September 11th

I’ve been on vacation from blogging  for the past six weeks or so.   Breaks are good, and necessary.  I return on the eve of September 11th.

Hard to imagine that ten years has passed since that day that began so beautiful.  I will never forget walking into the newsroom on that bright, crystal clear morning.   Just off the elevator, I looked to the monitor on my left and saw the smoke pouring from the World Trade Center.  The story had not even been on the air yet.   Rick Williams, the executive producer (not the anchor) at Action News, was the only person I remember seeing in the room as I said, “Is the World Trade Center on fire?”

After that, it all seems a blur.  The next thing I knew I was inside the control room waiting to figure out what was going on and what we might do.   We were still in network programming as the second plane hit the tower.  Those of us in the control room, like the rest of the world, could not believe our eyes, but at that moment it became clear we were under attack.

The situation became even more chaotic and confused after that.   Phone calls to and from family and loved ones.   Voices of those we love are needed in a time of panic.  And in the newsroom, rumors of car bombs exploding in Washington preceded the next plane crashing into the Pentagon.    Then the first tower fell.   Disbelief.

Like so many that week, I worked endless hours covering this horrific attack.  You go into auto-pilot mode in these situations because if you stop to really think about what just happened, you can’t do it.  You live, breath and eat the story non-stop.

By Friday, I was exhausted, physically and mentally.  But I remember that day almost as well as I remember Tuesday.  I remember it because we had a report that they found someone alive in the rubble of the World Trade Center.  Hope in the midst of horror.  A rescuer went in front of the cameras convinced that someone had just been found.  Just the idea that one person would have survived not only the collapse, but so long in the rubble lifts your fragile spirits.  A short time later we learned no one was found alive.  It broke my heart.  All the emotion that I bottled up in the days that followed 9/11 flowed out of me.   I just wept.   People around me asked if I was okay.  Our assistant news director asked if I needed to go home.  I didn’t.  I just needed to cry.  It was not just sadness at that point.  It was  cruel.  Fucking cruel.  I wept not only in sadness but in anger.

I knew no one who died that day, but today I met someone who did.  Almost ten years later, the mother and sister of Don DiFranco came to Channel 7.  Don was an engineer at the station.  He was working at the station’s transmitter site on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center North Tower that morning.   He made one phone call – to the master control room of Eyewitness News headquarters to alert fellow engineers of a possible disruption in service.

I did not know Don, but his mother looked me directly in the eyes today as she talked to us about her son.   Her eyes welled with tears as she talked about her son, saying that they try to focus on the joy that he brought to their lives and not on how he left them.   It would drive you crazy to dwell on it, she said.   I felt pain on September 11th, but not like those who lost loved ones.    I cannot even begin to imagine myself in their shoes.  I could see the pain in Ms. DiFranco’s eyes, but I could also see something else.    I’ve been struggling to find the right word for it….

Don lives on in her heart and in the hearts of those who knew him and loved him, and so his spirit lives on and so she still feels his presence.

It was never so apparent to me as it was today that the life we lead impacts others long after we are gone.

Maybe the word is love.




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A home on a (former) farm in Greenwich Village

Here’s a house with a bit of history in Greenwich Village.   It’s located on what was once part of the Brevoort family’s farming estate in the 17th century.

The same owners have lived in the four story, four bedroom, two and a half bath home since the 1970s, and it’s in good condition.

The first question that came to my mind, as it is a major selling point – who was the Brevoort family?   For those who share my ignorance, the Brevoort Family was among the earliest settlers in New Amsterdam.   The family became among the most prosperous of the nineteenth-century by way of farming. Henry Brevoort Sr.’s estate consisted of 86 acres between 9th street and 18th Street.  He kept a pet bear chained in his front yard (yes, a pet bear) and sold vegetables and rare birds at the corner of Tenth Street and what is now Fifth Avenue.

The Brevoorts were connected by marriage to the Astors, the richest family in New York City at the time.   Henry Brevoort Jr.’s aunt was Sarah Todd, wife of John Jacob Astor.  Brevoort spent several years in the North American wilderness working for Astor’s fur trading business.  He also accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Pacific Northwest.

Brevoort Jr. was described as a man of considerable charm and cultivation,  who associated himself with many of the leading politicians and cultural figures of the time, including Washington Irving.   Letters between the two men are preserved to this day.

Brevoort built a home in 1934 on Fifth Avenue at 9th Street considered among the most impressive of that era – “not another home in the City so well calculated to entertain.”

And he did know how to throw a party! The Brevoort ball in 1840 was regarded as the most luxurious and defining social event of the era.   The 500 high-profile guests wore costumes (but no masks).

