Thoughts on Film: Bad Moms

 

Sometimes it’s good to be bad.

That’s what our overworked heroine Amy Mitchell discovers in the new female driven comedy “Bad Moms.”

Now with the end of the Summer movie season approaching, I’m finding my options to be a bit limited. Sure there is Suicide Squad and Jason Bourne, but where I live, movie going is very expensive and that’s not including the popcorn.

Nonetheless, with a very rainy Saturday and with after work activities, I made my way to my favorite movie theater on the Upper West Side, hoping I made a good choice.

The film focuses on a trio of moms in the suburbs of Chicago. Amy, played by Mila Kunis, is a part-time worker at a coffee company, run by some stereotypical lazy millennials and still is a full-time mom. Her two kids Jane (Oona Lauernce) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) are polar opposites, Jane’s the overachiever and Dylan, at a very young age, has all the markings of a slacker in progress. Her husband Mike (David Walton) is as inattentive to his kids as a 1950’s father so there’s no hope there. In fact he’s finally busted for having a cyber-sex affair.

After having the day from hell, Amy is late to the school’s PTA meeting lead by uber-mom Gwendolyn, an icy Christina Applegate. Gwendolyn, declares Amy should head the ‘bake-sale police,’ as punishment for being late. Amy, fed up with what has happened, declares no and heads to the first bar she finds.

There she meets Carla, a hilarious Kathryn Hahn, a single mother and is soon joined by Kiki, Kristen Bell a stay-at-home mom. The three share their mom fantasies and complain about trying to be the perfect mom.  The next morning, Amy begins to rebel against mommy-hood and takes a personal day. Going to the movies, having brunch, telling her boss to f*** off from a meeting and even getting Jane to relax at a spa.

She even catches the eye of one of the dads, widower Jesse, Jay Hernandez, who’s had a crush on her and is the epitome of the hands on dad. Everything seems to be going well until Gwendolyn, sensing a threat, tries to squash the rebellion of bad moms. Will Amy, Carla and Kiki save the day or would they be forever enslaved to mommy-hood?

To start the film has a good premise and the three leads work very well together. While watching Hahn’s character Carla, I began to imagine Melissa McCarthy’s character Megan from “Bridesmaids.” Loud, unpredictable and yet fiercely loyal to her friends. Carla, as crazy as she is, is someone I want in my corner.

For a comedy, the film keeps an even pace, but it’s all too convenient plot left me wondering if the writers, who are men, really managed to scratched the surface. And even though they wrote the film as a paen/apology to their wives, I wonder if they actually read the script aloud to their wives who could have at least given them some pointers.

The film’s overall message is that you can get loose but not too loose. You can drop the deadbeat husband but must pick up the next available man. You can rebel against the system but you must take control of it until the next rebel comes on the scene.

That’s not to say the women in ‘Bad Moms’ lose the battle of mommy-hood. In fact they have some wins and there is a balance back to the force. But in a weird, roundabout way they argue, a bad mom is the best mom.

Best Moments and Lines*:

“A mom party is the best because it always ends at 11 p.m.”: Amy

“I think you just got be pregnant”: Jesse after he comments Amy on her sexual performance

“You took weeks off to morn the loss of John Snow”: Amy on her colleagues at work.

“I have six of these before 10” : Martha Stewart, commenting on her Jello Shots at the impromptu party that Amy throws to counter Gwendolyn.

Bad Moms is rated  R- Restricted. Contains several cuss words, sex jokes and drinking. Yet only one hangover and Martha Stewart’s Jello Shots.   

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New York’s New Green Space: Liberty Park

In the last 15 years, New York has seen a vigorous expansion of new or reinvented public spaces. From the High Line to Brooklyn Bridge Park, these re-purposed spaces from their industrial past have proven to be assets to the city’s hunger for space.

Liberty Park is a reinvented space but for a different reason; the events of September 11th.

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Liberty Park looking to the west.

When the original World Trade Center was created, the former Austin J. Tobin Plaza was a wide albeit barren space that had more concrete than green. Looking at older photos prior to writing this I realized the missed opportunities of that space but for it’s time it was perhaps the gold standard in modernist design. Simple, rational and spartan.

As a result, Liberty Park has two jobs; one is to provide suitable open space to the people who work, live and visit the Lower Manhattan area and two restore a form of public space that was lost due to 9/11 and the creation of the memorial.

Liberty Park combines the site of two former structures from pre-9/11 Lower Manhattan. The first, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, was the only structure to be destroyed in the 9/11 attacks that was not part of the World Trade Center complex. It also held a separate distinction as the only religious structure to also be destroyed for St. Paul’s Chapel is opposite the site to the est.

The second, the Deutsche Bank Building, had to demolished due to structural damage. I watched over the decade as they slowly demolished the 40-story structure. The three blocks that the two structures existed upon were merged to create a underground parking lot for the new World Trade Center complex.

On top of the parking lot’s entrance is Liberty Park. The park, which opened on June the 30th, was built by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and designed by landscape architect Joseph E. Brown. The park, which is approximately one acre, is a much needed portion of green space in an area where there is very little.

