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Posted September 2, 2019 by Beth in Uncategorized

Old Westbury Gardens – blooms and memories   2 comments

Last fall, I decided to return to Old Westbury Gardens. My parents used to take my brother and me there regularly when we still lived on Long Island, way back in the day. I thought it would be nice to see the place again, on a clement autumn afternoon.


Westbury House, as it was originally dubbed, was complete in 1906, built by the son of a Carnegie (US Steel) partner, John (Jay) S. Phipps and Margerita (Dita) Grace, of the Grace shipping family. The story is that he persuaded Dita to marry him with a promise of an English manor house and gardens for her, like those in which she lived during her teens.

On its surface, the place is purely a relic of Gilded-Age opulence, a Charles II-style manse, all luxuriant gardens, vast marble fireplaces, priceless Chinese silk wallpaper and an enormous formal dining room. To wit, the front aspect (with a photobomb by my cousin Jeremey):


However, unlike many of large Western Long Island estates, built advent of automobile travel around the turn of the century, and used only during intolerable New York summers, this was truly a family home, well-occupied. It was filled with children (four), whose parents doted on them, and their beloved dogs. Many of these pets were interred, complete with headstones, in one of the gardens. While England suffered German bombing raids during WWII, Dita took in a number of British children to keep them safe. When I was a child, I recall the place as having been quite lived-in, with obviously well-used sofas, and carpets that looked somewhat thread worn in spots. Thirty-plus years later, things appear more polished.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed indoors, so I’m unable to share interior shots. I did grab this on the fly from the second floor landing, looking down to the front lawns:


The sitting room and exteriors were used in the film, Love Story. In fact, Westbury Gardens has been used many, many times in film, television and print advertisement. More prominent films include North By Northwest, Wolf with Jack Nicholson and Age of Innocence, which used the beautiful west porch and walled garden to great effect. More recently, the HBO film, Bernard and Doris, about Doris Duke (Susan Sarandon) and her butler (Ralph Fiennes) was shot there, as well as the cable TV show, Royal Pains.

The south elevation (rear) of the house:


The beech tree to the left of the house was a mature specimen when it was planted in 1906.  I don’t recall its age at the time of its installation, but I love that it’s well over a hundred years old.

Dita and Jay Phipps died in 1957 and 1958, respectively. Prior to his death Jay set up a trust in order to preserve the estate. His only daughter, Peggie, became chairman of the Old Westbury Gardens, Inc. and remained active until her death in 2006. I had the good fortune to meet Peggie just before we moved to New Jersey. I remember her as a lovely woman who had all the time in the world to spend with a little kid who was clearly enamored with her home (she had long since moved to a smaller property on the ground) and her childhood. She had promised my brother and me a tour of the third floor, which is closed to visitors, but since we moved away, we didn’t have an opportunity to take advantage of that offer. As mentioned, Peggie passed away in 2006, two months shy of her 100th birthday.  (The photo of Peggie and her beloved companion, Tilly, below came from the New York Social Diary website.)


As fabulous as the house is, the gardens are where the 100+ acre estate really shines. These were Dita’s domain and she was intrinsically involved in their design and maintenance during her time. The horticultural staff takes great pride in the upkeep of the gardens, which remain as beautiful as they were over 100 years ago. Of the many gardens, included are a rose, boxwood, formal walled and shade gardens. The property also holds woodlands, ponds and grand landscaped meadows. Maintenance is a tremendous undertaking, thanks to their size, and some of the gardens are completely replanted every couple of weeks. Thanks to greenhouses on-site, some of which sit on the former polo grounds, a constant source of plantings is available. One thing I really appreciate is their effort to reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.


Beauty Berry shrub

Beauty Berry shrub

Peggie's playhouse 6th year birthday gift

Peggie’s playhouse
6th year birthday gift

Pretty sure this is a chrysanthemum

Pretty sure this is a chrysanthemum


Walled garden


It’s a magical place.  If you ever find yourself on Long Island, try to make a trip to Old Westbury Gardens.  It does not disappoint.

