Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Remember this? (Hint: JFK Jr. worked out here)

And so did I, which is why I remember it well. But if you don't, no worries, for it's gone the way of JFK & Son.

Anchoring the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 85th St. in New York City's ethnic enclave of Yorkville, this mixed-use building was known by many names: the New York Turn-Verein, NYTV for short, Turn Hall, or Jaeger House. Downstairs was Adolf Jaeger Jr.'s restaurant, where locals quaffed Jakob Ruppert's Knickerbocker beer eins, zwei, g'suffa and devoured sauerkraut-slathered bratwurst, knackwurst and wienerschnitzel by the kilo. Upstairs was the great gymnasium/ assembly hall/auditorium, where the Turn-Verein, German for "gymnastics club," ran just that — and where I had the privilege of tumbling and tussling on the mat with John F. Kennedy Jr. when I was 6 and he was 7.

The old building's lavish admixture of Georgian and German d├ęcor, capped by an urn-topped crest reminiscent of the crown of the Brandenburg Gate, dispels its role as the central gathering place for New York's German-American community for workouts, Turner shows, assemblies, dances, you name it. The storefronts are as humble as the immigrants' beginnings in the New World, but the ornament on the upper floors signify the importance of the space inside, the rich aspirations of the new American citizens, and the fortitude of the Turners that taught and took gym up there. The tall trio of arched windows show that it contained all the light, space and headroom necessary for a good bodybuild, pole-vault, rope-climb or pyramid formation.

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