Big Ticket | Baronial Show House Sold for $22.85 Million

A magisterial limestone town house on one of the Upper East Side’s most moneyed blocks sold for $22.85 million and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.

The 17-room home at 106 East 71st Street, built in 1910 for an Orange County heiress and later divided into two apartments, was returned to its original splendor as a single-family residence by a foreign investor who bought it in 2007 for $16.7 million. Its most recent asking price was $26.5 million.

The restored mansion was put on the market for $28.8 million in 2010, the same year it came to the rescue of the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club, which had been forced to cancel its annual spring decorator show house event for the first time in 38 years because its intended site had been sold just before the show. After 106 East 71st Street stepped in and played good Samaritan, the show was successfully staged in the 10,235-square-foot space that autumn. The $1 million charitable event supplies roughly 20 percent of the club’s operating budget, with the funds designated for after-school programs for Bronx children.

The six-bedroom, seven-bath town house is unusually wide — a baronial 25 feet — and has seven wood-burning fireplaces. The first lends a cozy charm to the entrance foyer, and the 600-square-foot mahogany-paneled living room and dining room each have fireplaces, as does the all-white eat-in kitchen, which has the requisite center island and also overlooks a planted garden. Most of the floors are of white oak planks; the limestone balcony is original, and windows are trimmed with mahogany.

There are two powder rooms, two wet bars, an extra kitchenette, a paneled “penthouse library,” a media room, a gym/playroom and a roof terrace. On the lower level, two rooms and a bath are specifically designated for staff members.

The six levels are connected by a grand marble staircase that is original to the home, but for modernity’s sake there is also an elevator. Before the sale, the house had been listed for rent for $85,000 a month in 2011; the annual property taxes are $100,000.

The seller, shielded by a limited-liability company, 135, was represented by Carrie Chiang and Janet Wang of the Corcoran Group. The buyer also used a limited-liability company, choosing a whimsical identity, Hash Bass. The identity of the buyer’s broker was not divulged by Ms. Chiang, but she did speak reverently of the trophy home: “106 East 71st Street is a rare find, an extraordinary 25-foot-wide limestone mansion on a premier block,” she said. “Graciously laid-out rooms and generous space, both indoors and out, made it the perfect venue for the Kips Bay Show House.” And perfect, evidently, for someone under the guise of Hash Bass.
Big Ticket includes closed listings from the previous week, ending Wednesday.

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The Awesome Journey of Coley the Osprey

A fish hawk named Coley reunited with his mate off the coast of Queens this week on the first day of spring. His spiky brown crest was slightly ruffled, but otherwise, he seemed surprisingly poised after completing his northern migration.

He did not flinch at the din of a Delta jet approaching the nearby runway at Kennedy International Airport.

Wherever that plane was coming from, its trip had undoubtedly taken less time than Coley’s.

Over 15 days, he had clocked about 2,600 miles, starting from Ciénaga Pajaral, or Bird Marsh, on the northern tip of Colombia.

On Wednesday evening, a ranger at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge spotted the female eating a fish on the nest, perhaps gifted by Coley as an act of commitment.

Coley is offering researchers an extraordinary view of the hunting and flying patterns of ospreys, fish-eating raptors with five-foot wingspans.

As part of a two-year project spearheaded by the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, the three-and-a-half-pound brown bird with a white breast was equipped with a harness attached to a solar-powered GPS device. It was about the size of small matchbox, with a 10-inch antenna sticking out the back.

For 16 hours a day, it records the location, altitude, speed and direction of the bird.

“These birds know where they are going and do not waste any time getting there,” said Bob Kennedy, an osprey expert and science adviser for the harbor parks, who outfitted Coley with his one-ounce backpack last May.

Dr. Kennedy, whose chronicle of Coley’s adventure is at www.jamaicabayosprey.org, said he believed that the bird had made the journey before, but many mysteries remain.

“We know a whole lot more about migration than we do 50 years ago,” he said. But how they navigate – using land features, the Earth’s magnetic force, celestial and solar cues, or a combination of these methods – is not exactly clear.

“Prior migration experience probably plays an important role as well,” he added.

