki).
The archways ‘Loggias’ on each side of the building
What stands out about the building is the arched vaults on each corner of the structure called ‘loggias’ and the features were made in limestone and pink marble. When you stand under them you can see the colors and details of the marble carvings (Wiki). Just walking around the building the features are impressive and standout.
Across the street from the Metropolitan Life North Building at 27 Madison Avenue is the Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State and one of the most beautiful and detailed buildings I have seen on my walks. The building was designed by architect James Lord Brown in 1896 in the Beaux Arts Style and is adorned heavily in sculpture (Wiki). You really have to step back and walk across the street to see the details on the building.
27 Madison Avenue The Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State
Looking up close, you can see that the building resembles a Greek Temple and was considered one of the best examples of the “City Beautiful Movement” that occurred during the 1890’s and 1900’s to enhance cities with monumental grandeur and beauty (Wiki).
The historical beauty of the architecture continued up the border of the neighborhood as I walked up Madison Avenue towards East 30th Street. You have to walk both sides of Madison Avenue to appreciate the designs and details of the buildings that line the avenue.
You have to look close to the building or you will miss it is the sculpture by artist Harriet Feigenbaum. It is a memorial to victims of the Holocaust and is very powerful in its work showing the concentration camps.
“The Memorial to the Injustice of the Victims of the Holocaust”-“Indifference to Justice is the Road to Hell”
Harriet Feigenbaum is an American sculptor and environmentalist. Her works cover sculpture, film and drawings that are seen all over the world (Wiki and artist bio).
I passed 50 Madison Avenue and noticed how the buildings blended in design. The bottom level of the building was built in 1896 as the headquarters of the ASPCA (American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals). The building was designed by architects Renwick, Aspinwell & Owen and had a classic ‘club like’ design to it. The building was refitted and added to in 2005 by the firm of Samson Management with a six story addition to luxury condos (CityRealty.com).
Another ornamental building that stands out in the neighborhood is 51 Madison Avenue which is the home of New York Life Insurance Building. The building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert in 1926 in the Art Deco style with Gothic Revival details along the sides and was finished in 1928. The structure is topped with a gilded roof (Wiki & New York Life Insurance history). This is another building that you have to see from all sides.
51 Madison Avenue-The New York Life Insurance Building
Continuing my walk up Madison Avenue while admiring the architecture of the neighborhood is The James NoMAD Hotel, the former Seville Hotel, on the corner of East 29th Street at 88 Madison Avenue. This interesting hotel has gone through several name changes and renovations since it was built in 1904. The hotel was designed by architect Harry Alan Jacobs in the Beaux Arts style and the annex to the hotel was designed by Charles T. Mott in 1906 (Wiki).
88 Madison Avenue-The James NoMAD Hotel (formerly The Seville)
The outdoor dining was open for the restaurant the first afternoon I had visited the neighborhood even though I thought it was a little cool to eat outside. Even though you can’t go inside unless you are a guest, I could see the holiday decorations and lights from the street and it looked very elegant inside.
Across the street from this elegant hotel is 95 Madison Avenue the former Emmett Building. The structure was designed by architects John Stewart Barney and Stockton B. Colt of Barney & Colt for Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet in 1912 when the area was a wholesale district. The building is designed in the French Neo-Renaissance with Gothic style ornamentation (New York Landmark Preservation Commission and Wiki).
Turning the corner at East 25th Street and Madison Avenue is Madison Square Park, named after our forth President of the United States, James Madison. This well landscaped park is the gathering place of the residents of NoMAD and has a wonderful playground that has been busy the whole time I have spent in the neighborhood.
Madison Square Park is an interesting little oasis from all the traffic and office space. It has an interesting history since it was designated a public space in 1686 by British Royal Governor Thomas Dongan. It has served as a potters field, an arsenal and a home for delinquents. In 1847, the space was leveled, landscaped and enclosed as a park. It became part of the New York Park system in 1870. There are many historical figures featured in the park (NYCParks.org).
The park today is a major meeting spot for residents and tourists alike with a dog track and the original Shake Shack restaurant.
Madison Square Park in the Spring when I was walking the length of Broadway
When I walked into the park to take a break, it must have been the busiest section of the neighborhood between the playground and the original Shake Shack that were serving food to a crowd clung to their cellphones.
