Archive for the ‘Upper West Side/Morningside Hts’ Category

Join a Walking Tour of Gilded Age Riverside Drive With Ephemeral New York!

August 4, 2022

This month, I’ll be leading two more fun, insightful walking tours through the New York Adventure Club: “Exploring the Gilded Age Mansions and Memorials of Riverside Drive.”

The tours start at 83rd Street and end at 108th Street. In between we’ll stroll up winding, lovely Riverside Drive and delve into the history of this beautiful avenue born in the Gilded Age, when the Drive became a second “mansion row” and rivaled Fifth Avenue as the city’s “millionaire colony.”

The tours will explore the mansions and monuments that still survive, as well as the incredible houses lost to the wrecking ball. We’ll also take a look at at the wide variety of people who made Riverside Drive their home, from wealthy industrialists and rich business barons to actresses, artists, and writers.

Though the tour covers a lot of territory, we go at a breezy, conversational pace, with a few dips into Riverside Park and then back again on the shady side of the Drive. It’s a wonderful way to experience the history of New York City. All are welcome!

Tickets remain for the Riverside Drive tour for Sunday, August 7—tickets can be purchased here.

Tickets are also available for Sunday, August 21—here’s the link for this date.

Hope to see a great turnout on either of these quiet end-of-summer days!

[Top image: NYPL; second image: Ebay; third image: NY Adventure Club]

The blissful Upper West Side garden hiding on top of a condo garage

August 1, 2022

Neighborhood gardens planted on vacant lots and between buildings are magical places. Walking around the city, I’ve stumbled upon many of these, each with their own enchanting landscape and walkways, sitting areas, and koi ponds.

The Lotus Garden, on 97th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue on the Upper West Side, has these delights as well. What sets this lovely green space apart, however, is that you can’t really stumble upon it from the sidewalk.

This tranquil garden is up a tall staircase and spread out over the garage roof of a luxury condo residence, the Columbia. If you’re not looking for it, you might walk right past—which strangely makes the Lotus Garden more appealing, as if it’s a secret only a few insiders know about.

So how did a 7,000 square foot garden end up on top of the garage? Before the condo and garage were built, volunteer neighborhood gardeners had turned what was an empty lot (once home to two historic movie theaters torn down in the 1970s) into a community garden.

In 1981, developer William Zeckendorf bought the vacant lot, according to a 1984 New York Times piece. His intention was to build a luxury condominium, which met with some neighborhood opposition. After meeting with the local gardeners, he went ahead with his plans and also agreed to spread soil on top of the garage and provide drainage.

Volunteer gardeners then took over. They built “winding paths, installed two fish ponds, and planted fruit trees and flowering shrubs,” the garden’s website states. “At last in the spring of 1983, a group of local residents, including new residents of the Columbia, began to plant flowers and herbs beneath the north facing windows of the Columbia’s tower.”  

The Lotus Garden was born—a hiding-in-plain-site respite from the scorched streets of the Upper West Side in the summer.

The Wild West street names once proposed for the Upper West Side

July 25, 2022

Edward Clark, a lawyer by trade, made a fortune in the mid-19th century as one of the founders of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. With that fortune, Clark launched a second career as a New York City real estate investor and developer.

Matthew Dripps/Valentine’s Manual 1865

In 1880, he and architect Henry Hardenbergh (later of Plaza Hotel fame), were ready to start construction on a Victorian Gothic apartment building. The luxury residence was set to rise on land Clark purchased at 72nd Street and Eighth Avenue. Today, Eighth Avenue is famously known as Central Park West, but in the Gilded Age it was still a mostly undeveloped thoroughfare bordering the west side of Central Park.

When Clark’s building was completed in 1884, it would be called the Dakota and celebrated for its beauty and grandeur. But before that, it was dubbed “Clark’s folly,” because the idea of putting up a spectacular residence in the slow-to-urbanize Upper West Side was considered ridiculous.

