Broadway? Yes, Way!

Is it an avenue or a street? Is it a boulevard or a thruway? Does it run one way or two? It has a distinct beginning but where does it end?

Broadway is one of the most famous streets in the world. More robust than mere vein, Broadway is a life-giving artery coursing the length of Manhattan’s long muscular frame, from Bowling Green to the Bronx.

Downtown it’s a south-seeking single lane; uptown at the Upper West Side’s doorstep, it jogs then forks into a four-lane, two-way boulevard that pushes north to the Bronx and beyond. Along its 13-mile route, there are traffic-free esplanades, a roundabout, a world-famed intersection or two, public art and grassy medians on which to sit and ponder your next move. Some of New York City’s most iconic buildings lay claim to a Broadway address. 

Over the next few posts, I’ll be taking a closer look at Manhattan’s Broadway, from the southernmost tip of the island to its jaunty leap over the Harlem River via the suitably named Broadway Bridge. Where to start? At the beginning of course, which takes us to NYC’s first park: Bowling Green in the Financial District.

Start at the beginning: One Broadway.
Bowling Green, New York City’s ‘first’ green space, marks the beginning of Broadway.
Bowling Green was created in 1773, ‘lying at the lower end of Broadway.’
Broadway (sort of) begins at this graveled path in Bowling Green.
Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian resides in the Beaux Arts Custom House, built in 1907. It sits at the lip of Bowling Green.

Tourists flock to the Financial District for the distinctive role it played in New York history, although “Charging Bull,” is a fairly recent addition. The Arturo Di Monica sculpture was installed in 1989 in response to the stock market crash just two years earlier. That’s some bull!

25 Broadway, the Benjamin Morris-designed Cunard Building, where folks used to purchase tickets for the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I and II, according to AIA Guide to NYC. It still draws the prosperous by way of Cipriani.
Detail from the Cunard Building, circa 1921.
You know you’re in the city’s earliest stomping grounds when a building is numbered ‘one.’
Where Wall Street meets Broadway. The Art Deco skyscraper at Broadway and Wall Street is being converted to condos, with a Whole Foods planned for the retail space and three million dollar digs (for a mere studio!) up top.
A Broadway hotspot, Century 21 has been luring designer-seeking bargain-hunters, tourists and even Carrie Bradshaw in an episode of Sex and the City. Since 1961!

Brooklyn is often called the Borough of Churches, but Broadway in lower Manhattan has its share, some of the first ever built, although the famed Trinity Church at 120 Broadway was reimagined twice.

Three times a charm. The original Trinity Church was destroyed by fire in 1776, rebuilt in 1790, demolished in 1839. What stands is the 1846 iteration, designed by Richard Upjohn, as per AIA Guide to NYC.
Trinity’s spire. The church is once again undergoing renovation.
Detail from Trinity’s facade.
Robert Fulton’s bas relief in the Trinity Church cemetery; Fulton has a street, a subway stop and more named in his honor. A Pennsylvania-born engineer, Fulton’s credited with enhancing steamboat travel.
William Bradford’s gravestone. A publisher and printer, Bradford founded the New York Gazette in 1725, the city’s first newspaper.

New York City’s oldest church is St Paul’s Chapel at Broadway and Fulton and, according to the AIA Guide, the city’s “only extant pre-Revolutionary War building.”

St Paul’s Chapel, built from 1764 to 1766.
The chapel’s tower and steeple were added in 1796.

Lower Broadway has been dubbed the “Canyon of Heroes” due to its role as the route (from the Battery to City Hall) for ticker tape parades. Winning sports teams, political dignitaries and those of extraordinary achievement have been honored with parades and, much later, imbedded plaques along the route itself…

…’by a woman’…are the words my camera couldn’t quite capture. Heroes’ names have been imbedded along Lower Broadway since 2004.

At One Liberty Park, between Broadway and Trinity Place, workers were readying for spring, planting what I think are tulips.

Major greenery waiting to take root at One Liberty Park.

And across Broadway, one of my favorite works of public art, Red Cube, by Isamu Noguchi, is on point.

Noguchi’s Red Cube sits at 140 Broadway.

One of the city’s premier (and first) skyscrapers, the Woolworth Building commands respect at 233 Broadway. Lookie-loos like me aren’t permitted to photograph the exquisite, arched and terra-cotta-clad lobby, but you can pay-to-play: private tours, start at $20 for a 30-minute tour. I’ll be back.

The Cass Gilbert-designed Woolworth Building, 1917.
More Woolworth.

Between Broadway and Park Row you’ll find the seat of local government, City Hall, where the mayor and City Council do their bidding.

Construction on City Hall began in 1802. The AIA Guide to NYC calls the Mangin and McComb-designed build a ‘French Renaissance mini-palace’.

And between Broadway and Chambers Street is perhaps the city’s very own brick and mortar example of political graft, the Old New York City Courthouse, ie the “Tweed Courthouse,” built in 1872. It’s said to have lined the pockets of William M “Boss” Tweed and his associates with purloined construction financing of more than $10 million dollars.

The Old New York City Courthouse, aka the Tweed Courthouse.

I walked the block in front of the Javits Federal Building searching for the site of the African Burial Ground after being sent by an uninformed guard to the opposite side of Broadway. Finally, I found its inauspicious entry, which, along with the difficulty of finding such an important historical site, disappointed. The monument was not open and I vow to return with the hope that the interior, which marks the burial place of 419 people of African descent, appropriately honors those entombed there.

The hard-to-find entry to the African Burial Ground Monument at 290 Broadway.

Moving north on Broadway, through Tribeca, aka the Triangle below Canal.

Looking south down Broadway in Tribeca, the Woolworth Building in the background.
Looking north on Broadway in Tribeca, toward Canal Street.
The lost art of hand-painted window signs, above and below.
I googled Izquierdo & Vila, Inc. to no avail. Textile, produce and dry goods merchants once plied their trades in the area now known as Tribeca.
The Grosvenor Building (left) and those next to it are examples of the cast iron facade often used on builds throughout Tribeca and Soho. The Grosvenor at 385 Broadway is a former warehouse designed by Charles Wright in 1875.
Looking south on Broadway at Canal Street. 401 Broadway is an Art Deco-inspired construction built in 1929-30. Another cast-iron building sits center stage and a more recent build is in the foreground. I love the city’s many layered persona.
The gritty corner of Broadway and Canal, where Tribeca, Chinatown and Soho merge. I’ll wager those low-slung buildings on the corner won’t last long; too much $ to be made.
The Haughwout Building at 488 Broadway, a splendid cast-iron gem at Broome Street in Soho. Designed by JP Gaynor, erected in 1857 and home to the ‘first practical safety elevator’ by Elisha Otis, as per the AIA Guide.
Bloomingdale’s Soho at 504 Broadway.
Looking north on Broadway at about Spring Street in Soho, with the Chrysler Building in the distance.