I stopped to look at the statue of our 21st President Chester A. Arthur, who had taken oath just two blocks away in his New York townhouse where the Kalustyan’s Specialty Foods is located at 123 Lexington Avenue (See My walk in Kips Bay below). I thought about what was going on in our government today and what they must have gone through with this transition.
The Statue of Chester A. Arthur in Madison Square Park
George Edwin Bissell was an American born artist from Connecticut whose father was a quarry-man and marble carver. He studied sculpture abroad in Paris in the late 1870’s and was known for his historical sculptures of important figures of the time (Wiki).
The Admiral David Farragut statue in Madison Square Park by artist Augustus St. Gaudens
Another interesting statue that stands out in Madison Square Park is the of Civil War Navy hero, Admiral David Farragut. Admiral Farragut commanded the Union Blockage of Southern cities and helped capture New Orleans. The statute was designed by sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens. This was the artist’s first major commission when it was dedicated in 1881 (NYCParks.org).
Augustus St. Gaudens was an Irish born American artist whose specialty during the Beaux-Arts era was monuments to Civil War heroes. He had created the statue the William Tecumseh Sherman in the Central Park Mall on Fifth Avenue along with this statue of Admiral Farragut. He had studied at the National Academy of Design, apprenticed in Paris and then studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts (Wiki).
Upon leaving Madison Square Park and proceeding across East to West 25th Street (Fifth Avenue separates the East Side from the West Side of Manhattan), I was traveling into what was once part of Midtown between the Civil War until WWI and then after that Midtown moved closer to Central Park during the 1920’s through the 1940’s. This leads to the former ‘Ladies Shopping Mile’, which I had covered the previous Christmas on a walking tour.
My blog on my Christmas Walking Tour of the Ladies Shopping Mile in 2018:
Most of the buildings in this section of NoMAD were built with decorative stone work and elaborate ornamentation. There are so many in this section of Manhattan I will highlight the ones that are the standouts. As I walked the border of the neighborhood, you could see many beautiful buildings lining 25th Street.
When walking down East 25th Street from Madison Square Park, the first interesting site you pass is the historic Worth Square, the Memorial to and burial site of General William Jenkins Worth.
William Jenkins Worth was a native New Yorker (Hudson, NY) and decorated Army officer who had served our country in the Battles of 1812, The Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War. His series of campaigns shaped this Country to where it is today. He died working for the Department of Texas in 1849 (Wiki).
Army General William Jenkins Worth
The General’s remains are buried under the monument at Worth Square at the corner of Fifth Avenue, Broadway and East 24th and 25th Street. General Worth was interned here in November of 1857 on the anniversary of the British leaving the colonies (NYCParks.org).
The Worth Monument between East 24th and East 25th Street at Broadway and Fifth Avenue
The Worth Monument was designed by artist James Goodwin Batterson, whose main profession was one of the founders of the Travelers Insurance Company in Hartford, CT and helped design the Library of Congress Building in Washington DC. He had immersed himself in his father’s quarrying and stone importing business early in his career and traveled extensively to Europe and Egypt for the job. He designed this monument in 1857 (Wiki).
Passing Worth Square and continuing down West 25th Street, I was revisiting the edge of the former “Ladies Shopping Mile” and noticed the impressive architecture that lines the streets of this section of the neighborhood.
At 1123 Broadway is the detailed Townsend Building that was built between 1896-97 and was designed by New York architect Cyrus Lazelle Warner Eidlitz in the Classical style. The building is names for Isaac Townsend whose estate the building was built on (Flatiron Partnership).
Another beautiful building is the Heritage Hotel at 18-20 West Fifth Avenue. This detailed hotel was designed by the architectural firm of Israels & Harder in 1901 in the Beaux-Arts style.The hotel opened in 1902 as the Arlington Hotel, a residential hotel for well-heeled guests (Daytonian).
By the time I reached Sixth Avenue, named “The Avenue of the Americas” only to tourists and out of towners, I had seen a significant change in this part of Sixth Avenue in the last thirty years. At West 25th Street, the intersection is just above what had been “Department Store Row” that ends at West 23rd Street.
