Saturday, April 30, 2011

Historical districts of NYC

We thought we'd try a walking tour with NYC By Foot this morning (Saturday) so we made our way down to Spring Street in SoHo, just in time to meet up with Russ and a group of about 15 other people a little after 10.00am. We nearly didn't make it, with disruptions to the subway system and a couple of misdirections from people we asked for help along the way.

We started in SoHo, looking more closely at the history of this district and its amazing cast iron buildings. The area originally was the warehouse district of NY - for textiles, garments, everything you could think of that was manufactured in NYC in the nineteenth century. The builders were ambitious and anxious to impress. Cast iron was cheap and easy to mould so the buildings could be as decorative as they wished. Greene St has the most significant cast iron buildings in SoHo.


The need for warehouses declined at the start of the twentieth century so the area went into a 50-60 year decline. The building below at 102 Prince Street was used as the location for Patrick Swayze's and Demi Moore's apartment, under renovation, in Ghost in the early eighties, reflecting what was starting to happen at that time in SoHo as artists moved into the area and converted the warehouses to studios and apartments. Apparently the release of Ghost exacerbated this trend as lots of people were impressed by Demi Moore doing pottery in her lovely old apartment.

It's obvious that no struggling artists could afford to live in SoHo any more. It is a very luxurious area, full of galleries, high end luxury goods and designer shops. Very Parisienne!

Russ points out 421 Broome Street in SoHo, another beautiful cast iron building. Heath Ledger lived in the apartment, on the top floor. It was where he was found after his fatal overdose in January 2008.

The greater availability of steel and the capacity to build taller building more affordably meant that building styles in this district changed. This red brick and cast iron version is a good example of the experimentation that was happening.

Crossing Broadway and looking South we got a good view of the historic old Woolworth building, once the tallest building in New York city (about a hundred years ago)........

........and of this picturesque corner of SoHo.

Coming out of SoHo and into Little Italy and the Northern end of Chinatown we find Lombardi's at 32 Spring Street (corner of Mott St), New York City's oldest pizzeria (and the best some would say - more of that later!).

Continuing down Mott St and crosswise into Mulberry Street we see plenty of evidence of the tenement buildings that housed some of the successive waves of immigrants streaming into New York over the past hundred or so years - Germans, Irish, Italians, Eastern European Jews and most recently the Chinese/ Koreans.

The street outside the Metz building below was used as the location for filming the assassination of Don Corleone in Godfather 1. During filming in 1971 the area looked a lot more Italian with fruit barrows & markets in the street etc. Now it's increasingly being settled by the Chinese. Its NY's oldest Chinatown (but not the biggest). It looks really extensive compared to Chinatown in sydney.

Our walking tour ended at Columbus Park, filled this morning by hundreds of mostly older Chinese people, playing music, cards, mahjong or just chatting and drinking tea together.

Columbus Park is adjacent to the NYC Court House and the NY Prison (this district was NY's most crime ridden prior to about 20 years ago). Rob just happened to catch this little vignette of two people (handcuffed) as they enter the prison under police custody.

We're hungry by now so with all our new knowledge of the area we stop off at Cafe La Bella Ferrara at 108 Mulberry Street and choose a box full of the most wonderful authentic baked Italian pastries-including canoli to die for!

..and make Lombardi's on Spring Street our lunch stop for pizza. It's crowded so we wait for a table at the bar and a beer brewed in Brooklyn. That photo on the wall to the right of Rob's head is of Jack Nicholson when he visited Lombardi's. In fact the walls are covered with photos of luminaries who've visited this historic pizzeria.

The menu is simple - just pizza (and salad). Cooked in a brick oven, intensely flavoured tomato sauce, small amount of mozzarella and lots of fresh basil; that's it. I ordered extra roasted peppers & mushrooms and Rob ordered extra pepperoni on his portion. It was the best pizza I have ever eaten. Thin crisp base tasting of the smoke of the oven, very little cheese and no fat, wonderful intense tomato...perfect. We ate most of this HUGE pizza!

We decided to walk off our lunch, and Rob wanted to deserve his pastries, so we set off up Broadway towards Chelsea. On the way we caught our best view yet of the Empire State building.

We eventually got to Union Square, crowded with (mostly) young people this afternoon because it's market day (art/craft and farmers markets). We're not far from NYU here so its obvious there are a lot of students in the crowd.

This group doing their beaded jewellery looked a bit unusual.

At the Northern end of the Square was the farmers market.

Interesting, but not in the same class as the markets we saw in London, although the fresh fruit and vegies look better quality.

Continuing up Broadway and then crossing into 5th Avenue Rob sees this beautiful building. If we'd looked a little harder we would have realised it's the beautiful and iconic Flatiron building - except Rob took the shot from its "normal" side, not realising it had the iconic wedge shape on the other end. I had my head inside a beautiful clothing shop on 5th Avenue at the time so I didn't notice the building at all.

It was after 4.00pm by the time we got back to 208 W23rd Street and we both felt the last couple of days were catching up with us.

Central Park & the Upper Westside

We headed uptown Friday morning on Subway 1, alighting at Columbus Circle. It was the first of the uptown stations we found today being spruced up and looking cared for.

We emerged to a picture perfect New York day - the opposite of yesterday. Columbus Circle is on the SW corner of Central Park where Broadway, 8th Avenue and W59th Street intersect. It is the point from which all official distances from NYC are measured. It looks very glossy today with the Time Warner building and Trump Tower and Hotel as the backdrop.

