Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Autumn Day in New York City : Central Park to Riverside Church

A few days earlier, I was having a Zen moment in the park.  Deciding to explore, I had a hunch to turn left and then to veer onto an uphill path.  It led to this gazebo!  (One of the park's whimsical "follies").

Sitting atop an outcrop of Manhattan's bedrock, it has great views, high above the park.

So, I brought Lewis, and he wrote our names on a bench...


As the autumn daylight dimmed, we traversed the park, crossing "The Mall"--with its tree-lined people-watching.

A quick subway ride deposited us near Columbia University.  Turning onto Riverside Drive, we encountered this ornate porte-cochère (horse-drawn carriages used to turn around).

Designed by Dr. Paterno and his brother (who took over their father's Development business), it is one of a dozen ornate apartment homes along upper Riverside Drive (when it was called Lafayette Boulevard in the 1890s-1910s0.

In 1908, the doctor-turned-builder created a castle for himself on West 156th St.  Coming from a family of Italian immigrants, he created Italian gardens to surround it. (below is all that remains).

Back in an era when the American version of robber-baron "aristocracy" lived ostentatiously, 

the castle fit right in amongst NYC's mansions.  (See my other post for more!)


     In the 1930’s, Florence Schwartz, the daughter of Russian immigrants, had unique access to the estate.  The father of her childhood friend was the estate's heating engineer.  When Charles Parteno was still "king of his castle", she used to sneak onto the grounds to visit  her friend.  "All the chauffeurs slept above the garage ... and there were probably four or five Rolls Royce’s.  That’s the only car they drove.  At that age I thought that must be pretty nifty," she said.
     Alas, "development" seen encroached upon the castle walls and ramparts.  

So, in 1938, Dr. Paterno used his Developer instincts, saw the death of an era, tore down his castle, and used his property to build a row of apartment houses.

In typical NY fashion, the old wall was neglected until it collapsed onto Riverside Drive.

Rebuilt, out of necessity, it is one of the few remnants of the towering castle.  A stanchion (below) represents one of the furthest borders of Paterno's fence.

     Anyway, back to our night stroll!  We ambled uptown and suddenly came upon a towering building on West 120th St.

Looking like an Art Deco skyscraper, it's actually a church steeple!

As big as an office building, the feel of a skyscraper was reinforced by the revolving doors that we entered!

What church as office-type revolving doors?  Yet, it's a clever idea: it keeps street noise out.  Dragging an unsure Lewis with me, we pushed in and explored the massive church (after all, it WAS open to public, even at night).  Inside--except for the ELEVATORS in the tower--it definitely resembled a gothic church.

Built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960), the interdenominational church welcomes everyone.

The tallest church in America (just look at it, compared to neighboring buildings!)

Rockefeller sent his architects through Spain and France for inspiration.  I think it still has some Art Deco flair.  Construction began in 1927 and it opened in 1930.  

With a paid staff of 130, it is famous as a stronghold of social and political activism.  In 2007, its annual budget was $14 million!  Martin Luther King, UN Secretary General Annan, Nelson Mandela, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and President Clinton all spoke there.  
     A large HIV Outreach program, an anti-death penalty task force, an "overcoming police violence" task force, a fund for appreciating Native Americans, a LGBT program, an "Immigrants' Rights" group, and a support group for Hispanic Americans are just a few of their activities.  Ironically, (old man Rockefeller might've cringed), the church donated 100 tents to Occupy Wall Street.
     The nave holds 2,100 people.  A formal garden extends after the church, with a tall buttressed wall, keeping it high above Claremont Ave (one block east from Riverside).  Yet, when I went online to see what Christmastime concerts/events they have, their calendar showed ONLY ONE: a candlelight caroling night.  That's it?  Where are all the rest?  A pageant?  A supper for the less fortunate?  An organ concert or handbell concert?  Evensong?  (St. Thomas Fifth Avenue had its online calendar full of Advent and Christmas events/concerts/worship, months in advance).
      We dined at By the Hudson in Harlem.

Heavy-handed cocktails, fall-off-the-bone pernil, succulent short ribs, and perfect puréed parsnips!  The chef even gave some complimentary beef arepas!     

     As we departed, we saw a sign for Fairway Gourmet Market.  Inside, I spotted a jar of Mincemeat pie filling (delectable at Christmas) for half the price as the ones in SoHo!  Snatching some Stilton from Cropwell Bishop Creamery (Nottinghamshire, England), we also took a small wedge of Irish Cashel Blue for comparison.  Their chocolate babka didn't look so great... so on our way downtown, we got off at Zabar's and bought one of their always-perfect/overly chocolatey babkas!  A NYC delicacy!  
     Our night closed at my apartment with some cheese and wine, then babka for dessert.  Sweet things ensued!

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