Saturday, February 25, 2012

Driving to Great Neck, Long Island for Naomi

In my last post I explained the reasons for taking our trip to Long Island, New York. We arrived there last September 2011. Because of a water leak, we could not check into our motel in the town of Oyster Bay, Nassau County, New York. We were told to come back in the evening. Where to go? All our luggage was in the car. It looked like it might rain so we needed to go somewhere close by. My friend Naomi of the blog Here in the Hills had asked me to go, if we got a chance, and look at her childhood home located in Great Neck, a city also in Nassau County. Great Neck was only 12 miles away, so we decided to drive there to check on Naomi’s former home.

Great Neck, Long Island,watercolor over pencil drawing by Thomas Hart Benton, American 1889-1975

We arrived and parked across what I believed was Naomi’s former house. I started taking pictures. I took pictures from the front, the side and even a picture of the backyard of this house.

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on individual pictures to biggify

It started to sprinkle so I went back into the car. We thought we would wait a while so I could take more pictures of the street. I reread Naomi’s email and that is when I realized I had taken pictures of the wrong house! I had not put my glasses on and misread the number of the house…. I felt pretty silly. We drove up a bit and found the right house.

It was not raining anymore so I started taking pictures again.

My husband was patiently waiting across the street near our rental car.

Another car had stopped in front of me – a lady inside was talking on a cell phone. I kept taking pictures of the side of the house and the street.

The lady came out of her car and asked me, suspiciously, what was I doing – could she help me? I answered that I was just taking some photos for a friend who used to live in this house years ago. She then said “Do you mean a member of the Hirshhorn family?” “Yes, Naomi.” She smiled and said she would be pleased to show me the inside of the house but she had an errand to attend to right now – “But, please go inside the yard and take pictures there, although we have placed a top on the swimming pool. I’ll be back shortly.” I pushed the gate and went inside the yard.

When the current owner came back she invited us inside. First we went into the living-room.

My husband was waiting for me, holding my purse with Naomi’s email, while I was photographing each side of the room which contained several beautiful musical instruments.

The lady of the house told me that being the start of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, her house was being readied to celebrate it and many guests were coming that night for dinner. (Rosh Hashanah in 2011 started from sundown Wednesday 28 September until nightfall on Saturday 29, 2011.) I helped her spread the tablecloth on the dining room table.

She invited me to go upstairs and take pictures. I did not wish to go inside the bedrooms, not to intrude. She showed me that one of the bedrooms had been converted into a small den. I had gone up the main staircase but went down the back staircase. I am showing as many pictures of the house as possible so that Naomi can see how her house looks now.

We visited the kitchen and the current owner’s office/study which I did not photograph to preserve their privacy. I took pictures in the back den with its beautiful wood paneling and wood floor.

The current owner told me that the kitchen had been renovated but the outside of the large window had been left alone so as to keep the wood engravings. Naomi does not remember these engravings – they may have been sculpted after she went away to California while her mother lived in the house.

I liked the engraving of the violin and of the children’s initials.

We thanked the owner for having so kindly let us in her house and then we walked around the neighborhood. I am showing the photographs in case Naomi recognizes some of these houses.

Naomi told me that her father bought the house in Great Neck in 1926. She was born there and went to schools in town. She graduated from the local high school. Another well known person graduated a bit later, from the same high school – Francis Ford Coppola, (born in 1939) the director and producer of the Godfather movies, shown below.

In addition to the lot where the house is located her father had bought 3 more lots around it. One of the lots had a 3-car garage with apartments above them. The house-help used to live there. It was sold by the estate after her mother passed away and a house was built on the site, shown below.