This had once been the heart of the “Flower District” and while there still are some wholesale flower businesses tucked here and there on Sixth Avenue and some of the side streets, that business has mostly moved on. What had once been lined with rows of smaller buildings housing flower shops selling their wares to people in the Tri-State area is now lined with new modern apartment buildings up to almost West 34th Street. The area is still being redeveloped.
As I ended my first day in the neighborhood, I walked back down West 30th Street back to Madison Avenue passing the familiar buildings back through Madison Square Park and just relaxed. It was fun watching people walk their dogs in the park and the dogs have a great time playing with one another.
I ended the evening with a slice of $1.00 pizza at my new ‘go to’ place in the neighborhood, Fresh Pizza & Deli at 876 Sixth Avenue, a little hole in the wall pizzeria and sandwich shop. The prices here are extremely fair both for the pizza and for the sandwiches that range from $5.00 to $7.00. The pizza here is pretty good and has a nice sauce that gives it some flavor. At night, it has some interesting characters hanging around.
After my snack, I made one last walk around the northern border of the neighborhood to visit what was left of the wholesale businesses. Slowly these jewelry and accessory stores are giving way to boutiques, trendy restaurants and bars. Even in the era of COVID, the whole neighborhood is either being gutted and renovated or knocked down and being rebuilt. There is not one block in NoMAD that isn’t being transformed.
It will be interesting to see the results when all of this passes.
Please read my other blog on walking the Avenues and Streets of NoMAD:
Day One Hundred & Ninety: Walking the Streets and Avenues of NoMAD/Rose Hill:
Well, Christmas is finally officially over for me. It was one for the books. The holiday season just came and went without much fanfare or activities. Nothing like last year which was a lot of running around visiting decorated homes or running to the next cocktail party or dinner. Those things just did not exist this year. This season was all about the outside walking tours and small get togethers.
The whole holiday season became a blur and I started to attend a lot of outdoor activities that became available. Anything to get out of the house and see people or go do something out of the ordinary. I really had to search things out.
They started closest to home. I was trying to split my time between places that were just a drive away, going back and forth to the Hudson River Valley, which gave me a change of scenery and walking the neighborhoods of Manhattan, which gave me a sense of purpose as I felt I was supporting the City by being a cheerleader for all it had to offer even in the era of COVID.
My holiday journey started with the delivery of 375 Christmas trees for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association. It was a big undertaking for a major charity that supports graduating high school seniors with scholarship money for college. I sometimes wonder if these students know what we go through to get the funds.
The trees were really nice this year
I have never seen so many Christmas Trees fly off a lot so fast. The membership of the Men’s Association got there at 9:00am and the truck arrived at 10:15am. We sold our first tree at 11:30am as we were tagging them. I stayed the entire day from 9:00am to 10:00pm when we closed the lot down for the evening. In the three shifts that I was there with the other guys, we sold 45 trees which we have never done our first day of sales.
The Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association at set-up 2020
We were completely sold out by December 11th which I have never seen before. It seemed in the era of COVID everyone reverted back to the 1970’s and wanted a fresh Christmas tree for their home. I thought this was wonderful and people could not have been more supportive to our organization.
Please read my blog on “Christmas tree sales in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ”:
Please watch the commercial I did in 2015 to sell our trees
The first week of December means “Open Houses” at some of our merchants in Downtown Hasbrouck Heights. I look forward to seeing all the Christmas merchandise being offered, all the bouquets created for the event and the beautiful Christmas windows that our florists in town have done.
Bill O’Shea’s Florist at 231 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ always has a nice gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year was like no other but it did not keep a nice crowd of residents from coming out and looking over ideas for floral displays, house decorating ideas and listening to festive holiday music all while nibbling on prepackaged treats and bottled drinks.
Bill O’Shea’s has some of the nicest displays at the holidays
In a normal year, it would be hot chocolate and coffee with freshly baked goods but COVID has changed the way these businesses are run. Everything had to be prepackaged and most people at it outside as juggling and shopping with a mask on was tough.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend we set up the Christmas Tree lot for the Men’s Association, Heights Flower Shoppe at 209 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ had their Open House and that was equally as nice.
Heights Flower Shoppe is housed in a turn of the last century home that dates back to the original founding of our downtown and has a very classic boutique look to it. The store was stocked with all sorts of Christmas decorations, homemade candies, decorative household gifts and beautiful floral displays as well as outside had decorated wreathes and grave blankets.
