Tag Archives: Jackie Kennedy

The story of how Idlewild Airport was renamed for John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was memorialized in dozens of ways following his assassination on November 22, 1963. None of these are more vital to the daily lives of New Yorkers than John F. Kennedy International Airport — or Kennedy Airport or simply JFK — the busiest airport in the Northeast.

You may not realize how quickly it was renamed for the fallen president. On November 15, 1963, President Kennedy left Idlewild Airport (the airport’s former name) after a short stay in the city. Six weeks later, that airport would be named after him.

New York joined the nation in mourning following the televised funeral of President Kennedy on November 25, 1963. Thousands watched the ceremony from a large television screen hanging in Grand Central Terminal. Traffic stopped in Times Square and Boy Scout buglers played taps from atop the old Hotel Astor. All airport traffic at Idlewild stopped at noon.

New York Like A Vast Church ran the headline in the New York Times.

Calls immediately rose to memorialize the president in the city. On December 4, less than two weeks after Kennedy’s death, Mayor Robert Wagner announced that he would submit a bill to the city council to honor Kennedy with a name change to Idlewild.

Unfortunately, these ultimately successful calls to rename New York’s largest airport came at the cost of obliterating the memory of another notable American.

Wired New York

Idlewild was the popular name for the airport which opened on July 1, 1948, because it was built upon a former golf course and luxury accommodation of that name. According to the Times, “The name Idlewild is believed to have been inspired by the fact that the site at that time was wild and that the hotel and park constituted a recreational facility for the idle rich.”

But its full, official name was New York International Airport, Anderson Field, named for Major General Alexander E. Anderson, a decorated World War I veteran and Queens businessman. Unfortunately Anderson had few proponents fighting to keep his name on the airport by 1963.

The following week, “[i]n an action marked by solemnity and silent prayer, the City Council voted unanimously yesterday to change the name of New York International Airport at Idlewild, Queens, to the John F. Kennedy International Airport.” [source]

It was revealed then that city officials wished to name the airport after Kennedy even more quickly than that. Indeed, the idea had been unofficially suggested hours after Kennedy’s assassination but it had taken the extra time to get the official approval from his widow (and future New York City resident) Jackie Kennedy.

Photographer Meyer Liebowitz/The New York Times

By Wednesday, December 18, the name change had been formally approved and workmen busily rushed to change all the signs at the airport.  Idlewild officially became John F. Kennedy Airport in a ceremony held on Christmas Eve 1963.

The president’s younger brother Edward Kennedy was in attendance, helping to unveil a 242-foot-long sign emblazoned with the new name. Their brother Robert F. Kennedy was scheduled to attend but canceled.

You would think such a name change to be relatively uncontroversial but this was not the case.

In an editorial which ran a few days after the ceremony, the New York Times remarked: “The speedy change of name — whether it be of an airport or a bridge or a park or a cape — reflects the love that millions of people all over the world had for Present Kennedy; but, as we have previously stated, it is only debasing the subject of our grief to attach his name so hastily to a miscellaneous collection of public works, almost as if we were afraid that without these tangible reminders he would be soon forgotten. “

Meyer Liebowitz/The New York Times

And President Kennedy almost got his name upon a newly built bridge in the New York City area, too.

That same month, a Staten Island politician filed a bill to the New York state legislature to name a new bridge being built in the Narrows after Kennedy. “Assemblyman Edward J. Amann Jr … profiled at Albany for introduction into the Legislature in January a bill calling for changing the name of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the John. F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge.” [source]

By the time it officially opened the following year, the Verrazano had kept its tribute name to the 16th century European explorer. But New York does have a bridge named for a Kennedy — the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (the former Triborough Bridge).

Below: A month after the dedication, Robert did stop by the airport named after his brother. 

JFK International Airport Chamber of Commerce

Jackie and Loving: History on Film 2016

The end of the year usually means a higher quality selection at the movie theater– and more films based on historical events, a popular theme for those seeking glory on awards shows.

It always seems each year’s batch accidentally gathers around a certain place or era.  Last year it was New York City history of the 1950s with films like Brooklyn, Carol and Bridge of Spies.  For 2016, three historical films releases hover around the 1960s but move geographically further south — specifically to Virginia and Washington D.C.

