I have found that walking the Avenues of the Upper West Side to be much easier than the Upper East Side. There are less blocks to walk and this side of the island is smaller in space than the middle of the Upper East Side which begins to jut out on that part of the island.
Each Avenue on the Upper West Side has it’s own uniqueness to it. Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues are more of a shopping districts with Amsterdam Avenue having most of the quirky restaurants and old time stores. Broadway is rapidly changing was the stores of the 80’s and 90’s are quickly loosing their leases and with the rents jacked up is home to more chains now more than ever. It seems that another new chain restaurant and store opens up every month. Even here, I have watched the chain stores loose their leases and go away.
West End Avenue is strictly residential and the blocks between it and Riverside Drive hold a treasure trove old stone townhouses, brownstones and marble mansions with the graceful cravings, ornate stairs and potted plants outside the homes. There is an immense pride in this part of the neighborhood and I swear probably not much as changed since the turn of the last century.
I was walking up from Soup Kitchen that afternoon and after a long day on the Bread Station holding off questions of why we do not have any pastry (none was donated) and the lack of raisin bagels (again none were donated) and why we no longer use butter for the bread (the peanut butter was donated), it was off for a long walk to the Upper West Side. Being closer to midtown, I have been walking more often than using the subway.
I have walked Central Park West, both sides many times and the biggest changes I have seen in the buildings here is that most of the them are being sandblasted back to life as new owners and residents have been rapidly converting the Upper West Side into the new Upper East Side. The new residents seem much richer, less liberal and a whole lot younger. I have never seen so many baby carriages and little dogs since walking the heart of the Upper East Side. At least here, the dogs seem less spoiled (with the multiple grooming places for dogs, the B & B for Dogs (upscale kennel) and places for doggies treats and clothes, dogs get better treated than the homeless).
As you walk up Central Park West, the first thing you see it the statue dedicated to the members of the U.S.S. Maine that was mysteriously bombed February 15th, 1898 which started the Spanish-American War. The War started in April 25th, 1898 and would last eight months. After a series of conflicts due to the War, the Philippines and Cuba gained their Independence and we got Guam and Puerto Rico as part of the deal.
The statue, designed by sculpture Attilio Piccirilli and Charles Keck, with the help of architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle and was dedicated in May 30th, 1913. The statue was dedicated to the 261 people lost when the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana harbor in February of 1898. This started the Spanish-American War in April of 1898 (Wiki).
Really take time to look at this statue for its details, its plaques that line the base and the detail work. It unfortunately is now used as a bench for most people who attend the Christmas and Farmer’s Markets that now line the base of the statue. I don’t think most people today know what the Spanish-American War of 1898 was or its significance in our country’s history. If you say, “Remember the Maine” today, most people would go ‘huh’?
As I walked up Central Park West along the park side, you will see the landscape lined with trees, lawns, parks and massive rock formations which seem more prevalent ten blocks up. These formations are leftovers of the last Ice Age and it is amazing to know that these will dragged for hundreds of miles as the ice moved. I have noticed more of these rock formations on the Upper Upper West Side and in Washington Heights and it is interesting to see our connections still to the last Ice Age.
Being the time of year that it is, the whole park was winter hibernation but people using the park on a 46 degree day brings life to almost everything. The kids dominated the playgrounds after school and tourist and locals alike were walking dogs and chatting along the paths. Even in the colder months, Central Park is always busy.
When I reached the border of the neighborhood at West 72nd Street, I passed the famous Dakota Apartment Building that dominated the corner of West 72nd Street and Central Park West. Really look up at the detail work of this building. Built between 1880-1884, the building was designed by the firm of Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, the same firm that designed the Plaza Hotel. The name ‘The Dakota’ some feel came from the isolated location so far uptown at the time it was build in that the Dakota Territories were so isolated from the country at the time.
The building is currently under renovation but you can still peek into the side of the building to see the old courtyard where the carriages used to drop residents off and the apartments themselves were designed around the French layouts at the time with large ceilings and rooms that flowed into one another. The resident listing is a Who’s Who of the entertainment and arts industry and the filming of the movie ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was done in the front of the building as well as the death of musician, John Lennon in the early 80’s.
As you pass the beauty of The Dakota, West 72nd Street has an array of architectural styles of brownstones and marble homes lining the street. The carving of the stone is work that you no longer see in design and so much of the neighborhood is under scaffolding as new owners are sandblasting these buildings back to their original beauty.
Continuing the walk up Central Park West, you continue to pass many beautiful and graceful stone apartment buildings with beautiful views of the park that are going through their own renovations.