The homemade candies and Christmas decorations adorn the store
Like Bill O’Shea’s, there was all sorts of packaged holiday treats to enjoy including Italian sodas, small bags of homemade Christmas cookies and candies. Last year they had a nice assortment of cookies and small sandwiches with coffee, tea and punch so there are always holiday treats to nibble on too here as well.
All of Downtown Hasbrouck Heights was beautifully decorated for the holidays with wreaths on all our lamp posts, Christmas lights on the trees, merchants display windows decorated to the hilt and Christmas music playing.
Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ is always so nicely decorated for the holidays
This year because of COVID, the Annual Holiday Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting were cancelled in town but they did have a small get together at the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights to light the town Christmas tree. It was lit from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany on January 6th. It is always a beautiful site when entering town from the west side of town.
The Christmas Tree on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Even the little Neil Parrot playhouse, a local landmark in Hasbrouck Heights, was decorated for the holidays and was lite up at night as well.
The Neil Parrot Playhouse on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights awaiting Santa
There were several nights of my aunt and I exploring the town and driving block by block to see all the decorated homes. Hasbrouck Heights and the surrounding towns of Lodi and Wood Ridge always do a wonderful job decorating for the holidays but with everyone being home and COVID hitting the area hard, people wanted to really decorate and make this year even more festive. Between the merchants and home owners, they made this time of year in Hasbrouck Heights very festive.
Please read my blog on Visiting Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ:
I did not just celebrate Christmas in Hasbrouck Heights. I ventured into other parts of New Jersey, to New York City and my usual haunts in the Hudson River Valley but like New Jersey, New York State was on a lock down as well and all the decorated mansions and holiday gatherings were all cancelled as well. So everyone did their best to celebrate outdoors and have all sorts of tours and small get togethers. You had to move fast when reserving these events as they did fill up because everyone wanted to get out of the house and see things.
The Sinterklaas Parade that I have participated and volunteered at for so many years was cancelled because of COVID but like the Halloween Parade, the committee put together a video of the parade to share with the world. Still it did not compare to the excitement of walking down the hill with stars and music lighting up Downtown Rhinebeck, NY.
The noble Frog was to be our mascot for this year’s Sinterklaas Parade
It was not the same as the year before where the crowds kept getting larger and larger every year. The whole town came to life with activities, songs, lights and laughter but was silent that weekend except for people having dinner in town. I was able to sneak up during the week. The entire town was decorated with white lights and beautifully decorated store windows. Rhinebeck is one of those towns in the Hudson River Valley that looks straight out of a Currier & Ives woodcut.
Downtown Rhinebeck, NY at Christmas
Since all the Christmas parties and get togethers were cancelled, it gave me more time to look into other outdoor events. I went to a special “Historical walking tour at the Holidays” at the Bergen County Historical Society in River Edge, NJ. The tour was lead by Historical singer and lecturer, Linda Russell, who explained the traditions of the Dutch Christmas all while singing Colonial Christmas songs in between the talks at each historical house on the property.
The Steuben House at Christmas
Actors dressed in costumes (and masks of course-COVID is still going on) danced in the Steuben House ballroom as colonialists celebrating the holiday, Dutch housewives putting their children to bed while awaiting Sinterklaas. There was a Dutch wooden shoe with carrots for his horse outside the door and mistletoe on the ceiling.
Linda Russell performing and lecturing at the Bergen County Historical Society
There was a discussion on the Pagan traditions of bringing ‘greens’ from outside inside to have a bit of ‘live nature’ into the home. So mistletoe, pine and holly adorned homes during the winter months as these things were green and brought a bit of life into the dead of winter.
The last part of the lecture was done in front of the Campbell-Christie House with a visit from Sinterklaas himself. We had a short talk about who Sinterklaas was and his part in the holiday season. Then all the members of the tour enjoyed refreshments and got a goody bag when we left with holiday sweets. The lecture and songs were a nice way to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season.
My favorite song by Linda Russell “I saw Three Ships”
As I was finishing up the semester at the College, I was getting holiday preparations done at the house, having small gatherings of family and friends and trying to be COVID safe. I was also running in and out of the City finishing my blog on Kips Bay before the holidays started getting busier. I learned a lot of New York’s Colonial past from walking around this area of the City.
