A New York Love Story

Written in the Spring of 2012

Cherry Blossoms in Central Park

Looking down upon 79th Street Transverse from Central Park, the ubiquitous yellow cabs passing underway feel as natural as the cherry blossoms that surround me. Juxtaposed against an oasis of calm, Fifth Avenue bustles at the Park’s perimeter with a constant stream of boot-to-pavement. To my left, a scene just as frenetic is playing out in the Met Museum; stoic, its interior is overrun by tourists trying to navigate its expanse.

This is New York – a city of dichotomies. Home to millions of people, and a holiday destination for millions more, it is the most bustling metropolis in the United States. New York City is where I, an expat based in a city charged with an unstoppable energy, found my peace.

Park Avenue, New York

I had been caught in New York’s embrace from the onset. Whisked into its whirlwind, the city subsequently unraveled a series of monumental moments along the way. Meeting him was the most definitive – it sparked a new beginning.

I’d fallen in love with him with the same ease I’d fallen for New York. Just as I’d experienced the spark of the city whilst standing in Times Square as a twenty-something year old thinking, this feels so right; years later I felt a similar sentiment as we dined together at my favourite restaurant on Park Avenue.

Ever since that first date, we’ve been walking the same path.

Now, standing in Central Park, newly married, I realise that my love for New York has taken on a deeper meaning. This is a city that can so easily seduce, enthrall, and enchant. But it’s when you stay a while that you really feel the beat of its strong, passionate, and loving heart.

An Island and a Bridge ~ Roosevelt, Queens, Manhattan, in NY

Once home to former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and Sex in the City actress, Sarah Jessica Parker; a prison site until 1935 with inmates including Mae West and Billie Holiday, albeit for a short while; the chosen location of a Louis Kahn designed soon-to-be opened Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park… Roosevelt Island has quite the storied history.

Manhattan – left, Roosevelt Island – right

Located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, and overarched by 59th Street’s Queensborough Bridge, the island is home to about 12,000 people. In centuries past, it went through a bit of an identity crisis. Called Hog Island in 1637, then Manning’s a few years later, it was renamed Blackwell Island in 1686 after it’s new owner – Manning’s son-in-law, Robert Blackwell.

New York City purchased the island in 1828, and erected upon its soil a penitentiary, a lunatic asylum, hospitals, and a chapel. These developments also brought with them a name change: Welfare Island.  Finally declared Roosevelt Island in 1973, after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, today it sports many new condo constructions amongst older rentals and coops, a chronic care facility, chains – Starbucks and Duane Reade, as well as a new riverside restaurant/bar.

Roosevelt Island – left, Queens – right. Welfare Bridge in background.

I was here four years ago to watch rained-out fireworks, and only visited again yesterday; after watching the eerie Dark Water, I’d been hesitating to go back to the movie’s location. But a walk along the Queensborough Bridge on a glorious day called for a spontaneous decision to catch the tram from its Manhattan end, and over to the island. With previous fear unfounded, it’s a great spot not only to appreciate a Midtown vista from ground level, but a good excuse to see NY on par with a bird’s eye.

Long Island City, Queens, in the background

The tram allows for use of the Metrocard, and costs the same as a subway ride. You can also train it underground, there and back.

Enjoy!

Manhattan -  left, Roosevelt Island, right

Manhattan, beyond 59th Street

On the tram…

On Roosevelt Island, looking at Manhattan below 59th Street…

Back to Manhattan by tram…

And back over the Bridge, to Long Island City, Queens.

Around 59th Street, Manhattan

Smiles from Roosevelt Island, below.

Urban Vs Natural ~ New York and California

I read some words today that I’ve been reflecting on ever since. You may read them here: mimokhair, Day 2, Vietnam

Energised by the built; energised by the wild. Constantly revved up by a kaleidoscope of impressions, versus quietly meditating on the infinite. Striving towards a balance.

The thoughts shared by the Native American on mimokhair’s post speak volumes about my love for city life, accompanied by the constant pull of the Pacific Ocean.

Looking towards the horizon from Heisler Park in Laguna Beach

View from my apartment building’s rooftop in Brooklyn, looking towards Manhattan. One World Trade Centre in NY’s downtown (background).

A Passion for Travel

Recently I was asked to write down why I am interested in travel photography…

Well, I love the way I feel when I travel.

Malibu Pier, CA

I remember wishing to be a travel agent when I grew-up, and I fulfilled that ‘dream’ at STA Travel, only to realise that I’d rather be the one doing the traveling. I got into the media industry to fund my addiction; ultimately, it propelled me to embark on a working stint overseas.

