Garden School and Gramercy Park Hotel

Sorry about the obnoxious URL! Some people don’t understand the meaning of public domain.

The Garden Country Day School was founded in Jackson Heights, Queens in 1923, by a group of parents who wanted a better school for their kids. Their institution was named for the new garden apartments. At the time, Jackson Heights was very rural, and so had ample space to create gardens.

As evidenced by the name, Jackson Heights was also intended to convey prestige equal to that of Brooklyn Heights. It was a planned community for bourgeois Manhattanites wanting a less congested living space. Shamefully and typically of the era, the apartments were restricted to WASPs.

The monolithic makeup thankfully began changing during the 1930s, and the legal restriction against Jewish residents ended in the 1940s. Bourgeois Columbians arrived in the 1950s, and then, following the nationwide pattern, the white bourgeoisie hightailed it to suburbia. Sadly, the remaining whites were very resistant to integration with African–Americans.

The first classes, K–3, met in the Laburnum Court Apartments. In 1925, upper elementary school was added, and in 1928, under headmaster Otto Flower, the school moved into its current location (the former Jackson Heights Tennis Club) on 79th St., between 35th Ave. and Northern Blvd. Mr. Flower also added more grades. In 1929, the first high school class of three students graduated.

A few years later, Garden Country School became an independent school. While all indie schools are private, they’re self-governing and financially independent instead of run by a religious organisation.

Indie schools aren’t prep schools, though academics are paramount. They’re also not always alternative schools (e.g., Montessori, Waldorf, Sudbury). From how I interpret it, indie schools are a nice middle ground of private schools, neither too preppy nor too freewheeling.

My characters Patya, Vladlena, Rodya, and Valentina send their kids to Garden School after they move to Queens Village in 1945. Patya and Vladlena’s daughter Karina, and Rodya and Valentina’s son Lev, started their education in a Russian Orthodox church school in Greenwich Village.

Patya feels strongly that real Americans don’t hide themselves away in parochial schools, but doesn’t want to lose the personal touch of private school in general.

When the two couples’ dear friends Tatyana and Nikolay move back to New York in 1952, to a house on their street, they likewise choose Garden School for their children.

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Copyright Eden, Janine, and Jim

The Gramercy Park Hotel was built from 1924–25 by Bing & Bing, one of the most prominent apartment development firms in early 20th century NYC, and designed by equally prominent architect Robert T. Lyons. It replaced the home of infamous architect Stanford White, and was done in Renaissance Revival style.

This hotel is adjacent to Gramercy Park, a private, fenced-in, two-acre park available only to fee-paying residents of the neighborhood by the same name. Its gates were first locked in 1844. Gramercy Park East also contains the city’s oldest continually-operating co-op apartment, built in 1883.

Copyright Tony

Over the decades, many famous people have stayed by the hotel, both as guests and longterm residents. Among their illustrious ranks are Humphrey Bogart (who married his first wife Helen Menken there), Joseph P. Kennedy’s family, writer Mary McCarthy, humorist S.J. Perelman, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Madonna, David Bowie, Debbie Harry, and David Mamet.

The hotel also boasts an art gallery, a bar, and several restaurants, including one on the roof. Babe Ruth frequented the bar during the Depression, and James Cagney and his wife Billie, who lived at 34 Gramercy Park, were frequent diners at the restaurant.

34 Gramercy, one of the city’s first apartments, Copyright Beyond My Ken

My characters Vasilisa and Dragomir go to the Gramercy Park Hotel’s restaurant for brunch on a very early double date with Vasilisa’s cousin Ilya and his girlfriend Milada. Despite being raised upper-middle-class, Milada is keenly aware they’re the most informally dressed people there, and hopes there’s normal food on the menu.

Shortly after Milada confesses her worries, Ilya reveals his secret senior art portfolio subject, Empress Aleksandra over the entire course of her life. He wants to gain a greater understanding of this much-hated woman, and thus stir sympathy in others as well.

Later, Ilya’s youngest sister Tamara and her husband Marek, a baker and chef, will work at the restaurant. I’m excitedly looking forward to a scene where they encounter frequent diner Cagney, my favoritest male actor of the sound era.

An epic of war, love, and crime

The Roaring Twenties, released 23 October 1939, is based on Mark Hellinger’s autobiographical short story “The World Moves On.” It ties with White Heat as my favourite Cagney film. Every single second is made of awesomeness.