Coleman P. Burke, a founding board member of the harbor conservancy who invested $25,000 in the endeavor, about half of its total cost, has been anxiously monitoring his namesake’s progress.

“He’s facing headwinds and bad weather,” Mr. Burke said. “This is not a simple drill.”

View Coley the Osprey’s Complete Migration North, 2013-03-05 to 2013-03-20 in a larger map

On March 8, Coley completed the most challenging leg of the trip, 440 miles from La Guajira Peninsula in Colombia to the extreme southwest coast of Haiti, entirely over water. Counting the miles he flew to reach the Colombian coast and the distance he flew after reaching Haiti, he logged over 530 miles of nonstop flying in 34 hours.

Osprey have made a vigorous comeback in recent decades after the population was nearly decimated by the use of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s and ’60s.

Dave Taft, who is the National Park Service’s coordinator for the wildlife refuge, which is part of Gateway National Recreation Area, recalled when a breeding pair of osprey was a rare site.

Today, the refuge is home to about 15 man-made nesting platforms, with additional bird-created sites on channel buoys and telephone poles, a sign of the bay’s environmental health, Mr. Taft said. Last summer, about 25 baby osprey fledged successfully.

And when the adults return for mating season, “we’re so happy to see them,” he said. “But finally, we hope to answer the question, where do these birds go?”

Because of a long breeding cycle, ospreys are among the first birds to migrate north for the season.

Now that Coley and his mate have reunited, they will reaffirm their bond with aerial courtship displays. They will bring offerings of fish and nesting materials to their aerie. If this pair reproduces successfully, they could be warming three or four eggs before mid-April.

For a moment, the nest – which is three feet tall, weighs over 100 pounds and was practically untouched by Hurricane Sandy – was empty on Thursday morning. While Coley explored the salt marsh cordgrass, his mate ventured out of sight, returning a few minutes later with a slim twig she then tucked into the pile.

“It’s dangerous to anthropomorphize,” said Mr. Taft, but he allowed that it was possible that the bonded pair was experiencing some sense of relief that they had made it back for another year in Jamaica Bay.

Coley by The Numbers: March 5 – March 20, 2013
Total journey: 15 days and 7 hours
Average flight speed: about 20 miles per hour
Average miles per day: 166
Average altitude over land: 300 – several thousand feet
Average altitude over water: 100 to 300 feet
Longest distance over land: 225 miles
Longest nonstop flight, mostly over water: 530 miles
Longest ground stay: 2 days due to inclement weather in Virginia

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Ancient Art for a Modern World

Inside a rambling Victorian house in New Brighton, a part of Old Russia lives on. Most days, the Rev. John Walsted crouches over a worktable in his second-floor studio, dipping a slender brush into glistening pools of egg yolk and powdered pigment as he painstakingly creates Orthodox-style icons for churches and private collections.

Side Street

David Gonzalez reports from corners of the city in words and pictures.

Each icon that he writes — his preferred term for painting — is an original, like scripture. The sentiments expressed in Mother of Tenderness, for example, where the Christ child presses his cheek against Mary’s face, make the icon more than a symbol, but a reaffirmation to believers.

“It’s saying an incarnate God loves you, just like a child presses his cheek against yours,” Father Walsted said. “Your relationship to others should also be like that intimacy shown in the image. This is not some theoretical thing in la-la land.”

Father Walsted, 81, has lived on Staten Island since 1977, after having spent 14 years in an Episcopal monastic order. He served as rector of Christ Church on the island’s north shore — not far from where he lives with the Rev. Jerry Keucher — until 1994. Since then, he has devoted himself to his art, working on scores of pieces each year, including large single panels, altarpieces and crosses.

His path to an old art started in childhood.

“I’ve been drawing since I was 4 or 5,” he said. “It was a matter of survival in my family. My mother was a theoretical mathematician at M.I.T., and my father was a professor of metallurgy at M.I.T. I was dyslexic. I flunked math. My way out was doing art, which nobody could do in my family.”