Soho seemed a good jumping off point from my northbound tour of Broadway but I’ll be back next week, strolling, snapping and rubbernecking my way along one of the most fascinating thoroughfares in the world.

Meet me at the corner of Broadway and Houston!

NO! Not THAT Broadway, the other one!

# # #

Much information gleaned from the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Guide to New York City, Macmillan Publishing.

A Zoo in the Bronx? Yes, Thonx!

I have a love/hate relationship with zoos. 

I love their efforts to conserve and breed species that are on the brink of endangerment or extinction.

A poster at the Tiger Mountain exhibit. No tigers were on view the day of my visit.

Maybe even more important is the work zoos do to educate the next generation of animal lovers and protectors; that makes me all warm and fuzzy.

Educating the next generation of animal lovers is a mission the Bronx Zoo takes seriously. Amen to that!

And I have a soft spot—having worked at the Philadelphia Zoo just out of college—for those behind-the-scenes heroes, the veterinarians and keepers critical to the health and well-being of the creatures in their care. 

The fact is, most zoos have tried to reimagine the circus-like, bar-and-cage incarceration of an earlier age, adopting more natural, free range exhibits that simulate the animal’s country of origin right down to the grasses, trees and other surrounding flora. I love that zoos are trying.

But there’s no way around the fact that the animals are caged. That’s where the hate comes in; that creatures great and small are confined for our enjoyment. I don’t hate zoos for doing what they must, but I do hate the fact of confinement. Which means that a trip to the zoo is always a hair’s breadth from heartache.

That being said…

I went to the Bronx Zoo. Here’s what I saw.

The Zoo Center. The Bronx Zoo opened in 1899.

Under the “love” category for me are the park’s original buildings, many repurposed for smaller exhibits and offices due to the changing nature of zoo planning.

The Zoo Center is home to the Komodo Dragon and the Southern White Rhinocerus.
A closer look at the spectacular rhino sculpture…
And the even more spectacular real life version, highly endangered, just outside.
No elephants on site. Perhaps a blessing. Tough to see them in captivity; I have zero tolerance for circuses.

The former Lion House now houses the Madagascar! exhibit, featuring fauna from the region.

Detail from the former Lion House, above and below.

Lions now “roam” the African Plains, one of the first “natural” exhibits of its kind, introduced at the Bronx Zoo in 1941, according to Wikipedia.

It’s tough out there for a king.
Two males in the African Plains exhibit. I believe they’re brothers, born in captivity.

A few other denizens of the African Plains exhibit…

Nyala, aka Tragelaphus angasii.
O deer, so pretty. As my companion remarked, she looks like she was drizzled with vanilla icing.
Gray Crowned Crane
Who YOU lookin’ at?

The Monkey House has closed. Larger primates, like the gorilla, have newer, separate exhibits. Other primates are scattered throughout the collection. The building first opened in 1901 and contains some charming architectural details.

Two Ring-tailed Lemurs…
And a Red Ruffed Lemur in the Madagascar! exhibit.
For me, primates are among the most heartbreaking to see in captivity. This lonely gal, a gelada, was the sole monkey resident on the Baboon Reserve that I could see.

Is it because we’re so closely related that gorillas, chimps, orangutans and baboons are especially sad to witness in captivity…

From whence we came.

Zebras are now given free range in the African Plains exhibit but the old Zebra House still stands, to charming effect.

A zebra head carved from stone. Love the verdigris patina. I missed the flesh and blood version unfortunately.

The Reptile House is one of the few buildings still being used for its original purpose.

Hard not to feel for this gator. If she/he could find that exit…merely a reflection in the glass, alas.

Throughout the grounds, raptors are on alert…

But ain’t nothin’ like the real thing…

Snowy Owl. What must they think of us?
A sleepy Barred Owl.
What’s cuter than a Burrowing Owl…?
Unless it’s two!

So much to see strolling the 265-acre parkland…

From North West totems…
…to African-inspired outbuildings.
From walls of bamboo…
…to knotty-textured trees.
There were peacocks wooing…
…and flamingos wading.
Who doesn’t love a sea lion?

The Aquatic Bird House, built in the 1960s, retains its original use.

The stone pelican outside has a doppelgänger inside…
…of flesh, feather and bone.

And many other delights…

Snowy Egret. Ephemeral!
Scarlet Ibis
Again, one wonders: what do they think of us?
African Pygmy Kingfisher. Love at first sight!

Finally, bears are one of zoos’ biggest draws, with polar bears heading the lineup. Sadly, the Bronx Zoo’s 26-year-old, Tundra, was euthanized because of poor health.

A poster at the empty polar bear exhibit.

But Grizzly Corner was busy the morning we visited, the usual bear antics in progress.

Who’s zoomin’ who?
Time to cool off.
My, what an enormous head you have! How’d ya like to meet him on the trail?

Oh, if only we didn’t *need* zoos.

If only we were unselfish enough to share this earth with our animal friends, to save fragile habitats and to work together to address the damaging effect of climate change. If only children the world over had equal access to education, to learn about and even explore delicate ecosystems and the critical part we play in sustaining them. If only animals weren’t exploited for their pelts and parts, their talons and tusks, for the so called “sport” of hunting them.

If only, if only, if only. Until then: zoos.

And until then, zoo animals will continue to act as unwitting ambassadors, helping to unlock the puzzle of us and all of our maddeningly human contradictions.

The Bronx Zoo is open everyday from 9 to 5; Wednesdays are free.

# # #

Don’t Give Union Square the Brush Off!

Union Square, looking north.

I always seem to be passing through Union Square on the way to somewhere else.

The square’s namesake park isn’t my favorite outdoor place, and it’s certainly not New York’s prettiest. There’s too much pavement, not enough green.

Stop and watch the chess match, why don’t ya?

More hub than park, more revolving door than destination, Union Square is a crossroad of commuters and commerce that feels transitory, not tranquil. Maybe that’s what happens when you combine three separate stations—the IRT and two BMT lines—into one, creating one of the busiest subway hubs in the city. Then put a “park” on top.

A portion of original subway wall remains. The city morphed three stations into one in 1948.

