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Friday, August 19, 2016

Urban Gadabout: Noshwalks, "Steamboat Bill Jr.," Long Island Art Deco, and mudh more (Fall gadding preview, Part 2)

Tomorrow evening movies return to Washington Heights' gorgeous, nearly 3400-seat United Palace Theater [click to enlarge], built in 1930 as Loew's 175th Street, the last of Loew's five 1929-30 "Wonder Theaters" in NYC and Jersey City, as the Buster Keaton silent masterpiece Steamboat Bill Jr. is shown with live organ accompaniment. Advance tickets, available online through today only, are $10. (Tickets tomorrow night will be $15, $10 for seniors.)

by Ken

As I explained Wednesday in Part 1 of this fall gadding preview, what I intended as a brief note on Myra Alperson's Noshwalks, which I haven't written about before, grew out of hand, and so had to be spun off into a Part 2, which has given me an opportunity to include some other odds 'n' ends, including the screening, with live organ accompaniment (by silent film music composer, organist, and orchestrator Bernie Anderson), of Buster Keaton's 1928 classic Steamboat Bill Jr. at the United Palace Theater in my own northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.

We'll get to the Noshwalks et al., but first --


Last night I attended an Open House New York (OHNY) members' open house at the gorgeous United Palace Theater, which included a presentation by Mike Fitelson, executive director of United Palace of Cultural Arts, one of the three entities responsible for activities in this amazing nearly 3400-seat palace, built as Loew's 175th Street Theater in 1930, the last of five "Wonder Theaters" built by Loew's in 1929-30 (so named not just for their massive scale but for their monumental "Wonder Organs"). Here's Wikipedia's rundown of those Wonder Theaters (links and footnotes onsite):
• Loew's 175th Street Theatre, Manhattan (opened 1930) - Operates as a church and an entertainment venue under the name United Palace Theater.
• Loew's Jersey Theatre, Jersey City (opened 1929) - Operates as a classic cinema and performing arts center.
• Loew's Kings Theatre, Brooklyn (opened 1929) - Reopened January 23, 2015, following a complete renovation.[2]
• Loew's Paradise Theatre, The Bronx (opened 1929) - Between 2005 and 2012 it operated as a venue for live entertainment. It is currently a church.
• Loew's Valencia Theatre, Queens (opened 1929) - Remains open as a church, the Tabernacle of Prayer.[3]
Obviously the best-known currently is Loew's Kings in Brooklyn, which as noted reopened in 2015 after a long period of neglect, apparently fabulously rehabilitated. (I haven't been inside the building since Howie's and my high school graduation, like graduations for schools all over Brooklyn, took place there -- a long, long time ago.)

Once Loew's 175th Street went out of use as a movie theater, it had the good fortune, from a preservationist standpoint, of being bought by Reverend Ike, the televangelist, who gave it the name United Palace and undertook an impressive restoration. (I can vouch, never having been inside the building before last night, that it looks simply stunning.) Since Reverend Ike's death in 2009, the "trans-denominational" activities of the United Palace House of Inspiration have been overseen by his son, United Palace's president, Xavier Eikerenkoetter, and his wife. In 2012 Xavier got the ball rolling for an uptown arts center (Loew's 175th had always billed itself as providing "Times Square entertainment closer to home") the United Palace of Cultural Arts, which opened in 2013 as. (The third United Palace entity is presumably as for-profit as it can be: It books the theater, which is being steadily modernized technologically, for outside performances.)

When Reverend Ike bought the building, he had no idea that sealed in concrete was none other than the Wonder Organ, which when uncased turned out to be still playable -- at least until accumulated water and other damage (including "a small fire") to its (count 'em) 1799 pipes rendered it unusable. Now, however, it is being fully restored, under the auspices of the New York Theatre Organ Society, and NYTOS Recording Secretary Nick Myers was on hand, brimful of excitement, to talk about the project, with the four-keyboard console on display in the lobby for one last night before being removed to the space where it will be worked on. (Nick explained that yes indeed, all of those pipes will be painstakingly removed for restoration -- some onsite, others to a proper restoration site. And by one means or another the rest of the instrument's work will be got at.)