We made our way through the South West entrance to Central Park, walking along West Drive through the canopy of Spring budding trees.

This well dressed couple, he in top hat and tails and she in pearls and hat, reminded us that many New Yorkers had attended celebratory breakfasts this morning for the wedding of Kate and Will.

Eventually we got level with where 72nd Street intersects with Central Park West. The gathering of people and cameras indicated we wer
e at the Dakota Apartment building. The entrance to this beautiful 130 year old building is large enough to fit a horse and carriage...it was also the scene of the terrible murder of John Lennon by Mark Chapman in December 1980.

Yoko Ono still owns 5 apartments in this building. Each year on the anniversary of John's death a single candle is lit in the window of one of her apartments.

But the constant sightseers must be a distinct disadvantage to living here now.

The Strawberry Fields memorial (funded by Yoko Ono) garden is laid out in memory of John Lennon in Central Park just across from the Dakota Apartments. The Imagine focus of the memorial is a magnet for pretty girls and ageing grandmas and grandpas with creaky knees (not us) on this sunny Spring day in New York.

After paying our respects to John Lennon we made our way to the Angel Fountain and Bethesda Terrace, one of the most recognizable sites in Central Park.

Hundreds of movies have used Central Park locations. Rob immediately recognized this terrace and its fountain being a feature in memorable scenes from Ransom (Mel Gibson and Rene Russo) but I've seen it used in many other movies as well.

The terrace looked gorgeous today, with lots of music and performances happening. Even the saxophonist performing the very cheesy Girl from Ipanema sounded just right in this setting.

We walked around the edge of the lake, once again reminding us of other movie settings, to The Loeb Boathouse Restaurant for lunch.

The perfect spot for lunch in Central park, unless you have your own rug and hamper.

The only sign of filming in the park today was this small scale fashion shoot.

Although we'd only explored a small section of Central Park today we decided then we'd make our way over to the Upper Westside. We walked West along 72nd Street towards Amsterdam Avenue (10th Avenue).

We came across this amazing little Israeli eatery Soomsoom that reminded us so much of Sabbaba in Bondi along 72nd Street. That's the only problem with New York. You make a decision about where to eat and ten minutes later you come across something better! Rob was the hero on this occasion and managed to squeeze in a Burekasabich (a pastry filled with egg and eggplant & hommus etc with pickle chasers)!

We caught the subway from 72nd Street to 110th Street and made our way up to 112th Street at the intersection with Broadway. Tom's Restaurant, in the background of the picture below, is well known to us from our years being addicted to Seinfeld. The people in the foreground looked pretty typical of those living in this area - solidly Jewish, and comfortable off! (By the way Barak Obama used to eat at Tom's Restaurant in the days when he attended Columbia University.) It's not flash; it looks like a greasy spoon type place; we'd never eat there!

We made our way down 112th Street to Riverside Drive and enjoyed our walk through the parkland all the way to 95th Street, catching glimpses of children playing in the playgrounds under the supervision (or not) of their Nannies, dog walkers out with their groups of designer dogs.........

and views of the beautiful Art Deco, Gothic revival apartment buildings lining prosperous Riverside Drive.

We came to the very grand NY Firemen's Memorial in the Park. Almost 100 years old, it provided a focus for vigils and memorials around the time of 9/11, even though it is a long way up from the WTC site.

We walked East along 95th Street until we came to Broadway again. We wanted to see how far we could walk along this iconic avenue, starting at this point on the Upper West side and seeing where it would take us. There were the famous NY shops: Harry's Shoes on W83rd, a reviving cup of tea at t
he AMAZING Barnes and Noble Booksellers 0n W82nd Street and what really grabbed our attention, Zabar's, a NY institution on W80th Street.

Zabar's has been on this site for nearly a century It started as a small family run deli and now fills almost an entire block. It is a foodie heaven for the traditional European Jewish families that live all around here. There is nothing modern or minimalistic about it but the quality of the food looks to be intensely good. What every high quality European kosher cook would need, including top quality European brand cookware too. We were entranced!


The coffee section was just amazing and the cheese section was the largest I have seen anywhere.


But then another block and we come across the amazing Citerella's. Those are very aged racks of beef in the window - a la Neil Perry.

.....Past more beautiful old opulent apartment blocks and the glossy modern Lincoln Center until we get back to where we started at Columbus Circle.

By now the Central Park tourist vehicles are packing up and the poor horses have to contend with the pigeons for their supper.

We make our way to 7th Avenue and start walking South past Carnegie Hall. The shots below are for Josh who may remember this view of the Park Central Hotel on 55th and 7th Avenue (from 1994)......

.....and this view of the nearby 55st DELI where we'd pick up some of our meals to go. Rob reminded me of the black ice we had to negotiate making the crossing during that freezing cold January.

We're approaching Times Square and things get more glitzy and the crowds are much bigger.


We even get ourselves up on one of the billboards on Times Square. You might be able to just make us out on the left edge of the straight stroke of the number two (almost half way up).


By now we've walked about 50 or so blocks and we are so close to home now we keep going, past Macy's on 34th Street (Herald Square) and Madison Square Gardens between 33rd and 31st Street.

It's been a brilliant New York day. We've absorbed so many different impressions and ideas, people and places. Our feet are feeling the distance so it's good to get back to 208 W23rd Street around 7.00pm.