It doesn’t help that 14th Street and others have been “malled” by a Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, Burlington Coat Factory, Petco and, of course, Whole Foods. And some of the culinary stars of the past—Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café, the Blue Water Grill and the Coffee Shop—have all moved or shuttered due to climbing rents.

Union Square’s popular Coffee Shop has officially closed. Although not known for its food, it was at one time, the place to be ‘scene.’

But despite what I might cast as shortcomings, Union Square is definitely worth more than a passing glance. Since I flit through regularly when traversing this magnificent isle, here’s my take on slowing down and giving Union Square its due.  

Union Square’s Magnolia trees are in bloom.
All hail Spring! George Washington, on horseback no less. It’s the oldest statue in NYC Parks’ monuments collection, installed in 1856 and moved to its present location in 1930. Sculptor: Henry Kirke Brown
Another Henry Kirke Brown sculpture, this one, Abraham Lincoln.
Marquis de Lafayette, a bronze by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, whose other claim to fame is the Statue of Liberty.
Finally, a woman. Actually a water fountain, erected in tribute to the completion of the Croton Reservoir aqueduct in 1842, which brought fresh drinking water to the city for the first time. She is unnamed, veiled and toting both children and water pitcher. That’s what a woman has to do to be depicted in bronze! Sculptor: Karl Donndorf

A stately presence on the park is the Union Square Savings Bank, built in 1905 and current home to the Daryl Roth Theatre.

And just around the corner on 17th Street sits the former headquarters of the Tammany Society, built in 1928, currently being renovated. Thank goodness for landmarking.

Tammany Society
The former Guardian Life building, a Beaux-Arts gem built in 1911, is now home to the posh W Hotel Union Square .

Perhaps the oddest thing on the square, broadly panned after its installation, is an artwork called Metronome, a glass-fronted digital clock of sorts abutting a taller slab of gold-splashed concentric rings, like the aftermath of pebble meeting pond.

Metronome

In its far too complicated configuration of rapidly changing numbers, the Metronome does tell time. Something about hours, minutes, seconds and tenths of seconds on the left, and hours left in the day on the right?!? (When I first saw it, I thought it was some hyped-up warning of, say, the rising national debt.)

The right side of the piece reads Mid-century Modern to me despite its 1999 installation. Close up, the spiraled facade reveals itself to be made of bricks and home to flocks of pigeons.

The Metronome features what is said to be an exact replica of George Washington’s hand, recreated from a mold of the Henry Kirke Brown sculpture just across 14th Street. A closer look at Washington’s hand, below.

Gotta ‘hand’ it to Metronome artists Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginsel. They nailed it.

Truth be told, what brings many to Union Square, besides the numerous subway connections underground, is the Union Square Greenmarket, established in 1976, and a cornucopia of seasonal produce, charcuterie, artisanal products and baked goods of local purveyors, from upstate farmers to Brooklyn-based beekeepers to Long Island fisheries.

The greenmarket, just getting started on an early Spring morning.
Preschoolers from the Children’s International Workshop of Union Square, getting ready for a lesson on root vegetables in the market. If you’re wondering about demographics in the area, tuition costs a whopping $25,000 for a ten month, full day admission. That’s for PRE-school, ages 2-4!
Produce is the thing, most of it locally grown, much of it organic.
An impressive array of radishes.
Pea shoots are only available for a second so get ’em while you can.
Surprised to see heirloom tomatoes this early.

The mushrooms were gorgeous.
Perhaps a bouquet of peppers for your culinary sweetheart? Muy caliente!

Along with seasonal produce, the market offers many artisanal items…

Pretzel bread? Didn’t try it.
Love potion #9? No, elixirs to soothe or give courage or simply to…breathe.
For those who prefer something a little stronger. Straight, no chaser, from Hudson Valley.

And there’s honey. All the way from… the rooftops of Brooklyn?

And other treats, both exotic and homey…

Long Island clams and oysters, best in the ‘R’ months like ApRil.
Free-range quail eggs anyone?
How ’bout a root beer-flavored Whoopie Pie?
For your pie hole.

Love all the homemade signs…

There are potted herbs to flavor recipes or scent the air…

Best of all is the colorful flora, resplendent in Spring…

Pussy Willows galore!

Sure, I can dis Union Square for being a homely also-ran when it comes to our city’s great parks and public spaces. But to pause, look and experience it as the destination it deserves to be is to discover some of the hidden treasures that make Union Square way more than a connection to somewhere else.

Mohandas Gandhi sculpture by Kantilal B Patel.

Make like Gandhi. Stop and smell the magnolias. There’s always another train.

# # #

Yankee Fever!

I wanted something simple: fun.

After the anxiety of waiting for you-know-what, I wanted to cleanse my palette of bitter political aftertaste, plug my ears to the monotonous drone of talking heads, avert my gaze from the phony hijinks of a certain bellicose grandstander.

Spring had come and I needed a break. Lo and behold, right across the river, a new day dawned and with it came the perfect antidote to my political malaise: Yankee baseball!

That’s right, the Bronx Bombers were in da house and opening day excitement for Major League Baseball in general and the Yankees in particular was rising on River Avenue and flooding the city, east and west, north and south.

Two hours before first pitch of the season.

I came to baseball through my beloved, a New York native and Yankee fan from the get-go, who recalls paying less than a buck for a spot in the bleachers back in the day. And while I can’t lay claim to any sporting expertise, the joy that baseball sparks in my partner is reason enough for me to join in the euphoria (if not the game itself) that characterizes opening day.

Mother and daughter fans: Yankee love runs in the family.

Shops, restaurants and bars around Yankee Stadium depend on the revenue that the baseball season ushers in with that first pitch.

Pouring drinks and spouting opinions since 1923. A classic!

Everything from caps to jerseys to skivvies…

…is up for sale. Hell, you can even smell like a Yankee…

Smells like Yankee spirit.

Or dress your best friend in Yankees’ regalia from head to toe…

A pinstriped pooch!
For the Yankee fan who has everything.

There are homages to the greats everywhere you look

The pie that Ruth ate?
Mariano (Mo) Rivera
Mickey Mantle
Yogi Berra and Elston Howard
Former team captain and shortstop extraordinaire, Derek Jeter.

Given the times, there’s a major police presence…

And the New York press is on the story.

Naturally, fans celebrate…

A crush of fans at the gate come game time.

Ticketless, I would have to console myself with the roar of the crowd, a distant voice calling the Yankee lineup, perhaps even a cheesy souvenir…

But in the end, surrounding myself with scores of hopeful baseball fans may be enough to lift this flagging spirit. I mean, spring, after all, has sprung; Major League Baseball season has begun; and Yankee fans are ready for fun. (And a world championship!)

