Manhattan’s Isle of Sanctuary

On an island defined by the city it hosts, there exists a garden paradise humbly named Central Park. Amid the “city that never sleeps” there resides a haven providing asylum from the bustling underground of the subway system and the hustle of Wall Street’s financial markets.

Conceived in the mid 1800s, Central Park encompasses 846 acres of natural beauty and some of the finest stonework architecture seen anywhere. It surpasses London’s Hyde Park in size and even rivals the much larger (2.5 times) Bois de Boulogne of Paris in its splendor. Though each of these offers much of the bucolic experience to its visitors, Central Park is the standout. She is the pride of an emerging America of the Industrial Age, the Prestige of the “Empire State.”

One of the best examples of the park’s famous stonework is the grand staircase at Bethesda Terrace. Originally it was simply called the Water Terrace by its architects. The name Bethesda being derived from the sculpture of an Angel that is the centerpiece of a grand fountain of the same name. Also known as Angel of the Waters, she refers to the Gospel of John, wherein is described an Angel who blesses the Pool of Bethesda granting it healing powers.

Apart from biblical reference, here it symbolizes spiritual blessing of the Croton Aqueduct. Opening in 1842 it provided the first reliable supply of pure water to Manhattan residents. The eight foot bronze art depicts an angel blessing the water with her right hand while holding a lily, a symbol of purity, in her left.

This beautiful sculpture was the design of Emma Stebbins, who is notable as the first woman to be commissioned to create a major work of art for the city. Her masterpiece was unveiled in 1873, afterward the name of the terrace was changed to Bethesda Terrace.

The bi-level staircase of the Bethesda Terrace is carved from an olive colored New Brunswick sandstone. The granite steps provide passage to foot traffic southward to the Elkan Naumberg band-shell and the Mall. Spacious landings add dramatic detail with a herringbone patterned run of Roman brick laid on edge. Extensive restoration included removal of the Minton encaustic tiles, designed by Mould, from the arcades ceiling. The 20 year renovation of the lower passage, including additional tile work, was completed in 2007. The renewed warmth and beauty of fine artisans is breathtaking even in photographs.

The park had a period during the 70s when it succumbed to drug trafficking, graffiti and other adversities of urban blight. It was not until 1980 that the fountain, which had been dry for decades, was reborn as an initial part of the Central Park Conservancy’s campaign to restore the park to its previous glory. The civic and philanthropic leaders who founded the Conservancy had the foresight and energy to undertake this monumental task.

The Central Park Conservancy manages the park under agreement with the city and handles both maintenance and day-to-day operations. The annual cost of operating the park is nearly $38 million, a major portion of which is provided through the fund-raising and investment revenue of the Conservancy.

The Genesis of Central Park began in the early part of the Nineteenth Century when people would visit cemeteries in order to experience the beauty of nature. In a span of about thirty years, during the early 1800s, the population of New York City had almost quadrupled. And the public outcry for a grand park, equal to those of the great cities of Europe, was taken up by notable citizens such as Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant. Along with other influential New Yorkers, Cullen convinced the state legislature to set aside 700 acres of city owned property at a cost of $5 million dollars.

When a competition was organized to design the park, it was the genius of Fredrick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux that won approval of the city. The winning design was named ‘the Greensward Plan.’ Their goal was to create an atmosphere of relaxation and contemplation in a natural environment. A somewhat progressive thought for the era, the park would provide a social setting for upper and lower classes to interact.

The park boasts many activities from jogging, bicycling and rock climbing to boating, birding and concerts. A world-class zoo and a classic carousel make their home in the park. The current carousel was built in 1951 and is the fourth of its kind to be installed on the grounds. The zoo houses an indoor rain forest and chilled penguin house, along with a Polar Bear pool.

Among attractions which have recently passed into glory is the famed Tavern on the Green restaurant at Central Park West and West 67th Street. The Tavern had its last seating in December of 2009. There are still fine restaurants to be found, including one housed in the Loeb Boathouse overlooking the lake. The Boathouse restaurant provides dining options that include an outside grill, lakeside dining, an express cafe and a lavish banquet room. Hanger Steak, Grilled Shrimp, Pork Loin and Chicken Breast are among a selection of very reasonably priced entree’s served with pride and flair. And you’ll have a hard time finding a more picturesque view of the lake.

The boathouse itself is among park landmarks which have become familiar to movie fans. It was used in a scene from the action-thriller F/X in the 1980s, and since has appeared on T.V.’s Law and Order. This and other locations in Central Park have become a backdrop for literary works of fiction and non-fiction as well. It is a place that tries to be all things to all people, and nearly succeeds in doing so.

