December 17, 2018

Tudor City on Stage: DAWN POWELL'S "BIG NIGHT"

Ad for opening night, January 17, 1933
In earlier posts, this blog has explored Tudor City's representation in the arts, via books, drawings, photographs, and the movies. Now we've discovered the enclave portrayed on stage in the play Big Night by Dawn Powell. 

Powell, caricatured by David Levine.
Powell, a writer often compared to Dorothy Parker, has many big-name fans. She was Hemingway's "favorite living writer," America's "best comic novelist" to Gore Vidal. Fran Lebowitz says "there is no other writer I could recommend more heartily." 

Big Night was Powell's first attempt at play writing. The entire play is set in the Tudor City apartment of Ed Bonney, an advertising executive, and his wife Myra, a former model. Ed's about to lose his job, and in desperation, invites a potential client over for cocktails. The drunken, sloppy party that ensues concludes with Ed pimping out his wife to the client. 

The Tudor City setting was no doubt meant to suggest the couple's diminished state. Although Tudor City was perfectly respectable, it was a long way from Park Avenue. Below, Powell's stage directions:
Scene: The Bonney's living room in the Tudor City section of New York City, conventionally furnished, walls in the inevitable pale green. In the center back is a door to the hall. To the right of this is a wide door to a serving pantry. This door is constantly held open by a chair what with people wanting ice or ginger ale or orange juice all night. . .  
Dawn Powell, stage manager Alice Parker, and director Cheryl Crawford confer. 
The play was a production of the Group Theater, the soon-to-be legendary ensemble that gave the world method acting. Big Night was directed by Cheryl Crawford (later a renowned theatrical producer) and starred Stella Adler (future acting school doyenne). Clifford Odets (future playwright) had a bit part as a doorman.

Director Crawford watches the cast practice cocktail-pouring and lap-sitting.
The Tudor City apartment set (what one can see of it) behind them.

The play was a thudding flop, running for nine performances. Critics called it "sordid contemporary realism" rife with "sodden detail" and "immoral, debauched characters." Robert Benchley in the New Yorker gave its only positive notice. "If unpleasant characters are to damn a play," he wrote, "O'Neill has been getting away with not only incest but murder all these years."

Dawn Powell had the last word: "'To be attacked as a menace to the theater was the first real sign that I had a contribution to make there.'' 

December 13, 2018

Miracle on 42nd Street

Scaffolding rising, December 11, 2018.

In breaking news, the Tudor City sign ‒ an obsession of this blog ‒ is finally getting an overhaul and is about to be scraped, painted and floodlit. After enduring an up-and-down history over the last 91 years, it is now, thankfully, on an upswing.

Landmarked in 1988 as part of the Tudor City historic district, the sign was specifically cited by the commission as "a piece of real estate history." Roof signs advertising apartment houses are rare in New York (much more common in LA), and this particular sign is said to be the only surviving example in Manhattan.

It has been unlit for the last thirty years. We're thrilled it's coming back, and a big thank you to No. 45 for undertaking (and underwriting) the project.
The restoration team has their work cut out for them given the state of the letters.

We're told that the paint job will resemble this circa-1960 view of the sign.

We're also told that the lighting treatment will be modeled after Long Island City's Silvercup Studio sign, which is subtly floodlit after dark, above.

Today's incredible news follows the relighting of the Hotel Tudor sign, mere months ago. 2018 has certainly been a banner year for signs in the colony.

December 11, 2018

Strange But True: YIELD SIGN Edition

This installment of Strange But True ran in the Daily News on November 16, 1958, an apparently slow news day.

"Driver leaves vehicle to inspect sign which faces non-existent traffic at 41st St. and Tudor City Pl. Motorists coming east on one-way 41st St. turn left because of dead ends ahead and to the right. Thus they can only see the back of the sign unless they pass it and turn heads around to read it. The sign's also puzzled residents, who've reported the oddly-placed sign to the Traffic Dept."

December 9, 2018

December 7, 2018


This installment of our noteworthy resident series profiles Warren Eberle, longtime editor of Tudor City View, the monthly neighborhood gazette. This blog owes a great debt to him for inspiring many posts.
Eberle in 1959.

Born in Kansas in 1884, Eberle came to New York after landing a job in real estate advertising. In 1940, he was hired to edit Tudor City View, and stayed with it for nearly 30 years, finally retiring in 1969.

The job was a one-man operation, with Eberle writing all the articles, securing all the ads, and taking most of the photographs. At least his commute was easy: he lived in The Manor and his office was in No. 5.

Although his editorial content accentuated the positive ‒ the magazine was underwritten by the French Company, after all ‒ Eberle was not afraid to tackle community issues.

Among his targets were the air pollution from the Con Ed smokestacks ("a menace to our health"), the Pan Am heliport ("a daily, nerve-wracking din"), anti-Vietnam War protesters ("long-haired, bearded beatniks"), pigeon feeding ("if you must feed the birds, buy a parakeet"), wasting water ("don't flush everything"), and, especially, throwing lit cigarettes out the window ("windows are not ashtrays!")

The magazine folded when Eberle retired in 1969 (at the age of 85), and an era ended.
Eight of the 347 issues of Tudor City View that Eberle edited.

December 5, 2018

The Bride Wore Purple

Tudor Tower wedding ceremony, September 21, 1970.

There have been countless weddings in Tudor City over the last 90 years, but one of the more unconventional ones took place in 1970 on a penthouse terrace atop No. 25.

The groom was Jon Haggins, fashion designer, and the bride, June Murphy, a model. It had been a whirlwind, six-month  courtship. When it came time to set the date, Haggins had a brainstorm, spelled out in the wedding invitation: Jon Haggins is in high spirits because he's going to marry June Murphy and present his holiday, resort and spring collection on the same day!

The hybrid event was held on the penthouse terrace of a Tudor Tower resident who was a friend of the groom. Most of the guests were press people intrigued by the gimmick of a fashion show ending with a wedding. Fashion shows at the time often ended with a bride, but never a real one.

It was the '70s, so the bride and groom both wore purple, she in purple chiffon with a matching scarf, he in a purple shirt and bow tie. The ceremony was Unitarian. At one point the wind caught the bride's long scarf and wrapped it around the couple, which was widely seen as good luck.

It was not a lucky union, however, ending after a year and a half. Years later, Haggins told the Times "we just had different visions." Despite "a bitter divorce," he confessed he "still has a little thing for her. It's something I never got over."

Thank you to David Reiff for the tip.

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REMINDER: The lighting of the enclave's Christmas tree takes place tomorrow night, Dec. 6th, at 6:30 pm in the South Park. This has been an annual Tudor City tradition since 1927, don't miss it!