A track, baseball field and other sports facilities have risen in the footprint of the old Yankee Stadium, aka ‘the house that Ruth built’. The new arena, aka ‘the house that George built,’ lies just north.

Best news of all, when day was done, our one-and-only Yankees won!

# # #

The Hudson Yards Experience

The extension of the #7 subway line from 34th Street to 11th Avenue was a brilliant (and probably project-saving) plot hatched between the developer and the city.

At least it’s not a stadium.

That’s what I kept saying to myself as Hudson Yards rose on the Far West Side. Back in the early 2000s, the prospect of a new sports arena in Manhattan—a Bloomberg fetish of Olympian proportion—was enough to get me on my feet in protest.

We killed the stadium but lust over the slab of rail yards, just north of the High Line and west of the old Farley post office, grew rather than dissipated. Developers volleyed for control over the coveted 20-plus acre waterfront property, with Related Companies’ Stephen Ross the ultimate victor, having taken on the city’s mind-numbing bureaucracy while securing the lucrative government subsidies, private investors and anchor tenants critical to such a massive build.

(You gotta hand it to Ross: he’s everything Donald Trump isn’t: an ultra rich, mega successful deal-making wizard. And most New Yorkers don’t even know his name.)

The 10th Street entry to the shops and restaurants at Hudson Yards.

With the opening last week of the initial phase of Hudson Yards, New Yorkers got their first peek at what Related has dubbed “New York’s next great neighborhood,” an absurd aphorism considering the $25 billion dollar project of sky-high condos, posh shops, epicurean eateries and curated cultural experiences will never be “neighborly” and is far from a “hood”.

The Vessel, a 150-feet tall climbable art installation, as seen from inside the shops at Hudson Yards.

Whether critics diss Hudson Yards as a glass-towered Shangri-La, a newfangled Oz or a plutocrat’s Disney World—all apt descriptions btw—it’s here to stay. And expand. Currently, builds on the west side of the project abut 11th Avenue, with the (beloved to my eyes) rail yards still visible through to the West Side Highway. But as construction continues, office and residential towers will cover the tracks like fast-growing kudzu, obliterating the yard’s hardscrabble persona with pristine extrusions of glass, metal and stone. 

Current construction stops at 11th Avenue but will continue west to cover the remaining active rail yards.
The rail yards will eventually be subsumed as the Hudson Yards development reaches the lip of the northern spur of the High Line. Sad to see NYC’s urban infrastructure getting the ‘paved paradise’ treatment.

I’d adopted a sort of head-in-the-sand stance when it came to the development, ignoring not just the cranes and skeletal infrastructure piercing the western sky but also the growing media coverage regarding its progress. 

Not anymore. I got me to the funnery. And it should surprise exactly no one that, despite the hype, Hudson Yards isn’t much fun. 

Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel has a rib-like facade constructed of bronze panels that reflect images and light.
The entrance to the Vessel. Ticketed entry and legalese re social media usage gave me the feeling that Big Brother is watching.
Once inside, visitors traverse the structure, climbing stairs to nowhere for a requisite selfie, a proven antidote to that pesky case of FOMO.

Once on top of the Vessel and looking down, I couldn’t help but think of Islam’s most sacred shrine, the Kabaa, around which Muslims circle once entering Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram for the annual Hajj. Though at the Vessel, the pilgrimage is for selfies and social media, not Allah.

Hudson Yard’s promise to “cultivate unprecedented, first-to-New York experiences” will be pursued in the “Shed”, a “dynamic” theater, rehearsal space and gallery that morphs to accommodate varied genres and audiences.

The Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed Shed.
The Shed is blanketed with a puffy metal quilt.

Another savvy move on the developer’s part was linking the southern end of the project to the High Line, providing a steady stream of pedestrian traffic directly into its footprint. I read somewhere that Ross even tried to grab part of the High Line’s northern spur but was prevented from doing so by the city.

Hudson Yards connects to the High Line at 30th Street.
The tallest build in the project is 30 Hudson Yards, an office tower abutting the retail on the lower floors.
When finished, 30 Hudson Yards will lay claim to the highest outdoor observation deck in the city. Wonder how much the ‘unprecedented experience’ at the so-called ‘Edge’ will cost?

Hudson Yards’ PR peeps may call it an “emerging retail concept”, but let’s face it: a mall is mall is a mall. Expensive finishes, soaring atriums, steel and glass and “art” with a bit of sass… it’s a mall.

Fitting, isn’t it, that the Avant Gallery located inside the mall is hawking derivative art. Artist Skyler Grey admits his work is ‘inspired’ by some of modern art’s masters. Gee, I wonder who? But if you’re a Saudi prince or a Chinese investor with a brand new $20 million dollar pied a terre you’ll never stay in, you need something for the walls. It screams ‘Chanel’ after all, proof positive you have good taste and twelve grand to waste.
Snagging Neiman Marcus as an anchor tenant was another coup for developer Stephen Ross, especially when the department store concept is… dying? Well-heeled tourists and one-percenters can also spend their dough at Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Stuart Weitzman, Tod’s and a slew of other pricey emporiums. For the aspiring middle class, there’s Banana Republic, H&M, Uniglo and Zara.
Showing a little New York love at Neiman Marcus’ first Gotham outpost.
I didn’t ask. I can’t afford it.
Everyone looks good in pink. A curated collection at Forty Five Ten.

Used Levis fetch $150 at Forty Five Ten’s ‘vintage’ shop.

Of course there’s food. It’s a mall. Star chefs like David Chang (Momofuko), Thomas Keller (TAK Room), Anya Fernald (Belcampo), and Michael Lomonaco (Hudson Yards Grill) will serve trust-funded foodies, while Shake Shack, Sweetgreen and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream will tempt those of us wanting a step-up from the food carts just outside.

Thomas Keller’s yet-to-open exploit.
See man bake. At Bouchon Bakery.
The humble Brooklyn brand that first sold cones out of a truck. Humble no more.
Is it performance art or mere refreshment at The Drug Store? With no one to take your ten bucks for ‘charcoal’ water, I heard visitors were ‘borrowing’ a bottle or two. Only to discard said bottle throughout the mall when the drink inside was deemed unsavory.

Perhaps Hudson Yard’s most confounding venue is Snark Park, a “We-called-it-snark-before-you-could” conceit that still has me puzzled. Is the commerce-meets-performance-art showcase for kids or adults? The hefty entry fee starts at $22 smackers, $28 for grownups.

