New York City from East to West: 47th Street

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Julie Schwietert Collazo
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It’s spring (finally!), which means I can resuscitate “New York City from East to West,” a series of posts I started a couple years ago; each one takes you on a quick but appreciative cross-town journey that’s faster and, I’d like to think, more enjoyable than a ride on the bus. No matter how many times I’ve walked a certain street featured in the series, I inevitably see something I’ve never noticed before.

Today, I walked across 47th Street, starting on First Avenue, right outside the gates of the United Nations.

Outside the United Nations. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
Outside the United Nations. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

It’s one of those places that most New Yorkers have probably never visited (we have); if they have they’ve probably visited only once, which is too bad. Apart from the general building tour, which is interesting if you’re intrigued by politics and diplomacy, the UN hosts art and educational exhibits and its grounds are studded with sculptures, gifts from member nations. I’d wait to visit though, if I were you; an ongoing renovation project, which was scheduled for completion in 2013, has not yet finished.

Just across the street, on the west side of First Avenue, is Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a strip of park that runs the length of the entire block from First to Second Avenues. At the eastern end is Dag, a café with both indoor and outdoor seating.

Dag Café. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Dag Café. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

At the western end, you’ll find a farmers’ market each Wednesday. On the northern side of this block is the Church of the Holy Family, built in 1965 on the site of a former stable.

Interior of the Church of the Holy Family. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Interior of the Church of the Holy Family. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

It’s a small church, but a lovely one, especially this time of year, as it has a small pocket garden attached to its side. The garden is far less busy than the plaza across the street, and is a peaceful spot if you want to sit and read or, as I did, feed your kid.

If you’re the hungry one, press on to 47th and Park, where you’ll find a diverse line-up of food trucks plating up everything from Korean and tacos to Korean tacos.

Food trucks. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Food trucks. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

If you want to eat al fresco, there are plenty of places to join the Park Avenue office workers who have also picked up their lunches from the trucks.

As you keep making your way west, you’ll find two entrances to Grand Central Terminal, which may surprise you, since everyone associates 42nd Street with Grand Central.

One of Grand Central's many far-flung entrances. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
One of Grand Central’s many far-flung entrances. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

“No one is quite sure exactly how many entrances there are….” wrote journalist Rick Lyman on the occasion of the transit hub’s 75th birthday (it just celebrated its 100th last year), and that seems to be true– I can’t find any definitive, official count either. Here, though, at the corner of 47th and Madison, are two: one with escalators and, a few paces behind it, an elevator entrance; they both opened in 1998.

Just across Madison, on the northwest side of the street, you’ll find The Center for Fiction, a spot for book lovers I stumbled upon for the first time about a year ago.

Center for Fiction. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Center for Fiction. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Both a literary events center and bookstore, their stock is strongest, as the name suggests, in fiction, but browse their shelves of used books in the back room and on the carts sitting on the sidewalk, and you’ll find non-fiction titles as well.

If you’re working on your own novel, you might want to step into Phil’s Stationery at 9 East 47th Street. It’s just the kind of store we’re in danger of losing here.

Phil's Stationery. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Phil’s Stationery. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Staples and Office Depot, it is not, which is precisely why it’s so fabulous. It’s a cluttered mess, especially toward the back, where piles of dust-covered boxes with old, corded phones and other relics of technology sit haphazardly, blocking the aisles and serving no apparent purpose. But you’ll also find some unexpected treasures: a box of calligraphed ink stamps, an odd little music box, that sort of thing. You probably won’t find what you’re looking for (I didn’t); it’s definitely the kind of place where you go without any object in mind.

Once you cross Fifth Avenue, 47th Street becomes a gauntlet of wheeler dealers; you’ve entered New York’s Diamond District. Scheisters from Brazil, Africa, and Brooklyn stand outside businesses, ready to whisk you inside for a nice engagement ring or “statement piece” (What this one says is entirely up to your interpretation):

A "statement piece" for sale in the Diamond District. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
A “statement piece” for sale in the Diamond District. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Keeping west, you’ll find other places like Phil’s and the Diamond District, spots we’d be worse off for losing. Who knows about these two theaters, for example, which lie just beyond the better-known Ethel Barrymore Theater (currently showing “A Raisin in the Sun,” featuring Denzel Washington, who plays his part on the same stage where “Raisin” debuted):

The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

and

The Actors Temple. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
The Actors Temple. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

This is why it’s good to get out and walk the streets, even without a destination or plan to guide you: to learn these places exist and to get to know more about them.

Opening in New York: Xavier Carbonell Exhibit at Jadite Galleries

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
It is often the case that people I meet while traveling stay with me, by which I mean that they stay in my mind and my heart. Though there are some wonderful exceptions, I’ll never see most of those people again. The memories of our encounters remain, but our paths don’t cross again.

Sometimes, though, life intervenes in an unexpected and exciting way.

Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell.
Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell, a wonderful couple I met in Catalunya a few years ago. Rosa and Xavier are both artists and from the moment I stepped into their home and studio in the town of Olot, I knew they were exceptionally special people. Though our time together was brief, they made a powerful impression on me, and I left feeling grateful for our encounter, but sad that I’d probably never see them again.

And then, an email. Rosa and Xavier were coming to New York! Xavier was having an exhibit of his paintings at Jadite Galleries in Manhattan. Could I come? They’d love to see me. And so, here we are, two years later, about to see each other again.

Jadite is a small gallery that’s considerably off the artsy circuit of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, but it’s been a mainstay on West 50th Street since it opened in 1985. Many of the artists it features are from Europe and Latin America, and Xavier, who has exhibited here before, will be showing works from a series called “Travels and Paintings”. The show, which opened on April 3 and has the artist reception tonight, will run through April 26.

