Friday, October 7, 2011

Amster Yard: 49th and 3rd

Amster Yard is a historic hidden gem of a garden in the crazy, hectic midtown east area of NYC.  I recently read "Manhattan's Turtle Bay: Story of a Midtown Neighborhood" by Pamela Hanlon and discovered things about my neighborhood that I never knew before. 

The book starts with the history of the neighborhood with the dismantling of the infamous El elevated train, which brought light into the neighborhood.  Then it describes the development of a surprisingly stylish and elegant neighborhood population that cared about establishing gardens and maintaining the charm of old brownstone- and tree-lined streets.  The neighborhood's most renowned included actress Katherine Hepburn, writer Kurt Vonnegut, violinist Efrem Zimbalist, Mrs. Jean Mauze (aka "Babs" Rockefeller), and (key for Amster Yard) Turtle Bay Association founder James Amster.

I've lived in the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan for over 5 years and had never ventured into Amster Yard.  It's entrance is not the most inviting, in that it was purchased from the original 20 houses that flanked it on the north and south by the Spanish cultural organization, Instituto Cervantes.  However, it is a lush well-maintained garden that is open to (if hidden from) the public.

While I understand the state of the surrounding building walls were so poor that the Instituto had to reconstruct everything from scratch, they managed to create an amazing replica.  Using original fountains and iron grillwork (see right) the garden was returned to its original glory for the enjoyment of generations to come.  The long L shaped courtyard appears even larger by the visual trick created by the original large mirror framed as an arch that was suggested to Amster by legendary interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe (see below left).

I haven't attended an event at the Instituto, but they seem to have a regular calendar of events including performances and films.  They also provide language classes and a lending library.  Like so many of the other ethnic or national societies that dot NYC (Korea Society, Ukranian Museum, and the Tibet House) this place has a plethora of resources just waiting for the plucking.

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