Daily News from New York, New York on December 12, 1976 · 440
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Daily News from New York, New York · 440

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New York, New York
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Sunday, December 12, 1976
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440
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Better days continued from page 22 still intact. Every so often a group of walkers on a tour of the city's cast-iron buildings will stop to gawk. Schattur Novelty Corp., a wholesale operation, occupies the ground floor on the comer; the front showroom features displays of inflatable turtles and plastic giraffes. In the rear, row upon row of metal shelves, reaching back into a clutter of torn cartons, hold boxes of buttons that suggest "Kiss me, I'm a fireman,' and offer other more explicit invitations. Scuffed linoleum covers the once-polished floor; the downstairs facade was ripped out years ago and replaced with aluminum siding. Upstairs are artists' lofts, most offering not a clue to the building's past grandeur. But one pair of tenants, Marie Gilmore and Frank Pau-lin, who used to work for Lord & Taylor as fashion artists, keep the memory alive. The unusual curved windows in their apartment recall the building's former glory; so does a long, gold-framed mirror from the old store. Though the loft has the trappings of a posh New York pad, with its butcher block counter tops and lush plants, a handsome framed print of the old store occupies a place of honor on a bookcase. Says Ms. Gilmore: "We think it's only fitting.' New Amsterdam Theater It was midnight. The stage was black. Suddenly Dolores appeared, bathed in a single shaft of light. Majestically, she strode across the stage, clad in pearl-trimmed white satin. From her golden hair a glittering array of peacock feathers burst like a fountain. The audience gasped in admiration, and from that night on, Dolores was The Peacock Girl, the world's loveliest showgirl. Creating almost as much of a stir was the place where Dolores performed, the Ariel, a rooftop garden atop the New Amsterdam Theater. The New Amsterdam had opened in 1903, on 42d St. west of Broadway, and almost from the start Florenz Ziegfeld produced his Midnight Frolics (Dolores was one of the beauties featured) on the New Amsterdam roof. Within a decade, Zieg-feld's Follies were ensconced downstairs. The Ariel was more than a roof garden: it was a fully equipped theater. With its exotic trees, removable glass walls and intimate atmosphere, it also functioned as one of Manhattan's most fashionable supper clubs. The theater downstairs was even more magnificent. "A theatrical Louvre," one newspaper raved on opening night. The 4 2d St. facade featured columns of yellow Sicilian marble and doors of intricately leaded glass. High above the entrance perched the carved figures of Music and Drama. Theatergoers entered a lobby emblazoned with overhead relief panels depicting scenes from Shakespeare and Wagnerian opera. Beyond lay marble staircases whose terra cotta railings were entwined with the heads of strange animals. Downstairs was a reception lounge boasting an arched ceiling, a massive stone fireplace and a marble fountain. The auditorium was a garden of silvery greens, pale pinks, and lilacs. Special guests sat in boxes hung high in the air with names like Buttercup Box and Heliotrope Box. Through 1927 the New Amsterdam was famous as the home of the " Follies. But over the next decade legitimate theater left 42d St., the New Amsterdam the last hold out. In 1937 the box seats were torn out, and fountains gave way to vending machines. Off came the yellow he papers print lies about this whole area. Publicity we don't need columns on the facade; up went blinking neon. The old roof garden was turned into a broadcasting studio. The New Amsterdam became a movie theater. The other day, the sign on the marquee promised super karate champs Jumping Jim Kelly in "Hot Potato" and Bruce Lee in "Enter the Dragon." Garish posters repeated the message. Near the entrance a man in a white jacket muttered over and over, "Good smoke? Good smoke?" Much of the interior carving and detail remain, though grimy with age and neglect. The scenes from Shakespeare and Wagner have survived, along with a plaster relief depicting Progress, who smiles down on the Coke dispenser and popcorn machine. The marble staircases and arched ceilings have endured, too. but the lounges and auditorium have been stripped bare. Chewing gum is ground underfoot. The crowd