The United Palace Wonder Organ console (click to enlarge)

From the NYTOS website:
In the late 1920s, the Loew’s chain of movie theatres designed five “Wonder” theatres to be built, initially, in all five boroughs of New York City (Staten Island’s was eventually built in Jersey City). These theatres were some of the grandest movie palaces ever built and would stand as the flagship theatres for the company. To match the extravagance of the Wonder theatres, the Loew’s firm commissioned the Robert-Morton Organ Company of Van Nuys, California, the second largest theatre organ builder in the world, to build five identical, large organs to fill the massive spaces. These organs would be Robert-Morton’s magnum opus and use some of the highest pressures and largest scales the company ever produced. They would also be some of the last organs the firm produced.

The console, where the organist plays, was designed to be “over the top” and very ornate. The organ’s large pipework and many percussions are installed in two large chambers (rooms) on either side of the stage behind large statues. Also inside of these chambers are over 2,000 valves, tens of thousands of feet of wire, and twelve sound effects. The organ console also has its own lift from the orchestra pit which would rise up, extravagantly, at the beginning and end of each film. The organ in the United Palace was the youngest of the five Wonders; it is the only remaining in its original location with all of its original parts, unaltered. [If I've got this right, the working Wonder in Loew's Jersey is the one originally from Loew's Paradise in the Bronx. -- Ed.] From the over 12,000 theatre organs manufactured throughout the world, there are only around 20 known to be in their original theatres. This organ, along with the Brooklyn Paramount and Radio city, are in that very short list.
Obviously tomorrow night's screening of Steamboat Bill Jr., for the benefit of the organ restoration project, won't be using the United Palace's own Wonder Organ. Luckily, NYTOS has a touring organ, which will be brought onto the premises.


The last Noshwalk I did was just this month in Corona (Queens), which Myra especially likes because the food scene there is still very much in the fermenting stage. Still, you can't do a food tour of Corona, or any kind of tour of Corona, without stopping at the legendary Lemon Ice King of Corona. I had watermelon, and it was really and truly sensational.

I'd been hearing about and seeing listings for Myra's Noshwalks for ages before I finally did one, thanks (as I recall) to a periodic reminder via Justin Ferate's ever-invaluable mailing list -- another reminder of how much we lose when Justin moves to Santa Fe in January (as reported in the update to Part 1 of the preview). Since then I've done a number of Noshwalks, whenever I've managed a schedule fit.

With the double explosion of walking tours generally and, specifically, of food-themed activities, there are now all sorts of food tours going on around town, but none I'm aware of like Myra's now-extensive and far-flung roster of Noshwalks, which cover not just neighborhoods you might expect but all manner of others around the five boroughs, and even beyond. (Go to the website and click on "Tour Schedule," or go directly to the schedule page.) I'm especially trying to keep my calendar clear for the walk in Newark's Ironbound on Sat, Dec 3.)

Myra's walks are quirky and personal and as up-to-date as she can make them -- she's always looking for new gastronomic destinations as well as updating and refreshing even tours she's done for a while, explaining that she herself would be bored doing the same tour over and over. She's especially happy to be able to find areas that are still in the gastronomic developmental stage, when they're at their most fermentatious.

The actual eating consists of mostly takeout items from a circuit of eateries Myra normally scouts afresh for each outing, with occasional planned sitdowns. (At sitdowns eaters are expected to kick in a bit for a tiip, but otherwise all food costs -- though not beverages -- are included in the tour price.) She also scouts neighborhood parks and suchlike public spaces where the goodies can be consumed at leisure, weather permitting -- though even in not-so-permissive weather we've always managed somehow.) Since there are hardly any NYC neighborhoods these days that are ethnically monolithic, tours almost always include a fascinating assortment of goodies.

