New York City — then, now, forever

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Manhattan’s challenges, and allures, are pertinent and permanent


  • Book jacket for "The Address."

This summer I’m commuting; not between Manhattan and the Hamptons, but between New York of 1884 and 1985, thanks to my newest summer read, “The Address.”

I’m a native, hailing from the Bronx. Not only do I love my city in its current state, but its history as well. So obsessed am I with the New York of the past that people often comment that I was born too late. I can’t argue.

When my first book was published in 2009, my husband, Neil, took me to celebrate at the Algonquin. Yes, of all the hip, happening places in Manhattan, we went to dinner at a hotel that’s been around since 1902, because in my fantasy world I’m a flapper who hobnobs with Dorothy Parker and the Round Table gang. They may be long gone, but their hangout lives on, as well as many other testaments to what make New York, well, New York.

According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, there are more than 36,000 landmarked properties within the five boroughs.

The Upper East Side alone boasts the Andrew Carnegie Mansion, which is now the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; the Henry Clay Frick House; the Guggenheim; The Met Fifth Avenue; and of course, Central Park. Actually, Park Avenue between 79th and 91st Streets as well as all of Carnegie Hill are each designated a Historic District.

“The Address” though, has taken me across the park to the west side landmark, The Dakota.

Author Fiona Davis, (“The Dollhouse”) tells the stories of London housekeeper Sara Smythe, who jumps at the chance to rise above her station to become manager of the gilded fortress, and interior designer Bailey Camden, who seizes the opportunity to oversee a renovation in the luxury building.

They may have lived 100 years apart, but both Sara and Bailey get sucked into the excesses of their respective eras — for Sara, there’s the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, it’s the bright lights, big city nightlife, where cocaine is currency. (And yes, their stories eventually intertwine.)

This book is a great reminder for me that no matter how much New York changes with the times, there will always be challenges, especially for young women.

With May graduations came the annual influx — 2017’s versions of Sara and Bailey. A trio of them were ahead of me on line at Bed, Bath & Beyond, where they had stocked up on necessities for their new apartment, which I guarantee you is not in The Dakota. As I listened to them chatter, I simultaneously got a migraine and felt nostalgic for days when everything about living here was exciting. The roomies were as enthused about their new sheets as they were about an invite to a party by someone named Josh, totally discounting that indeed there would be tribulations.

The current excesses they and others like them face are the doings of Blade-coptering 1-percenters. Will our new denizens overextend themselves financially to carry a Goyard or Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote (real or fake, they are still pricey) in order to appear successful? Will they feel less-than because they haven’t created an app or their own handbag line? How soon will the patina of our shimmering skyline tarnish when they realize they won’t be wearing anything in the shade of Nantucket Red on the island off Massachusetts or out in the Hamptons, or anywhere, except perhaps The Great Lawn?

In a few years, my daughter Meg, who’s in college, will join the ranks of recent grads. It again will be a different time and place in New York City — not only from the characters in “The Address,” but even from the Bed, Bath & Beyond triumvirate, as things change quickly here.

There will be new excesses to struggle against, but the challenges as far as rent, jobs and boyfriends go will remain the same. Because, like our landmarks, some things in New York are forever.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Back to Work She Goes” and “Fat Chick,” for which a movie version is in the works.

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