Photo of the day: MAY 14, 2014 THE WORLD TRADE CENTER MUSEUM FINALLY OPENS
Photo of the day: THE DIVINE AUDACITY ~ CATHEDRAL IN NEW YORK CITY TO START CHARGING ADMISSION – Over the weekend New York City’s gothic treasure, St. John the Divine had the ‘divine’ audacity/necessity to send a memorandum out to the tour guide industry advising us that as of February 1st of this year tour groups will be charged admission. Brace yourselves – $5.00 (4€ euros) – to enter a church! The 9/11 memorial charges a cover charge of $2.00.
For the many, many of you that I have taken there on my tours, you well know it is one of the mostly undiscovered treasures of the city. They are fascinated to see the unfinished towers and dome. They love the story of the center doors only opening three times a year for Easter, the blessing of the bicycles and the blessing of the animals. To see the World Trade Center Towers on the columns in front begins to fascinate the wonderful mixing of old and new history inside.
Inside there is always a sense of awe. I advise my guests to take a brochure and put a donation in the donation box at the entrance. You then pass wonderful hand carved 15th century German wooden choir stalls and enter this magnificent world of surprises. The fireman’s memorial, the American history stained glass window that has the prototype of the first television of 1926 in it as well as movie stars Jack Benny and Mary Livingston. Another stained glass window shows the sinking of the Titanic. I tell the touching story of how the cathedral cared for the AIDS patients of NYC when no one else dared to as we look at the AIDS memorial. I show them the plaque dedicated to the horrible bookstore fire that damaged the church in 2001, ruining the organ’s pipes for 10 years. I show them the ‘zipper’ of the church marking the finished and unfinished part of the cathedral. I show them such wonderful worldwide gifts as the 17th century Barberini tapestries, the golden chests donated by the King of Siam, the urns given by the emperor of Japan, the Keith Haring graffiti triptych in the Asian chapel donated by John Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono. I lead them through the 7 chapels dedicated to the main 7 languages spoken in NYC in 1892. I take them up near the altar for one of the most breathtaking views of the front stained glass window containing 10,000 pieces of glass, 40 feet in diameter. I show them menorahs on the altar as well, explaining the church welcomes all faiths.
Well – they welcome all faiths, but they now do not welcome groups unless you pay to get into the house of god. Never at no time in New York has there been a house of god that has had the need to charge admission into what I thought is the house of the people. St. John the Divine is desperate for money, last year having sold off precious adjacent land to the church and allowing god awful high rise apartments to be built, therefore obstructing the rays of sunlight into the north side of the church. Now they are obstructing the tourists of New York.
As a fellow tour guide Tom said: “What they really, really, need is help to grow their endowment. Presumably they have an endowment, like Universities and Museums. With a massive old building that must have massive maintenance costs, there is no longer a massive congregation as in the old days to keep up the place. That’s where smart and competent money-managers take hold of the finances of the institution and go on a major campaign to grow a big endowment, sufficient for maintenance. This is how Carnegie Hall was saved. The famed Koch Brothers have contributed literally hundreds of millions of dollars: $100,000,000 EACH to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Lincoln Center and The American Museum of Natural History, total $300,000,000. So, who’s in charge of this program at The Cathedral?”
They are nickel and diming, almost literally, a huge problem. It will have the most unfortunate and unintended consequence of keeping some likely visitors O-U-T. The sudden sticker shock of $5.00 will leave many at the door. I can understand starting at $2.00 – but $5.00?! A full bus of 55 guests would cost $275!! The biggest losers here are the young visitors to New York, the student tour groups. My student tour groups from Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and all along the coast. They are already on a tight budget, eating at McDonalds to save money on the big trip from their home town. They enter St. John the Divine starry-eyed and filled with wonderment at this magnificent gothic structure, the likes of which most will not get to see unless they are privileged enough to go to Europe. Sadly, it is simply adding itself to the list of those famous cathedrals of Europe all forced to do the same out of necessity. Notre Dame in Paris charges €3/$4.10 to see the treasury of riches. The Basilica in Rome charges 12€ euros/$16.00. The Cologne/Köln Dom in Germany charges 4€ Euros/$5.00. Seville cathedral in Spain charges 8€ euros/$10 dollars. St. Paul’s cathedral in London charges 16€ euros/$21.85. The wonderful art-filled little adobe churches in poor Tucson, Arizona do not charge at all. St. Patrick’s cathedral on the wealthy Fifth Avenue here in NYC does not need to charge. St. John the Divine in New York now wants to be added to the world wide list of those charging admission.
Perhaps St. John the Divine got the idea from the very recent surprising November 2013 decision of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to charge $10/7 € euros admission and perhaps I should feel I am getting a bargain. (In comparison, The Museum of Natural History’s full price adult admission charge is $22/16€ euros). But is this the beginning of a possible disturbing and disheartening trend in the famed churches New York City? Where the declining parish necessitates charging at the door? Most of the churches in Harlem are only surviving on the Sunday gospel tour dollars. It is no longer ‘the fashion’ to go to church in most large cities, therefore the declining membership results in declining donations. These grand cathedrals were built for the masses – church going masses who today – are tourists. A sad trend.
I am only a New York City tour guide and have no idea how this cathedral functions. But, what is needed at St. John the Divine is a professional, knowledgeable, experienced, committed, well paid, position of fundraiser to grow a serious endowment. Considering their list of well connected parishioners, their current plan seems like nothing more than a high school-level accounting class solution…if that.
Here is the memo:
To: Professional Guides, Tour Operators, and Guest Lecturers
From: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Department of Public Education and Visitor Services
Please note the following updates in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s visiting group policy, effective February 1, 2014.