In the 1920s Great Neck was a small town, a suburb of New York City. Naomi’s parents wished to raise their family in nice surroundings and in an area welcoming to Jewish parents. Her family was instrumental in establishing, with the help of 12 other families, a Reform synagogue in Great Neck called Temple Beth-El. At the time there where very few Jewish people in town. Her father had an office on Wall Street – and one in Toronto, Canada. Great Neck was a quick ride on the train and not far from the airport. Naomi’s father who had emigrated from Latvia at 6 years of age became an entrepreneur, financier, mining and oil businessman and an art collector. He amassed an extraordinary art collection which he gave to the United States in 1966. He donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. over 6,000 works - paintings and sculptures - with a $2 million endowment to hold the collection. This collection included works by Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and many others. Below is a sample of these art gifts, and I only looked under the letter B!

Top left Winter Morning by Paul Emile Blanchard, American (1881-1938) next to Bowl and Bottle by Bernard Butter, French (1928-1999).
Below left The Morning Paper by Warren Brandt, American (1918-2002) next to The Great Warrior of Montauban by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, French (1861-1929.)

When Joseph Hirshhorn, Naomi’s father, passed away in 1981, he willed 6,000 more art works and an additional $5 million endowment to the museum. Here are four more paintings below, picked at random.

Top right Evening Rocky Neck by John Sloan, American (1871-1951) next to Woman with Hat by Andre Derain, French (1881-1973) on left Body of a Woman by Pablo Picasso, Spanish (1881-1973) next to Boats on the Lake of Gorda by John Singer Sargent, American (1856-1925.)

After her schooling Naomi attended for two years The Feagin School of Drama in New York City at the Rockefeller Center. She still lived in Great Neck and commuted to the city via the local train. She had asked me if I had gone to the Great Neck station. I had not, but found these photos of the station below on the subway web site.

In 1961 Naomi left for Hollywood, California to continue her singing and acting career. You can read about it on the posts I wrote last April, part one here and part two here. The house in Great Neck was sold in 1966 after her mother’s death. The current owners bought the house in the 1970s. It was still early afternoon so we went to visit other interesting sights in Great Neck, but this will be in my next post.

I’ll end this with a painting by Naomi, who is a talented painter and has had several one-woman shows and whose art is part of several museums’ collections.

Two Distant Butterflies, synthetic polymer on canvas at the Smithsonian ( Naomi Hishhorn Caryl)

More next time…


In the comment column Naomi gave some clarifications – here they are:

“Incidentally....My parents built the Three Car Garage with the Apartment above was not there. In fact there was nothing on that lot when my father bought it....They made some changes in the house, too, of course--as did my mother, after my parents were divorced, etc.....After all, she lived there for 40 years…….. One thing that needs a little bit of correcting...My parents moved to Great Neck because it was commuting distance to Manhattan and had very good schools. My father always moved to places where there were very FEW Jewish people because HE wanted to be a Pioneer in that regard---The First Jew, or, near that (lol)...So, in 1926 there were very few Jewish families in GN...And that is why in 1931-32 they and the other 12 family's started the first temple....Temple Beth-El... The first Rabbi was Jack Rudin. I went all through school with his son Steve.....Like I said, Great Neck was a small town back then.....”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Long Island, New York ?

Last month I wrote two posts on the reasons for selecting certain travel destinations. Some were selected because of stamps, postcards, art exhibit, books, movie, etc. There is another reason which I did not mention then, and that is: selecting a destination because of an article that I read online. I read it in March last year and this made me decide to visit the North Shore of Long Island, New York. We have been to New York City many times and have seen most of the sights there. The last few times we decided to visit the surrounding boroughs like the Bronx and Brooklyn but had not thought about Long Island, until I read an interesting article last March. Why did we decide to visit the North Shore of Long Island? I’ll explain below.

On the old postcard above you can see the North Shore which starts at the bottom left of the card. It is on the north coast of Long Island bordering Long Island Sound. Long Island Sound is the estuary of the Atlantic Ocean between the state of Connecticut and Long Island in the state of New York. The photo at the top of this post was taken in Great Neck, Long Island.

Long Island Sound by Thomas Moran, American, 1837-1926

Long Island is close to the center of New York City and has been an affluent area for many years. The area was nicknamed “The Gold Coast” because of the opulent estates built there between the 1890s and 1950s by wealthy New York City business tycoons. The Vanderbilt's, J. P Morgan, David Guggenheim, F. W. Woolworth and President Theodore Roosevelt had large mansions with acres of formal gardens on the North Shore.