The entrance counter at Snark Park includes a ‘cereal bar’ and snack shop with ‘brand collaborations’.

Can it be put any better than Snark Park’s own breathless copy? Calling it a “brainchild” of its founder is rich enough, but then there’s this: Snark Park’s “Installations merge different approaches to art, design and architecture, reimagining everyday surroundings into extraordinary monochromatic concepts.” Got it? Or this: “An ecosystem of tailored design, Snark Park offers curated immersive art, custom retail and Kith treats all under one roof.”

Snark Park features a curated repo of one of those scammy machines kids beg to play–usually found outside the bodega–where you fish for a dubious ‘prize’ using a giant metal claw. Metaphor, anyone?

But what’s inside, you wonder? Walls of ping pong balls, forests of hollow trees you can climb into, and ball-filled bouncy rooms, according to a description by Tim McKeough in The New York Times.

Much like the Museum of Sex, which I wrote about here, venues like Snark Park seem geared to those bored by all the thinking you have to do at real museums, folks desperate for that perfect selfie. And willing to pay the price.

Which comes to the summation of my Hudson Yards experience.

There are no intersecting interests on the Venn diagram that is Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in the country. The one-percent will launder their money invest in residential properties, avoiding the “poor door” while refreshing their collection of watches, shoes or handbags at Cartier, Forty Five Ten or Tory Burch. WarnerMedia, CNN and HBO, as well as corporate giants like Wells Fargo and L’Oreal USA will gladly pay the hefty rental fees, chalking it up to the cost of doing business, while wooing clients at the TAK Room or Hudson Yards Grill.

Tourists will be a critical wedge of the project’s sustainability, those who spill from the High Line or emerge from the #7, to climb the Vessel, lunch at Shake Shack, purchase a tee shirt then snap a selfie as proof of their authentic New York experience.

For New Yorkers like me, it’s a one-off. We’ll come here once, look around, take in the view, then head back to our neighborhoods: real neighborhoods where bottled water costs a buck and–because it’s all around you–“reimagining the everyday” doesn’t cost a thing.

Not!

# # #


How Much for that Painting on the Pier?

The ‘tunnel’ entrance to Pier 94 at the Armory Show.

After taking in the Armory Show last week, I wondered, what sold? And for how much? Were any of the images that caught my eye scooped up by the collectors or museum reps casing the joint?

Though gallerists may balk at disclosing sales figures, artnet.com isn’t as reticent, so without further ado, here are just a few of their findings.

Rodney Graham’s Vacuuming the Gallery sold for a whopping $750,000. The sculpture in the foreground, by Alicia Kwade, went for $43,000.
Rodney Graham
Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of a Florentine Nobleman fetched $150,000…

…And a newer Wiley canvas called Portrait of Marcus Stokes brought $250,000.
Don’t know if Mark Mander’s Two Immovable Heads sold, but another piece by Mander called Female Head (not pictured) went for $140,000.
California by Meg Cranston sold for $22,000.

Every painting by Florine Demosthene on offer sold. Bargains at $7000 each!

Florine Demosthene
Jorinde Voigt’s Immersion VIII sold for $24,000. The three Voigt’s pictured above are additional works by the artist.

Works by Jonathan Lyndon Chase were bum-rushed by a couple of American museums during the preview, according to artnet’s Eileen Kinsella, going for an average of $20,000 each.

Jonathan Lyndon Chase
Jonathan Lyndon Chase
Naudline Pierre’s Lead Me Gently Home (above) sold for $30,000. All of Pierre’s pieces sold, the smaller ones, (pictured below) starting at $2,800.
Two of Nevin Aladag’s pieces sold; one while I was visiting the booth. Social Fabric fetched $38,000. Both the purchase and the price surprised me.
Only For You My Love by Xu Zhen garnered $125,000.

Zak Ove sold well. The crocheted, doily and lace piece called DP43 went for $16,000.

Zak Ove’s DP43
Zak Ove’s Resistor Transistor 1, 3, 5, 6 sold for $10,000.
The Lawrie Shabibi Gallery featured work by Zak Ove.
A sculpture by Alfredo Aceto sold for $6,700. I believe it was this piece called Juste un Clou Orange.
Obitun Dancers by Ben Enwonwu. Although I don’t know if this particular piece sold, another Enwonwu piece called Anani sold for $27,000.
Leo Villareal’s Instance series was an instant success. All twelve pieces went at $48,000 a pop. There are 36,864 LEDs in each panel. Better in person than in print.
Someone paid $105,000 for Ryan Gander’s Het Spel (My neotonic contribution to Modernism). I’m guessing that ‘someone’ was a museum.

And the largest price paid, one million dollars, went for a Lee Krasner work called Peacock, completed in 1973, and a stab at poetic justice, however late in the game. Historically given short shrift among the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and ’50s, Krasner’s work may still be undervalued. Even *current* entries in Wikipedia lean sexist, with Lee Krasner’s own page containing a paragraph headed “Pollocks’ Influence,” while Jackson Pollock’s page refers to his “Relationship with Krasner”. Because, you see, men bear “influence” while women have “relationships”. Phooey to that!

Lee Krasner’s Peacock. (Image from Christie’s.)

And while it was great to see so many women and people of color represented at the Armory Show, sales continue to reflect the predominance of men, white men in particular, in a world where contemporary art’s strange bedfellow is capitalism.

So I’ll end with a photo I call “Artist with Silver Backpack Filled with Ideas”. Is she a student at Cooper Union or Pratt? Is she taking a break from classes at the School of Visual Arts or come all the way from RISD to see the show? Whatever she’s seeing, thinking, doing, Godspeed young woman! Imagine your work on these walls or any wall and then, make it happen.

# # #

All photos my own unless otherwise cited.

Enamored with the Armory

Cardi B Unity by Hassan Hajjaj

Taking in the Armory Show will cost you. Sixty bucks when you add the tax and handling fees. But it’s a must-see if you’re a collector, art lover, student, up-and-comer, or just plain curious, like me.

Having moved to the Far West Side in 2001 from its original location at the Gramercy Hotel, the Armory Show now holds court on the Hudson River at Piers 90 and 94. Nearly 200 galleries from around the world showcase their best and brightest.

The Armory Show runs from March 7-10, 2019

But you don’t have to put on your walking shoes or brandish that credit card because I hustled down to catch opening day and found respite from a wintry city drained of hue. The Armory Show is its own universe of color, shape and texture, with great people-watching to boot.

Who needs WORDS when you have pictures? So without further ado, here are some of the images that caught my eye.

