Archive for the ‘Upper East Side’ Category

Is this the ugliest brownstone in Chelsea?

April 7, 2014

The iconic New York brownstone, with its high stoop and decorative cornice, made its appearance in the early 19th century and quickly became a stylish, single-family home favorite.


Over the decades, some have been updated, their facades altered and made over to suit their owners’ tastes.


There’s this Modernist example in Turtle Bay, the concrete grill townhouse in the East 60s, and the futuristic bubble-window brownstone in the East 70s.

But what explains the refrigerator unit-like redesign of this home, part of a beautiful stretch of three-story row houses dating back to the turn of the last century?

Perhaps its super comfy inside. And a garage—that can be convenient.

Here’s the price (and photos) of the upper duplex, courtesy of a Corcoran listing.

1970s city store signs that burst with color

March 24, 2014

Treat yourself to a Monday morning explosion of old-school color—courtesy of these New York store signs that give off a very 1970s vibe.


Ace Pump got its start in 1936, and still deals in engineering supplies on superluxe 21st Street in Chelsea.


I’ve always loved the 20th Century Garage sign, as well as its name, which must have sounded very modern at one time. It’s near Tudor City on East 48th Street. It looks like it was made before the 1970s, no?


Jerome Florist, on 96th Street and Madison Avenue, has been selling arrangements to Upper East Siders (and the area’s abundance of hospitals) since 1929.


Once known as Capital Audio & Electronics, this Duane Street shop took the electronics out of its name, perhaps to sound less 1970s-ish.


Pharmacy signs like this one in Queens—no-frills, no brand names, with a neighborhood vibe—have mostly disappeared from city streets.

The noisy sea lion kicked out of Central Park

September 23, 2013

SealionspoolvintageBy all accounts, Joe the sea lion was living the good life.

In 1935, he was the lone male bunking with four females at the Central Park Zoo.

This was the height of the Depression, but Joe had plenty of zookeeper-delivered fish to munch on.

The problem was, Joe was noisy. He barked a lot, and that riled up the female sea lions, so they barked too.

All this barking disturbed Joe’s rich Fifth Avenue human neighbors.

Centralparkzoosealions1940sZoo officials had to do something. “Wearied by the constant flow of complaints from apartment houses across Fifth Avenue and a little bored themselves at the recurrent barking under their windows, park officials in the Arsenal decided to see if the removal of the master would not have a quieting effect on the four females in the ‘seal’ pool,” wrote The New York Times on December 14, 1935.

It took an entire day, but the baited him with fish, trapped him in a box, and then headed for Brooklyn.

No word on whether he liked his new home at the Prospect Park Zoo, where Joe shared quarters with one female and another “equally big and imperious male.”

[Images are not of Joe but vintage snaps of the sea lion pool at Central Park; bottom from the City of New York Parks & Recreation Department]

Manhattan’s tiniest enchanting historic district

August 29, 2013

89thandlexsignAt the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 89th Street is a teeny stretch of landmarked homes.

It’s so quiet and under the radar, it’s not even marked by signs.

Designated 15 years ago, the Hardenbergh-Rhinelander Historic District is comprised of just seven Renaissance Revival–style houses completed in 1889.


Standing on the corner, you can imagine that the entire Carnegie Hill neighborhood once was lined with similarly lovely, ornate residences.

89thandlexcorner2“[The houses] are characteristic of the residential development of the Carnegie Hill-Yorkville area that had been spurred by transportation and street improvements in the late nineteenth century,” states the Friends of the Upper East Side website.

“Clad in red brick, brownstone and red terra cotta, the six houses form a picturesque yet symmetrical composition featuring a variety of window entrance enframements and a lively roofline composed of prominent pediments and modillioned cornices with pierced parapets and finials.

“The flats building located behind the houses and facing 89th Street, is clad in similar materials, has a complementary architectural vocabulary, and is dominated by a broken pediment/cornice surmounted by a pedimented window.”

89thandlexwindowOkay, so who were Hardenbergh and Rhinelander?

Henry Hardenbergh, who designed the homes, also designed the Dakota, the original Waldorf-Astoria on 34th Street, and many other beautiful late 19th century city buildings.

The Rhinelanders were an old New York family that owned vast amounts of real estate. Two Rhinelander enclaves in Greenwich Village, bulldozed decades ago, can be found here.

The tragedy of the “loveliest woman in America”

July 8, 2013

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporationIn 1923, Rosamond Pinchot was a 19-year-old with lots of opportunities in life.

Tall and golden-haired, she lived in a townhouse on East 81st Street and attended exclusive Miss Chapin’s School.

Then, on a ship, she had a fateful encounter. She was returning to New York from a trip to Europe with her mother when theater bigwig Max Reinhardt spotted her.

Reinhardt wanted her as the lead in a play he would be directing on Broadway, The Miracle, about a nun who leaves her convent.

With no dramatic experience, she accepted the offer, skipping her official debut into society in favor of the stage.

Later that year, the play opened at the Century Theater on Central Park West. Rosamond blew everyone away.

