Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book One’ Category:

Thanks to the Central Park Conservancy

A View of the Dairy in Central Park

The Dairy, one of the original buildings of Central Park and now its main visitor center

I can’t write a blog on Central Park that follows my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, without first appreciating what an amazing job the Central Park Conservancy has done in restoring this historic landmark.

Founded in 1980 as a privately run organization working hand in hand with the city administration, the Conservancy has spent the better part of a billion dollars restoring the park according to the original design of Olmsted and Vaux.

In the process, it became the standard for park management, creating 49 separate divisions, each one run by a single individual responsible for maintaining his or her own section of the park.

In many ways, the history of the park parallels the development of my main character, Christopher Middleton, as he seeks to free himself from the shackles of the past and establish a more of direct relationship with the genius of nature itself.

May the Conservancy’s work continue to inspire many other generations still to come…

 

 

 

The True Inspiration Behind Christopher Middleton’s Central Park School

 

Collegiate School in NYC

Collegiate School in NYC which I attended from grades 3 through 7 and…

The dark and musty old building that Christopher discovers when he first enters the doors of Central Park School is exactly what I recall when I first entered the darkened doorway to Collegiate that you see to the right.

Though Collegiate was my principal inspiration for Central Park Story, I couldn’t help but include a reference to another school I once attended:  Groton School outside of Boston.

groton school

Groton School outside of Boston which I attended from grades 8-12

Groton School seems a galaxy away from its NYC counterpart, but its motto–Cui Servire Est Regnare, ‘In God’s Service We Rule’–was a philosophy they both seemed to share and I couldn’t resist having Christopher toy with in his own cynical imagination.

Why I Decided To Put Central Park School on West 81st Street

Central Park School

This is the street where I decided to locate Christopher’s Central Park School

When I started brainstorming Central Park Story, I wanted to place Christopher’s fictitious school close to Central Park but as far away from any existing school as possible so there wouldn’t be any confusion between the two.

Then I remembered how, as a student myself, I used to take the crosstown bus at 79th and Fifth and it would stop at 81st and Central Park West before continuing to where my school was located. Such a nice, quiet street close to the beauty of the park.

This is it! I decided. This is where I’ll place Christopher’s fictitious school.

To the right is a picture of 81st Street and Central Park West. As you can see, there are no schools on the block, only apartment buildings, yet it’s easy to imagine a school somewhere in the middle.

 

 

Take a Brief Tour of Central Park…

North End of Central Park

Take a tour of Central Park from two different perspectives!

There are two  tours I want you to see: one from the human perspective and another from the perspective of, well, the birds who call it home (click here to view both).

The first video features a number of places that Christopher frequents in Book One of Central Park Story, but given that Jennifer is an avid birder, I decided to add one from a slightly different point of view–one that I’m sure she would both appreciate and approve of!

The Rose Center for Earth and Space: a Way of Leaving the City Without Actually Leaving

If you’ve read the beginning of  Central Park Story Book One, you’ll know that Christopher stops to look at The Rose Center for Earth and Space en route to his new school.

Built in 2000 and made to look like a space station, the building is one of the most impressive in the city and sure to catch almost anyone’s attention–let alone Christopher who isn’t very keen on going to school in the first place.

I used to feel the same way when I passed what was then known as the Hayden Planetarium on my own way to school.

Here’s a shot of it that gives an idea of how amazing the building appears on first glance. It almost looks like the sphere inside is about to take off into outer space, doesn’t it?

Rose Center for Earth and Space.jpg
Rose Center for Earth and Space” by Work of Spheroide – Work by specified author – original page at English language Wikipedia. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

Museum Mile…A Mile of Culture

The dozen or so museums located on Museum Mile represent one of the most concentrated areas of culture in the world.

In my blog, I cover most of the major museums along its length, starting with the Met at 82nd Street and ending with the Museum of the City of New York at 104th Street, a mile uptown. However, there are some smaller museums in between, such as the Neue Galerie, the Jewish Museum, and the National Academy Museum, that are worthy of attention as well.

For instance, The Neue Galerie, devoted to German and Austrian art in the 20th Century, contains one of the most famous paintings in the world, Klimt’s painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, purchased from Maria Altmann for a mere US$135 million. But who’s counting?

Even the buildings in which they are housed, most of them dating back to the Gilded Age of robber barons, are worthy of a visit.

Though these smaller museums aren’t featured in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, they form a part of the background that help make the books so colorful. Here are just a few…

Neue_Galerie

The Neue Galerie at 86th Street and Fifth–a fitting home for the Lady in Gold

The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum at 92nd Street and Fifth located in the delightfully whimsical Warburg Mansion

National_Academy

And the National Academy Museum and School, also on 86th Street and Fifth, opposite the Neue Galerie

 

The Museum of the City of New York: the Forgotten Museum

The Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York–nothing to write home about, or is it?

Located between 103 and 104th Street on Fifth Avenue, the Museum of the City of New York sits at the northernmost end of Museum Mile, so by the time you make it there, assuming you do, you’ve probably had your fill of museums.

There was talk of relocating it to the Financial District, probably to garner more traffic, but Mayor Bloomberg nixed the plan, and I think it showed foresight on his part.

