Monday, November 4, 2013

Park Avenue Memories

I wouldn’t swear to it but I’m almost certain The NY Times ran a picture Monday of the office building where I formerly worked on Park Avenue in Manhattan. The picture was large, running across five columns and was 7-1/4 inches deep. It accompanied an article on the legal battle between Major League Baseball and Alex Rodriguez over his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. My personal office was on the sixth floor, at various times overlooking Park Avenue, or East 55th Street or East 56th (the picture on page three of the online story, by comparison, is postage size: 

It was a great location for an office building. When you’re walking on Park Avenue north of Grand Central Terminal it’s a different world from the rest of Manhattan. Not as gritty. Often the esplanade in the middle of the avenue is adorned with flowers or works of art. There are few commercial establishments along the way, no hole-in-the-wall delis to grease up the street, though there are some fruit and vegetable carts and hot dog stands along some of the cross streets. Luxury car dealers, such as Mercedes and BMW, located showrooms on the avenue.  

Except for often seeing celebrities on my jaunts to and from the office and Metro North station, or being inconvenienced by the many movie, TV and commercial scenes shot along Park Avenue, especially around St. Bartholomew’s Church or the Seagram Building, nothing too exciting ever happened along the way. Except one year, about three decades ago, during the time the South African embassy was located in our building. At the time my window looked out on Park Avenue. Early one afternoon everyone was told we could not leave the building. There was a bomb scare, a suspicious package at the door of what is now a Staples Express. We were told to stay away from the windows, not to look out, as a bomb blast could send shrapnel and debris as high as the sixth floor, where we were. Of course we ignored that advice. Turned out it was nothing more than an abandoned briefcase. 

Another time, when my office faced East 55th Street toward Lexington Avenue, I missed by a few minutes watching a spectacular fire at the Central Synagogue on the corner of Lex and 55th. It was about 4:30 on a Friday. I left work early. Just minutes later the fire began. Roofers had not properly put away a piece of equipment that set the roof of the historic synagogue on fire. The roof eventually collapsed into the sanctuary which was completely gutted. 

To fight the blaze firemen carrying hoses went into an adjacent apartment building. They entered---that is, they knocked down—the door of an apartment with windows overlooking the burning structure. I tell you this because of the only-in-New York coincidence that this apartment was the home of one of the doctors in Gilda’s medical practice at Beth Israel Hospital.   

My office home for 32 years, 425 Park Avenue, is scheduled to be torn down sometime after April 2015. About 10 years ago an electrical fire fried all the circuitry in the building one weekend. Some tenants were displaced for months until a temporary fix could be wired. 

It should be a lot easier finding new space for my former company. Instead of room for close to 150, just 35-50 spots are needed. It’s been a tough half-dozen years for the publishing industry in general, my company in particular. One of the benefits of early retirement is I don’t have to angst over the relocation process. A creature of habit, I couldn’t imagine commuting to anywhere but 425 Park Avenue.  

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