At West 77nd Street, you are at the Museum Row of the Upper West Side with the New York Historical Society at 170 Central Park West and the American Museum of Natural History located on Central Park West and West 79th Street.
If you reading this blog post in 2018, please remember to stop by the museum to see both the ‘Unseen Ocean’ and the ‘Senses’ exhibitions that just opened. The ‘Unseen Ocean’ explores the unknown deep of our oceans and the new species that we are discovering in the deep. It takes a look at the new development of equipment where we can explore deeper than before and the new discoveries that pop up with every trip. The ‘Senses’ exhibition explores how we react to the environment around us. These can be seen with the museum day pass.
As you round West 84th Street and down the block to Columbus Avenue, really look up around you and see the faces following you down the block to the next Avenue. The carvings of faces on the buildings stare out into the abyss or look to one another. You won’t really notice it until you really look at the detail work of each building. You will be doing a lot of stopping and staring between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.
Back in 1984 to 1987, during the first really big gentrification of the Upper West Side, Columbus Avenue was a big deal, Everything from 59th Street to about 86th Street was being sandblasted back to life and all sorts of new restaurants and shops were opening up left and right around the American Museum of Natural History. Stores like the DDL Food Show (Dino De Larentis’s Gourmet Shop), Penny Whistle Toys and the infamous Museum Café (where the Shake Shack is located now) were the topic of conversation when they opened. After the crash of 1987, most of these places had closed or where long gone and by the mid-90’s, the whole block was changing again as all the expensive stores and restaurants started to leave.
Today Columbus Avenue between 72nd Street to 84th Street is starting to go through another change. Instead of all the expensive places kicking the reasonable places out, many store fronts have gone dark and sit empty. This is a plague that is going all not just all over the Upper West Side but all over the City. Many old line businesses from the 70’s , 80’s and even the 90’s that I have seen for years, like Isabella’s Restaurant, on the corner of Columbus Avenue and 78th Street, where my dad and I had many a meal for his birthday and for Father’s Day, shut it’s doors about a year ago and now sits empty.
Columbus Avenue is now in a state of flux with newer more expensive places opening up here and there. I don’t think it has dawned on these landlords that not everyone wants a $16.00 hamburger. In the lower 70’s of Columbus Avenue, it is more and more chain stores and even they seem like they are struggling. You can have only so many stores selling the same merchandise that is currently on sale at Macy’s while the restaurants have similar menu’s. The rents are forcing, from my opinion, the merchants away from their creativity to what is safe.
All along stretches of Columbus Avenue, especially closer to the American Museum of Natural History, the store fronts are mostly empty and looking at the current prices to buy an apartment in the neighborhood, you can see the reason why. Apartments are going for what their East Side counterparts are going for (or maybe a little less depending on the street). The street is once again changing from more expensive fashion to I am not sure what but I can’t wait to see what happens next on Columbus Avenue between West 72nd Street and West 84th Street.
With these changes comes the changes at the museum’s as well. The American Museum of Natural History is ever renovating displays or launching new shows. “Unseen Ocean’s”, the story of the newly explored deep, is resulting in long lines at the museum. New ways to explore the bottom of the ocean with nautical looking machines that even Jules Vern could not have thought of are finding new species and showing the food network of the bottom of the sea. This museum has woken up in the last ten years.
The New York Historical Society is a far cry from what it was fifteen years ago when no one entered the musty halls of that relic. Today more and more innovative programs are opening and they even have an upscale coffee whose prices are ridiculous even for a museum.
Both museums have been sandblasted back to their original glory, have been renovated and are showing innovative programming that rivals anything of their East Side counterparts.
Amsterdam Avenue I have always felt feels like real New York with the funky stores, small independent restaurants and pocket parks that line interwoven parts of the neighborhood.
I had lunch this afternoon at Harriet’s Kitchen at 502 Amsterdam Avenue for one of their famous ‘Fried Chicken Sandwiches”. Trust me, it lived up to the hype I saw online. The sandwich was $9.95 with hand cut French Fries and a Coke made a total of $11.95 and it was worth every bite.
This sandwich was the perfect food item for my walk as I needed the protein. The sandwich was two large chicken breasts marinated in buttermilk and then dredged in a cornmeal crust and then fried golden crisp. It was crunchy and savory in every bite. It was one of the best chicken sandwiches I had ever eaten. The fries were good as well as they were cooked to a golden crisp as well. It was accompanied by a spicy remoulade sauce and sour pickles which added an extra kick to the sandwich. The service was really friendly and even though the place is a little dumpy, the food is no reflection of that. I have not eaten chicken this good since my tour of Harlem.
