Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas in Manhattan, New York, 2016

One of the best times to come and visit New York is during the holiday season, as it becomes more picturesque dressed up in Christmas finery.

This year, it seems that it is a much heavier crowd that has come to experience Christmas in New York. There is crowd control on 5th Ave. where the big numbers of people on both sides of the street are contained to walk in barricaded sidewalks, with specific lines going to Tiffany's, another one to the Trump Towers (residence of president-elect, Donald Trump, Jr.) on one side, and the rest are directed to cross over to the other side of the street. 

I had a list of places to see and illuminated streets to walk in Manhattan, to experience the 2016 Christmas holiday season in the Big Apple. I often wondered about the histories of the cathedral; the personalities in the creation of some of the most successful fashion and jewelry boutiques; the parks, and more, in this major city.

Central Park at the height of winter is just so beautifully landscaped with snow. In a couple of weeks, after Christmas, it will be.
 Tavern on the Green
 A carriage ride around the park


Named after Christopher Columbus, this traffic circle is located at the intersection of 8th Avenue, Broadway, Central Park South (West 59th Street) and Central Park West. It is from here that all distances from New York are measured.

(November 29 - December 24, 2016)
Here is a bit of European ambiance in winter - a Christmas market located at the entrance to Central Park, at 59th Street and Central Park West. Visitors and shoppers have a couple of holiday weeks to eat and shop. 



 768 Fifth Avenue

The Plaza, a twenty-storey luxury hotel-and-apartment  building. It is one of New York's historic landmarks.

Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed this French Renaissance-chateau style hotel, which opened to the public on October 1, 1907. Tourists are welcome to take a tour of the hotel's interiors.

Among the owners of the Plaza were Conrad Hilton, who bought it for $7.4 million in 1943; The Childs Company (which became Sonesta International) for $6.5 million in stock in 1955, then they sold it to Western Plaza International (which became the Westin Hotels) for $25 million in 1975. 

Donald Trump bought it for $407.4 million in 1988. With his first wife, Ivana, as the hotel's president, a $50 million renovation was undertaken. However, the hotel income was not enough to pay off the heavy debt-load trump incurred when he purchased the hotel. A deal with the creditors, headed by Citibank, entailed a takeover of 49% of the stake, in exchange for a $250 million debt forgiveness, with an interest rate reduction. This agreement was seen as a prepackaged-bankruptcy in November 1992.

Subsequently, CDL International and Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia purchased a controlling stake for $325 million in 1995. It was sold for $675 million in 2004 to El AL Properties,an Israeli owned Manhattan developer, who hired the Tishman Construction Corporation to undertake the renovation and conversion of the hotel, according to the landmark regulations. Closed in April 2005, it reopened in March 2008, with 282 hotel rooms and 152 condominium units. It is managed by Fairmont hotels and Resort.
In 2008, an underground mall was opened, featuring luxury brands. In 2011, a food hall was added, anchored by The Todd English Food Hall in collaboration with Chef Todd English.
On July 31, 2012, An Indian business group - Sahara India Pariwar bought a 75% controlling share from El Ad Properties for $570 million. 
Among the famous guests at the hotel wereJosephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Liza Minelli, Maelene Dietrich, Lena Horne, Ethel Merman, Shirley Bassey, Andy Williams. The Mills Brothers, Patti Page, and Peggy Lee had played at the Persian Room, and Miles Davis recorder a live album in 1958 there, too. The Beatles stayed here during their first visit to the United States in 1964.

Writer Truman Capote hosted the "Black and White Ball" at the Grand Ballroom in honor of Katherine Graham, the publisher. In this same ballroom, Donald Trump's wedding to Marla Maples was celebrated in 1993, with around a 1,500 guests.

It was a different time, then. Unaccompanied ladies were not permitted in the Oak Room, but were allowed to have lunch or tea at the Palm Court.