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Man Looking at the 9/11 Memorial from Liberty Park.

The park overlooks the 9/11 Memorial and the rest of the World Trade Center campus to the north, the former World Financial Center, now called Brookfield Place, to the west and one of my personal favorite skyscraper’s in Lower Manhattan, 1 Wall Street in the east.

The most unique aspect is the living wall. It’s a wall of plants that is 20 feet high and is mix of periwinkle, Japanese spurge, sedge, Baltic ivy, and Winter creeper. The benches are made of what appears to be wood are nice, wide and comfortable to sit on.

On the southwest corner of the park sits the America’s Response Monument, dedicated to the troops who were part of the Special Forces team that were the first to be deployed in Afghanistan. The image of a man on the horse stems from the unique aspect of Afghanistan’s geography. With no suitable way to get across terrain, 12 members were given horses by local tribesman friendly to the U.S.

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America’s Response Monument

Despite that only two members knew how to ride a horse, the team accepted the idea and with the assistance of the tribes, they drove the Taliban from the area. The fact that a group of 21st century soldiers, using what was thought to be an outdated form of warfare to defeat an enemy showed the strength and agility of the U.S. military.

The memorial, it should be noted is the first memorial dedicated to members of our special forces that will be open to the public, was dedicated in 2011. It initially was placed at Brookfield Place and then shunted next to the One World Trade Center but behind a construction fence. So I’m thankful that it’s in a better spot.

The view will give visitors a new perspective of the memorial but also give residents a place to get away from the hubbub of the memorial below.

A worthy alternative indeed.

 

Thoughts on Film: All-Female “Ghostbusters” answers the call.

Who ya’ gonna call!

As far as remakes go, they’re only two camps a remake can fall in; they’re sloppy homages to the original with little originality or ones that try to rise to the occasion and bring a new generation into the fold yet fall a little short.

That being said the new “Ghostbusters” film, I’m happy to say, falls into the latter camp. It might not quite top the original in people’s hearts but it’s most dynamic change, an all-female team, is not a liability.

This re-boot of the beloved 80’s franchise keeps many of the tenants of the original in balance with a new look and attitude, that’s leaner, focused and even zanier than the original.

As the story goes, Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wigg) a professor approaching tenure at Columbia, thought she buried her ghost searching past and her book “Ghosts from our Past: Literally and Figuratively,” behind her. Only to be dragged back in by the book’s co-author and former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who now works at a junior college.

Despite herself, Erin encounters a ghost at an old mansion with Yates and her assistant, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Their encounter is posted to YouTube as proof but both are fired from their position. Realizing if they had proof, people would actually take them seriously, the ladies decide to go into research on their own.

Added to the team is MTA transit worker, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who had a separate paranormal encounter of her own while at work and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their handsome yet dim assistant.

As they experiment with new tactics of ghostbusting, thanks to Holtzmann’s insane cache of weapons, they deal with a mysterious occultist named Rowan (Neil Casey). Rowan is silently planning an apocalyptic new world order to make himself a god. They also deal with a reluctant city government trying to deny the existence of ghosts “Men in Black” style. And we thought the guys had it rough.

Kristen Wiig as Dr. Erin Burnett

The cast gels remarkably well with each of them contributing zingers almost every minute of dialogue. Even the sit down with the mayor, played by an equally charming yet stern Adam Garcia, provided some gags.

Wiig is surprisingly good at playing the straight person in the film and her character has a slowly evolving arc from frumpy professor to kick-ass ghostbuster. McCarthy, on the other, serves as cheerleader-in-chief, which doesn’t have much in the comedic department but she gets to be possessed by a ghosts which was crazy in it of itself but showcased her physical comedy.

Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates and Lesile Jones as Patty Tolan

The can-do attitude of the women on the film is as constant as it is infectious for they battle not just the ghosts but the even the men who get in their way.

The film’s true breakout character however, lies with Holtzmann; who McKinnon gives an inspired performance for young women everywhere. The fact that she is quite possibly the first queer Ghostbuster adds a new dimension to her character. It might be easy to compare her to Egon but no she is her own woman and it’s no surprise that her character will be the one that future queer women will look upon her and have their sexual awakening.

Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann

[Sidebar: Dear Sony please give Holtzmann a girlfriend so queer women are better represented in film. It will make us, the movie going public, happy to see something new and say suck it to meninmists everywhere!]

The cameos, some worked well, like Bill Murrary’s which he played a debunker of the supernatural and Ernie Hudson playing Tolan’s uncle who loans them their car. Dan Akroyd’s cameo was perhaps the most New York thing in the movie which he plays a cabbie and Sigourney Weaver as Holtzmann’s mentor symbolized the official passing of the torch to the new generation. The best one however, goes to the late Harold Ramis who is a bust in the beginning of the film.

Chris Hemsworth as Kevin Beckham

Of course when I said try earlier in the post I meant that the reboot has a few missed opportunities. Compared to the original, the film saves much of ghost-busting towards the end of the film a missed opportunity of sorts, since the first film used a montage of them finding ghosts as a way to show their rising popularity.