Attending the University of Oregon, he tried his hand at modern art — or what passed for it — and was dissatisfied. While going through the school’s art collection one day, he stumbled upon a room with Byzantine icons. A professor told him to forget about it.

“He said nothing creative came out of it after the eighth century,” Father Walsted recalled. “It’s all repetition and copies itself. That didn’t stop me. It spoke to me.”

Another moment of discovery came a few years later after he had been ordained and was celebrating Mass at a parish in North Portland. During the moment before the consecration of the bread and wine, the walls around the sanctuary disappeared. He said he saw angels who spoke to him.

“It was an incredible infusion of light, movement and color, with the bread and wine and the altar like the center of an hourglass,” he recalled. “It was a place of meeting between heaven and earth. I was told to do icons.”

He has done so for about half a century now. First self-taught — including one early effort on plaster, which crumbled — he went on to learn traditional egg tempera techniques on gesso-covered wood while living in California. Starting with a fresh yolk, he mixes in ground mineral pigments, delicately dabbing it on small sections. Some are further adorned with gold leaf.

But after more than a dozen years in a monastery, he wanted to get back into the world. A friend suggested a therapist on Staten Island to help him sort out his feelings. Within weeks of arriving, he met Father Keucher, who became his partner and business manager. The decision was made to stay.

The couple has lived in their big house for some 25 years, carefully restoring it, filling it with art, antiques and icons. There are reminders of a few past ventures to branch out with painted lampshades and boxes. Father Keucher chuckled at a failed attempt to make miniature icons on painted ostrich eggs for the Russian Tea Room.

“A raw egg dries out naturally, but John polyurethaned it, so it couldn’t breathe,” he said. “Instead, it rotted and exploded. I don’t think we went back to the Russian Tea Room.”

Since he retired almost 20 years ago, Father Walsted has been busier than ever, often working on several commissions simultaneously. His clients include Roman Catholic Churches and other collectors who want something traditional and original — like a portrait of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that he is now doing for the Church of St. Clare in Great Kills.

“Modern art really doesn’t work with churches,” said Father Keucher, 60. “Most modern art, like poetry, uses a vocabulary where you have to guess at what it means. So there’s been a recognition of this Eastern form because of the skill and the connection to antiquity. It has a common vocabulary.”

Part of that is in the perspective, which Father Waslted explained was unlike the shrinking horizons of Western art.

“The perspective is reversed,” he said. “Heaven is not a diminishing field. Like in the icon with the Virgin on the throne, it gets bigger. It’s supposed to provide the experience of being in heaven and looking back out. You are in the icon. You are part of it. You’re part of that relationship.”

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When ‘Tonight’ Was a ‘Lifeline to New York City’

So we called Dick Cavett to ask what “The Tonight Show” had meant to New York when it originated from Midtown Manhattan. Our idea was to follow up on reports that NBC planned to bring “Tonight” back to New York after a 41-year exile in California and name Jimmy Fallon the host, replacing Jay Leno.

Mr. Cavett was in mid-anecdote when his other phone rang. Jimmy Fallon was on the line, he said.

“Of course I can’t tell you anything he said,” Mr. Cavett said when our conversation resumed.

But the old days, before Mr. Leno, before Johnny Carson took “Tonight” to California? Mr. Cavett — who said he stood backstage with Mr. Carson on his first night as the host, in 1962 — remembered the original home of “The Tonight Show.”

It was the Hudson Theater, on West 44th Street, which NBC had bought in 1950. “Just off the crossroads of the world, Times Square,” as Gene Rayburn, the original announcer, described it on the first night of the program in September 1954, before introducing the first host, Steve Allen.

Mr. Allen said “Tonight” would be “a mild little show in a theater that sleeps 800 people” — and that had a sidewalk out front. It proved useful the night the cameras watched him fry hundreds of eggs in a giant frying pan, or try to. (The show later moved to 30 Rockefeller Plaza.)

‘Tonight,’ With New Host, Set to Reclaim Its New York Roots

An always-fractious changing of the guard on the late-night show will this time be accompanied by a change of scenery.

