Full Circle – back in NYC

Sunday 10th & Monday 11th March 2019 – NYC

After Harry stopped being the Director at NYC I-House in 1935 he no longer lived on Manhattan. He spent time living in Paris, touring the world, living in Redding CT and also Lyons in upstate New York.

St Patrick’s Cathedral NYC

When he returned to NYC either to visit I-House for an event or on other business, he writes in his memoirs about how he would also head downtown and visit two spots. The first was St Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and the other was J.D. Rockefeller Creed in the Rockefeller Centre complex courtyard. So when I returned to NYC, I too headed off on Harry’s itinerary. A service at St Patrick’s prevented me from accessing the ‘Our Lady of New York’ chapel that Harry describes. He loved the statue of Mary, the tapestry screen, candles and flowers. Luckily it will still be there next time I come.

In the Rockefeller complex Harry would look at the statue of Prometheus and the towering building above it and think to himself ‘I know the man who created all this, know him intimately.” And then he would never leave without looking at the great block of granite on which is carved the Creed of John D. Rockefeller. You won’t be able to read it off this picture so I have typed it at the bottom of this post. I too find it very inspiring and can see how it shaped what Rockefeller did as well as influenced Harry too.

Rockefeller’s Creed at Rockefeller Centre

Standing at that spot, nearly at the conclusion of my 9 week trip, I felt really very emotional. The partnership between Harry and Rockefeller was key to the whole story and whilst Rockefeller funded many many buildings and institutions, I like to think that the I-Houses would have been ones he was particularly proud of.

I was able to carry on these reflections as I reached I-House entering by that familiar entrance to so many on Claremont Avenue. I was to spend my first night in the House in one of the very comfortable guest suites.

Anita Haravon calling everyone to attention

My final event was to be at the apartment of the very wonderful I-House NYC alumna, Anita Haravon. Unbeknown to me she had been plotting with my partner Chris and others as the event was also on the eve of my 50th Birthday on the 11th of March. Co-incidentally Harry and I share a birthday, he would have been 136!

Group picture number 1 (as people kept coming we had to have several through the evening)

Anita’s wonderful planning paid off and we had a cross section of NYC I-House alumni from current residents to those who had lived at the House in the 1960s. It was a Pot Luck dinner, which included Ghanaian food, Thai food, Chinese Fortune Cookies (mine said Travel was on the horizon!!) and baked goods from Maine. The piece de resistance was the cake that Anita had arranged which was travel and I-House themed. For those who need to know it was chocolate inside with bergamot filling and it did not last long.

My 50th Birthday Cake

It was a brilliant evening celebrating all that is I-House. I was sung Happy Birthday in multiple languages including Chinese and Parsi. I also received I-House related presents of a sweatshirt and umbrella.

Ladies of I-House Tees

At this last event I was enveloped in warmth and gratitude for the time spent living at the House and to Harry for having the idea and realising it. It was also tinged with some sadness that it marked the last event in my trip and emotion as I reflected on my journey.

We lit the round the world candle for one last time along with the four coloured candles from I-House Chicago. Anita had also bought me a final candle for me to take home to the UK, it is beautifully scented.

Looking out of the I-House NYC Main Lounge windows over Sakura Park to Riverside Church

Thanks to an early flight from Chicago being combined with losing an hour in daylight saving changes, it had been a very long day, so I was quickly asleep in my I-House guest bed. I was awake early though on my birthday morning and so set out to wander the House before the residents got up to start their week. It was a perfect blue sky morning dawning as I looked out of the windows of the Main Lounge over Sakura Park to Riverside Church. When Harry and Florence stood at the same window in 1924 after the House was built, their view would have been different as the Church was yet to be built and the park was not as it is today, however Harry would have seen the view with both as they are today many times.

Harry and Florence Edmonds looking out of the ground floor windows of I-House NYC just after it opened in 1924

The house is so full of history and as I wandered through the rooms and looked at the Chairman’s corner pictures. I was reminded of what my great grandmother Florence had inscribed in the elevators when the House opened. “This is a House of echoes, whatever of love, friendship and goodwill you sing into it, will come back to you.”

Story Snippets…

Ice Cream Romance – Helena Dona – When Helena Dona arrived from her home in South America at I-House she was feeling somewhat overwhelmed and emotional at coming to live in NYC and leaving her family. In the elevator she noticed a sign for an Ice Cream social that evening and so decided that she should make the effort and go. She got her ice-cream and decided to sit apart from everyone else in a corner of the patio as she did not actually feel like socialising. However one man, Mitchell Hayes, an Australian resident, had other ideas. Mitchell, went over and started to talk to Helena and somehow the conversation went on all evening. Some 5 years later Mitchell called Don Cuneo (the Director at the time) and asked permission to have his own Ice-Cream social on the patio of the House so that he could propose to Helena, of course Don said yes. Arriving at the House, Helena was puzzled when Mitchell led her over to the usually alarmed doors onto the patio. However the doors opened and no alarm sounded. Out on the patio at the same table where they had met on her first day at the House, was ice cream and roses. Mitchell proposed with an audience of curious residents looking out of their windows at the scene below. Helena said yes and they have now been married for 5 years. For those that have to know the Ice-Cream flavour they met over and got engaged over was Chocolate.

Deja Vu – Sanya Lilly – Sanya lived at I-House NYC and when her father came to visit her and looked out of her window, that overlooked Sakura Park, he kept saying that it looked familiar. It was not until Sanya started to research her family history and looked into her Yugoslavian Uncle Milan Popovic that she discovered that he had been one of the first batch of residents at the House in 1925. She got his Ellis Island arrival record and it said that he was to live at 500 Riverside Drive, and written above it by hand was ‘International House’. Sanya’s father was much younger than his brother and so did not visit him at the House but must have seen pictures taken from his brother’s room which is why he had the sense of deja vu. Milan met his wife a Canadian, Fairlie Honeyman whilst at the House.

John D. Rockefeller Creed – I Believe.

I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession a duty.

I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

I believe in the dignity of labour, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.

I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.

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