Greeter Joan Briller could give Columbus a run for his money. An intrepid explorer, she leaves no block unsearched, no nook or cranny unscoured in her hunt for what’s exciting about a neighborhood. Or, as she modestly puts it, “I poke around a lot.”
This time, her target was North of Madison Square Park, also known as NOMAD. It proved to be a neighborhood with early 20th Century opulent chateau-like buildings rubbed up against ticky tacky import stores selling fake flowers and sunhats.
We started at Madison Square Park, once bordered by Madison Square Garden, a lush green park with public art, a whimsical playground, and several bronze statues. The statue of William H. Seward, Secretary of State during the Civil War, was not what it seemed. The sculptor had run out of money so he put Seward’s head on an unfinished statue of Abraham Lincoln’s body!
Next was the Appellate Court Building at 25th and Madison. The court handles many appeals: civil and criminal, landlord versus tenant, and family matters. The lobby was utterly lavish, with marble walls and murals, gold trimmed beams and ceilings, and hand-carved wooden chairs. Officer Gil Sanchez graciously invited us into the courtroom, explaining that since this is the highest court in New York City, it should be extravagant.
We went from the elegance of the court house to the poignance of a memorial plaque with a quote about the Holocaust: “Indifference to injustice is the gate to hell.” It was on the outside of the Merchandise Mart Building, home to high-end tableware companies.
On to the 51-story Metropolitan Life Tower, a landmarked skyscraper and office building modeled after the Campanile in Venice (the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica.) The light and airy lobby had ceilings so high you almost couldn’t see them.
In direct contrast was the Nomad Hotel, a hidden gem at Broadway and 28th Street. Imagine the courage it took to design a hotel with black as the main color and black-leather walls. The result is sophistication, luxury, and a feeling of womb-like comfort. The hotel had once been the National Cash Register headquarters and we couldn’t help but think, “You’ve come a long way baby.”