Park Avenue, NY

What interests me most about travel is anthropology; there’s nothing more inspiring than immersing yourself in another culture and being able to “walk in another person’s shoes,” to quote Anthony Bourdain.

Walking towards the Hollywood Sign; downtown LA in the background. As seen from the Hollywood Hills, CA

To me, documenting travel means that writing and photography go hand-in-hand; placing images alongside words better tells the story. I’m interested in showing the reality of a place or space – using words and images to stimulate a response, a feeling. Whether I choose to shoot street photography or architectural compositions, that depends on the nature of the story.

The Binoculars Building, by Frank Gehry - Venice Beach, LA

To know I may have inspired, educated, or motivated someone through moments captured with my words or through my lens makes me happy.

And that was my answer. What would you have said?

Street Art - Silver Lake, LA

Not Another Valentine’s Day Post ~ Black and White Inspiration III

Every day should be Valentine’s Day. Sounds like a cliché? Maybe, though you might just find some truth in this sentiment. Enjoy ~ with love.

Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life. ~ Leo Buscaglia

Milano, anni Cinquanta, 1950 ~ Photograph by Mario De Biasi

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. ~ Henry Miller

Scott Pommier

I want to know you moved and breathed in the same world with me. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in San Angel, 1940

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ~ Pablo Picasso

Picasso and the loaves, 1952 ~ Photograph by Robert Doisneau

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage. ~ Lao Tzu

Joanne Woodward showed off her Oscar statue with husband Paul Newman by her side at the Governor’s Ball in 1958

I have found that if you love life, life will love you back. ~ Arthur Rubinstein

Motion, 1930 ~ Photograph by Andreas Feninger

Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow. ~ John Lennon

Andy Warhol ~ Photograph by Dennis Hopper

I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best. ~ Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe in New York City, 1957 ~ Photograh by Sam Shaw

The most important things in life aren’t things. ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

Seagulls ~ Photograph by chillbrook via space1eleven.wordpress.com

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. ~ Henry David Thoreau

New York City, February 1954 ~ Photograph by Andreas Feininger

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~ Howard Thurman

James Dean in NYC ~ Photograph by Dennis Stock

There is only one happiness in life — to love and to be loved. ~ George Sand

Wedding Day ~ Photograph by Antony Schuster

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and let it come in ~ Morrie Schwartz

Round Tower, Copenhagen ~ Photograph by Robert Floerke

Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Gone for 24 Hours: A Wintry Escape to Atlantic City, NJ

Fringed by a stretch of ocean that seemingly goes on forever, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is sublime in the wintertime. In the morning, it’s practically yours to enjoy, shared only with a few other souls and felines. Relaxing in the sun, with a pristine view of the Atlantic Ocean; breathing in the salty sea air; melting away any niggly stresses brought about by the daily grind – this is a winter-worthy short escape from New York City.

I had arrived to Atlantic City (AC) with preconceived notions of it; generalizations based on hearsay and TV shows. My previous word associations with the place included: gamblers, casinos, rowdy tourists, a beach, Jersey Shore. Having just returned from a trip there, I can assuredly say that AC proved me completely and utterly wrong. I’ve thrown all aforementioned assumptions to the wind, and I can confidently pair the City up with the following word/phrase/fact associations: never-ending stretch of beautiful beach; glorious Atlantic Ocean; hedonistic hotel & casino experiences; the inspiration for Monopoly; a historic Boardwalk; nostalgic architecture; salt water taffy; Boardwalk Empire (I have since started watching the show).

In a similar vein to Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, the New York Times’ 36 hours in… and, at a stretch, Jack Bauer’s adventures in 24 (though hardly as dramatic and drawn-out), here’s an unraveling of how to spend a night & day in Atlantic City, from my point of view.

NIGHT

6pm: Arrive in Atlantic City. The Trump Taj Mahal’s Chairman Tower is a great base. Located at the northern end of the Boardwalk and without too many buildings abutting it, there’s a feeling of spaciousness here. Breathe a sigh of relaxed relief. The path from the main lobby to the Tower rooms is a sea of escalators, chandeliers, mosaic tiles, shops and restaurants. It’s all pretty bedazzling, in a good way. Highly advisable: Pause and take in the view from your room – though it’s impossible not to, given the wrap around floor to ceiling windows showcasing a cascade of flickering city lights below.

