During the final week of the U.S. Open, a ripple of anxiety rifled the normal calm of Manhattan men in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Call it Todd Martin Syndrome.
It hit one 31-year-old television writer as he was sitting in his living room, watching Mr. Martin’s demanding fourth-round match against Carlos Moya. “I’m older than Todd Martin,” he said suddenly, bemusedly, into the air.
The American player went on to win in five sets, proceeding snappily through the quarterfinals, but the damage had been done.
“Is that what 30 looks like?” wondered the tennis-loving males of Gotham. Gray, stringy, tired ?
All the commentators made soothing noises about Mr. Martin’s premature “elder statesman” appearance. But it certainly didn’t help that the bald, shiny Andre Agassi, 30–once the very picture of frisky 90’s male vigor–had gone down in Samsonesque straight sets by the second round (distracted by thoughts of his ailing female kinfolk). Nor that balding, sweaty Pete Sampras, 29 ( 29 !), was so handily vanquished in the final. “By this young, smooth Russian-beefcake guy!” anguished one fellow in finance who would identify himself only as “older than Pete Sampras.” Elwood Reid, the 33-year-old Park Slope author of a novel called Midnight Sun , tried the old age-brings-character defense. “I don’t want to see these Stepford-male players who look like they come out of a punch-press factory,” he huffed.
Seymour Durst’s Empire of Ephemera
One day in the early 1960’s, Seymour Durst, the patriarch of the Manhattan real estate family, was browsing the shelves of a bookstore in Paris when he ran across a large hardcover, New York , by Walter Klein. The book was in French, which Seymour didn’t speak, but it was filled with pictures of his hometown, so he bought it. He returned from vacation, and bought another book about New York. And another. Soon, he was spending his weekends trolling through Manhattan’s antique shops and rare bookstores. Bag by bag, he filled the family’s 12-foot-wide townhouse on East 48th Street with old books, maps, magazines and stuff he’d picked up off the street.
When his grown children began to worry that the sheer weight of the collection might bring the house down, Durst just bought a bigger place, a brownstone on East 61st Street. He hung a sign on the door: “The Old York Library.” When he died in 1995, at 81, Durst left behind more than 9,000 books, 3,000 photos and one real estate empire. His kids kept the real estate. The books they gave away, to the City University of New York.
On Sept. 7, Durst’s birthday, the collection was opened to the public for the first time in its new home, the university’s Graduate-Center library in the old B. Altman building on Fifth Avenue at 34th Street. On the main floor, academics mixed warily with real estate royalty like Newmark & Company’s Jeff Gural and Insignia/ESG’s Mary Ann Tighe. Meanwhile, Douglas Durst, Seymour’s son, stole away to give an impromptu tour of the Seymour B. Durst Old York Library and Reading Room downstairs. “This book–this is the first one,” Mr. Durst said, running a finger down New York ‘s colorful dust jacket. “He realized that there was no real central collection of New York books in the city. So he started collecting.”
The Old York Library, like every private collection, is a reflection of its assembler. In a profession that rewards self-promoters and cutthroats, Seymour Durst was different. He was taciturn, bookish. He was slight (“a Jewish leprechaun,” one writer called him) and wore glasses with thick black frames. He walked everywhere. He cut his own hair. He favored old, fraying suits, on the theory, his daughter Wendy Durst Kreeger said, that “they must be good if they lasted this long.” He was always smoking a cigar.
He incessantly composed letters to newspapers, protesting bad zoning, the national debt and government intervention in the marketplace. When they stopped printing his letters, he began placing small-print ads at the bottom of the front page of The New York Times –”Men stopped wearing hats in the 1940’s, women in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s we stopped using our heads altogether”; “The Gotham Law: If something has not gone wrong, the city will see that it does”; and “Resurrect one Moses–or the other.” He erected a “national debt clock” on one of his Avenue of the Americas buildings. The clock, which had lately been running down, not up, was ceremonially shrouded the same day as the library dedication.
Durst’s collection includes a copy of the 1811 Commissioners’ Grid Map , which established Manhattan’s numbered streets and avenues–but it’s best known as a repository of ephemera. Durst collected Ziegfeld playbills, issues of the New York Folklore Quarterly , old copies of the Jewish Yellow Pages and 20,000 vintage postcards. In one corner of the exhibition is the stuff Durst had in his bathroom, oddities he salvaged when he evicted old tenants from some of his Times Square properties–a sign picturing a brunette with a bandana and the words “Ancient Rome … Take a Free Look … Body Rub,” a crank-turned movie of the “Jungle Queen,” and a posted disclaimer. It reads: ” Nude Encounter Sessions: We do not offer any services involving a scientific system of activity to the muscular structure of the human body by means of stroking, kneading, tapping and vibrating with the hands or vibrators for the purpose of improving muscle tone and circulation. Our services have no physical therapeutic value –The Management .”
Durst had secretly bought the Times Square properties with the hope of erecting office towers there. When his lubricious land holdings were revealed, public feeling and newspapers–in particular, The New York Times –turned against him. The government tried to condemn his properties as part of the 1980’s Times Square redevelopment plan, but Durst held onto them long enough to allow his son to build the family’s new Condé Nast tower.
The reading room, where Mr. Durst was giving his tour, is meant to evoke Durst’s 61st Street townhouse. (The family sold the house itself in 1999, for $2.8 million, to a plastic surgeon from Connecticut.) At the center of the room is a coffee table, flanked by a pair of narrow, institutional-looking couches. An Oriental rug covers the floor. A large breakfront against the back wall holds one of Durst’s most notable volumes: an original copy of Common Sense , with Thomas Paine’s own notes in the margins, as well as his two favorites, J.A. Mitchell’s The Last American and E.B. White’s Here is New York .
“It’s missing having everything scattered all over the place,” Mr. Durst said. He walked over to a black-and-white photograph on the wall showing a large room cluttered with books and papers. He pointed to a tiny figure, in the back corner of the photo. “You can see Seymour sitting back there on his couch.”
Durst’s daughter, Ms. Kreeger, oversaw the decoration of the reading room, as well as the cataloguing of his collection, which Durst arranged according to a schematic he called “the Durst Quintessimal System.” The system was roughly modeled on Thomas Jefferson’s theories of library organization. Every room in the old house was given over to a certain category: “The Infrastructure Room,” “The Art and Theater Room.” “Architecture” was consigned to a closet upstairs. He was, after all, a developer.
Come and Get It
Here are the most recent posts on the Condé Nast cafeteria suggestion board:
“No excuse for tomatoes that aren’t juicy and red. Tomatoes that are green inside aren’t very good on a sandwich.” – Anonymous
“Is it possible that the vending machines could accept $100 bills?” – Blinda Blue
“Throw the salad bar a life vest! It’s drowning in oil!” – Anonymous
“The grilled chicken on the salad bar is very ‘thick.’ Is there anyway to make thinner, more well-done pieces? Thanks!” – Judith Goldminz
“Can we get PB&J as a lunch option?” – Anonymous
“I notice the Gummi Bear quantity has decreased. Why? Same price, smaller quantity.” – Anonymous
“Most of the soups are too thin and lack complexity. Soups chunky with vegetables would be welcome.” – Anonymous