Lynne and Hugh Brown visited us from Denver in mid-November. They had just returned from a Habitat for Humanity build in Croatia as well as touring in eastern Europe and were eager to explore another large city.
We started our adventure with the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Immigration to New York has its roots in this area. In the mid 1800’s as the population shifted northward, the Lower East Side became the primary settlement spot for the first wave of immigration from the Germans. Next came the European Jews around the turn of the century, and they were followed by the Italians in the 20s and 30s.
Most recently, the area has been the home to Puerto Ricans and Dominican Repulicans who began to arrive in the 1960s. Today this area is undergoing gentrification and has become one of the “newer” popular places to relocate for New Yorkers.
The Tenement Museum takes small groups into 97 Orchard Street, an original tenement building whose history has been exclusively researched, and it recreates immigrant life in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each floor is devoted to a specific aspect of the times, and we chose the “Shop Life” tour. Our guide took us to the lower level which has been the home of an 1870s German beer saloon run by John and Caroline Schneider, kosher butcher shop at the turn of the century, general store in the 1930s of auctioneer Max Marcus, and the 1970s undergarment discounter store of Frances & Sidney Meda. Using interactive devices, we spent 90 minutes becoming educated about this fascinating home and the area.
The museum also showed a 30 minute film on the history of immigration in the area. It was fascinating and featured some current residents whose roots are here. One of these, Yvette Ho, is of Chinese descent and grew up in Queens but spent most of her time in the area, as her parents wanted the better suburban home but also wanted their children raised in a Chinese environment. She returned to the area after college and now operates Panade Puffs and Pasteries, a shop where sandwiches and desserts are made with homemade cream puffs. We had chocolate banana and chocolate strawberry cream puffs for a mid-morning snack…..the best ever!
We then stopped next door at an art gallery featuring the contemporary works of Robert Indiana. He is best known as the Pop Art artist for his LOVE print in the 60s. He is still active well into his 80s.
We took the subway to the Flatirons area and explored Eataly, an indoor maze of all products/foods Italian. By this time it was after 2:00 pm and this huge area was packed with shoppers. We found bars stool seats and a table where we happily ate freshly-made Italian sandwiches and cold beers. Afterward we walked to the Grammercy Park area, another lovely residential area in the heart of the city.
We took the subway to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and joined the throngs of visitors on this early Friday evening. We started in the outdoor sculpture garden and then made our way indoors to view some masterpieces. We loved seeing the classic contemporary works of art in the exhibit entitled “From Hopper to O’Keefe” as well as exploring chronological galleries.
I would have to say that the more contemporary the gallery, the more perplexed we became. As we all know, however, art is in the eye of the beholder!
A short walk took us to Canaletto, an Italian restaurant on E. 60th. We had delicious dinners accompanied by Chianti and the best breadsticks we have ever tasted. The waiter was happy to give us a “care package” of the breadsticks to take with us.
Another day we hiked along 1st Avenue southward and walked past the United Nations, Tudor City, the lobby of the Ford Foundation that contains dozens of full-size flourishing trees, Grand Central Station, and the Chrysler Building…..all favorite sites of ours. We visited the New York Public Library and were amazed again by the number of people actively using this historic and vibrant spot.
The Genealogy Room was of special interest to Lynne who was able to use the 1870s Iowa census to locate her paternal relatives. In a more recent census (from the turn of the century!) she was able to find her maternal grandmother listed as age 6 years. We ended our visit with a quick stop next to the library at Bryant Park which has now been transformed from a summer park into a winter wonderland complete with a skating rink and almost 100 temporary small shops for holiday shopping.
Our visit next was to Brooklyn where Lynne and Hugh were particularly interested in neighborhood life. At our previous visit to this borough, we spent so much time at the Brooklyn Museum that we ran out of time for exploration, so we were happy to return. We all loved Prospect Park, the heart of Brooklyn, and a park designed by Frederic Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park in Manhattan. He considered Prospect Park his finest achievement. We hope to come back here some day and walk the entire park.
We strolled into Park Slope, a lovely neighborhood of brownstones adjacent to the park. These rows of stately homes were decorated for the season with gourds and pumpkins and cabbages and mums. The area seemed family friendly and a strong community. We felt that we could move in immediately!
We continued our walk along the shopping avenues of the area. One of our favorite shops was Goorin Brothers, a hat shop that has been in business since 1895. Den was delighted to find a Brooklyn Dodgers hat, an item he has been searching for since we arrived. He also had fun with the Heisenberg hat from Breaking Bad.
Our dinner was at Al Di La Wine Bar. The streets of Park Slope were full of people in the evening, just like Manhattan. We had hoped to eat at Al Di La Trattoria, but they had just seated the last open table when we arrived and sent us around the corner to their wine bar…..same staff, same kitchen, only a smaller space. We were a bit apprehensive but happy to have a table and later realized how fortunate we were as the wine bar soon was more than full. Yet, it was not loud, and we enjoyed a relaxing evening with good friends and good food. We had farro salad (roasted squash and cauliflower, spinach,hazelnuts, goat cheese, browned butter vinaigrette), kale salad, ravioli with roasted squash and tagliatelle with duck ragu sauce. Our Affogato dessert arrived in a soup tureen….vanilla ice cream with crushed almond pralines drowned in hot espresso. It was one of the best meals we have had and we will come back here…on our next trip to NY!
On Sunday we took the subway to Greenwich Village to go to church. Lynne and Hugh had enjoyed meeting the dean of an African American seminary who was recently speaking at Central in Denver. He mentioned two parish associates at First Presbyterian Church in New York and we were all eager to attend.
First we walked around the village enjoying the stately brownstones and apartment buildings of this historic area. Dennis and I had last been in this same neighborhood on Halloween for the parade, and we were especially pleased to recognize some familiar places in daylight this time.
First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1716 and was the first Presbyterian church in New York City. The congregation erected the structure in 1845 and it stands as a magnificent historical landmark. It has the appearance of a gothic cathedral much in the style of an Episcopal church and the historical marker refers to the fact that it was copied from two churches in England.
The church service was impressive. The music was particularly outstanding with a large choir that joyfully sang praises accompanied by a magnificent pipe organ. Choir members included many older members (likely some are professors at nearby NYU) as well as many younger women and men. They entered through the center aisle and paused in the aisle to sing the first hymn before sitting in the choir loft behind the altar. During the sermon they came down to the first several pews to listen to the minister, who preached from an elevated lectern. The 30-40 children came forward at their time and sang Dona Nobis Pacem……in Latin…another example of the importance of their music ministry. The service itself included a re-dedication of the education wing, baptism, and the conclusion of the stewardship campaign. As we exited to Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary, Lynne and Hugh were pleased to be able to chat with one of the assistant ministers, Sarah McCaslin.
We all then walked to the Meatpacking District and Chelsea where we enjoyed a long walk on the High Line. The fall colors were spectacular and the paths were full of happy people enjoying this quiet respite in the heart of this district.
We took the subway home and the Browns left for Denver. We had a great time with them and know that they enjoyed adding New York to their list of fall travels.