Archive for the ‘Upper East Side’ Category

An East Side sign with an old New York address

May 14, 2018

Outside a pretty walkup building at 242 East 60th Street is a postwar-style sign for an apartment building called Ambassador Terrace, a white-brick highrise in the East 40s.

I’m sure the interiors and lobby at the Ambassador have undergone upgrades over the years. But you wouldn’t know it from the sign, with its wonderful two-letter prefix on the management office’s phone number.

LO for Longacre, a reminder that Times Square was Longacre Square until 1904.

What’s also great is the two-digit zip code: 18.

These short postal codes were instituted in the 1940s to help speed mail delivery. They were replaced by the 5-number zip codes we use today in the 1960s.

Here’s more examples of old phone exchanges found around the modern city. And postal codes too: this one was hiding on East 10th Street.

Shadows and light under the El in Yorkville, 1947

May 7, 2018

No one depicts New York’s shadows and light like Martin Lewis, who made numerous drypoint etchings of city streets and the people inhabiting them from the 1920s to the 1940s.

“Yorkville Night” reveals a corner under an unnamed elevated train in the postwar city. There’s darkness, but the streetcar tracks, pavement, produce stand, and station stairwells are brightly illuminated, giving us a peek into a fleeting moment in this Upper East Side neighborhood.

The only thing we can’t see are the faces of the people.

See more of Martin Lewis’ work here.

A secret garden behind 12 East Side townhouses

April 16, 2018

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!]

The magic of indoor ice skating on the East Side

March 5, 2018

In the 1860s, New Yorkers were crazy about ice skating, and there were plenty of daytime and moonlit places to hit the ice, including Central Park and Union and Washington Ponds in Brooklyn.

But to experience the enchantment of (temperature controlled) indoor ice skating, city residents laced up their skates and donned skating costumes at the Empire City Skating Rink, which spanned 62nd and 63rd Streets between Third and Second Avenues.

It must have been quite an experience gliding around this football stadium-size rink. “Skaters exclaim, ‘how do they do it? Is not this splendid music and illumination?'” stated ads for the rink, which invited visitors to come see “the splendid sheet of ice like a mirror with thousands skating on it.”

Before winter 2018 ends, consider what New Yorkers did for amusement in 1868 and see the Museum of the City of New York’s “New York on Ice” exhibit, which runs through April 15.

[Top image: MCNY 29.100.1544; second image: New York Herald 1870]

The Yorkville home of a children’s book heroine

January 29, 2018

Is this beautiful Queen Anne corner townhouse at 558 East 87th Street the fictional home of Harriet M. Welsch, the 11-year-old heroine of the beloved 1964 children’s classic Harriet the Spy?

That’s the conclusion of real-estate writers and online sleuths. The actual address of Harriet’s house is never named in the story about a city girl who spies on her neighbors and earns the ire of her friends for writing about them in her notebook.

But this impressive residence, part of a group of contiguous homes built in 1881 for “persons of moderate means,” according to the Landmarks Preservation Committee, fits the description of the house based on the book.

With its tower and turrets, it sure looks like a place that would nurture a curious kid.

The first chapter gives readers an early clue. Harriet and her best friend, Sport, are in the “courtyard of Harriet’s house on East Eighty-Seventh Street in Manhattan,” wrote author Louise Fitzhugh.

Perhaps the courtyard is Henderson Place, the charming alley off East 86th Street, which the back of the house would face.

Harriet’s bedroom is on the third floor, the story tells us. “It was small and cozy and the bathroom was a little one which looked out over the park across the street.” Carl Schurz Park is right across the street.

Harriet attends the Gregory School, we learn. “It was on East End Avenue, a few blocks from Harriet’s house and across the street from Charles Schurz Park.”

The Chapin School is on East End Avenue and 84th Street and may have been Harriet’s school.

If this isn’t Harriet’s exact house, East End Avenue in the 80s is certainly her world. The book takes readers through Harriet’s spy route, where she stands in an alley on York Avenue to observe the Dei Santis grocery store. She also watches a man named Harrison Withers, who lives in a boarding house on 82nd Street.

Also on her route is a “duplex” on East 88th Street, where a couple who never speak to each other live.

One morning on the way to school she walks through Carl Schurz Park. “She crossed East End at the corner of 86th and walked through the park, climbing the small hill up through the early morning onto the esplanade, and finally sat, plunk on a bench, right by the river’s edge,” wrote Fitzhugh.

Fitzhugh would have known the neighborhood well; she lived on East 85th Street. Like East 87th, her block was in the Henderson Place Historic District.

Number 558 was up for sale in 2016 (interior photos are still on Streeteasy) for $5 million. At the time, the New York Post noted that the house had a dumbwaiter that serves the dining room from the kitchen.

As fans of the book know, Harriet uses a dumbwaiter to spy on her rich neighbor, Mrs. Plumber.

[Third photo: MCNY x2010.11.5744]

Park Avenue’s terra cotta tapestry of grotesques

January 15, 2018

Sometimes you come across an apartment building with a facade that takes your breath away.

That was my experience recently on a walk past 898 Park Avenue. This 14-story Romanesque beauty on the corner of East 79th Street finished in 1924 is a medley of terra cotta detailing, figures, and faces.

The design is described as “Tuscan-style terra cotta ornamentation” by Andrew Alpern in his book, Luxury Apartment Houses in Manhattan. It’s also been called “Lombardy Romanesque” or “Tuscan Tapestry,” Alpern says.

Whatever the style is called, it’s delightful, as Alpert also points out. The facade belies the reputation Park Avenue has as a stretch of New York with staid, fortress-like residences.