Other important landmarks include Belvedere Castle which houses nature exhibits and an observation deck. This Gothic castle towers above Vista Rock, one of the park’s prominent elevations; with the castle’s turret being the highest point in the park. The castle’s exterior gray granite stands above and apart from the natural looking woodland area known as The Ramble.

These are just a few of the splendorous sites that the park owes to the heritage of New York City. This period in New York City’s history was one of grandeur and opulence. New titan’s of industry and capitalism made their homes along 5th Avenue, hence its nickname “Millionaire’s Row.” By the middle of the gilded age the street had transformed from a rutted dirt road lined with vacant lots and shantytowns into a thoroughfare flanked by palaces of the nouveau riche. Their money also purchased them a prime view of newly opened park.

The trees, that number in the tens of thousands, provide a habitat for birds and animals that would otherwise be foreign to the predominantly concrete jungle of the metropolis that surrounds and embraces them. It is a cornucopia of nature’s bounty that nurtures the many squirrels, raccoons, and chipmunks that dwell among the lush flora. That nocturnal marsupial, the Opossum, can even be found foraging when nightfall arrives.

Central Park offers so much to so many. By attracting more than 35 million annual visitors, with many coming from foreign lands, it has become a truly global park. The Conservancy also offers access to the park through a number of worthwhile volunteer programs. They include the Saturday Green Team, Greeters Program, Summer Internship and Pitch in, Pick up. The internships provide summer jobs for up to 25 high school students; while the Pitch in, Pick up program recruits volunteers to assist in efforts to keep the park clean.

Cleanliness and safety are reemphasized by the Saturday Green Team in keeping the plants and trees healthy and thriving. Keeping areas from becoming overgrown and removing undergrowth and debris not only eliminates potential hazards; it can also help lessen possible criminal behaviors that jeopardize the safety and security of park patrons.

Actual law enforcement is handled by the Central Park Precinct of New York’s Finest. Statistics gathered in 2005 showed that crime was reduced by 90% since a peak occurred decades earlier. Changes in police policy and tactics in dealing with criminal activity are credited with lowering crime rates.

Being the setting of numerous movies and television programs over the years has made film crews a common sight to visitors. Strollers along the parks many winding paths also enjoy the talents of jugglers, musicians and other impromptu performers. Activities are as abundant as the wildlife. Or if you prefer, you may enjoy a quiet game of chess, the solitude of a good book, or doing nothing at all.

But what would a trip to Central Park be without riding in a horse-drawn carriage? The romance of an open cab, listening to the gentle stride of the horse’s hooves and holding hands with someone special; there is no better place for it on the planet. A 20 minute ride will set you back $50, plus tip.

Without a doubt, Central Park’s magnificence puts a shine on the Big Apple.

Here, There, and Everywhere: A Discussion of Hollywood’s Favorite Premiere Locations

In the great American institution known as Hollywood, there is perhaps no event so characteristic as the premiere. Premieres are sometimes referred to as special screenings, and they certainly are special events, as they tend to be known for searchlights, limousines, and big stars pouring across a red carpet to the sound of cheering crowds full of adoring fans, not to mention the cast party to follow. These events have always been rare in relation to the large number of movies that are released every year, but what they lack in frequency they more than make up for in size and scale. Even today, studios will sometimes spring for the full red-carpet treatment, often in an effort to publicize the new movie.

Of course, these premieres can’t happen just anywhere. It’s no good to go to all of the trouble of shooting and distributing a major motion picture, going so far as to stage a huge release attended by all of the crowned heads of the entertainment press, only to have it open first in an old drive-in off of the interstate. Not surprisingly, most premieres take place in Hollywood itself, and they can more or less be pinned down to a few specific locations.

Nearly all of the world premieres today are centered on either Hollywood Boulevard or in the nearby neighborhood of Westwood Village.

Until recently, the flagship location for premieres has to have been Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The site is closed for renovations at present but still offers hard-hat tours and plans to open again as an IMAX theater around September 2013.

Just to the east of Grauman’s on the same thoroughfare is the other prime location in the Westwood area: El Capitan. This theater also recently found itself in need of serious restoration, which was graciously provided by the Walt Disney company. This theater began its life in 1926 as a hot spot for live performances by the likes of Clark Gable, Will Rogers, and Buster Keaton, among others. It would eventually make the transition to films in 1942 as the Paramount, in which capacity it hosted the premiere of “Citizen Kane.” El Capitan also happens to be the site from which Richard Nixon broadcast his legendary Checkers speech denying the allegations of being a dishonest politician. Astute observers are invited to make their own observations about the quality of the acting at El Capitan.

