Archive for the ‘Beekman/Turtle Bay’ Category

An apartment house rises out of this 1893 school

May 20, 2019

In the late 19th century, New York City went on a public school building spree, constructing several handsome new schools across Manhattan to educate all children, but especially those of the poor and working classes.

One of these schools, completed in 1893, was a spectacular romanesque building that resembled the Dakota—trimmed with brownstone and brick and tricked out with arched windows and gabled roofs.

Public School 35 (above, in 1920) occupied the southwest corner of First Avenue and 51st Street (the former site of the 18th century Beekman mansion) for the next 70 years.

What was it like attending school here?

One New York Times letter writer summed it up this way in 1987: “My fellow-students, although by no means an assemblage of miniature angels, had been cautioned by hard-working parents to derive maximum benefits from the free education denied their European-born parents.”

By the 1960s, PS 35 was no longer. For the next few decades it was a mostly empty neighborhood eyesore. The old school even did a stint as a homeless shelter for women.

In the 2000s, however, this striking building took on a new role: as the lower-floor facade of a 20-story condo designed by Costas Kondylis.

The interior walls were knocked out and a modern apartment tower was built inside the facade. (Above, before the apartment building was started).

Don’t give too much credit to the developer, though, for preserving the facade. The school earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Presumably the facade of PS 93 couldn’t be totally leveled, so the sleek condo building now rises inside the school—a curious mix of old and new New York on a Turtle Bay block.

[Third photo: NYPL; Fourth photo: Turtle Bay Association]

Desolation and isolation on the East River in 1909

March 25, 2019

Social realist painter George Bellows completed “Bridge, Blackwell’s Island,” in 1909, which is also the year of the opening of the Queensboro Bridge, as this span over the East River was called at the time.

Like the East River waterfront, Blackwell’s Island (today’s Roosevelt Island) was to Bellows a place on the margin—where refuse, industry, and those who were edged out by 20th century urban life were relegated.

This look at the bridge almost devoid of people seems to say something about the desolation and isolation of the contemporary city.

Smokestacks belch, a tugboat speeds through the choppy river, a lone man not much bigger than a speck is tending to something on the dock—and four children shrouded in darkness peer across the water—perhaps contemplating the modern metropolis they’re part of.

Blue and white tiles line the Queensboro Bridge

February 4, 2019

New York City’s many bridges are frequently praised for their beauty.

But The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (yep, the former mayor’s name was officially added in 2011) might be the most lovely.

The cantilever span itself is graceful and elegant, of course. But what sets the Queensboro apart might be the smaller design motifs and decoration the bridge architects insisted on before it officially opened in 1909.

Among these are the decorative lampposts at the entrance to the bridge, and vaulted, Cathedral-like ceilings lined with famous Guastavino tiles under the Manhattan-side bridge approach, the commercial space known as Bridgemarket.

Then there are the blue and white tiles built in to the facade under the bridge approach on First Avenue. They could be terra cotta; I’m not quite sure.

The circles and rectangles on each individual tile weave a spectacular pattern covering large swaths of the bridge approach.

But if you don’t look for them as you walk under the approach, you might miss out on this wonderful decorative touch that appears to exist entirely to charm pedestrians.

The striking doorway Medusa on Sutton Place

January 14, 2019

In Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster with snakes in her hair; looking at her could cause a viewer’s face to turn to stone.

On contemporary Sutton Place near 58th Street, there’s another Medusa.

Snakes live in her hair, but rather than turning viewers into stone, she herself is stone—a keystone that is. She frames the doorway of a beautiful five-story, French chateau–inspired townhouse below a lovely wrought-iron balcony.

The house has a long backstory. It was the first in a line of drab, out-of-style brownstones to be transformed by literary and decorating power couple Elizabeth Marbury and Elsie de Wolfe in 1920 into a luxury showpiece.

Soon after, the East Side street attracted New York’s most elite to the newly developed Sutton Place, according to Daytonian in Manhattan.

Since then, it’s had a number of notable residents, and in 2017 was listed for sale at $8.5 million. (See the amazing interior photos.)

But who put Medusa there?

She wasn’t guarding the (much less ornate) doorway in the 1940 tax photo I found taken by the city, above.

But she appears to be in another tax photo taken sometime in the 1980s.

That photo also shows the townhouse looking much like it does today. Though the quality of the image is too poor to be sure (at left).

At some point between the 1940s and 1980s, an owner decided a scary Medusa head would be a nice addition to the facade.

[Third and fourth photos: NYC Department of Records & Information Services]

A riverside cobblestone cul-de-sac no one knows

November 5, 2018

Imagine living on your own gated street on the far East Side of Manhattan—with a row of 19th century townhouses on one side and a tree-shaded lawn sloping down to the East River on the other.

Such a place exists east of Sutton Place at the end of 58th Street: a cobblestone cul-de-sac called Riverview Terrace.

Most New Yorkers don’t know it’s there, and that’s probably the way the residents prefer it.

