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The One That Got Away: an Architectural Affair in New York

In my literary life and as one who pores over all things biographical, I’ve read a considerable amount of confessionals about ‘the one that got away’

Lower Manhattan (from Pexels.com)

Over the course of my real estate career, I’ve often been asked about neighborhoods that I would recommend. A difficult question, as there is such a vast array of special enclaves in this incredible city. However, after some reflection, and in my opinion, one of the most centrally located of all the many options at hand, would be the rim of midtown west; beginning on Central Park South, and stretching to far West 57th Street.

In my literary life and as one who pores over all things biographical, I’ve read a considerable amount of confessionals about ‘the one that got away’. As you might guess, these heart wrenching stories tend to center around a lost love. Most resulting from poor timing, family interference, a missed opportunity…but seldom does this loss revolve around an apartment that ‘got away’, as in the case of my specific experience. The main focal point, of this unrequited love, also centers around a building, that now holds a special aura, years later!

Architecture, as in fashion, circles the perimeter of political and social events. What was popular last season, often becomes passe, sometimes within a short period of time. We are left with an expensive ‘memory’ of something that we absolutely needed to own! Over the course of my real estate career, I’ve often been asked about neighborhoods that I would recommend. A difficult question, as there is such a vast array of special enclaves in this incredible city. However, after some reflection, and in my opinion, one of the most centrally located of all the many options at hand, would be the rim of midtown west; beginning on Central Park South, and stretching to far West 57th Street.

When I moved to Manhattan, after an arduous stint in the suburbs, I rented a large 1BR, 1 ½ Bath apartment at 200 Central Park South. In 1990-91, the rounded semi-circular façade, seemed an imposing and garish structure. Years later, when ‘mid-century’ came into fashion, I began to appreciate the sleekness & glamour of this classic 1960s building.

From the late ‘50’s to the early ‘60’s there was an exodus out of the city to the outlying suburbs, for many young families seeking more space. The lure, conceived by developers, was to create large expansive rooms with equally large walk-in closets, and many other amenities that would challenge those found in suburban homes. Such was the case with my apartment on CPS. It was ‘almost’ as large as the home I left on Long Island. In retrospect, when the owner of my rental casually mentioned that he would consider selling for 300K, I thought the price seemed high. The last time I checked our real estate database, my apartment, on the 8th floor overlooking the magnificent Alwyn Court, sold for $1.495.      

‘The one that got away’.      

I still belabor this missed opportunity, as I believe that the size, would have allowed more comfort as I’ve begun ‘collecting’ (not necessarily art / objects but ‘stuff’). Additionally the location and current appeal of this highly stylized building seem to have risen, on the status chart. What I loved most, was the convenience of getting downtown  (a breeze down 7th) as well as uptown, a walk/ up Fifth. Not to mention the proximity to Bergdorf and other renowned shops! But, the biggest ‘wow’ factor was its proximity to Central Park; directly across the street!

Another extraordinary piece of architecture, is located at 12 E 87th.  The Capitol, was my temporary abode while searching for an apartment to purchase, in ‘93. I had the unique opportunity of calling this landmark Neo-Renaissance building home, for almost 1 year. Built in 1912 by the non-conformist architectural firm of George & Edward Blum, it was designated a landmark in 1993. Upon entering, it felt as if I was transported back in time to a former life in Paris. The lobby and upper halls reeked of a past unfamiliar to pinpoint, but one that I subconsciously identified with. Another missed opportunity, as the owner was eager to sell.

Columbus Circle (Ph. LW)

*Onward; while I’m reminiscing about my favorite architecture and buildings where I called ‘home’; some were not residences, but work related. One of the most note-worthy was the NY Coliseum. When I graduated from college, I began working as an editorial assistant for Signature Magazine/ the Diners Club publication. It was then headquartered in the offices above the NY Coliseum at 10 Columbus Circle, before it was demolished in 2000. The Coliseum, a convention center that stood at the center of Columbus Circle from 1956 – 2000, was designed by Leon & Lionel Levy in a modified international style.  It included both exhibition space and a 26 story office block. After several unsuccessful attempts to sell, a deal was struck in 1998 with Time Warner & The Related Companies for 345M, to make way for the originally constructed AOL/ Time Warner building. Developed by the Related Companies, and designed by David Childs & Mustafa Kemal Abadan of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, it consists of two, 750 feet twin towers, bridged by a multi storied atrium. The total floor area of 2.8 million square feet is occupied by office space, residential condominiums, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. In spite of its global appeal, mainly to overseas buyers, I still miss the small and spatially visual scape of the NY Coliseum. Or perhaps I’m just missing ‘old’ New York!   

Brill Building (Ph. LW)

Going back further, was another NY landmark where I nested during college breaks. I was hired as a receptionist to answer calls (land line) and greet guests at a music publishing firm, owned by the late Bobby Darin. It was here where my love for music was in perfect harmony (no pun) with this entry level position. The small cubicle sized offices were all adorned w. pianos, and the sound of rock & roll, reverberated through the walls, by artists hired to churn out tunes daily and then sold to recording artists. Some of whom, were the most well respected and hugely popular artists of the ‘60’s. The list of songwriters who got their start at the pianos in the Brill Bldg. reads like a ‘whos who’ of music icons; Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Marvin Hamlisch, Carole King, Mike Stoller & Jerry Lieber, (writers for the ‘almighty’ Elvis), Kenny Young, Artie Resnick & Rudy Clark. Many of whom have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And many more artists who have covered their hits including the Rolling Stones, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert, the list goes on.  It was during my ‘reign’ at The Brill Building, where this musical magic occurred. A rather star-studded start for an 18yr old / aka ‘a teenager in love’, for those who remember!

Alwyn Court corner (Ph. LW)

Jack Dempsey, the renowned boxing champ, had a restaurant on the ground floor of this magnificent building. His presence was as large as his reputation, and I often noticed him dining, on the few occasions when I was invited for lunch. But the most memorable, were the stream of visitors who solicited Bobby Darin’s assistance; namely, Frankie Lymon (of The Teenagers), the Ronettes, the Crystals, and neighbors Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry. Clearly this memory had more than just architecture, in its significant past. The Brill Building, still an imposing presence, sits on Broadway @49th, with a shiny brass Deco façade, and an equally glamorous brass & mirrored lobby. Unfortunately, it is currently ½ empty, due to the closing of Colony Records and the enormous changes in the music industry.

*As an additional reminder; I also spent many holiday weeks/school breaks, in the Flatiron Building with my Dad, as my boss! This formidable list of associations, has been my personal stamp and one more glimpse of an enduring love for the city, and for some of Manhattans most memorable architecture.

I would be remiss not to mention yet another NYC landmark, and one that has recently received more publicity than it deserves. In the late ‘80’s, I was working as an art dealer for a Gallery headquartered in Soho. The owners decided to try their luck ‘uptown’ and I was asked to open a Gallery at Trump Tower. As you should know, there is absolutely ‘nothing’ noteworthy about this building…. But, in the scheme of history; it may hold curiosity for those traveling to NY, & who are foolishly mesmerized by the looming presence of a president who has his hand in the real estate ‘pot’.

Suggestion:  if traveling down Fifth, take the subway to avoid the madness.

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