Their choice of filming in places to fill in for New York, while important for expanding the Ghostbusters universe, also subtracts from the setting since New York has always been a major character in many films. The adventures from the first two Ghostbusters had that classic ‘only in New York’ quality which gave their plots a sense of time and place the current one sort of lacks.

Another missed opportunity, is perhaps the most obvious, the characterization of Patty. While Jones herself defended the decision of the working-class origins of her character it still would have been nice if she still could have been a scientist and still be well Patty.

I left the theater wishing more was done for her since she has definitely more screen time, compared to Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore, who by the way had the best lines in original.

The only redeeming quality is that Patty comes up with a few ideas that contribute to the team effort and is extremely protective of the team, particularly to well you guessed it Holtzmann.

Fieg is great as a comedic director but he is not an action director nor do I want him to be one. If there is to be a sequel, please let someone direct the action scene’s, it worked well for “West Side Story” and they had 11 Oscar nominations to prove it.

However, considering how much of the deck was stacked against them, this Ghostbusters rises to the occasion, reminds us that we all can be Ghostbusters and that films that are remakes can also break ground. But most importantly I just wanna have fun at the movies.

So, “Who ya gonna call???!”

Grade B

Ghostbuster is rated PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned. Light cussing, but inventive use of the middle finger, a theater manager who screams like a girl and ghosts in green, blue and Pilgrims?   

Who view’s it best: Brooklyn Vs. Manhattan Bridge

Ok so if you guys remember from last year I did something of a mini series on the best views of the Manhattan skyline. This is a continuation/re-boot of that series. Over the last few months, I’ve been visiting two iconic New York City bridges over the which bridge is better at skyline views. The Brooklyn or Manhattan B

It’s the battle of the bridges

To start, each bridge is unique in their design and their place in the city-scape. They also provide the visitor a different viewpoint of the city, specifically if it is geared towards Lower Manhattan.

Historically, Lower Manhattan was the center of New York until the 20th-century. So both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges reflect that as well as connecting to Downtown Brooklyn which it’s central business district was, much larger in the past.

This post is not to pick a winner, you can decide that for yourself. I’ll be updating the post as time goes on as perspectives change. In the meantime, I will show you what I’ve observed about walking both bridges.

Brooklyn Bridge 

Let’s take a look at the Brooklyn Bridge. The most famous and recognizable of the two. Opened in 1883, the bridge has the unusual aspect of placing the pedestrian walkway both above the traffic and in the middle of the bridge. This maximizes the visual impact a visitor has on the view. To the west, is the new One and Four World Trade Center, with number Three rising. While classic skyscrapers like 20 Exchange Place and 70 Pine, symbols of Roaring Twenties hold court further south and deeper still are Ellis, Governors and Liberty Island.

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Lower Manhattan skyline behind Brooklyn Bridge wires.

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The Manhattan Tower of the Brooklyn Bridge.

To the north, the Empire State Building still dominates the skyline despite new construction that will eventually match or surpass it. The idea that a building would dare to over take the city’s true vertical representation so close is something I will have to grapple with as I get older.

Other landmarks include 30 Rockefeller Plaza, (no I will not call it the Comcast Building still prefer GE or RCA if your an OG), Metlife/Pan Am Building, The Chrysler Building, The New York Life Building, the original Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, the New York Times Building and lastly 432 Park Avenue.

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Despite holding court in solitude for nearly nine decades, the Empire State Building is getting some taller neighbors.

The Brooklyn Bridge is perfect except for one thing, it’s too damn crowded. When the walkway was built, it’s popularity was underestimated. In fact, a stampede was started less than a week after the bridge opened due to a rumor that the bridge was going to collapse! While a minority of people actually commute via walking on the bridge, tourists and photography lovers such as my self make up the majority of walkers.

To make matters worse, bicyclists have the north-facing side of the walkway and it’s an unpredictable. From bike tours to causal and hardcore bicyclists, accidents can happen. So if you want to get that shot, look both ways and judge the speed of the bike.

While their have been proposals to add more space on the bridge next to the existing pathway, for now they are just proposals so if you truly want a good shot walk it early in the morning or late in the evening once everyone has gone home.

Manhattan Bridge 

Just under a mile to the east lies the Manhattan Bridge. Compared to most bridges that stick to just one color, the Manhattan Bridge has two, blue and white and is an all steel affair compared to the elegant yet contrasting steel and stonework of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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When you have the walkway to yourself #goals

That being said, the Manhattan Bridge was never meant to pretty, it was meant to be crossed, by walking, biking, driving, or taking public transportation. This could be proven in the position of the bridge walkways, for which they are two, one on the north and the other on the south side.

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Views

The south side has some of the most sweeping views of Lower Manhattan. You get everything the buildings, the Statue of Liberty and oh yes there’s that Brooklyn Bridge right in the thick of it.

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Lower Manhattan from the Manhattan Bridge.