In those early days of television, New York was a cultural exporter. Someone who lived in, say, Arlington, Va., could keep up with what stars were in what Broadway shows from what the hosts said about them on “What’s My Line” or “To Tell the Truth.” And someone outside New York could watch dramas on programs like “Studio One,” “Kraft Television Theater” and “Philco Television Playhouse,” which had writers like Paddy Chayefsky and Sumner Locke Elliott.

“‘The Tonight Show’ was a lifeline to New York City, a place I loved, even though I didn’t live there yet,” said Mr. Cavett, who was an undergraduate at Yale when “Tonight” was new. “But later, ‘The Tonight Show,’ whoever was doing it, was that same lifeline, when I was out on the road or acting in the summer at Williamstown. You were welcomed back each night into Manhattan. It seemed to epitomize New York and all that was wonderful and glamorous and entertaining.”

So the move to California was jarring, and still is.

“‘Tonight’ just seems wrong to come from California,” Mr. Cavett said. “Johnny was not totally convinced he was better off in California, I think. I know one thing, he thought he’d be better off doing only an hour, and then he confided to me, ‘I think I made a mistake here, Richard.’ I first heard that from Gore Vidal, who’d just been on the show and said Johnny’s not happy the way he thought he’d be, doing only an hour.” (The program was shortened from 90 minutes in the 1980s.)

The next time Mr. Cavett was a guest on the program, he said that he asked Mr. Carson if he was happy to be rid of the extra 30 minutes.

“He said, ‘I’m not, really,’” Mr. Cavett recalled. “There’s really no difference in doing an hour and doing 90 minutes.’”

But that is so 20th century. This is obviously the 21st and if Mr. Cavett wouldn’t say what Mr. Fallon told him, he did share one piece of advice that he said he had given Mr. Fallon: “Watch out for advice about what you have to change about yourself on ‘The Tonight Show.’”

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Man Jailed in 1990 Killing of a Rabbi Is Released

David Ranta walked out of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Thursday a free man, after spending more than two decades in a maximum-security prison for a crime he almost certainly did not commit.

Mr. Ranta, who was convicted in 1991 of one of New York City’s most notorious murders, only to spend years fighting to prove his innocence, was escorted by guards into a courtroom. His hands were bound in handcuffs, linked by a chain to a brown leather belt around his waist.

Justice Miriam Cyrulnik listened to brief statements from the defense lawyer, Pierre Sussman, and from the office of Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney. Then she fixed her eyes on Mr. Ranta, a man of modest stature, his hair thin and graying, his mouth playing with an uncertain smile.

“To say that I’m sorry for what you have endured will be an understatement and grossly inadequate, but I say it to you anyway,” she said to him softly, her eyes red-rimmed. “Sir, you are a free man.”

With that, more than a dozen relatives and friends in the benches behind him broke into applause and sobs. Mr. Ranta turned to them, as guards unshackled him.

Mr. Ranta, who had been a printer with a history of drug addiction and small-time thievery, was convicted of murdering Chaskel Werzberger, a prominent Satmar rabbi, in a botched robbery in February 1990. That case disintegrated over the years, as witnesses recanted testimony and it emerged that police detectives had coached a witness and broken many rules.

He emerged from the courtroom into the hallway, appearing a bit dazed. “I’m overwhelmed,” he all but whispered. “Right now, I feel like I’m under water, swimming.”

John P. O’Mara, who oversees Mr. Hynes’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which re-examined this case, was taciturn. He offered no regrets, noting that he was not involved in the original case. And he suggested, without offering evidence, that Mr. Ranta still might have committed the crime.

Reporters asked him about Detective Louis Scarcella, who broke many rules in that long-ago case and played a key role in Mr. Ranta’s flawed conviction. Mr. O’Mara replied that Detective Scarcella, now retired, had been one of the busiest detectives in the Brooklyn North area.

Asked if that was not reason in itself to revisit those cases, Mr. O’Mara said his unit examined only cases referred to it. It does not, he said, independently comb through old cases.

Minutes later, Mr. Ranta took the escalator to the lobby, and emerged into the chill gray of Brooklyn. Over his shoulder he hauled a purple fish-net rucksack, containing all of this 58-year-old man’s worldly belongings.

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