Archive for the ‘Beekman/Turtle Bay’ Category

Why a Turtle Bay YMCA is the “railroad branch”

October 27, 2014

The first YMCA opened in 1852 in Manhattan (the mission was to “provide young men new to the city a Christian alternative to the attractions of city life”), and since then, the Y has been an integral part of New York City.

YMCAcloseup

But one in particular, the Vanderbilt YMCA on East 47th Street between Third and Second Avenues, has an interesting name inscribed above the entrance: The Railroad Branch.

Grandcentralterminal1875The location seems removed from the energy and activity of Grand Central Terminal, five blocks and three avenues away. But there is a connection.

The branch was originally established in 1875 “to provide housing for the nation’s railroad men,” states the YMCA’s New York website.

“One of many “Railroad YMCAs” throughout New York City and across the country, the forerunner of the Vanderbilt YMCA was housed in the basement of the New York Rail Station on the site of today’s Grand Central Terminal.”

Vanderbiltymca“These railroad workers found clean overnight accommodations, affordable meals, and an array of programs to occupy and enrich their time between journeys,” explains the website. Among these programs were Sunday church services and a library and reading room.

“Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was the initial branch chairman, personally led Sunday Bible classes for the railroad workers and their families,” according to Y records.

The current building opened in 1932, but it must have been decades since any railroad workers bunked there.

[Second Photo: Grand Central Terminal in 1875]

Hidden waterfalls in the tiny parks of Turtle Bay

August 25, 2014

New York has lots of lovely pocket parks that offer a hideaway from urban life.

But the stretch of East Midtown known by its wonderfully pastoral 17th century name, Turtle Bay, seems to have more of these patches of green than other neighborhoods.

Waterfallpaleypark

Even better, many of these parks have cascading waterfalls that drown out urban noise and heat and leaves us feeling calm and soothed. No need to head to Central Park for a waterfall fix—these do the trick.

Paley Park (top photo), on 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues (not technically Turtle Bay but close) has a back-lit waterfall, along with ivy-covered walls and locust trees. Financed by a foundation set up by William Paley, former chairman of CBS, it’s attracted quiet crowds since 1967.

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Carved out of a space surrounded by modern apartment buildings and old-school tenements is Greenacre Park, above, created by a foundation organized by a Rockefeller family member in 1971.

The park is designed to be such a break from urban life, photography isn’t allowed (but no one will stop you from taking pictures from the street).

Waterfalls47thstreet2ndave

If the park with this circular wall of water has a name, I missed it. Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in the blue-purple house, with the sight and sound of falling water accessible from your terrace?

Waterfallchurchpark

Across the street from the United Nations on 47th Street and First Avenue is lush, secluded St. Mary’s Garden, part of Holy Family Roman Catholic Church.

It’s hard to see the benches and walkways along the sides, as well as the small waterfall that feeds into the pond on the left.

Ghostly reminders of New York’s old buildings

June 12, 2014

Every building in New York has a story—even the ones that no longer exist, except as phantom remnants of an older, forgotten city.

Ghostlyoutlinechelsea

I’m drawn to the faded outline of this little walkup in Chelsea. Once pressed against the side of a grand turn of the century warehouse or department store, it hung on for years, crooked and stooped.

Ghostlyoutlineseast31st

I don’t know when this building, a perfect square with a tall chimney on East 31st Street, met the bulldozer. But I love that it refuses to be erased from the block.

GhostoutlinesAllenstreet

This Allen Street tenement reveals the remains of maybe three separate smaller structures, probably taken down at different times.

Ghostlyoutlinewest40s

How many people once lived and worked in this squat building in the West 40s, and what did they see when they looked out their windows? I wonder if they would recognize the cityscape of today.

Ghostlybuildingeast20s2

On the side of a brownstone in the East 20s are at least two building impressions—two layers of another New York.

Check out more phantom buildings and their remains here.

How New York City invented the penthouse

May 16, 2014

Penthouse1930sbereniceabbotPenthouse: the word conjures up luxury and exclusivity.

Thing is, it’s a clever 1920s rebranding of the top of a building, where no one with any choice used to want to live.

For most of the city’s history, the single-structure mansion was the preferred domicile for the rich.

At the turn of the 20th century, monied New Yorkers were increasingly occupying “French Flat” cooperative apartments.

But even then, the undesirable rooftop apartment was given over to servants. Until the city and its tastes changed in the Jazz Age.

