NYC for Bust!

NYC For Bust!In the fall of 2004 I relocated to San Diego, California. I was fortunate to have a former coworker/friend, Jill, who had also relocated from Washington, DC the year prior. I know, right? Jill was amazingly instrumental in helping me secure employment at several studios and an upscale gym in LaJolla. Thank you, Jill! Working together one day I happened to overhear one of her clients do a bit of name dropping. My jaw nearly fell on the floor at the name she dropped:

Joe Pilates!

(FYI, eavesdropping gives me a huge rush.)

Feverishly I resisted the urge to run across the Pilates studio to get more details. Jill’s client Carole grew up in 1950‘s Manhattan, between 74th and 75th Streets on Central Park West, less than 10 blocks from Lincoln Center.  Her father was a longtime client of “Joe the Stretcher.” It was at this point in the conversation that my eyes fell out of my head.

What???!! Yes, “Joe the Stretcher” is the nickname that Carole and her sister secretly bestowed on Joe Pilates.

Oh, I am just getting started…

Fast-forward to 2005: Jill was changing careers and she encouraged her clients to have sessions with me. Boy oh boy was I ready to get my hands on Carole. I wanted her to tell me stories of her family and “Joe the Stretcher” over and over again. Oh yeah, we’d do some Pilates, but what’s the skinny now? Lay it on me.

Perhaps one of the most iconic items from Joe Pilates’ original 8th Avenue studio is the bronze bust of the man himself, pictured in the background of this photo.

Tiny tangent: The gentleman perched atop Joe Pilates is Robert Wernick, author of the 1962 Sports Illustrated article about Pilates and his method, “To Keep in Shape: Act Like an Animal.” Wernick, himself a client of Joe’s and now in his nineties, faithfully completes his morning Pilates exercises to this day. More on Mr. Wernick and those tiny black shorts in a later post…

The Pilates world is replete with accounts of Joe’s character and temperament. He is described as mercurial and arrogant. He had a high opinion of himself, his strong physique and his method. One might assume that he himself would wish to capture his likeness in bronze and secure his place in history.

Carole’s father Daniel was born in 1898 and eventually came to develop Parkinson’s Disease. Although he was not aware at the time, Carole speculates that her father’s health condition may have been the impetus for his relationship with Joe.  Both of her parents were also avid enthusiasts of ballroom dancing: taking classes, watching many ballroom dancing events, even to the point of asking their children to practice with them by dancing at home. As a teenager, Carole remembers being mortified by ballroom dancing with her grandfather outside on the sidewalk!

Carole’s family home bore all the evidence of her Dad’s commitment to Joe’s method. In one room a heavy metal bar hung across a door frame for stretching. The Spine Corrector was in another room tucked against the wall. Most incriminatingly, Carole remembers her Dad wearing the tiny dark stretch pants (a la Joe, pictured above) when he did his exercises. Therefore earning Joe Pilates the moniker “Joe the stretcher” from the peanut gallery.

Daniel commissioned American sculptor John R. Terken to create a bronze bust of the family’s beloved Rabbi Louis I. Newman. The sculpture was dedicated to Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the family synagogue in 1959. To this day the bust remains in the lobby of the synagogue at 7 West 83rd Street in Manhattan. A considerable amount of bronze remained after the crafting so “naturally,” according to Carole, her Dad decided to ask Joe if a bronze bust of Joe could also be made. I imagine he must have been thrilled! Obviously Joe acquiesced because the bust has been in the Pilates studio ever since.

Sharing Carole’s story galvanized me to visit a few sites in Manhattan on a mini “Joe Pilates NYC Historical Tour”. And I was off!

NYC. For. Bust.

Since the time the Bust resided in Joe Pilates original 8th Avenue studio at 939 8th Avenue, the Pilates Studio, Inc. has had multiple owners and locations. My friend Junghee Won, a longtime student of Romana Kryzanowska, accompanied me on this Pilates history quest. She worked at the Pilates Studio at 2121 Broadway where the Bust lived for most of the 1990s. The Bust of Joe was located just as you exited the elevator and entered the studio. The instructors would often greet Joe with a “hello” or “goodbye” pat on the head each day.

One phone call quickly tracked down the Bust at its current home: 311 West 43rd Street.

Located on the 4th floor we were now getting closer…Thank you so much to the lovely people there, including Sean Gallagher, who let us snap photos, ask questions and generally be HUGE Pilates geeks.
 
In the vintage Robert Wernick photo the bust is au natural, however, when I arrived at the studio, the bust had been discreetly clothed in an appropriate Pilates t-shirt.

Clara would be so proud.

OMG here it (he) is!

At the base of the sculpture is a plaque: “Joseph H. Pilates Founder of the Science of Contrology at the age of 60”

Now I had to have a shot of the 2 of us of course 🙂 He’s a pretty big dude, huh?

Bye, Joe! Next time, let’s see some skin 🙂

Check out my friend Kerry DeVivo‘s photos of Joe on a subsequent visit!

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Comments

  1. Andrea,
    Thank you for this amazing road trip! I loved reading about all of the history you were able to grasp from Carole. I think you were a spy in your previous life. So, put that to more good work and tell us more stories from Carole! I’ll happily wear my Pilates geek hat and accompany you on your next adventure!! And I may have to make a pilgrimage to the bust when I’m in NYC in December 🙂
    Kerry

    • Kerry,
      Thanks so much for your comments! I had a great time and it’s definitely worth a visit when you are in NYC. Stay tuned for more of my scenic tour of 8th Avenue in future posts 🙂

  2. Michelle maida says:

    Wow! That was wonderful! Makes me want to run to NYC to see Joe! I am passing this on to my Pilates Instructor, Anne!

    • Yay Shelley! I know, I want to visit Joe every time I get to NYC now. Thanks so much for sharing with your Pilates Instructor too 🙂 Love to you and James xox

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