The oldest private club in New York and Knickerbockers

Knickerbocker Club on 5th Avenue
In 1809, legendary author Washington Irving solidified the knickerbocker name in New York lore when he wrote the satiric "A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty"  under the pseudonym Diedrich  Knickerbocker.  In this book an eccentric 25-year-old scholar, Knickerbocker relates this comic history of Dutch settlers in the Americ an colony of New Amsterdam, satirizing Dutch-American mannerisms and retelling Dutch legends. 

Later he wrote: "When I find after a lapse of nearly forty years the haphazard production of my youth still cherished among  New Yorkers- when I find its' very name become a ' household word' and used to give the home stamp to everything recommended for popular acceptance such  as Knickerbocker societies, Knickerbocker  insurance company, Knickerbocker  steamboat ,(...) and when I find  New Yorkers of Dutch descent priding themselves upon being 'genuine   Knickerbocker  ' - please myself with the persuasion that I have struck the right chord."

If he write this comment twenty years later he could add a   Knickerbocker Club to this list. This club is not the oldest club in New York- it just derived from the oldest one- TheUnion Club.

Union Club
The Union Club is the oldest private club in New York City and the third oldest in the United States. Modern private social clubs   trace their origins back to the coffeehouses of 17th-century London. Coffee was introduced to London society in 1652 and   coffeehouses became the place to meet and discuss current events.   Clubs took over the role occupied by coffee houses in 18th century London to some degree, and reached the height of their influence in the late 19th century.

I published several posts about New York  clubs - The Racquet and Tennis Club, private club with nude swimming tradition, the Colony Club-the only club, created only for women, Friars Club with their legendary “roasts” in which comedians pepper a celebrity with good-natured insults and other clubs. 
New York Times wrote:   A young man of Manhattan felt his life was meaningless, if not actually broken, if he did not “have” a club—the expression “make” a club was always frowned upon—and such a young man, looking forward to being had, cheerfully sat out club waiting lists, in some cases ten years long.

  In the summer of 1836, a number of leading New Yorkers, including ex-mayor Philip Hone, invited two hundred and fifty "gentlemen of social distinction" to join the new Union Club. As Hone noted in his diary, the club would "be similar in its plan and regulations to the great clubs of London, which give a tone and character to the society of the London metropolis." After offering admission to the initial cohort of 250, the club's membership would then be expanded to 400—large enough to accommodate enough socially distinct gentlemen while still remaining exclusive.  

For a century no lady ever saw the inside of the club unless she were either a female employee or the wife of the club president.  The wife of the club president  was permitted to visit the club once, on some morning when the club was empty, for the sole purpose of seeing her husband’s portrait and where it was hung.   
 From the beginning, the Union Club was known for its strongly conservative principles. In fact, even during the Civil War, the Union refused to expel its Confederate members. This policy, and a belief that The Union's admission standards had fallen, led some members of the Union to leave and form other private clubs.  

One of such clubs was  Knickerbocker Club.    Knickerbocker Club was founded  in  1871 by 18 former members of  Union Club,   who did not like  Union club   expansion of the membership. Among the  Knickerbocker Club  founders were such prestigious New Yorkers as Alexander Hamilton and John Jacob Astor.   Club had an excellent restaurant. The  typical dinner menu from  1887 included: East river oysters, Creme de petit pois aux croutons, Terrapins a la Knickerbocker, Saddle of mutton, String beans, potatoes hashed and fried, Canvasback ducks, Mousse café, Cheese, fruit, café, nuts.

Notable members of the club  included Franklin Delano Roosevelt, August Belmont,   Eleanor Roosevelt's father Elliott Roosevelt, John  D. Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, and Henry White.
The Knickerbockers Club is so exclusive that it only has one rule concerning giving out information about the club, and that is to never give any information out about the club ever.

The men-only club does  not  have  website. Their single Yelp review did say:  " Truly one of the finest private men's clubs in America. We had a lovely dinner with friends there-it is reciprocal with a club I belong to. Highly recommended, if you get an invitation."  
More than two hundred years after   the  debut  of the book  of Washington Irving  ,  Knickerbocker's name has graced New York residents, beer brands, streets, neighborhoods.   New York has a lot of  places that have  the name Knickerbocker.  If you cannot be the member of a  The Knickerbockers Club  you can stay in the Knickerbocker Hotel  and  have a lunch  at  Knickerbocker Bar & Grill.

Olde Good Things and a controversial religious sect

Olde Good Things is a unique, fast-growing store filled with a variety of old, interesting artifacts specializing in rare New York City architectural finds. 
The shop is as an antique and high-end architectural salvage store, where a door knob from the 1800s might sell for as much as $750, or a silver-plated chandelier for more than $17,000. Many items in the shop come from old building or factory parts that have been refurbished in the company’s Scranton, Pennsylvania, warehouse.

