After my long walks around the classic New York neighborhoods of Sutton Place, Beekman Place and Turtle Bay, it was now time to turn my attention to the commercial part of Manhattan and the shopping districts that are popular with the tourists. This neighborhood is in a whirlwind of change right now as everything old is being knocked down and replaced with shiny new office towers and large glass boxes. Slowly the character of this part of Midtown is changing from the old stone buildings with the beautifully carved embellishments to a lot of glass towers lining both the Avenues and the Streets of the neighborhood. I have never seen so many changes over a twenty year period.
I have also seen the decline of the Fifth and Madison Avenue exclusivity in the shopping district from East 60th Street to East 43rd Street right near the New York Public Library. All the big department stores one by one have closed leaving only Saks Fifth Avenue and specialty store Bergdorf Goodman both Men’s and Women’s stores left. Even those stores have gone from elegant well-bred stores to somewhat showy and glitzy as I am not sure they know who their customer is anymore. There are a lot of empty storefronts because of the rising rents.
The selection of stores and restaurants lining this side of the neighborhood are still somewhat exclusive but it reminds me more of North Michigan Avenue in Chicago than Fifth Avenue in New York City. There seems to have been a dispersion of stores from the street over the last two years to areas like Madison Avenue or even SoHo or Tribeca downtown. There are a lot of empty store fronts both on Fifth and Madison Avenue which you never saw until the Stock Market Crash of 2008. The area has not fully recovered from that yet.
Still the borders of the neighborhood still hold some of the most iconic and famous buildings in Manhattan and interesting shops and restaurants along the way. Some of the most famous hotels in New York City are located in this neighborhood with their classic old world charm and their elegant stonework entrances.
I started my tour of the neighborhood by revisiting the length of Lexington Avenue from East 43rd Street and walking up the Avenue to East 59th Street and then crossing over East 59th to Fifth Avenue. First I stopped for some lunch at Hop Won Chinese Noodle Shop at 139 East 45th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues (See reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com).
Hop Won Chinese Noodle Shop is one of the few remaining restaurants in the former brownstone section of the neighborhood that has not been razed for an office building. The food is so good and different from the other Chinese take out places in Midtown. They specialize in roasted meats, noodle soups and dishes while keeping the traditional Cantonese favorite for the busy office workers in the area.
Hop Won Chinese Noodle Shop at 139 East 45th Street
My first and second trips to the restaurant I wanted to concentrate on the roasted meats. You could not taste a more moist or succulent meat outside of Chinatown. The Roast Pork, Roast Duck and Boneless Roast Pork with rice makes a nice lunch. The meats are perfectly marinated, lacquered and roasted to perfection with crackling skin and the taste of soy and honey. Their prices are very fair and the selection of combination dishes all run under $10.00.
The delicious roasted meats at Hop Won
After lunch, I walked up the familiar Lexington Avenue to East 59th Street, passing well-known hotels and office buildings that still make up the character of the neighborhood. In between the ‘glass boxes’ there are still many buildings that standout and you can read about them more in my travels around Turtle Bay (Day One Hundred and Forty Walking Turtle Bay).
As I rounded along East 59th Street, I saw in the distance the now bankrupt Barney’s specialty store. Talk about a store that traveled in full circle from a discount store to exclusivity now into bankruptcy with the changing tastes and buying habits of customers all over the city. I’m surprised with the rent for this location they are bothering to keep it open.
Further down the street passing various stores and restaurants on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 59th Street is the famous Sherry-Netherland Hotel at 781 Fifth Avenue. Built between 1926-27 by the architects Schultz-Weaver with Buckman and Kahn in the Neo-Romanesque/Neo-Gothic style and you can see the stone work details around the edges of the building. It was once the tallest apartment hotel in New York City.
Sherry-Netherland Hotel at 781 Fifth Avenue
When walking around the corner East 59th Street to Fifth Avenue, you will pass the General Motors Building at 767 Fifth Avenue. This modern skyscraper was designed in the ‘International style’ by architects by Edward Durell Stone & Associates with Emory Roth & Sons in 1968 and is one of the few buildings that utilizes a full city block (Wiki). The building was used by General Motors as their New York headquarters until 1998 when they sold the remaining interest in the building.
The GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue
Next door to the GM Building is 745 Fifth Avenue, the home of Bergdorf-Goodman Men’s Store and once the home to FAO Schwarz Toy Store from 1932-1986. You can see this classic New York skyscraper in many TV shows and movies including the theme song for the opening of “That Girl” and in the FAO Schwarz scene of the movie “Baby Boom” with Diane Keaton. This beautiful ‘art-deco style’ building was designed by architects Buckman-Kahn in 1930.
745 Fifth Avenue
745 Fifth Avenue on TV in the opening of “That Girl” with the Bergdorf-Goodman store window on the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street where she is looking into.
The architecture continues to evolve on Fifth Avenue as you continue to make your way down the street.
