Sunday, January 29, 2012

The flood this time - continued

All in all, I spent over 6 hours yesterday dealing with cleanup from the mini flood in the building's basement. The box of DVDs that was sitting on the floor absorbed enough moisture that the box itself had to be thrown out. But the contents were, by and large, dry. The DVD box for The Chronicles of Narnia pt1 suffered some damage. I'm not sure how that disc even got into my collection - it must have snuck in with some of the review copy DVDs I got when I was running the video store. I've never seen the movie(s). And I guess I should confess that I've never read the books. It's just as well, if I had them, they'd probably have been lost in the flood, too.

Which is my way of noting that I have had several storage places over the years. All of the Vermont ones (with the singular exception of a friend's barn which amusingly enough has holes in the roof) have had water damage to my stuff -damage to the privately printed complete Richard Burton translation of the Arabian Nights was the real heartbreaker. I had my copy since my days running a very big bookstore in New York City, the Bookmasters store across 33rd Street from Madison Square Garden, and across 7th Avenue from the Statler-Hilton Hotel.

The last time I saw that set of books for sale was in Boston in the late 1980s or early 1990s. (I'd get lost in time if I tied to come up with the right year...) and it went for $1,000.00 I think my copy is currently in storage in my friend's barn. I don't remember what all I sold when I first went flat out broke a few years ago. Sigh. Sold all the Edward Gorey books, a lot of the Roman and Greek classics I never got around to reading, the resource materials I had for all that "in a timeline as written" reading that I never got around to (ancient maps, books of architecture and costume, etc.) Ah, well. Semi-retirement's coming.

Oh. That Bookmasters store.

Yes, that's me somewhere around November 1977.
The books and promo materials were delivered in an ambulance.
I have a picture of it around here somewhere. I'll look.

Madison Square Garden was built on the former site of the Pennsylvania Station, NYC's great transit terminal. By my day, the station had been torn down, moved underground and had the Garden built over it. The loss of the old building used to be regarded as one of the great architectural tragedys of the modern world. I never got to see it. I do remember the old Whatchi ma hootziz over on Lexington there, you know , ah ---- Grand Central Station. So, I can sort of suss out from the photos how Penn Station looked and must have felt. Sorta.

These pics from the wonderful Shorpy site give a good idea of the sheer size of the place...

These give a good idea of the atmospherics:

So, that's what used to be across the street from the store. Across the street on he 7th Avenue side was, as I mentioned, the Stater-Hilton Hotel. Which had previously been The Pennsylvania Hotel. Which just celebrated its 93rd Birthday 4 days ago. Inside the Main Entrance, to the left of the lobby, walled off and unused, is a huge old dining room/supper club. The room has two raised wings for a total space of 58 feet by 142 feet. The ceiling is 22 feet high. It used to be the Cafe Rouge. Although its had several uses over the years, including an ignominious turn as a souvenir shop (with the old dance floor showing underneath the worn linoleum), I've read that it's all still there, the fountain and everything.

It was the premier night club in New York City in the late 1930's and early 1940's. Artie Shaw played there. During his engagement in November of 1939, he quit the business there. Benny Goodman played there. Duke Ellington played there. Basie played there. Most of the big bands did. And for about three years at the beginning of the 1940's, it was home base for Glenn Miller and his Orchestra. Miller hired a couple of the unemployed Shaw musicians, including Shaw's main arranger, Jerry Gray. While with Miller, Gray came up with "Pennsylvania 6, 5000", which became a huge Miller hit. It's the hotel's telephone number, said to be the oldest number in continuous use.

There were broadcasts from the Cafe several nights a week, and on weekends there were even broadcasts in the late afternoons - it was also the site of many of Miller's "Sunset Serenades" USO shows. There were also broadcasts from the hotel's cellar club., around the corner and slightly down the side street, the Madhattan Room. For a couple of seasons it was the home base of Benny Goodman from the days when Harry James and Ziggy Elman were in the trumpet section, and  Gene Krupa was the drummer, when Swing was was becoming king.

Over the years, the Hotel fell on hard times, and its once great reputation nearly destroyed. The current owner bought it in 1997 with the intention of demolishing it for a new high rise. A group formed to save it, but their attempts to get landmark status for the building and for the Cafe failed. Last December the owners suddenly changed their minds and say they now intend to renovate it. 



Ricola said...

Thanks for all the photos and yet another great history lesson! And I'm so sorry to hear about your flood problems!

sdt said...

Thanks, Rico. Glad you liked the photos, I've been keeping some of those for just the right time. I keep forgetting to mention htat most are hi-res. Right click on them and open them in another window - if your cursor shows a little + sign, click again and the photo will enlarge even more. The details, especially in the Penn Station before it opened photos, are just amazing. I love that there was an exit for "Carriages and Taxicabs".