The chain has five shops  in New York and  two in Los Angeles.  There are antique entryways and doors, porcelain sinks, cast iron bathtubs, stained glass windows, glass and brass doorknobs, and rare pieces of wooden furniture. It is magical spot where you can discover where time stood still. You will not find any true crap here, just wonderful antique objects and architectural elements.
 Almost everything that is on  sale has its own history. 

When I visited the shop at Bowery,  two doors from   Houston and Bowery intersection in the East Village,  I   spotted a vintage street light from Paris. There were  lot of mirrors with nice frames  and a lot of chandeliers.  Olde Good Things is a favorite of the city’s top decorators (Calvin Klein buys store embellishments here, as does BCBG) and those who just want a piece of history.

Olde Good Things is familiar to many New Yorkers, but almost nobody know that The Church of Bible Understanding ,  a controversial religious sect, is behind this chain. A sect was founded  in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1971 by Stewart Traill,  a former vacuum-cleaner salesman. Traill teaches that he is the reincarnation of Elijah, and that he knows the date of the return of Christ.   Central belief if the cult is: The Bible is written in a color-based code only COBU leader Mr. Traill can understand.
The members of the church live communally and receive little   and very little money goes to charitable works.  Most of the proceeds of the church business go to Stewart Traill, though properties and bank accounts are in the Church of Bible Understanding's name, not Traill's name.  

The group has been accused of being a cult, and it has been estimated that Traill became a millionaire from it.
Traill controls every aspect of members’ lives through harsh criticism, shame, and public humiliation. The church, which members say is financially separate from the Olde Good Things antique stores it owns, reported income of $3 million and expenses of $2.8 million in their tax filings from 2011.  The longtime leader and pastor, Stewart Traill, lives today in a 12,000-square-foot home in Coral Springs, Florida.

The   owners  of the shop  tell customers that part of the proceeds go to pay for an orphanage the group runs in Haiti. The latest eye-opener about the Haitian orphanage was uncovered by an Associated Press investigation, which sent reporters to Haiti to check out the orphanage for themselves.  The church     claims in IRS filings to be spending around $2.5 million annually on the charity. The home for boys and girls  in Haiti was so dirty and overcrowded during recent inspections that the government said it shouldn't remain open.


Ukrainian Museum in East Village

New York’s East Village  historically, has been populated by immigrants from eastern Europe. Now it is a student neighborhood, tucked behind the Cooper Union School of Art and Design and New York University dorms. The new building of the Ukrainian  museum is located in the heart  of  East Village, at 222 East Sixth Street  (between 2nd & 3rd Avenues)

The Ukrainian Museum is the largest museum in the U.S. committed to acquiring, preserving, exhibiting, and interpreting articles of artistic or historic significance to the rich cultural heritage of Ukrainians. Museum  was founded in  1976 by the Ukrainian National Women's League of America - UNWLA.
The NCW of Ukraine had been a member of the International Council of Women( ICW)  since 1920, but was excluded from the ICW as a direct result of Ukraine's loss of national independence.  In 1928 during the ICW's General Assembly held in Washington, the Ukrainian delegation was not permitted to officially participate in the conference.

The Ukrainian National Women's League of America - UNWLA  was established in New York  by five Ukrainian women's associations in New York City and vicinity.  Since the beginning  the UNWLA has been organizing exhibits of Ukrainian folk art at American institutions with the goal of familiarizing the public with the diverse cultural heritage of Ukrainians.

In 1976 the League founded Ukrainian Museum. For many years, the museum was located   at 203 Second Avenue.  In 1985 the board of trustees of The Ukrainian Museum purchased a commercial building on East Sixth Street in New York City,   with the aim of rebuilding it into a modern museum facility.  In 2000 museum received a charity gift  of $3.5 million to begin construction of a new museum building.

The  gift  come  from  Mr.  Shklar who   is a prominent entrepreneur, investor, co-founder and former executive of several successful high-technology companies including Siebel Systems and Keynote Systems.  The new modern stone-and-brick building with a large glass central entryway  opened its doors in 2008.

There are three fantastic exhibitions this summer in the museum. 
The first one, on the main floor,  is   strikingly beautiful exhibition of stage and costume designs from early 20th-century.   The show    Staging the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1910s and 1920s  displays 125 works by 13 artists from the collection of the Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema Arts of Ukraine in Kiev.  Two artists - Vadym Meller  (1884–1962) and  Anatol Petrytsky (1895-1964)   dominate the display.

