My husband Paul, a dedicated Bronx historian and all around brilliant guy, turned me on to a glittering chunk of Formerly history of which I had been unaware.
On the Grand Concourse, the Champs Elysees of the BronxÂ (the Bronx was formerly a borough with mucho class and clout) sits the Andrew Freedman Home, a facility Freedman, a millionaire himself, endowed in 1924 for the Formerly Rich, or those who grew accustomed to a certain lavish style of life and then suffered financial reversal. According to the New York Times, Freedman’s sister, Isabella, said that the man believed that ”worthy habits and traditions of affluence and refinement deserve recognition and respect.”
Yeah, OK, but do they really deserve to be subsidized? Per the Times, residents were waited upon and cooked for by a gaggle of servants at an almost 2:1 ratio.
“The main floor contained a card room, library, parlor, dining room and related rooms, the interior designed by L. Alavoine & Company, a French decorating concern. The entertaining rooms were as grand as many private clubs of the period, and the guest rooms upstairs compared favorably with the scale and finishes of Park Avenue apartment houses of the time.”
There’s a lot to roll your eyes at here, most obviously the fact that such accommodations were built to house the wealthy and not the poor, the vast majority of whom were likely never as rich as as these (mostly) cigar-chomping fat cats on their brokest day.
But what I find most interesting here is that Freedman felt so strongly that it would be unbearable for the rich to transition into the Formerly Rich, that he earmarked almost his entire $7 million dollar estate to protect them from having to deal with it!
To me, that speaks more to how difficult simply being a Formerly may sometimes be to the specifics of the Formerly. Take Joan Van Ark, for instance. The Knot’s Landing alum is Formerly Hot, if anyone is. No, really, you must look. She underwent the plastic surgery equivalent of the Andrew Freedman House, I can only guess so that she didn’t have to experience life as a Formerly Hot Hollywood actress. Which has gotta suck, in its own ridiculous way, no matter how many worse fates their are in the world.
Here’s another JVA link: I’d simply post the picture but I don’t have the rights.
I conjecture that the more invested you are in your self-definition, the greater lengths you might go to to maintain that self-definition. Still, there are plenty of people who, rather than clinging desperately to the past find a healthy way to change their self-definition so they don’t wind up waiting to die sequestered in a gilded museum on the Grand Concourse or looking like Joan Van Ark!
Happily, most of us never even dip a toe into Joan Van Ark territory, and hopefully never will. And I think the key to weathering such a transition is being able to laugh at your changing life circumstances (hence this blog.) Not that it’s easy, of course.
For a modern-day eye-roller, check out Alexandra Penny’s blog entry about losing everything in the Madoff scheme on the Daily Beast. You won’t come away with much sympathy, mostly because (like the Freedman residents) even wiped out she still has more than you probably do right now and exhibits zero recognition of this fact. Still, one might feel for her as a newly minted Formerly.