It was in this hotel, in September 1985, that finance ministers from developed countries me to discuss financial matters, where the "Plaza Accord" was signed - an agreement among the United States, Japan, West Germany, and Great Britain to bring down the value of the dollar against their currencies.

 On 58th Street

5th Avenue corner 57th Street

Tiffany & Co., with headquarters in New York, is an American luxury brand that is in the business of selling jewelry, watches, fragrances, personal accessories and small leather goods, stationery and China. They are most known for their diamond jewelry.

The original founders were Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young. They had put up a "stationery and fancy goods emporium" in Brooklyn, Connecticut, in 1837. In lower Manhattan, they sold different types of stationery under Tiffany, Young & Ellis. In 1853, Charles Tiffany took control and, mainly, focused on marketing jewelry as Tiffany & Co. They were among the first to put prices on their goods ( no more haggling) and only accepted cash payments. By then, their mail-order catalog was available, published in 1845.

Tiffany's was the supplier of products to the Union Army for swords, flags, and surgical tools. In 1877, they designed the New York Yankees insignia; revised the seal of the United States. They had won several accolades and grand prizes for jewelry and silverware in various international expositions. 

In 1877, they earned so much publicity when they took ownership of the French Crown Jewels, thus it strengthened their reputation as a company engaged in the business of selling very good, high-quality diamonds.

Charles Lewis Tiffany passed away in 1902, and was succeeded by his son Louis Comfort Tiffany who was named as the first Design Director. Under him, the company continued to design for the government agencies, such as the revised Medal of Honor for the navy awarded for combat, and a version for non-combat awardees in 1942, until the Tiffany Cross medal for awardees was eliminated in August of the same year.

A line of holiday cards was put together by Andy Warhol and Jean Schlumberger, Circa 1956-1962. In1968, Lady Bird Johnson had ordered a complete China-service, featuring a design of 90 flowers.

Avon Products Inc. bought Tiffany's in November of 1978 for $104 million in stock. It was, later on, sold to an investor group, with William R. Chaney at the helm, for $135.5  million, in cash. In a public sale of 4.5 million shares of common stock, $103.5 million was raised in 1987.

When the recession came about in 1990-1991, Tiffany started a mass-merchandising campaign about how affordable their products could be, by circulating their "How to Buy a Diamond" brochures and establishing a toll-free number. At their stores, they always maintained having the image of a luxury-goods brand in their product display.

In one of their collaborations in 2008, with Japan's SoftBank - a mobile-phone operator, Tiffanys designed a cellphone with more than 400 diamonds, with a total weight of 20 carats and a limited edition of just 10 copies, costing about 100,000,000 yen ( close to 800 British pounds, at the time).

Their flagship store since 1940, located on 5th Avenue corner 57th Street, was made popular in the movies "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with Audrey Hepburn and "Sweet Alabama" with Reese Witherspoon.


5th Avenue between 50th/51st Streets 
New York, NY 

It took several generations to build St. Patrick's Cathedral.  To raise money, there were contributions by poor immigrants and the generosity of notable citizens, and an ecclesiastical fair from October 22 to November 30, 1878 to shoulder the building of the cathedral based on the design of architect James Renwick. It took 21 years - from 1858 to 1879, to complete. 

This was the ambitious dream of, then, Archbishop John Hughes. He proposed “for the glory of Almighty God, for the honor of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, for the exaltation of Holy Mother Church, for the dignity of our ancient and glorious Catholic name, to erect a Cathedral in the City of New York that may be worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence, and wealth as a religious community, and at all events, worthy as a public architectural monument, of the present and prospective crowns of this metropolis of the American continent.” 

It was considered a foolish idea at that time as the location was too far, outside of the city. But, regardless of what people had to say, Archbishop Hughes continued to pursue his dream in building the most beautiful  gothic cathedral which he believed would become the "heart of the city" one day. Indeed it has! Now, St. Patrick's Cathedral  has become one of the iconic, religious landmarks of New York.
The manger scene at the cathedral, in anticipation of the birth of the Infant Jesus.

