Tag Archives: New York

BOOK REVIEW: Life at The Dakota

If there ever was a book that has it all, a book that holds your attention, a book that makes you want to know more, this is it.

“Life at the Dakota” is a socioeconomic history of the famous New York City residential building. Yes, that one – the one where scenes from Rosemary’s Baby were filmed, the one where Jason Robards once slept overnight at the wheel of his car, the one where a resident displayed a her favorite stuffed horse, the one where John Lennon was murdered.

The Dakota was constructed between 1880 and 1884 and opened October 27, 1884. It was built by the architectural firm of Henry Janeway Hardenbergh with the design by Edward Clark, the head of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

The Dakota was, indeed, a building well ahead of its time, with central heating, its own in-house power plant, the first elevators installed in a residential building, a gymnasium, and much more. Before it was opened for residency, all of the apartments were leased, and no vacancies existed from then until 1929.

The book begins with an in-depth history of New York and the Central Park West area, including the dichotomy of the lifestyles and economic factors between the East and West Sides. Here we learn about the Who’s Who and Who Wants to Be and Who Doesn’t Care Who’s Who.

The original apartments, dining room, gymnasium, tennis court, servants’ rooms, laundry rooms, wine cellar, et cetera were lavish or simply practical, according to function. No cost was spared. We find that over the years, even at the onset, residents took to moving and rebuilding walls and reconfiguring the space. One resident even had a sunken pool installed, only to be covered over at another time, and then rediscovered during a future remodeling project decades later.

There are numerous stories about many of the residents and the employees, their quirkiness, their practicalities, and their contributions and influence on The Dakota. There are people whose names were, or are, well-known, and those who are now shadows in history or pop culture, but intriguing nonetheless.

The building became a co-op in the early 1960s, and we learn how that occurred with all its brouhaha, and how that continues to impact its operation today – or at least until 1979 when this book was published.

This is a very tightly-written book and is, therefore, extremely interesting and difficult to put down. Each chapter is filled with so much material on the people, politics, cloak-and-dagger tomfooleries, and economic data that I want to learn more, yet it’s a shame that the book ends its account in 1979. It practically screams for an addendum to share what happened since then.

I recommend “Life at the Dakota” for anyone who likes history, architecture, mystery, intrigue, and/or entertaining ideas. Yes, it even has a trio of old cocktail recipes.

There is a book that has it all, a book that holds your attention, a book that makes you want to know more – this is it!

Life at The Dakota
By Stephen Birmingham
Published: 1979; 2015
Publisher: Open Road Media
Pages: 243

©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.

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BOOK REVIEW: Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief

Here’s a surprisingly enchanting novelette that speaks about society from the viewpoint of a (female) handkerchief, and it was written by James Fenimore Cooper, which piqued my interest.

This story is a satire on the subject of egotistically trying to achieve a higher social status, and was originally written as a series that was first published in Graham’s Magazine in 1843.

The story takes the reader on a double trans-Atlantic voyage, narrated by a fancy linen and lace handkerchief. It cleverly begins with a flax seed that grows, is harvested, carded, and made into a fine linen handkerchief. It continues with its sale, its adornment with beautiful handmade lace, and its travels between France and the United States and various owners.

I got a kick out of the premise of this story. The handkerchief is “female”, so I could “hear” the female voice narrating in a soothing way, and because the handkerchief was “born” in France, it has a French accent, in my mind. It’s a clever story-telling viewpoint.

The novelette is filled with French words and phrases; however, if the reader doesn’t know a bit of French, don’t despair! There are translations on each page. I don’t think it takes away from the story, but rather, it’s an enhancement.

I liked this story for Cooper’s writing style, the point of view, and bits of humor that work well in our twenty-first century society. The interaction between the handkerchief and a shirt was priceless, as were references to New Yorkers’ noses.

Some topics surpass centuries and societies. This one does, hands down.

“Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief”
Author: James Fenimore Cooper
Publication date: 1843
Pages: 112

©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.


BOOK REVIEW: A Little Florida Lady

It never fails that when I start researching for one thing, I come across something else that takes me down another road, then to something else again that may or may not be related to the first thing I was researching, and then I wind up with something new and exciting that I never dreamed at the start.

“A Little Florida Lady” is that “something new and exciting” discovery.

I came across this 1903 children’s story by Dorothy C. Paine while I was researching life in the Old South and plantation living for a separate writing project. One thing led to another, this book came across my radar, and I decided it might be worth a read.

