Seagram building

     Seagram is the skyscraper (38 stories ) located at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd Street and 53rd (Find on  the map!).Hard to believe but this sleek and modern building  is more than 50 years old. It  was built in 1958 as the headquarters for the Canadian Seagram Company that was  the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world at this time.

     The company enjoyed a quick growth in  1920s due to Prohibition in the United States. By 1985 the company was the largest single shareholder  of DuPont. in 1995 the  owner of the company got into the film and electronic media business but run it poorly. In 2002   Coca-Cola Company acquired the line of Seagram's soft drinks. Seagram Museum  located in the old building of  the Seagram distillery in Waterloo, was forced to close due to lack of funds.

Paley Pocket Park

     If you work within the skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan, or just spend enough time walking in their shadows, you become very grateful for any little slice of nature you can find. When you walk down 53-rd street from  Madison to 5-th Avenue you'll see on your right a small ( 1/10 of an acre) piece of land with a 20-foot waterfall, ivy covered walls and honey locust trees. The  waterfall gushes 1800 gallons per minute and  creates a backdrop of sound that causes city noise to fade away.
     This is the most famous example of New York pocket parks - Paley Park. In 1897 - Jacob Riis, secretary of Committee on Small Parks, coins notion of “Vest- Pocket Park”.
     Jacob Riis was born in Denmark and migrated to USA when he was 21. After three years of doing odd jobs, Riis landed a job as a police reporter with the “New York Evening Sun” newspaper. Riis is considered to be one of the fathers of modern photojournalism.
     His book "How the Other Half Lives" inspired then police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt to close the police lodging houses. It also brought about many needed reforms in housing laws. So important was Riis’s work, that Roosevelt called him "New York’s most useful citizen."
     After Jacob Riis's death in 1914, it was decided to rename Seaside Park in Rockaway, New York in his honor. Riis said, "Bad boys and bad girls are not born, but made…They are made bad by environment and training. The children must have room to play."
     Riis’s idea went largely unrealized until after World War II, when bombed-out building sites in European cities provided opportunities to create small parks at less cost than reconstruction would have entailed. Thomas Hoving, who had been a director of Metropolitan Museum of Art during from 1967 to 1977, may have seen parallels between New York’s urban landscape and Europe’s war-ravaged capitals when he started his micro-park effort in 1966, working as a New York City parks commissioner.

     The first of Mr. Hoving’s attempts at creating a compact sanctuary was Paley Park, which opened on 3 East 53rd Street in the spring of 1967. It was named for William Paley, the former chairman of CBS, who financed and oversaw the park’s design on the site of the old Stork Club.
Stork Club was one of the most famous night clubs in New York. It opened in 1929, moved to 3 East 53rd Street In 1934 and was closed in 1965. Today the ornamental bar of the Stork Club is to be found in Jim Brady's Bar in Maiden Lane. It was the place to see and be seen in the Big Apple.
  Inside the front door of the club was a gold chain, real fourteen-karat gold, and beyond it a small lobby with telephone booths and the checkroom, where ladies left their minks and ermine capes and men their hats and topcoats. In the middle of the 20-th century Billingsley, the owner of the club, had 200 employees serving the 374 guests who could be seated at any one time.
     A list of the famous people who visited Storks is very long: year 1940- Ernest Hemingway, year 1943 - Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy. J. D. Salinger and Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor could be seen in the club.
    La Guardia suspected that underworld boss Frank Costello was part-owner of the Stork Club. Because of owners friendship with Federal FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, rumors persisted that the Stork Club was bugged.
     In October 1965, Billingsley sold the building to CBS, who turned the site into a park named after its founder's father. One year to the day after the closing of the Stork Club, Sherman Billingsley died of a heart attack at his Manhattan apartment.

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“Human Nature” installation at Rockefeller Center