Myra doesn't neglect non-gastronomic features of neighborhoods either. For example, as many tours as I've done in Flushing, I had never set foot in the post office before doing her Flushing Noshwalk. And back on gastronomic ground, as many walking tours as I've done in Brooklyn's Greenpoint, it wasn't till I did Greenpoint with Myra that I heard tell of the great weekly event at the plant of Acme Smoked Fish, the fish smokers-processors-distributors -- "In Brooklyn since 1906" -- which opens its doors on Fridays only, from 8am to 1pm (there are also limited pre-holiday retail times' cf. Dec 24 and 31), making "Acme Smoked Fish, Blue Hill Bay, and Ruby Bay products available direct to consumers at wholesale prices." (Note: It's cash only.)

Now every week as Friday approaches my mind wanders to thoughts of Greenpoint and Acme. For that matter, each of the Noshwalks I've done with Myra has left indelible food memories -- some as tangible as the bottle of delicious Greek extra-virgin olive oil from a "Mediterranean" (aka Greek) market in Astoria, where a little old man was dispensing samples, and a bunch of us who sampled couldn't resist buying. Yum! You leave each tour not only well filled but well provided with a list of destinations to return to, as well as a feel for the ways Myra scouts the offerings of unfamikliar destinations (and the familiar ones too). The tours also tend to attract eaters with special knowledge of the neighborhood which can enrich the experience, in deliciously unpredictable ways.

Here's what Myra has listed for the rest of 2016 (but keep checking the schedule on the website for changes including possible additions):

Sun, Aug 21: Rego Park (Queens)
Sat, Aug 27: Woodlawn and Wakefield (Bronx)
Sun, Sept 11: Sephardic Brooklyn
Sat, Sept 17: Ridgewood Queens
Sat, Sept 24: Sunset Park (Brooklyn)
Sat, Oct 1: Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach (Brooklyn)
Sat, Oct 8: Astoria (Queens)
Sat, Oct 29: Staten Island Ramble
Sun, Nov 13: Kosher Williamsburg
Sat, Nov 19: Amsterdam Avenue Meander (Manhattan) -- New Tour!
Sat, Dec 3: Nosh New Jersey: Newark's Ironbound
Sat, Dec 10: Belmont/Bronx (Little Italy of the Bronx)
Sat, Dec 17: Dyker Heights Holiday Lights (Brooklyn)
Fri, Dec 30: The Wonders of Woodside (Queens)

Note: There's a Noshwalks blog on Facebook.


In Part 1 of the preview I noted Tony Robins's Oct 16 "Art Deco of Central Park West" for the Municipal Art Society as self-recommending -- if you think of "art deco" and "New York," you think of Anthony W/ Robins. (I should also have warned that it's likely to fill up sooner rather than later. You can, by the way, keep up on Tony's doings on It was because of Tony that I found my way to the Art Deco Society of New York, for which he does events including periodic ones of the lollapalooza variety. My initiation was an April 2015 all-day five-borough art deco bus expedition, "Art Deco Landmarks: Unlikely Battles and Great Successes" (which you can read about by scrolling down on the ADSNY "Past Events" page).

In a few weeks Tony is undertaking an even more rarified -- for us city-bound folk, anyway -- exploration, for which I gather there's still space. (I don't take chances on these things. I registered as soon as I saw it announced!)

Destination Deco: Long Island Bus Tour
Sun, Sept 11, 9am-6pm

Come join us on an all-day safari as we explore the wilds of Long Island looking for Art Deco. Though Nassau and Suffolk counties are known primarily for their suburban residential architecture, they also have town and city centers with commercial and government buildings dating from the late 1920s and early 1930s – and that means new Deco marvels for us to discover and enjoy.

