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Posts Tagged ‘new york city’

It was a big day in New York City on Sept. 24, 1970.

Of course, I guess it’s always a big day in New York City. But if you were able to walk through walls, ghost-style, and also able to park in front of any building you wanted, Theo Kojak-style, you could have seen the following eminences that day in the five boroughs:

Muhammad Ali met with boxing officials and underwent a physical examination at the offices of the New York State Athletic Commission, about a month before his comeback fight against Jerry Quarry. The New York Times described him as “subdued,” showing a “quiet demeanor and disinclination to boast.”

Sophia Loren and her husband, director Carlo Ponti, were in town to promote Loren’s latest movie, “Sunflower.” (According to Wiki, it was the first Western movie filmed in the U.S.S.R.)

-Director Otto Preminger was in town too, though not to shoot or promote a film. According to the Times (which will be my source for info henceforth unless otherwise credited), he attended a fundraiser at Sardi’s restaurant for U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell.

-Canadian actor Christopher Plummer stopped in town briefly, en route back home to be installed as a Companion of the Order of Canada. The Times reported him speaking enthusiastically about his next role as Frederick the Great, in between sips of a Bloody Mary in the Algonquin Hotel lobby.

-Other performers in town included comedians Bob and Ray, performing at the Golden Theater; gypsy violinist Sandor Lakatos; and Cleavon Little and Melba Moore in “Purlie” at the Broadway Theatre.

-Photographer Bruce Davidson was back in Harlem, showing copies of his book East 100th Street to some of the people he’d photographed for it two or three years prior.

-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was in town to pick up a re-election endorsement from the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association. (Mayor John Lindsay was in town too, of course, breaking ground on a new police station in the Bronx.)

-The Mets were on the road and the Yankees idle, but Joe Namath and the New York Jets were practicing at Rikers Island ahead of their Sunday, Sept. 27, game against the Boston Patriots.

(This roundup doesn’t include Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, who were in New York in character though maybe not in person. Their Manhattan-set The Odd Couple made its network TV debut the night of September 24.)

The usual bustle of life in New York went on that day despite a serious power shortage caused by unseasonably warm weather. Con Ed imposed voltage cuts for the third straight day, causing shrunken images on TV sets, while the New York Telephone Co. fired up auxiliary generators for the second day to power its offices and network.

And, amid all that, my dad was in New York City too.

092470

No one seems to remember what led him there, except that it must have been work-related, as he wouldn’t have just gone to New York by himself.

(The note “Stuff to Jac. Penfield” probably means that my grandparents dropped off some things with my other grandparents in Stamford, the Jacobellises, so they could bring it to my parents in Penfield, N.Y. That further suggests that my dad was in New York City on work duties: He would have stopped off in nearby Stamford and picked up the stuff himself, if he’d been able to.)

Inevitably, there is a record of this exchange, as there was for every long-distance call my grandparents were involved in. I wonder when they started that practice and why: Did they get hit with false charges at some point?

My parents have never much enjoyed going to New York City, so it doesn’t surprise me that a brief work trip would be forgotten all these years later. I don’t remember every single place my employers have ever sent me, either.

If anything, then, this calendar entry serves as a reminder of how fast things fade.

Work meetings and projects seem so important when you’re doing them — and if you’re getting sent out of town, that must be even more important.

But try remembering what you were working on five years later — much less 47 years later — and unless it was really major, like a corporate takeover or something, you’re bound to have forgotten.

Work stuff drives us gray, and gives us heart attacks and ulcers and restless nights … but it doesn’t take long for those super-important tasks to vanish into the dustbin and never get seen again.

(If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go apply to be a lighthouse keeper or a tree farmer or something.)

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Here’s a great idea: Let’s build a theme park based on American history, so the kids aren’t just having fun, they’re learning stuff too!

(‘Cause everyone knows that kids secretly go to theme parks to learn.)

Sounds like a non-starter, doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like something out of the Walt Disney playbook; it sounds like something your overeager seventh-grade social studies teacher might cook up.

Maybe that explains why neither my dad nor my aunt has any memory tracks related to this week’s calendar entry.

August 18, 1962.

August 18, 1962. The Mets, who are 49 1/2 games out of first, drop both ends of a doubleheader to St. Louis.

Freedomland U.S.A. (I’m mainly cribbing from the insanely thorough Wikipedia entry for my info) was a theme park in the Bronx whose footprint roughly resembled that of the contiguous United States.

Freedomland wasn’t strictly educational, per se: You wouldn’t get a lecture from an animatronic Paul Revere.

But, the park trod a more informational path than that traveled by Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Different parts of the park were designed to mimic different periods and places in America’s past.

So you weren’t just shooting a mock rifle when you sat down in the shooting gallery. You were shooting in the Cavalry Rifles on the Great Plains during the 19th century.

(I’m not sure what you were supposed to be shooting. Not Native Americans, I hope, nor buffalo either. Prairie dogs, maybe?)

