A West Side historic district packed with Queen Anne beauty

Walking along Manhattan Avenue feels like being in on a secret. Part of it has to do with the street itself, which is quiet and slender, tucked between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West and only running from 100th to 125th Streets.

Then there’s the architectural eye candy on both sides of Manhattan Avenue: three blocks of confection-like Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival row houses with all the terra cotta detailing and ornamental bells and whistles you could ask for from these two eclectic styles popular in the late 19th century.

These three blocks at the lower end of the avenue make up the Manhattan Avenue Historic District, which fronts 104th to 106th Streets and includes a few buildings on side streets. (There’s a second Manhattan Avenue Historic District from 120th to 123rd Street as well.)

Manhattan Avenue’s secretive vibe also might have to do with the fact that it wasn’t part of the 1811 official city street grid that mapped out Manhattan.

“Laid out as ‘New Avenue’ in 1872-73, this late addition to the Manhattan gridiron received its current name in 1884,” wrote Andrew Dolkart in Guide to New York City Landmarks. “The district contains 37 row houses, a six-story apartment building, and two structures built as part of General Memorial Hospital, originally known as the New York Cancer Hospital.”

When the Upper West Side—then known as the West End—transitioned from a collection of farm villages to an urban residential area in the late 19th century, the lovely row houses in this historic district went up as well. The busiest years spanned 1886 to 1889, the same time period when the Manhattan Avenue Historic District houses were built, according to the Landmark Preservation Committee (LPC) Report from 2007.

“The earliest group, located on the west side of the Avenue between 105th and 106th Streets, was designed by Joseph M. Dunn,” states Dolkert. “Opposite these buildings is an early row by C.P.H. Gilbert, who later became one of the city’s best-known residential architects.” A third group of rowhouses were then built on the west side between 104th and 105th Streets.

The first residents of these homes were upper middle class folks, states LPC report. “The United States Census of 1900 indicates a wide variety of occupations, including salesmen, real estate brokers, a janitor, engineer, pressman, teacher, bookkeeper, dentist, and physicians,” the report details. In subsequent years, lodgers and boarders were also recorded.

As New York City’s fortunes rose and fell in the 20th century, so did the cachet and character of Manhattan Avenue. Today these flamboyant houses are restored and well cared for, part of the quiet enclave of Manhattan Valley.

Number 127 went on the market last year for $2.5 million—many times more than the cost of the houses estimated by the original builders, which was in the neighborhood of $10,000 each, per the LPC report.

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8 Responses to “A West Side historic district packed with Queen Anne beauty”

  1. Tony Towle Says:

    You mean cachet, not cache.

  2. boxwoodbooks Says:

    The many trees planted on these residential blocks are also a great asset. Not sure what they are – perhaps a ginkg or two?

    • Beth Says:

      I see ginkgo, pin oak, and locust trees.

      • boxwoodbooks Says:

        Thanks Beth. I thought pin oak but it doesn’t look all that happy.

      • ironrailsironweights Says:

        Gingkos make excellent urban street trees because they’re highly resistant to air pollution as well as contaminats such as road salt. In most cases it’s better to plant only male trees as the female ones produce a foul smelling fruit. One drawback is that birds seldom nest or roost in them.

        There’s a persistent claim that the gingkos in Hiroshima survived much closer to the blast epicenter than any other species of tree.

        Peter

  3. boxwoodbooks Says:

    Ginko

  4. Michael Leddy Says:

    How about Nellie McKay’s “Manhattan Avenue”? Complete with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood intro and outro.

    If that’s Tony Towle the poet, he’s right about cachet. If that’s not the poet, he’s right anyway.

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