8th Avenue. New York City. The Pilates Studio.

a.k.a. The continuation of my scenic tour of 8th avenue from this summer…slightly further uptown…

Still heady from our encounter with the bust of Joe Pilates, Junghee Won and I make our way further uptown. We pass what was in Joe Pilates’ day the home of Madison Square Garden (its third incarnation) when boxing was its ‘principle claim to fame'. The venue also hosted basketball teams, the Stanley Cup finals and many notable events of the day. Today this address is home to the Worldwide Plaza.

8th Avenue. New York City. The Pilates Studio.

In the early 1990s I lived on 49th Street and 9th avenue. I frequented this nearby plaza for it's amazingly cheap movie theatre. $2.! And then one sad day it climbed to $3. Frankly I was afraid to investigate the current price…especially given this nearby parking structure which we simply had to document.

Soon we arrive at a row of smaller, older buildings on our left, one of which is the home of Joe’s original studio: 939 8th Avenue. My mouth dropped open as I stood in front of the restaurant that occupies the building on the street level.

Guantanamera! I have been to this restaurant before? Not possible. How did I not know the historical significance of this address?! A big thank you to my dear friend Andrew who my husband and I met for dinner at Guantanamera a few years back. You are the sage for the age, Andy. Okay so, note to self, we shall lunch here after our trek up to the 2nd floor to take a peek at the Pilates studio that currently occupies Joe Pilates' original 2nd floor residence: Rolates Pilates. Apologies for the blurry photo…

SO excited…Can't. Steady. iPhone…

Upon entering the studio we met Roberta Kirschenbaum, the owner, and her friendly staff. The studio was relatively quiet that day which allowed us plenty of time to chat with Roberta, whom I recognized from her facebook page. Roberta was informative, friendly and has been working/rehearsing/dancing in this building for most of her adult life. She opened her studio here in February 2005, and has been a part of the Pilates world since 1984, well before the advent of teacher training programs. Roberta began her study of the Pilates Method with Carola Trier who would become her mentor. She also studied with other disciples of Joe including Romana Kryzanowska, Naja Cori and Kathleen Stanford Grant. She asked if we were new teachers, which I suppose given her history with the method, we are relatively new. Junghee however was quick to answer “I certified in 1999.” Then I had to giggle as the question about being new to Pilates surfaced again to which Junghee again had her answer: ”1999.”

Getting my bearings and thinking about one of Chuck Rapoport’s photos of Joe at the Cadillac, I asked about the space. I remembered the windows overlooking 8th Avenue as a focal point in Rappoport’s iconic photo. You can also see the same vantage point in this video of Joe teaching the mat.

Roberta’s studio is located in the rear of the building where Joe and Clara had their residence while the front of the building (Joe’s studio) is occupied by a dance rehearsal space. I draw the line at visiting and geeking out at non-Pilates businesses despite their rich historical value, so here’s a photo of their door.

I did hear a lot of insistent shouts of “5-6-7-8! Turn and HIT!”…and so on from outside the door of this rehearsal studio. Evidently it is still a place where some serious work gets done. Roberta does not hesitate to inform me that the exact location of her studio within the building has been a bit of a sticking point with True Pilates NY. Oh dear. I am trained by TPNY and inadvertently I have stepped right in it, as it were. Whoopsie…Thankfully she had a Carola Trier DVD, Carola Shares, that I had been seeking for some time which I immediately purchased for reparation. Whew! She was also gracious enough to let us look around her studio and soak up the Pilates past.

I stood in the studio feeling the size and space under those high ceilings and wished I could see a CGI back-in-time film sequence to the 1940s. I mean Joe and Clara lived here, right? In my imagination I pictured the living room in this video, which, if the video was indeed filmed in the Pilates' home, was their home from their arrival in the US circa 1925 until around 1972.

Roberta also had quite the fetching collection of foot correctors, one of my favorites of the small apparatuses.

So I must say a grand day was had by all and we soon wandered back down to the street and into Guantanamera for some cool refreshment on this gloriously warm August day in Manhattan.

 

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!