Wasilyshyn fingered the rich tapestries, the antique vases with the loving
care of a devoted mother. These were links to the past, these handsome
relics of a day long gone, resplendent in their elegance, and Onofry
treasured them as though his own.
was early in 1914 that a young Ukranian, fired with tales of the magic
wonders in a glorious land across the sea, fled the oppression of a medieval
czaristic tyranny and became one of Emma Lazarus's "huddled masses,
yearning to breathe free."
eager young immigrant settled, like most of the "tempest-tossed,"
on the New World's doorstep, and got a job at the McAlpin Hotel. A few
months later, he shifted to the Waldorf-Astoria, and has been with that
famed citadel of splendor ever since.
the rococo old Waldorf on 34th street was razed to make way for the Empire
State Building, Onofry went with Oscar, the fabled chef, and other
old-timers to the lovely new building on Park Avenue. Oscar and most of the
others who hark back to the old days are gone, but Onofry has his cherished
mementoes nevertheless that keep alive the glory of the old queen.
had gone up the mezzanine stairways, the family and I, to feast our appetite
for beauty on the fabulous ballrooms of the Waldorf-Astoria. Touched by
our manifest interest, the old gentleman appointed himself a committee of
one to guide us through the magnificence, and it was from him we learned
that some of the most sumptuous of the ornamentation that embellishes the
new Waldorf was transplanted from the old.
tenderly, there were extricated from the debris and protected from the
cataclysmic might of the wreckers some of the noblest murals and portraits,
statuary and bric-a-brac, marble and vertu.
paintings imported from abroad— from France and Italy and Britain— were
removed from walls, frescoed into the gilded, curving ceilings of the foyers
and ante-rooms to the great hall in the new Waldorf. Some, lending
themselves not too well to such treatment, were woven into screens, others
hung on walls. Lustrous, ornate objets d'art added a brilliantly decorative
touch to the mezzanine floors, shining in their resplendence, precious,
many of them priceless.
it was plain Onofry Wasilyshyn was less interested in their intrinsic value
than their sentimental attachment. To him the mirrors of distressed glass
with their 14-karat gold leaf frames, the splendent carpeting, the marble
fireplaces, their mantles adorned with Wedgewood and Darby, Bayreuth and
Bristol, all are nostalgic symbols of a day of dignified leisure—otium cum
dignitate—when the sumptuosity of such as the Waldorf was reserved for
royalty and wealth, when noblesse oblige was the theme and haughty grandeur
complains the old ouvrier, with just the suggestion of a sigh,
"everyone comes to the Waldorf."
wondered, self-consciously, if we had perhaps stirred up the resentful
resignation in his voice.
longer are the institutions of old sanctified by their reservation for the
Pentacosiomedimni, true enough, but that scarcely is a condition to be
deplored. Today almost anyone with eyes to see and sense of sentience can
enjoy the luxuries that once were thought the exclusive right of the rich.
himself, with all his time-tinted longing for the old days when visitors to
the Waldorf were almost sure to be kings or millionaires, yet is not averse
to reaping the benefits of the progress that has seen the old order changeth.
never knew what it was to have a Sunday off," he admitted
ruefully. "We worked fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Now it's
an eight hour day, five day week."
for all his glorified memories, I can't believe our newfound friend from the
Ukrainian plains would return willingly to those days of yore. And as for
returning to his homeland—a fate worse than death!
is the only country," he says fervently. "This is the world."
is indeed. Lucky we.
York is more than a cold, heartless monster of steel and masonry and brick,
an iceberg that towers a quarter mile into the sky and burrows in
multi-layered, caterwauling catacombs almost equidistant into the
lithosphere. Millions of miles of wire and cable, piping and conduit form a
metallic mat gaping above caverns, one below the other, which are home for
Manhattan's mole-like subway and train systems.
New York is more than a miracle of techtonics. It is truly the metropolis of
Mundus, the conglomerate, cosmopolitan cosmorama of all history, and its
people, rendezvousing here from every point of the earth, reflect every
facet and nuance of humanity. Who is to say the people are less exciting,
less newsworthy than the skyscrapers and marts?
Morris Jacobs: "Fifty years ago I used to drive a nanny-goat carriage
on the mall there," he reminisced while he kept one eye warily on an
eager Ross, handling the reins for our hansom meander through Central Park.
