Day One Hundred and Two: Walking the Avenues of the Upper East Side from East 84th to 72nd Streets between Fifth Avenue and FDR Drive February 14th-20th, 2018

I took some time out after Soup Kitchen to get some exercise and start my walk of the Avenues of the Upper East Side. I spent the whole morning making lasagnas for lunch the next day and I was tired as it was that afternoon. I ended up walking from 9th Avenue and 28th Street to Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street to pick up movie tickets at the MoMA for that afternoon and then walked to Fifth Avenue and East 72nd Street and walked down to East 72nd Street to re-walk York Avenue from East 72nd Street to East 84th Street and then walk the remaining Avenues. It was turning to twilight when I last walked it and I wanted to see it again. The neighborhood like the rest of Manhattan is changing.

You really are seeing an area in its own transition especially along the Avenues. The side streets have kept their character to a certain point but on the Avenues the old brick buildings and brownstones are giving way to large apartment buildings like its neighbor to the north in the Yorkville, Carnegie Hill and even East Harlem. More and more of the main thoroughfares are becoming large residential buildings.

I started the day first having lunch a small pizzeria called La Crostada Pizzeria at 436 East 72nd Street (See review on TripAdvisor) for a slice of pizza ($4.00). I needed my carbs for the walk ahead of me. This small pizzeria has a really nice menu with very fair prices. The pizza is really good and they have a good sauce on the pizza which really makes the pie.

I would revisit the restaurant again later the next week to try their meatball sub with mozzarella ($7.95) to see if it would make the cut for my blog, DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com (which it has see the review on the site) and was impressed by the sandwich. They loaded the sandwich with homemade meatballs and then loaded with shredded with cheese and finished off in the oven. It was some sandwich.

After lunch, I walked the length of York Avenue. I had really misjudged this part of the neighborhood when really looking at it. When walking York Avenue I started to notice a difference in the architecture once you hit about East 80th Street. The lower part of the avenue is being knocked down and rebuilt while up in the 80’s, you still have a fair amount of small buildings and businesses.

When I crossed over to John Jay Park again for a bathroom break (note this bathroom when walking around the neighborhood. They keep it really clean). I wanted to take another look at the Douglas Abdell statues in the park. They are off to the side of the park in the pathway leading to East 75th Street from Cherokee Place.  Really take time to look at the two sculptures. There is a uniqueness to them. It like the way the artist twisted the work to get the geometric forms that he did giving it a juxtaposed pattern.

Douglas Abdell is an American Artist whose work has been seen all over the world. The two statues, Eaphae-Aekyard #2 and Kreyeti-Ackyard #2 use the artists sense of vertical, diagonal and horizontal patterns to create the works (NY Parks System). You really have to take time when in the park to take a look at these two statues and judge for yourself.

First Avenue has a bevy of interesting local restaurants and stores that are concentrated up in the 80’s and while walking up to the upper 80’s, I had to stop by my standby place, Glaser’s bakery for dessert. You can’t walk around the Upper East Side without coming to Glaser’s. I love this place!

I got one of there freshly baked chocolate chip cookie sandwiches, which was filled with a mocha cream ($3.50) that was out of this world! I think I have been concentrating on this part of town just so that I can visit here. Everything always looks so good.

Second Avenue is very similar in feel to First Avenue. In the 70’s, there is a lot of change in the businesses to more commercial establishments with the 80’s still being dominated by more local restaurants and shops. The buildings above East 80th Street are still the smaller brick and brownstone buildings holding the local businesses.  All throughout the Avenue there are pockets of local stores and restaurants.

Park Avenue between East 72nd and 84th Streets still is an Avenue of quiet elegance with beautiful older apartment buildings and co-ops that line the beautifully decorated gardens that line the median and the fronts of several buildings. There is very little commercial businesses on the street less a flower shop here and a dry cleaner there type of thing. It is a block after block of pre-war buildings that have not changed much except for sandblasting clean the exterior of the outside. In the Spring, Summer and the holiday season, the median is nicely landscaped and decorated.