During WWI, Eddie Bartlett (Cagney), George Hally (Bogart), and Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) meet in a foxhole, become friends, and dream about what they’ll do with their lives if the war ever ends.

In 1919, the three of them finally come home. Lloyd starts a law practice, George becomes a bootlegger, and Eddie embarks on a long, painful search for work after finding his old garage mechanic job taken.

Eddie’s roommate Danny Green (Frank McHugh) suggests he become a cabbie, an offer Eddie is compelled into taking out of desperation. Before he starts working, however, Danny drives Eddie to meet his pretty penpal Jean Sherman in Mineola, Long Island. They go in Danny’s own cab.

Eddie is shocked to discover Jean (Priscilla Lane) is just a high school girl, and that the photo she gave him was herself in costume for a school play. He smartly takes his leave, much to Jean’s disappointment.

That June, the 19th Amendment is ratified, leading to the ban of alcohol. Eddie soon finds himself in trouble for unknowingly delivering liquor to Panama Smith (Gladys George) in his cab. He hasn’t $100 to pay the fine, so he chooses to serve sixty days in jail.

After Eddie’s release from jail, Panama invites him to go into business with her. Bootlegging soon earns Eddie a very comfortable living. Lloyd becomes his lawyer, despite moral qualms.

Eddie encounters Jean performing at a speakeasy in 1922, and the tables are turned when Jean rebuffs him this time. Eventually she agrees to travel home to Mineola on the late night train with Eddie.

Eddie walks her to her house and discovers she lives there alone since the death of her mother. To save Jean from homelessness and destitution, and to help her to realise her dream of becoming a musical comedy star, Eddie finagles her into a singing job at Panama’s speakeasy, for $100 a week.

Panama is stunned when Eddie shows her an engagement ring he bought for Jean. She points out Eddie’s more suited to dames like herself than innocent girls next door like Jean, and doesn’t understand what Eddie sees in her.

Jean is just as floored when Eddie presents her with the ring. She likes him, but not the racket he’s involved in. Eddie responds by asking her to hold onto the ring till he saves enough dough to quit bootlegging.

Eddie crosses paths with his old pal George again while hijacking rival bootlegger Nick Brown’s liquor ship. George agrees to leave Nick and come to work for Eddie.

In 1924, Eddie and George conduct a heist of one of Nick’s warehouses. On their way out, George recognises a watchman as their former sergeant who made their lives miserable. Without taking much time to reflect, George kills him.

Lloyd’s conscience can bear no more of this dirty business when he discovers what happened. George says he’ll kill Lloyd too if he squeals on them.

Then everyone begins double-crossing one another, and the body count climbs. In the midst of all this, Lloyd also steals Jean from Eddie.

Eddie’s misfortunes increase when the Stock Market crashes, and he begins drinking for the first time.

Will Eddie be able to break free of crime and alcoholism in time to redeem himself?

White Heat at 70, Part II (Behind the scenes)

White Heat was originally based on the life of Kate “Ma” Barker, the ruthless matriarch of the Barker-Karpis gang (active 1931–35). Four members of the gang were her sons Herman, Lloyd, Arthur (“Doc”), and Fred), who began committing crimes as early as 1910. At its height, the gang had 25 members. Most of their crimes were bank robberies, though they also engaged in kidnappings.

Warner Bros. bought the rights to the story from writer Virginia Kellogg for $2,000, and Ben Roberts and Ivan Goff set to work turning it into a screenplay. Director Raoul Walsh was horrified by the finished product, which took six months to complete, and pleaded with William Cagney to talk his brother out of doing it. William was his business manager and produced several of his films.

William assured him “Jimmy [would] rewrite it as much as possible.” After many rewrites and input from multiple parties, the film only had the barest of similarities to its real-life inspiration.

Filming commenced 6 May 1949 and lasted six weeks, till 20 June. Locations included the (now razed) San Val Drive-In in Burbank, the Columbia (now Warner) Ranch, the Santa Susana Mountains, an old tunnel of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and Van Nuys.

Jack Warner wanted the famous scene of Cody going nuts in the prison mess hall to take place in a chapel, feeling the “cost of a single scene with 600 extras and only one line of dialogue would be exorbitant.” He relented when the writers pointed out Cody would never voluntarily enter a house of worship, and that the point of the scene is to have lots of noise transmogrifying into silence when Cody screams.