Plastic Bags by Pascale Marthine Tayou. After seeing this amazing/disturbing construction of plastic bags, I vow to start bringing my canvas totes while shopping.
Vacuuming the Gallery by Rodney Graham. (Three panels of a 4-part piece.) Cheeky!

O43 by Robert Lazzarini. The image of Sharon Tate seems to undulate as you pass in front of the canvas.
Ged Quinn’s Bela Forgets the Scissors. The taped on bits are actually part of the painting.
Closeup of Quinn’s piece. Even the tape is paint.
A work by Florine Demosthene. So impressed by the large number of works by POC and women at the Armory Show.
Ndidi Emefiele
Ali, a digital print by Vanessa Beecroft.
Obvious by Mel Bochner.
Jim Cambell’s Eroding Plane.
Daniel Rich
Juste un Clou Orange by Alfredo Aceto.
Work by Grit Richter.
Alex Gardner
A series of untitled pieces by Samantha Bittman. These acrylic on hand-woven textile works are quite intricate.
A closeup of Bittman’s work.

Speaking of textiles, there were quite a few works featuring fabric and woven materials. Not usually my jam, but then again…

Untitled, Shiela Hicks.
Closeup of the Hicks’ piece.
Moffat Takadiwa uses discarded objects to create massive hangings that resemble fabric from a distance.
A closeup of Takadiwa’s that enlists old toothbrushes and aerosal spray tops.
DP42 by Zak Ove, made of crochet doilies and lace. She’s crafty!
Social Fabric by Nevin Aladag. The Turkish artist uses scraps of native carpets and kilims to form these paneled collages. The piece seemed on the verge of being sold while I was in their booth. Please refrain from wiping your feet on the artwork!
Untitled (Yellow) by Aiko Hachisuka.

Another trend was…mirrors: painted, sculpted and adorned. I love the way the surrounding environs become part of the artwork.

Michelangelo Pistoletto created this silkscreen on stainless steel mirror, a piece called Autoritratto.
Another piece by Pistoletto, Il Bagno Turco.
BAD by Doug Aitken.
Mel Bochner’s Everybody Is Full Of Shit. True dat!
Only for You My Love, by Xu Zhen. Talk about bling!
Closeup of the Zhen piece. And there I am. Arrgh indeed!

Some of the video/paint works were downright scary…

Video painting by Federico Solmi in a series called Counterfeit Heroes.
Cheng Ran’s The Lament: Mountain Ghost.

But what about the big names, you ask? Were the tried and true among the trendy and new?

There were Warhols and Wei Weis, Abramovics and Nevelsons.

Andy Warhol’s Mao.

Close in on the Wei Wei and discover: they’re mosaics made completely of Legos!
Carry Elvira (Facing Up) by Marina Abramovic. The artist is present.
Night Rhythm III by Louise Nevelson.
Red Dancer by Alex Katz.
Portrait of Marcus Stokes by Kehinde Wiley.
You could snag David Hockney’s The Student: Homage to Picasso for a mere $22,000.
Or a Donald Judd for $68,000 (each).
Damien Hirst’s Lessons in Love.
Why not go for six Lichtensteins if you’re thick in the wallet? Love the way he deconstructs the bull!

At a show as renowned and expansive as this, people-watching is half the fun!

Two fashionistas.
Color, color every where.
A stylish art lover.
Modeling a piece by Michael Seri of Detritus Designs. Surprisingly, this was one of the few *OVERTLY* political statements. Perhaps because many of the galleries represented aren’t American. The rest of the (art) world can see beyond a trump. Bravo to that!
A woman of a certain age in mini skirt and eye-popping color. You go, grrrrrl!
One of my favorite ensembles. Check out those dipped shoes!
The glam factor is well represented among show staff.
Love his spat-like boots. Gallery reps were most likely glued to their device, sometimes two.
Of course there’s champagne.
A gallery rep modeling her fabulous dress. Italian, natch. The piece behind her is by Arman.
Ladies who lunch love art.
Hawking juice in camo.
Surely he’s somebody; all the staffers seemed to know him. Faith Ringgold‘s work can be seen in the background, left.
Love the (fake fur) coat. A young buyer and her assistant?
That’s a lot of heads, both human and ceramic.
Emerging from a piece by Eduardo T. Basualdo.

See, I saved you sixty bucks.

But I have to say that my first trip to the Armory Show was worth every penny!

The Armory Show

Piers 90 and 94

New York City

March 7-10

# # #

Are You “That Girl” Too?

I could lie and say that books inspired me. 

Great books like Catcher in the Rye, Washington Square, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Award-winning literature set in a city so captivating that I had to see it for myself. Classic books about a place so big, bold and beautiful it was a character in and of itself. Yes, books made me want to move to New York City.

But I don’t wanna lie. Because it was television, not books. It wasn’t Seinfeld or Friends or Taxi but an earlier generation of sitcoms that, in the opening credits, had me striding down Fifth Avenue, arm and arm with Oscar and Felix, Rhoda and Ann Marie.

In The Odd Couple, Jack Klugman played Oscar Madison, a sportswriter who shares his Park Avenue digs with photog Felix Unger, a well cast Tony Randall. I loved the show, based on Neil Simon’s play, but it was the opening—the breezy Neil Hefti theme song paired with on-the-streets-of-Manhattan visuals—that had me pining at fourteen for my own New York experience.

I didn’t know at the time—the show first aired in 1970—that a Park Avenue apartment was out of reach. (Opening credits put Oscar’s building at 1090 Park Avenue at East 87thStreet.) But it was that first glimpse of apartment life that birthed the notion that I too could have a sunken living room in the greatest city in the world. 

Like most sitcoms, the series was shot on a sound stage. But the title sequence, which showed a rumpled Oscar jumping into cabs and “girl watching” in Times Square, caught the big city exuberance of Midtown.

Felix was the yin to Oscar’s yang, if not exactly gay then a sort of anal metrosexual, with his crisp suits and the occasional ascot. He marched down the avenue with what seemed like fusty ownership, probably whistling a snippet from a Verdi opera, tsk-tsking over Oscar’s penchant to litter. Felix wouldn’t have survived in a place like South Bend Indiana but in the Big Apple he was home, just one more idiosyncratic New Yorker, bless his heart.

That was the thing about New York-based television: the city was a character filled with characters! You met bartenders and hotdog vendors, cabbies and cops. It was ok to be an artist or iconoclast, a loner or to be downright weird.

Rhoda was another show that inspired me, one spun from The Mary Tyler Moore Show that had Mary’s friend Rhoda Morgenstern returning to her hometown to pursue a career as a costumer. Valerie Harper played the lead.