     The Rockefeller Center plaza between  49th and 50th Streets in winter is a place where Christmas tree stands, in summer there is a Farmer Market . Spring is the exhibition time. For seven weeks from April 23 through June 7, 2013 nine huge 16-to 20-foot human-shaped stone figures will inhabit the plaza.  Each statue weighs more than 17 tons.
     “It’s really amazing,” Bloomberg marveled. “It’s just rock, except it’s not just rock." Bloomberg predicted the exhibit will be thought-provoking to both New Yorkers and tourists. “People are going to say, ‘Look at the one, I like that, I don’t like that, what does this one mean?’" he said. “That’s exactly what art should do — it should get you thinking and exercising your brain. ”
     Swiss born, New York-based artist  Ugo Rondinone made the sculptures of bluestone  and  left the surfaces rough.  The artist  made 50 miniature statues and named them (“Joy”, “Glad” ,“Uplifting”...) before deciding which to choose for the full-scale version. Bluestone is a commercial name for Field Spathic sandstone, which is produced in hundreds of small quarries in Pennsylvania.   Interesting to know that  Bluestone is also the name for the  dolerite of the famous Stonehenge in Britain.
    For more than 20 years, Ugo Rondinone  has produced  remarkably diverse body of work  including mandala paintings, figurative sculptures, large-scale landscape drawings, and immersive multi-channel video installations.
     A new exhibition of  Ugo Rondinone  “Soul” will be open  from  May 7 till July 3 in  Gladstone Gallery located on West 21 in Manhattan. This year the artist  will have exhibitions at Museum Leuven, Brussels, Belgium, and at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Berlin wall in New York

     On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic began to build a barbed wire and concrete "Antifascistischer Schutzwall," or "antifascist bulwark," between East and  West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep Western "fascists" from entering East Germany, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. 

     The number of people that attempted to escape over the wall is more the 5000, but   nobody knows  exactly how many were killed.  The last killed  person  Chris Gueffroy, who died in a hail of bullets as he tried to flee East Germany on the night of Feb. 5-6, 1989.

Lombard Lamp near Central Park

    Across the East 59 street and to the left of the Central Park entry leading to The Pond stands the Lombard Lamp. This ornate cast-iron and aluminum street lamp is a replica of the historic streetlights that adorn the Lombard Bridge in Hamburg, Germany.

    This lamp was donated in 1979. The gift of this lamp symbolizes the sister-city relations between Hamburg and New York.
    The plaque reads “This Lombard Lamp is presented to the people of New York City and by the people of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg so that it may forever brighten a bridge of friendship in human relations, trade and commerce.”
    The Lombard Bridge is a road and rail bridge over the river Alster in Hamburg.  It was named after the Lombard pawn shop situated here in 1651.  The original wooden bridge was replaced in 1865.
    In 1869 Hamburg’s parliamentary senate enacted a resolution with specifications for the bridge’s ornamental street lamps. The resolution stipulated that “The execution of the candelabra must be conducted in the finest manner, in gray iron, completely pure without any form of chiseling…the casting process must be the absolute best yet developed for works of this nature.”
    The second Lombard Lamp replica was donated to Chicago and was placed in Lincoln Square neighborhood .

    The Lombards, or Langobards, were a Germanic tribe that began in southern Sweden and worked their way down into Italy in the early medieval period, becoming Italians in the process and giving their name to the northern Italian region of Lombardia. Their name, the Longobards, referred to their lengthy beards.


Magnolia time

     The sweet scent and showy blossoms of magnolias are among the early signs of spring in New York. These elegant, graceful, and beautiful trees bloom in an array of pastel colors usually starting from the end of March.  But this year the spring is late...

     One of the best places to see magnolias is Brooklyn Botanic Garden where Magnolia plaza is sweetly scented with the perfume of more than 70 trees.   Magnolia is native to the southeastern United States. It is a very popular ornamental tree, grown for its attractive shiny green leaves and fragrant flowers.

Spring at last...

     The thing I love about living in New York is that the weather changes never  seem to get old. It was almost 80º F yesterday and today it is again 45º F! But the spring is here and I know it looking on the gorgeous pear trees on Madison and Park Avenue. The Callery pear is the second most common street tree in Manhattan and it is the first to bloom in spring.

     Callery pear was imported  from China  in 1909 and  was widely planted as a rootstock for common pear long before it gained interest as an ornamental. Around 1950, the ornamental value and hardiness of Callery pear were recognized, leading to the development of a number of cultivars, including ‘Bradford'.  The fruits of the Callery pear are small, and hard  almost woody.
     Since the early 1960s, cultivars of Callery Pear have been planted extensively in the New York area. The tree is fast growing and is tolerant of pollution and other extreme conditions.

Gift to Met

     New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art   announced that cosmetics tycoon Leonard Lauder, son and heir of Estee herself, had given the institution a collection of 78 important Cubist pictures  (33 Picassos, 17 Braques, 14 Légers and 14 works by Gris)  that he has bought over the last 40 years. Leonard Lauder celebrated  80 years in March this year (read in Daily Beast)

     Cubism was a truly revolutionary style of modern art developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques. It was the first style of abstract art which evolved at the beginning of the 20th century.

     Cubism was an attempt by artists to revitalize the tired traditions of Western art which they believed had run their course. The Cubists challenged conventional forms of representation, such as perspective, which had been the rule since the Renaissance.