Madison Avenue is mainly a upscale shopping district that is getting too expensive for its own good. In the lower 70’s, I saw a lot of empty spaces cramped in between the over-priced clothing and jewelry stores. I think the rents are pushing out the first wave of shops that moved here after Fifth Avenue got too expensive. Even the rents here are getting to be too much. I am beginning to see these upscale shops moving to Lexington and even Third Avenues in the 70’s. This is pushing out the mom & pop places that dominate those Avenues. It still is one of the premier shopping districts in Upper Manhattan where many European merchants open.

The stores that are located on the Avenue you still have to be buzzed into and is lined with expensive clothing, jewelry, art and decorative stores with a few boutique hotels and restaurants. In the past few months that I have been walking the neighborhood, I have seen some of them move off and to other locations in the surrounding streets. As the twenty year rents are up, many of the traditional businesses from the 1970’s, 80’s and even the 90’s are giving way to chains or just empty store fronts.

Fifth Avenue is always a treat. Most of the buildings in the area have not changed and stayed mostly residential. It is lined with elegant marble apartment buildings and some modern day structures. The park is still quiet with the last days of winter slowly becoming behind us. Still on a semi-warm day, there are still kids playing in the playgrounds. I swear, nothing stops these kids. It still is part of the “Museum Mile” and there are smaller gallery spaces and museums.

On my second day walking the Avenues, I doubled back to FDR Drive to walk along the riverfront. This is a juxtaposed position. There is no one clear walking path on FDR Drive. The cross over pedestrian bridge is at East 78th Street by John Jay Park and you can cross over to walk along the East River. It was 72 degrees the second day on the walk and it just gorgeous outside. Everyone had the same idea that I had and I saw many people walking their dogs or jogging along the water.  The walkway is currently being renovated so it stops around 71st Street.

I doubled back to John Jay Park and walked the remainder of FDR Drive by sidewalk around East 79th Street, with many cars driving by at full speed. The sidewalk ends at 72nd Street at the Con Ed building and I don’t suggest walking any further. There is a slim strip of edge of sidewalk and unless you want to be hit by a car, walk back down East 72nd Street. It is full of guys coming and going for work so it is very busy on this street during the day.

I went back to East 78th Street and went back on the bridge and proceeded to walk up the walkway to East 84th Street to Carl Schurz Park. School had let out by this point and both this park and John Jay Park were loaded with kids for the rest of the afternoon. All of them obviously enjoying the surprisingly warm weather. When walking across East 84th Street, the southern part of the park, I came across a plaque dedicated to Archibald Gracie, whose estate used to be located here and whose family Gracie Mansion is named after (the Mayor’s residence).

Gracie, who was a merchant and shipbuilder and good friend of John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, had bought the land around what was called “Horn’s Hook” in 1798 and built the wooden home as a county estate. The house had been headquarters for many prominent residents of the city as Gracie’s position changed to include insurance and banking. He had to sell the house in 1823 to pay off debts and it was acquired by the city in 1891. After different uses, it was renovated and now serves as the residence of NYC Mayor and his family.

I walked down East End Avenue and walked all the side streets between East 84th to East 79th Streets where East End Avenue ends. Most the streets have a dead end with a beautiful view of the river the most scenic at East 72nd Street, where you can sit on the benches and just watch the river. Here starts the Weill-Cornell Medical Center so you will be sharing space with many of the hospital workers out on a break.  It also offers views of Roosevelt Island (see Day Ninety Five “Walking Roosevelt Island”) especially Lighthouse Park.

As you walk past buildings along the river, you will see the old sign for the “East Side House Settlement” at East 76th Street, which used to be the home for the establishment which is one of the oldest non-profit social service organizations in New York City. It was founded here in 1891 and moved to the South Bronx in 1962. The building still stands now part of the Town School but the sign still stands as a testament to where it was founded. You can see the sign carved in the stone from the FDR Walkway.

