Vintage New York: A Little Christmastime Tour

I’m thrilled to welcome a guest blogger to Circa 19xx this week! My friend Susan Robinson just returned from a Christmastime tour of New York City and is recreating part of her trip for us.  Susan is no stranger to Circa 19xx; if you follow the blog you might recall that I featured her beautiful home in an earlier post.  She certainly knows how to create lovely rooms, but, more than that, she knows how to grab hold of an experience with both hands and live it fully.  Susan frequently travels abroad, and as she recounts her itineraries with friends she speaks with such animation and enthusiasm that you get the sense she’s desperate to take them there, to show them the things that charmed and amazed her, if only in their imaginations.  This latest trip kept her a little closer to home, but  she still approached each day with that same wide-eyed wonder and compulsion to see a place all the way.  I’ve been to New York many times, but never at Christmas (the closest I ever came was shopping at the Macy’s on 34th Street—yes, THAT Macy’s—two weeks before the Thanksgiving Day parade.  They were still touching up the huge turkey mural on the street in front of the store in preparation for the big day).   Now, through her post, we can all take a little virtual stroll along with her as she shows us a few icons of vintage New York.  So, grab a cup of coffee, and maybe one or two (or six) Christmas cookies, and enjoy.  ~ Jennifer

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Christmas in New York! There is nothing quite like it! I just returned from my second trip to New York City in December and it takes me back to my childhood like no other city can at this time of the year. A New York Christmas means that department store windows are the animated, glitzy and glamorous extravaganza that they used to be when I was a child. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is still the biggest decorated tree you will ever see. And the lyrics, “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday cheer. In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas” never rang so true. Here are a few of the iconic standards of decades gone by that still make me believe there will be Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men.

The first icon is Radio City Music Hall, the Art Deco theater brainchild of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the 1930’s. It officially opened on Dec. 27, 1932 and remains the largest indoor theater in the world. Over 700 movies opened there ranging from King Kong to The Sound of Music, but the most famous annual event since its debut in 1933 is the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.The precision dance team, called The Rockettes, is famous for their high stepping chorus line leg kicks, beautiful dancers, costumes and intricate dance routines. In the beginning, there were just 16 dancers, but it has grown to a chorus line of 36 dancers proficient in tap, modern, jazz and ballet. In the lobby, a gigantic and very delicate crystal chandelier in the shape of a tree hangs from the high ceiling. It is surrounded by stunning Art Deco lights. Inside the theater, reveals a stage that was built to resemble a setting sun. It houses remarkably sophisticated hydraulic powered elevators that allow special effects in staging—a technique way before its time and, of which, elements of the mechanism are still working from the 30’s. Standing outside Radio City Music Hall on a crisp December evening waiting to see the Rockettes is the quintessential Christmas experience.

Radio City Music Hall
An Art Deco light fixture in detail and all glammed up for Christmas within the lobby of Radio City Music Hall.
The sun sets (figuratively) on the Radio City stage as the lights go up just before the start of the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular.
Radio City Music Hall
People have been doing this—standing in line at Christmastime to see the Rockettes—for decades.

Native New Yorkers and most movie buffs are familiar with the phrase, “meet me under the clock.” The clock they are referring to is the Grand Central Terminal Clock that sits in the middle of the main concourse. This great lady has surpassed her 100th birthday. For decades, during commuter hours crowds have congregated there waiting for other people because of its central location and convenience. The clock was designed by Henry E. Bedford and has four convex faces made of opalescent glass. Each side is backlit to give off a beautiful golden glow. The clock debuted in 1942 in the film Grand Central Murder. It has been the setting for marriage proposals, weddings, the background for photos, and several other classic movies such as North by Northwest and The Cotton Club. Some more recent films featuring the clock are The Godfather, Men in Black and Superman. Being the hopeless romantic I am, I can visualize myself standing there as a young girl waiting for my soldier to come home from the war and sweep me off my feet under the clock. Ahhhhh…

The beautiful and romantic clock at Grand Central Station.

Another still popular and iconic meeting place in the Theater District in midtown Manhattan is Sardi’s restaurant.  Sardi’s opened in 1927 and became known as a before-and-after-theater hangout as well as for opening night.  Owner, Vincent Sardi, loved the theater and kept it open very late after the shows closed on Broadway for performers to stop in for something to eat and a nightcap.  It still remains the place to go after a Broadway play and has the distinct feeling of Old Hollywood and the Rat Pack.  The walls are lined with pictures of famous actors and actresses who dined there.  “Meet me at Sardi’s” became another well remembered phrase in 1940s, 50s and 60’s movies.  Sardi’s was the birthplace of the idea for the Tony Award and both Vincent Sardi, Sr. and Jr. have received Tony Honor Awards for providing a comfortable place to refuel and rest after a long night on the stage. I stood and looked in the window last week and couldn’t help but think about what kinds of deals and roles were sealed in booths in that darkened restaurant.

Sardi's
“Meet me at Sardi’s.”

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Sigh.  New York is one of those places that writes its own story.  It takes very little imagination to manufacture a scene in your head of people awkwardly clutching Christmas packages as they scurry through Grand Central Station with a quick glance at that big beautiful clock.  Or just close your eyes and you can hear the staccato clip of high heels as couture-dressed women and dapper gentlemen make their way to Sardi’s.  Again…sigh.  I’d like to thank Susan for writing this post and taking us there!

I’m taking a couple of weeks off and plan to unplug from technology to recharge.  But before I do, I want to express my sincere thanks to you, the readers of my blog, for coming back even when some of my blog posts are boring, or when my videos are just plain dorky.  Your support means so much more than you know.  Be assured that you are in my prayers for a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. 

Merry Christmas to you and your families.
~ Jennifer

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