The Dakota, aka Clark’s Folly, on Eighth Avenue post-construction

Still, Clark was nothing if not a risk taker. He had a vision for what the “West End” should become and what its new avenues should be called. And he had no qualms about bringing his vision to the West End Association, the group tasked with ensuring that the area developed into a high-class district of fine homes and suitable businesses.

“In 1880, The Real Estate Record & Guide reported on a meeting of the West End Association, as it examined the future of what was thought to be the area’s most impressive boulevard, then known as Eighth Avenue but now called Central Park West,” recounted Christopher Gray in a 2007 New York Times article.

“Most of the people at the meeting favored renaming it West Central Park, but Edward Clark, then at least six months away from starting work on the Dakota, was opposed. He said he thought the avenues should be named ‘after such of the states as have well-sounding names,'” wrote Gray.

Edward Cabot Clark in 1850

What avenue names did Clark propose? He suggested the very frontier-focused “Montana Place for Eighth Avenue, Wyoming Place for Ninth Avenue, Arizona Place for Tenth Avenue, and Idaho Place for Eleventh Avenue,” stated author Deirdre Mask in 2020’s The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power.

The West End Association ignored Clark’s suggestions. In 1893, Eighth Avenue officially became Central Park West. In 1890, Ninth Avenue was changed to Columbus Avenue, and Tenth Avenue turned into Amsterdam Avenue. (Riverside Drive and West End Avenue already had been named, and Broadway would replace the Boulevard by the end of the century.)

Why did the planners in charge of urbanizing the Upper West Side nix the numbered avenues in favor of more descriptive street names?

“Part of the rationale was that new names would distinguish the haut-bourgeois West Side from the lower part of the city through which the numbered avenues ran, particularly the undistinguished factories, flats and tenements of the West 30s, 40s and 50s,” wrote Gray.

More than a century has passed since all of the naming and renaming, and it seems that the Upper West Side’s six major avenues are set in stone.

[Top image:; second image: Office for Metropolitan History via The New Republic; third image: Wikipedia]

An Upper West Side apartment house’s facade of flowers

July 18, 2022

The 18-story brick apartment residence at 40 West 86th Street was designed by J.M. Felson, and like so many prewar buildings in New York City, it’s a study in classic, if understated, elegance.

But this seemingly staid apartment house has something that gives it a little sparkle. Spread out on the facade of the lower floors are colorful terra cotta florals. The bright green hues, the curlicues of the petals—these panels are the perfect motifs for a lush, humid New York summer.

What remains of the horses that powered Gilded Age New York City

July 11, 2022

If you could time-travel back to the 1880s, you’d notice all the horses first. (Second would be all the horse manure, but that’s another story.) At the time, an estimated 170,000 horses pulled the streetcars, delivery wagons, and carriages that allowed New Yorkers to get around the metropolis.

Cedarhurst Stables, 83rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues

But the era of horse-powered transportation was coming to a close. Elevated trains were whisking passengers across Manhattan and Brooklyn; cable cars began replacing some horse-drawn streetcar lines. The subway arrived in 1904, and by the 1910s, the motor car (or “devil wagon,” as haters called it) sidelined horses from Gotham’s streets.

Considering that much of New York’s infrastructure was built when horsepower ruled the roads, surprisingly little of the equine era remains.

The carriage roads of Riverside Drive are still with us, as are horse water fountains in some city parks. Manhole covers with patterns to prevent horse hoofs from skidding exist as well. Stable blocks and mews where the wealthy once parked their broughams have been converted to (pricey) homes for humans.

The former stable at 49 Market Street

Yet sometimes you see an ornamental ghost from the horse-powered past. Look up at 157 West 83rd Street to the red brick car garage—and a handsome horse head on the facade will delight you.

The garage used to be Cedarhurst Boarding Stables. Cedarhurst first appeared in city directories in 1892, according to Walter Grutchfield. Just 16 years later, the four-story stable became Cedarhurst Garage, for automobiles.

