Exploring a Surreal NYC Studio: Unraveling Salvador Dalí’s Enigmatic Party Haven

Exploring a Surreal NYC Studio: Unraveling Salvador Dalí’s Enigmatic Party Haven

Nestled in one of the few remaining blocks that still retains the charm of Little Italy, there is a painter’s studio that captures the essence of a bygone era. Located on the top floor of 385 Broome St., the studio once belonged to the renowned painter Frank Herbert Mason. For fifty years, from 1958 to his passing in 2009, Frank used this loft space as his creative sanctuary, filling it with his life, his work, and his cherished memories of star-studded gatherings. After his death, his widow Anne chose to preserve the studio as a time capsule, untouched and frozen in time, as if waiting for Frank to return and pick up his paintbrush.

However, this slice of old New York will soon be transformed, as the landlord recently decided to raise the rent by a steep 25%. Sadly, Anne cannot afford this increase, and now she and the beautiful relics of Frank’s life must find new homes. Anne, now 88, expressed her sadness about the impending change, stating, “There’s been no reason to change anything. There’s no way to recreate it.”

Anne met Frank in Italy in 1964, after fleeing from a job she despised in the Midwest. She found work as a switchboard operator in Rome, and it was there that Frank stumbled upon her. When she followed him back to New York, Frank had already been using the Broome St. space as a studio for eight years, but it was not yet a place they called home. Anne vividly recalls the early days, when they had to shower on the second floor and the building lacked essential amenities like plumbing, a kitchen, and even walls.

The loft became a gathering place for the artistic elite of the time. Portraits were painted, the grand piano played ahead of performances at Carnegie, and the Masons’ salons became prime opportunities for networking and fundraising. Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala were among the frequent guests, and Anne fondly remembers Gala’s talent for approaching the crowd and securing financial support. The loft was also frequented by aspiring artists, as well as serving as an extension of Frank’s studio on the fourth floor.

Recognizing the importance of preserving this historic space, the New York Adventure Club plans to create an interactive digital archive. This augmented reality walkthrough will allow visitors to experience the top floor of 385 Broome St. as it is in its current state.

Over the years, countless students passed through the studio, attending parties and engaging in long drawing sessions around the pot-bellied stove to keep warm. Painter John Varriano, who began visiting the apartment in 1989, recalls feeling a deep connection to the artistic lineage that existed within those walls. Scott Mason, Frank’s grandnephew and a video producer, studied under his uncle at the Art Students League and then helped Anne maintain the place after Frank’s passing. However, Scott’s rent was also raised significantly, prompting him to move to Pittsburgh and take Frank’s artifacts with him.

Though Frank’s legacy will continue to exist in the form of his landscape paintings on permanent display at New York City’s oldest Italian bakery, Caffe Roma, the studio itself will undergo modernization and transformation. As the lease on this magical place draws to a close, Anne is uncertain about her next move, possibly to Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, she has come to terms with the fact that change is inevitable. “We change, we get older, and I think we’re happy if we adjust to it,” she concluded. “You can’t stay the same.”

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