Around the same time, Brevoort built the home for sale now on West 12th Street, just steps away from Fifth Avenue and a few blocks away from Washington Square Park.

The home retains much of its old world detail such as a preserved original mahogany staircase, Colefax & Fowler wall paper and the extensive decorative crown and picture molding throughout.

It has several upgrades too, including central A/C, custom built-ins and a landscaped north-facing garden with stone pavers.

The home has only been on the market for about a month with an asking price of $5.4 million, listed at Corcoran.   Considering some of the Unattainable Homes are priced around $54-million, this one seems like a bargain.

And by the way, if you were hoping to bid on the home that hosted the Brevoort ball…. it was torn down in 1925 to make way for the Fifth Avenue Hotel and eventually transformed into apartments.





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Dad, I need a really nice car…

High school girls traveling to the City with their dad.   Dad is explaining the importance of getting a job.

“Dad, I’m a junior in high school.  When I’m a senior and I have a car, then I’ll get a job.  And dad, I need really nice car.  Like a Mercedes,” she said.

“Honey, you need to get a job,” he replied, casting off the request.

“Dad, you’re giving me a headache,” she said.

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Five for Charity: Dogs that help people

My Five for Charity pick of the month is Canine Support Teams, a small and not well known organization.

One of its programs, Pawz for Wounded Veterans, has placed 25 service dogs to veterans since its inception in 2009 at no cost to those who have been wounded in the service of our country.   After wounded soldiers go through rehabilitation therapy and return home, these veterans leave their support system behind.  Not only does a service dog provide assistance with daily activities, the dog serves as a bridge.  People focus on the dog, not the disability, and this leads to conversation and acceptance. For some veterans, the dog gives them the motivation to continue to conquer the challenges of everyday life.

My friend, Jennifer Blanchard, is a volunteer with the organization as well as someone who has benefited from it.

Jennifer Blanchard and her dog, Ike

Jen has what is called with hereditary angioedema, which causes swelling in her muscles and has accounted for nearly 100 surgeries in less than 15 years. She is back in the hospital as I write this blog. Four years ago, she received a labradoodle named Ike from Canine Support Teams, and she says her life changed instantly.

“Until I got my service dog Ike I really had no hope of leading a “normal” life,” she told me.
The impact Ike had on her life led her to do more for the organization.

“Helping this organization has given me a purpose in my life. When I get up every day I am thinking about the organization, not my pain,” she said. “We are small, surviving on donations and grants. Every dollar we get goes to training more dogs.”

CST service dogs are placed with people who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches or canes.  They are taught to assist their partners by pulling manual wheelchairs, turning lights on and off, pushing elevator buttons, retrieving dropped or hard to reach items, making purchases or banking transactions, opening and closing doors and drawers, barking to get help and providing stability for walking.

“We train our dogs at the Corona Woman’s Prison, teaching inmates on how to train the dogs, how to care for them and teaching them, for the first time, unconditional love. None of the inmates that have been released who took part in this program have returned to prison,” Jen said.

Canine Support Teams is also looking for puppy raiser families. The puppies live with the family for 14 months to learn basic skills and socialization.

It’s a small organization, but it’s making a BIG difference in the lives of those who need these dogs.

You can learn more about the Pawz for Wounded Veterans in several videos on YouTube:

I invite you to donate $5 or more to the Canine Support Team to help their cause by clicking here.

If you live in Southern California and want to learn more about becoming a puppy raiser, click here:

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A pool in the living room

In Manhattan, you’re lucky to find a home with parking much less a swimming pool. But if you look hard enough, you will find one in Chelsea. Yes, a home with a one of a kind and no longer permitted 26-foot long, 8-foot deep indoor pool is on the market.

232 West 15th Street

The pool is located in the middle of a living room that opens into a 16-foot high solarium sanctuary, connected to a landscaped private garden.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the owner Evelyn McMurray Van-Zeller says she inherited the Manhattan home from her brother in 1995 while she was living in Europe.

232 West 15th Street

She says the pool was installed in 1975 by the previous owners. She likes to hang out in the pool with her three turtles and 5-pound Yorkshire terrier. (I can’t believe I’m writing this.)

232 West 15th Street

Besides the pool, the home features five wood burning fireplaces, six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a garden with a small pool, a rooftop deck and a hot tub in the master bedroom that overlooks the terrace.

232 West 15th Street

The top two floors of this 19th Century building are apartments. They can be converted, but the extra $9,000 in rents could help pay that mortgage!

The property has been on and off the market since 2008 with an initial asking price of $11.5 million. It’s down to $10,995,000, listed at CORE Group NYC. You can see more of the house in this video from the WSJ:

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