Although the show’s opening lacks the catchy punch of The Odd Couple, the visuals were enough to spark longing in me. I too wanted to explore the streets of the Garment District, stroll past the stone lions guarding the New York Public Library, barter with a fruit and veg vendor in Little Italy. 

And Rhoda had a doorman! The idea that someone was paid to sit in the lobby and open the door or hail a taxi or take deliveries was so… New York. “Carlton” was one of those only-in-New York characters, someone you never saw but heard: a voice through the intercom. A drinker whose daily intoxication was baked into the script, Carlton was more proof that New York City had room for all comers, however bumbling, inept or addicted.

Rhoda talking to her doorman, Carlton, a character who was heard but never seen.

One of my favorites and likely the one that planted the “germ” that developed into a case of newyorkitus was That Girl, (1966-1971). Not only was Ann Marie—the character played so winningly by Marlo Thomas—an aspiring actress but she lived alone in a cute “bachelorette” apartment, side gigging as a temp or “salesgirl” while auditioning for parts.

How Ann Marie—or any other twenty-something character in a sit com—affords that apartment remains a mystery, as does her ability to buy the eye-popping fashions of the sixties, from A-line mini skirts to opaque tights and Go Go boots. 

But when you’re dreaming big, pesky things like rent, utilities and grocery bills don’t figure in the visuals. I would have moved into Ann Marie’s flat in a New York minute, with its mid-century furniture, galley kitchen and interesting assortment of New York characters landing on her doorstep.

Ann Marie gets a visit from the great Ethel Merman.

Fifty years later, the opening sequence still thrills me, with its dreamy New York skylines…

Outings in Central Park…

And ordinary street scenes of pigeons and horse carriages and Lincoln Center…

Sometimes I wonder how many young women I pass on the street today were inspired by sitcoms. Sex and the City had its pull in the aughts, and if I were a twenty-something today, gems like Girls, Broad City and High Maintenance would have me packing my bags for the next train into Penn Station.

But I’m already here. And even though it’s been twenty years since I arrived on Amtrak, I still love New York. I still love the ding-dong of closing train doors, the mad traffic, the broad avenues and quirky side streets, that “get-on-with-it” New Yawk attitude. Coming or going, I still get a lump in my throat when I catch the Manhattan skyline. 

And even though Park Avenue digs and a sunken living room elude me, I’d like to think that my own personal sitcom, with its New York backdrop and audience of one, will enjoy a lifetime run.

# # # 

Does New York City Need Mo Sex?

Yes! say the people who bring us the Museum Of Sex. Yes! Oh, yes! God, yes!

But after my first visit I’m wondering whether the museum will satisfy… anyone. The frat boy and his inner 12-year old? Swingers seeking fresh fodder for their sagging libidos? That retired couple from flyover country looking to be outraged? The grad student bent on scholarship?

More destination than museum, “Mo Sex” presents an after-hours vibe with its dim interior, below ground lounge and a door policy so restrictive that only those cool enough to pay twenty bucks get in. (Meaning anyone over eighteen.) 

Come one, come all to the Museum of Sex.

Never before has “exit through the gift shop” been more instructive. Which is why, standing on Fifth Avenue at 27th Street, you may think the Museum of Sex is more retail scheme than museum, shelves bursting with dildos, naughty candies and S & M paraphernalia for the newbie.

Don’t real doms get their gear at Ralph’s Hardware?

Paying too much for a pair of cheap handcuffs aside, what’s inside the Museum of Sex? 

Theatre of Desire, 1930-1990—a retrospective of work by Argentine-Italian Surrealist Leonor Fini—presents an early feminist’s beguiling and transgressive art; unfortunately the museum’s as dark as a fruit cellar. My camera kept warning me: Use the flash! Use the flash!) 

Fini’s earlier work is displayed against rose-colored walls in a womb-like room.
Fini’s Woman Seated on Naked Man, 1942
Chthonian Deity Watching Over the Sleep of a Young Man, 1946

As a feminist myself, I was happy to learn about Fini, who was included in MoMA’s ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism’ exhibit back in 1936. Her woman-yielding-whip perspective is refreshing— especially to those of us weary of the cis-male gaze, tired of the inevitable *orgasm-face* that women have to make while simulating sex on camera. 

Fini’s drawings for ‘Juliette’ by the Marquis de Sade.
A rather brutal drawing by Fini, the title of which I neglected to note. Working title: The kids are alright, but the babysitter…?
Dans La Tour, 1952. Gotta love this one, where the woman is taller, (mostly) dressed and directing the action of a far more vulnerable-looking man.
Le Carrefour D’Hecate, 1977
Leonor Fini at MoMA’s Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibit in 1936.

Punk Lust: Raw Provocation 1971-1985 is a fun romp through the punk scene of mosh pits, pierced nipples and ripped fishnets. But the exhibit reads more like the bedroom walls of a rebellious teen than a scholarly exploration of punk’s pugilistic sexuality which, depending on the band, carried strains of feminism, queer culture and sexism.

The Punk Lust exhibit at Mo Sex.
Looks like they rummaged through my junk drawer for this one. Sigh…I’m old.
Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams photographed in 1981 by Adrian Boot.
Smell of Female, a live album released by the Cramps in 1983.
A poster for ‘Orgasm Addict,’ a Buzzcocks single released in 1977. Wonder how many punk women found the image empowering?
And then there’s Joan Jett, a real feminist icon in my book.
Some parts of the Punk Lust exhibit are downright silly, more Halloween costume than art history.

ObjectXXX showcases artifacts from earlier times: vibrators, sex dolls, vintage vending machines, chastity belts. Some of the objects were better left to the imagination, like the fake hymen on display. Yes, there was a fake hymen. Don’t ask me how it was applied or if it ever fooled anyone.

Artifacts featured in ObjectXXX include Hugh Hefner’s smoking jacket, a furries’ mask and a ‘RealDoll,’ which is ‘able to be customized by choosing from several different body types, face shapes and other details,’ according to the curator.
Vibrators of a different era. Talk about a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome!
Who knew Playboy printed in braille? ‘No really, I just skim it for the great articles,’ said the blind man.
Tough to maneuver the subway stairs in these dominatrix boots.
A condom vending machine from the ’70s.
Heel, you heel.

Apart from the Fini exhibit, the highlight for me was eavesdropping on a tour guide training a recent hire. Trying to out do one another, they ping-ponged their way through competing examples of early precocity: Tour guide read his grandfather’s vintage copies of Marquis de Sade when he was only thirteen!!! New hire’s grandparents had threesomes!!! Tour guide’s girlfriend is cool with polyamory!!! New hire was hip to gender fluidity by the time she was ten!!!