The north side has New York’s Housing developments built during the mid-century as slum clearance in the foreground. The Empire State Building and the midtown skyline is in the background. Had the projects not been built, the gradual rise from short to tall buildings would have appeared natural. In order for you to get a sense of that, walk all the way to the Manhattan side of the bridge.

The immediate skyline is also going to change. One Manhattan Square, a new luxury development that replaced a supermarket, is currently going up. It is a deeply unpopular project and has been stopped twice on safety grounds. The fact that a 800+ tall building is being built so close to the waterfront, on reclaimed land, should have been under tighter scrutiny, but somehow this one made it through the needle.

While the Manhattan Bridge’s iconic vantage shot of the Empire State Building under it’s lower arch appears safe, questions about saving such views have come up before with the erection of the Pierhouse on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. That is something I’ve covered in my previous post on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and it’s views. It seems that history will repeat itself but with a taller and garish building. So time is of the essence to document this soon to be lost view.

One downside to the bridge is the loss of the 360 degree view that the Brooklyn Bridge has over the Manhattan Bridge also with four subway tracks roaring across the bridge it can get very noisy. However, the noise and the lack of visible entry points of the walkway gives the visitor more space and leisure time to savor the view.

But if you want to get higher you can take a cab or a double decker tour bus on the upper level which can give you the 360 degree view you are missing on the lower level. It’s pricey and you can’t immediately get off the bus once you’ve done the round trip but as a former worker of those buses, under the right circumstances, it can be one helluva view.

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The Upper Level view.

So who’s the winner well walk it and comment below.

Follow me on Instagram @ayindestevens for past and present shots of these landmarks and on twitter @AJStevens50 on some unrelated tweets of me getting stuck on the subway haha. 

Of Orchid’s and Cherry Blossoms.

It’s Spring in New York City and that means that days are getting longer, the trees are finally looking green and as always our allergies are kicking into high gear. Yet as an amateur photographer, capturing the changes in the seasons have been a welcome change compared to my usual urban focus. Spring is also so synonymous with re-birth or nature, that watching the slow flowering around the city has been a beautiful experience.

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Nature up close allergies and all.

The first pictures come from the New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid show. Marking the unofficial start to the season, the theme for this one was orchidelirulm, named for the Orchid mania that swept through Britain during the 19th century. Orchids were extremely popular and remain so to this day as being some of the most diverse flora ever produced on Earth.

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Some of the Orchid’s on display at the Orchid Show 

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Orchids account for an estimated 6-11% of all seed plants in the world. 

 

The second shot is from Sakura Park in Morningside Heights. named for the Japanese word for Cherry Tree, The park bloomed early last month, the first trees were planted in the early twentieth century, and are part of the 20,000 cherry trees planted by the parks department. Some of those can also be found at the Cherry Walk along the West Side Highway.

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Early bloom at Sakura Park with Riverside Church in the background 

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Blossom Close-up 

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Riverside Park Scene

Another shot comes from the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn. This one looked in transition between bloom and post bloom greenery. Well you know the old saying, a tree grows in…

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That Classic Brooklyn Tree 

Not to be out done this beautiful shot comes from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Their iconic Cherry Blossom Festival was held last week and the trees along the esplanade bloomed right on time. While I was unable to attend, this shot is the aftermath of all the rain, which has left a beautiful carpet of pink on the grass.

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Inside the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Cherry Esplanade

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The Pink Carpet 

The trees next to the Japanese Pavilion trees had bloomed earlier in the month and the one here just hangs lazily next to the pond.

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Hang 10

Lastly, Perhaps my favorite shot are the cherry blossoms from Roosevelt Island. The contrast of the rows of Kwanzan Cherry Trees with the skyline of East Midtown creates one of the city’s most iconic and temporal scenes in the city.

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Cherry Blossom’s with the Ed Koch Queensboro-59th Bridge in the background. 

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Under the canopy. 

Thanks for reading and looking see you soon!

Thoughts on film: Miles Ahead

First things first, April is Jazz History Month, perhaps the only month in the year dedicated to an American musical art form. That being said, three films about iconic Jazz performers, are being released, during the span of a month. The one I saw was “Miles Ahead.”

Named after a Miles Davis album, the film stars Don Cheadle as Davis in a semi-biographical film, that takes the rule-book of biopics and chucks it out the window.

When the movie opens, Davis is siting for an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. The interviewer, asks Davis a question which prompts him to pick up his trumpet, and soon we are whisked to his New York home where he is working on new music.

Music that could give him a comeback, if Davis would stop stonewalling.

The Davis we are seeing are from his lost years. Hobbled by a degenerative hip and drug addiction, Davis shuffles around his shabby home, filled with booze, drugs and other pieces’ of refuse of a man lost in his own mind. One character calls him, “jazz’s Howard Hughes,” due to his hermetic lifestyle.

That stupor fades away when Davis encounters David Braden (Ewan McGregor) a writer, who also happens to come from Rolling Stone magazine. Davis is angered by Braden’s invasion into his domain but, Braden claims that Davis’ record company, Columbia Records sent him to write the comeback piece. Davis, who also has a bone to pick with his label over a $20,000 check, brings Braden along for the ride.

