Saturday, October 29, 2016


I started the day closer to home. It was a shorter trip up to Riverside and 122nd Street. I took the subway to 125th and then a short walk over to Riverside Park and the site of Grant's Tomb.
The country's largest mausoleum cradles the tombs of Ulysses S Grant and his wife, Julia. Laying in rest is the general who led us out of the nation's largest and most destructive civil war and then as president began to lead the nation to healing and a state of peace.
Inscribed over the entrance to the mausoleum is the quote most associated with the general, "Let Us Have Peace", a quote as poignant today as it was back then.
As I walk inside I was first struck by the austerity of the space. There's a well located in the center of the floor in a room constructed almost entirely of marble. The railing around the well is a very simple unornamented ring of marble.
As you approach the edge of the well the contrasting dark stone caskets can be seen on the floor below simply engraved with the names Ulysses S Grant and Julia D Grant
but when you look up the view is very different and very inspirational. The carved nymphs, the coffered ceiling and the American eagles all combine in a very patriotic and spiritual way.
It was hard to walk out of Grant's tomb without having your emotions stirred in a good way. Choosing to go to see the mausoleum as the first stop on Sunday morning when I was the only one there was an unexpected gift. The solitude of being in there alone on a day of the week focused on introspection was very moving.

I hadn't put Riverside Church on my original itinerary. Mainly because it wasn't one of the buildings listed on the Open House New York chart of available venues but it was right across the street from the General Grant National Memorial. It was Sunday morning and the service was in full session when I crossed the street so I could only walk into the lobby.
The church was modeled after the thirteenth century Gothic Chartres Cathedral. It was like a trip back to medieval Europe. The church opened in 1930  with financial backing from John D. Rockefeller.
The church has an incredible history of advocacy for social issues with a speaker list including luminaries from around the world. Martin Luther King spoke here about his opposition to the Vietnam War. The church hosts a quarterly support forum for HIV support. Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Bill Clinton have all spoken there and Patti Smith and Yoko Ono have made performance appearances.
The Beacon on Broadway and West 75th was considered to be the "older sister" of Radio City Music Hall. It opened in 1929 three years before Radio City. The theatrical impresario, "Roxy" Rosthafel was the man behind both theaters. The original intent of the theater was as a high-end performance venue where ordinary New Yorkers could go to see vaudeville acts, musical productions and entertainers at a ticket price most could afford.
But the interior was anything but cheap. Massive murals adorned the entry lobby with a reference to a bucolic ancient Greece. Gold, marble and stained glass encircled the entrance
As you proceeded to the auditorium you passed through more ornamentation dipped in gold leaf and gold paint. A magnificent chandelier lit by electric candles and crystal beads hangs overhead.
Once inside the theater becomes a trip around the world with Egyptian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern architectural details. There are murals of Eastern nomads with their caravans of camels and elephants.
Thirty-foot tall Greek Goddesses stand sentry on either side of the proscenium. A Moroccan inspired metal canopy thrusts out over the stage supported by huge iron spears.
The stage has held some of the most remembered performances in musical history. It's a New York and national landmark well worth its designation.
There were five Lowe's "Wonder Theatres”.So next I made my way up to the United Palace in Washington Heights. My last stop for the Open House New York event was another long subway ride out to Flatbush in Brooklyn to Kings Theatre on Flatbush Avenue. Built in the same era as the United Palace, Kings Theatre survived as best it could in a neighborhood that was falling into a steady decline. It was able to hold on until the late 70's when the doors were officially closed.
They remained closed for thirty-seven years until area citizen groups urged the city to look into restoration of the theatre. The area's decline had stopped and the community was now on a upward track. It took two borough presidents and $95 million dollars to restore the building to what it once was. And what it was was the most magnificent of the five "Wonder Theaters".
From the minute you walk in you're enveloped in a fantasy of grand scale. A vaulted coffered ceiling reproduced in minute detail hangs over a grand staircase
The multi-leveled entrances into the auditorium each have their own perspective into the theater proper.
Once inside its like walking into a Faberge egg. It's a jewel box encrusted in a renovation one could hardly imagine looking at the deterioration the theater had suffered through vandalism and natural causes.
The remarkable proscenium sits up front with royal beauty crowned with its own jeweled and decorated tiara
The amazing plaster work recreated on the ceiling from molds taken from the various partial pieces that still existed is an architectural miracle. Colors were developed from old photographs and the most minuet flakes that could be found on a handful of remaining pieces.
The Kings Theatre reopened in 2015 and now functions as a performance center for a revitalized neighborhood. If it hadn't been for Open House New York I don't know if I would have found out about Kings Theatre but now that I know I'm on the list for future events and you can bet I'll be there.

Woolworth Building Aglow From Municipal Building, 1916
Edwin Levick, photographer
Available through the New York Times Store


  1. I've never seen pix of the inside of Grant's Tomb. Quite beatiful and what a gift to be there alone.

  2. Thanks so much for keeping up with our blog. It's such a great program to open up all these buildings. It was especially significant in retrospect to be able to see we aren't the only ones who needed healing "Let Us Have Peace" U.S. Grant