‘Nuf said.

Who then, will be satisfied by a visit to the Museum of Sex? I’m guessing that millennials searching for a group activity—like an escape room, a paranormal tour or an interactive play—might be drawn to the subterranean speakeasy, clubby persona and the “Jump for Joy” bouncy room filled with inflated “breasts”.

It’s $3 extra to jump for joy.

And the prospect of seeing gorged genitals, pubic hair and ouch-inducing paraphernalia, all safely behind plexiglass, no doubt draws a certain demographic. Tourists and suburbanites, bored “sophisticates” and hearty partiers might well be attracted to the scene, open ‘til midnight on weekends. Step right up for boobs and booze, for weenies and martinis!

But genuine art lovers and, yes, true deviants, might have more luck at the good old Metropolitan Museum of Art, or other institutions, where paintings like The Swing (Fragonard), Woman with Black Stockings (Egon Schiele), Venus and Cupid (Lorenzo Lotto), La Douceur (Picasso), and The Sofa (Toulouse Lautrec) are far more lusty than anything the Museum of Sex has to offer. 

Although the new-to-me Leonor Fini? Girl crush!

Les Aveugles (The Blind Ones), 1968. One of Fini’s later works.

# # #

Museum of Sex

233 Fifth Avenue at 27th Street

New York, New York

Baubles, Buttons and Beads *

The giant ‘Button Threaded with Needle’ sculpture on West 39th Street and ‘Fashion Avenue,’ aka Seventh Ave.

At some point every New Yorker finds herself in Midtown. Rather than brave the tourist-clogged streets around Herald Square or 42nd Street—shudder!—I take the side streets, where a surprising number of family-owned businesses plug on despite the rapacious grab of developers. 

I’ve always been drawn to the small shops of the Garment District, those fabric, notions and trim shops that “unspooled” around the fashion industry, the latter a powerful economic engine in the city until the early ‘80s, when globalization started to take its toll. ** 

Twenty-two years ago, NYC’s Department of City Planning created the “Special Garment Center District,” in order to preserve “opportunities for apparel production, and wholesale and showroom use” in “selected blocks between 35th and 40th Streets west of Broadway.” *** 

The rezoning was an attempt to save Manhattan’s garment industry by limiting real estate development, specifically the proliferation of hotels and “the conversion of industrial space into office use.” *** Thank you, City Planning!

It’s worth remembering, especially during incendiary times such as these, that the city’s garment industry wouldn’t have been possible without immigrants. According to the Fashion Center Business Improvement District’s A Stitch in Time, “The skills of Eastern European Jews perfectly matched the industrial landscape taking place in New York,” that landscape, of course, being the garment industry. ** 

The Garment Worker, a sculpture on Seventh Avenue by Judith Weller

How were they doing, I wondered? Those old-world emporiums plying mother-of-pearl buttons, grosgrain ribbons, hooks and eyes? Although they seemed cast from a Dickens novel, with their narrow aisles, buckled floors and ancient cash registers, still, they were magical. Fusty warrens of space where, lo and behold, the perfect alabaster button, or ribbon the exact shade of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes, or lace befitting a debutant’s cotillion might possibly be there behind the counter or among the hundreds of boxes or spools teetering above. 

Whether you’re mourning or marrying, the Garment District is the place for lace.

Was West 38th Street still the antidote to a missing button or broken zipper or to that sinking feeling that the familiar squiggles of Manhattan’s fingerprint—Curry Hill, the Diamond District, Korea Town, the Garment District itself—had been rubbed clean, replaced with posh hotels, star-chitect builds and chic eateries?

The answer is yes, and no.

The button sellers still ply their trade, aided in equal parts by that zoning law of ‘87 previously cited—upheld in 1990 when developers sought to rescind it**—and from the publicity of shows like Project Runway, where the camera chases blue-haired FIT students sourcing a neon zipper, gem-like buttons or yards of rhinestone trim. 

Bring on the bling!

The biggest takeaway for me—after visiting about ten trim and button shops in the district—is that ownership has shifted, with Asian-Americans replacing Eastern Europeans as entrepreneurs. Yet again, immigrants put their brains, brawn and bankrolls behind Manhattan’s fashion industry and all the ancillary businesses that support it.

Some shops present a kind of organized chaos, with a mother lode of sparkly treasure stacked from floor to ceiling…

…while others have been transformed into clean and orderly museums of calm, with spools of satin ribbon housed behind glass, and black-clad salesclerks absorbed in the bright screens of their laptops. 

Shindo is a modern take on the ‘notions’ shop of yore, with what must be hundreds of miles worth of gorgeous satin ribbon, much of it behind glass.
A fox made completely of ribbon at Shindo on West 36th Street.

Despite the fact that I visited on a chilly Monday morning, most of the shops had customers: one designer described the masculine vibe he wanted for the buttons on his sports wear line; two women examined bolts of lace for a bridal veil; another woman sparred with the salesclerk on the price per foot of tapestry-woven trim.

Some shops were chaotic, others pristine, but one thing common to all was the extraordinary assortment of product, from buttons to boas, embroidery to escutcheons, fasteners to fabric, ribbons to rivets.

Amen!
A fastening machine in the rear of a notions shop in the Garment District. Riveting!

And the wealth of materials astounds: wood, stone, bamboo and bone; ceramic, elastic and plastic; feather and felt; sequins and satin; metal, tortoise and horn.

If you can’t find the perfect button in the Garment District, abandon all hope.

Color seems a simple concept; but is “blue” or “yellow” or “green” an answer or a question? Which shade of blue, which green hue? The range of colors available behind each storefront presents a Pantone swatch book of possibilities.

So the next time I need to replace a button or match some thread, I won’t scan the Internet or shop one of those corporate “craft” stores, I’ll head straight to the Garment District, where searching is half the fun, where the perfect cornflower blue awaits and where a few enterprising shopkeepers are doing their part to both preserve and rewrite a fascinating chapter in Manhattan’s storied history.

Have to agree with Billy Strayhorn that ‘a flower is a lovesome thing,’ even when conjured from fabric.

# # #

* Sung to the tune of Baubles, Bangles and Beads by George Forrest and Robert Wright. (I like the Sinatra/Jobim version.)

** Some facts gleaned from A Stitch in Time, the Fashion Center Business Improvement District’s 2008 pamphlet written by Gabriel Montero.

*** NYC Department of Planning, Special Purpose Districts