Westchester Chronicles

Think peace, best-bet books, tips from an art restorer, and the story behind a long-vacant eyesore on Central Park Avenue.



Peace as Muse



A year ago, pondering the precarious situation in the Mideast as well as personal turmoil, South Salem artist Suzan Waldinger took acrylic to canvas and created her first piece inspired by the iconic peace sign. Her studio loft overlooking the woods is now stacked with more than 50 canvasses starring the peace symbol: as wind chime, dream catcher, sunrise, snowflake, and more. “If you think about peace, talk about peace, it naturally will flow into other parts of your life,” she says. When you think of peace, chances are you feel more peaceful—just as a smile can bring about another smile, so too can peace bring about peace.” In short: all she is saying is give peace a chance.


Waldinger will be exhibiting her Think Peace collection at Art Expo 2008 from February 28 to March 3 at the Jacob Javitz Center in New York City. See more of her work at www.suzanwaldinger.com. —Nancy L. Claus


Two-Wheel Drive

Commute too long? For one Pound Ridge peddler, it was just the opposite.   

By W. Dyer Halpern



Joe Simonetti hates commuting by train. “I want to shoot myself while I’m on the train,” he says. “I feel like a piece of cattle.” So eight years ago, Simonetti, then 46, made the seemingly paradoxical move from the Upper West Side to Westchester, where he would have an even longer commute, indeed a 45-mile commute. And Simonetti loves it. Why? He rides his bicycle to work.


“Most people tend to think I am a little weird and a bit of an eccentric, which is an image I tend to cultivate rather than reject,” says the gray-haired, six-foot-three-inch, 180-pound cyclist. It takes Simonetti, a psychotherapist, three-and-a-half hours to get to his office, burning some 2,000 calories. He does it on very little fuel. “I don’t pay attention to energy,” says Simonetti, whose only food stop is a trip to the Rockridge Deli in Rye where he consumes egg whites on a pumpernickel bagel “with a little Swiss cheese.”


Eight years ago, Simonetti plucked his daughter, then 14, out of school (“that’s the thing I feel most guilty about”) and dragged his wife to Pound Ridge. But his wife was “cool” with it, despite the fact that it now takes her nearly two hours to get to her Manhattan job.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find another Jewish woman who would take it this well,” Simonetti quips.


The passion—madness?—was sparked 10 years ago, when Simonetti went on a cross-country bike ride. “When I got back, I felt like I didn’t want to be inside anymore.” So, he cut his work hours back by a third, sold his classic-six apartment, and moved to a smaller home that cost two thirds as much as his old one. “I cut back my lifestyle to afford it,” he says. And he began biking to work—twice a week, six months a year. 

As he’s gotten older, Simonetti has scaled back his cycling a bit. He used to bike well into November but no more. “One day the wind chill was twenty-seven degrees below zero. I needed a thirty-minute shower to thaw.” Simonetti waits until April to start his outdoor downtown treks. “I have never had one day when I regretted riding in, but I have had many days when I regretted not riding.”


It’s not always easy riding his 27-speed, red-and-silver LeMond Buenos Aires bike. “What surprises me,” he says, “is that people who drive in Connecticut are the same people who drive in New York City, but those same drivers act differently when they get near the City. That same driver on a nice road in Connecticut will treat you pretty respectfully, but now you’re on like Route One Twenty and the same driver will try to kill you if you’re half an inch farther from the curb than they think you should be.”

Luckily, Simonetti’s wife has his back when it comes to road equality. She recently bought him a shirt that says “I’m not blocking traffic, I am traffic.” He wears it proudly.



Ask The Expert



Q: When my clothing label says “dry clean only,” does it really mean it?


A: No, there’s not a vast dry cleaner conspiracy afoot to keep you pouring money into the industry, but “dry clean only” may not be the iron-clad edict you think it is.  Here’s the lowdown, fabric by fabric, from Westchester fabric expert, Pat Headen, owner of Hartsdale Fabrics in Hartsdale:


Polyester If it’s 100-percent polyester it can be machine-washed with confidence at home and machine-dried on a low setting. 