Now Open in NYC: Paper Factory Hotel

Text & Instagram Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
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Six shots from Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City.
Six shots from Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City.

We’ve lived in Long Island City for just over 10 years now, and in the past few years, we’ve seen the neighborhood transform dramatically. One of the main changes we’ve seen is the proliferation of hotels. Long Island City’s proximity to Manhattan–one stop from Grand Central on the 7 train and just a five-minute ride from Midtown on the N or Q– not to mention favorable changes to zoning laws, made developers willing to take a gamble on this industrial area. And though I don’t have any hard numbers, it seems like their bets are, for the most part, paying off. We frequently see tourists with slightly bewildered expressions lugging their suitcases down the subway steps, and the number of restaurants and services around the neighborhood has increased.

Most of these hotels are chains, offering little character, barely distinguishable from one another in anything other than name. An exception is the just-opened Paper Factory Hotel on the corner of 37th Avenue and 36th Street, right next to the 36th Street M/R subway station. The 122-room boutique hotel is, as its name suggests, housed in a former paper factory, and many of the design elements make reference to the building’s past. A paper machine sits in the basement, which will soon be transformed into a restaurant featuring organic and vegetarian and vegan-friendly cuisine. A massive tower of books is the visual centerpiece of the spiral staircase that leads from the restaurant to the lobby level, which already has an operational café and will soon have a bar as well.

The website Hotel Chatter reports that rates are “lowish”: $145-189, which are low for New York. And though I haven’t yet toured the rooms (I made an impromptu evening visit yesterday and just checked out common spaces), the photos in the Hotel Chatter post suggest to me that Paper Factory offers way more room at a much more comfortable price point than Manhattan hotels. I happened to speak with the designer while I was visiting and he said many of the guests who have stayed there so far (officially, the hotel hasn’t had its hard launch yet) are folks sent by MoMA and Kaufman Astoria Studios (which is about to open a fabulous weekend food and flea market), so expect a cultured, artistically-engaged clientele.

All the Things We’ve Lost

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
**
Had the guidebook not been a frantic exercise in just getting it done, there are so many things I would have done along the way.

Like really indulged my tendency to jump into the rabbit hole of research.

Like making sure every business I love is added. (I tried my best.)

Like keeping numerical tabs of all the things we’ve lost.

The out-of-use high dives of Astoria Park Pool. (Photo by Francisco Collazo).
The out-of-use high dives of Astoria Park Pool. (Photo by Francisco Collazo).

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The years since the guidebook was last updated^ have not been particularly kind to New York- the state or the city. In many towns throughout the Upstate, population has declined across the board. In fact, I don’t think there was a single city or town I checked where population had increased. And while most of the state’s travel regions keep trying to brand themselves as four-season destinations, there are vast parts of the state that simply shut down once the leaves flutter off trees and frost covers the ground.

But most of all, dozens upon dozens of small businesses have shuttered. If this could be attributed solely to normal life changes (ie: owners growing older and not having an interested successor to run the business), I’d feel sad enough about these closures, but I’d be able to accept them. What seems to be the case, though, is the blindsiding double whammy of impossible rents (especially in NYC) and the incursion of chain and “discount” stores that promise convenience on the cheap.

Isn't this better than Chipotle? (Photo by Francisco Collazo).
Isn’t this better than Chipotle? (Photo by Francisco Collazo).

This is something we all talk about of course- the Chipotlification of Manhattan, I’ve called it, or, if you prefer, the Walmart-ification of smaller towns. We’re aware of it and we know, on a small scale, that it’s impacting our communities. But it was only by seeing so many examples of closures that I realized just how extensive our loss is.

I don’t want to start preaching about how critical it is to shop local, support Mom-n-Pop shops, to buy things made by the hands of the person who’s selling it to you, and try, as much as possible, to funnel our spending dollars into independently owned businesses, where service and knowledge tend to be leagues beyond those offered by big box stores, but really, I wish you would do all these things. The places that make us unique are disappearing and, for me at least, there’s a nearly inarticulable sense of loss about that.

I’m wrapping up the guidebook now and have a full plate of work through at least the end of November, but periodically I’ll be featuring some of the businesses I love that have managed to hang on through Chipotlification/Walmartification. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about places that have already disappeared (I can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is that we not forget what places were), I recommend the blogs Scouting NY, Abandoned NY, and Untapped Cities. I also love The Bowery Boys website and podcast.


^That was presumably in 2009, but I’ve found that a good 60-70% of the book actually hasn’t been updated for 10-20 years.

Welcome, Guardian readers

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
**

Welcome to those of you who are finding your way here after participating in or reading the transcript of the recent Northeast US travel chat on The Guardian’s website.

As the author of the sixth edition of the travel guidebook Moon New York State (forthcoming in 2014), I was asked to be on the panel to talk about New York City and the enormous, diverse “Upstate”– everything north, east, and west of the city.

And oh, the city…. It really is as crazy and wonderful as you’ve heard….

The Naked Cowboy and Elmo in Times Square.
The Naked Cowboy and Elmo in Times Square.

I hope the chat provided valuable information that will help you plan your own travels. In case you missed them, here are links to some previous posts I’ve published here on the blog about my favorite places and activities in the city:

30 Free Things to Do in NYC

8 Ways to Stretch Your Travel Dollar in NYC

How to Travel to NYC with Kids

And a series of posts about overlooked places in NYC

Have questions? Feel free to email me at collazoprojects[at]gmail[dot]com.