A secret garden behind 12 East Side townhouses

New York has its very lovely public green spaces, playgrounds, and private parks.

But some lucky residents have their own secret interior garden—a lush sanctuary of trees, flowers, and fountains hidden from the street between rows of brownstones and accessible only through the back doors of adjacent neighbors.

One of these magnificent gardens, Jones Wood Garden, lies between Lexington and Third Avenues and 65th and 66th Streets (above) on the same block as St. Vincent Ferrer Church.

The original Jones Wood was a 150-acre tract of high forested land that roughly spanned today’s 65th to 76th Streets from Third Avenue to the East River.

Named for a 19th century tavern owner and owned by prominent families, Jones Wood became a popular picnic and amusement spot. It was even in the running in the early 1850s to be the city’s first major public park.

In the post–Civil War years after Central Park edged out Jones Wood, builders cut down the forests and put up blocks of brownstone residences in this Lenox Hill neighborhood, as thy did all over Manhattan.

Demand for these private homes soured by the turn of the century, then picked up again after World War I. That’s when Jones Wood Garden got its start.

With well-to-do tenants in mind, developers purchased 12 brownstones (six on the north side of 65th Street, and six on the south side of 66th), then remodeled them by getting rid of their tall stoops and updating the amenities. They also designed a 100 by 108 feet sunken interior garden.

“This will be paved with special paving brick and flagging, and will have a fountain with a pool,” explained a New York Times article from 1919.

“Back of each house there will be a small and more intimate garden about 20 feet deep, upon which the dining room will open.” Shutters and trellises would be added to the back of each of these homes as well.

Unless you live there or know someone who does, Jones Wood Garden is pretty much off-limits to most New Yorkers.

You can catch a glimpse of a few trees from the street, as I did below. But the garden sanctuary is very private, just as it was intended.

Occasionally recent photos appear, particularly when one of the homes is up for sale.

In 2015, the house at 160 East 66th Street hit the market for $12 million. Curbed has the photos, including one with the open dining room leading to the garden, as described in the 1919 Times piece.

But to get a sense of the beauty and lushness of Jones Wood Garden, we have to rely on old images, such as these black and white photos from The Garden Magazine in 1922.

There’s also a series of color slides from the Library of Congress, dated 1921. One shows a child playing by the fountain and a woman in white (his mom? a nurse?) enjoying the peace and serenity.

[Second, third, fifth, and sixth photos: LOC; fifth photo: The Garden Magazine. Hat tip to A for sending me the LOC photos!]

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15 Responses to “A secret garden behind 12 East Side townhouses”

  1. A secret garden behind 12 East Side townhouses ⋆ New York city blog Says:

    […] Source link […]

  2. Bobby Says:

    I lived in one of the “stones” back in the 60’s

  3. A secret garden behind 12 East Side townhouses | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

    […] Source: FS – NYC Real Estate A secret garden behind 12 East Side townhouses […]

  4. Tom B Says:

    I never knew about this secret garden. I have walked by these residences a few times. Thank You Ephemeral!

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    You’re welcome…it’s a beautiful street.

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    Beautiful garden…I bet that raises the prices on the apartments there.

  7. Zoé Says:

    It’s nice that these buildings all have six over six windows still. (Note the building next door w/ the single pane windows & even the building entry door of all glass… which seems unwise for various reasons!).

    So stoops were unfashionable by the 1910s (?). Perhaps they had become enamoured by Federal period style? Or European townhouses?

    These gardens do not get much wear & tear in the City; due to the fact that it takes four hours to get home from work a mere mile away. (The subway…). At which time – after dinner etc. – people have often been known to fall into their beds with their clothes still on. (Hence I call all street clothes ‘New York City pajamas’).

    I am avoiding commenting on this *dazzling* garden itself in order to ward off depression – as I gaze upon my minuscule tar paper roof balcony whilst typing.

  8. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Stoops were removed from lots of 19th century brownstones in the 1910s and 1920s…I believe they simply fell out of style, and also, so many single-family brownstones were chopped up into separate apartments that there was no longer a need for a grand entrance to the parlor!

    • Zoé Says:

      I never knew that about the stoops.This is confusing to me. Wouldn’t the door be in the wrong place? Even if there is the door under the stoop on the side that led to the ground floor kitchen – which then was made into the main entrance – wouldn’t the original entrance be too high up? If the old door was bricked up; how was that concealed? They would have had to reface the whole building… (I realise this may be a stupid question 🙂 )

      Lol… The people on my block on E.1rst street – in the buildings next to our stoopless building – would not have had enough steps to sit on all day. Likewise for the kids nesting on the stoop opposite Trash & Vaudeville on St.Marks Place in the early 1980s. Removing the stoop on the latter would have saved the landlord from calling the police; who day after day made everyone move w/ threats of ‘loitering’ charges.

  9. Linda Lutzak Says:

    St. Vincent Ferrer!

  10. Cyrus Says:

    I worked for a decade at the well-known Sign of the Dove restaurant, which was located on the southeast corner of this block until it closed in 1998. The rear glass wall of a double-height private dining room on the second floor of the Dove looked out on this garden, with St. Vincent Ferrer across the way. I marveled at it for years through every season. One rarely saw anyone walking about, although you often saw the lighted rooms of the townhouses that opened in into it, which were especially lovely during the holidays when you could see their Christmas trees. There were stone paths and a fountain, if I recall. It was quite marvelous. Sadly, when the Dove was sold the buildings along that half of ThIrd Ave. were torn down and replaced with another bland high-rise.

  11. Beth Says:

    Jones Wood was one of the original areas considered for the park that became Central Park. Interesting and nice that a park of sorts still exists there.

  12. ktkittentoes Says:

    That 1921 picture could really be from any time.

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