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Last night, I saw the riveting film Jackie, directed by the Chilean director Pablo Larraín, an abstract biographical film on the life ofJackie Kennedy, specifically focusing on the days in 1963 following her husband President John F. Kennedy’s tragic assassination in Dallas.

While almost uncomfortably accurate in places, Jackie is by no means a straightforward Lifetime melodrama, but rather a horror film of shifting faces, a speculation on the inner world of Jackie (Natalie Portman), a woman disintegrating, then reassembling before our eyes.

The film spends most of its time in two destinations. A reporter (Billy Crudup) attempts to pluck a magazine profile from a cold and even sinister Jackie out in Hyannis Port. The rest of the film plays out from the various tales spun to the reporter, a few entirely fabricated.

The main set piece of Jackie is, of course, the White House, seen more intimately here than any other film in recent memory. And yet, thanks to the off-kilter score, the hallways feel like those of The Shining, possessed of the weight of history and redecorated with objects that feel absurd and out-of-place.

History is one of the central themes of the film as Jackie attempts to assure her husband’s place in it (not, of course, forgetting her own place there as well). Portman’s Jackie is never played at a single note. Her grief has touches of insanity, her poise entirely self-aware.

This is not a presentation of the actual Jackie Kennedy — she will forever remain an enigma —  but rather an accumulation of the pop culture Jackies — the deified saint, the playful mannequin, the calculated intellectual. It’s a stylistic choice that Portman’s Jackie, at least, would have certainly encouraged

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On the other end of the historical panorama is the moving and unpretentious film Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols, a straight-forward and unflashy telling of the events surrounding the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, abolishing laws that prohibit interracial marriages.

Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, both pitch-perfect in their performances) are a kind, soft-spoken pair, compatibly rugged and sweet. When Mildred gets pregnant, the couple decide to get hitched in D.C., where interracial marriages are allowed. But in their Virginia small-town home, such a coupling is illegal, and the pair are quickly thrown in jail by a menacing sheriff (Marton Csokas). Eventually the couple and their child have to move out of the state entirely.

Loving is an especially interesting product for being a successful film about an entirely unfilmable subject. The central pair were not flashy individuals. The case took years to get to the Supreme Court and the Lovings didn’t even go to witness it. The heroes are two young, awkward attorneys — Bernie Cohen (played by Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirschknop (played by Jon Bass). There are no fiery speeches. Few words are ever uttered above a polite tone.

Yet, after a somewhat slow start, I found it a quietly engaging and fantastically uplifting experience.  In particular, the smile that stretches across Mildred’s face in Cohen’s office as she realizes her love is about to be validated by law is positively life-affirming.


And by the way, it is IMPOSSIBLE to watch either Jackie or Loving without having the modern world seeping in to influence your viewing experience of both.


The third historical film featuring the Virginia/D.C. area in the 1960s is Hidden Figures, about the life of Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), an African-American physicist who assisted in the planning of NASA’s first manned space flights. The film opens in limited release on December 25.

 

Another American innovator is celebrated in The Founder, about the life of Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton), the man behind McDonald’s golden arches.

And finally, for some Prohibition-era escapism — and for those who miss their Boardwalk Empire — there’s Live By Night, based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name.  Ben Affleck directs himself in this saucy, boozy thriller.

Another art anniversary: Mona Lisa comes to New York! And she’s almost drowned in a sprinkler malfunction

Mona mania: New Yorkers line up outside the Met for the hottest ticket in town in 1963

While many artistic institutions will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show next month, New York lovers of more classical paintings will be celebrating another milestone — the 50th anniversary of the Mona Lisa‘s visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci‘s stoic portrait came to America fifty years ago this month, a single-picture loan to the United States (as a special favor to Jackie Kennedy) and accompanied by André Malraux, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs. The first stop was the National Gallery in Washington DC, where over a half million people spent hours in line to gaze at the famous smile.

On February 7, 1963, she made her debut to the public at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the medieval sculpture hall, for a month-long exhibition that would become one of the museums most attended shows in history.  On that first day, thousands lined up outside in the freezing cold to catch a glimpse of the iconic painting; the first in line, a taxi driver named Joseph Lasky, got there at 4:30 in the morning.  By week’s end, already a quarter of a million people had visited the museum to see the Italian masterpiece.

