The Mystery Behind Some of New York City’s Iconic Buildings

Andrew Carnegie, was a Scottish born, New York based business tycoon and philanthropist, owning some of the most iconic buildings in New York City. Of course, one being the prestigious concert venue, Carnegie Hall.

“Although the building was in use from April 1891, it officially opened was May 5, with a concert conducted by maestro Walter Damrosch and great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Originally known simply as “Music Hall” (the words “Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie” still appear on the façade above the marquee), the hall was renamed Carnegie Hall in 1893.”

In the early 1900s, Mr. Carnegie gave 5.2 million dollars to the city to build new libraries. Much information has been documented around 30 of these libraries as well as, of course, Carnegie Hall. Facts not as well known, but which have come to light more recently, are that above these iconic and architecturally striking buildings, were secret apartments.

Within Carnegie Hall, there were dance studios and artist lofts, where dancers, actors, photographers, and writers lived and worked, some of whom had lived there for fifty plus years. One of the grand characters – Editta Sherman, a portrait photographer. Through a critically acclaimed documentary, she became somewhat of a celebrity herself. Editta was known as, the “Duchess of Carnegie Hall.”

Ms. Sherman, and other creative artists were featured in this fascinating, and heartbreaking documentary called “Lost Bohemia.” It was directed by Joseph Astor, himself a 25-year resident. “Lost Bohemia,” which was shown on TVO earlier this year, tells the story of the mysterious artist apartments built above the famous music hall.

CBC recently interviewed actress Sharon Washington about her experiences growing up in some of the huge, three bedroom dwellings over three different New York libraries.

Her father George was the custodian and her family lived in several of these now abandoned apartments, during the 1970s, on the upper west side. During this time it was a working class neighborhood.

Her deepest memories come from living above the St. Agnes Branch. Ms. Washington fondly remembers playing with her friends in the empty library after hours and using a “big old brass key” to come in through the main entrance. She has recently premiered her original play “Feeding The Dragon,” inspired by a childhood memory of her father stoking the furnace. She was a voracious reader, with a vivid imagination, so she’d imagined her father as the knight attacking the “dragon.”

“Lost Bohemia,” is a “love letter” from Joseph Astor to the former residents who shared deeply, their love and passion for the arts. Essential to the plot, was the fact that, “Carnegie Hall had planned a 150 million dollar renovation of a historic residential tower,”. In preparation for this,“The city wanted the artists out!”

With his film, Mr. Astor wanted to somehow preserve a legacy and has lamented, “Much of what makes our cities and communities vital, is rapidly declining.”

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