My blogs on the Walking the neighborhood of Kips Bay:
The next weekend I made my last trip of the season to Long Beach Island to visit Beach Haven and the tour the rest of the island one last time before winter set in. It had really closed down since Halloween. I expected it to be much busier with more people moving down there on a permanent basis. Driving up to the lighthouse, I saw more dark homes then lite ones.
I wanted to take one more tour of Long Beach Island to see how they celebrate Christmas at the shore. They do things very quietly in Beach Haven. I went to the Surflight Theater to see the only play I had seen since I attended Carnegie Hall last Christmas to see the play “We need a little Christmas” which I had seen advertised at the theater over the summer.
“We need a Little Christmas” at the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, NJ
After the theater, it was surprisingly warm that afternoon hovering around 58 degrees so I walked to the beach one block away and walked on the Jersey shore for my only time that year and for the first time on Beach Haven beach since 1975. It has been a long journey since that time.
The Beach Haven beach was beautiful that afternoon
The town’s Christmas trees were across the street from the theater on the square just off the downtown. Even they had a subdued Christmas at the shore and the whole event welcoming in the season was done virtually.
Christmas in Beach Haven, NJ adapted like the rest of the world
My holiday dinner was spent at the Chicken or the Egg that evening and it was really good. The menu is so extensive and innovative. It was hard to make choices.
Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream sandwich at Chicken or the Egg
Their fried chicken sandwiches are really good and their Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream sandwich should not be missed.
The Chicken or the Egg at 207 North Bay Avenue in Beach Haven
I was able to tour the whole island that afternoon before it got dark and even at twilight here and there were signs of Christmas in small trees lit in the shopping areas and decorated homes. It is an interesting place at the holidays with the waves crashing in the background.
My blog on “Exploring Downtown Beach Haven and Long Beach Island, NJ”:
The next week was finals week at the College and I had to give my final exam. The students also finished work on their case study, “Bud N’ Mud”, a simulated flower/coffee shop I had the students develop. It was interesting to see how a group of student entrepreneurs would create a store with their own ideas on how to grow the business. This project ended the Fall semester.
One of my favorite logo’s from the “Bud N’ Mud” project
With the Christmas trees selling out by December 11th, we held our annual Christmas party at the Christmas tree stand site for the Men’s Association. It was a cool not cold night and we all huddled around the fire taking alternate turns hitting the makeshift buffet table and enjoying good conversation. It was a great way to end the year successfully and there will lots of scholarships being given out at the end of the school year.
The last big event before Christmas came was the Sunday before Christmas with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department holding our Annual “Santa Around Town”. Because COVID was growing, the event was revamped from previous years and instead of stopping at sites all over town, we drove down each street in town slowly, having Santa wave and greet people who were on their lawns, driveways and porches. The residents of Hasbrouck Heights seemed touched by it and I could tell from the safety of the fire truck that the kids got a kick out of seeing Santa. People really needed the pick me up in holiday spirit at the time.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at “Santa Around Town” 2020
On the Tuesday before Christmas after I finished work with my other job I needed a break and wanted to go on a road trip to the Hudson River Valley again. I was nostalgic for Christmas’s past and decided to visit some of the towns Upstate.
I explored Downtown Woodstock first seeing their very unusual Christmas tree in the square. I have to say one thing about Woodstock, they do pick out the most interesting tree to sit in the square. It always looks more surreal than traditional. Their annual “Santa Parade” was cancelled this year as well and they did a drive by with Santa at the Woodstock Fire Department who runs the parade.
Downtown Kingston, NY was next on the list. Talk about a town in transition. In the almost three years since I have been visiting Kingston, I have never seen a downtown change so rapidly. The businesses there have gone from all this ‘hippie granola’ businesses to all these antique furniture stores and art galleries and some really expensive restaurants. One of the locals told me the new residents are “Brooklynizing” Kingston.
Still the downtown was nicely lit for the holidays and their Christmas Tree while small is nicely lit for the holidays on the edge of the downtown “Stockade” district. The Dutch Reformed Church on the other end of downtown was nicely lit with wreaths on the doors.
I crossed the river and drove to Red Hook, NY which I love. Their downtown looks like an old fashioned shopping district straight out of another Currier & Ives print. All the little stores were decorated with garland and white lights and the merchants decorated their windows to the hilt.