Lights and reflections: from 93rd floor of Chairman Tower

8pm: Dinner at Trattoria Il Mulino. Carpaccio, Risotto al Frutti di Mare, Salmone Livornese, Arugula & Prosciutto Pizza – this is good Italian food. For kicks, add a few items that may not be part of your everyday dining repertoire: oysters, prosecco, tiramisu, limoncello – so good! Best ambient feature about this restaurant: a frosted windowed wall that separates the kitchen from its diners; the staff’s hustle and bustle is always on show. Located on the lobby level of the hotel, you’d hardly know that you’re dining just steps away from the casino floor.

Trattoria Il Mulino

11pm: Casino Territory. Slot machines, Blackjack tables, Baccarat. Not a huge gambler? Just enjoy the table activity all around, and admire the Indian inspired interior design – concave ceilings adorned with mirrors, ornate gilded fringing, and elaborate crystal chandeliers. Have a nightcap – you’re here for one night, after all.

DAY

7.30am: The amazingly stunningly gloriously delightfully breathtaking morning view.

Yes, this sentence makes absolute sense when you wake up to a vista of the Atlantic Ocean and a never-ending sky, lit up in pinks and blues as the sun rises. In winter, a vista of the Atlantic Ocean and defined cityscapes are not visible after nightfall, so this view may indeed come as a surprise. Once you’ve gotten a hold of yourself, and reasoned as to why you don’t wake up to a view like this every morning, you’ll may feel a sudden urge to grab your coat, head outdoors and see the Ocean for yourself. First things first though – coffee is required.

"You and your pink sky..." from Sex in the City, Season 5, Episode 3

Order room service. Ask for a pot of freshly brewed coffee (pronto!) and a selection of breakfast pastries. Watch as the sunrise gives way to a new day. If you simply can’t wait, grab a Starbucks coffee and croissant from downstairs. Leave your things with the 24-hour Bell desk, head through the casino, and exit onto the brightly lit Boardwalk. Breathing in fresh air never felt so good!

A Boardwalk perspective

9.30am: Relax. Put your feet up and recline on one of the benches lining the Boardwalk, whilst soaking in the sun’s rays. At this time of year, the beach is enjoyed by a few wandering souls, puffed up seagulls as well as sun baking alley cats that set up home under-the-boardwalk in the cooler months. Originally built in 1870 as a temporary structure to protect hotel interiors from sand, the Boardwalk had undergone about five restorations before it was finally finished. At 4-miles long and 24 feet wide, the loveliest features about it are its Parisian inspired lamp posts and the herringbone pattern of the floorboards.

This part of the Boardwalk is defined by the Steel Pier. Opened in 1898, it was the first pier to be built on iron pilings and steel girders. In its earlier days, the pier required full evening dress and one admission ticket allowed for 16 hours of continuous entertainment! Today, the Steel Pier continues its tradition as an amusement park. As it is on hiatus during winter, I cannot speak for its admission prices, though can say that it makes for a beautiful vista from the Boardwalk; its Ferris Wheel set against a eternal hue of sky- and ocean-blues.

Steel Pier, reflected

Steel Pier - a southern vantage point

10.30am: The Beach. There are a number of pathways to the beach that may be accessed from the Boardwalk. The beach is made for meandering during the wintertime: tune into the meditative sounds of its gentle waves; breathe in the salty sea air; take in the still beauty of the day; hear the crack of seashells underneath your (covered) feet. If you’re a fan of the ocean, this is a great season to enjoy it.

View - under and through the Steel Pier

Wandering soul

11am: Strolling. Find a pathway from the beach leading back to the Boardwalk. It becomes more built up the further you walk south; enjoy the decades-old architecture of the stores, colourful (and empty/closed) ice cream and apple dumpling kiosks, and the gently undulating grassy sand dune vistas.

Ice cream kiosk - empty

"Isn't this amazing? It's like a postcard from the twenties..." Carrie Bradshaw

Your jaunt along the Boardwalk will undoubtedly be interrupted by the pusher of a rolling-chair, asking if you’d like a ride. These rolling chairs debuted on the Boardwalk in 1887, imported from the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, and provide the weary walker with an excuse to be (physically) pushed along the length of the Boardwalk. A centuries-old tradition, they’d make sense on a rainy, extremely cold day, though would clearly limit your photo opportunities.