Right next to Harriet’s Kitchen is West Side Kids at 498 Amsterdam Avenue, so I got a chance to tour the store again which was stocked to the gills with new toys. Across the street from Harriet’s Kitchen is the Urban Assembly Green Space Garden at 145 84th Street, that the students maintain on the corner of West 84th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. This garden is used by the students for the growing season and at the height of the season they sell their fruits and vegetables to the public. Take some time to walk around this urban oasis when it is in season.
Amsterdam Avenue is like Lexington Avenue in that it is a nice mix of stores and restaurants that are more affordable to the average New Yorker. This is beginning to change in the low 70’s but like most of the neighborhood is a state of flux. I am beginning to see the same amount of empty storefronts on this Avenue as well.
Broadway in this part of the island is designed as a French Boulevard with landscaping down an strip of island down the middle of the road with benches at each island stopover. As I had mentioned in my observation further uptown, this part of Broadway was designed for upscale living with grand apartment buildings.
The Ansonia Apartments at 2101-2119 Broadway was built in 1899 by architect Paul E.M. Duboy in the traditional Beaux Arts style in the Victorian Age was a residential hotel. The detail work on the outside is gorgeous with all sorts of statuary, carvings and iron work and topped with a mansard roof. The building has housed many famous people in the arts, music and politics. You can peek inside the courtyard to see where the carriages once let the residents off similar in design to The Dakota further west (Wiki).
The Apthrop Apartments at 2201-2219 Broadway was built between 1906-1908 by architects Clinton & Russell for William Waldorf Astor and takes up the whole block between Broadway and West End Avenue. The building was designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and when you peek inside the building you can see the courtyard where carriages once a upon a time used to drop the residents off. Over-sized limestone sculptures representing the Four Seasons stand above the ventral barrel-vaulted entrance with wrought iron gates feature a pair of gazelle heads (Wiki).
The Astor Apartments at 235 West 75th Street tops Broadway with the grand apartment buildings and is currently going under a major renovation and restoration. The building is currently under scaffolding (as seems the whole neighborhood) so it hides the beauty of the building. The stores below are changing as well as even Barney’s has moved out of the neighborhood.
The building was developed in 1909 for William Waldorf Astor II by architects Clinton & Russell for the two eight story wings and the firm of Peabody, Wilson & Brown did the taller tower. The beauty in this building is in the simplicity of its elegance and the detail work along the roof.
When walking up Broadway, note that this area was built at a time when the wealthy were scaling down their lives at the turn of the last century and this form of luxury was becoming the norm. By the 60’s and 70’s, these grand apartment buildings like the rest of the neighborhood got rundown but currently all are on the process of renovation or their completion have lead the apartments to be reconnected back to their four to five room layout.
The stores along Broadway have given way to a commercial district of chain stores but still has lots of ‘gems’ lining Broadway. Rents have risen so much in the area that a lot of these stores and restaurants might face displacement in the future. Like the rest of the city, there is a cost of doing business in NYC.
Some of the most famous stores are the great purveyors of food the most well-known being Fairway at 2131 Broadway and Zabar’s at 2245 Broadway . These are more than just grocery stores, they are institutions in New York.
Fairway supermarket, which now has branches outside the city, is stocked from ceiling to floor with everything you need to fill a kitchen. When I walked through it, it seemed more like a traditional grocery store, fancy but functional loaded with every brand imaginable. It is fun to to walk around the tight aisles and look at the merchandise. They also have a nice prepared food section with everything you need for a picnic in the park.
Zabar’s though, is a true New York institution. I have been coming here since the 1970’s when my mother’s bible for food was both Gourmet and New York Magazines. Anytime we went into the city, Zabar’s was a place we visited especially if she saw it one of those two magazines.
Zabar’s is broken down into sections each with their own mouthwatering smells and like Fairway, lined from top to bottom with delicacies. Their cheese department has the most wonderful aroma when walking through it and the bakery section always smells of croissant and chocolate. The prepared foods section is still one of the best in the city. They have enough for a full meal that you might make at home but ‘don’t have the time’. Just walking around is an experience. They also have a small restaurant off to the side of the building complex and it has specials during lunch (See review on TripAdvisor).