From October 1922 to May 1924 F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Great Neck, one of the towns there. There he found inspiration for his celebrated novel, The Great Gatsby, in the glitzy soirees given in the large estates around him and the estate across the water in Sands Point.

Articles I read in early March last year announced that the Long Island mansion that was thought to have inspired The Great Gatsby was going to be demolished to make way for several McMansions – 5 huge custom homes starting at $10 million each. The 25-room colonial property, called Lands End, was built in 1902 on 13-acres facing Long Island Sound in Sands Point. Lavish parties were hosted there in the 1920s and 30s with such high-profile guests as Winston Churchill, the Marx Brothers, Ethel Barrymore, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Parker, the Wright Brothers, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, writer Oscar Wilde and hundreds more. The 24,000 square foot house had original hand-painted wall paper, marble, parquet floors, Palladian windows, two private beaches, two tennis courts, a 75-foot swimming pool, a greenhouse, horse stables, French gardens and more. Below are pictures of the estate found on a 1970s real estate brochure.

I was truly astounded that such an illustrious part of America’s history would go under the wrecking ball. I read more about it and found out that the current owner had let the house deteriorate for many years and had decided not to spend the $2 million to renovate it. It was more beneficial for him to have the house demolished and sell the land. I was also surprised that no one, including the state or the government would step in to save it. It was in such a beautiful and unique setting along the Long Island Sound.

North Shore, Long Island by William Moore Davis, American 1829-1920

The land could have been made into a gorgeous park and the mansion used for many art venues, or at the very least, it would have made a fantastic convalescent home. But, of course, parceling the property and developing it for millionaires would bring more money… (it is well known that in the pursuit of financial gains many such mansions have been demolished after suffering intentional neglect.)

So this is why we decided to travel to Long Island – to see some mansions before they might be razed. We went to Long Island last September and I’ll have more posts on our trip later. Last April though I read an article on the Los Angeles Times that a planned demolition had taken place at Lands End that week. A photographer was sent to take some last pictures – here they are below courtesy of the LA Times.

A photographer, Jen Ross, who is also a blogger, took many pictures of Lands End at Sands Point and allowed me to show some of them here.

Please go to Jen’s site and click under the main picture on “start slideshow” – her pictures are exceptional and help us witness the demise of this once elegant and grand house. Please click here for Jen Ross Photography. Below is a last view of Lands End (courtesy LA Times.)

Hundreds of mansions have been lost on the Gold Coast – at least 100 of them in the last fifty years. These opulent houses were built by top-notch architects with the best material available. They are now being replaced by tacky houses or more malls and highways. Below are postcards of a couple of mansions which were razed as well - the George Rose estate in Westbury and the Stanley Mortimer estate in Roslyn (partner of Standard Oil.)

I am surprised that some of these houses are not being saved by the US government as part of the nation’s historical heritage. It is a total shame to demolish authentic period houses and replace them with flashy and ostentatious houses which are tasteless or in a variety of styles. I grew up in Paris where we are respectful and proud of our “patrimoine.” It is a hard word to translate – in a broader sense it means “heritage” – to cherish the culture, the environment, the monuments, art and the music of the country. French people pay taxes to keep it up. Where would all the castles, museums and cathedrals be if they had been left to deteriorate and then their land had been sold to the highest bidder? Here are some examples of the French patrimoine: the cathedral of Chartres, the castle of Chambord and the Maison Carrée in Nimes.

By the way the Maison Carrée in Nimes (south of France) which was a Roman Temple built in 1 BC has been in continuous use ever since. In the 18th century Thomas Jefferson copied its architecture in the construction of the Virginia State Capitol (it is fortunate that this temple has been preserved…)

Virginia State Capitol painted in 1860, attributed to Howard W. Montague

Here in the US, I read that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had a “Save America’s Treasures” program and tried to find out more about it and about the funding of culture and the arts. It was not easy, but I found out that the US budget for the arts and humanities was about $6 per capita per year back in 1996. In 2010 it was down to 54 cents per capita per year and in 2012 it is now 44 cents! Arts funding has been steadily blocked by Conservative Republicans. Last year the total budget for the arts and humanities was $167.5M and in 2012 it shrank to $146.3M (or the salary of 3 NBA/NFL players or a fraction of the cost of a new sports stadium.)

