It took a long time to finish the Upper East Side neighborhood above 72nd Street and I wanted to return to many of the historical spots to get more research in so it took longer than I thought.
After a long day in Soup Kitchen (I swear I should do these on separate days) in the Beverage Station, I left the Soup Kitchen exhausted again. I can not believe how demanding the homeless can be.
I took the Number One Subway up to 86th Street and walked down to West 84th Street and Central Park West to walk the ring of the neighborhood. Returning to West 84th Street was like visiting an old friend. I had not been on this side of town in months.
I have walked the length of Central Park West many times in this project from 110th Street past 59th Street back to the Port Authority many times on this project in various seasons and it is interesting to see the park at various times of the year. Still, not matter what season, Central Park is always busy. Whether it is people walking their dogs, people jogging on paths or kids playing in playgrounds, the park is always in use no matter what the weather is during the year.
As you walk Central Park West, take time out to really look at the architecture of the buildings and the beauty of the stone work and the carvings. You will not see this in modern buildings. From the sandblasted outsides of buildings to the redone gilded lobbies, you can see a change in the personality of the structure. People are bringing grace back to the apartment buildings and much care.
As I walked past the ‘Museum Mile” of the Upper West Side in the New York Historical Society at 170 Central Park West and the American Museum of Natural History at Central Park West and 79th Street both displayed their upcoming shows. If you get a chance, go see the “Unseen Oceans” and “Senses” exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History. Both tell a different story and the new “Unseen Oceans” exhibition helps us discover what lurks a depths we have never been. There is a whole new world to discover here.
At Central Park West and 77th Street, check out the statue of Alexander Von Humboldt, the famous Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer. Von Humboldt had explored South America to a great extent back in 1700’s as well as extensive exploration in Europe. The Humboldt Squid is named after him as well as he invented the safety lamp for exploration. The statue by noted artist, Gustaf Blaeser, was dedicated in 1869 and was moved to this location much later. It is being conserved by the Central Park Conservatory.
From West 84th Street on Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, it is always a treasure trove of interesting brownstones. To believe that only 25 years ago, this place was almost abandoned, you should see the transformation now with all this old buildings being sandblasted back to life. There is a lot of TLC (tender loving care) going on in the West Side of Manhattan.
Really look at the architecture on West 84th Street from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue and watch the faces watch you starting with 239 Central Park West laden with faces of men and women surrounding it. As you pass all the brownstones, really look at the carvings of the faces in all the archways and doorways. You never know who is watching from all angles.
Unlike the East Side, where every Avenue seems to being torn down for another apartment building or office tower, the West side of the island is keeping more of its charms. I just do not see the same changes going on in this part of the island as the zoning seems different. Here most of the streets are under scaffolding to sandblast these buildings back to their original glory with new owners. One thing is for sure, the ownership is changing. I have never seen so many kids running around after school.
Like the Upper East Side, this side of town has its share of schools and there are plenty of kids walking home in groups or with their parents. The conversations are very similar to the ones I heard cross town. Politics, relationships and problems with classmates. It is a amazing the conversations you hear in restaurants, bakeries and on the sidewalks.
The one thing that does not change on the streets of New York is how pampered their pets are. I have never seen so many well-groomed animals. Not to the extent of their East side counterparts (who have about six to eight upscale grooming places) but I can tell people love their dogs.
As I passed down West 84th Street, I visited many businesses I had been to so many months ago like West Side Kids at 498 Amsterdam Avenue, John Koch Antiques at 201 West 84th Street and Books of Wonder at 217 West 84th Street all of which have become some of my favorite stores on the West Side.
Also, when you reach West End Avenue, pause to look at the lines of brownstones surrounding the block and the beautiful stonework and carvings on each brownstone. The block as well as most of the blocks between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive are classic and detailed in their architecture.
Riverside Drive changes from block to block. Some of the blocks are protected under the Historic districts that they are part of and other blocks are high rise apartments. The West End Historical District runs from about West 80th Street to West 79th Street. Here you will find an array of artistically designed mansions with their large windows and whimsical turrets. These homes are tucked into and around the surrounding apartment buildings.
The West End Collegiate Historic District encompasses even a bigger area of this part of the neighborhood covering from West 79th Street to West 70th Street from Riverside Drive to parts of Broadway. This historic district contains many famous and prominent apartment buildings, brownstones and churches including the Collegiate Church on West End Avenue, the Ansonia and Astor Apartments on Broadway and the Chatsworth Apartments (which are under current renovations) at West 72nd Street.