Here’s their website:

Checking out the Panorama at the Queens Museum   3 comments

The Panorama of the five boroughs of New York City at the Queens Museum of Art has been on my to-see list for many, many years. Finally, the occasion of a visit by my cousin Jeremey’s lovely friend, Jess, prompted us to make the trip out to the old World’s Fairgrounds in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. We were not disappointed by it and other exhibits at the museum.

First, a bit about the museum building. According to the museum website, the building sits on the sites of both the 1939 and 1964 Worlds Fairs and is the only structure to survive from the 1939 fair. Its original name was the New York City Building and it contained exhibits about city municipal agencies. Later, it became the home of the UN General Assembly from 1946-1950, during which time, among other events, voting on the partition of Palestine occurred. Much later in 1972, the building was turned over to the Queens Center for Art and Culture, later renamed Queens Museum of Art. Period photographs on the museum’s History of… web page.

Jeremey at the Unisphere fountain, east side of the museum

Earlier, for the 1964 fair, it once again became the New York City Pavilion and the primary display this time was the Panorama. To ensure every single building extant in 1964 was displayed, Robert Moses commissioned Raymond Lester Associates to build this model and assigned a 1% margin of error stipulation. It took three years to research and build. Updates were made through 1970 and once again in 1992 when 60,000 buildings were changed (the reason the World Trade towers still anchor lower Manhattan.) It’s a fabulous thing to see, truly.

View west across Jamaica Bay, Queens and Brooklyn toward Manhattan and the Bronx

Southwest-ish - across Brooklyn toward Staten Island (upper left) & lower Manhattan (upper right).

Lower Manhattan

My slice of the Upper West Side, looking east - Central Park lake (top), Natural History Museum (left)

Queens Museum of Art - Unisphere (silver ball), Shea Stadium (right)

Hi Tom (next to City Island)

It’s so worth the trip to see this Museum. For vehicle-challenged NYC dwellers, it is accessible by subway – take the 7 train to the Willets Pt.-Mets stop (you’ll see CitiField and the US Tennis Center). Be aware that the 7 does not run between Port Authority and Queensboro Plaza on weekends for the next couple of months. You can pick up the 7 in Queens – I took the R from the PA to the Jackson Heights stop and transferred there. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the museum.

Greenwich Locksmiths   5 comments

The weather the day of the Fire Museum’s Santa Rescue was quite nice, considering it was mid-December. Rather than heading directly home, I decided to take a walk in search of a place I had read about on Scouting New York’s blog. The museum is located on Spring street and a quick ten block stroll north on Varick found me in front of Greenwich Locksmiths.


Locksmiths in this city are a dime a dozen, typically claustrophobic little places of business situated in storefronts crammed between two larger buildings. This establishment is a bit larger but what’s really remarkable about it is the facade. Greenwich Locksmiths is completely covered by thousands of keys, arrayed in interesting patterns. Photographs on Scout’s and the shop’s own website show that the building’s original facade was rather bland. Not long ago, the owner, Phil Mortillaro, decided to liven the place up and this was his solution.

Greenwich Locksmiths

I love this little bit of graffiti:

What a job he’s done. It’s difficult for me to imagine how managed to glue thousands of keys to on the wall without going absolutely batty. My hat is off to both his patience and creativity.

I also appreciate his distinctly New York City sense of humor. Two large black safes flank the entrance and are named Patience and Fortitude (trust me, those little gold labels say “Patience” and “Fortitude” – I’ve found that WordPress does a real tough job in compressing my images).

The shop was closed when I stopped by during the weekend and the shop was closed. If you have a chance to wander around the West Village, stop by Greenwich Locksmiths, preferably during the week as more of his key artwork is visible behind the security gate. It’s truly a work of urban folk art. Scout’s website is also well worth the visit as he’s got tons of fascinating stories about New York and its environs.