The little Florida lady is Beth Davenport, a native New York little girl, who moves to Florida with her family. She experiences new sights and sounds, odd flora and fauna, and a different way of life and vernacular along the way, beginning with the train trip to Jacksonville, Florida, and then beyond to their new home in the South.

Paine uses dialect to perfection when the black characters speak. And to buttress the dialect, she describes the black characters in terms that today would be considered in bad taste. How times have changed! However, as long as the reader understands that this story was published in 1903, dialect and descriptions work well together. In fact, I found that I could easily visualize the characters and scenes because of that. It was real.

There are lessons in this story, though awkward and perhaps judgmental in today’s mind and thinking, yet are very good ones. For example, let’s look at this scene:

Beth loved to travel, and soon was on speaking terms with every one [sic] on the car. She hesitated slightly about being friends with the porter. He made her think of the first colored person she had ever seen. She remembered even now how the man’s rolling black eyes had frightened her, although it was the blackness of his skin that had impressed her the most. She believed that he had become dirty, the way she sometimes did, only in a greater degree.

“Mamma,” she whispered, “I never get as black as that man, do I? Do you s’pose he ever washes himself?”

Mrs. Davenport explained that cleanliness had nothing to do with the
man’s blackness.

“Is he black inside?” Beth questioned in great awe.

“No. All people are alike at heart. Clean thinking makes even the
black man white within, dear.”

Beth’s mother gently explained to her, in so many words, that people are people, no matter their outward appearance – a sort of “we are all God’s children” lesson.

We see a new world as Beth sees it. Cotton fields looked like “little specks of white [looking like] little balls of snow . . . on bushes.”

Beth sees Spanish moss on live oaks as “hair.” She compares new things to those she knows, and she has that feeling and reaction of awe:

She was impatient to see everything . . . She felt that she needed a thousand eyes. The trees bewildered her. There were so many varieties she had never seen before – magnolias with their wonderful glossy foliage; bamboos with their tropical stalks covered with luxuriant green; pomegranates; live-oaks and water-oaks; the wild olive with its feathery white blossoms, and many others.

Beth makes friends at her new home, including the ubiquitous chubby, happy, red kerchief-wearing, apron-toting black woman found in many Southern stories. Yes, it’s typical and almost expected in these old stories, but I remained unphased about it – after all, this “typical” character’s name was Maggie, and that was a nice change from – brace yourself – Mammy.

Pierce’s use of dialect works well, albeit with the vernacular at the time this story was written:

As Mr. Davenport and Beth walked to the side of the darky, he lifted
his stovepipe hat that had been brushed until the silk was wearing
away. He revealed thereby a shock of iron-gray wool. He made a
sweeping bow.

“Massa, am dis de little missy dat yo’ wuz tellin’ ’bout? I’se powerful glad to meet yo’, missy.”

And that is how the reader is introduced to the Davenport’s driver, January.

Pierce continues the stereotypical descriptions of people, but it’s almost unnoticeable since it is the story:

Beth returned to the barn with Duke. January as usual was idling. He
had his fiddle and was playing “Dixie.” Beth sat down on the hay near
him, while the dog family frolicked around her. She was happy, so
happy that from sheer light-heartedness she began to sing.

Along the way, Beth meets and befriends blonde, blue-eyed poor white trash Gustus, who helps to expand her new Southern world. He exposes her to fishing, and teaches her a lesson about alligators, which she thought at first were dragons.

All in all, “The Little Florida Lady” is a good read, and one that can be finished inside of a couple of hours. As long as the reader understands the timeframe in which this story was written and the thinking of people back then, it becomes a positive, learning-lesson type of story that can be applied today in various ways, despite the mischievousness of it.

As Pierce wrote about Beth’s recovery from an illness, we can possible apply our own recovery from the illness of injurious prejudice today:

With the elasticity of childhood, Beth grew well rapidly, and was once
more her mischievous self.

How elastic are we today, in a world vastly different than in 1903 when this book was published, in regards to anything that is negative? We can learn that while we can bounce back from the condition of misunderstanding and prejudice, we can also become our mischievous selves again. The point to ponder is, are to become mischievous in a playful and impish sense, or mischievous in a malicious and wicked sense?

You can find a free copy of this book in electronic format at LoyalBooks.

“A Little Florida Lady”
By Dorothy C. Paine
Copyright, 1903, by
George W. Jacobs & Company
Published, October, 1903

Pages: 156

download

The original book cover.

©Susan Marie Molloy, and works within.


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