these days is enthusiastic but boisterous. People wander in and out, and mill about in the aisles, as if the show had neither beginning nor end. Theater officials discourage publicity. "I won't cooperate in any way, shape or form," says general manager Seymour Londner. "The papers print lies about this whole area. Publicity we don't need." Concourse Plaza Hotel Did everybody from the Bronx have a sister who was married at the Concourse Plaza Hotel? A brother who was bar mitzvahed there? The memory of a gala affair in the Grand Ballroom? Or does it only seem that way? Ever since 100 of the borough's most illustrious citizens the Bronx Boosters, they called themselves got together in 1921 to give the Bronx a hotel it could be proud of, the Concourse Plaza, at 161st St. and the Grand Concourse,, has probably been dearer to the hearts of Bronxites than any other structure except Yankee Stadium. Appropriately, Gov. Al Smith spoke at the opening dinner in 1 923 . The brochure that heralded the hotel's opening hailed the 10-story building as an "architectural wonder" and praised its spectacular views. Being on the Concourse, it boasted the borough's best address. The hotel's 160 pink and green suites each included a full kitchen. Permanent tenants could do their marketing at a special commissary or dine at the hotel restaurant, presided over by a French chef. For decades the hotel stood at the very center of the borough's social, civic, religious and business activity. The Grand Ballroom and the Wedgewood and Crystal Rooms, with their enormous crystal chandeliers, were the scene of countless social affairs. There were elegant, candlelit dinners for illustrious judges, victory celebrations for Yankee ball teams. At one time or another, Babe Ruth and every other old Yankee of note stood bathed in the glow of those chandeliers. The change came in the last 10 to 15 years, as the middle-class Jews who formed the core of the Concourse population abandoned it for neighborhoods farther afield. The hotel's permanent residents, mosdy elderly, were joined by transients and welfare recipients. Crime. and drugs became facts of life. Last year the city took over the hotel and cleared it of tenants. Cur rently plans are under way to convert the building into senior citizens' housing. The Grand Ballroom now houses the Department of Probation. Its chandelier, silvery with dust, hangs above flimsy partitions that don't separate much of anything. Eleanor Ceglia, office manager, remembers formal weddings in the '50s when that chandelier was spotless. "Now it's a mess," she says sadly. "And we have leaks. The air circulation's so bad we roast in summer and freeze in winter. It's been a trying year." Across the lobby, in rooms whose signs still read Wedgewood Room and Crystal Room, is the Legal Aid Society. Here, too, are flooding, drafts and incongruously elegant chandeliers. In the bedrooms, visitors like Rap 164 and Ace 150 have left their marks on the gilt wallpaper. The grass-green carpet crunches underfoot, so thick is the layer of pink plaster that has fallen in chunks from the ceiling. The lobby is empty now, except for a few broken-down chairs oozing stuffing. Columns are encrusted with dust; whole sections of the ceiling are collapsing. A cat scratches passionately at the worn crimson carpet. According to a maintenance worker, the cat has no name but does have a family; sure enough, tiny kittens huddle in an upstairs office. A nearby cloakroom with a sign "Not responsible for fur coats or valuables" stinks of rotten cat food. But memories die slowly. "I get a dozen calls a week," reports building manager Bob White. "Folks telephone, still wanting to rent rooms. Seems they never knew we closed." Lincoln Club "What constitutes a clubbable fellow?" young gentlemen pondered earnestly in the late 19th century. One thing they knew: some of the most clubbable fellows congregated at the Lincoln Club, in Brooklyn's fashionable Clinton Hill section. Formed by Republicans to help further the interests of the GOP, the club quickly evolved into a purely so cial group, bringing dozens of prominent Democrats into the fold, and its Putnam Ave. clubhouse, built in 1889, was a masterpiece. Brick, browns tone, and mauve terra cotta blended in a dazzling array of architectural flourishes: elaborately carved balustrades, a flying buttress and large arches framing three stained glass maidens Concord, Friendship, and Prosperity club virtues all. The first floor was devoted to a continued on page 44 24 NEW YORK SUNDAY NEWS DECEMBER 12.1978

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