In a 1920s Biplane

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Dutchess County, New York holds an extensive collection of antique aircraft which take part in air shows throughout the summer months.

This week I visited the field and was taken up by a pilot in a 1929 New Standard D-25 biplane. You can see our views of the Hudson River Valley in the video below, or at YouTube.

An Ancient Megalith in New York

A dolmen is a type of Neolithic tomb architecture found in Western Europe. So what would one be doing in a small town in the Hudson Valley? Balanced Rock in North Salem, New York is a unique example of (what appears to be) a European megalith in North America, long predating recorded transatlantic contact.

I filmed a short video about the structure which you can watch below, or at YouTube.

A New Essay in ‘Plum Lines’

In 1914 the English novelist P.G. Wodehouse was married at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan. This parish is New York’s historic actors church, known fondly in theatrical circles as “The Little Church Around the Corner.” For the rest of his long career Wodehouse commemorated the event by sending his characters there to be married. He even set the finale of a Broadway musical at the church, necessitating its recreation on stage.

My essay about the parish appears in the Spring issue of Plum Lines: The Quarterly Journal of the Wodehouse Society. If you are a member of the Society, you have your copy. If not, join here.

Rip Van Winkle at the D.A.C.

When I was growing up my father was a member of the Downtown Athletic Club on West Street in lower Manhattan. The D.A.C. was best known for awarding the Heisman Trophy to college football players beginning in the 1930s. The clubhouse was a purpose-built Art Deco tower with sports facilities, baths, dining, and guest rooms. Located near the Battery its membership mostly worked on Wall Street.

The club is gone now. It was in financial decline by the late 1990s when I graduated high school and it never reopened after 9/11. The landmarked building has been converted into condos and the membership were scattered to our midtown clubs.

For a time the D.A.C. boasted the longest bar in New York. Above it hung a mural based on Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle.” An article in the June 1931 club bulletin describes the artwork:

The first panel at the extreme left shows Rip Van Winkle going up into the Catskills with his newly found friend. In the center panel we see Henrich Hudson’s men bowling, drinking and having a general good time. Rip is partaking generously from the jug. The third panel shows Old Rip’s return to town where after twenty years no one seems to know him.

Aldo Lazzarini, the artist, spent about six weeks on the paintings and J. Schuyler Casey often visited the studio to watch the work as it progressed.

The only picture I could find of the mural is the low-quality scan reproduced above. It shows a detail from the center panel. I wonder what happened to the mural. I would like to think it found a good home.

The Met Armory

Bashford Dean, who founded the Arms and Armor Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote:

Helmets and body armor are usually considered as objects beautiful, rather than useful. They are exhibited in museums, in halls hung with tapestries, beside faience, ivories and enamels of olden times… [but] one may point to the evidence of ancient and formidable injuries which numerous specimens of armor exhibit today; and one may even affirm that there was scarcely a famous soldier in those days who did not owe his life, directly or indirectly to his armor.

The quote comes from Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare, published in 1920. Dean was foremost a marine biologist but a lifelong weapons collector and researcher.

The Yale Club Bookplate

Howard Pyle was born on this day in 1853. He was the first of the golden age American illustrators, followed by his pupil N.C. Wyeth. Through Pyle a faint Pre-Raphaelite influence came to characterize the genre.

It interested me to discover a work by Pyle that I had seen many times before noticing his initials: the ex-libris of The Yale Club of New York City. Pyle’s design was commissioned in 1905. The plate was engraved by Edwin Davis French, whom Pyle described as “the best engraver in the world.” The ex-libris is affixed to every book in the clubhouse library.

Van Rensselaer Manor

From the year 1630 until well into the nineteenth century the Van Rensselaer family were lords of the manor of Rensselaerwyck, a vast fiefdom in upstate New York, around Albany. Killian Van Rensselaer had acquired the land from the Dutch West India Company ten years after the Mayflower landed and it remained in the family through successive Dutch, English, and American governments. I described the later years of the manor at length in my biography of James Fenimore Cooper, a friend of the family.

The manor house was dismantled in the 1890s and rebuilt as the Sigma Phi fraternity house, called Van Rensselaer Hall, at Williams College in Massachusetts. Unfortunately it was torn down by the college in the 1970s. The only surviving fragments of the house were interiors donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The wallpaper of the great hall has been used to reconstruct the room in the American Wing. On a recent visit to the museum I took the opportunity to photograph the furnishings in detail.

Golden Fleece Forever

It was bad news last July when the iconic American mens fashion house Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Founded in 1818, Brooks Brothers is the oldest clothing company in the country, having passed its two hundredth anniversary. The brand was quickly bought by joint investors Authentic Brands Group and Simon Property Group for $325 million in August. This was inevitable. The label is too valuable to abandon. But that label could be stuck on anything, and previous corporate owners have produced clothing lines with little reference to the classic Brooks Brothers style.

So when the new creative director Michael Bastian announced his plans for the company’s future it came as a welcome overture. He writes at Instagram, “Where to begin? Easy—go back to the fundamental icons of the brand and of course that starts with the original #ocbd the #og the icon worn by icons.”

He describes trying on an Oxford shirt “from the archives from the 80s,” writing,

it was like seeing an old friend. The weight and density of the fabric, the famous collar roll, the precise button placement and the roomy fit (that feels so right again after years of overly skinny shirts), and of course the exact perfect pink that no one got 100% right but Brooks Brothers. It’s all coming back—we’ve set up the fashion equivalent of a forensics lab to study and measure and get this shirt back to its true original glory.

Greenwich Village Gothic

Grace Episcopal Church on the corner of Broadway and Tenth Street in Manhattan is the most important early example of Gothic Revival architecture in New York. I posted a picture of the beautiful courtyard in an earlier post. The architect was James Renwick, Jr., who went on to design the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He was only twenty-four years old when he undertook the design of Grace Church.

It was constructed between 1846 and 1847 when wealthy New Yorkers were moving north into Greenwich Village from the crowded Downtown. Nevertheless the parish had a limited budget. While the edifice itself is marble, the spire was initially wooden, and much of the interior is lathe and plaster. A marble spire was added in 1881.

The church is a landmark of the Village. During its heyday its congregation comprised fashionable society. As Matthew Hale Smith wrote in 1869, “To be married or buried within its walls has been ever considered the height of felicity.”

Henry James at the Morgan

Pictured below: the guestbook of the Morgan Library from 1911. The novelist Henry James visited on January 18 of that year. His signature appears fourth from the bottom. I photographed this page a few years ago during the exhibition of Henry James and American Painting which I reviewed at the time.