Away from the bustle and confusion of the Boulevard proper, down on the southwest corner of Sunset and Vine, stands yet another favorite spot for special screenings, the Cinerama Dome. This theater, with its amazing seventy-two-foot geodesic dome, has seating for nearly a thousand people and was originally intended to display Cinerama-style films, a format that was briefly popular around the time the theater was built in 1963. The process involved no fewer than three 35mm projectors displaying on an enormous curved screen. It was popular for a time, but the hefty cost of the format proved to be too much for large-scale distribution, and the literally hundreds of Cineramas that were in various stages of planning wound up mostly scrapped. The best seats for appreciating the huge screen are located on the floor of the theater, somewhat near the center. While nothing will block a clear view from the large balcony, the effect of the tremendous screen is somewhat wasted if the viewer sits so far away.

As with just about every other historic Hollywood theater, the Cinerama had to undergo serious restoration recently. The $70 million project began in 2000 and required that the theater be shut down for a time. It reopened in 2002 and is now at the heart of a vast entertainment center with almost as much retail space as theater seating.

The history of Hollywood comes seeping through the cracks in the history of its most famous landmarks. Here is where they signed the contracts for “Gone With the Wind,” there is the spot where Dean Martin was sick in the grass, and through it all runs a kind of sweeping grandeur, as if Hollywood were not just a place but a destiny. There can hardly be a better way to examine the various ways that destiny has played out at ground level during the last century than by getting to know the theaters where so much of that history has played out. The studios could hardly have chosen more appropriate locations for the premieres of films that are intended to add to that legacy.

Wild, Wild West Rockies – Telluride Offers Visitors Year-Round Outdoors Adventures

We got a taste of the Rocky Mountain spirit when we first arrived at the tiny Montrose Junction Airport, about an hour and a half’s drive from our destination of Telluride. As my spouse and I loaded into the shuttle, I reminded our driver that we had requested a child car seat.

“Here’s what we’ve got,” he said, handing me a tattered booster seat.

“This is actually a booster,” I told the driver, trying not to sound too much like an LA diva. “My son is only two. He needs a car seat with a harness to keep him in.”

“No worries. This is Colorado. He can join us for a drink later if he wants,” the driver said with a laugh as he heaved our bags into the back of the van.

OK, it was time to let loose. I strapped my son into the booster with the lap belt and held him in with an arm across his chest. “Here we go. We’re in the Wild West now,” I told him as his eyes lit up looking at the magnificent mountain peaks surrounding us.

Onward and upward we went up the icy windy roads to Telluride, an old mining town that has become a winter wonderland for skiers and a year-round playground for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers and lovers of the great outdoors.

We had dreaded the trip to Telluride because we had booked late and couldn’t get a direct flight from Los Angeles, so we had a plane change in Salt Lake City, and a road trip through the mountains. All with a cranky two-year-old toddler. But our layover was short, made more bearable by a children’s play area at the SLC airport, and our driver regaled us all the way to town with local gossip, so before we knew it, we were there — and was it ever worth the trip.

Right away we felt welcome in the lobby of the Peak’s Resort. In front of us was the hotel’s Great Room, a splendid oversize living room of rustic leather and cowhide sofas, lounge chairs and ottomans. Guests in zipped-down ski gear were unwinding after a day on the slopes, warming themselves in front of a huge, crackling fireplace and enjoying beverages from the bar and casual dining from a menu of burgers, grilled cheese and hot dogs. It felt like home, only with a dozen suntanned, outdoorsy looking strangers lounging about.

Just through the grand foyer was the Peak’s spa, a world-class facility a full fitness center with state-of-the art cardio room, Cybex machines, a yoga studio and even a rock-climbing wall. The spa also offered massage, mani-pedis, tanning, sauna, Roman tubs and a eucalyptus inhalation room. None of that mattered to our toddler, but he could hardly contain his excitement to see not one but two heated pools and an indoor water slide. No wonder the resort was selected by Parent’s magazine as a top 10 family winter resort.

We checked into our room, and just as the hotel’s Web site had promised, our room indeed had a fabulous view, as does every room at the hotel. From our balcony we saw endless snow covered trees up to the mountain peaks. To our left we could see the ski slopes, with the chair lifts floating up to the mountain top. We couldn’t wait to get out in the snow.

It was our toddler first time in the white stuff. We bundled him up in his snow suit and headed out to explore the town. We hardly got past the hotel lobby doors when he bounded into the snow outside the doors where he made his first snow ball, snow man and snow angel. He was in snow heaven.