Penthouse60gramercy1941

“By the end of the 1920s, the cliff dwellers of Manhattan were beginning to appropriate for their own pleasure the once forlorn roofs of apartment buildings,” writes Donald L. Miller in his excellent new book on New York in the 1920s, Supreme City.

Penthouserestaurant30cps“The ‘Cinderella’ of New York architecture, the ‘penthouse,’ or roof apartment, had for decades been considered the least attractive part of a high building, a boxlike residence for the servant class, set among soot-scarred chimneys and wooden water tanks.”

Now, with a vertical city making air and light the most luxurious commodities of all, developers and their wealthy clients had these “cramped dormitories for the laboring classes” torn down and “replaced by new luxury quarters.”

“[Reporter Virginia] Pope saw ‘a new chapter of New York’s social history . . . being written above the roof line,'” wrote Miller. “In there roof houses ‘New Yorkers achieved ‘a detachment impossible to any dwelling set on earth,'” wrote journalist William Irwin. “There were no neighbors in sight; ‘only the tainted air above Manhattan.'”

A 1924 New York Times article foresaw this new desire for penthouses, which were still very limited in number, and only a few dated farther back that the late teens.

Penthousetudorcity1930s

One penthouse in particular, “is a substantial affair of steel construction, cement floors, and wire embedded windows. Windows on four sides give on the towers and steeples, the skyscrapers and the occasional treetops of the city.

“A wide walled terrace looks up to a ceiling no one can touch, the blue sky of heaven.”

[Top photo: 55 Seventh Avenue in the 1930s, by Berenice Abbott; second: a 1940s Gramercy Park penthouse, NYC Municipal Archives; Third: a postcard from the Penthouse restaurant, Museum of the City of New York; bottom photo: a Tudor City penthouse in the 1930s, MCNY]

Is this the ugliest brownstone in Chelsea?

April 7, 2014

The iconic New York brownstone, with its high stoop and decorative cornice, made its appearance in the early 19th century and quickly became a stylish, single-family home favorite.

15thstreetbrownstones

Over the decades, some have been updated, their facades altered and made over to suit their owners’ tastes.

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There’s this Modernist example in Turtle Bay, the concrete grill townhouse in the East 60s, and the futuristic bubble-window brownstone in the East 70s.

But what explains the refrigerator unit-like redesign of this home, part of a beautiful stretch of three-story row houses dating back to the turn of the last century?

Perhaps its super comfy inside. And a garage—that can be convenient.

Here’s the price (and photos) of the upper duplex, courtesy of a Corcoran listing.

1970s city store signs that burst with color

March 24, 2014

Treat yourself to a Monday morning explosion of old-school color—courtesy of these New York store signs that give off a very 1970s vibe.

Acepumpsign

Ace Pump got its start in 1936, and still deals in engineering supplies on superluxe 21st Street in Chelsea.

20thcenturygaragesign

I’ve always loved the 20th Century Garage sign, as well as its name, which must have sounded very modern at one time. It’s near Tudor City on East 48th Street. It looks like it was made before the 1970s, no?

Jeromefloristsign

Jerome Florist, on 96th Street and Madison Avenue, has been selling arrangements to Upper East Siders (and the area’s abundance of hospitals) since 1929.

Capitalelectronicssign

Once known as Capital Audio & Electronics, this Duane Street shop took the electronics out of its name, perhaps to sound less 1970s-ish.

Vernonavepharmacysign

Pharmacy signs like this one in Queens—no-frills, no brand names, with a neighborhood vibe—have mostly disappeared from city streets.

An East Side supermarket’s lovely vaulted ceiling

January 6, 2014

Grocery shopping is an inspiring experience at the Food Emporium at 59th Street and First Avenue.

Instead of a box-like store with bad fluorescent lighting, this giant supermarket tucked beneath the Queensboro Bridge is like a cathedral, with graceful arches and pillars and beautiful vaulted ceilings lined with Guastavino tiles.

Bridgemarketceiling

Bridgemarket, as the site is known, is one of many spaces in the city designed by architect Rafael Guastavino.

“Guastavino, an architect from Barcelona, pioneered the adaptation of a centuries-old vernacular building technology called the boveda catalana, or Catalan vault, in which long flat tiles are laid in courses and mortared together with a special mixture of portland cement and cow bay sand,” states Architecture Week.