“Just beyond Sutton Square is one of the neighborhood’s finest, and least‐known, residential enclaves, Riverview Terrace, a group of five ivy-covered brownstones fronting directly on the river,” wrote architecture critic Paul Goldberger in 1976 in the New York Times.

“A private street, tiny Riverview Terrace runs north from Sutton Square just on the river; a place geographically closer to city tensions yet more removed from them would be hard to imagine.”

Riverview Terrace was originally a less showy street, settled in the 1870s “by ‘nice people’ in modest circumstances, who were erratic enough to prefer a view of the river to a convenient horse car,” wrote the Times in 1921.

By the 1920s, with Sutton Place (formerly known by the more pedestrian Avenue A) becoming a bastion of wealth, the houses on Riverview Terrace underwent an upgrade.

The photo on the left was taken in 1935, with the street looking similar to the way it appears today.

The next photo on the right is from the 1930s, looking at Riverview from the East River.

Since then, these houses have been remodeled and renovated according to the imaginations of their wealthy owners.

Occasionally they come up for sale. Take a peek inside one on the market for $8 million right now.

[Fourth photo: MCNY x2010.11.3160; Fifth photo: NYPL]

A hidden city park named for a murdered activist

October 29, 2018

Walk to the far end of East 51st Street, past the bishop’s crook lamppost of lovely Beekman Place, and you’ll find yourself at a dead end blocked off by a cast iron fence.

The high, spectacular views of the East River are enchanting. But there’s more to this spot than immediately meets the eye.

To your left beside the Gothic-style entrance of a prewar apartment building, you’ll see the beginning of a stairway—then steep steps surrounded by brownstone. They’re like a portal to a mysterious part of Turtle Bay few know about or visit.

The steps take you to Peter Detmold Park, a quiet strip of gazebos, park benches, and a dog run beside the river, with trees partly shielding the FDR Drive.

The serenity of this hidden park stands in contrast to the tragedy that inspired its name.

Peter Detmold (below) was a World War II veteran who made his home in Turtle Bay Gardens, the beautifully restored brownstones spanning East 48th and East 49th Streets between Second and Third Avenues.

As president of the Turtle Bay Association, he led the fight in the 1960s and early 1970s to preserve the character of the neighborhood.

“When landowners began to rent out office space in residentially zoned areas, Detmold defended the rights of tenants and homeowners, protecting the quiet, neighborly spirit of the area, now a designated historic district,” states the NYC Parks website.

But Detmold’s time as a community activist was cut short.

On the night of January 6, 1972, after walking home from a Turtle Bay Association meeting with two colleagues, Detmold was murdered in the stairwell of his apartment building.

“According to police reports, the 48-year-old Detmold was stabbed as he entered his five-story walk-up building,” explained Pamela Hanlon in her book, Manhattan’s Turtle Bay: The Story of a Midtown Neighborhood.

“He struggled to reach his top-floor apartment, but collapsed on the stairwell, where a neighbor found him. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Bellevue Hospital.”

The park was named for Detmold later that year. Almost half a century later, his murder remains unsolved.

[Third photo: Getty]

New York’s filth inspired this West Side fountain

September 24, 2018

Much of Manhattan in the late 19th century was a revolting place.

The stench from factories filled the air. People routinely spit inside streetcars and elevated trains. Manure piled up on streets. Milk carried deadly bacteria. Water wasn’t always pure. Garbage was often tossed out of tenement windows.

To address the filth, Gilded Age organizations like the Metropolitan Board of Health were formed, hoping to brush up the hygiene of the city.

But fed-up private citizens also sprang into action. That was the genesis of the Women’s Health Protective Association, formed in 1884 by a group of prominent, reform-minded women tired of living in an unclean New York.

The group launched in a moment of utter disgust. Eleven prominent ladies whose homes overlooked the East River in today’s Beekman, “were so outraged at the continuance of foul odors which polluted the atmosphere of the entire neighborhood, causing them to keep windows closed in the hottest weather, and depriving them of their inalienable right to pure air, that they resolved the investigate the cause of this nuisance,” states an 1898 text.

Their proximity to the slaughterhouses, bone-boiling factories, and other stinky industry along the East River waterfront at the time was the reason they couldn’t open their windows.

So they did something about it, and helped clean up the city.

The New York of today is a lot more hygienic in many respects (most of us can open a window without smelling boiling bones), and the WHPA has long since disbanded.

Their efforts would otherwise be lost to history. But the group gave to the city a lovely drinking fountain on Riverside Drive and 116th Street in 1909.

Designed by Bruno Louis Zimm (he also created the Slocum Memorial in Tompkins Square Park), it was unveiled in a ceremony honoring the progress WHPA made “toward the betterment of the health of the public,” according to a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article.

The fountain is in an out-of-the-way spot, and it could use some spiffing up…kind of the way the city needed a deep clean back when these ladies got together.

[Top photo: Varick Street in 1895, by Jacob Riis, MCNY 90.13.4.320]

A “glorious natural scene” along the East River

September 10, 2018

Ashcan School artist Robert Henri painted many scenes of New York at the turn of the last century. Like other social realists, Henri’s focus was the gritty reality of urban life—but he also depicted the beauty of the cityscape in quieter, gentler moments.