And you weren’t just taking a boat ride when you visited the California part of the park; you were following in the footsteps of 19th-century Western fur trappers.

You get the picture. Again, the Wiki entry will give you a thorough idea of what else was on offer. So will this website maintained by Long Islander Rob Friedman, which includes photos, sound recordings and other memories related to Freedomland.

This advertising brochure from 1962 also gives you some idea of the scope of Freedomland: “…Freedomland is the U.S.A. … eight miles of navigable waterways and lakes, 10,000 beautiful trees … Freedomland cost more than $65,000,000 to build. No effort has been spared in creating for you — with amazing attention to detail — the pride of America’s past, the pulse of the present, and glimpses of the fabulous future.”

About that “fabulous future” part: Of course, this being the early ’60s, there was a “Satellite City” area in the park, complete with a simulated rocket ride and a ride in futuristic mini-cars. I bet those rides would be a trip to take now.

Alas, I must report that, here in Pennsylvania, the futuristic mini-car has not yet made much of an inroad into the popularity of the extended-cab pickup truck.

The park that gave us the futuristic mini-cars never caught on, either. Despite getting an opening-night promo from no less than Ed Sullivan, Freedomland was deep in debt by the end of its second season.

This New York Times blog post lists some of the park’s problems, including a fire during construction; graft demanded by city officials; and a roster of rides that didn’t offer young people the carnival-style excitement they expected.

Freedomland offered rides on burros and in antique automobiles … but roller coasters and bumper cars, not so much.

For the 1962 season, the park’s operators downplayed the historic American theme, adding more conventional rides. Which, in turn, led to a lawsuit from at least one original sponsor, the Benjamin Moore paint company, which sought to cancel its lease because the park had deviated from its original concept.

This particular American dream cratered after just five seasons. The park closed in September 1964, citing competition from the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing. (I’ve written about that fair in this space before.)

The land was quickly sold off and the rides torn down; a huge cooperative housing development occupies the property now.

Neither my dad nor my aunt remembers going there, or why it would be written on my grandfather’s calendar.

My dad’s only guess is that he might have gone to see a concert at the Moon Bowl, a venue for performances located in the Satellite City area.

Quite a few well-known musicians played there. Duke Ellington played the Moon Bowl almost exactly a year before my dad went. And a Stan Kenton performance just a few weeks before my dad went has been issued on CD. I haven’t been able to find out who might have been playing there on Aug. 18, 1962, though.

Today, the story of Freedomland offers a different kind of history lesson.

It’s an education in what happens when you offer the public something it doesn’t really want, no matter how lavishly you spend, how extensively you plan and how many parking spaces you create.

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Maybe 15 years ago, I came to a curious realization about my visits to Stamford. This was years after my grandparents had moved out of town, and my regular trips to Connecticut were at an end.

Stamford is not tremendously far outside New York City, and serves as a bedroom community for many people who commute into the city every day. (Nine Stamford residents died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.)

Stamford gets New York TV and radio stations, and by and large, its residents read New York newspapers. The ties between the two cities are significant.

And yet, in a dozen years of visiting Stamford at least once a year, I’d never once been to New York City.

There were reasons for this. New York in the Seventies and Eighties was still trying to play down the ironic “Fun City” image it got in the John Lindsay years as a crime-ridden, threatening, fading metropolis.  Out-of-towners — including some who had been content to visit in the ’50s and early ’60s — turned their backs.

My own parents had a similar experience. I don’t know the details, but I know they went to New York in the late ’70s or early ’80s to see some old friends, and had a poor enough time that they had no interest in going back. And they didn’t.

I was a big Mets fan as a kid. And yet, it never occurred to anyone to suggest a trip to the city for a a big-league game — I think because there was a built-in family aversion to going to New York. (The Yankees were around too, of course … but a trip to the South Bronx? Nope.)

My grandparents, as I’ve said before, were stay-at-home types, not tremendously adventurous by nature. My grandpa took my young dad to ballgames at New York’s various stadia in the Fifties, and my grandparents went to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens. But beyond that, they tended to get their kicks close to home. And as New York’s reputation got hairier, they were probably content to steer clear.

It is kind of sad, I suppose, to have the City that Never Sleeps a short train ride away and never take advantage of it. But that’s how it went down at the time.

That’s not to say my grandparents never left their house, though. This week’s calendar entry finds them heading out on the town — or at least planning to:

May 4-6, 1967.

I always thought New Haven suffered from much the same urban woes that plagued New York, on a smaller scale.

But apparently, the chance to hear “Gee, Officer Krupke” performed by Ivy League undergrads was too good a chance for my grandparents to pass up. Or at least it was until the show got cancelled, for reasons I am unable to determine.

This would have been my grandparents’ anniversary weekend. (The mention of sauerbraten at Hugo’s would have been their yearly anniversary dinner.)

So perhaps my grandfather hit upon the idea of an exotic night out, and looked to New Haven as the nearest easily accessible big city in which entertainment might be found.