Walking York Avenue, you will pass the same type of construction along the Avenue as the smaller brownstone buildings give way to the larger apartment complexes.  There is a little gem off York Avenue at 502 East 74th Street. This small carriage house seems out of place in the neighborhood but has been around since the Civil War. It had been converted to manufacturing in 1892 and most of its existence had been a place of manufacturing. It now has been restored and is now a private residence.

Another building that is interesting is at 450 East 78th Street, a small wooden structure that houses an antique and a blinds store’s that was built in 1910. This small building is relic of a time when this area must have been filled with homes like this. Martine’s Antiques located in one of the stores is a treasure trove of small items and is worth the trip inside. It really stands alone in a neighborhood in constant change.

I followed York Avenue up to 84th Street and crossed down to Third Avenue. Third and Lexington Avenues are very similar in look and in businesses. Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue in the 70’s are really going through a transition as rents are forcing older businesses out. That classic 90’s look of the Avenues is giving way to either empty store fronts or upscale restaurants and shops that should be on Madison Avenue.

Still there are a lot of those businesses hanging that still give it the neighborhood feel and that is more in the low 80’s. One of those businesses is the Lexington Candy Shop, where I had lunch (See review on TripAdvisor). Founded in 1925, it is a reminder when these type of stores used to dominate New York City until the arrival of McDonalds in the 1970’s. Even the automate’s gave way by the early 80’s.

I had eaten here several times before and I wanted to know if it was still as good as it once was then. Trust me it is still great and it is a real New York experience to sit at the counter.  I ordered a regular burger and a strawberry milkshake, both of which were excellent. The burger was perfectly cooked with fresh lettuce and tomato on the side and the milkshake was made with Basset’s of Philadelphia ice cream, which I have mentioned in my blogs to Philly and is one of the best ice creams on the market. Both the food and service make Lexington Candy Shop a ‘must see’ for out of towners.

Third Avenue especially in the low 80’s still holds onto it classic New York look but I am afraid not for long. It looks like the whole Avenue is giving way to larger apartment complexes and office buildings. Even the traditional shopping district on 86th Street is giving way to all new buildings. Once the home of Gimbel’s Uptown, the neighborhood is slowly going upscale with a new Shake Shack and Brooks Brothers.

Still there are many unique stores in the area. Flying Tiger Copenhagen recently opened at 1286 Third Avenue, which has great novelty items for kids and seasonable gift items. The sad part is that everything seems to be made in China, not Copenhagen. If you like unusual novelty items, this is the place. Another great store for kids and one of the oldest toy stores in the city is Mary Arnold Toys at 1178 Lexington Avenue. They have a nice selection of commercial toys and novelties. Most of the items you can find cheaper in other stores though but still it is a great store to look around.

For many, the Upper East Side still has the feel that it has always had since the 1960’s and admittingly not much has changed in some parts of the neighborhood particularly around the side streets but massive changes on the Avenues are happening as rows of brownstones and small buildings give way to large apartment and building complexes and along the East River, there is a lot of construction along FDR Drive. Pretty soon that will all be luxury buildings as well.

The Upper East Side can be accessed by Subway on the number 6 or the G line. Go to the G line to see all the artwork.

Restaurants:

La Crostada Pizzeria

436 East 72nd Street

New York, NY  10021

(212) 472-5004

http://www.lacrostadanyc.com

Lexington Avenue Candy Shop

Glaser’s Bake Shop

1670 First Avenue

New York, NY  10028

(212) 289-2562

http://www.glaserbakeshop.com

Stores:

Flying Tiger Copenhagen

1282 Third Avenue

New York, NY  10001

(917) 388-2812

http://www.flyingtiger.com

Mary Arnold Toys

1178 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY 10028

(212) 744-8510

http://www.MaryArnoldToys.com

Martine’s Antique Store

450 East 78th Street

New York, NY  10075

(212) 772-0900

Places to see:

John Jay Park

Between East 78th and 75th Streets

The Abdell statues are located just outside the park by East 76th Street.

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