Accommodating such a famous painting required some unprecedented changes in protocol. As a favor to the two governments, no admission fee was charged to view the painting, and weekday hours were extended until 9 pm each night.

Thousands of schoolchildren crammed the museum every morning, funneling by the modest-sized painting in a daze. Museum director James Rorimer told the New Yorker, “The dirt we expect, from them and everybody else! The accumulation of dust from scuffling shoes! We’ll have literally balls of dust.”

From reports, it sounds like they got the dust and air quality under control. The painting was secured by bulletproof glass and a couple Secret Service agents.  But the museum sprinkler system almost created an international incident by nearly destroying the painting in an unplanned shower.

According to a memoir by former museum director Thomas Hoving, he arrived at the museum storeroom one morning to find people frantically scurrying around with towels.

“No one ever discovered why, but some time during the night one of the fire sprinklers in the ceiling broke its glass ampoule….The Mona Lisa, according to the Louvre official, was ok.  He told me that the thick glass covering it had acted like an effective…raincoat.”

That incident was never leaked to the press. Actually, this would have been a good time to conceal something from the media as there was a newspaper strike at this time, shuttering many publications.

By the time the painting was packed up aboard the US United States for her journey back to the Louvre, the Mona Lisa had been seen by  well over one million people. According to the New York Times, the museum was able to identify the one-millionth visitor — one Arthur Pomerantz of New Rochelle — who was given a reproduction of the painting and gifts for his children.

Another art anniversary: Mona Lisa comes to New York! And she’s almost drowned in a sprinkler malfunction

Mona mania: New Yorkers line up outside the Met for the hottest ticket in town in 1963

While many artistic institutions will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show next month, New York lovers of more classical paintings will be celebrating another milestone — the 50th anniversary of the Mona Lisa‘s visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci‘s stoic portrait came to America fifty years ago this month, a single-picture loan to the United States (as a special favor to Jackie Kennedy) and accompanied by André Malraux, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs. The first stop was the National Gallery in Washington DC, where over a half million people spent hours in line to gaze at the famous smile.

On February 7, 1963, she made her debut to the public at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the medieval sculpture hall, for a month-long exhibition that would become one of the museums most attended shows in history.  On that first day, thousands lined up outside in the freezing cold to catch a glimpse of the iconic painting; the first in line, a taxi driver named Joseph Lasky, got there at 4:30 in the morning.  By week’s end, already a quarter of a million people had visited the museum to see the Italian masterpiece.

Accommodating such a famous painting required some unprecedented changes in protocol. As a favor to the two governments, no admission fee was charged to view the painting, and weekday hours were extended until 9 pm each night.

Thousands of schoolchildren crammed the museum every morning, funneling by the modest-sized painting in a daze. Museum director James Rorimer told the New Yorker, “The dirt we expect, from them and everybody else! The accumulation of dust from scuffling shoes! We’ll have literally balls of dust.”

From reports, it sounds like they got the dust and air quality under control. The painting was secured by bulletproof glass and a couple Secret Service agents.  But the museum sprinkler system almost created an international incident by nearly destroying the painting in an unplanned shower.

According to a memoir by former museum director Thomas Hoving, he arrived at the museum storeroom one morning to find people frantically scurrying around with towels.

“No one ever discovered why, but some time during the night one of the fire sprinklers in the ceiling broke its glass ampoule….The Mona Lisa, according to the Louvre official, was ok.  He told me that the thick glass covering it had acted like an effective…raincoat.”

That incident was never leaked to the press. Actually, this would have been a good time to conceal something from the media as there was a newspaper strike at this time, shuttering many publications.

By the time the painting was packed up aboard the US United States for her journey back to the Louvre, the Mona Lisa had been seen by  well over one million people. According to the New York Times, the museum was able to identify the one-millionth visitor — one Arthur Pomerantz of New Rochelle — who was given a reproduction of the painting and gifts for his children.

