After a long day in the Soup Kitchen prepping vegetables for future meals, I started my day uptown at the Samuel Seabury Park on 96th Street off the 6 subway line. It is a good place for a bathroom break in the area with the other being the Samuel Isaacs Park on 96th Street and 1st Avenue. There are not too many public bathrooms in this area.
The one thing I might want to mention that I am beginning to notice and it is not just in the poorer areas is that number of empty store fronts as well as the closing of many older businesses that I had seen in the area from the 80’s and 90’s. I guess the 20 year leases are coming up and they are jacking the rents up sky-high in some areas. When Ottomanelli’s Restaurant, which had been in this neighborhood since 1902 closes, you know there is a problem ( I think they may be camping further uptown now).
The businesses again change closer to the housing complexes with smaller more reasonable restaurants around 2nd and 1st Avenues. This is not a section with lots of upscale shops and restaurants though I think some of the prices at the restaurants are due to the ongoing raise in the rents in the area.
The neighborhood is very diverse in its housing stock depending on the block and in its businesses. Being so close to Central Park gives you a sense of green though there are many nice smaller parks in the neighborhood. Though it is an expensive neighborhood I am sure it is not as expensive as its southern neighbors on this side of the park.
The number 6 subway will take you directly to Samuel Seabury Park at 96th Street, the start of many bathroom breaks. When you are walking the Avenues on the East Side, you need to know where the public bathrooms are located. This is a very active park during the school year. I would think that the city would have these bathrooms in better condition though.
The park is named after the late Judge Samuel Seabury who roots laid in Colonial Manhattan and had fought the corruption of Tammany Hall. Who knew a late Judge could still be so helpful many years later.
Madison Avenue has its unique boutique-ness to it especially further downtown. Above 85th Street, it is more localized shops and restaurants. I had discovered that many businesses from the early 90’s like Sarabeth’s Kitchen were still operating (at much higher prices than I remembered).
One of the most beautiful and unique buildings on Madison Avenue is the Hunter College building at East 94th Street, which looks like a castle. The building is now used for the Hunter College High School and Elementary School, considered one of the best public schools in the city and you need a special test to get into it. The building itself, built as the Squad A Armory in 1896, previously called the Madison Avenue Armory building, resembles a castle. It is constructed out of red bricks and was partially demolished in the 1960’s but bought by Hunter College for the expanding school. Take a good look around the grounds, there is a real beauty in this enchanted castle housing some of the brightest kids in New York City.
Madison Avenue from 96th Street to 84th Street houses lots of local boutiques and restaurants and a few smaller hotels tucked here and there. The buildings are mostly prewar apartment buildings with some new construction thrown in here and there. Its the Upper East Side without the pretension.
Park Avenue is what Park Avenue does best below 98th Street, is an elegant enclave of prewar and turn of the last century apartment buildings with very little business or retail outside of the doctors offices. The Avenue is lined with elegant, old-world buildings with the well-manicured gardens of the street ‘mall’ going from the top of the railroad tracks on 98th Street down to the border of the neighborhood on 84th Street. The mall was ablaze with red and white flowers for the late summer blooms. I don’t think this area has changed much since the 1920’s.
The Avenue was quiet that afternoon less the preppie teenagers walking with their sports gear and mom’s and nannies wheeling kids around. There is always a certain feel to this part of Park Avenue, quiet, elegant and sedate. I am sure its not that way in real life but that is the way it appears to the average person walking down the sidewalk.
One standout building on Park Avenue amongst all the elegant apartment buildings is the Lewis Gouvenour House at 85th Street. The house was named for its owner, a failed investment banker who was related to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The house is a red brick neo-Federalist building that was completed in 1914 and it stands out amongst all the apartment buildings in the area. The latest article I read is that the house is up for sale for $8 million dollars but I swear that I saw a cook and maid looking me over when I looked over the house so I am sure it has been sold by this point. Someone was even hanging over the windows cleaning them as I passed.
After turning the corner at 84th Street, I walked over to Lexington Avenue and it is night and day to the enclaves of 5th and Park Avenues. Talk about a busy commercial street. This is where you are seeing changes in the feel of the neighborhood. Many of the retail spaces that I have remembered that were there for years when I moved back to the area in 2001 are long gone. A lot of the neighborhood has been knocked down and many new residential and office buildings have replaced them. Some of my favorite bakeries and pizzeria’s are also long gone. Still my favorite Panera on 86th Street is still there for the Asiago and Cinnamon Crunch bagels that I love to snack on while on my way to the Met.
Here and Third Avenue is where you start to see the ‘For Rent’ signs. It is sad that so many businesses that have been here for twenty years, the leases are coming up and the rise in rents is just sky high for the new owners. I have read more articles on the prices that they want in rent and there is no way the average business can handle this. Even some of the chain restaurants have left the area. If you do not own the building, forget it.
Third Avenue above 90th Street, you will start to see a lot of new construction, as a lot more buildings are going up on both sides of the street. The Upper East Side is slowly crawling into this area and a lot of the older smaller buildings are starting to disappear. The store fronts between 90th and 93rd are starting to empty as all the older restaurants have closed their doors.