My last stop on my search for the perfect picturesque Hudson Valley River town was returning to Rhinebeck, NY for the day. Rhinebeck was quiet on this Tuesday evening as most of the restaurants were closed and the shops had closed for the evening. Still it was nice to walk around and admire the while lights on the trees and admire the display windows.
The Christmas lights and windows of Downtown Rhinebeck, NY
Even the way I celebrate Christmas changed this year. Instead of spending time with my family, I spent three days in Manhattan with my best friend, Maricel, at a hotel in Times Square. Neither of us had the time to travel and we both had to work in the City, her at her hotel and me working on my blogs so both of us needed the rest.
AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street
We stayed at the AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street. What the room lacked in size, it made up in the view and in the location. We were one block from Port Authority, two blocks from Times Square and within walking distance from all the Christmas attractions from Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas windows and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
While Maricel worked on Christmas Eve, I walked around the City. I saw the tree at Rockefeller Center which was loaded with people not keeping socially distanced. I admired the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue which had a New York City theme with Christmas scenes from around the City “This is how we Celebrate”.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas Themed window “Over the East River and Through the Neighborhoods to Grandfather’s House We Go”
Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree was even more special this year
I thought the windows at Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf-Goodman really lacked in creativity. Bloomingdale’s was having a bad year and Bergdorf’s had just gotten sold again (forth time since I worked there in 2004) so I did not expect much. With Lord & Taylor declaring bankruptcy earlier in the year and closing the main store on Fifth Avenue and B. Altman’s long gone and Macy’s going mechanical for the last few years, the excitement of seeing the windows has been less than enthusiastic.
Still it was nice to walk around Midtown after leaving the Rockefeller Center area and just walking around Third, Park and Madison Avenues. By 7:00pm, everything had shut down for the night and the streets were really quiet. What was eerie was when walking down Park Avenue and looking up and seeing so many dark buildings. The area looked abandoned with so many apartment lights out. I wondered where everyone went?
When Maricel got off work, I brought in dinner 9th Avenue Deli at 769 Ninth Avenue. I brought in a juicy cheeseburger and chicken fingers which we shared and then dug into. The perfect comfort food on a cool night. Christmas Eve was a mild 59 degrees and it was nice to walk around.
9th Avenue Deli at 769 9th Avenue
We just hung out the whole night and watched movies in the hotel room. I went to bed early and sunk into the wonderful Marriott hotel bed. Marriott had the best hotel beds and every time I stay at one of their hotels, I slept like a log.
Christmas Day we just relaxed in the room and I called many members of my family to wish them a Merry Christmas. While Maricel went to work, I decided to start touring neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Rose Hill and NoMAD in preparation in my walks there. It started out being a cold, cloudy day and there was barely anyone on the street. I saw a few people walking their dogs and that was about it until about 3:00pm. It them cleared up and was a mild 55 degrees until it got dark and then cooled down.
What really shocked me about Times Square was how dirty it was on the streets. They had not picked up the garbage on Christmas Eve day and did not pick it up until after Christmas Day so between the theaters being boarded up and the ply boards filled with graffiti, hotels closed and restaurants shut, the whole Theater district looked like NYC circa 1975. It was creepy how the pandemic was affecting the business of this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Murray Hill, Rose Hill, NoMAD and the Flatiron District were really quiet that morning and early afternoon. All the restaurants and stores were dark, three hotels had closed in the district and I saw just a few people milling around. Things changed as I got closer to Macy’s Herald Square.
When walking around Koreatown, which runs between Sixth and Fifth Avenues between 35th to 32nd Streets, the side streets were teeming with Korean couples and groups of family members dining in the outdoor restaurants and cafes. This neighborhood was really jumping and full of life.
As the day wore on by 5:00pm, the rest of the City came back to life and more restaurants and stores opened up. Christmas morning and afternoon were now over and I could tell that people wanted to get out of the house (probably to get away from the family celebrations). When Maricel returned, I ordered in dinner from Golden City Chinese Restaurant at 423 Ninth Avenue, one of the few neighborhood restaurants open and we our dinner in the room. The food was okay. It was nice to just eat in the room and relax.
