Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Photo of the Day: The Knickerbocker, Times Square, NYC

In the whole time that I have passing through Times Square and its environs, I had never taken notice of The Knickerbocker Hotel till yesterday, when I had a few minute to kill before a show on 42nd Street. Between the plaque at ground level, and what I saw looming above me there on 42nd Street, I was intrigued enough not only to take this photo, but also to look into this site’s past history.

When I got back home, however, I was thrown for a loop. My well-worn, weather-bitten architectural reference, BlueGuide New York, referred to the Knickerbocker was “converted to an office tower.” But the site I saw—also on 42nd Street—was, I could have sworn, a hotel. What was going on?

I forgot that the copyright of that book was 1983 and that, in the last two decades particularly, the landscape of the city had changed markedly—even if it meant, as in this case, reverting to something like its original form.

In 2015, after a two-year, $240 million renovation, this space reopened as a hotel—and, in a sign that it wanted to reclaim its old glamour, under its original name. Its heyday was less than 20 years, but it would enter the Gotham legend.

In May 1905, John Jacob Astor IV took over control of a shell of a building (left unfinished by the prior owner’s financial collapse) and hired architects Trowbridge & Livingston to finish the job. Over the next 14 years, the Knickerbocker would enjoy a number of distinctions:

* Opera singer Enrico Caruso lived in the hotel from 1909 until his death, always using the same set of cutlery in the hotel restaurant;

* Another musical giant, theater jack-of-all-trades George M. Cohan, was another long-term resident;

*Woodrow Wilson spoke here while still president of Princeton University;

*Another person associated with Princeton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, came here and set a scene from his debut novel This Side of Paradise here;

*House bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia is said to have invented—what else?—the martini.

Prohibition spelled the end of the first incarnation of the Knickerbocker. Astor’s son Vincent, sensing that little good would come of a hospitality enterprise under such adverse conditions, converted the hotel to other uses in 1921. Thankfully, he left the hotel’s distinctive fa├žade unchanged, but he transformed the bottom floor to retail and the upper ones to office space.  (In the 1940s and 1950s, the structure became the Newsweek Building, after its most important occupant.)

In the 1980s, the building housed residential lofts for a short while before being rented as showrooms and studios for companies in the Garment District. After the turn of the millennium, it passed through several more hands before the real estate investment trust FelCor Lodging Trust acquired the building and transformed it back into a hotel.

Quote of the Day (Adlai Stevenson, on Flattery)

“I have sometimes said that flattery is all right, Mr. President, if you don't inhale it.” —Opening sentence of American politician Adlai Stevenson Jr.'s first appearance as the American Ambassador to the UN, February 1, 1961, in Looking Outward: Years of Crisis at The United Nations (1963)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Joke of the Day (Carol Burnett, on What Kind of Teeth She Has)

"I don't have false teeth. Do you think I'd buy teeth like these?"—Comedienne Carol Burnett, “Timeless Laughs With Carol Burnett,” Reader’s Digest, October 2012

(The accompanying White House photo by Paul Morse shows Carol Burnett receiving the Presidential Media of Freedom, November 9, 2005. Personally, I don't think the teeth are that bad!)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Quote of the Day (St. Teresa of Avila, on Dealing With Oneself and Others)

“Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.” — St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Maxims for Her Nuns, in Complete Works of St.Teresa of Avila: Vol. 3 (1963) edited by E. Allison Peers

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Photo of the Day: First Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood NJ

I saw this very distinctive-looking church while driving on East Ridgewood Avenue in the Bergen County, NJ community of Ridgewood last weekend, and stopped to take this shot. Though members of this church had been worshipping in town since 1823 and a prior building had existed elsewhere on Ridgewood Avenue since 1858, this particular site was bought in 1919 and a sanctuary built there eight years later.

The design of the First Presbyterian Church is Norman Gothic, floored with stone. Its materials come from a variety of sources: interior bricks from Holland, stained glass windows from England, and a slate roof from Pennsylvania.