There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man’s bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die.
– Walt Whitman, American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist
We celebrated Father’s Day on our fifth day in New York. It was another great outing – except that David didn’t get the Father’s Day gift I was hoping to give him, but more on that later. In the morning, we headed to the Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street, 212.570.3600), in the Lower Village and Meatpacking district sections of lower Manhattan. As we walked through Chelsea Market, we passed Budakkan (75 9th Avenue, 212.989.6699), a cavernous Asian fusion restaurant where David and I had a memorable dinner back in September 2008. It was one of the best meals I ever had. We went to the Budakkan in Philadelphia a few summers back, but it was not as good as the one in New York.
The Whitney Museum: for modern art aficionados
The Whitney Museum, which was founded in 1931 by socialite, sculptor, and art collector Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, moved into its fourth home in May 2015, along the Hudson River. The new main building of glass and steel, designed by Renzo Piano, comprises nine stories and spans a total of 200,000 square feet for indoor galleries, outdoor exhibition spaces, theater, research areas, dining, and other spaces. It is an impressive piece of architecture, embracing industrial, sculptural, and contemporary aesthetics. The top floor boasts an outdoor terrace with amazing views of Lower Manhattan buildings before us and the South entrance of the High Line Park below us. The next two levels below feature outdoor galleries, and all three floors are connected by exterior stairways.
The museum’s collection focuses on 20th and 21st century American art, with more than 3,000 artists – mostly living, which is an emphasis – represented. More than 22,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, videos, films, and other artifacts compose the museum’s permanent collection. Back in 1907, recognizing that American artists with new and innovative concepts were finding it difficult to show and sell their artwork, Whitney became their advocate by purchasing their art and building a formidable collection. In 1914, she opened up the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village to showcase these artists. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art declined Whitney’s offer to contribute more than 500 pieces of art from her personal collection and the newly opened Museum of Modern Art’s collection focused on European modernism, she decided to exhibit her art by founding a museum in 1930. The first museum, which was located in Greenwich Village, opened in 1931. The museum moved in 1954 to a building connected to the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street, but moved again to Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side in 1966 when it needed more space for its growing collection. Growth was again the reason for its move to its current location, which is such a lovely, open-feeling space.
While I’ll admit that some of the artwork didn’t resonate with me – I’m thinking of the videos of this one Chinese-American artist who put together vignettes of her mother’s life in an enclosure surrounded by objects from her childhood and home – I did appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to these types of avant-garde works. When the kids and I descended one flight of exterior stairs to the lower level and were confronted by a flat-screen television exhibiting (literally) one artist’s penis-filled video, they turned around and smirked at me. Isabella wanted to know how this was art. I just shrugged. It’s in the Whitney Museum, so it must be art!
High Line Park: revitalization at its best
As I mentioned earlier, the southern entrance to the High Line Park is right next to the Whitney Museum, so once we were finished with the museum, we ascended the steps to the linear park, which was a great revitalization project that began in 1999. In its heyday, the early 1930s, the train line was part of the West Side Improvement Project, running from 34th Street to Spring Street’s St. John’s Park Terminal. “Designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue,” trains on this line carried goods to and from Manhattan’s largest industrial district, according to the park’s site. The interstate trucking industry all but displaced the trains by the 1980s. When a group of property owners banded together to get the train line demolished, Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast, went to court to preserve the line.
In 1999, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who lived in the High-Line neighborhood, founded Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the High Line and converting it into a public open space. Design competitions took place, the transportation agency that owned the line donated it to the City in 2005, and groundbreaking began in 2006. The entire process took 15 years, with section 1 from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street completed in 2009, section 2 from West 20th Street to West 30th Street completed in 2011, and the final section, which is the northernmost section of the park, to the Rail Yards, completed in September 2014.
Various activities are scheduled throughout the High Line, from dance parties to performances to star-gazing and arts events to horticulture tours. A covered section of the High Line features vendors peddling organic popsicle, gelato, and other tasty treats, as well as photographs, artisan goods, and High-Line swag. We walked almost to the end, getting off to make a direct beeline for our next destination of the Empire State Building. The temperatures were climbing and at some points we were walking in a line like bumper-to-bumper traffic, but we had our moments of just enjoying a walk through this elevated park and enjoying the fruits of preservationists’ labor.
I noticed when we were heading from our apartment to our friend Mason’s condo in the Queens along the Hudson River an abandoned elevated stretch of train tracks that ended abruptly. As this part of town, the Hudson, is being built up, I’m imagining another such park in the sky waiting in the wings.
Empire State Building: the center of Midtown Manhattan
When I think of the Empire State Building (350 5th Avenue between West 33rd and 34th streets), I am reminded of a story my father told me and my sisters when we were young. Every morning on his way to work, he used to walk by the Empire State Building as it was being built. My father was in New York around 1929, and construction began in March 1930. My father loved New York. He called it the City. When he and his cousins moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s, after WWII, he called Los Angeles the country, and when he moved to Terra Bella – between Bakersfield and Fresno in the Central Valley of California – he called it the camp. At the time of his storytelling, my initial reaction was, “Wow, Dad, you’re old!” Since then, however, I marvel at what he was witnessing – the building of this great building. Once construction began, the building rose 4 ½ stories each week. In 1931, the building, with its beautiful art-deco interior, opened, with President Herbert Hoover hitting a button in Washington, DC, that turned on the lights of the Empire State Building.
Thankfully, we encountered short lines and small crowds. Again, I think this is because it was mid-June and people hadn’t all gone on vacation yet. We ascended to the 86th Floor observatory. I’ll admit to being acrophobic, so I took photos with caution. The sky was clear and you could truly see forever. According to the guides, you can see five states on a clear day – New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. The views were amazing, and the kids were in awe of all those buildings all around us. As we descended, David and I mentally crossed off going to the Empire State Building from our list of things to do in New York.
Inglorious ending to Father’s Day
The only blot on our day was planning our evening around what we thought would be a Golden State Warriors Finals victory and celebration. We bypassed the recommended Katz’s Deli (205 E. Houston, 212.254.2246) on our way home. We walked in, but nobody was in the mood for foot-tall sandwiches that just seemed too much of a good thing. Instead, we grabbed Subway sandwiches – slumming it – back to our apartment. Suffice it to say, the Warriors lost the championship that was theirs to win, and there went my Father’s Day present to David. Not that Isabella cared in the least. We tried to remember that we were still on vacation. By morning, at least for me, I woke up thinking about the day’s adventure before us.