Meller is perhaps the star of the show, with his colorful and dynamic costume designs for figures that appear to be moving even in static pose.  Meller  studied in Kiev, Munich and Paris, and lived in Moscow and Odessa before eventually settling in Kiev in 1919. In 1925, he won a gold medal at the International Exposition of Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris, leaving silver to Aleksandr Rodchenko for his design for a Workers’ club.  Petrytsky   made works based on more traditional, realistic representational models. He did not study abroad, but trained exclusively in Kiev.

Second floor of the museum is occupied by Petrykivka: The Soul of Ukraine - the exhibition of unique Ukrainian folk art organized by The Ukrainian Museum and the art collectors Yuri Mischenko and Natalie Pawlenko.  

Petrykivka is famous thanks to distinctive decorative painting that originated with the first settlers in the second half of the XVIII century.      Petrykivka (named after the funder, Zaporozhian cossack Petryk) is a village near Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. The earliest known samples of it dates back to the 17th century. 

In 2013 Petrykivka  was  included to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity  with definition "Petrykivka decorative painting as a phenomenon of the Ukrainian ornamental folk art".   Painting technique was turned into a brand, and “Petrykivka” logo was created.   

This art is rich in symbolism: the rooster stands for fire and spiritual awakening, while birds represent light, harmony and happiness. In folk belief, the paintings protect people from sorrow and evil. The exhibition includes 29 paintings by 17 artists, spanning four generations; each of the works is being shown for the first time in the United States.

The third exhibition in a big room in a basement is  "The Tales and Myths of Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern". Some of the  works of Ukranian  avant-garde artists were familiar to me,  I saw a lot of Petrykivka examples far long ago when I visited Kiev, but this  name    was completely unknown for me.

Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern  was born in 1962 in Kiev.  He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Moscow University and a Ph.D. in Jewish history from Brandeis University. He teaches Early Modern, Modern and East European Jewish history and Culture at Northwestern University. 

 Petrovsky-Shtern’s main fields of interest are history and literature, ranging from the Jewish Middle Ages to Hasidic folklore, from the prose of Gabriel Garcнa Mбrquez to the Ukrainian renaissance of the 1920s. His book "The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe" was the Winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award in History. 

The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe’s Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet it has long been one of the most neglected and misunderstood chapters of the Jewish experience.   One of the pictures from the exhibition is on the cover of this book.

Petrovsky-Shtern’s color choices of red, black, and white reconstruct the predicament of the Ukrainian peasants and the contrast of emotional tensions: the harvest against a black swath of sky; the woman who embodies Ukraine with a few stalks of wheat; the children sitting down to eat their lunch.

 Petrovsky-Shtern paints in Pogrom in a Shtetl, against the background of tiny houses in a Jewish town, an enormous crocodile who uses its long, red body to reduce everything in its path to dust. In this way, Petrovsky-Shtern’s Jewish themes symbolize the universal and personified story of loss and tragedy.
Petrykivka: The Soul of Ukraine will close in the beginning of August, and other two  will work till September.

Rockefeller Center roof top gardens

Rockefeller gardens
Most New Yorkers have either stopped by or been inside of Rockefeller Center, but how many of us know about the rooftop gardens?  And how many people visited  them?
The gardens on Rockefeller Center's building rooftops were part of architect Raymond Hood's original 1930 scheme.  There were the plans to have gardens on the roofs of all  buildings and also the plans for connecting bridges between the rooftops.   But it was difficult  time and  roof top gardens only were included  only on four buildings.

On the RCA building, the small  garden included a bird sanctuary, vegetable garden, rock gardens and   children's garden. The garden designer   Hancock called his masterpiece “The Gardens of the Nations,” taking inspiration from the styles of gardens in a number of different countries, including Holland, France, Japan, Italy and Spain. Native plants, a Zen garden, topiary, fountains, sculpture, stone walls and a winding rock garden were all part of the plan. 

 3,000 tons of earth, 500 tons of brick, 20,000 tulip bulbs and 2,000 trees and shrubs were lifted  up 11 stories.   96,000 gallons a day were lifted by electric pump to the rooftop.  Over 400 people attended the opening day on April 15, 1935, including   Nelson Rockefeller and ambassadors from each of the countries represented in the gardens.  

About  87,000 visitors visited RCA garden on the 11th floor deck for next 8 months. The Entry fee first was one dollar and later went down to 40 cents.  So it is not surprise that the garden became  non  profitable and  was closed in three years.
The gardens above the Palazzo d'Italia and the International Building North, designed by A.M. Van den Hoek, also survive today.  The original design for these gardens included large beds of ivy, evergreen hedges, cobblestone walkways and fountains. These spaces were restricted to private use from their inception and today can only be viewed by tenants in the surrounding buildings.