655 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10022

He was an Italian shoe designer who worked in Hollywood in the 1920s. When he returned to Italy, he founded his company, Salvatore Ferragamo, S.p.A. Known for making handmade footwear, his shoe designs had a scientific approach that led to the creation of the wedge heel and cage heel. 

He was the eleventh of fourteen children born to a poor family in Bonito, Italy. He made his first pair of shoes at the age of nine for the confirmation of his sister. After that, he decided that that was what his calling would be. After studying shoemaking in Naples, he put up a small shoe store in their home. In 1914, he decided to join his brother in Boston who was working in a boot company. After a brief stay there, he convinced his brothers to head to  Santa Barbara, California. There, he opened a shop for the repair and made-to-measure shoes. His handmade products became popular among the celebrities. But he realized that though his creations were beautifully designed, they hurt the feet. He decided to take a course in anatomy at the University of Southern California.

His famous creation in 1938, "The Rainbow," brought back the platform shoes to the West. It was a pair of platform sandals made for Judy Garland, inspired by her signature song "Over the Rainbow" in the Wizard of OZ in 1938. 

He returned to Italy in 1927, to set shop in Florence. His clientele included the wealthiest and most powerful women of the day, the likes of Eva Peron, Marilyn Monroe, and the Maharani of Coach Behar, and many others. He concentrated much of his efforts in experimenting with new designs and materials, and construction technics. Due to mismanagement and the bad economic times, he filed for bankruptcy in 1933. In the 1950s, he was back in business with a workforce of about 700 expert, shoe artisans, producing 350 pairs of handmade footwear.

Ferragamo applied for patents and registered trademarks for his creative shoe designs and inventions. in total 369 have been discovered among the patent files, at the Central Archives in Rome. His work makes up a library of information for shoemakers, showing them technic and styling.

His company has become one of the most famous Italian luxury-goods brand, with continued worldwide patronage among the rich and famous and those with discerning taste in search of good-fitting and comfortable footwear. Through the years, fashion accessories and ready-made fashionable wear have been added to the Ferragamo brand, as the family-owned company continues to grow.

653 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10022

The company was founded in Paris, in 1847, by Louis-François Cartier when he took over his master's workshop. His son, Alfred, took over the company in 1874. Alfred's sons - Lois, Pierre, and Jacques were responsible for taking the company to new heights, making it a name-brand, worldwide.
There is an interesting story about how the first men's wristwatch came to be in 1904. Louis' friend - A pioneer Brazilian Aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont, had complained to louis about how impractical it was to use a pocket watch while flying. Because of this, it got Cartier to the drawing board and he came up with a flat square-bezel design wristwatch which came to be known as the "Santos" watch.
The Société Cartier  is a French luxury goods conglomerate, that designs, manufactures, and markets watches and jewelry. In 1964, the family-owned business became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Compagnie Financière Richemont SA., with headquarters in Paris.
Among its clientele in the past were Wallis Simpson for whom the panther brooch was designed in 1940. King Edward VII of England ordered 27 tiaras for his coronation in 1902, and soon other royal orders came from the other European countries. Now a days, the Duchess of Cambridge - Kate Middleton, is said to be wearing the Cartier Ballon Bleu wristwatch, occasionally.


611 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10022

Click on Saks 5th Avenue for the light show

Saks 5th Avenue is an American luxury brand. It's origins began with Andrew Saks, who. founded Saks and Company in 1902. Ten years after, he passed away.

Saks & Co. was merged with Gimbel Brothers in 1923, which was owned by Andrew's cousin, Horace Saks, with Bernard Gimbel continuing to operate as an autonomous subsidiary. In 1924, Saks Fifth Avenue was opened in a prestigious location south of St. Patrick's Cathedral, facing the Rockefeller Center. It was in a building designed by architects Starrett & van Vleck, with features similar to the Gimbels Department Store in Pittsburg. Bernard Gimbel, who passed away in 1926 was succeeded by his brother, Adam Gimbel.