In his 1901-1902 painting, “Cumulus Clouds, East River,” we get Henri’s gentler Manhattan. Here he “transforms the industrial landscape of the riverside into a glorious natural scene, the boats dotted on the shining expanse of the water suggesting freedom and pleasure rather than commerce and labor,” states A Companion to Art.

Henri had a particularly intimate view of the river. At the time, he lived in a brownstone at 512 East 58th Street, which would have been in the middle of the industrial waterfront. It’s long since been replaced by a luxury coop on rebranded Sutton Place.

What remains of Manhattan’s Rose Hill enclave

September 3, 2018

While walking past the NYPD’s 17th Precinct on East 51st Street recently, I noticed that the front door listed all the nearby neighborhoods the precinct house served.

There was Turtle Bay, Kips Bay, Murray Hill, and Rose Hill. Rose Hill?

The East Side of Manhattan did once have a neighborhood called Rose Hill, taken from the name of a 131-acre farm purchased by a New Yorker named James Watts in 1747.

The epicenter of Rose Hill the farm was roughly at today’s Park Avenue and 29th Street.

Watts didn’t stay at Rose Hill very long. He was a Loyalist, and he left New York in the late 18th century, never to return.

A merchant named Nicholas Cruger was apparently the next occupant, and then it was the home of Revolutionary War general Horatio Gates (left).

But while the areas around the former Murray estate and Beekman mansion retained the names of the families who owned them, Rose Hill all but disappeared, swallowed up by the neighborhood in the east 20s and 30s rebranded as NoMad today.

Back when Manhattan north of 14th Street was the outskirts of the city, however, Rose Hill appeared to be a small but lively enclave.

The neighborhood’s boundaries generally stretched from 23rd to 32nd Streets and Third Avenue to Madison Avenue, per the AIA Guide to New York City.

In the early 19th century, Rose Hill was home to a “female seminary,” a five-acre botanic garden, and a boarding house-hotel for the wealthy.

A newspaper ad described the former farm as “peculiarly airy, pleasant, and healthful.”

By the mid-1800s, Rose Hill had been cut into parcels, subsumed into the city street grid.

A savings bank at Third Avenue and 21st Street, a hall for meetings, a hotel, and a couples of churches all popped up.

By the turn of the 20th century, however, the name seems to have been on the wane.

Today, few New Yorkers would know where it was—or they would confuse it with Rose Hill in the Bronx, home of Fordham University’s main campus.

But remnants of Manhattan’s Rose Hill still exist.

The Rose Hill Baptist Church remains on Lexington Avenue (above right), though now it’s the First Moravian Church (at right).

The Rose Hill Methodist Episcopal Church is also extant (above left). These days, it’s St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, located on 27th Street between Second and Third Avenues.

An iron gate in front of a pretty brownstone on East 31st Street keeps the Rose Hill name alive.

So does this plaque at the Roman Catholic Church of the Epiphany on Second Avenue and 22nd Street, which commemorates General Kosciuszko’s visit to Rose Hill to see his former commander, General Gates, in 1797.

Interestingly, “Rose Hill” is carved into the facade of a tenement on 14th Street near Second Avenue (top image). It’s a little south of the real Rose Hill, but perhaps the name inspired the tenement builder.

[Second image: The Evening Post, 1830; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: MCNY, 1820, 29.100.3176; fifth image, MCNY, 1915,X2010.11.5361; sixth image, MCNY, 1975, 2013.3.1.653]

The apartment rooftop that hosted Henri Matisse

August 13, 2018

French Modernist painter Henri Matisse has many of his still lifes, figures, and landscapes on display in New York’s most distinguished museums.

But there’s only one place in Manhattan where a little-known framed photo of Matisse is always on display, with the Depression-era city skyline behind him.

You can see it yourself if the doorman decides to give you a peek.

The black and white photo, from 1930, is in the small lobby of 10 Mitchell Place, a charming 13-story prewar apartment house built in 1928 that was originally called Stewart Hall.

Never heard of Mitchell Place? It’s a secret sliver of a street running from First Avenue to Beekman Place in a quiet neighborhood of old world charm—perfect for an artist more accustomed to Nice than New York.

In the photo, Matisse is sitting in a chair on the building’s brick roof terrace. With his left hand holding his bearded chin, the artist looks contemplative amid a backdrop of apartment buildings, water towers, and the Queensboro Bridge.

What brought Matisse to Mitchell Place? I wonder if he’s in New York visiting his son.

Pierre Matisse moved to New York in the 1920s to become an art dealer and opened a renowned art gallery in the Fuller Building on East 57th Street.

Apparently Matisse came to Mitchell Place often, according to a 2014 New York Times article on one-block streets.

“The painter Henri Matisse was a frequent visitor to the charming roof deck at 10 Mitchell Place, a.k.a. Stewart Hall. There, a framed 1930 photograph in the 1928 co-op’s equally charming lobby, which has a large fireplace, shows him resting on a canvas deck chair, pondering the East River views.”