Chubby, a sad-faced, fat twenty-one, knew his way around, of course, but
still responded sensitively to pressure on the bit, and he was inclined to
ignore such modern trappings as traffic lights without a firm tug.
sir, New York has changed," vouchsafed old Mr. Jacobs.
has changed. Look at automobiles. When a car plows into one of these iron
carriages it crumbles up. Tissue paper," he snorted.
was in fine fettle. Before leaving his home in
Coney Island to report for duty that
pleasantly cool day in mid-August he had had himself a swim for a mile or so
out into the ocean.
to belong to the Polar Bears Club," he explained. "Swam all
winter. Cut that out, though. But I still get in a swim every morning this
time of year."
Jacobs began his equestrian career away back in the 19th century, driving a
horse-car on the First Avenue line. He's stuck to horses ever since, except
for his Capran interlude on the mall.
Smith and Jimmy Walker wouldn't ride with anybody else," he says
proudly. "When they felt like a turn to relax, they'd wait for me. Oh,
I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go."
Jacobs, like Onofiy Wasilyshyn, is not entirely convinced the changes he's
seen have been for the best. "Look at these roads," he says, hurt
in his voice. "Concrete. Concrete roads in a park. Horses have to be
shod twice a week. Not right."
sympathetic tsk-tsks paid dividends, for from Cabbie Jacobs we learned much
of the history of Central Park; the spot where Sousa conducted his band for
concerts, who did what and where, what the various statues and monuments
represent, who built and lived in the hotels and apartment houses
surrounding the park— "See that twin-topped place there? That's the
Majestic. Frank Costello had a penthouse suite there."
can learn a lot by listening to the oldtimers.
managed to piece together a few more days for a return visit to the big
town before the youngsters left on their several scholastic ways. Again we
were fortunate: clear and cool was that week of August 17, perfect for New
York, and we made the most of it. We toured on land and water, we visited
theatres and movie houses, we tried restaurants we had missed before. And we
marveled anew at the ability of this fabulous place to take everything in
very day Onofry Wasilyshyn was drawing the veil from the mysteries of the
Waldorf, President Eisenhower was there, but we didn't even see him. Adlai
Stevenson was over at the Biltmore, Governor Dewey at the Commodore. Farther
to the east, the diplomats of the world were wrestling with the problems
imposed by the Korean truce. But all this simultaneous activity of historic
significance made no dent at all on the complacent metropolis which, like
Moloch, consumes all that come within its embrace without disturbing the
equability and equanimity of its placid pace.
the Hudson steamed our sightseeing yacht Circle Line on the first leg of a
three-hour cruise encircling Manhattan. On our left towered the world-famed
skyline of the downtown financial district, to the right the busy Jersey
ports of Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City; ahead whole freight trains on
barges ponderously passed on their lighterage trip to East River piers,
towed by toiling tugs. Like a spectator at a tennis match, one's head
swivels from side to side, turning from the world's fleetest craft, the
sleek United States, on the left to the world's largest clock, the
fifty-feet Colgate octagon on the right; from the world's largest
communications center, the Long Lines of AT&T on the left to the
forty-two-acre Todd Shipyards, largest and best equipped ship repair shop
anywhere, on the right.
meets yesterday as the Empire State Building rises majestically above the
tiny Custom House where Peter Minuit constructed Fort Amsterdam in 1626.
Chrysler lords it over Bowling Green Park, where the Canarsie Indians from
Brooklyn sold Manhattan Island, which wasn't even theirs to sell. Those
mark of the swift pace of modern progress is the forty-year-old Woolworth
Building, once the world's tallest, now eclipsed by many, only half the size
of the Empire State.