This is not the only record of their visiting New Haven: A previous blog post about football mentions a 1969 birthday dinner for my Aunt Elaine at the city’s long-gone Les Shaw’s restaurant.

I believe my aunt was going to school in New Haven at the time, at what was then Southern Connecticut State College, which would have added to my grandparents’ interest in visiting.

(New Haven is also reputed to be the birthplace of the hamburger and the home of the best pizza in America, though I doubt either of those would have lured my grandparents there.)

So, there you have it. A night out on the town.

Not The City; the town.

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A little thematic music, for the old-school swingers and those who prefer it Seventies-style.

Some time ago, I described my dad as a good sport. This week I’m going to raise the ante.

I will go so far as to say that, many years ago … before the plaid pants and the Reliant K wagon  … my dad was pretty cool.

Well, OK, that might be pushing it.

But I am impressed to know that, as a young man, my dad spent some time at one of America’s most celebrated nightspots — a place practically synonymous with jazz, and equally synonymous with cool.

January 26, 1963.

This particular visit to Birdland, the famous New York City jazz club, appears to have been cancelled — perhaps due to the snow and frigid weather.

But my dad confirmed that he and other jazz fans from Stamford High made the drive into New York several times to dig the scene at Birdland:

We didn’t consider going to NYC to hear jazz a big deal.  It was only a 45-60 minute drive from Stamford (probably another 15 to find parking), we never had any safety problems (we always went as a small group), and jazz was more commonplace than it is now (I’m not including Kenny G and the like).  Probably only the relatively high expense for us high-schoolers prevented us from going more often!

To translate this for the rock n’ roll fans in the audience: This is kinda like finding out that your dad saw the Beatles at the Cavern Club, or Jimi Hendrix at a club in the Village, or the Ramones at CBGB’s.

Everybody who was anybody in the jazz business played the original Birdland between 1949 and its closing in 1965. Miles? Trane? Duke? Dizzy? Monk? Yup, all them and then some. (A partial list is here.)

When musicians weren’t playing there, they went to hang out and listen to whoever was onstage.

Legendary keyboardist Joe Zawinul told Jazz magazine in 1977: “To me Birdland was the most important place in my entire life. I met everybody including my beautiful wife in this club. I met Miles, I met Duke Ellington. I met anyone I ever cared for in this business. I used to hang out there every night.” (Quote taken from the excellent Weather Report Annotated Discography website.)

Birdland attracted more than just famous musicians. Jack Kerouac, for instance, made reference to the club in his writings. I doubt he was there when my father was. But it’s still kinda cool to imagine the angelheaded hipster saint of American literature in the same room as my dad.

Anyway, my dad’s recollections of the setting at Birdland:

 It was below ground (e.g., down cellar), dark, dank and cellar-like (e.g. with support columns in inconvenient places), quite low ceilinged, and surprisingly small.  No memorable decor, just very functional.  Doubt if the tables and chairs matched.  Lots of sound-absorbing material so the sound was very dead.  As our visits were all before we could legally drink (even tho’ drinking age in NY was then 18), we were seated in the less desirable seats and sipped coca cola.  But I think even the WORST seat was only about 30 feet from the stage, which was not really big enough for a big band (grand piano sat on the floor next to the stage).

Unless I’m mixing up my venues, there was a diminutive black man who met you at the door and took your money, circulated about, and ended up being the announcer.  Maybe PeeWee something, or some such…  He was allegedly almost as much of an institution as the venue itself.

(My dad is correct in his memories of Pee Wee Marquette, the house emcee at Birdland.)

The two artists my dad specifically remembers seeing at Birdland are Eric Dolphy — an innovative saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist who died too young — and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson.

Ferguson’s band included sax players Joe Farrell and Lanny Morgan and pianist Jaki Byard. According to my dad, the musicians were just as close to the crowd offstage as they were on the bandstand:

 I remember seeing several of the guys in the street – and chatting with them – before the performance.  We usually found our jazz “idols” very accessible.  (A buddy of mine had a great conversation with Dizzy Gillespie in the mens’ room of the Village Vanguard once.)

(OK, I’m gonna amend my assessment of a few paragraphs ago. This is like finding out that your dad shared a smoke break with George Harrison outside the Cavern Club, or ran into Hendrix wandering through the Village. Pretty cool, in other words.)

I asked him if he knew at the time that he was hanging out in a legendary place. His reply:

Maybe “legendary” is a little strong, but we knew it was THE happening place for jazz.  I mean, the same sort of feeling you have when you go to Fenway!

Nice comparison, I thought. Dank, crowded, small, support poles in bad places … yup, that’s Fenway.

My dad has some pretty good live jazz stories from other places, too. Maybe some other time I’ll share his story about seeing Chick Corea take a screwdriver to his malfunctioning electric piano while Miles Davis stared bullets at him from across the stage.

But for right now I’ll leave him at Birdland, sipping intently on a Coke and watching Eric Dolphy take an unaccompanied bass clarinet solo … and probably not appreciating that, in the eyes of future generations, he will seem like the epitome of cool.

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