The pre-war architecture and Victorian style of these buildings are unique to NYC now and should be protected. This type of structure are in danger of being knocked down and replaced with larger more modern construction. Note this in my writing of the Upper East Side which is going through so many changes right now.
Walking along Riverside Drive starting at West 84th Street is a treat. There is that juxtaposed mix of buildings with Victorian mansions tucked next to pre-war apartments with a few modern buildings thrown in. All of this is facing Riverside Park, which for most of the time I was walking the neighborhood was still in winter dormancy.
At West 81st Street and Riverside Drive inside the entrance to the park is the River Run Playground, your first source of public bathrooms. The park was quiet on a winter afternoon but after a few visits to the neighborhood and the weather getting warmer, the kids came out in droves with their parents tagging along.
The beauty of River Run Playground is in the details of the park. The bathrooms have the most beautiful monkey designs molded into the gates so you have to look up for them. The park itself is oval in design filled with every whimsical play thing a child could want. What I liked about the park as it got warmer was the hill overlooking the park. The Riverside Park Conservatory and the local neighbors planted the hill with all sorts of Spring flowers which are now popping up. Crocuses, Tulips and Daffodils will line the hills overlooking the park and the river and already it is quite a site.
The beauty of Riverside Drive is that there are many parks within the park. At the entrance to the park at West 83rd Street is the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Park and Gardens. The 12,000 square foot plaza, enclosed by gardens planters, crabapple and locust trees and a polychromed granite wall, is part of the West Side Improvement. The massive Riverside Park expansion directed by Parks Commissioner, Robert Moses and designed by Gilmore D. Clarke and Clinton Loyd was completed in 1937. In 1990, the perimeter gardens were designed and planted by David T. Goldstick. In 2001, the plaza was renovated by Mayor Rudy Gouliani in partnership with the Riverside Park Fund (NYC Parks.org).
The plaza and gardens has served as a place of contemplation and remembrance of the victims of Nazi brutality. The plaza takes it name from the modest granite plaque at its center and was one of the first Holocaust monuments in the United States, the plaque and its surroundings were dedicated on October 19, 1947 by Mayor William O’Dwyer. A crowd of 15,000 attended , including 100 survivors of the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps. Each year on April 19th, people gather here in memory of the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto, who rose up against their Nazi captors and the six million other Jews martyred during WWII. This plaza is a place a beauty and contemplation and is a nice place to just relax and think (NY Parks.org).
At Riverside Drive and 76th Street is the Neufeld Playground, a recently renovated park with two playground for kids of various ages. The best part of the playground is the public bathrooms and like John Jay Park on the East Side, they are open until 5:00pm so this is a great place to make a pit stop and relax on the benches.
When you exit the Neufeld Playground, you will nice an Robert Ray Hamilton fountain, an empty fountain with an eagle statue topping it. The ornate, baroque styled marble fountain is named for Robert Ray Hamilton, the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, the great statesman, who was a prominent businessman, landowner and politician in his own right. He bequeathed $9,000 to the city to create and install it. It is one of the finest and last surviving examples of the decorative horse troughs that once lined the city landscape. It was used for horses to drink in when they were making their way along Riverside Drive (NYC Parks.org).
At the corner of Riverside Drive and West 72nd Street, just inside the park is a statue dedicated to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Known for her many civic and charitable contributions to the government at the time one top of being a teacher, women’s rights activist and raising five children during the Presidency, she fought for the rights of people.
The statue was done by sculptor Penelope Jencks and Michael Middleton Dwyer and the architects on the project were Bruce Kelly and David Varnell. The monument lies at the threshold of the Riverside Park and is one of a sequence of civic monuments along Riverside Drive honoring people of historical significance (NYC Parks.org). Its a nice place to just relax and watch the world go by. This is also the end of Riverside Park which ends at West 72nd Street.
One building that stands out right across the street from the beginning of Riverside Park is the Chadsworth Apartment Building at 344 West 72nd Street built in 1904 designed by architect John D. Scharsmith for owner George F. Johnson. It was designed to face the park in an English garden fashion. It was lavishly designed in detail to attract the wealthy patrons of Fifth Avenue, who had started to abandon their mansions after the turn of the 20th century (Wiki).
Done in a brick and limestone exterior, the detail work on the building is magnificent. Carved angels, faces and flowers line the building and the iron work of the lamps and banisters are just breathtaking. You really have to look beyond the scaffolding to see the true beauty of this building. They just don’t build apartment buildings with this type of detail anymore.
Across the street from the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt sits an unusual twin mansion, one of the many you will see lining West 72nd Street until you hit Broadway. Most of these old homes are now office and shops but you can see the real beauty in them when at one time this part of the West Side by Riverside Park had been fashionable.