Ellis Island, first acquaintance with America for millions, we steam, into
Upper New York Bay, within hailing hearing of the Lady with the Lamp. In the
distance, the twin funnels of the giantess of ships, the Queen Elizabeth,
stand boldly against the sky as the 85,000-ton empress maneuvers through the
Narrows bound for the open sea and Britain.
the East River we swing, past the Battery where a fort was built to protect
New York in the War of 1812, past historic Governor's Island. Familiar
landmarks drift by: narrow little Wall Street with famous old Trinity Church
its anchor and marker . . . the Fulton Fish Market, Al Smith's beloved alma
mater . . . the teeming East Side where so many famous Americans began life
under forbidding but conquerable odds . . . the bridges spanning the East
River, including the oldest—Brooklyn—which launched the Roebling empire
. . . America's favorite flattop, the Hornet., in Brooklyn Navy Yard for
repairs . . . the monolithic giants—Empire State, Chrysler, RCA—passing
in review . . . the newer type structures: UN and Lever House . . . Welfare
Island, with its hospital and upsidedown house that starts at the elevator
off the Queensboro Bridge and builds downward . . . the plush apartment
buildings beyond the East River Drive . . . the great number of hospitals,
famed Bellevue, New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center, Columbia
Presbyterian Medical Center among them . . . the public housing projects on
both sides of the river, nice to look at but testimony to New York's tax
headache . . . graceful Gracie Mansion, interim residence of New York's
successive mayors . . . Ward's Island and the footbridge across the Harlem
River leading to its little-known and slightly-used park . . . youngsters
stepping out of their clothes and diving au naturel into the Harlem . . .
the huge "house that Ruth built," Yankee Stadium, and across the
river the older Polo Grounds, home of both the baseball and football Giants
. . . New York University and its famed Hall of Fame . . . the cove where
Henry Hudson anchored the Half Moon in 1609, and beyond, the bridge named in
his memory, spanning the Harlem ship canal where it meets the Hudson ....
Down the majestic river then, the Palisades to the right, on the left such
treasures as Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters museum, Castle Village which won
George Pelham the American Institute of Architecture Award, the vine-clad
wall of Dr. Charles Paterno's famous castle, George Washington Memorial
Bridge, Grant's Tomb, Riverside Church,
the Soldiers and Sailors Monument; finally the piers, one after another,
temporary home for the great vessels of the world, gathered from all the
oceans, moored within halloo distance of bustling Broadway. What a city!
Broadway's biggest bargain after four years— "South Pacific."
Ross, inclined to complain that thirty dollars was too much to pay for five
tickets to see a show, silenced by the excitement, enthralled by the robust
action .... The cuisine and atmosphere of the Plaza's Palm Court .... The
tour of Rockefeller Center, an international city of its own .... The Gothic
splendor of St. Patrick's Cathedral from the seventieth floor of the RCA
Building .... The adult— and unadulterated— wit of "The Moon
Is Blue". . . . Holland House Taverne, faithful to Ross's emphasis on
things Dutch this past year at MFS, with its Hollandsche Voorgerechten,
Erwten soep met kluif en worst, hutspot van peen en uien en klapstuk, nassi
goreng oost indiesche stijl, gebakken versche schol, doperwtjes and
aardappelen, arnendel broodje, banket, leidsche, goudsche of edammer kaas
and the rest of those mysterious Dutch dishes .... The precise Rockettes
in a Swiss setting at that modern Hippodrome, Radio City Music Hall, where I
saw "The Band Wagon" for the second time so the family could see
it for the first time .... The Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, world's longest
under water. . . . The well kept gardens on all the setbacks of the
Rockefeller Center buildings— tons of soil hoisted high into the air ....
The American counterpart of Rumpelmayer's famous Parisian restaurant in the
flossy St. Moritz. As frothy and delicate as its profiteroles and marrons
.... The madhouse that is Grand Central at five. Ross intrigued, even more
than with the teeming homebound hordes and famous gold clock, by the
animated advertising signs .... Driving through Times Square with a
hitchhiking pigeon perched nonchalantly on the hood .... Emil Coleman's
continental melodies on the Waldorf's Starlight Roof .... The crooked
winding streets of Chinatown, and Tien Sang's exotic wares at 1 Doyer Street
.... The unexcelled cuisine of Gluckstern's on 49th. But with all of New
York's wonderful restaurants I couldn't find a place near the hotel that
served kippers for breakfast .... The perfumed lobbies of the Waldorf,
converted into a temporary cocktail lounge by the seasonal shutdown of the
Peacock Alley cafes for alterations and redecoration .... Fifth Avenue from
88th to 89th, where the controversial $8,000,000 glass-domed, bulging round
Guggenheim art museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is to go .... The
incomparable facade of the great, glittering Street of Dreams —some
realized, more broken: Broadway.