Another decorative horse head can graces 49 Market Street on the Lower East Side. The site is a lot less illustrious than the Cedarhurst, but it too was home to a stable in the Gilded Age—in 1894, according to Bowery Boogie.

And like the Cedarhurst, the stable didn’t last long, as the automobile era took hold. By 1915, “the two-story brick structure as we know it today was already in place,” per Bowery Boogie. The horse head—complete with bridle—remains high above this old New York street.

July Walking Tours of Gilded Age Riverside Drive With Ephemeral New York!

July 9, 2022

During July, I’ll be leading three delightful and insightful walking tours through the New York Adventure Club, “Exploring the Gilded Age Mansion and Memorials of Riverside Drive.”

The tours start at 83rd Street and ends at 107th Street. In between we’ll walk up Riverside and delve into the history of this beautiful avenue born in the Gilded Age, which became a second “mansion row” and was set to rival Fifth Avenue as the city’s “millionaire colony.” The tours will explore the mansions and monuments that still survive as well as the incredible houses lost to the wrecking ball.

A few tickets remain for the Riverside Drive tour for Sunday, July 10—tickets can be purchased here.

Tickets for Sunday, July 17 can be bought here, and tickets for Sunday, July 31 at this link. All are welcome; hope to see a great turnout on any of these lovely summer days!

This Riverside Drive traffic signal looks like a relic from another era

June 16, 2022

The plastic covering is cracked, electrical wires are loose, and the sad pole this traffic signal is affixed to is crudely cemented to the pavement.

Clearly this two-red-light signal isn’t in good shape. But the more curious thing is how old-fashioned it looks. Could this seemingly forgotten piece of DOT infrastructure at the end of 93rd Street at Riverside Drive be the oldest traffic signal left in Manhattan?

Dating this light has been difficult. New York City didn’t get its first traffic signal until 1920—powered by a police officer sitting in a tall tower at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. (See the stylish postcard below.)

Later that decade, many major avenues had traffic lights as we know them today, but they only flashed red or green, according to Christopher Gray in a 2014 New York Times article.

Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in the 1920s, via Transpress NZ

I’ve seen a similar red light at dead ends; see the image of Sutton Square at 57th Street below. But that one has the lights arranged vertically, not horizontally. It’s also in much better shape—or at least it was when the photo was taken in 2019.

If the Riverside Drive traffic signal proves to be a relic of another New York, perhaps the DOT could call out its historical significance by spiffing it up—it should look as proud as the circa-1915 bronze Joan of Arc statue behind it.

A two-light traffic signal at the end of Sutton Square

See more relics on Riverside Drive, plus Gilded Age mansions and monuments, on Ephemeral New York’s Riverside Drive walking tour this Sunday, June 19 at 1 pm!

[Third image: Transpress NZ]

This is how New York celebrated Decoration Day in 1917

May 30, 2022

“Not since 1898 have the Decoration Day parades and ceremonies had the significance which will emphasize them to-day,” wrote The Sun on May 30, 1917. “The city will not only pay tribute to the heroes of the past, but the marching columns of youths and veterans will help stimulate the country to the highest endeavor to gain victory in the world war.”

“Twenty thousand uniformed men will march up Riverside Drive, while 50,000 schoolboys will parade up Fifth Avenue,” the newspaper stated on the front page. “The two parades will start at 9 o’clock in the morning. The Grand Army of the Republic and its accompanied divisions will leave Broadway and 72nd Street, march west to Riverside Drive, then north to Grant’s Tomb, and will be reviewed on the way at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 86th Street.”

[Photo: LOC/Bain Collection]

The Manhattan country estate houses of old New York’s forgotten families

May 19, 2022

The significance of their names has been (mostly) forgotten, their spacious wood frame houses in the sparsely populated countryside of Gotham long dismantled, carted away, and paved over.