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“Guastavino vaults can be found in numerous grand interiors, including Grand Central Terminal, the U.S. Customs House, and the main hall at Ellis Island.”

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Bridgemarket didn’t get its name from its association with Food Emporium. The site actually housed a farmer’s market in the early 1900s.

Guastavino also designed the vaulted ceilings of the long-closed, absolutely beautiful City Hall subway station.

The modern metropolis of Georgia O’Keeffe

November 18, 2013

If Georgia O’Keeffe to you means gauzy flowers and southwestern motifs, take a look at her Modernist depictions of the cityscape in the 1920s.

[below, "East River From the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel," 1928]

Okeeffeastriverfromshelton

Born in Wisconsin in 1887, O’Keeffe studied at the Art Students League in 1907, then came back to New York a few years later to attend Teachers College.

 She returned once again in 1918 to live with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who had been impressed by her charcoal drawings and forged a relationship with her through letters.

[Below, "East River No 1," 1927]

Okeeffeeastriverfromtheshelton1926

The two married six years later, after Stieglitz’s divorce was finalized. They lived together in the Shelton Hotel at 49th Street and Lexington Avenue, and from her window O’Keeffe began painting the New York skyline.

“Although O’Keeffe’s paintings of skyscrapers might appear simplistic, their power lies in the perspective O’Keeffe employs in her technique,” explains this link from the University of Virginia.

[Below, "New York Night," 1928-1929]

Okeeffenewyorkatnight

“Her paintings often times used the vantage point of being on the ground and looking up which conveys a sense of wonder an individual might experience while craning one’s neck to look up at the awe-inspiring skyscraper.

Georgiaokeeffe“In contrast, O’Keeffe’s subtle use of light in New York Night conveys a sense of warmth and life inherent in the city.

“Although the majority of the painting is comprised of dark buildings, the lighted windows in the skyscrapers and the lighted street area in the lower left-hand corner of the painting are suggestive of the living beings who breathe life into the city on a daily basis.”

O’Keeffe also painted the Radiator Building in Bryant Park, all glowing embers.

[O'Keeffe in 1918, photo taken by Alfred Stieglitz]

Is this the East Side’s most hideous brownstone?

November 4, 2013

It might be if you favor classic 19th century New York residences: cornices, wide stoops, decorative ironwork.

But if you’re a fan of Modernist architecture, you’d probably consider the house in the center of this photo, at 211 East 48th Street, to be strikingly beautiful.

Uglybrownstone

The 1934 home was designed by William Lescaze, a Swiss-born architect who brought Modernist style to the East Coast. It was in the vanguard during its time; perhaps that’s why Berenice Abbott photographed it in 1938.

Bereniceabbottlescazehouse“The way the second-floor bay curves beside the “stoop” is distinctly reminiscent of the of the sleek curve of the base of the pioneering Philadelphia Saving Fund Society skyscraper, completed two years earlier, that Lescaze codesigned with George Howe,” states The Architectural Guidebook to New York City.

“House designs have been blown up to skyscraper proportions, but the Lescaze house may be the first time a skyscraper design was ever scaled down to fit a house.”

Recently up for rent ($6,400 a month!), the house’s interior can be seen in this listing.

It’s hardly the only untraditional-looking residence on a brownstone block in New York. The “bubble brownstone” on East 71st Street is in a class by itself.

Holdout tenements dwarfed by towering giants

October 24, 2013

Holdoutbuildings22ndst

Every so often on New York City streets you come across a faded old walkup or tenement that’s holding its own beside a gleaming tower or tall office building.

It’s hard not to be charmed by these little underdogs, whose owners likely turned down a hefty buyout offer for the property.

I love these two buddy tenements on Third Avenue and 22nd Street, once probably part of a late 19th century row of tenements that looked just like them.

New York is all about change, and lovely buildings are always being torn down to make way for something new.

Yet there’s something strangely satisfying about a massive 20-story co-op being forced to build around these two stragglers.

Holdoutbuildings20thstreet2

On East 59th Street sits the well-maintained walkup below—squeezed between handsome 1920s residences that are at least six times the little building’s height.

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Also in the East 50s is this little guy—a fire-engine red old-school walkup wedged against a 20+ story apartment building, with other apartment residences casting cold shadows over it on its right and from behind.

Holdoutbuildingeast50s

What’s it like to live in an architectural relic—left behind from an older, smaller-scale New York—that refused to budge as the city marched forward?


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