There’s a playfulness at 898 Park. The cerulean and tan arches on the second story contain bas relief images of men sleeping, eating, and what appears to be inventing. (Newyorkitecture.com has closeups.)

And the grotesques affixed to the ground floor arched entryway—they have disturbingly weary faces. But then again, they have been watching passersby for 94 years.

[Top photo: Streeteasy.com]

The loveliness of New York’s skinny brownstones

January 15, 2018

A single-family brownstone has been a New Yorker’s dream home since these “brown stone front” row houses (often made of brick with brown sandstone covering the facade) began appearing on city blocks by the middle of the 19th century.

Because building lots during the brownstone era typically measured 25 by 100 feet, the average home came in at about 20 feet across, which allowed for a spacious parlor floor with two or three wide windows with decorative touches spanning each floor.

But thanks to profit-driven developers who decided to squeeze two brownstones into one lot, the cityscape of today contains a fair number of slender, narrow, skinny brownstones.

The top photo shows one in Gramercy with the same iron balconies and cornice as its wider counterparts. The second photo shows two compressed-looking brownstones on West 30th Street.

Above are two more twin narrow brownstones, looking like slender sisters, in the East 70s. They come off as dollhouse versions of the standard-size brownstone next door.

Here’s another mini-me brownstone on the same East 70s block, old New York’s answer to the tiny house craze of contemporary times.

This one above in the East Village isn’t a brownstone, and it looks like it was built in the 1920s or 1930s. You can imagine a builder acquiring this thin lot and then deciding to put up this narrow rowhouse.

This skinny brownstone on Tenth Street, a street with spacious rowhouses collectively known as English Terrace Row, only has room for one third-floor window.

While the house in the last photo probably doesn’t qualify as an actual brownstone—I’m guessing it’s an entryway and staircase for the building to the left on East 39th Street—you have to admire the builder’s ingenuity, adding a cornice and matching window to it to pass it off as a lilliputian house on its own.

[All Photos: Ephemeral New York]

Where was the original WPIX yule log filmed?

December 24, 2017

WPIX Channel 11’s strangely mesmerizing Yule Log is a Christmas tradition for New Yorkers from the 1960s to the 1980s.

So it was quite a disappointment to discover that the yule log so many of us grew up on was actually shot in a fireplace in California.

The original 16mm footage, a 17-second loop first shown on Christmas in 1966, was actually and appropriately filmed in a fireplace at Gracie Mansion, where Mayor John Lindsay lived at the time.

But when Channel 11 wanted to upgrade the deteriorating film to 35mm in 1970, they got a definitive no from the Lindsay administration.

“Unfortunately, when WPIX shot the original Gracie Mansion footage, to capture the log in all its flaming glory, the crew decided to remove the protective screen and a stray spark damaged a valuable antique rug,” explains a story on WPIX’s website, pix11.com.

“Needless to say, the Mayor’s office was not receptive to the idea of letting WPIX come back and re-shoot the footage.”

A fireplace was located in Palo Alto, California and new footage shot—but really, there wasn’t one townhouse owner who could lend his or her fireplace to the film crew so the Yule Log could be from New York, for New York?

[Photos: Wikipedia]

Weird things done to New York brownstones

December 18, 2017

Few things are as lovely as a row of brownstones—a solid line of stoops and cornices signifying harmony, community, and Gilded Age New York charm.

I’m using brownstone as an all-purpose word for a New York rowhouse. Brownstones themselves were kind of the McMansions of the late 19th century; every newly minted banker or merchant had to have one.

But while it’s the dream of many city residents to rent or own one of these beauties and have it restored to its 19th century grandeur, not everyone thinks so.

On some of the most fashionable brownstone blocks are strange architectural upgrades that would puzzle Gilded Age New Yorkers—like this one on East 51st Street (top photo), swathed in glass with what looks like a giant punch card over the facade.

Some brownstones still look the part—at least, the top half of the house does. This one in Flatiron has an ugly storefront addition covering the parlor and second floors.

On East 71st Street is a building I like to call the bubble brownstone. As far as I know, this is the only brownstone in the city with glass oval pods for windows.

I don’t know what to make of this brickface former brownstone on West 18th Street except that it has a very 1970s feel.

It looks like a concrete grill or lattice is covering the entire front of this rowhouse on the Upper East Side. I wonder what kind of light comes in. It was designed by a Modernist architect in the 1950s.

Finally, here’s a brownstone that looks like it’s undergone the Brutalist treatment in Chelsea. Hey, at least the owner has his or her own garage.

Medieval men on a 1920s Park Avenue building

December 18, 2017

If you’re an admirer of New York’s many elegant prewar apartment houses, then you probably know Alex and Leo Bing, the two brothers responsible for these stately buildings with Art Deco touches.

The Bing & Bing pedigree is always mentioned in real estate ads. But the brothers themselves—progressive-minded lawyers who also devoted themselves philanthropy and to affordable public housing—have largely been forgotten.

There is one whimsical tribute to these two brothers who had so much influence on the cityscape, however; it’s on the facade of a residence they built at 1000 Park Avenue.

Architect Emery Roth reportedly based the two Medieval figures flanking the entrance to this luxury coop after the Bing Brothers, who hired Roth to design the spacious, airy apartments in so many of their buildings.

Maybe the Bings appreciated the arts like the Medici family of the Renaissance? Inside joke? I don’t think Roth ever explained, but he decorated the third-floor of the facade with lots of fanciful Medieval figures.

[Second photo: Douglas Elliman Real Estate]