It was a visionary idea around 1900: the construction of a majestic cultural complex in the wide-open, breezy space between Riverside Drive and Broadway at 155th Street.
At the time, this area of Upper Manhattan, once part of the estate of artist James Audubon in the 1840s, was being developed into a residential neighborhood.
Builders were putting up apartment houses and flats in what they hoped would be a prime part of the city. Adding a beautiful museum row would enhance the area and give it cultural cache.
So the Beaux Arts-style, granite and limestone structures were built, centered around a brick walkway and sunken courtyard and marked by a wrought-iron gate. Opened in 1904, this uptown museum row was called Audubon Terrace.
The Hispanic Society of America, a museum with Goyas and El Grecos, moved in. So did the American Indian Museum, American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Geographical Society, and the American Numismatic Society.
Upper Manhattan didn’t pan out as the well-to-do enclave developers had hoped. And it was far out of the loop of the main part of the city.
Decades passed. Three of the original tenants moved out. Only the Hispanic Society museum and the American Academy of Arts and Letters remain. Boricua College, a bilingual institution, has joined them.
Audubon Terrace today feels like a secret. The wide courtyard, ghostly equestrian statue of El Cid, and other monuments to art and culture are devoid of crowds.
The art at the Hispanic Society is fantastic (and free!). It’s an ideal place for walking and looking and dreaming.
[Photos: Second photo, 1919, MCNY; third, 1925 postcard from MCNY]
Tags: American Academy of Arts and Letters, Art and culture NYC, Audubon estate NYC, Audubon Terrace, Boricua College NYC, Church of the Intercession, Hispanic Society of America, Museum Row NYC, New York in 1904, streets of Upper Manhattan, Upper Manhattan beauty