Join architectural historian, Tony Robins, as he leads ADSNY on this special day-long bus trip that will see treasures such as:

• The Nassau County Courthouse, part of an early 1930s “Modern Classic” government complex in Mineola.
• A handsome WPA-era post office in Hempstead, which is across the street from a fabulous early telephone company building by the same firm (Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker) that gave us the three great Deco behemoths of Lower Manhattan (and it includes marvelous ornamental tracery similar to that found on Ralph Walker’s seminal Barclay-Vesey building).
• An intact, 1928 Art Deco high school in Valley Stream, rivaling any of New York City’s (very few) Art Deco public school buildings.
• Another splendid Deco post office, in Patchogue.

But then come the special treats!

• Lunch at the central pavilion – just opposite the central administration tower – of Robert Moses’s 1930s fabulously designed Jones Beach. [Note: Lunch isn't included in the tour price.]
• A visit to a rarely seen set of WPA murals in a Hempstead firehouse.
• And a visit, behind-the-scenes tour, and wine reception at the beautifully restored and splendidly Deco, Suffolk Theatre in Riverhead, where we will present an ADSNY award to the couple who single-handedly brought the theater back from the brink of destruction.

Members: $90. Non-members: $115. [Check for prices for Jazz Age Order members and their guests.]
As you can see, the saving on the member price will go a long way toward paying for your membership ($55 for one year, or $140 for three years), which gets you the member price on all ADSNY events. (For membership info, check here.) So far announced are:

Thu, Sept 22, 6:30-8pm: Bakelite: A Collector's Odyssey
Sat, Oct 1, 1-3pm: Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn Walking Tour (a new tour with Matt Postal)
Sat, Oct 22, 1-5pm: Jersey City Art Deco Bus Tour (Note: Registrants have to provide their own transportation to the meeting place in Jersey City and then back.) [I'm bummed because I can't do this tour, at least the second event -- so far! -- that I can't do because it's the same day as Jack Eichenbaum's epic trek along the L train.]
Sat, Oct 29, 1-3pm: Jazz Age Icons of Woodlawn Cemetery Halloween Tour (with Susan Olsen)
Thu, Nov 10, 6:30-8pm: Art Deco Ceramics: Craft and Collectability (with Judith Miller and Tom Folk)


Sometimes things just don't work out. As I've written, I've been frustrated for a while trying to get myself onto one of the tours my pal Mitch Waxman has been doing in Queens's Calvary Cemetery, but every time a new one was announced, I had some kind of schedule conflict. Finally I manned up and made a big decision: Tempted as I was by the Art Deco Society of New York's already-announced "Egyptomania" event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (tickets weren't on sale yet, but I'd already put it on my calendar), on that Saturday in July I would finally do Calvary with Mitch, and I signed up. Then the day before, because extreme heat was forecast, they went and canceled the tour! (Hey, I'm used to Municipal Art Societies, which proceed rain or shine. We don't pack it in just 'cause it may get a little warm.) You'll note below that Brooklyn Brainery has rescheduled Calvary Cemetery with Mitch, for Oct 8. Naturally, I can't make it.

By then, naturally, "Egyptomania" was sold out. So much for acting decisively, for taking control of your damn life! Then I remembered a recent mention by a gadding friend of AIANY, which I tend not to think about because they don't seem to have a mailing list, and for that matter don't seem to have a proper of list of their own tours. For the list I manufactured below, I had to peel the listings off of the AIANY calendar, filtering each month's listings for "Tours."

I don't suppose architects would want us to think of AIA as their trade association, which it is, but it's more serious than that, sharing and promoting all aspects of the profession. And this is one organization that isn't trying to glad-hand us into joining. In fact, unless you have documentable ties to architecture or related professions, you can't join. But AIANY maintains a busy schedule of tours that are open to the public; presumably they'd like us to be better-educated about architecture.

In the past I'd done AIANY tours -- usually, as I think of it, when jogged by some sort of external listing that included them. I remember a nice walking tour of the Financial District; and an excellent preview of the new section of Governors Island, the Hills, before it opened in mid-July; and several boat tours" (which you'll note do have a page of their own): both the "architecture"-themed and "bridge and infrastructure"-themed circumnavigations of Manhattan, and the "Roosevelt Island Loop Tour." I still want to do their boat tour to Staten Island's still-in-the-making, transformed-from-landfill Freshkills Park, which you'll note below is being offered a couple of times in the period covered.