First of all, the museum sits opposite to one of the most charming spots in Central Park: the Conservatory Garden–a series of beautiful gardens that everyone should visit. Second, the north end of Fifth Avenue has fast become a trendy spot to live. (I used to live a few blocks south of the museum and have been following changes in the neighborhood ever since).

Third and finally, the north end of Central Park itself has a totally different character than the more frequented south. Olmsted originally designed it to be reminiscent of the Adirondack region of Upstate New York, and it retains that same atmosphere of wildness to this day. There are also some intriguing artifacts that attest to the long history of the city, such as the Blockhouse at 110th Street and Central Park West, as well as vestiges of Fort Clinton a few hundred yards west of the museum itself.

Hence, leaving the museum where it will shine on its own unique way in the midst of other reminders of New York City’s past was, in my opinion, a display of foresight.

Although I didn’t include the museum in the first five books of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, when I read about its collection of over 1.5 million items, including paintings, drawings, prints, including over 3000 by Currier and Ives, as well as costumes, decorative objects and furniture, antique toys, ship models, rare books and manuscripts, marine and military collections, police and fire collections, and a theater collection which documents the golden age of Broadway, it got me thinking seriously about how to include this forgotten museum in the grande finale of the series.

American Museum of Natural History–More Than You Bargained For

American Museum of Natural History

Here’s the museum entrance–gateway to 32 million artifacts!

The American Museum of Natural History that sits beside Central Park at 81st Street and Central Park West, is one of the largest museums in the world. The complex comprises 27 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library. Its collections contain over 32 million specimens of plants, humans, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts and occupies 1,600,000 square feet. As if that wasn’t enough, the museum also has a full-time scientific staff of 225, sponsors over 120 special field expeditions each year, and averages about five million visits annually. A bit more than you expected in a museum, right?

It didn’t always used to be that way. In 1874, the cornerstone was laid for the Museum’s first building, which is now hidden from view by the many buildings in the complex that occupy most of Manhattan Square. The original building, which was opened in 1877, was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould who also designed the arcade and the staircases leading to the Bethesda Fountain.

Rose Center for Earth and Space

If the main part of the museum is too much for you to handle, you can always escape to outer space in the Rose Center for Earth and Space!

Although I avoided adding the museum in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I had a curious experience there as a teenager. I had shown a rare bird to a man who happened to be walking by in Pelham Bay Park with his wife. That man turned out to be Gardner Stout, the president of the museum at the time. Impressed by the bird that I’d shown him, he invited me to his office and gave me a tour of their extensive research area. He led me to a terrarium in the back and said that inside was the deadliest creature on earth. I couldn’t see anything but some tiny jewel-like frogs. Apparently these pretty little creatures had recently been discovered in the Amazon and emitted a poison that could kill large mammals on contact. Not so pretty after all! I guess that made me and Mr. Stout even because he excused himself, saying he was late getting ready for a trip to Africa…The only thing I remember after that was wishing I could have joined him!

 

The Frick Museum–What a Gem!

Frick Museum

A more stunning building than the Carnegie mansion, with an equally stunning art collection, to boot!

The Frick is one of the pre-eminent art museums in the United States, with a high-quality collection of old master paintings and fine furniture housed within the former residence of Mr. Frick himself. It also happens to be my favorite museum in the city because of  its delightful blend of a spacious home with a knock-your-socks-off art collection. You could be looking at a Holbein the Younger portrait of Sir Thomas More in one gallery and turn the corner and come face to face with a stunning Vermeer in another.

Frick was an avid art collector throughout his business career and his daughter enhanced the collection after his death. He even planned that his house, completed in 1914 where he lived until his death in 1919, would become a museum to display the art that he’d acquired.

Since the main character, Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, lives a block away from this iconic museum, I have included it in several passages in my books.

 

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum: A Nice Side Trip

Mansion-with-wisteria

The backyard of the Carnegie Mansion where his daughter presumably played to her heart’s content

I always felt a close affinity to the Carnegie Mansion at 91st and Fifth, now known as the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

My mother’s apartment was a few blocks uptown, and we would walk past it on our way to church or whenever I went for a jog around the reservoir.

Now that I’m several decades older, my curiosity about its origins has been piqued, and I looked it up online.

The mansion was built in 1901 at the request of Carnegie who asked for a plain but roomy house with a garden for his daughter to play in. Plain it isn’t. Roomy it is. It has 60 ‘roomies’, as a matter of fact!

Carnegie had just finished publishing his book, The Gospel of Wealth, a year earlier in 1900, in which he declared that to die a wealthy man was ‘to die in disgrace’ and that one’s wealth, however great or small, should be distributed beforehand to the benefit of all.

You can almost hear the echo of people screaming ‘No!’ up and down Millionaires Row on Fifth Avenue to this day. But Carnegie, if nothing else, never paid much attention to what others thought of his methods. He proceeded to give away 350 million dollars (several billion in today’s terms) until his death in 1919, leaving only a meager $30 million to be distributed afterwards.

After his wife passed away in 1946, the mansion was donated by the Carnegie Corporation to the Smithsonian Institute and, around the time I began living in the neighborhood, was renovated and converted into the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, a museum devoted to several hundred years of design innovations, which explains why I was never knew much about it.

Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, also walks past this iconic landmark, though he has other, more important things on his mind, like talking statues and cockatrices flying around Belvedere Castle!