Adam Gimbel took on the position of president of Saks Fifth Avenue and expanded the company operations, opening seasonal branches in different states. By 1929, it opened a full-operational, full-line store in Chicago, then a resort store followed in Palm Beach, Florida. Saks Fifth continued to expand, opening in Beverly Hills in 1938, and in other states like Michigan, Pennsylvania. In 1952, their San Francisco store opened to compete with I. Magnin.

Changes in ownership came about. From being a family-owned and run business, it was acquired by BATUS Inc. in 1973, and expansion projects continued in the Midwest and in the South. In 1990, Investcorp S.A. bought Saks Fifth Avenue and took it public in 1996 as Saks Holdings, Inc. Profitt's, Inc. Took over Saks Holdings Inc., and changed its name to Saks, Inc.

In the international expansion programs, by 2000, stores opened in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kazakhtans, and Mexico City.

In 2013, Hudson's Bay Company  (HBC) acquired the parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue. It was estimated that the real estate value of the NY flagship store was around $800 million to $1 billion, responsible for 20% of the annual sales of $620 million, while others locations were not as profitable. With its profits, the 5th Avenue location began a three-year renovation/restoration program since 2015, with a budget of $250 million.

This year, Saks Fifth Avenue opened in Toronto, Canada, and another full-line store near the World Trade Center in New York.

This is an area in midtown Manhattan, between 48th and 51st Streets, from Fifth to Sixth Avenues. Now a famous National Historic Landmark since 1987, it started out as a piece of land - 22 acres - that was leased from Columbia University, upon which a large complex of 19 high-rise commercial buildings were built.

At Christmas time, it is magnificently illuminated and decorated for the holiday season with the giant Christmas tree, with the lighting ceremony taking place on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. It is broadcasted on live television by NBC to hundreds of millions of televiewers all over the world. This  has become a national tradition since 1933. 
(November 30, 2016 - January 7, 2017)

The tree, which had measured anywhere from sixty nine  to a hundred feet through the years, is lit with 50,000 LED, multi-colored lights, and topped with a crystal star since 2004. The star was designed by a German artist, Michael Hammers, measuring 9.5 feet and weighing 550 pounds. It is made of 25,000 Swarovski crystals, with one million facets and illumined by LED lights.
The herald angels were designed by artist Valerie Clarbout and are annually used to decorate the Channel Garden in front of the tree, since 1969.
A Skating rink was added in the plaza in 1936. A symbolic representation of the tree was given by the center as "from the beginning...a gathering place and reflection of what is happening in the world." This main attraction at the center is expected to be visited by about 125 million this 2016. It is such a beautiful wintry scene to see ice skaters in motion, right beneath the Christmas tree.
The view of the Christmas tree from E 48th Street

After several lease options with Columbia University had expired, the land below the Rockefeller Center was sold to the Rockefeller Group for 400 million in 1985. In 1989, the Mitsubishi Group's subsidiary - Mitsubishi Estate, purchased the Rockefeller Center and the Rockefeller Group. It was sold to a consortium of owners, organized by David Rockefeller in 1996, with Goldman Sachs (taking 50% percent of the ownership), plus some international investors like Gianni Agnelli, Stavros Niarchos.  Tishman Speyer (led by Jerry Speyer) and the Lester Crown family of Chicago, bought the original buildings and land for $1.85 billion in 2000.

An all-year round Christmas store on 5th Avenue

Holiday market stalls
On 50th Street and 6th Avenue

The Radio City Music Hall is part of the Rockefeller Center extension. It was completed in 1932 and was originally intended to become the "the largest and most opulent theater in the world." Notable for its interior design by Donal Deskey in European Modernist style, it has been declared  as one of the best designs of Art Deco. With a capacity sitting for 6000 guests, it was declared a New York City landmark in 1978.

For the last 70 years, an annual musical show - the Christmas Spectacular - is presented during the holiday season.

Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald have performed here. This has also been the venue for the Grammy and Tony Awards. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and has been visited by over 300 million people.

Illuminations on 6th Avenue


Bryant Park came to be in 1884 when Reservoir Park was renamed to honor the New York Post editor and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. To repurpose the area, the reservoir was removed and the construction of the New York Library commenced. Other structures were also added like the terrace gardens, public facilities, and kiosks. This 9.063 acre is a privately managed park located in the borough of Manhattan, in New York City, where the main entrance is located on Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) between 40th and 42th Streets. It is situated over an underground structure upon which the new library facilities were built in 1980s, when the park was excavated.

This holiday season, Bryant Park has been turned into a Winter Village with a European-inspired open-air market, modeled after the Christkindlemarkt, adding to the Christmas holiday scene in the city.

The winter village holiday shops began in 2002, in see-through "jewel box" kiosks, offering food and artisanal goods. The kiosks are permanent fixtures in the park, all-year round, making the park a regular destination. Some of the best restaurants in town also have a presence there.
Holiday Shops Schedule: 
October 29, 2016 - January 2, 2017
Winter Ice-Skating Rink Schedule: 
October 29, 2016 - March 5, 2017
The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park features an ice-skating rink. It is free admission to the ice skaters. There are skating shows and special events and other activities in the winter village also scheduled for the rest of this Christmas season.
301 Park Avenue, New York, New York, 10022-6897

The Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan is a luxury hotel situated in 2 historic buildings. First, there was the Waldorf Hotel and, secondly, the Astoria Hotel. Thus, the two names made up for the hotel's name as Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The original location on 5th Avenue, which opened in 1893,  was on the Astoria properties.  In 1929, it was demolished and became the site for the Empire State Building.

The present location in Midtown Manhattan, is an Art-Deco style building designed by Schultz & Weaver, and was finished in 1931. It earned the reputation of being a luxurious and glamorous hotel, often publicized for the lavish dinners and galas, conferences and fund-raising events by political figures, celebrities, and the rich and famous. After World War II, during the cold war, the World Peace Conference of March 1949 was held there, where Stalinism was denounced.

The Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts was a subsidiary of Hilton Hotels.  Conrad Hilton had acquired the management rights to the hotel on October 12, 1949. It was bought by Hiton Hotels Corporation in 1972. it had undergone extensive renovations in the 1980s and 1990s. In October 2014, the Anbang Insurance Group of China purchased the Waldorf Astoria New York for US$1.95 billion. By 2017, the hotel will be closed for a three-year structural renovation, with some hotel rooms slated to  undergo conversion into condominium units. 

(straight ahead)
230 Park Ave, New York, NY 10169 
(between E 45th and E 46th Streets)

This New York City landmark, a 35-storey building is located in the middle of the Park Avenue, in Midtown Manhattan. It was built in 1929 by Warren & Westmore, in Beaux-Arts style. The building was designed with a pyramid shape and crowned by an ornate cupola. Built as the New York Central Building, it was once the tallest  in the terminal complex around the Grand Central station.  

There are two portals where traffic goes through in two directions from Park Avenue Viaduct, at street level to the highway, to Grand Central Terminal to 42nd street, and back to the street level. Uptown and downtown vehicular traffic pulsates through this building, especially, during rush hours.

The building was sold to General Tire & Rubber Company. it was, then renamed to New York General Building. It was sold to Helmsley-Spear, and Leona Helmsley renamed it the Helmsley Building. The Helmsley-Spear Management sold to Max Capital in 1998, for $253 million, with the stipulation that the building would not be renamed again. In 2006, it was sold to Istithmar of the the royal family of Dubai for $705 million. in 2007, it went to Goldman Sachs for over $1 billion. In May of 2015, it was sold to a property firm, RXR Realty, for $1.2 billion.

This holiday tour of Manhattan has come to an end for me.  May you all have a wonderful Christmas celebration, wherever you may be.



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