Rayon If clothes have rayon in them, you probably should dry clean them, but you can hand-wash and line-dry at home, if necessary, with only mild shrinkage. So if potential mild shrinkage is not a problem,  go for it.


Wool Never, ever wash at home, unless you want to own boiled wool.


Acrylic Acrylic can be hand-washed or machine-washed on gentle, and then line- or air-dried (even in the dryer on “air” setting). Heat will destroy it though, so keep it out of the dryer.


Silk Silks can be hand-washed and line-dried.p


Cotton Today’s cottons do not shrink. They can be machine-washed and machine-dried, even on warm. Make sure you buy “permanent press” cotton, though, to avoid having to iron.


Down comforters Wetting this will cause the feathers to stick together, so don’t wash it. Unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer, drying a down comforter in a dryer on “air” setting is okay, though, and can improve freshness.




When the weather outside is frightful, holing up with a book is delightful.  

By Marisa LaScala


On such a winter’s day, forget California dreaming—try Westchester reading. We asked Joan Ripley, owner of the Second Story Book Shop in Chappaqua, to check with the grapevine and see what mid-winter books are getting the best advance buzz. Though even Ripley hasn’t had a chance to read these yet, she assembled this list of five choice titles.



People of the Book

Geraldine Brooks

Australian book conservator Hanna Heath is tasked with the conservation of the Sarajevo Haggadah—at 600 years old, the tome is one of the earliest illuminated Jewish texts—when she finds some odd articles within its pages: an insect wing, a wine stain, some saltwater crystals, and a strand of white hair. By investigating these items, Heath uncovers the stories of four different individuals throughout time who created the book and prevented its destruction. The novel is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Geraldine Brooks’s real-life experience with the Sarajevo Haggadah while she was a reporter covering the war in Bosnia. (Viking)



The Senator’s Wife

Sue Miller

Just what you want to read about in an election year: more politics. Only author Sue Miller (The Good Mother) focuses on the juicy stuff we really care about: the inner-workings of a marriage between a fictional senator, Tom Naughton, and his wife, Delia. Delia finds strange parallels between her life and the life of her new neighbor, Meri, and the two imperfect marriages bring the women closer and change both their lives forever. (Knopf)




Bernhard Schlink

From the author of Oprah pick The Reader comes the story of Peter Debauer, a boy who grows up fatherless in the wake of World War II and devours the pulp novels published by his grandparents in Switzerland. He becomes enamored of one particular story—a retelling of The Odyssey for contemporary postwar Germany—and sets off on his own Odyssey to find its author, and, eventually his own family history. (Pantheon Books)


Unaccustomed Earth

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel won’t be released until April 1, but you’ll want to get your pre-order in. Lahiri brings the poetic prose that won her acclaim in The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies to a collection of eight not-so-short stories. Here, Lahiri writes about what she knows best: the relationships between parents and children, brothers and sisters, men and women. (Knopf)




The Reserve

Russell Banks

From Russell Banks, the writer who previously brought us such memorable downers as Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter, comes a tale about life in the Adirondacks during—how fitting—the Great Depression. A little bit mystery, a little bit social history, and a little bit romance, The Reserve is about the relationship between the wealthy “haves” who visit the mountains and the “have nots” who work for them, including one love triangle between a wilderness guide, an artist, and an heiress. Those who frequent the Adirondacks might recognize some popular personalities. (HarperCollins)



(Re-)Master of Arts

Helmut Zitzwitz can bring paintings from death’s door to the showroom floor.

By W. Dyer Halpern





You might not want to believe it, but Helmut Zitzwitz, art restorer extra-ordinaire, has just spit on a painting! “Saliva is a very interesting chemical; its chemical makeup is right between acidity and alkaline,” says Zitzwitz who, 150 his wife Barbara, owns the Hudson River Gallery & Conservators (www.hudsonrivergalleryconservators.com). “It can stop the process of the chemicals to remove varnish, while cleaning
the painting.”


