Two Generations on Morningside Heights

In six days’ time, I will be moved into Andersen Hall at Manhattan School of Music in order to begin my studies as a vocal performance major. I will be living in New York City, the city that has brought me so many friends and opportunities and so much baseball and music over the last eighteen years. I’ve always dreamed of living in the Big Apple, even though my parents, who have both lived in New York in the past, have warned me of the loud noises and pungent odors that can rise from the street and prevent me from getting shut-eye. To me, the excitement trumps all, and that is why I am as anxious as ever to move into my dorm room.

My dad and me on Columbia's campus staring in the direction of MSM and the Columbia chemistry building. Photo credits: Susan Laney Spector

My dad and me on Columbia’s campus staring in the direction of MSM and the Columbia chemistry building. He is sporting a Manhattan School of Music shirt while I sport a Columbia polo. Photo credits: Susan Laney Spector

Specifically, I will be living in a cute corner on the West Side of Manhattan called Morningside Heights. Located between 110th Street (Cathedral Parkway) and 125th Street (the Southern point of Harlem), the neighborhood holds many of the city’s finest learning institutions: Manhattan School of Music, Columbia University, and Barnard College being some of the most renowned. As the area is populated largely by young college students, it is often a warm and bubbly place to be. Why do I know this? Yes, I did spend a lot of time walking around the neighborhood during my breaks at Manhattan School of Music Precollege, however, there is an even bigger reason for my knowledge of the area.

My father also attended college in Morningside Heights, spending a grand total of nine years at Columbia University obtaining a doctoral degree in Chemistry. From him, I have learned the ins and outs of Morningside Heights: Where to walk, where not to walk, where to eat, what businesses have replaced others, etc. For years, even before I had any idea what MSM was let alone that it is located in the very same neighborhood, my parents and I would walk around Columbia’s campus as he would point out where he used to live and attend class. I would gaze at the iconic copper green roofs, the lush green lawn, and the broad steps stacked up to Low Library with Butler Library glowing from across campus, and find it hard to believe that something so spacious and gorgeous could be found in the heart of New York City. He would share past stories as we turned the corner on 116th to Amsterdam Avenue after sauntering across campus. One funny story I always love to hear him tell is how a take-out place called “Ta-Kome Foods” was located directly across Broadway from the esteemed Columbia School of Journalism.

He introduced me to the best place to get pizza in the area: V & T, and where to waddle up the street afterwards to get the best desserts in town: The Hungarian Pastry Shop. According to Dr. Spector, the menus, tables, and atmosphere are exactly the same as when he was going to Columbia, with the exception of a rise in price.

My dad in his laboratory while he was obtaining his PhD in Chemistry at Columbia University

My dad in his laboratory while he was obtaining his PhD in Chemistry at Columbia University

Nine years, four years for his undergraduate degree and five for his graduate, sounds like a long time to be at one university, but he had his reasons. Even though he was accepted to Princeton for graduate school, which has possibly the most beautiful campus on the planet, he decided to stay in New York. Why? Because Columbia is only seven subway stops away from the Met. For nine years, he completed his studies during the day and took the 1 train down to the Met at night (or during the day for Saturday matinées), to see countless stars such as Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Marilyn Horne, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jon Vickers, Sherrill Milnes, Kurt Moll, and Martti Talvela to name a few. He also would take the 7 train out to Shea Stadium to see the Mets play. He even went to a game on the first night he moved into Carman Hall at Columbia his freshman year. He knew that New York was the right place to be not only to go to school, but for great music, exemplary artists, and the Mets as well.

This coming school year, I am going to begin my own Morningside Heights adventure, living only six blocks north at 122nd and Broadway from where my dad started his. I have even started mine a bit early, as I have become the tour guide that my father has been for the past eighteen years in order to help my roommate find her way around. She is a classical pianist coming all the way from Shanghai, halfway across the world. I had the delight of seeing her face light up and her mouth gape wide open when we stumbled upon the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which she had never seen before. This colossal sanctuary has been under construction since the time my dad was in school, thus, forming another connection between his time in Morningside Heights and mine. I also had the opportunity to take my dad’s position and introduce my roommate to the Hungarian Pastry Shop, where we savored their various cakes and tarts with sides of cappuccinos and Viennese coffee. Even from our dorm room windows, we will be able to see iconic components of Morningside Heights such as Riverside Church and the tomb of the eighteenth President of the United States: Ulysses S. Grant. By knowing the neighborhood and now acting as a tour guide, I feel as if I’m passing on a family tradition.

Thanks to my dad, I now know Morningside Heights like the back of my hand. It is a charming neighborhood and truly one of my favorite parts of the city. I look forward to walking in his footsteps as I get on the 1 or 7 train; waddle up the street after a big meal at V & T; see a great artist live at the Met; watch a Mets game; or take in the beauty that is Morningside Heights.

Advertisements