Maybe it’s because it’s hot and rainy out as I write this – a humid day stuck inside my sweaty apartment – but I’m almost ready for fall to start. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older (though I’ve always been getting older, right?) but each year I seem to look forward to that chilly air a little more. I don’t know, I’ll probably regret it at some point: that first day my hands are raw and freezing, the sun at too low an angle to do any good. But more and more I see how fall is akin to coming home, and I like my home. The summer turns the air to gauze and you can lay down anywhere and wrap it right around you. And that’s awesome, don’t get me wrong (I seem to recall a summer years ago when I would get wasted and sleep on the roof of whatever place the party ended – and that was pretty awesome too). But sometimes you just want to get indoors. Or you want to get indoors when indoors isn’t some kind of sticky sauna.
I’ve been finding myself pausing of late – maybe when I’m biking over the Pulaski Bridge, or driving down the FDR from a trip up in the mountains – and saying, “Damn, this is my city,” and really appreciating the fact. Sure sure it’s getting all gentrified and Disneyfied and high-end luxury expensive and all that jazz but shit, this is my home and I guess I’m saying that I’m ready for fall to come and make the emotion that much more complicated. Get all nostalgic on me. In fall it’s like I understand what it was for New York to be your home in the 1970s, or the 1940s, or the 1840s. Or else I imagine the feeling of growing up on the East Side and coming back from your country house up-state and understanding, as you rounded the bend of FDR Drive, you were returning to your cozy bed which was the center of the world in what is the center of the world.
There’s no lack of places on the East Side where I’d want that bed to be, by the way, but the one that I’ve been eying lately is the Studio Building, on Lexington and 66th. The Studio Building was designed by Charles Platt (not to be confused with Charles Pratt) in 1906, though it’s also credited to Simonson, Pollard and Steinem, and yeah as the name implies it was built, ostensibly at least, to house artist studios in addition to residences. It followed hard on the heels of a few other studio buildings that went up along West 67th (also by Simonson, Pollard and Steinem), right by the park, and that had proved surprisingly successful for their backers. At least one of those backers, the painter Walter Russell, was part of the group that put up money for the building on Lex. Did artists actually live here? Apparently some did, though they were doing pretty well for themselves – with a few live-in servants listed in the census records. It’s a gorgeous building, and considered an exemplar of the neo-Renaissance style (I’ve seen it called both Italian and English Renaissance style) – with a broken pediment over the entry-way, a “rhythmic” grouping of windows, a lime-stone facade, and a pretty striking cornice. Charles Platt himself was so taken with the building he’d designed that he decided to live there for the rest of his life.
He had a second home also, in Cornish New Hampshire, where he spent his summers. Cornish was well known at the time as the home of the Cornish Art Colony, with which Platt was involved. In fact Platt got his start as a landscape and garden designer – maintaining a garden in Cornish renowned for its Arts and Crafts aesthetic and Colonial Revival and Neo-Georgian architecture. The principal figure of the Cornish Art Colony was the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, probably the premier American sculptor of his day. His death in 1907 led to the eventual demise of the colony (his estate is actually a National Historic Site today). Platt would live until 1933, dying in Cornish at the age of 72. Exactly 20 years later, in 1953, J.D. Salinger moved to Cornish, to eventually live his hermetic life out of the public eye – he died there in 2010. And come to think of it the Studio Building is kind of exactly the place where I picture the Glass family living. As I think on it more J.D. Salinger’s whole ouvre is kind of like the fall experience I’m talking about – stick Franny & Zooey in your back pocket and walk around this block, with the sun real low and stinging. Feel the nostalgia. I’m ready for it.