Over the course the film, Davis and Braden, talk, smoke, snort cocaine, and chase some sleazy d-bag producer Harper Hamilton, (Michael Stuhlbrag) who steals a tape that contains Davis’ new material.

Watching Cheadle’s Davis is at times, illuminating because we see privy to Davis’ genius as a performer, his ability to find which note works best with his compositions, for album’s like “Sketches of Spain” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”.

Album Cover of “Someday My Prince Will Come” with Davis’ wife Frances Taylor as the model. (Image from https://themenight.wordpress.com)  

The album cover of “…Will Come,” serves as one of the triggers for Davis’ flashbacks to his relationship with his first wife, Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corindealdi). Taylor an accomplished dancer in her own right, serves as a muse of sorts, and through the flashbacks we see how Davis shines albeit at the expense of Taylor.

While there is a mutual love between the two, it is not enough to save Davis from slowly destroying himself, first with women, then with his abuse towards Taylor and finally his hip begins to give out.  His hair and clothes transition from the suits and sophistication of the 50’s and 60’s to the wild and counter-culture inspired of the 70’s, which appears to be befitting to Davis’ nature. They are other flashback triggers, but this one sticks out due to Davis’ regret of the past.

McGregor himself, holds his own as the wily journalist Braden, who begins to see why Davis wants to be alone, but also can’t quite resist making a few dollars off of Davis’ fame one way or the other. Midway through the film, I begun to question Braden’s involvement with the whole affair. Is he really there for the story, or is he there just for the ride and some cocaine he managed to score for Davis. A dealer who also happens to be a fan.

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis and Ewan McGregor as David Braden about to score well something… (image courtsey of http://www.cinemaclock.com)

The viewer might also wonder if this is all real or is this in someone’s head. I’m not entirely sure what is the right answer, but the only person who knows that is Miles Davis.

Cheadle dodges the tried-and-true tactics of biopic format by pretty much doing the movie his way. Cheadle also used Indiegogo as a fundraising platform for the film, perhaps to zero in on some die-hard Davis fans so that they too felt invested in the story. The plot feels fresh and plausible despite its improvisational feel which might be a stumbling block for some viewers.

If they tried this under the standard biopic formula, Davis who come off as wooden and inaccessible, something he himself disdains. It might get the facts down in a linear fashion, but Cheadle covers the bases enough so that it still is a biopic while still getting Davis right.

Cheadle also does not put Davis’ death date at the end of the film because Davis’ spirit is in those who jammed with him and those who came after him, the innovators, the artists, the genius, the ones who could speak his language and continue jazz to the next generation.

The best line of the film also sums up the films mantra “If you’re gonna tell a story, man, come with some attitude.” If Davis was alive, he would approve of this film and it’s  unique ‘approach’ of telling this story.

 

Walking Riverside Drive part 5: The Last Twenty-Four Blocks

This is the final installment in the Walk Riverside Project. to read part’s 1 2 3 & 4 via link.

Well folks, here is the final installment in Walk Riverside Drive. The final 2-1/4 mile walk from the 96th Street viaduct to 1 Riverside Drive at 72nd Street signals the end of the journey I started three months ago. Along the way, I’ve see some of the most beautiful and at the same time overlooked sections of Manhattan. From the massive George Washington Bridge to the faded beauty of Audubon Terrace, I found a new appreciation for Riverside Drive, it’s role in the West Side of Manhattan’s development, and the hidden nooks and crannies along the way.

So come along, won’t you?

Starting back at 96th Street, I looked at the Cliff-Dwelling apartment building. It’s one of the Upper West Side’s most arresting building. Appearing to look more at home in a western U.S. city like Denver or Huston, the name derives from Native American tribes in present day Arizona, who resided on or near cliffs. The term was also used to describe people who lived in apartments. Herman Lee Meader, an architect, built the building as an homage of sorts to Mayan and Aztec architecture. Which is ironic since neither civilization resided near cliffs.

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The Cliff-Dwelling Apartments

The building is striking in two aspects; one is the decorative terra-cotta which adorns the buildings upper and lower floors. Also be sure to look at the geometric brick patterns along the edifice. Two is the rather narrow north side of the building which is only nine feet wide!

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The North Wall.

The rather narrow property was created as a by-product Riverside Drive’s meandering nature. This lead Meader and the developer of the property, Leslie R. Palmer, to devise the apartment units to face the Drive and 96th Street. The building’s core holds the buildings stairwell and elevator.

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South Wall

One of the blogs I looked at is Scouting NY which talks about what a film location scout learns about the city. He noted that this  building, has one claim to fame. Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard resided in the building and accused a steward from another hotel of being a Nazi spy. When the FBI tried to follow up on the investigation, Hubbard had already left New York. So we will never truly know if the accused was a spy.

The New York Times, in a feature on the building, also remarked that the building was highly praised by it’s rival publication “The New York Herald.” Saying it “opened up a new horizon for developers who had ”exhausted the supply of names and styles from every famous palace, chateau and castle in Europe.”