Watch the traffic and security as you pass Trump Tower at 721 Fifth Avenue. I could write an entire book on the building of this famous and iconic structure of the 1980’s. The building was designed by architect Dur Scutt of Poor, Swanke, Hayden & Connell. It is tough to visit the building with all the security but still it is interesting to see the shops and inside design.
Trump Tower at 721 Fifth Avenue
There is a combination of building designs and structure along the way. Located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street is one of the most famous hotels in New York City, The St. Regis Hotel. This luxury hotel on the corner of 55th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenue’s at 2 East 55th Street was built in 1904 by John Jacob Astor IV.
St. Regis Hotel at 2 East 55th Street
The hotel was designed by architects Trowbridge & Livingston in the French Beaux-Art style and was the tallest hotel in New York when it was built. Take time to go inside and see the true beauty of this hotel which was fully renovated in 2013. There are interesting restaurants to eat at and they have a wonderful (but very pricey) Afternoon Tea. The hotel which is a Five Star and Five Diamond hotel has been featured on countless TV shows and movies.
The Front entrance of the St. Regis Hotel off Fifth Avenue
On the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street sits a true jewel box in the Cartier store at 653 Fifth Avenue. The store was once home to Morton Freeman Plant, the son of railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant. The home was designed by architect Robert W. Gibson in 1905 in the ‘Neo-Renaissance style’. Mr. Plant felt later that the area was getting too ‘commercial’ and moved further uptown and Cartier bought the building in 1917 (Wiki).
Cartier Fifth Avenue 653 Fifth Avenue
Cartier finished a renovation on the store in 2016 to bring back the true beauty and elegance of the store and of the building. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk around inside and see the refined displays of merchandise.
The Cartier store after the renovation
Next to the Cartier store at 647 Fifth Avenue is the next Versace store which is housed in the left side of the Vanderbilt ‘ marble twin mansions. The Vanderbilt family had bought the land and built twin buildings on the site at 647-645 Fifth Avenue. Designed by architects Hunt & Hunt in 1902, the homes were first leased out as homes until about 1915 when businesses and trade came to the area.
647 Fifth Avenue in 1902
After passing out the Vanderbilt family in 1922, the building went through many incarnations and 645 Fifth Avenue was torn down for the Best & Company Department store in 1945 only to be torn down again in 1970 for the Olympic Tower (which still stands in the spot). The building was renovated in 1995 by Versace as their Fifth Avenue store and spent six million dollars to create the store that greets customers today.
647 Fifth Avenue today
The true catalyst and center of the luxury shopping district though is St. Patrick’s Cathedral which sits gracefully at the corner of Fifth Avenue between 51st and 50th Streets. The Discesce of New York was created in 1808 and the land for the Cathedral was bought in 1810. The Cathedral was to replace the one in lower Manhattan.
This current Cathedral was designed by architect James Resnick Jr. in the Gothic Revival style. Construction was started in 1850 and was halted because of the Civil War and continued in 1865. The Cathedral was completed in 1878 and dedicated in 1879. The Cathedral was renovated in 2013 and this shows its brilliance (Wiki).
During the holiday season the Cathedral is beautifully decorated and the music can be heard all over Fifth Avenue.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue
Next door to St. Patrick’s Cathedral is Saks Fifth Avenue’s headquarters. The business was founded by Andrew Saks in 1876 and was incorporated in 1902. After Mr. Saks died in 1912, the business was merged with Gimbel’s Brothers Department Store as Horace Saks was a cousin of Bernard Gimbel. In 1924, they opened the new store at 611 Fifth Avenue and changed the name of the store to Saks Fifth Avenue (The old store had been on 34th Street previously and called Saks 34th). The building was designed by architects Starrett & Van Vliet and designed in a ‘genteel, Anglophile classicized design’. (Wiki).
The store has recently gone through a major multi-million dollar renovation and is worth the time to look around the new first floor. The new cosmetic department is on the lower level along with jewelry so it is a different shopping experience.
Saks Fifth Avenue at 611 Fifth Avenue
Another former business that was well known on Fifth Avenue for years was located at 597 Fifth Avenue was Charles Scribner Sons Building. It originally house the Charles Scribner Book Store replacing the old store on lower Fifth Avenue. The building at 597 Fifth Avenue was designed by architect Ernest Flagg in the Beaux Arts style between 1912-13 (Wiki). The bookstore moved out in 1980 and the company became part of Barnes & Nobel Bookstores and the building has been sold since. It now houses a Lululemon Athletica store but you can still see the Scribner’s name on the outside of the building and the Landmarked book shelves inside the store.
The Charles Scribner Sons Building at 597 Fifth Avenue
The rest of Fifth Avenue is newer office buildings with retail space on the bottom levels some filled and some empty. When I was growing up, this part of Fifth Avenue was filled with high end stores. Today it is a combination of chain stores found in the suburbs or are just sitting empty, a trend found all over this part of Midtown East.