Second Avenue is changing as well in the area of 90th Street and above. This has a totally different feel then the neighborhood above in East Harlem. Slowly though, these neighborhoods are starting to merge as new construction on Second and First Avenue below 96th Street changes from housing projects to private apartment buildings. Even the brownstones are giving way to larger apartment buildings, which is starting to change the character of the neighborhood. It’s a lot of sameness.
I ended the second day in the neighborhood having a late lunch at East Garden Chinese Restaurant at 1685 First Avenue & 88th Street (See review on TripAdvisor). This little hole in the wall Chinese restaurant has lunch specials for $5.95 and a very nice variety of dishes. I had the General Tso’s chicken combination plate with fried rice and a Coke that cost $7.00 with tax and I just about finished it. The chicken was excellent. It was well cooked and the sauce had some pinch to it. The fried rice was less to be desired but overall the meal was very good for the end of this first long walk of the neighborhood.
On the second day of the walk, I revisited Second and First Avenues and covered the rest of the neighborhood that include York, Henderson and East End Avenues as well as walking around Carl Schurz Park for a second time.
I finished up Second Avenue for a second time, looking over the businesses and parks. Slowly I noticed as I looked at menu’s of restaurants and the types of stores opening up that a lot of the mom and pop stores are giving way to more chains and the restaurants are getting awfully expensive even this high up.
There are a few hold outs in way of Chinese restaurants especially closer to the Samuel Isaacs Complex on 96th and First Avenue but even around the projects there soon won’t be too many affordable places to eat. I mean come on, $16.00 for a hamburger? Its a hamburger at the end of the day. For a reasonable meal, you will have to walk up above 100th Street.
There are several little surprises as you walk around the neighborhood. Behind the Ruppert Apartment Buildings on Third Avenue is the Ruppert Park between 90th and 91st Streets, which offered a place of rest after walking around. This block long park must have been a negotiation between the city and the developer to build these huge apartment buildings and the neighborhood really benefited from it. It is a nice meeting place for residents to talk and walk their dogs. Many of the neighborhood seniors seem to like to sit on the benches and talk to their friends. The playground is nice for the kids as they were out in full force before the first day of school started a few days later.
Tucked away on a side street on 91st Street across from the park, this is a plaque dedicated to James Cagney, the actor and singer, who later played tough guys in the movies. He must have lived in this area growing up.
First Avenue is starting to give way from brownstones to apartment buildings in the 90’s and up. On the lower part, the chain stores are starting to dominate while the mom and pop stores still are holding on. There still are a few German restaurants in the neighborhood but they seem few and far between on the Avenues. Its mostly small businesses and a few small shops.
York Avenue and East End Avenue are both tucked below the Asphalt Green playground and recreational area below FDR Drive and 92nd Street. The three days that I walked around the neighborhood, Asphalt Green was crowded with kids playing all sorts of sports, basketball, soccer or even playing Frisbee. The shocking part was getting an ice from the lady selling Spanish ices. Below 96th Street, they start charging $2.00 instead of $1.00 like above 100th Street. I guess they see us coming.
York Avenue is one of those places that looks like New York City with the combination of apartment buildings that look like they are out of the 70’s, elegant but not pretentious and the area looked lived in like the residents have lived there for 40 years. There is a mix of building types that gives the Avenue some character and tucked here and there are small apartment buildings and brownstones.
East End Avenue is dominated by Carl Schurz Park where Gracie Mansion is located. Around the park, there are several beautiful brownstones especially between 86th and 87th Street that give the park that extra graciousness. These brick buildings are carefully maintained and beautifully landscaped and mirror the park across the street.
The small side streets south of the park such as the extension of 84th Street (Gracie Place) house old apartment buildings with excellent views of the park and very nosey doorman, who watched me watching them. Sometimes I wonder what impression I give these people that they stare so much at me or maybe after a year in Harlem, I am getting used to the inquisitive looks.
As I finished up the Avenues in Yorkville/Carnegie Hill, I just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon in Carl Schurz Park, looking at Randalls-Ward Island and Astoria Queens in the distance and admiring the breathtaking view of the river. This section of the park along the river walkway is so picturesque and relaxing. Labor Day had such wonderful weather and it was such a clear sunny day, that is was nice to just sit on a bench and watch the world go by.
All along the river, jet skis zoomed by and an occasional sailboat passed by as well. It was one of those afternoons you see in movies about New York City but sometimes never experience. All I could think about as I was watching the world go by is that this is what people think New York is and they are right. This location on the bend of the river on a nice day you have to experience for yourself to understand how great it is. What was a nice touch was that two people playing the cello and the violin came into the park to perform and collect money. That’s the real New York.
I ended the day eating a late lunch/dinner at a restaurant on Second Avenue named Shorty’s at 1678 First Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor), which is known for their Philly Cheesesteaks. It was pretty good for New York City, where you have to hop the Acela down to Center City for a Cheesesteak at Carmine’s in the Reading Market. Here the bartender told me that they import the hoagie rolls from Philly and cook it on the flat grill and top with Cheese Wiz (God, do I love that on a sandwich). For the $10.00 price and a side of Bay Seasoning fries, it was well-worth the money. It saved the $200.00 trip to Philly I would soon have to make and that chewy cheesy sandwich was a great way to end my trip of the Avenues of the neighborhood. Now the streets await.
Places to Visit:
Carl Shulz Park
Places to Eat:
1678 First Avenue
New York, NY
East Garden Chinese Restaurant
1685 First Avenue
New York, NY