December 2009
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Archive for December, 2009

2009 and Ahead: Challenges and New Opportunities for MAS

Vin Cipolla

When I assumed the presidency of the Municipal Art Society earlier this year, I was proud to join an organization with an unparalleled commitment to improving New York City’s built environment. My vision — shared by our Board of Directors — is to harness that commitment to transform MAS into a thought-leader on the subject of urban livability and to broaden our reach to new communities, so that we truly become the voice for the future of our city. Over the past year, we have made many significant strides toward these goals and I am pleased to share news of our progress with you.

In 2009, we developed and implemented a new strategic plan that better focuses our work in three major areas, which, in large measure, embrace the work MAS has always excelled in and is best known for — preservation and sustainability, planning for all New Yorkers, and place-making and visioning. MAS had begun to take on projects and commitments that, while worthy, were not consistent with our mission, and drained limited staff resources. Over the year, we committed to taking on fewer projects, and also to deepen our work on those areas of focus. This website provides a record of information on those initiatives and accomplishments.

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A Personal History of the Villard Houses


After nearly 30 years at the Villard Houses, MAS is moving its headquarters to the Steinway Hall Building, at 111 W.57th Street in mid-January. As we prepare to vacate our erstwhile home, we took the opportunity to consider the history of this notable palazzo-style brownstone building that was originally built as six townhouses. And who better to do this with than MAS Richard Morris Hunt Patron, Clarence Fahnestock Michalis, who was born in the Villard Houses at 455 Madison Avenue more than 80 years ago?

MAS Director of Annual Giving, Robin Lynn, traces the early days of these buildings with Mr. Michalis, whose great-grandfather was the first occupant of 457 Madison Avenue, and reflects on their changing identity and ownership over the intervening 124 years.

St. George Theatre, A Place That Matters

st george theater interior

Just two months after the 1929 stock market crash, the doors of the lavish St. George Theatre opened at 35 Hyatt Street in Staten Island. Commissioned by Solomon Brill, the palatial theatre was intended to bring leading vaudeville acts, such as Al Jolson, Kate Smith and Guy Lombardo, to the island borough. It was also meant to rival to the great movie houses of the era.

Eugene DeRosa, the architect for over 35 cinema houses in the New York City area, worked with Staten Island architect James Whitford to design the distinguished, though austere, exterior of the St. George Theatre. Any restraint on the exterior’s design is more than compensated for by the interior opulence. The extravagant Spanish and Italian Baroque interior was conjured up by Nestor Castro, who was responsible for designing many of Time Square’s finest theatre interiors as the art director for Libman-Spanjer. Outfitted with stately gilded balconies, luxurious velvet seats, sparkling chandeliers, epic murals, sculpted fountains and grand marble staircases, going to a show at the St. George Theatre was an experience in and of itself.

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Webster Hall, A Place That Matters


Although now known for its dance nights and rock concerts, Webster Hall is in fact an incredibly culturally significant site. Designed as a “hall for hire” in 1886 by Charles Rentz, Webster Hall was available for rental by diverse groups from its inception. For more than 120 years, the Queen Anne-style assembly hall, located at 119-125 East 11th Street, has hosted a wide array of events, including debutante balls, society dinners, wrestling matches, political rallies, union meetings, bohemian costume parties and musical performances.

Political parties, movements and figures were an important part of Webster Hall’s activities. In 1892, two different groups met at Webster Hall to endorse presidential candidate Grover Cleveland, and Emma Goldman was a frequent orator there in the early 20th century. In 1912, activist Margaret Sanger fed 119 children at the hall because their millworker parents had been on strike for weeks in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Webster Hall was also where the founding convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) took place in December 1914; where the defense committee for Sacco and Vanzetti met in the 1920s; where anti-Fascists adopted a resolution condemning Mussolini in 1930; and where sixty German-American organizations congregated to pledge their loyalty to the U.S. in 1942.

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Celebrate the Holidays at MAS


MAS has much to celebrate and share with our members, friends and colleagues this holiday season. After more than 25 years in the Villard Houses, we are moving our headquarters to the Steinway Hall Building at 111 West 57th Street as of mid-January 2010.

So, join us on Thursday, December 10, from 6:00 p.m. for wine, beer, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, music, and good cheer throughout the evening. President Vin Cipolla and Chairman David Childs will toast MAS and its future, and bid farewell Villard Houses and hello Steinway. Architectural historian and MAS tour leader Francis Morrone will give a brief talk about the history of the Villard Houses and of the Steinway Hall Building.

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