Christmas dinner was Lemon Chicken and Fried Rice from Golden City Chinese Restaurant
We checked out at noon on the 26th and she left for work that afternoon, I headed into Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Museum. Both were really quiet that day. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was mostly dormant for the winter and most of the garden was closed off because of COVID. The “Studio 54” exhibition had long closed at the Brooklyn Museum so I just wondered the halls and looked at some of the changes in the permanent exhibitions that they had. I left the City for home early that evening.
The last week of the holiday, I entertained family at a Lasagna and Champagne dinner I had a the house. Since I was not able to spend time at home during the holidays, my aunts came over to my house and we had a three course meal with champagne and wine. We spent the whole night laughing and enjoying the evening.
New Year’s Eve was a quiet evening at home alone talking with other friends who were staying home alone as well. Times Square was empty that evening with the exception of the 350 first responders who were invited to the ball drop. When I watched it on TV it was eerie to see it so quiet. There was no one for blocks except police guarding Times Square.
I headed back up to the Hudson River Valley again on New Year’s Day to go on two walking tours in Staatsburgh, NY at the Mills Mansion. It was the Annual “First of the Year” walking tours and it was a cool, crisp morning for a walking tour of the property. There were two tours that morning, one was on “Winter Activities in Victorian Times” with us learning about all the winter activities that the residents here enjoyed like skating , sledding, ice boating and horse drawn sleigh rides.
Staatsburgh, the Mills Mansion in the winter
The other tour later that afternoon was on “Ice Harvesting in the Hudson River Valley” , where we learned about how the ice harvesting of the Hudson River was a big business before the advent of refrigeration. Large slabs of ice were cut from the river, floated down stream and then packed in straw awaiting sale over the metropolitan area for peoples ice boxes throughout the year. It just gave me anther excuse to visit the region I love so much.
My blog on the Mills Mansion on VisitingaMuseum.com:
Another local event that was COVID safe was a driving tour through the “Holiday Lightshow” at Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. This was the first time that the farm opened the apple and peach orchard across the street from the farm stand. I saw this display the last week it was open and even after the holidays, it was a special treat as we awaited the Epiphany.
Driving through the display only took about forty minutes but was a delight in the senses and sounds. I played the classical music station as I drove through and admired all the colorful lights on the now dormant trees while Santa’s and Snowmen winked and waved and toy soldiers lit the way through the dark field. Even the Demarest homestead was ablaze with lights.
Demarest Farms at 244 Werimus Drive in Hillsdale, NJ
My blog on “Visiting the Farms of Bergen County, NJ at Christmas”:
Don’t miss this holiday lights ride through the orchard in 2021
The holiday event I visited was the Bronx Zoo for their “Holiday Lights” event at the zoo. It was the last night of the event and I arranged for the tickets that afternoon. The zoo gave me a 30% discount to go that evening and I was on the subway ride up to the Bronx.
The Bronx Zoo Light Show
I was really impressed by the display. The entire park was decorated with white lights, with different sections of the park decorated with different themes such as jungle animals, aquatic mammals and all sorts of assorted elephants, seals, penguins, lions, tigers and bears (oh my haha). There were costumed characters to take pictures with and they even had the Bug Carousel open that evening. I got a kick out of riding this since I had not done this since I was a little kid.
The Bronx Zoo musical Christmas Tree in the old part of the zoo
In the older section of the park, they had zebras on stilts and a musical Christmas trees that had an interesting soundtrack of contemporary Christmas songs. Even though Christmas had been over now for almost two weeks, it me back into the Christmas spirit.
So there was the Christmas holidays in the era of COVID. Lots of outdoor activities in hot and cold weather. Many walking tours and more subdued events. Gone were the cocktail parties and big formal dinners and in their place were many more smaller outdoor events and communicating with nature.
Maybe we all needed to take a break from the more formal traditions and go back to the basics of family and friends. I think this was a reflective year and realizing what is important. It had not changed that much for me. I just adjusted to the times, wore a mask and got going. Staying safe and keeping others safe is what is all about.
Hours: Open Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm (the last tour is at 4:00pm)/Open Monday Holidays from April 19th to October 28th. The mansion then closes to prepare for the holiday season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Easter. There are special programs from January to April so please see the website.
Admission: $8.00 for adults/$6.00 for groups and Seniors/Children under 12 are free. Special events have separate fees and can run from $8.00 to $10.00 and above.