 

Continuing down the street, the road divides again creating more lush traffic medians I’ve come to love. On top of one of them is perhaps the city’s oldest statue ever dedicated to a woman, Joan of Arc.

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Joan of Arc statue by Anna Huntington nee Hyatt.

 

Despite her short but remarkable life, Joan of Arc has become martyr for French nationalism and is regarded as one of the most important female historical figures. In 1920, she was canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

Joan of Arc’s Death at the Stake. Oil on canvas by Herman Anton Stilke

The current statue was designed by Anna H. Huntington. The woman also behind the El Cid statue back at Audubon Terrace. Huntington was chosen in due to these series events. In 1910, Huntington, then Anna M. Hyatt, showed it to the Salon in Paris. Like many people at the time, Hyatt was inspired by the upcoming 500th anniversary of Joan of Arc’s birth and figured the Salon would choose her statue for the anniversary in some shape or form.

Unfortunately, Hyatt would only get honorable mention for her proposal by the Salon, who were convinced that she couldn’t do the whole thing herself.

Luckily, a committee who wanted to build Joan of Arc statue in New York, headed by J. Sanford Saltus took to Hyatt’s idea for Joan of Arc into account and advocated for her design. Hyatt won and became the first woman in New York to create a statue of a historical figure.

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Joan ahead of the moon

The statue was unveiled in 1915 three years after the anniversary had passed. Thomas Edison’s wife, the former Mina Miller, and the then French ambassador Jean J. Jusserand, unveiled the statue to a crowd of 1,000 people.  The statue has been restored twice since it’s unveiling and is considered one of Hyatt’s best work’s

At 173 Riverside Drive, is the former home of baseball royalty, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. It is one of two apartment buildings on the Drive that “the Babe” lived in. The second, 110 Riverside, pictured below, he would move to until his death in 1948.

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110-118 Riverside Drive

Three blocks further down there is perhaps one of Manhattan’s forgotten monuments. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, which commemorated the Union Army soldiers who served during the Civil War, took decades to come to fruition. It took an act in the New York state Legislature in 1893 to create a committee and then it took another nine years just to finally dedicate the structure.

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Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in twilight

Unlike its down the road counterpart dedicated to another Union Army member, this memorial is a simpler affair. Charles and Arthur Stoughton designed the memorial as if to mimic a torch keeping an eternal flame. There are also two plinths which label the major Union Army victories and twelve Corinthian columns that wrap around the perimeter of the memorial. They are also a two cannons that face west.

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Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument during sunset

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One of the two cannons at the monument.

Despite its lofty goals of memorializing the Union Army, the monument was already beginning to fall apart the moment it opened. The city, which owns the site, has repaired it twice during the 20th century, yet the deterioration has become part of the attraction. It reminds me a bit like Inspiration Point, from all the way back at the beginning of the trip in its beautiful decay. Over the years, many efforts to restored and re-open the interior, long since closed off, have been delayed or fallen through, but there is hope that one day it will be restored, properly, this time.

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The monument under heavy snow during Winter Storm Jonas

 

My first time visiting the Monument was about seven years ago during the AIDS Walk. As we walked the final mile back to Central Park, the crowd was treated to a drag performance. It would be during my research that apparently the site was also a place for gay sex hookups during the 1960’s. I suppose it’s fitting.

Across the street is a beautiful mansion, once owned by Harry Codman Potter. Best known as the rector at Grace Church, Potter was a social reformer and laid the cornerstone at Cathedral St. John the Divine in 1892. I’m sure who lives there now or what it is now but the house seems impervious to the changes over the years just looking graceful all by itself.

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Codman Potter Mansion

At 160 Riverside Drive, a simple building that was the longtime home of New York Times columnist Brooks Atkinson. He might be well known today as a theatre critic, but he actual spent the Second World War as a war correspondent during World War II and the early Cold War.

Two blocks down is the Normandy apartments. It might seem like a simple Art-Deco structure, but it also blends classical architectural elements such as Italian Renaissance into its two towers. Emery Roth, the building’s architect, favored this building over his more famous multi-towered structures to the east, The Beresford, The El Dorado, and The San Remo apartments. Roth, who favored classical elements in his buildings over more modern styles, was able to almost seamlessly blend two styles into one.

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The Normandy Apartments

Roth retired from the business and spent his final years in the building. His son’s Julian and Richard took over the practice in 1938 and became known as Emery Roth & Sons. While their father was known for his sumptuous apartment buildings, the sons became known for their modernist office buildings. One of which was the original World Trade Center.

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Close-up on the North Tower

Here the grand apartment buildings begin to share space with old mansions. They might not be as grand as the ones we discussed in part four but, there is one worth noting. 103 Riverside Drive, for example, had two actors live there. Joseph Jefferson, who is widely thought to have said the phrase, “there are no small parts only small actors,” and Abigail Bingham who lead a campaign to prevent the New York Central Railroad from rebuilding the tracks directly under Riverside Drive.

Abigail Bingham (image courtesy of the NYPL Collection)

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103 Riverside Drive, home to two actors Abigail Bingham and Joseph Jefferson.