So I checked the schedule, and sure enough that Saturday morning AIANY was offering the tour "Midtown Modernism(s): Crosstown Section: 53rd St (approx.) East to West," listed below for Nov 5. So I registered and even with the heat had a lovely time under the tutelage of architect Kyle Johnson, who in fact chairs the Architecture Tour Committee -- an affable as well as learned chap I'd encountered on a couple of previous AIANY tours where he was representing the committee. As Kyle noted, unlike tours offered by other organization, which tend to stress historic buildings, AIA people as architects, while not neglectful of older buildings, tend to be most interested in what more recent generations of architects have been designing.

Events have been announced through November. Here's what I pulled off the calendar:

Sat, Aug 20, 2-4pm: Remembering the Future: Architecture at the 1964/65 New York World's Fair
Sun, Aug 21, 11am-1pm: Between the Clocks: The Architecture of Park Avenue South
Sat, Aug 27, 10:30am-1pm: Battery Park City: Creating a New Neighborhood
Sun, Aug 28, 9:30am-12:45pm: AIANY Freshkills Boat Tour
Sun, Aug 28, 11am-1:30pm: Roosevelt Island: 1970s "New Town in Town" to FDR Four Freedoms Park
Sat, Sept 10, 10:30am-1pm: Midtown Modernism(s): East 42nd Street, the United Nations and Vicinity
Sun, Sept 11, 10:30am-1pm: The High Line, Hudson River Park and New Architecture in West Chelsea and the Far West Village
Sat, Sept 17, 8am-5pm: Escape From the City: Olana State Historic Site Day Trip
Sat, Sept 17, 10am-12:30pm: Times Square: Contemporary Architecture in and around the "Crossroads of the World"
Sat, Sept 24, 10:30am-1pm: Midtown Modernism(s): The Park Avenue Corridor
Sun, Sept 25, 10:30am-1pm: Modern FiDi: Expanding and Renovating the Financial District
Sat, Oct 1, 10:30am-1pm: SoHo: New Architectural Interventions in a Historic District
Sun, Oct 2, 10:30am-12:30pm: New York's Civic Center Walking Tour: History of Its Urban Development and Architecture
Sat, Oct 8, 1:30-3pm: West Side Story: The Evolution of Lincoln Center
Sun, Oct 9, 10:30am-1pm: Lower West Side Rebirth: New and Reused Architecture in the Former Washington Market Area and Southern TriBeCa
Sun, Oct 9, 1:30-4:45pm: AIANY Freshkills Park Boat Tour
Sat, Oct 22, 1:45-4:30pm: Battery Park City: Creating a New Neighborhood
Sun, Oct 23, 11am-1:30pm: Between the Clocks: The Architecture of Park Avenue South
Sat, Oct 29, 11am-1:30pm: Roosevelt Island: 1970s "New Town in Town" to FDR Four Freedoms Park
Sun, Oct 30, 10-11:30am: 9/11 Memorial and World Trade Center: Architecture, Urban Planning and the History of the New and Original World Trade Center
Sat, Nov 5, 10:30am-1pm: Midtown Modernism(s): Crosstown Section: 53rd St (approx.) East to West
Sun, Nov 6, 11am-1pm: NYU and Washington Square: Changing Strategies of Growth and Design
Sat, Nov 12, 10:30am-1pm: New Architecture on Cooper Square, Bond St. and the New Bowery
Sun, Nov 13, 2-4pm: Remembering the Future: Architecture at the 1964/65 New York World's Fair
Sat, Nov 19, 10:30am-1pm: The Changing Face of North Midtown: On and Off 57th Street
Sun, Nov 20, 10am-12:30pm: Modern Architecture and Adaptive Reuse in the West Village and Meatpacking District

Non-member prices appear to be $25 for two-hour tours, $30 for two-and-a-half-hour tours.