A rolling-chair pusher

Taffy Time. Stop for some Salt Water Taffy at Fralinger’s, and keep these delectable sticky treats in your bag for later. The story behind the sweet that made its debut in AC, is that a storm swamped a candy store in 1883 and dampened its supply of taffy. The salty flavour of the sweets was a palette-pleaser, and so ‘salt water taffy’ was born. Personal favourites: watermelon, peach and sour apple flavours.

Fralinger's, on the Boardwalk

Set installation on the Boardwalk

Reflect. Pause at the Korean War Veteran Memorial, located near the arch in Brighton Park. Here, beneath an eternal flame, 822 names of soldiers from New Jersey are engraved – either killed or still missing in action.

Behind the memorial you’ll notice one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in AC – The Claridge. Opened in the 1930’s and known as “The Skyscraper by the Sea”, Marilyn Monroe stayed here when she was grand marshal to a Miss America pageant. For a time, it was the only hotel to offer in-room fresh and sea water for its purported healing qualities. Known as one of the last pre-casino hotels, it is now owned by Bally’s Atlantic City.

The Claridge (right)

The Claridge - up close

Game Trivia. This area in which the hotel stands is also the setting for Park Place, made famous by Charles Darrow who developed the game of Monopoly in 1929 using the city’s streets.

A little further on, and you’ll come to ‘The Pier Shops at Caesars’. Walk right through its shop-edged pathway and onto the outdoor deck. Here, you’ll experience a 360 view of the Atlantic and the Boardwalk. Standing over the ocean, this vantage point shows just how huge those casinos are relative to say, the Steel Pier and the Boardwalk’s shops. Bask in the knowledge that you’re livin’ on the edge.

Down the line and on the edge

Voluminous cloud cover

Boardwalk, further south. Boardwalk Hall (right)

12.30pm: Lunch. None of the mobile kiosks are open during the cooler months, and food options on the Boardwalk are limited to casino buffets or chain restaurants. Pure Americana: head to Johnny Rocket’s and order that burger and fries. It’s cold out there and this is vacation food that tastes good.

1.30pm: Boardwalk Hall ~ a beautiful example of Roman Revival and Art Deco architecture. Built in 1929, this was once the largest freestanding building in the world. The Boardwalk Hall was AC’s original convention centre though in World War I, its use was slightly altered – it served as a training facility to prepare thousands of soldiers for service.

It has hosted Miss America Pageants as well as Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential nomination during the Democratic National Convention. This convention took place one year after Kennedy’s assassination, during which time a statue of President John F. Kennedy was dedicated. It stands in the Kennedy Plaza directly in front of Boardwalk Hall, which is now a concert/event venue.

Boardwalk Hall

Kennedy Plaza's seats: This space contains an amphitheater for outdoor concerts and is also used as a speaking point by politicians.

2pm: Photo Opps. Turn around and head back in the direction from which you came. This is the perfect opportunity to take those photos of what you may have missed along the way.

Civil Rights. At around the Central Pier (an amusement arcade), turn off the Boardwalk and onto Martin Luther King Blvd. A few blocks down is the Civil Rights Garden – a public sculpture space designed by Larry Kirkland, and made up of 11 granite columns, inscribed with quotes by American civil rights activists. A sculpture of a hand and bell over a reflective pool (in warmer months) also stand here, in the centre of the space.

Entrance to the Civil Rights Garden

2.30pm: Back Streets.  You’ll walk through a poor neighbourhood; past a lot of churches, abandoned buildings, motels reminiscent of another time and storefronts that wouldn’t look out of place on Route 66. You’ll finally come to the casinos – you can’t miss their signage.

3.30pm: Victorian Houses and Lucy the Elephant. Drive south along Atlantic Avenue, heading to Margate. Enroute, you’ll be forgiven for gawking at the beautiful mansions that line both sides of the road, and its side streets. Large balconies, turrets and spires – there’s some striking architecture here.

Mansions and summer houses, lining the beach

At #9200, you’ll come face to face with Lucy – The World’s Largest Elephant. With a story not unlike that of the infamous Hollywood sign; Lucy was built to in 1881, as a gimmick to attract potential buyers to land holdings along the coast of South Atlantic City (now Margate). She has survived the test of time and since been completely restored – at a cost of just under $2 million. In 1976, Lucy was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976; “the oldest surviving example of a unique form of zoomorphic architecture, and the oldest roadside attraction in America.” Open to the public, though closed at this time of year, she can be viewed from the street or the beach. 4pm: Shopping. Head back down Atlantic Avenue, towards the Atlantic Expressway. If you’re up for some shopping, the Outlet shops are located in the town’s centre. Avoid a headache and don’t park in their dedicated Lot – the paid street parking is much closer, and a spot shouldn’t be hard to find.