Bingham pointed out that it was bad enough to hear the steam shovels for the next ten years but it would be generations for the trees to bring Riverside Drive back to glory. I myself find the idea to build the tracks there a bit of a stretch since the Drive is not linear. If the plan had gone through, then the Drive would have been very different from the Drive I just walked.

However shortly after her death, the West Side Improvement Project, spearheaded by Robert Moses, did take shape. Which altered Riverside Park more than the drive.

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Riverside Drive near the upper 80’s. The two pathways hold the tracks from the West Side Improvement project which lead to Penn Station.

Two blocks down is another mansion, 86 Riverside Drive, is one of six mansions that hugged the corner of 81st and Riverside Drive. The buildings, built in the Elizabethan Revival Style, by Clarence True, create a rare set of row houses left on the Drive. 86 Riverside Drive is also known as the Carroll mansion. A term derived from its first owner William Carroll, who made his fortune in the business of making fur and wool clothing.

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86 Riverside Drive which in my opinion looks better from afar

The building and its neighbors has since been converted into apartments but also was home to the Consulate of Iraq and the East Asian Research Institute. Despite the row’s decaying appearance, True’s buildings, held firm by the Carroll Mansion still makes first timers to this part of the drive like myself, pause. The buildings are also part of the West End-Collegiate Historical District.

Near the end of the drive are two monuments. The first is the Hamilton Fountain, is dedicated to a descendant of founding father Alexander Hamilton.  Robert Ray Hamilton (1851-1890), was the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton. An alum of Columbia Law School. Hamilton was elected to the New York State Assembly multiple times during the 1880’s. Hamilton, like his ancestor Alexander, was embroiled in a scandal involving, Eva Mann. Mann and Hamilton secretly got married only for Mann to raid his fortune. A fortune which included an allowance of the then princely sum of $40,000 a year.

Hamilton, who died in a hunting accident, had this fountain dedicated to him by the executors of his estate and the city. The architectural firm of Warren and Wentmore, known for building Grand Central Terminal used Tennessee Marble for the fountain. The same type of marble also used in Grand Central.

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Robert Hamilton Fountain with Squirrel

The fountain, which was unveiled in 1906, was one of multiple fountains located in New York to serve the city’s workhorses. As that gradually faded away, many of the fountains were actually dismantled, but the Hamilton Fountain survived. Unfortunately, the fountain remained in poor shape until 2009 when donations finally restored the fountain.

As I was there a squirrel came scampering around. So naturally the little piece of fur became perhaps my first model.

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Since there was no water, the squirrel gave the fountain some life.

Now we have reached the final few blocks of Riverside Drive. Since this is the Upper West Side, much of the area still has its pre-war stock, a few modern style buildings break from routine. One modernist building to note is the Schwab House. The apartment block was the site of steel magnate, Charles M. Schwab 75-room mansion. The French chateau, was built from 1902-1906 at a cost of $ 6,000,000.  Andrew Carnegie, who once employed Schwab, remarked that Schwab’s house made his on Fifth Avenue, look like a shack.

Schwab Mansion also known as Riverside. 3 Riverside Drive is also seen on the lower right. (Image from the New York Social Diary)

The mansion’s amenities also had a massive, custom made Aeolian pipe organ, a five-foot square shower stall, and according to Daytonian in Manhattan’s write up on the mansion, a pair of bronze doors for each entrance. The mansion itself took up the whole city block.

Sadly, like the Billings mansion, the building had a sad fate. Schwab was always a bit of a risk taker and lost his fortune from the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Penniless, Schwab attempted to sell the mansion but there were no takers. When he died in 1939, he offered the mansion to the city, but Fiorello LaGuardia, the reform minded mayor, refused the gift. Since the building was truly ostentatious, it was demolished in 1947 after a public auction. The organ was mercifully spared destruction and is now somewhere in Maine. Another part of the mansion now sits in a church in Brooklyn.

The mansion’s name was “Riverside.”

Today the Schwab house, which some would say is a better economic use of the block, also closes the chapter on Riverside Drive being an address of the very wealthy. While the Upper West Side itself has always appeared more laid back than its more patrician neighbor to the east, the Schwab mansion represented the dreams of developers along Riverside Drive. Even if those ideas were becoming dated as they built the thoroughfare. People like the Huntington’s, the Schwab’s, and the Grinnell’s all were trying to make Riverside drive in their own image, to varying success.

The second monument is dedicated to Eleanor Roosevelt, America’s most famous first lady. Born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1884, Roosevelt was always on the forefront of social causes from women’s rights, civil rights, and international politics. She even shamed city planners from trying to save money on not supplying toilet seats! Her death in 1962, marked the passing of the 20th Century’s most enduring icons.

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Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

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Quote from a speech given at the United Nations in 1958.

Designed by Bruce Kelly/David Varnell Landscape Architects, and funded by over 2,000 private donors. The project was the brainchild of Roosevelt admirer Herbert Zorn. Zorn envisioned a new plaza with the statue as an anchor to welcome visitors to the park. The statue was unveiled in 1996 with former first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt III present.