Snug Harbor: a port in the storm (Part 2)


(The imposing Front Five, a wall of Greek revival madness, faces the Kill van Kull and Richmond Terrace almost like a fort.)

Although the sailors home that eventually became Snug Harbor was not in the location its founder Robert Richard Randall would have preferred, it quickly became as tranquil and as restful a place as any rest home might in the 19th century. Fortunately many of the buildings have been completely restored to their original charm, and in some cases (see below) even more so.

You might be asking about now — why would I want to walk around an old rest home? Its all about that mix between careful preservation and vibrancy. Snug Harbor is both a throwback and a modern facility that very rarely feels stodgy. Many similar landmarks would do well to take some lessons from here.

The Minard Lafever-designed hall “Building C”, housed in the the center structure of the Front Five, is the most dazzling architecturally, built in 1830-1, with a wide Victorian entrance way and blue glass windows on the second floor. Building C is generally considered Lafever’s greatest still-existent building.

Unfortunately the building is darker than the rest, so my sad little digital cam can’t begin to capture the beauty. On top of well preserved rooms with historical displays, the building also hosts the Newhouse Gallery, featuring contemporary art displays.

(You can click on any photo to see detailing)


The smaller but no less impressive Building D (can’t they come up with more nautical names?) next door is of more interest to history lovers. With its white wood floors and flawless well-lit restorations of rooms and stairwells, the building is virtually laminated. It’s here that you can get a taste of what living at Snug Harbor might have been like.

Here were some of the former residents of Sailors Snug Harbor, world weary faces that survived decades at sea to spend their final days at Snug Harbor. One of the earliest governors of Snug Harbor was no less than Herman Melville’s brother Thomas, who was reputed to be a bit of a hardass with his aged charges.

Building D, built in 1841, serves as the Noble Maritime Collection as well and features artifacts from ships that frequented New York harbor and Staten Island.

Okay, so its not exactly four star accommodations, but given that the men housed here were used to cramped sea quarters for most of their lives, rooms like this must have looked spacious. The skillful design of the building allows for natural light to spill in everywhere.

The Maritime collection is named for John Alexander Noble, one of America’s foremost nautical painters. It was in part to his efforts that Snug Harbor was saved from the wrecking ball in the early 70s. Restoration of the building actually started as a space for his artwork.

Down this beautiful (and, let’s face it, Shining-like) hallway lay a presentation of Noble’s life and work:

Born in Paris in 1913, Noble spent his life in New York working on schooners, and became particularly entranced with a boatyard of docked and abandoned vessels at Port Johnston, at Bergen Point, New Jersey. His father was an accomplished painter and apparently passed on his talents to his curious and contemplative son. Enamored of sea life and particularly those used, beaten ships, Noble built a houseboat out of salvaged pieces and made himself an artists studio there, become a full time artist in 1946.

Many of the works displayed in Building D are Noble’s inspirations from taking a rowboat and touring the shores of Staten Island, taking in the activity of the ports and visiting ships.

Snug Harbor is as complete a monument to a single artist as you’ll be likely to find. Noble’s houseboat has been meticulously transferred to one of the building’s hallways:

Inside the houseboat, his studio has been dutifully recreated:

A haunting example of Noble’s work:

The 20th century saw a drastic improvement in social security and health benefits for the elderly, opening options for retired seamen. Enrollment into the home fell from 1,000 men in 1900 to just 110 by the 70s. The firm in Washington DC has actually proposed demolishing all of Snug Harbor’s “obsolete” buildings but Building C. Vicious battled ensued between the city and trustees (who wished to demolish and build new facilities) before landmark status was finally granted in 1976. The sailors (and St Gauden’s statue of Robert Randal) were shipped to North Carolina, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center was opened to the public in 1976.

Modern Snug Harbor can give some thanks to an unlikely source: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who became an early supporter of preserving the grounds as is. “Attention should be brought to a place like this. There’s no place in all the five boroughs where there is such a sanctuary as this…it must be preserved.” She would certainly be pleased with its modern incarnation.

Tomorrow: modern Snug Harbor, home of art, gardens, massively gigantic bugs and, yes, that killer brunch

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER: Peppermint Lounge


pictured: Joey Dee and the Starliters, who turned a small midtown gay hustler bar into a dance hit in 1961

To get you in the mood for the weekend, every Friday we’ll be celebrating ‘FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER’, featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse spaces of the mid-90s. Past entries can be found HERE.