Among industrialized countries the US has a historical low rate of overall taxes. It is ranked dead last in arts funding (as a point of comparison France gives $20+ per capita to the arts yearly.) But then I saw that in the 2012 US budget 59% went to defense (42% of the worlds military spending is done by the US) 6% on education and 2% on justice (which may explain why with 5 percent of the world’s population the US has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners…) At least since millionaires are taxed at a 60-year low rate they may still employ artists to paint their portraits as was the case during the “gilded age” of the Gold Coast?

Portrait of Lady Helen Vincent by John Singer Sargent, American 1856-1925

It is devastating to see that the arts and historic preservation are sacrificed here. In 2009 some 10,000 arts organizations nationwide disappeared. I wonder what the number is now. Music and art classes are disappearing from schools, too. The arts are essential to our society. It is so sad that America is losing a vital part of its culture and history because of narrow views. If it is because of money – the arts and historic monuments bring tourists which help the economy. I checked the last figures – in 2010 France was no.1 with 76.80 million international tourist arrivals – the US was no. 2 with 59.70 million international tourist arrivals – but keeping in mind that France is not even as large as the state of Texas shown below in red.

I did find the “Save America’s Treasures” program which states that it “makes critical investments in the preservation of our nation’s most significant and endangered cultural treasures, which illustrate, interpret, and embody the great events, ideas, and individuals that contribute to America’s history and culture.” Rep. Kevin Brady (Republican from Texas) a GOP deputy whip introduced a bill that would cut millions across the board on Historic Preservation funding and eliminate the Save America’s Treasures program. I just found information on this program and it says : ” The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Save America’s Treasures office has closed. The U.S. Congress did not renew funding.”

“Au Revoir” (Goodbye) by George Barbier, French 1882-1932

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The original Waffle House restaurant

When we moved to Decatur, Georgia in 1973, we noticed the little restaurants with yellow signs saying “Waffle House.” In France waffles are for dessert – they are served with powdered sugar, or whipped cream, or covered with fruits, or sprinkled with cinnamon or rum or another liquor. Below is the usual waffles served in France. I used the photo from the French family cooking site Super Antoinette.French waffles (gaufres au sucre)

French waffles (gaufres au sucre) courtesy Super Antoinette, Cuisine Familiale

Back then I thought that the Waffle House restaurant was a “dessert” restaurant serving waffles and crepes. Once inside though I saw that they served waffles as a breakfast item and offered many other items on their menu. Since that time we have been to numerous Waffle House restaurants as they are everywhere in Georgia. In a 6 mile radius (10 kms) around my home I can think of seven of these restaurants. Early last month, on Saturday 7 January 2012 to be exact, as I was reading the Saturday Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper I happened to read a small article on the original Waffle House restaurant. Here is the clipping below.

Click on picture to enlarge to read clipping

It announced that until 3 pm that day the original Waffle House restaurant in Decatur, GA, would be open for a rare public tour. That day we had planned to drive to Decatur to the Farmer’s Market so we decided to stop at the museum first. Below is the original restaurant, established in 1955 in Avondale Estates a suburb of Atlanta, which is a museum now showing the restaurant as it was then. On the left is a small room with memorabilia.

Many people had come to visit the museum. We were greeted by a large poster, a replica of the Welcome sign, where people could place their heads to be photographed. We did.

There were panels on the wall explaining the origins of the Waffle House, photos of the first restaurant in 1955 and of the two founders as they looked then and now.

We were allowed to go behind the counter where props had been set like steaks on the grill, fried eggs, etc. Pictures were authorized and I took many.