   The gardens on the British Empire (International) Building and La Maison Francaise, also designed by Hancock, are largely intact today.  Each formal garden is roughly 12,000 square feet and includes privet hedges, rectangular lawn, and a shallow pool.    Access to the gardens is rare - mostly reserved for Rockefeller employees. 

You can see  the  gardens from the sky lobby on the 24 floor of the Tower 49. Tower 49 is    an office skyscraper.  Entrances are both  from  48th Street and 49th Street between 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue.   Tower49  was designed by the renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill  and completed in 1984.
Tower49, Lobby

Refurbished in 2013   the grand lobby features  24-foot  ceilings   and is an excellent space for the art  exhibitions.  Now on view there are the works of three artists who taught in the  Liberal arts college in Bennington, Vermont   college during the 1960s. The exhibition starts in the lobby and continues on the 24th floor- you just have to ask  the receptionist.  The exhibition  is open  to public Monday through Friday, 9am– 6pm,or otherwise by appointment.
Read more here.

Sky Lobby

Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe in New York

 A  number of life-like and life-sized sculptures  by  Seward Johnson   is installed  in the Garment District,   District along Broadway between 36th and 41st,  as part of our "Summer Arts on the Plazas" program. 

 Johnson has more than 450 life-size cast bronze works featured in city parks and museums worldwide including in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Kiev, Sydney, and Osaka.  He is often called as “America’s most popular sculptor” .

The 85-year-old artist is the grandson of Johnson & Johnson co-founder Robert Wood Johnson and is the founder of Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre park in Hamilton, New Jersey, that features hundreds of large-scale contemporary sculptures. 

 I wrote about the Grounds for Sculpture  and about one of his most famous sculptures, "Double check" , installed in Zigotti park. 
It is the largest public installation of Johnson's work in New York City, with highlights from three of his major series: "Celebrating the Familiar," ''Icons Revisited" and "Beyond the Frame." 

“Like many of his sculptures, Seward Johnson is a giant in the art world. Having his remarkable works on display in the Garment District is not only a tremendous honor for our neighborhood, but for all of New York City,” said Barbara Blair Randall, president of the Garment District Alliance. “From the Marilyn Monroe to the classic hot dog vendor, each sculpture tells a fascinating story that will have New Yorkers and visitors alike flocking to the plazas. We are absolutely thrilled to showcase Johnson’s work and we have no doubt that Seward Johnson in New York will be the hottest public art exhibit in New York City this summer.”

  “I try to celebrate the human relationship. What we are really about as people, individuals relating to each other and to nature,” said Johnson. “I like people being able to find a part of themselves in art. I hope New Yorkers on their daily commute will be shaken for a moment and pause — either because they are unsure of what is real or because they are reminded of something familiar".

One of the statues is Marilyn Monroe  in here famous white dress.  On 15 September, 1954, Marilyn Monroe stood on a subway grate in New York City wearing a little white dress and fought an upward breeze. It was an hour after midnight  at the corner of New York’s Lexington Ave and 52nd Street. Taking around three hours to film, the scene took 14 takes to get right, while 100 male photographers and between 2,000 and 5,000 spectators (who all loudly reacted whenever her skirt blew up) looked on.

 Designer William Travilla created the  dress.  Travilla arrived in Hollywood in 1941 and won an Academy Award in 1949 for his designs in Adventures of Don Juan starring Errol Flynn. He is credited as the costume designer of over 90 films and television productions — nine of which starred Marilyn Monroe. After Monroe's death in 1962, Travilla kept the dress locked up with many of the costumes he had made.  After his own death in 1990 the dress  joined the private collection of Hollywood memorabilia owned by Debbie Reynolds at the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum.

Grounds for Sculpture, Summer 2015
In 2013  dress was sold for more than $5.6 million in a Beverly Hills, California auction.  It was the first in a series of auctions to sell the massive Hollywood history collection that singer, dancer and actress Debbie Reynolds accumulated over the past 50 years.
Forever Marilyn,  a giant 26-foot-tall statue of Marylyn in her white dress  was  Inaugurated in July 2011. The statue stood at Pioneer Court in Chicago, Illinois, before it was moved to Palm Springs, California in 2012.In  March 27, 2014 the statue was  moved to New Jersey to be   displayed at an exhibition honoring Seward in the park  Grounds for Sculpture.
Johnson  is currently working on a sculpture of Winston Churchill painting at his easel for a site in California's wine country.  He also plans a sculpture of John Steinbeck for Sag Harbor, Long Island. The exhibit will be on display until September 15.