Posts Tagged ‘FDR Drive’

The walled-in settlement house by the East River

April 13, 2020

You can see one side of it from the FDR Drive at 76th Street. High above the roadway overlooking the East River is a Georgian-style red brick building and what must have been an entrance with a faded plaque above it.

Squint and you can make out what it says: East Side House Settlement.

Settlement Houses began popping up in New York City in the 1890s and early 1900s. Born out of the benevolence movement of the Gilded Age, they were built by social reformers who “settled” into a poor or working-class community, launching a home base where the community could go take advantage of classes, recreational activities, and cultural offerings.

Many of New York’s settlement houses were built in Lower Manhattan. The East Side Settlement House (as it was known early on) got its start in 1891, founded by a lawyer, Everett Wheeler, according to the house’s web page.

Perhaps Wheeler saw the need for a settlement house in Yorkville, which was becoming a dense tenement neighborhood for a new wave of German immigrants, along with newcomers from Hungary and today’s Czech Republic.

The first house for the East Side Settlement House was an old clapboard house (below).

The one still standing today opened in 1903, privately funded by wealthy New Yorkers who hoped the facility would become a “contagion of good morals,” according to a New-York Tribune article covering the opening day ceremony. (Below, in 1903)

To spread those good morals, the house had separate “clubrooms” for boys and girls, an assembly room, a cooking skill with gas ranges, two gyms (one for men and one for boys), a billiards room, and various other rooms for events.

It must have been an inspiring place in the first half of the 20th century, with John Jay Park opening next door, along with a public bathhouse and then an outdoor public swimming pool in the 1940s.

But as the century went on, the house’s days were numbered, especially as Yorkville changed and the East Side (FDR) Drive and industry (below, in 1926) obstructed river access. In 1963, the East Side Settlement House relocated to the South Bronx, where it remains today.

“Its genteel Georgian building, perched on a river-lapped greensward, had been battered and bruised by decades of hard use and imprisoned by the East River Drive, later F. D. R. Drive, which gobbled up Exterior Street in the 1940s,” wrote Christopher Gray in the New York Times in 2012.

The Town School took it over, and in the 1980s a towering apartment building hemmed the former settlement house in, blocking its facade.

“Now part of the old south-facing Georgian facade survives within a Town School hallway, and part of an old factory is visible in the auditorium,” explained Gray. What remains of the facade faces east, between the apartment tower and a new Town School wing to the north.”

But you can still catch a glimpse of part of the settlement house, with 1891 and 1903 carved into the side (above)—a remnant of the city’s progressive movement and a very different Yorkville.

[Third image: East Side House Settlement; fourth image: New-York Tribune; fifth image: NYPL Digital Collection]

Mystery monuments on the “East River Drive”

July 29, 2019

It towers above the FDR Drive at about 93rd Street: a rectangular monolith facing the parkway.

A forgotten Yorkville war memorial or monument to a long-gone neighborhood leader? I went to the end of East 93rd Street on the grounds of the Stanley M. Isaacs Houses to take a look.

Composed of stone blocks and set inside a small garden, the monument reads, “East River Drive” and then “Triborough Bridge Approach.”

The East River Drive part makes sense; this was the original name of the FDR Drive, built in the 1930s to run along the length of Manhattan’s East Side.

The “Triborough Bridge Approach” is more of a question mark. The bridge, opened in 1936 under the auspices of legendary Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, connects Manhattan to Randalls Island via 125th Street.

So why a sign announcing the approach to the bridge at 93rd Street?

It might be because the Triborough (now called the RFK Bridge), was supposed to be built at 103rd Street and be a direct conduit to Queens, according to NYCRoads.

“Moses originally proposed that the Manhattan arm of the Triborough Bridge be constructed at East 103rd Street so as to avoid the mental institutions on Randall’s Island,” the site explains. “However, the East 125th Street location that was previously procured for the Triborough Bridge was used instead.”

Why? Because of William Randolph Hearst, according to Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a biography of Moses.

“William Randolph Hearst had owned deteriorating real estate there [at 103rd Street] and he had wanted the city to buy it,” Mr. Caro wrote. Not willing to tangle with Hearst or his newspaper empire, Moses “left the terminus at 125th Street.”

The FDR Drive monuments, then, may have been built with 103rd Street in mind.

A hidden magical garden behind the FDR Drive

November 28, 2016

Considering the density of its streets, New York is a city with a surprising number of hidden gardens: some in churchyards, others created on empty lots, and some designed to mask garages and other unpretty structures.


But few of these green spaces are as hard to get to as the quarter-acre oasis between the FDR Drive and First Avenue, behind the cluster of buildings that make up Bellevue Hospital Center.


It’s the Bellevue Sobriety Garden, a strangely magical place that mixes sculpture, trees, flowers, mosaics, doll parts, cement, and foliage.


Started by a Bellevue psychiatrist in 1989 and tended to by recovering addicts in the hospital’s Chemical Recovery Program, this isn’t your typical serene green space.

You won’t find many tourists or crowds here; it’s accessible via a lonely stretch of 26th Street beyond First Avenue or from an FDR Drive off ramp. And it’s not a landscaped masterpiece; grass can be patchy, and it has a wild, overgrown look to it.


But that’s all part of its whimsical and imaginative charm, a garden straight out of an artist’s fairy tale. It’s not exactly a secret, but if you visit, you’ll feel like you stumbled into a New York you never knew.

The entrance, flanked by enormous statues and pieces of old buildings, welcomes visitors while encouraging them not to steal the veggies and fruits grown here in warmer months.


Slender cobblestone paths take you past patches of flowers to benches, trellises, a wooden bridge, and a tiny gingerbread-like house. Along the way you’ll walk past mosaics and sculptures of sheep, dogs, pigs, and a snake.


Take a walk through it, and you’ll forget about the parking lot next door and the roaring traffic on the FDR Drive.


Back in 2014, someone came in and vandalized the garden, defacing its statues. By the looks of things now, on a warmish autumn day, everything seems back in order—a peaceful and magical respite not very accessible to the average New Yorker.

The British soil that built part of the FDR Drive

October 31, 2011

Next time you’re stuck in traffic between 23rd Street and 34th Street on the FDR Drive, take a moment to consider where the land beneath you came from.

It wasn’t fill from digging the subways or skyscrapers—it was actually transported here all the way from England in the 1940s.

“During World War II, the Luftwaffe savagely bombed the city of Bristol, England, a major port for American supply ships,” wrote Michael Pollack in his FYI column in The New York Times in June 2009.

“After the supplies were unloaded, the American ships had no British goods to replace them on the return trip, and needed ballast for stability. So they loaded up rubble from Bristol’s bombed-out buildings.”

“Back in New York, the ships dumped the ballast from 23rd to 34th Street as landfill for what would become the East River Drive, now Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.”

Though you won’t find it on any city road maps, the slight curve of the East River between these blocks is known as Bristol Basin (above).