I list these together, even though they're wholly unrelated -- except in my mind, because I came to both as the organizations (apart from the Working Harbor Committee) for which Mitch Waxman does most of his walking tours. That said, they both do lots of other interesting stuff.

BROOKLYN BRAINERY's mission is reasonably priced classes in most any sort of thing you could want to learn. Just in the last week I've done cooking classes with both halves of the Masters of Social Gastronomy, Jonathan Soma, a computer geek by day who "has more hobbies than can dance on the head of a pin," and Sarah Lohman, who styles herself a "historic gastronomist": the American-pancake installment of Soma's many-parted "Summer of Pancakes," and "Pies from Scratch: Stone Fruit Galette" with Sarah. As a matter of fact, Soma and Sarah are about to do an MSG event, "The Story of Sourdough: Starters to Science," Sunday evening, Aug 29, at the Institute for Culinary Education, with an assist from ICE's dean of bread baking, Sim Lee, who "will perform a sourdough bread-baking demonstration."

Since the $15 fee includes two beers, the thing is practically free, and it's fun just to see ICE's lovely, relatively new space. However, because of building and security logistics at Brookfield Place (the former World Financial Center), getting to it and into it, especially at the same time as a large group, is a hassle and a half, and lovely as ICE's class spaces look, the demonstration space is so large that amid that mob, even with a few video monitors, you're not likely to see any demonstrations very well. Still, the crowd is great for socializing, if that's what you're into, and remember, you've got your two beers.

Again, most of the Brainery offerings are lectures or classes that take place either at home base in Prospect Heights or other locations. Here are some field events I pulled out of the listings for the next month which have space left as of writing:

Sat, Aug 20, 12-1:30pm: Governors Island Walk (with James Hoffman, $15)
Sat, Aug 20, 10-11:30am: Drawn to Trees: Greenpoint (Brooklyn) (with Lisa Nett, $12)
Sat, Aug 27, Sat, Sept 3, Sun, Sept 18, and Sat, Sept 24, 10am-4pm: Oko Farms' Aquaponics ($135)
Sat, Aug 27, 1-3pm: Lower Manhattan History Walk (with James Hoffman, $20)
Sat, Sept 10 (Carroll Gardens), Sept 17 (Prospect Heights), or Sept 24 (Greenpoint), 10:30am-12n: Street Tree Identification for Beginners (with Lisa Nett, $13)
Sat, Oct 8, 11am-1pm: Calvary Cemetery (with Mitch Waxman, $30)

The local OBSCURA SOCIETIES are event-oriented local arms of Atlas Obscura. Their events are listed on the "Events" page of the Atlas Obscura website, but it's not necessarily easy to pull out the ones in your area. (There's an e-mail sign-up box on the above-referenced "Events" page, but I don't know whether that selects just for your area.) The New York Obscura Society does have a great mailing list, which is splendid at keeping subscribers up to date on future offerings. Otherwise, I can't find any listing of all offerings. (There's a Facebook page, but it has hardly any listings). I wound up using the relevant page on the Eventbrite site, from which I extracted these listings, omitting events that are already sold out (but you can sign up for a waiting list, so you may want to check them out as well):

Sun, Aug 21, 11am-1pm: The Poison Cauldron of Newtown Creek (with Mitch Waxman)
Sun, Sept 4, 11am-1:30pm: 19th Century Slums on the Lower East Side -- Dystopia in America
Sat, Sept 10, 10:30am-12:30pm: Wildlife Dioramas at the Museum of Natural History
Tue, Sept 13, 7-9pm: Behind the Scenes at Puppet Kitchen
Wed, Sept 14, 1-6pm: Chipmunk Taxidermy Workshop
Fri, Oct 7, 7:30-11:30pm: Murder and Mayhem at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Thu, Nov 3, 6:30-7:45pm: New York Academy of Medicine Series: Alchemy

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