As Zitzwitz explains the benefits of truly “homemade” chemicals, he sits at a square table in the back of his third-floor office in the newly renovated Station Plaza building in Yonkers. His silver hair and grizzled face—lined from 75 years of holding a near-constant smile—is covered in a pair of black magnifying goggles. He’s just spent hours mixing Xylene, Toluene, and other strangely spelled chemicals together which he now dabs, “one square inch at a time,” removing decades-old yellow varnish from a decades-old painting. But removing old varnish is just one step in the art restoration process that

the New York Times once referred to as the “right touch.”


“Every oil painting should be looked at every sixty to eighty years by someone you trust,” says Zitzwitz, who grew up in Nazi Germany in a family so divided that, during World War II, one member fought for the Germans (after being drafted) and another against them. Zitzwitz explains that the biggest problem faced by art restorers is undoing the damage to paintings caused by antiquated products, such as bee’s wax, that used to secure art to its backing.


After fleeing Berlin for Milwaukee in 1950 (but before working for both the U.S. Department of State, the United States Army, and for the steel industry, where he sold products to big shots such as Lee Iacocca), Zitzwitz spent his free time volunteering and taking courses at the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. But it wasn’t until the early ’80s that Zitzwitz resigned from the steel industry. He bought an art-supply store in Riverdale.

By pure chance, needing to have one of his own paintings restored, he met an art restorer by the name of Gustav Berger. “We just looked him up in the phone book.” Little did Zitzwitz know that Berger had just revolutionized the art-restoration industry by developing the BEVA processes (Berger Ethylene Vinyl and Acetate) that could be used to attach paintings to linen back-grounds with-out seeping into the oil like bee’s wax, the adhesive of choice for centuries. Berger encouraged Zitzwitz to enter the art restoration business. Through workshops and personal assistance, Berger trained Zitzwitz and intro- duced him to big players in the industry. “We would go to lectures at the Smithsonian meant only for sixteen people. I’d be the only person there without two doctorates.”

Twenty years later, Zitzwitz works on paintings whose values reach seven figures, most notable among them a million-dollar painting by John Singer Sargent.


The cost to restore a small painting  can range from $700 for a small painting to $4,000 for a badly damaged large painting. Zitzwitz also does work on paper drawings and etchings when requested. And when he’s not
fixing paintings, he and his wife
create various art exhibitions. His gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm, or by appointment.



Why Is That Building Still Vacant?



You’ve seen it: it’s big, it’s round, it’s walled in glass. It sits on the south side of Central Park Avenue in Scarsdale, it’s fronted by a statue of Atlas (no globe) a West-chester landmark and, perhaps most perplexing of all, it’s vacant. Vacant for some 20 years.


At one time, this 40-year-old, near-iconic 12,344-square-foot struc–ture, which looks like a cross between a flying saucer and a football stadium, housed the popular Lee Underwood-designed European Health Spa. But for years, the building has stood eerily empty.


“People ask about it all the time,” says Town of Greenburgh Appraiser Dan Whittemore, who reports that the building has been unoccupied for most, if not all, of his 20-year tenure. “Everyone wants to know, ‘Why is it vacant?’ ‘What are the plans?’ And all I can tell them is that the bills are sent to 540 Central Park Avenue.” And hefty bills they are: taxes on the 1.62-acre property in 2007 totaled $93,730.

So who’s been paying nearly a hundred grand a year for the rights to this architectural marvel-turned-dilapidated eyesore?


According to Greenburgh Planning Commissioner Mark Stellato, the building is owned by Dennis Dilmaghani, president and CEO of Dilmaghani Company, whose famous Scarsdale rug showroom is located next door to the vacant building—at 540 Central Park Avenue. Property records list Central Park Avenue Properties as the owner.


So what, if anything, does Dilmaghani plan to do with the building? “A proposal was submitted in 2002 to demolish the existing building and rebuild on the site,” says Stellato, “but nothing ever came of it.”