That scene of Cody’s total breakdown was improvised, and the looks of shock on the other actors’ faces were real. No one either behind or in front of the camera knew what was going to happen.

The cost of that scene wasn’t Jack Warner’s only headache regarding this film. He was pissed Cagney had returned to his studio in mid-1949, after leaving in 1942 to form his own company with brother William. Though Cagney never forgot how badly he was treated by Jack Warner during his contract renewal in the 1930s, he needed money badly. The four films he made on his own weren’t financially successful.

For his part, Warner called his prodigal star “that little bastard” and swore he’d never take him back. He was very displeased when Cagney was suggested for the lead of this new picture by the screenwriters, but they were positive no one else could play that role as it needed to be.

Cagney’s new contract gave him $250,000 per film, one each year, in addition to script approval and the chance to develop projects for his own company. Though he’d resisted returning to gangster roles for years, afraid of being typecast, he compromised for the sake of his waning box office draw.

Once he signed on to star in White Heat, the budget was upped to one million, and Raoul Walsh was brought on as director. Cagney had asked for Frank McHugh, but Jack Warner rejected him to save money.

The film earned $2,189,000 in the U.S. ($23,598,063 today) and $1,294,000 internationally ($13,949,700 today). Critics by and large loved it, a reputation which continues to this day. White Heat routinely features on those incessant best-of lists.

In 1950, Virginia Kellogg was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Story, and Ben Roberts and Ivan Goff were nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for the Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture. In 2003, the Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry.

White Heat has been referenced countless times in other films, music videos, cartoons, and songs over the years, most notably Cody’s famous final line (which isn’t the film’s final line).

Happy 70th birthday, White Heat!

Released 2 September 1949, White Heat is widely considered one of the greatest gangster films ever. It’s so white-hot, I’d give it a rare 6 out of 5 stars. Though it was initially based on the story of gangster matriarch Ma Barker and her son Arthur (Doc), the script ended up becoming largely fictional.

Twisted criminal Arthur “Cody” Jarrett (James Cagney) and his cohorts rob a mail train in the Sierra Nevadas, killing four members of the crew. When Cody’s last victim slumps over, he triggers a steam pipe which blasts right into the face of Zuckie (Ford Rainey in his film début) and severely burns him. The gang then escapes to Arizona with their $300,000.

There are two ladies in Cody’s gang, his overbearing Ma (Margaret Wycherly) and his long-suffering wife Verna (Virginia Mayo), who have an acrimonious relationship with one another. Cody clearly prioritises Ma over Verna, which adds to the friction. He also suffers from crippling migraines.

The other members of the gang are loath to leave with an incoming storm, but Cody thinks it’s the perfect chance to slip away unnoticed. Feeling the injured Zuckie a liability, he sends Cotton to kill him and believes the resulting gunshots did just that. Instead Cotton fired into the air.

Zuckie succumbs to his injuries anyway, and the authorities figure out he’s linked to the Jarrett gang. Cody is horrified to learn about this, and even more so when Verna says Ma is at the market buying strawberries for her golden prince instead of safe in their Los Angeles hideout.

Ma’s car is tracked to the motel, where the trio are packing to go on the lam again. The officers think they have their suspects cornered, but Cody shoots his attempted arresting officer and his party races away to a drive-in.

In the car, Cody announces his plans to go to Illinois and give himself up for a lesser crime an associate committed, meriting only two years. Verna thinks he’ll still be wanted for the train robbery, but Cody assures her if he takes the rap for the Illinois crime, it’ll be the perfect alibi for the more serious crime.

Philip Evans, the U.S. Treasury investigator whom Cody shot, hatches a plan with undercover agent Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien) to bring Cody to justice for the crime he actually committed. Hank will be planted in Cody’s cell as Vic Pardo and earn his complete trust.

Meanwhile, on the outside, Big Ed (Steven Cochran) takes control of the gang, starts an affair with Verna, and pays prisoner Roy Parker to kill Cody by dropping heavy machinery on him. Hank gains Cody’s trust when he pushes him out of harm’s way.

Ma visits Cody to warn him about Big Ed, whom she promises to take care of. Cody thinks this is a terrible, dangerous idea, but Ma insists she’s going to do this.