Westsider Rare & Used Books at 2246 Broadway across from Zabar’s and a little further down by West 81st Street and Broadway is pilled high with used, antique and out of print books. This worn looking bookstore is what out-of-towners would say a New York bookstore should look like down to the literary looking woman who works there much like her counterpart at Westsider Records down at 233 West 72nd Street. The people the store has working there fit the stereotype of who would work there. These two stores are fun to wonder around in especially if you grew up in the late 60’s and the 70’s and early 80’s before the ‘Yuppie’ transformation of NYC. You never know what treasure you will find in the stacks of there stores.
Most of the rest of Upper Broadway is quite commercial but helpful in everyday needs of shopping and entertainment. The big AMC Theater attracts people from all over the neighborhood and this area is always busy.
During a break in the walking, I stopped by the West Side Cafe at 218 West 72nd Street for the noted Sausage, Egg and Cheese bagel ($3.95) that I ate in Riverside Park. I had seen someone eating it the other day and had to have it. It was well-worth the visit and the sandwich was big and warmed me up with every bite on this cool day.
West End Avenue like the areas uptown is lined with graceful apartment buildings and on the side streets elegant apartment buildings and brownstones. There are a lot of beautiful churches and schools in this area of the neighborhood.
When you walk down West 84th Street (named after Edgar Allen Poe), you walk into a residential area that time has not touched (except for the sandblasting of the buildings). Most of the apartment buildings are art themselves with all the stonework, carvings and ironwork decorating them. Really take time to look at the stonework of the apartments and the brownstones lining all the streets between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.
The Mickey Mantle Elementary School P.S. M811 sits at the corner of West End Avenue and West 81st Street at 466 West End Avenue which was named after the famous Yankee Baseball Player. The school specializes in teaching children with learning disabilities and is one of the best of its kind in the City. The school was renamed after the famous player June 4th, 2002 and its academic excellence would have made Mr. Mantle proud.
You can see the back of the Antony Apartments between West 79th and 78th Streets and still you see the grandeur of this apartment building from all sides including the courtyard. The West End Collegiate Church at 245 West 77th Street can be seen for the entire block and it picturesque in its appearance.
Built in 1892 by architect Robert W. Gibson, this church was designed in the Gothic Dutch-Flemish Revival Renaissance design and is a noted landmark as headquarter to the church and the Collegiate School, one of the best prep schools in the City. Walk around the church to see the brick details and the Coats of Arms of past patrons lining their walls (Wiki/Church Website). The look of the church is different from all sides.
There is a small plaque at 440 West End Avenue dedicated to Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican Governor and great State Reformer. He had championed the eight hour day, forty-eight hour week for workers (under 16) and set up a Trades Act to protect workers much of what we work with today. He also served as Secretary of State under President Harding among his many accomplishments.
I finished my walk at the Eleanor Roosevelt statue at the end of Riverside Park and walked around this side of the park which on a cool day was relaxing. I just sat by the benches and looked at all the interesting buildings.
Just to add more walking in, I walked to West Place Chinese Restaurant at 1288 Amsterdam Avenue for dinner that night. I had a craving for Chinese food and still had a lot of energy left in me from the sandwich earlier and it had started to clear up so I made the trek up Amsterdam Avenue to above the Columbia campus near West 110th Street.
I had a Chicken with Green Beans and pork fried rice combination platter dinner ($8.75) that was excellent and could have feed two people. The chicken was packed with flavor from the spicy garlic sauce and the fried rice had a decent amount of pork in it. The egg roll was pretty decent as well, filled with pork and shredded cabbage.
This local hole in the wall restaurant has now become a favorite not just of people living in the public and private housing complexes that line this part of the neighborhood above Columbia University but with the students as well. I have seen the place packed with Asian students on their lunch hour much to the surprise of everyone else.
After dinner, I walked from West 108th Street to West 42nd Street back to the Port Authority to go home. It had been a long day of walking but there is so much to see and if you really stop to look at everything closely in this neighborhood there is a lot of history packed into this part of the Upper West Side.
Places to visit:
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West & West 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Urban Assembly Garden
145 West 84th Street
New York, NY 10024
Stores to Visit:
West Side Kids
498 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10024
Books of Wonder
217 West 84th Street
New York, NY 10024
Westsider Rare & Used Books
2246 Broadway (between West 81st Street & Broadway)
New York, NY 10024
Open: Monday-Sunday: 10:00am-10:00pm
233 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
Open: Monday-Thursday 11:00am-7:00pm, Friday & Saturday 11:00am-9:00pm. Sunday: 12:00pm-6:00pm
Places to eat:
502 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10024
West Place Chinese Restaurant
1288 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
New York, NY 10024
New York, NY 10023
West Side Cafe
218 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023