And, apparently, Dilmaghani has not been very forthcoming with information or plans for the property. Whittemore says that those who have made inquiries regarding the availability of the property have not been successful. Our calls to Dilmaghani were not returned.

                        —Carol Caffin



The 411 on GOOG-411


Kiss directory assistance fees goodbye


Lost in Yonkers? Late to Le Château? Don’t dial 411 without adding 1-800-GOOG beforehand. Thanks to Google’s new free directory service (dial 1-800-466-4411), callers are given phone numbers, addresses, and even text-messages infused with links to maps to most any business location in the country. All that’s missing? Residential listings (Google’s mum on whether this feature is coming). But what we really like is how GOOG-411 learns—Terminator-style. According to Senior Voice Interface Engineer Bill Byrne, the more people use the service, the better it becomes at recognizing voices.

(Interestingly, the service also makes “guesses” as to what people are saying based on the popularity of different locations.) Before we could give GOOG-411 our seal of approval, we threw it some tough names in Westchester. The outcome: A name with an apostrophe, D’avanti Hair Salon in Scarsdale: No.


The new restaurant X2O in Yonkers: No direct match, but the service did find Xaviars on the Hudson, the neighboring Pierview Bar, and a listing for Down-town Yonkers Business District.


The new store (open three weeks) Wish in Rye: No dice.

The new cool hangout, Via Genova water bar in Chappaqua: Success!

The cool magazine, Westchester Magazine in Elmsford: Success!

Well, two for five isn’t great, but it did find the most important listing of them all (if we do say so ourselves). Either way, for most businesses, GOOG-411 is quite helpful, and it sure beats the hell out of the near two-dollar price cellphone 411 normally costs.

                             —W. Dyer Halpern



Religious Revival



It’s not surprising that Pope Benedict XVI will stop in Yonkers when he makes his first papal visit to the States next month. After all, St. Joseph’s Seminary, the only seminary in the New York Archdiocese—the second largest archdiocese in the nation—is one of the oldest and most famous seminaries in the country. And, it just happens to be right here.

Not familiar with it? Well, God will forgive you, but will we? Built in 1896, the castle-like building sits on 40 acres of land and is known simply as “Dunwoodie” after its Yonkers location. Although used predominantly as a place of study for men entering the priesthood (all 675 currently active priests in the Archdiocese were ordained here), the facility also houses a program in which non-seminarians can receive a master’s degree in theology as well as offering college and pre-college programs. And while the grounds are not open to the public, various local sports teams and Catholic schools use the seminary’s baseball fields and basketball courts.


Hoping to inspire a new generation of Catholics—and no doubt young men to join the rapidly declining ranks of the priesthood—the Pope will hold a youth rally on April 19 that is estimated to draw up to 20,000 attendees. Yonkers will be the last stop on his tour. For more info on the visit, go to www.nyarchdiocese.org.

                        —Marisa Iallonardo



Great Places,  New Faces


IT’S NO SECRET THAT westchester loves the arts. That’s why the county’s been able to lure heavyweights away from the big cities to run our beloved institutions. Here’s a roster of some of the new players in the local scene, and how they plan to beef up the offerings of some of our favorite programs.



White Plains Performing Arts Center (right)

New Face: Jack W. Batman, Executive Producer

Appointed: February 2007

Last Seen: All over the Great White Way, as an agent, casting director, and producer. His credits include Broadway’s Enchanted April, the Off-Broadway Brian Dykstra’s Cornered & Alone, and Brian Dykstra’s Clean Alternatives, which carried home top honors at the Edinburgh Festival. Batman is also one of the co-founders of Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers.



What’s New: “We’re now a professional regional theatre company,” declares Batman. Though the big-ticket shows are in the new Broadway Classics series, which brings back favorite musicals such as Ain’t Misbehavin’, Batman is also enthusiastic about the smaller one-night-only events, e.g., evenings that showcase the Argentine tango or popular Celtic music. 





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