Near the statue is a quote Roosevelt said at a speech at the United Nations in 1958, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity.”

The funny thing is that Eleanor never lived on the West Side. Yet, while Roosevelt might have lived on the Upper East Side at 47-49 East 69th Street, I think she was a West Sider at heart.

Finally, the last addresses to tell about are 3 and 1 Riverside Drive. Despite being separated by that god-awful apartment building these mansions have a shared history.

John S. Supthen, who owned the Riverside Drive side of the block, sold one parcel to Phillip Kleeberg, who made much of his fortune from Oil and other industrial projects. The deed stated that, “his heirs and assigns, shall, within two years from the date hereof, cause to be erected and fully completed upon said lot, a first-class building, adapted for and which shall be used only as a private residence for one family, and which shall conform to the plans made of being made by C. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”  According to an account by the Northeastern Reporter.

Philip Kleeberg and his wife, Maria, as Daytonian, who also profiled the building, wasted little time in setting the gears in motion.  Within four months, on October 3, 1896, The American Architect and Building News announced Kleeberg’s plans to build a “four-story brick dwelling to cost $55,000, on Riverside Drive, near 73d St.” Including the price of the land, $145,000 according to The New York Times, the outlay would be more in the neighborhood of $5 million today.  The standards were put in place so that the Riverside Drive could rival either Fifth or Madison Avenue. But as we know that didn’t happen since the old money crowd was happily ensconced on the East Side.

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Close up on C.P.H. Gilbert’s 3 Riverside Drive.

It took two years to build 3 Riverside, and the Kleeberg’s, Phillip, his wife Maria and their sons moved in. The building appears to be built with Dutch Renaissance style or French Renaissance Revival depending on what you find online. Gilbert designed a three story bay window frontage, which allowed for a terrace to be accessed on the fourth.

If you met the Kleeberg’s for the first time you think they were like any upper class family. Yet if you asked around the local gossip, you would have found out that Phillip had a second house in the neighborhood. This implied that like many rich men, Phillip kept a love nest away from the prying eyes of his wife.

Yet, Maria kept appearances for a while until 1903 when she committed suicide during a dinner party. Maria drank from a bottle of carbolic acid and despite efforts by the guests to find a doctor Maria Kleeburg was dead. A crowd of 300 swarmed the mansion when it was mistakenly reported that someone had been murdered at the house.

The house was sold multiple times in the next two decades. In fact, William Guggenheim, son of industrialist Meyer Guggenheim, would take ownership twice. Once in 1908 and again in 1915. It was in 1915 when Guggenheim rented the house to a Dr. William H. Wellington Knipe, who was a pioneer in studying sleeping patterns. When Knipe proposed to convert the house to a sanitarium for the study of sleep the residents were outraged and sued Knipe. The lawsuit contended that the rules put forth when the house was constructed forbade commercial use of any kind.

Knipe however, did have one ace in the hole. His next door neighbor Lydia Prentiss, actually supported the plan which made her a social pariah on the block. Knipe won his case but Guggenheim eventually moved back in and remained there until his death in 1941. Kleeburg’s son Gordon retained ownership and converted the building into apartments but much of the interior has been restored when it was bought by Reginia Kislin in 1995. Kislin put the house up for sale in 2014 at $30 million dollars.

1 Riverside Drive, which is appears to be two mansions in one, was also built by C.P.H. Gilbert. The buildings were the home for both the Prentiss’s, Lydia and her husband Fredrick Charles and John S. Supthen Sr., next door. The same Prentiss family that got caught up in the lawsuit over turning 3 Riverside drive to a sanitarium.

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1 Riverside Drive and 309 702nd Street.

The buildings decidedly French Renaissance, share both the garden and a back wall. The Prentiss had two daughters and the family remained in the house until 1955 when Lydia’s daughter, also called Lydia died. The building became part of the New York Mosque Foundation which today still uses the mansion as part of the Islamic Cultural Center. The building, which could use an exterior restoration, and has looked the same since its creation.

Now we’ve come to the end of the journey. Seven miles, over 130 blocks, and countless buildings and vistas photographed over the course in three months, Riverside Drive is unlike any street in Manhattan I’ve ever walked. I hope to any reader, past, present, or future picks a section to walk and find it as every bit as awesome as I did. While not everything that I saw made it to the final cut, I will make into another post in the near future.

If you truly enjoyed this and the previous posts, I have a few planed in the pipeline come spring and I’m always looking for new ideas so don’t hesitate to send some my way!

For my out of town and international readers if you have any questions about New York, add them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as possible.

During my research I came across a quote that the actress Abigail Bingham said about Riverside Drive. It might reference the park across the street but it sums up why people like her defied convention and settled for a Riverside Drive address.

“For all these years I have loved to sit in my front window and get drunk with the beauty of Riverside Park. I have lived on the Thames, on the Seine, on the Rhine, and always come home to get drunk again on the glory of Riverside Park.”

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Journey’s End

Fin.

-AJS

P.S. once again big shout out to Trisha Sullivan for editing this post.