by Nancy Sheran
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Ayn Rand (1905-1982), well known for her Objectivist philosophy and her books, including The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, was a long time resident of Murray Hill.
Harry Binswanger, philosopher, writer, and teacher, was one of Ayn Rand's closest friends in her final years, and describes her as a "once in a millennium genius." He has shared information about the time she spent in Murray Hill. He, too, lived in Murray Hill—at the Murray Hill Mews, from 1991 to 2014. The following paragraphs are from Harry Binswanger.
Ayn Rand was the most alive person I have ever known. Electrifying. You knew you were in the presence of something extraordinary when you were around her. And what most people don't know is that she was also sweet and playful. She once described New York City as "the center of the center of the universe." And Murray Hill is a delightful residential neighborhood nestled into the center of New York City.
From November 1935 to March 1937, Ayn Rand lived at The Murray on Park Avenue. During that period, her play "Night of January 16th" opened on Broadway (September 16, 1935), and she made her first notes for The Fountainhead. Her first novel, We the Living, though written while she was in Hollywood, was published in England while she lived at The Murray.
In October of 1941, she moved into The Bromley, 139 East 35th Street, on the corner of 35th and Lexington. It was then a new building, and she lived in an apartment on the first floor. It was there that she completed The Fountainhead, submitting the manuscript on December 31, 1942. In November of 1943, she left for Los Angeles, where she wrote the screenplay for the 1949 film, “The Fountainhead.” On one of the drives back from the west coast with her husband, they sang "It's a long, long way to 34th Street", based on the tune "It's a Long Way to Tipperary".
She returned to NYC and Murray Hill in October of 1951. She was at 36 East 36th, across from the Morgan Library, apartment 5B. It was there that she wrote the second half of Atlas Shrugged. And there she wrote for the New Intellectual and the essays that were anthologized in The Virtue of Selfishness, plus most of the essays anthologized in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. She edited, published, and wrote for The Objectivist Newsletter, while there, until 1965.
In summer or early fall of 1965 she moved to her final residence (she died there, March 6, 1982): 120 East 34th Street, Apt. 6G. It was there that she wrote her book on the theory of knowledge, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Also there, she wrote most of the essays for her anthology on art, The Romantic Manifesto, and her anthology on general philosophy, Philosophy: Who Needs It.
In summary, she wrote The Fountainhead mainly in Murray Hill; she wrote the second half of Atlas Shrugged there. She did all of her (pretty voluminous) nonfiction writing on philosophy at either 36 E. 36th or 120 E. 34th Street. "Objectivism" was created in Murray Hill. Also, at 36 East 36th she gave lectures on fiction writing in her apartment to aspiring fiction writers. The edited transcript of those tapes became, after her death, The Art of Fiction. And in her apartment at 120 East 34th Street, she gave a course to a small group of Objectivist writers, and that became The Art of Nonfiction. The 12 or so friends and associates who facetiously styled themselves "the collective" met weekly with her in one of these two apartments. That group included Allan Greenspan, economist, who become Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Later, while Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Greenspan created policies which did not follow Objectivism's free-market principles.
Photo of Ayn Rand courtesy of the Ayn Rand Archives.
Photo of Atlas sculpture, Rockefeller Center. Photo by Michael Greene. Sculpture by Lee Lawrie.