The Riker estate, in 1866

But the wealthy New Yorkers who purchased vast parcels of land and built these lovely country homes (surrounded by charming picket fences, according to the illustrations left behind) in the late 18th or early 19th centuries deserve some recognition.

These “show places,” as one source called them, dotted much of Manhattan in the era when the city barely extended past 14th Street. The families who owned them likely lived much of the year downtown. But when summer brought stifling heat and filthy streets (and disease outbreaks), they escaped to their estates by boat or via one of the few roads in the upper reaches of the island.

Arch Brook on the Riker estate grounds, 1869

The estate house in the top image belongs to a familiar name: It’s the country home of one member of the Riker family, circa 1866. Before their name became synonymous with a jail and an island in the East River, the Rikers were a well-known old money clan. Abraham Ryeken, who sailed to New Amsterdam from the Netherlands and owned a home on Broad Street, was the patriarch.

The descendent who lived in this house on today’s 75th Street and the East River was Richard Riker, born in 1773. He held a number of positions in New York including district attorney. Known for his “polished manner and social prominence,” he counted Alexander Hamilton as a friend. Riker died in 1842, and his funeral commenced in the estate house, according to the New-York Tribune. Could that be his widow in the illustration?

Cargle house, 1868

On the other side of Manhattan stood this pretty yellow house (above) with the gable roof, long side porch, and four chimneys. It was the estate home on the Cargle family at 60th Street and Tenth Avenue. It’s modest by 19th century standards, but far larger than any town house or early brownstone. The land might have even extended all the way to the Hudson River.

Who were the Cargles? This name is a mystery. Newspaper archives mention a Dr. Cargle, but so far the trail is cold. The image dates to 1868, and the paved road has a sidewalk and gas lamp. Imagine the cool river breezes on a warm summer night!

Provoost house, 1858

The Cargles lived across Manhattan from David Provoost and his family. The Provoost country residence (above) was on 57th Street and the East River, just blocks north of another fabled estate house of a notable family—that of the Beekmans.

David Provoost, or Provost, was the son of a New Amsterdam burgher who became a merchant and then mayor of New York from 1699 to 1700. Provost Street in Brooklyn and Provost Avenue in the Bronx are named for him or perhaps a family descendent. Who built the house, so grand that it qualifies as a true mansion?

Henry Delafield mansion, built in the 1830s and pictured in 1862

The Delafield house (above) is another mansion that must have been lovely and cool thanks to the East River nearby. Located on today’s East 77th Street and York Avenue, it was the home of Henry Delafield, son of John Delafield, who arrived in New York from England in 1783. John Delafield became one of the “merchant princes” of New York, according to 1912 New York Times article.

Henry Delafield also became a merchant and founded a shipping firm with his brother. His house was described by the Times as “one of the show palaces among the splendid country residences on the East Side north of 59th Street.” He died in 1875. “The latter years of his life were spent pleasantly on his fine country estate overlooking the East River,” the Times wrote. Fine, indeed!

[Images: NYPL Digital Collection]

Updated info on Talks and Tours From Ephemeral New York!

May 19, 2022

I’m excited to let everyone know that two more dates have been added in June for Ephemeral New York’s Gilded Age Mansions and Monuments walking tour. On the tour, we step back to the avenue’s 18th century roots in the Bloomingdale section of Manhattan, and then revisit it in the Gilded Age, when Riverside Drive was set to become New York’s newest “millionaire colony.”

The first tour is on Sunday, June 5 from 1-3 pm; tickets can be purchased here. The second tour is scheduled for Sunday, June 19 from 1-3 pm; tickets available here. These tours are in conjunction with the New York Adventure Club.

I also want to give an update on the Tea Talk originally scheduled at the Salmagundi Club for Thursday May 19. Because of the uptick in Covid cases in New York City, the talk has been postponed until fall.

[Images: NYPL]