     Their aim was to develop a new way of seeing which reflected the modern age (read more about  cubism at Arty Factory).

Prometheus at Rockefeller Center

     The Prometheus Statue at Rockefeller Center in New York City is one of the most famous sculptures in the world. After the Statue of Liberty, it is perhaps the most celebrated piece of artwork in America.

     Prometheus was the wisest Titan. His name means "forethought" and he was able to foretell the future. Prometheus is known as the protector and benefactor of man. He gave mankind a number of gifts including fire.
     For this Zeus punished Prometheus by having him chained to a rock with an eagle tearing at his liver. He was to be left there for all eternity or until he agreed to disclose to Zeus which of Zeus children would try to replace him. He was eventually rescued by Hercules without giving in to Zeus. 
     In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge.

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity

     Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art  is on view  through      May 27th. .  It came from the    Musée d’Orsay  of Paris and goes next to the Art Institute of Chicago.

     The show consists of 80 paintings plus 16 period costumes and an array of accessories.

     The show opens with Monet’s Monet’s Camille ( a 1866 painting of the artist’s lover and future wife), whose green and black striped dress is perfectly rendered with jewel-like quality.

     “The latest absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most,” read  a quotation by Edouard Manet displayed at the entrance.

     The second room takes up a defining moment in Impressionism - plein air painting   or painting executed outdoors.  It’s a wonderful experience to look at Monet’s "Women in the Gardens"   from  d'Orsay and then turn around to see the actual  dress from the painting.

     The two rooms that follow, "The White Dress" and "The Black Dress," are like two piano keys, YIN and YANG, day and night.  The first one  show different women dressed in similar white gowns, day wear, peignoirs,  that join them together in a union of style. In the next room, black dresses foretell the chic modernity of Coco Chanel.

     It’s a rare opportunity  to see the work of the Manet, Monet, Renior, and Degas in an expanded field of visual culture including photographers, fashion magazines and  calling cards.

     By the time you round the last corner, glancing back to look one last time, you realize that current fashion has stormed the art world and plans to stay.  As Monet put it, “The latest fashion…is absolutely necessary for a painting.  It’s what matters most"

     The show catalog is excellent but if you buy it from Amazon it is much cheaper. And do not forget that the price of the museum ticket- 25 dollars is not mandatory but "pay what you wish".

Egg hunting for giants

    To celebrate Easter, the traditional Easter bunny topiary is displayed in the middle of the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center.

     The Easter Bunny actually started in pre-Christian fertility lore. The word Easter came from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, who was associated with Spring and fertility.

     The hare and the rabbit were the most fertile animals and served as new life during the Spring months.

     Bunny becoming a Christian symbol came out of Germany during the 1500′s in celebration of “Oschter Haws” (the rabbit) and was brought to America by German settlers in the 1700′s.

    The settlers built nests for the rabbit out of their bonnets and caps and put them in the garden, barn or private room in their homes .

   In return the rabbit left colored eggs in payment - at least kids believe in it. The tradition is that the Easter bunny leaves Easter eggs on Easter Sunday. Parents hide eggs in the garden and the children go on an egg hunt to find them

What is Gotham?

     What is Gotham?  A lot of people know Gotham as   a fictional American city appearing in comic books as a Batman home. But why we can see it in a name  of a bank,  hotel, comedy club?
     Gotham  is one of the oldest New York nick names.     It  was popularized in the nineteenth century, having been first attached to New York by Washington Irving in the November 11, 1807  edition of his Salmagundi - a periodical which lampooned New York culture and politics.

     "Oh! Gotham, Gotham! most enlightened of cities! - how does my heart swell with delight when I be-hold your sapient inhabitants lavishing their attention with such wonderful discernment!" - wrote Irving.

     The writer took the name from the village of Gotham, Nottinghamshire,  England.  English proverbs tell of a village called Gotham or Gottam, meaning “Goat’s Town” in old Anglo-Saxon.  Folk tales of the Middle Ages make Gotham out to be the village of simple-minded fools, perhaps because the goat was considered a foolish animal.

     There is a old poem from  "Mother goose" ( collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes)  that mentioned people from this town:

Three wise men of Gotham
Went to sea in a bowl:
And if the bowl had been stronger
My song would have been longer.

     From the Gotham typeface font to the Gotham Center of New York History and all of the businesses with Gotham in their names in between, the moniker remains a permanent part of New York City’s character. 

The only one question is  not answered: did Washington Irving read "Mother Goose"?