Cody decides to break out of the clink to handle this ugly business himself, and invites Hank to join him. When he receives a piece of crushing news, Cody goes nuts and feels escape is even more urgent.

Once he’s back on the outside, Cody is hell-bent on revenge against Big Ed. The rest of the gang welcomes Cody back, along with other escapees including Hank.

Their next criminal operation targets a chemical plant’s payroll office, which Cody hopes will finally take him to the top of the world.


Copyright Leifern

Yorkville is a neighborhood within Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Its boundaries are E. 96th St. (north), E. 79th St. (south), Third Ave. (west), and the East River (east). Part of Carnegie Hill used to be within Yorkville.

In August 1776, about half of Gen. Washington’s troops were stationed in Manhattan, many of them in Yorkville. They were strategically positioned along the East River to protect the other half of their brothers-in-arms if they retreated from Brooklyn, and to counter any attacks from either land or sea.

Gracie Mansion

Copyright Limulus

After a terrible defeat by the Battle of Long Island on 27 August, Gen. Washington’s Continental Army retreated from Yorkville. During the retreat, the British piped the song “Fly Away,” about a fox fleeing from hounds.

Instead of giving in to this musical taunt to fight, the Continental troops retreated in a very orderly fashion. This prepared them for their success next month in the Battle of Harlem Heights.

St. Monica Catholic Church, Copyright Limulus

Carl Schurz Park

Slowly but steadily, Yorkville evolved from farmland and gardens to a modern, industrialized, commercial area. One of America’s first railroads, the New York and Harlem Railroad, went through the neighborhood. The Boston Post Road, a mail delivery route, also went through Yorkville.

The current street grid was lay out from 1839–44. By 1850, a large portion of the population were German and Irish.

After the Civil War, slums were replaced by mansions.

The Marx Brothers’ old tenement, 179 E. 93rd St. (now in Carnegie Hill), Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Yorkville was a working-class and bourgeois neighborhood for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to the big German and Irish sections, there were also many Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Lebanese.

Yorkville was one of the most common destinations for German immigrants by 1880. After the General Slocum ship caught fire in the East River, off Yorkville’s shores, on 15 June 1904, many Germans moved to Yorkville from the Lower East Side’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany). Most of the passengers had been German, and people already in New York wanted to be closer to their affected relatives.

There were many ethnic bakeries, shops, groceries, churches, cultural associations, bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and imported gift shops.

Sidewalk clock, 1501 3rd Ave. between E. 84th and 85th Sts., Copyright Beyond My Ken

Disgracefully, Yorkville was home to the openly pro-Nazi German American Bund. There were frequent protests and demonstrations against the Bund, including street fights.

Thankfully, its founder, Fritz Julius Kuhn, got busted for tax evasion and embezzling $14,000 from the Bund, and spent 43 months behind bars.

While he was in jail, his U.S. citizenship was cancelled. After his release, he was re-arrested as an enemy alien, and sent to an interment camp in Texas. Kuhn was interred on Ellis Island after the war, and deported to Germany on 15 September 1945. He died in 1951 in München.

146–156 E. 89th St. between Lexington and Third Aves., Copyright Beyond My Ken

On a happier note, Yorkville was a haven for people fleeing from Nazi Germany and occupied Europe, and from behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, Yorkville is one of Manhattan’s richest neighborhoods.

Landmarks include Lycée Français de New York, Carl Schurz Park, Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s official home), the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal Asphalt Plant, the Rhinelander Children’s Center, Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Monica Church, Holy Trinity Church, St. Joseph’s Church, and Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Besides the Marx Brothers, other famous residents of Yorkville include Lou Gehrig (born in the neighborhood) and James Cagney (grew up on E. 96th St.).

My characters Vera and Natalya Lebedeva move to a cellar apartment in Yorkville in spring 1929, after their father finally lets them live on their own. After Natalya’s marriage to Rostislav Smirnov, she stays in the neighborhood.

Vera finds a job teaching second grade in Yorkville after she graduates Hunter, and moves back to the Lower East Side after marrying Rostislav’s brother Vsevolod. She and Vsevolod later return to Yorkville and move into a brownstone a short distance from Natalya and Rostislav.

Novomira Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, the daughter of old family friends, lives with Vera and Vsevolod while she attends Barnard.