A three-minute walk from the Peaks we found ourselves in the Mountain Village plaza, a cute collection of boutiques and restaurants with an ice skating rink and bonfire pit. We followed the brick walkway of the plaza and directional signs everywhere to the base of the slopes. Truly a ski-in ski-out resort, snow bunnies bounded all around us, skis propped on their shoulders, walking directly out of their hotels and onto the snow to step into their skis and hop on the lifts.

At the base of the mountain, known as “the beach,” we caught the free gondola for a ride into the town of Telluride. A true delight for a toddler — and adults — the gondola whisked us up into the air and high over the trails where we watched skiers and snowboarders whoosh by underneath us. We learned that the gondola is the only free transit of its type in the US. It takes visitors and locals back and forth over the mountain at 11 miles an hour, all day from 7 am until midnight, from the town of Telluride to the Mountain Village Plaza, with an optional stop midway at St. Sophia Station, where Allred’s, the town’s premier fine dining establishment, is perched at 10,000 above sea level for the best food and best views in town.

Other than the gondola, another indispensable mode of transportation we discovered was the plastic toboggan. We learned the hard way that holding a 30-pound kid on your hip or even in a backpack carrier across icy walkways can be hazardous to everyone involved, so we got a tip from a local the best way to get around town with a toddler in tow was to literally tow him. We picked up a small sled and some twine to make an extra long pull cord at the local ACE Hardware. I was the best $16 we ever spent.

Dragging our little one behind us, we set off to explore the many adorable shops, galleries and restaurants. The town itself defines quaint. The the snow-covered streets are lined with story-book cute chalets and small independent boutiques. A couple local snowboarder girls who we shared a gondola cab with informed us that Telluride does not permit chain stores, so you will never see a Starbucks or Pottery Barn or any of the stores that populate Every Mall USA littering the landscape of this purist town. How refreshing.

We stopped for lunch at the charming TPK Bistro where we had a delicious and surprisingly reasonably priced lunch of Panini di Italian prosciutto ham and fontina cheese and Stromboli di pollo, served by a friendly and gracious wait staff, who seemed genuinely happy to serve us. Perhaps one reason the servers were so attentive was the fact that we were the restaurant’s only guests, at 12 pm.

Despite excellent food, great service and an ideal location on Colorado Avenue, a central thoroughfare, the eatery was empty, as was much of the town. This was partially due to the flagging economy which brought fewer visitors this year, and also partially because the ski season was nearly over, but according to locals, even during peak season the town is never over-run or crowded, as say Park City, Utah, during Sundance, which can be a bear.

Likewise, the Telluride gets two thumbs up for eschewing commercialism, which has nearly ruined Park City, which must have resembled Telluride before the film festival overtook it. Hopefully Telluride will not head that way, despite the fact that it also hosts the Telluride Film Festival each fall which continues to grow in popularity and rivals Sundance in the quality of films it features, such as Sling Blade, Brokeback Mountain and Slumdog Millionaire, which all had premiere screenings at Telluride.

While there are plenty of cultural scenes in town, including theaters and music venues, the main attraction of Telluride remains the great outdoors, where visitors can enjoy all sorts of activities year round, from fly-fishing and horseback riding to paragliding and hot air balloon rides.

Of course, the snow skiing is legendary, and after a few runs down the slopes it is clear why. Owing to the location of the resort nestled in a box canyon, the weather is ideal for snow and snow making. The snow was perfect. No ice, groomed, packed powder, and I had the trails almost to myself. It was absolutely the best skiing I had ever experienced.

While downhill skiing is why most winter tourists come to Telluride, the resort offers a host of other snow-capades, including cross-country and Nordic skiing, heli skiing, dog sledding, sleigh rides and snowmobiling. The latter was the adventure of choice for us, and on our final day we headed out for a snowmobiling tour with Telluride Snowmobiling Adventures, thanks to a few hours timeout arranged by the Peaks Resort with a local nanny service.

Our friendly guide, Sam Haury, suited us up with warm boots and goggles, and we hopped on our machines and sped off in the freshly fallen snow high into the mountains. Sam stopped along the way to give us an educational tour of the historic spots, such as the Alta Ghost Town where miners and their families once lived.

We also learned that Telluride was the first in the world to have electric street lights (a week before Paris) thanks to the world’s first hydro-electric power plant built in 1904 to power the Smuggler-Union Mine. By the end of our two-hour tour, we not only truly appreciated the beauty and history of Telluride, we were expert snowmobilers, flying over whoop-de-dos and winding our way around curves through snow-covered forests with ease.

Our adventures in Telluride were a blast, though our four-day visit was much too short to do all that we wanted to do during our stay. But just because the snow will be melting soon, that won’t stop us from returning in the near future, because as the locals kept telling us, “You can always come back, and the summer season is even better!”