Posted January 30, 2012 by Beth in Uncategorized

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Santa Rescue!   1 comment

After nearly a year’s hiatus, I am back to blogging. In the interim, I hadn’t used the camera all that much but last month saw my motivation slowly begin to return. I decided to head downtown for an event I’d heard about for years but hadn’t yet checked out.

New York City can be a disorienting place under normal circumstances but the holiday season seems to really throw a wrench into Santa’s sense of direction. Every December, he finds himself stranded on the roof of the New York City Fire Museum, in need of a way down.

As always, the FDNY, in this case, Ladder 1, was there to serve.  They skillfully pulled Santa from his perch, supported by the cheers from the relieved crowd on the street.

Santa always has his mind on own work so he was quickly whisked inside the museum to prepare to meet the kids who watched the rescue.

The museum also had available hot chocolate and hot dogs for the kids as well as a band playing a holiday-themed music. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it inside but judging by how well the rescue went outside, I’m sure the indoor festivities were just as great.

A few more images from the event:

Setting up the apparatus. It really is quite an impressive machine. (above, below)

Valiant firefighters

The press was in attendance

Gimme five!

The Ladder 1 crew

Posted January 16, 2012 by Beth in Uncategorized

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Riverside Church Bell Tower   5 comments

Friday was a gorgeous day, temps nearing 60, it felt like spring was truly on the way. It was not to last, of course, as temps dropped back to the 30s on Saturday, joined by 50 MPH winds. Crazy stuff! Friday evening, while it was still relatively temperate, I hoped for one of those beautiful post-sundown navy blue skies as I had a particular subject in mind that would work perfectly in that setting. Instead an overcast built itself up over the course of the afternoon and I had no shot, or so I thought. By the time I left the office, the clouds had broken apart just enough to allow the setting sunlight to poke through and light them in a beautiful pink glow. I’d been waiting to get a good image of Riverside Church’s bell tower and this was my chance. I hustled up the hill to Broadway, set up and got a couple of good shots, including this one.

A funny thing happened while I worked on this image. I was standing under the elevated subway trestle and the camera was pointing in a south western direction toward the church. A black Crown Victoria pulled next to me, the driver asked me if “I was taking pictures” (he looked like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnston, by the way) and told me people get scared when they see someone with a camera under the tracks. Meanwhile, the car wasn’t marked and I didn’t see a badge so I don’t know who the guy was but he took off after a quick conversation. I don’t know, I would think a terrorist would attempt to be somewhat less conspicuous than to stand in an intersection with a tripod and attract attention.

Posted February 21, 2011 by Beth in Harlem

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Templo Biblico   1 comment

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, weather-wise. I had wanted more snow, severe winter weather we had, but it was mainly a mixture of wet snow and freezing rain plus freezes and thaws. The result of all of this was piles of ugly frozen black slush lining the roadways. Adding in consistent gray skies and extreme cold weather, it was tough to get outside to do any photography. Inspiration has been at a low ebb.

Case in point. I had walked past this building on Amsterdam Avenue during a lunch hour walk in December and appreciated the shadow these tree cast on this blank wall. I didn’t have my camera at the time and made a mental note to return. Weeks passed until I had my camera and tripod in the office and enough enough sunlight to cause acceptable shadows on the building for images of the place. Friday was sunny and relatively warm and I jumped at the chance.

The site itself is somewhat unusual as open footage in Manhattan is at a premium and here we have a couple of trees in a small lot on Amsterdam Ave. and 126th Street. I have walked past this place numerous times on my way to a nearby library and knew it was old but didn’t put two and two together to realize it had been a firehouse. The 1881 building designed by Napoleon LeBrun housed Engine Company Number 37 and is now the Templo Biblico church. I have never seen the church open so I haven’t had a chance to chat with the pastor or other workers. I assume it’s mainly active on Sundays. I often wonder if the people who use these re-purposed buildings have any idea of the history of these places. I wish it were so. Any place, no matter how nondescript may have an interesting story to tell, if only the time were taken to investigate. Then again, it may simply be a boring pile of bricks!

Posted February 15, 2011 by Beth in Harlem

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