This ‘twin’ mansion was actually two homes with a courtyard created in between the two homes. The Beaux Arts home on West 72nd Street was owned by the Sutphen family and the right plainer mansion was owned by the Prentiss family both designed by mansion architect C.P.H. Gilbert. Both descended from old Colonial families, the Sutphen family were the first one to build their mansion and it was finished 1902 and the Prentiss Mansion was built in 1900. The architect built the courtyard to compliment both homes (Wiki).
West 72nd Street is a real hodge-podge of architecture and buildings as it looks like the shopping district is in a constant state of flux with stores and restaurants opening and closing at record speed due to the increases in rent. Still the street has a 70’s feel about it as there are still some holdouts stores from the ‘old days’.
One stand out restaurant/deli that fit the bill was the West Side Cafe & Pizza at 218 West 72nd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue (see Reviews on TripAdvisor and my blog, “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). The place is clean, the food is reasonable and delicious and the prices are more than fair. Their selection of items is also extensive. This is why I ate there four times on my trip to the Upper West Side.
My first trip there, I just wanted a slice of pizza just to have a snack. A slice here ($2.50) is pretty large and was delicious. They know how to make a marinara sauce. Even though it was warmed over, the quality was excellent. While I was ordering my slice, I saw someone ordering a sausage, egg and cheese on a buttered bagel and it looked so good that when I was walking the streets of the same neighborhood, I had to go back and order it.
So I ordered it on a combination bagel ($4.99) and ate it in Riverside Park. I swear it was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I had ever eaten. The flavors combined beautifully. The sandwich was also huge!
Some of the merchants on West 72nd Street even had a 70’s feel to them. I stopped at Stationary & Toy World Store at 125 West 72nd Street. This is such a great store with floor to ceiling of toys, games, school supplies and anything a kid in the 70’s and 80’s would need for the beginning of the school year. I swear I felt I was in a time warp back thirty years. The best part about the store that it was busy with families so that was encouraging at a time.
Another great store with a 70’s feel is Westsider Records at 233 West 72nd Street, which is lined from top to bottom with records. Even the guy who works the front counter looks like he works at a record store. There were records that I have not seen in thirty years. It even looks a record store that should be on the Upper West Side.
In the middle of the neighborhood is the famous Verdi Park and Sherman Square, the former ‘Needle Park’ from the movie, “Panic in Needle Park”. This is no ‘Needle Park’ anymore with a Bloomingdale’s Outlet Store and a Haagen Dazs right on the park. Sherman Square is just south of the neighborhood but Verdi Square was just as bad.
Now Verdi Square is renovated and dedicated to opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. The statue was designed by Pasquale Civietti in 1906 (NYC Parks.org). The park itself is surrounding by some of the most beautiful Victorian architecture especially around Broadway with the Ansonia Apartments and the Apple Savings Bank, the former Central Savings Bank. Now the park is nicely landscaped with flowers and plantings with a fancy coffee stand.
Another great place is Malachy’s Donegal Inn at 103 West 72nd Street. I visited the restaurant twice while visiting the neighborhood and it is a real experience to get to know the locals who like to eat there. If you want to meet neighborhood locals, this is the place to come.
The last part of the walk on the way back to Central Park West was passing The Dakota Apartments. One of the most prestigious addresses in New York City and named for its isolation placement in the city at the time. The apartments were built between 1880 and 1884 designed by architect Henry J. Hardenbergh. Built in the Renaissance and English Victorian design, you can see the detail work all over the building (Wiki).
Even though the building in currently under scaffolding, you can see the detail work in the iron work of the fencing around the building with the face of Neptune (I think) facing everyone who walks by. You can also peak into the courtyard to see where carriages once arrived. It is an amazing building.
The borders of the Upper West Side are steeped in history and loaded with some of the most beautiful buildings and statuary and facing two of the most magnificent landscaped parks in the city. The residents here are very lucky.
Places to Visit:
Alexander Von Humboldt Statue
Central Park West at West 78th Street
New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
American Museum of National History
Central Park West at West 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
West 72nd Street
From West 84th Street to West 72nd Street
Riverside Park at West 76th Street
Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Park & River Run Playground & Robert Hamilton Fountain
Riverside Park at West 81st Street
Eleanor Roosevelt Statue
Riverside Park at West 72nd Street
Places to Eat:
West Side Cafe
218 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
Malachy’s Donegal Inn
103 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
Places to Shop:
Stationary & Toy World
125 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
233 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023