A walk down Manhattan’s first “block beautiful”

New York City has hundreds of breathtaking residential streets that inspire beauty—and deep real-estate envy.


But perhaps the first “block beautiful,” as it was called by a home design magazine around 1909, is the stretch of East 19th Street between Irving Place and Third Avenue.

19thstreet139The houses here were largely built in the 1850s—two decades after real estate man Samuel Ruggles bought land on a marsh-turned-farm called by the old Dutch name “crommesshie” and remade it into Gramercy Park.

Yet 19th Street’s eclectic charm comes in part from architect Frederick Sterner, who remodeled many of the original houses in the early 1900s, starting with his own at number 139 (left).

Sterner altered traditional brownstones, considered dour by the turn of the century, into more fashionable residences with playful touches like light colors, wide shutters, jockey statues, stucco facades, and colored tiles.

19thstreetgeorgebellowsHis alterations earned high-fives from architectural critics and attracted painters and actors, turning the block into something of an artists’ colony in the 1920s and 1930s.

One of those artists was social realist painter George Bellows, who moved his family into number 146 (right) closer to the Third Avenue end of the block and built an attic studio.

Bellows was known to paint scenes of Gramercy Park, like this one from 1920 with his kids in the center.

19thstreetgiraffepanelsPainter and muralist Robert Winthrop Chanler lived across from Bellows at number 147, the wide and pretty home with the whimsical giraffe panels over the entrances (left).

They mimic the giraffes in one of Chanler’s murals, from 1922.

Tudor-style number 132 (below), built by Sterner, has an illustrious list of former tenants, including muckraking author Ida Tarbull and painter Cecilia Beaux.

19thstreet132cityrealtySome well-known actresses also reportedly lived in this apartment building in the middle of the block: Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Ethel Barrymore, and Theda Bara.

Of course, no New York City block beautiful would be complete without renovated carriage houses, and this pocket of East 19th Street has three.

The two neighbor stables at numbers 127 and 129 (below) near Irving Place may have been built as early as the 1860s.

Their red brick and Gothic touches make them look like they belong in a fairy tale.


And then there’s teeny tiny number 124, also on the end close to Irving Place, which comes off as a holdover from the colonial Dutch era (below).


This Flemish-inspired carriage house actually only dates to the late 19th century and for most of its history has been a residence.

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6 Responses to “A walk down Manhattan’s first “block beautiful””

  1. 1/10: Man stuck in Kips Bay wall, Warm dumplings, Bushwick blaze – SpotCorner Says:

    […] A walk down Manhattan’s first “block beautiful” Perhaps the first “block beautiful,” as it was called by a home design magazine around 1909, is the stretch of East 19th Street between Irving Place and Third Avenue. (Ephemeral New York) […]

  2. trilby1895 Says:

    Gramercy Park area is one of my most favorite New York City neighborhoods. I’ll never forget the first time I was there; enraptured is the word that best describes my reaction. And that was even before learning of Stanford White’s contributions and the fact that he’d lived in a corner house where renovated hotel now stands.

  3. trilby1895 Says:

    In he building at 132, home to several stage and movie productions of the time, there were no stoves for cooking, I’ve read elsewhere. Designer of the building figured that the tenants’ lives would be so full that they wouldn’t have the time, nor the inclination, to prepare meals and he must have been right since the women mentioned here must have been inundated with admirers’ dinner offers.

  4. Not So Touristy Things to do in New York City - Good Vibes Spreader Says:

    […] a street with gorgeous and charming houses from the 19th century. You can read more about them here. Even better, because it’s a quiet area, you can find a really nice restaurant nearby that […]

  5. 10 Unique Romantic NYC Date Ideas to Try | Shiloh in the City Says:

    […] Irving Place in Gramercy Park is home to the funkiest set of townhouses in the city. These houses, nicknamed Block Beautiful, were built in the 1850s but remodeled in the early 1900s by architect Frederick Sterner, who hoped […]

  6. George Bellows understood New York in summer | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] in 1904 and established himself a leader of the Ashcan school of social realism and worked from his East 19th Street studio—made a career out of depicting both bold and tender scenes of life in New York […]

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