Observations: Changes at the Center of the City (And World)

May 13, 2014

The city’s most famous plazas straddle Fifth Avenue at 59th Street, and there’s a lot going on.

One of the city’s great entrances is the large marquee facing Fifth Avenue at the Plaza Hotel between 58th Street and Central Park South surmounted by five large ”outrigger” flags, at least one of which is the American flag. This past Sunday, there were two American flags, one Canadian flag, the Fairmount Hotels & Resorts flag, and the Plaza Hotel flag. The two American flags, however, were not standard and the “canton” of white stars against a blue background. These had too much blue background at the edge.

While pointing this out to the two doorman, Jarret Lazar, the manager of bell services, wandered by and expressed surprise at my observation. He said that the flags need to be changed every two or three weeks because they get ripped apart.

It was a very glorious day, weatherwise, so I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of flag etiquette for a building with such expensive hotel rooms and residential condominiums. Instead, I wandered across the avenue to the large plaza in front of the GM Building, which has two large pools with fountains at its north and south ends on either side of the very popular glass cube entrance to an Apple store.

My eye was caught by the acrobatic stance of a young girl who seemed to be floating over the south pool. She was “fishing” and a few feet away was her catch for the day so far, a stash of pennies, but memories of such dalliances were soon dashed when a handsome building official came rushing up to the girl’s mother and said that one “cannot touch the water.” He repeated this several times and the girl and her sister and mother grabbed the salvaged pennies and scurried away in apparent shock at the arcane regulations. Didn’t debutantes once prance about beneath Pomona outside the Plaza as part of their rites of passage into society?

young girl fishing out pool pennies at the plaza

All the news is not bad, however, as Cartier finally opened up its temporary quarters on the north end of the GM Building’s base. And now, instead of showing off its baubles in the base’s very pale, washed out, blue-green glass façade, which does not relate to the white marble of the tower, Cartier’s opted for extremely elegant black.

The black glass is a great counterpoint to the tower’s white, and hopefully will lead to a revolution against the blue-green that has held sway in re-cladding circles in recent years, causing our great streetscapes to look indistinguishable and dull.

Amidst the very smoky atmosphere of the food vending carts on the east side of the avenue, and the metallic blue barrier of bicycle racks in front of the Plaza, I decided it was not the best time to inquire when the great Oak Bar, with its very impressive Everett Shinn murals, will be reopened to the public. Or when all the trees at the north end of Grand Army Plaza might be replaced.

The facafe of Cartier at Central Park South

Photos © Carter B. Horsley

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