5.30pm: Back to NYC. Once you’ve loaded up on the essentials, bid adieu to AC. Be grateful that you were able to revel in its wintry glory; the next time you come, it may be at the height of summer.

Gated Abandonment on Bowery ~ downtown NYC

There’s a building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that had intrigued me for a while because of its haunted look. The stone building shows evidence of a former glory – its Gilded Age stone design, now covered in graffiti; its elaborate architectural details, now rusted through and unkempt. Cornered by Spring Street on one side, #190 Bowery is located in a pretty cool neighbourhood amongst restaurant supply shops, the New Museum, cafes and restaurants.

Doorway

Lonely intercom

Let me put it this way – this is prime real estate yet the building looks abandoned. In a city as densely populated as New York City, where space is prized, how can such a gorgeous building be seemingly empty?

I hadn’t been the only one wondering; when I visited the space earlier this month to take some photos of the street art covering the ground level of the six-storey space (and as I discovered, its fascinating details), the homeless guys sitting in its vicinity were asking me this very question. I had no idea how to respond… and so after a bit of research, I discovered a very interesting story behind it all.

It would have helped if I had paid attention to a (now obvious) detail...

This building-on-Bowery was constructed in 1898. Originally, it existed as the Germania Bank in a neighbourhood that had been primarily made up of German working class.

By 1966, the bank was abandoned and up for sale. Enter artist and photographer Jay Maisel. In the market for a studio space, he was shown this building by broker, Jack Klein. In those days, Maisel was paying $125 a month for a 2,500-square-foot studio at 122 Second Avenue, though an unexpected $50 rent hike had been too much to fathom.

Klein convinced Maisel he could raise the money to buy the abandoned bank. That was the easy part. Then he moved in. The main floor was knee-deep in garbage and coated in soot. “I had to shovel shit against the tide,” says Maisel. He wasn’t getting a lot of support either; the Bowery was where people ended up, not where they aspired to live. “My parents cried,” he says. “Every single thing that can come out of a human body has been left on my doorstep. But it was more disgusting than dangerous. (NY Magazine.)

Maisel's name is right on the door...

An unused entrance

Today, Maisel, his wife and daughter continue to live in this expansive space – by themselves. Maisel claims the building contains 72 rooms over 35,000 square feet. These values are yet to be confirmed as Maisel doesn’t allow for agent walk-throughs nor real estate valuations. Here’s some food for thought though: in 1966, Maisel purchased the former bank for $102,000. In 2008, its value was estimated as being within the $30 to $70 million range. At this time, Maisel has no plans to sell.

Not having seen the building’s interior, I cannot speak for its space though I have read that much of it is dedicated to Maisel’s photo and art galleries, and workshop spaces. One can even take a week long photography workshop with the artist inside his home at a price of $5,000 (this includes full board). Hey, you’d be a step ahead of those brokers in sketching up a floor plan too.

The fourth floor, which Maisel once rented out to Roy Lichtenstein, is a work-in-progress. But there have been no major changes to the interior. It’s essentially unchanged from the Germania Bank that architect Robert Maynicke designed for the then-bourgeois neighborhood (it cost $200,000 to build). The original safe-deposit vault, still in the basement, is the size of a generous studio apartment; the marks on the main floor where the teller booths once stood are still clearly visible. (NY Mag)

Air conditioning is expensive, so Maisel makes his own shades to keep out the sun

The ground level of this building is available for rent. Interested? Go to: http://190thebowery.com/

Now, about those graffiti-covered walls… There’s a myriad of art found here: mosaics, paste ups, stickers, graffiti and stencils, all blended into a mash-up of street art (a different kind to Faile’s commissioned piece, directly up the street). I was interesting discovering works on all sides of the buildings stone exterior.

“We’re responsible for the sidewalks in front of our building… The city wants the exterior graffiti-free, but it’s impossible: 190 Bowery is a mecca for street artists”… Maisel tried scrubbing the building every week, but “it was like I was providing a fresh canvas for them.” Keith Haring used to cover the exterior in chalk babies, says Maisel, and that he liked, both for the spirit of the images and because they washed off so easily.

Alas – mystery solved! Neither haunted nor abandoned, for now all we can do is admire the building from the outside and wonder what will become of this gold mine, and its tenants, in the future.