Dubbed the “loveliest woman in America,” Rosamond became an It Girl of the 1920s and the toast of Hollywood.

Rosamondpinchot2She played the part for three years and took roles in other productions, until 1926, when she quit acting to do “serious” work.

She tried her hand at a variety of things: She studied history in college, sold real estate, then returned to the stage several times and made her only film appearance in 1935′s The Three Musketeers.

She also got married in 1928 to the grandson of a former Massachusetts governor and had two sons.

The marriage didn’t last—and her separation from her husband in 1936 “deeply affected” her.

Rosamond made her last theatrical appearance in 1937. The next year, at age 33, she committed suicide by poisoning herself with carbon monoxide in her garage on her estate in Long Island.

A note was left behind, but the contents were never divulged.

The Gilded Age past of a Central Park gate

June 3, 2013

Central Park’s Conservatory Garden is a magical place. Divided into three separate gardens designed in Italian, French, and English styles, it’s a quiet zone with lovely walkways and fountains.


The main entrance to the garden on Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets, is through Vanderbilt Gate.

Impressive, right? Made in France, it’s “considered one of the finest examples of wrought iron work in New York City,” states


It’s original home, however, wasn’t the Conservatory Garden. The gate was created to serve as the imposing front entrance to Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s magnificent mansion. (Not to be confused with another Vanderbilt house palace several blocks south.)

That mansion, the largest private residence ever built in New York City, stood at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street from 1883 to 1927, after which it was bulldozed to make way for Bergdorf Goodman.

Luckily the gate was repurposed and installed at the garden, a fitting entrance for an enchanting spot.

[Top photo: Central Park Conservatory]

Mysterious male names over tenement doorways

May 13, 2013

Ever notice that when a tenement building has a name, it tends to be female? Bertha, Florence, Rose, Sylvia—names popular at the turn of the last century, when so many tenements were built, are etched above doorways all over the city.

But a handful of tenements buck the trend and appear to be named for a man. Is it the developer himself, or just a random name that happen to appeal to circa-1900 ears?


I wonder if that’s the case with Jerome. It’s the name of a tenement in Morningside Heights, perhaps a nod to Leonard Jerome, a flashy 19th century financier whose name still graces a park and thoroughfare in the Bronx? He’s also the grandfather of Winston Churchill.


Theodore, on the Upper East Side, could be a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt. Or the builder’s son or brother?


The Roger, on 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue in Washington Heights, is named for Roger Morris, a British army colonel who fought in the French and Indian War.

In the 1760s, he retired to an Upper Manhattan estate (now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion) that still stands today.


I don’t know who Edgar was or why a tenement on West 125th Street was named for him. But instead of the name being carved above the door, it’s laid in tile on the floor.

Two more obsolete East Side phone exchanges

May 2, 2013

I love this ad for Gnome Bakers, especially the tagline. How unusual could their bread and rolls have been? It comes from a 1973 New York Mets program.


The best part is the old RE phone exchange, assigned to phone numbers from a part of the Upper East Side starting in 1930. It stood for Regent—perhaps the name of a landmark hotel or theater nearby?

A good place to look for old phone exchange signs around the city is near service elevators. This one was spotted in east midtown around 35th Street.


JU is either for Judson, in Manhattan, or Juniper, given to a stretch of Queens.

If we knew the name of the elevator company, we could figure out which one. But alas, no trace of the name could be found.

The car accident that could have changed history

March 11, 2013

East76thstreetsignAt 10:30 p.m. on December 13, 1931, Winston Churchill was in a hurry.

In Manhattan on a lecture tour, the British statesman was late for a meeting with his friend, financier Bernard Baruch. Stepping into 76th Street, he made a potentially fatal mistake: He didn’t look both ways to see if a car was coming.

Unfortunately one was. The car dragged Churchill and then left him in the street.

ChurchillphotoThe accident scored him eight days in Lenox Hill Hospital with a gash to the head, among other injuries (they gave him a prescription for medicinal alcohol—it was Prohibition, after all).

Churchill admitted the accident was his fault and arranged to meet the driver of the car that hit him, a jobless immigrant named Mario Contasino.

“Mrs. Churchill, hearing of the ill fortune of Contasino in his quest for work, suggested her readiness to help him financially. But when a member of the party proffered a check Mr. Contasino declined it,” wrote The New York Times.

Churchill’s injuries weren’t life-threatening, obviously.

But if he was killed on Fifth Avenue, and didn’t return to England to serve as prime minister during World War II, perhaps history would have taken a different course?

The bronze celestial globe in an East Side park

January 21, 2013

ZodiaccloseupIn a quiet, teardrop-shaped Clara Coffey Park in the East 50s is this curious sculpture.

It’s a sundial and an armillary sphere—an astronomical model showing the relationships among the principal celestial circles, the Parks Department explains.

The stone pedestal gives the four cardinal directions, and a bronze band is decorated with impressive images of each zodiac sign.

It’s a mystical and enchanting object installed here in 1971, and it can make an observer feel very small and inconsequential in the scheme of the universe.


The same sculptor is credited with this sundial in Central Park.


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