While my husband was reading the original Waffle House menu

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture to enlarge more

I snapped the little picture frames showing the original prices. We were given a sample menu and a couple of magazine clippings with the history and explanations on the running of the restaurants.

Then we walked into the back room where the pies were made and the extra food kept.

There were huge bags of sugar and flour and a calendar opened to September 1955.

After touring the restaurant we walked to the room next door which houses memorabilia. As we entered a tour guide greeted us. She stood in front of a life size photo of the two founders. This photo is set behind a replica of an original counter with authentic seats. Next to it is a showcase with many advertizing buttons.

The tour guide explained how Waffle House was started in 1955. Joe Rogers, Sr. and Tom Forkner, friends and neighbors in their late thirties, decided to partner in a 24-hour restaurant business to be open 365 days a year. They decided to use waffles for their restaurant as it was less expensive and they wished their restaurant to be a warm, friendly place – a family type restaurant, a home away from home. They opened the restaurant on Labor Day 1955 (5 September 1955.) Now, 57 years later, they are still partners and involved in the business. The museum is lined with early photographs.

Some old and new Waffle House items are also displayed such as the first printing calculator they used, china, menus and uniforms.

There are advertizing items and a video.

A skillet recovered after Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi, Mississippi, on 29 August 2005 at 6:10 am is on display.

When we left we were offered a coupon for a free waffle at any of the restaurant as well as a small button. I choose the Waffle House Princess button for my daughter Céline who missed Waffle House so much while living in California. I even bought her a Waffle House coffee cup a couple of years ago as a Christmas present.

Céline is moving back South now and her new position will have her travel into many Southern states. She will always find a Waffle House near as there are now more than 1600 Waffle House restaurants in twenty-five states, mostly in the South, above all in Georgia. There are at least 455 Waffle Houses in Georgia and about 200 in Metro Atlanta. We went to three Waffle House restaurants last week and I took more pictures. We had breakfast at one of them where we had waffles, of course. There were business men having breakfast as well as a young patron.

A couple of days later we went to another Waffle House for lunch. My husband had a hamburger and I had a lettuce, bacon and tomato sandwich. I finished with a cup of coffee. In the collage below you can see the jukebox at the top of the bottom right hand side photo. Many songs have been written featuring the Waffle House restaurants.

With my coffee I had a small slice of pecan pie as I was planning to bake a pecan pie soon. The waitress was especially pleasant. She warmed up the slice and added a tiny bit of butter. She heard my accent and asked if I spoke French. She told me her mother came from the Caribbean and spoke fluent French.

On the little leaflets given to me at the Waffle House Museum I read that the founders always emphasized customer service. They have promoted a people-oriented corporate strategy. They say “We are not in the food business… We are in the People business.” This shows because I have never met an unfriendly Waffle House waitress. It is good for their business too. These are some numbers: since 1955 they have served 877,388,027 waffles, 1,289,801,887 cups of coffee, 2,501,866,574 eggs and so on. They add that “If you poured all of the cups of Coffee that Waffle House serves in one year, it would be enough to fill nearly 8 Olympic swimming pools!” and another quote “If you could stack all of the Sausage Patties that Waffle House serves in one day on top of each other, it would be nearly twice the size of the World's Tallest Building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai or four times the size of the Empire State Building.” That certainly is impressive! Below is a poster showing all the numbers as of 2005.

The waitress in the last Waffle House we visited gave us a little card offering a special romantic reservation-only Valentine Dinner with white tablecloths, candle light and special 5 start service. That sounds interesting….The wording on the card is a play on their trademark sentence they use for serving hash brown potatoes which can be served ““Scattered, Smothered and Covered.

I think most of the pictures I took of this Southern icon are in this post, along with the notes I took after listening to the tour guide and reading all the leaflets. Since this last picture is pink and relating to Valentine’s Day I’ll attach a picture I took a couple of days ago of flowering trees nearby. It has been so mild that there are many buds but unfortunately the Weather Service is announcing very cold nights in the 20s F (-6 C) and most of these buds will suffer.

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