• Self-guided groups are encouraged to schedule their visit at least two weeks in advance. Groups are defined as ten or more visitors. Scheduling requests can be made through a web site request form, or through the Public Education Office by phone or email below. The group will receive confirmation of a one-hour time period to visit the Cathedral.
• Group arrivals are permitted between 9am and 5pm daily.
• Groups should enter through the Cathedral’s southern door at Amsterdam Avenue. The group leader or guide must check in at the Visitor Center upon arrival.
• Payment of the discounted group admission of $5 per person must be made upon arrival. One group leader or guide receives complimentary admission.
• Groups that do not pay group admission may only enter the Cathedral as individual visitors.
• The Cathedral accepts cash, checks, and Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. Checks should be made payable to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
• Tour companies are encouraged to join the Cathedral’s voucher program to obviate admission payment on arrival in exchange for discounts and quarterly billing. To join the voucher program or receive more information please contact the Public Education Office.
• Scheduled groups will be given access to the entire Cathedral, including restrooms, as well as brochures for their participants. Confirmed groups will be alerted of changes to access as soon as possible. Groups that schedule to arrive during times of limited access will be notified in their confirmation.
• Late or early group arrivals will be accommodated as best as possible, however we do not
guarantee access to all parts of the Cathedral.
Mondays on Memory Lane: STOUFFERS ‘TOP OF THE SIX’S’ RESTAURANT – As a child, “Top of The Six’s” meant a special occasion. You had done well in school or it was prom night or you were in love and wanted to impress with the sweeping view of the Empire State Building. The rooftop restaurant was located at the epicenter of the posh section of Fifth Avenue, between 52nd/53rd Streets, with a lobby fountain wall designed by Isamu Noguchi and easy subway access downstairs. Today it is but a postcard memory.
It all started in 1922 the Stouffer family opened a lunch counter on East Ninth St. in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. They sold sandwiches, dairy products and Lena Stouffer’s soon-to-be-famous deep-dish Dutch apple pie. By 1935 they expanded to six restaurants in the Cleveland area and in 1937 they opened the first Stouffer restaurant in New York City.
In 1946 Stouffer’s opened on Shaker Square and at the Westgate shopping center in the Cleveland suburbs. It was at the Shaker Square location that patrons began requesting takeout orders of items on the menu and the Stouffer foray in to frozen food began by 1954. By this time Stouffer’s had restaurants in Florida, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit.
1958 – Opens restaurants at the stainless steel deco-like #666 Tishman Building (built 1957) located at 666 5th Avenue in New York City one on the 1st & below-street levels, the other on the 39th floor, at the time the highest public restaurant in N.Y. They went there, by the millions. In July 1973, about 15 years after it opened, the restaurant announced that it was about to serve its 10 millionth meal. Ominously, a review that month found the cuisine anything but haute.
They continued to expand, building a frozen food processing plant in Solon, Ohio in 1968 and they ventured into specialty casual dining eateries with names like Rusty Scupper, Cheese Cellar and the Grog Shop. In 1969 NASA chose Stouffer’s products for Apollo 11, 12 and 14 for astronauts to dine on.
But it was the Stouffer’s “Top of the…” restaurants that became the special occasion places to go. “Top of The Hub” in Boston, “Top of the Rock” in downtown Chicago, “Top of the Sixes” in New York City, “Top of the Flame” in Detroit and “Top of the Town” in Cleveland.
The view was terrific from 40 stories up, especially in those days long before the World Trade Center, when a restaurant on top of a skyscraper was a novelty. Prices were reasonable. Children liked the view, and so did young couples on dates. Men proposed to their wives there,” it was a time when going to ”the city” meant journeying from Queens to Manhattan. You didn’t necessarily go there for the food, it was that wonderful atmosphere.
On September 18, 1996, The New York Times announced the closing of this beloved rooftop gem. The new tenant would be the Grand Havana Room, a cigar temple that will bear as much resemblance to a smoke-filled parlor as, say, the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. Right now I’d give anything for a mid-west cooked Stouffer’s meal atop of the Six’s. The best I can do, is to go to my rooftop, spread a tablecloth and open my microwaved Stouffers dinner – it’s just not the same.
What are your memories of “Top of the Six’s”?
The mighty Quinn: For the past twelve years, Quinn and Bloomberg have systematically destroyed New York City as the city has become a city of the über rich and the very poor, 45+% now live near or at the poverty level. We have lost over 12 hospitals during their term in office, glass luxury apartments replace them. Quinn ruled the city and controlled the zoning laws with her slush funds making the city open season for the greedy real estate developers as zoning law changes have become the norm. South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 is being torn down, neighborhoods like Harlem, Greenwich Village and Soho are loosing their soul. Her tearing down of St. Vincent’s Hospital, it’s church and the 9/11 memorial is the most egregious. As the years passed, she became the most powerful politician only second to Bloomberg, a power that was had by vitriolic temper outbursts and control of the city funds.
Mondays on Memory Lane – MY DAILY WALK OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE IN 1980 – In the spring of 1980 I moved into the newly rennovated Brooklyn Eagle Warehouse at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. I was 24 years old and shared the 1,200 square foot apartment for a mere $700 a month, $350 each…yes $350! The Brooklyn Waterfront was still undeveloped and actually dangerous at night.
DUMBO didn’t exist, what did exist was a dumping ground for unwanted animals, dead animals and an occasional dead human being. In 1983, I got a job at Dancker, Sellew & Douglas Design Firm on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center. Each morning, to save to cost of the .75¢ subway fare, I headed out over then 100 year old Brooklyn Bridge by foot towards Manhattan, across the steps of City Hall (there was no security in those days), through unrenovated downtown Manhattan, to the Trade Center South Tower elevators which carried me up to my desk on the 102nd floor in the clouds. How much more of a quintessential New York daily routine could one have?! It was a wonderful time.