Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Teddy Roosevelt

Today marks the 152nd birthday of our twenty-sixth president, Theodore Roosevelt, the only U.S. president to be born and raised in New York City.

Roosevelt was born in a brownstone at 28 East 20th Street and today if you go to that address, you will find a double brownstone run by the National Parks Service as the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. However, despite the plaque out front that claims that the house was "restored" in 1923, it is, in fact, not the house that Teddy grew up in.

Roosevelt lived in a home at this address from 1858 to 1872, when the family moved uptown. The original home was demolished in 1916. Teddy died just three years later and, as we note in Inside the Apple:
"The New York State legislature chartered the Woman’s Roosevelt Memorial Association a mere 23 days after Roosevelt’s death. By mid March, the organization had purchased the building that had gone up in place of T.R.’s boyhood home as well as the property next door, which had been owned by Roosevelt’s uncle, Robert. Their plan was to “restore” the houses as they would have looked in 1865, based on the “description written by Colonel Roosevelt in his autobiography.” What this meant, in practice, was tearing the buildings down and starting from scratch. In 1923, the newly built home was opened to the public and was praised as a “shrine to American patriotism.” But nice as the reconstructed home may have been, it was no match for Gutzon Borglum’s ultimate tribute to T.R., which would commence construction by the end of the decade: Mount Rushmore."
If you are down in the Gramercy Park/Flatiron area today, swing by the house--admission is free.  And if you in that neighborhood on Saturday, there’s a free concert at 2:00 p.m. celebrating Roosevelt’s accomplishments as a naturalist.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Remembering Opening Day at the Guggenheim

In all the brouhaha surrounding the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum's plan to place a food kiosk outside the museum (a request unanimously denied by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, despite Frank Lloyd Wright's love of hot dogs), there's been little or no mention of the fact that today is the Guggenheim's 51st birthday. The museum opened on October 21, 1959, to mixed reviews. From the conception to completion the project took 16 years, but alas, Wright--who died six months before its completion--never got to enjoy the finished space.

Planning czar Robert Moses--Wright's second cousin by marriage--did not always see eye-to-eye with the famed architect. (In his opening remarks he said, "We need not debate how much of cousin Frank was genius and how much was, let us say, showmanship." In another context, he referred to his cousin as the man "regarded in Russia as our greatest builder.") But Moses made sure the Guggenheim got built. When the Department of Buildings was dragging its feet on giving the museum the proper approvals, Moses called the commissioner and told him: "I will have a building permit on my desk at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow or there will be a new building commissioner."

Many of Wright's colleagues praised the new museum. Philip Johnson called it "Mr. Wright's greatest building. New York's greatest building." Edward Durell Stone, who had worked on the Museum of Modern Art and would go on to build Huntington Hartford's Gallery of Modern Art on Columbus Circle, noted "I personally think it's a wonderful museum.... Why can't people relax and enjoy a fantastic structure instead of continually carping and criticizing."

And carp and criticize they did. The
New York Mirror compared it to a "ball of mud" and an "imitation beehive that does not fit in any New York environment." Others drew comparisons to a Jello mold or a washing machine. The biggest complaint was that it would be a terrible space to show art (a critique that still plagues certain shows at the museum.)
If you are on the Upper East Side today, swing by and admire Wright's greatest New York creation and wish it a happy birthday.



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Read more about Frank Lloyd Wright and the Guggenheim Museum in


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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FREE Walking Tour of the Columbus Circle/Carnegie Hall Neighborhood

Greetings friends, fans, and faithful blog readers:

On Sunday, October 17, at 3:00PM, we will be leading a free walking tour of the Carnegie Hall area in conjunction with the Borders store at Columbus Circle. We’ll look at some of the most interesting architecture of the neighborhood, including the Hearst Tower, the Museum of Arts and Design, Carnegie Hall, and some beautiful pre-war apartment buildings.

We’ll meet in the Special Events area of the Borders store, which is located on the second floor of the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. In order to start on time, please plan to be at the store by 2:50PM.

We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Drunkard at Metropolitan Playhouse

Now through October 17, you have the opportunity to see one of the most famous plays of the 19th century, The Drunkard, which is being performed at the Metropolitan Playhouse. Nimbly directed by Frank Kuhn, the play tells the story of Edward Middleton, a well-off country squire who falls prey to the evils of drink, moves to New York City, and nearly loses everything. It is a fascinating glimpse into the mid-19th-century temperance movement, and also a chance for modern audiences to experience a real antebellum melodrama, complete with a villain who comes as close to mustache-twirling as you'll see on the stage today.

Written in 1844, the play was a vehicle for its author, W.H. Smith, who played the lead. It premiered in Boston and ran for 144 performances--then the longest running play in American history. P.T. Barnum, himself a strong believer in temperance, saw the show and imported it to New York (changing the setting of play in the process) and it ran for 100 performances at his American Museum, which stood near today's City Hall Park.



The energetic cast imbues this production with humor and real feeling--you never feel like you are sitting in a history lesson. It's well worth the journey to the East Village to see this fascinating slice of New York from 150 years ago.


More about the play, including ticket information, can be found at http://www.metropolitanplayhouse.org/




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Read more about P.T. Barnum's New York in


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