Like most things associated with popular music, the early 60s brought sea change to the very notion of nightlife. Clubs typified by the 21 Club and last weeks’ feature El Morocco were very much venues where you dressed up, not where you let your hair down. Harlem and Greenwich Village certainly catered to rowdier fare, but in midtown, things still held a pretense of glamour and society.

All that changed as rock and roll seeped into the streets. Such “naughty” music, inspiring amoral and sexual dancing, sprang first from the seediest places, with the sweetest being the Peppermint Lounge, also known as the home of the Twist. Although the Twist was actually born in Philadelphia, New York and the Peppermint sped it up and whipped it into a frenzy.

The ‘Pep’, as it was called, a hole in the wall at 128 West 45th Street, with a doorway into the adjacent Knickerbocker Hotel, might have remained a quiet gay hustler bar out of the way of the public consciousness had rock and roll not swept through. Vanity Fair calls it an “inauspicious dump destined to become a pop landmark.” The ruffians would soon share the floor with Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles.

With a capacity of 174 people (and often filled to just slightly over that amount), a tiny stage and even tinier dance floor, the Pep soon pulsed with dance-friendly rock music, featuring house band Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones slinging R&B rhythms over guitars and marrying it with almost demonic body gyrations. The well kept secret was effectively spilled when frequent performer Joey Dee and the Starliters recorded their biggest hit ‘Peppermint Twist’, cementing the club’s lusty reputation into a hit record in 1961. (Watch a video here of the Starliters performing their hit.)

The Pep was sweaty raunch. It was white society dabbling into the rhythms of black music. Traditional society, leering over the edge of its dry martinis, thumbed up its nose. But like everything forbidden in this city, the Peppermint soon drew its admirers.

Or as Tom Wolfe explains it: “One week in October, 1961, a few socialites, riding hard under the crop of a couple of New York columnists, discovered the Peppermint Lounge and by next week all of Jet Set New York was discovering the Twist.”

The mystique of the Twist — and the dozens of other novelty dances that came afterwards — is that is was a solo dance. And as a result, according to the New York Social Diary, “It was the first time the general public saw men dancing with men and women dancing with women.” The Pep invited sexual intimacy and freedom. Perhaps not of the types we see on dancefloors today, but this was the first significant steps towards it.

But while the floor of the Pep might have been filled with twisting, sexed up young adults, the allure soon drew icons. Marilyn Monroe, seen last week shimmying at El Morocco, found her way to the Peppermint, as did the Beatles during their legendary week in the city. (Pictured above: John Lennon is welcomed into the Pep.) As well as an odd assortment of celebs that I can’t imagine ever once did the Twist — Liberace, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Norman Mailer, Judy Garland, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Wayne (!).

According to Time Magazine (via the above Vanity Fair article), “Even Greta Garbo hauled herself out of her myth-lined cocoon and appeared, lank-haired and bone-pale, to snap her fingers and smile.” Even first lady Jackie Kennedy snuck in with her sister Lee.

The Pep made stars as well. Three of the Starlighters spun off into another band, the Rascals. And Phil Spector’s pet project the Ronettes, according to legend, got their unexpected big break there: “One night in 1961, the girls dressed in tight skirts and with their hair piled high, stood [outside] in line …. the manager mistook them for a singing trio that hadn’t arrived and took them inside. Ushered them on stage and they belted out a version of Ray Charles’ “What I Say,” … The girls took the club by storm and were signed to appear regularly for $10 a night.” (At right: Ronettes at the Pep)

The Pep wouldn’t survive the 70s. The space on 45th street would become a couple different disco venues: a circus themed disco called GG’s Barnum Room (pictured below) and a glossier disco called Hollywood. The Pep would return in fits and starts in other locations, but nothing approaching the feral frenzy of its early days.

The address of the Peppermint, 128 West 45th Street, is completely gone, replaced with a parking garage, a Citibank and a luxury hotel. However, not more than a 100 feet from its original location was once another legendary rock venue, Bond International Casino.