The Fred French Building at 551 Fifth Avenue
At 551 Fifth Avenue another interesting building, The Fred French Building really stands out. The building was created by architects H. Douglas Ives and Sloan & Robertson in 1927 in the ‘Art Deco Style’. Really look at the detail work all the up the building which was done in an ‘Eastern Design’ style with winged animals, griffins and golden beehives made to symbolize according to the architect ‘commerce and character and activities’ of the French companies. The outside material used on the building is faience, a glazed ceramic ware (Wiki).
The detail work on the top of the Fred French Building
When you cross over to West 43rd Street, you will see the elegant Grand Central Station complex which covers from West 42nd to West 45th Streets with the train station facing the West 42nd Street entrance to the MetLife Building (forever known at the Pan-Am Building for those of us to remember it) toward the back. It hovers over Grand Central like a modern gleaming giant. It should never been built there but that was the modern way of doing things in the 1960’s.
One of the best movie scenes of Fifth Avenue & the Pan-Am Building from “On a Clear Day you can see Forever”
Grand Central Station, once the home of the New York Railroad is one of the famous buildings in New York City. Saved from demolition in the 1960’s by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other concerned preservationists.
Grand Central Terminal dominates this part of the neighborhood at 89 East 42nd Street
Grand Central Terminal was built between 1903-13 and opened in 1913. This beautiful rail station was designed New York Central Vice-President William J. Wilgus and the interiors and some exteriors by architects Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore in the Beaux Arts design. The exterior facade of building including the famous “Glory of Commerce” were designed by French artists and architects Jules Felix Coutan, Sylvain Salieres and Paul Cesar Helleu (Wiki). There is a true beauty to the statuary and stone carvings on the outside of the building.
‘The Glory of Commerce’
The terminal housed the New York Central Railroad and some of the busiest routes. It now houses the New Haven, White Plains and Poughkeepsie lines and stop overs for some Amtrak lines. In 2020, it was house the new lines of the Long Island Rail Road.
The interior of the building is just as spectacular. When you walk into the building and stare from the top of the stairs, you see the power and bustle of New York City. When you look up you will see the famous ‘Constellation’ ceiling cleaned and lit with all the stars in the sky. There is still a small portion of the ceiling that was not cleaned to show how dirty it once was before the renovation.
Take time in the building to walk around and look up and down. This is an amazing building that takes time to look around. I will admit that security is tight around the building so don’t be to obvious as a tourist. Take the escalator to the bottom level to the Food Court. If you can’t find it down here, you won’t find it. Every restaurant is represented down here and there are public bathrooms as well.
After touring Grand Central station, I walked back down West 43rd Street to Fifth Avenue. Outside the Emigrant Bank is the statue of ‘Kneeling Fireman’ which was once placed by Times Square when it first arrived in this country from Parma, Italy. The statue arrived in this country on September 9, 2001 on its way to Missouri as it had been commissioned for the Firefighters Association of Missouri (Wiki).
After the attacks on 9/11, the statue was presented to the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation as a gift to the City. With funding from the Millstein family, the statue was mounted and placed in front of their hotel, The Milford Plaza which is in the Times Square area. It was a placed of remembrance for people to gather after the attacks (Ciston 2011).
The Kneeling Fireman outside 6 East 43rd Street
The Statue is now placed in front of the Emigrant Savings Bank headquarters at 6 East 43rd Street and funding from the Millstein family provided a permanent home for the statue. People still come to visit the statue (which had been in storage for a decade until 2011) but its meaning seems different now with so many years passing. Still it is an important part of the City’s history at a time when it brought everyone together.
Across the street from the statue, I noticed an unusual building that was part marble and part modern. This is the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist. The building was built in 1921 for the Church in the Classic Revival style and as part of the agreement there is a 21 story glass tower on top of it (Wiki). It really does stand out for its unique design. Still it does not look that big from the outside but the building does seat 1800.
From 43rd Street, I walked back up Fifth Avenue to the other side of the street and the buildings on this side of the street contains its share of architectural gems. The lower part of this side of Fifth Avenue is going through a transition as a lot of buildings exteriors are either being renovated or the building itself is being knocked down and a new one is rising. Many of the buildings here are quite new or just don’t stand out.
Once you get to West 49th Street things start to change when you enter Rockefeller Center which is across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue. The Rockefeller Center complex covers 22 acres with 19 buildings including Radio City Music Hall and the famous ice skating rink that is holiday tradition once the famous tree is lite. The complex stretches from East 48th to East 51st Street from Fifth to Sixth Avenues. Rockefeller Center was built in two sections, the original 16 building of the complex and then the second section west of Sixth Avenue (Wiki).
Rockefeller Center at 45 Rockefeller Plaza on Fifth Avenue
The land under Rockefeller Center was owned by Columbia University (which was later sold) and the building of the complex started at the beginning of the Great Depression. Construction started in 1931 with the first section opening in 1933 and the remainder of the complex opening in 1939 (Wiki).
The original section of the complex was built in the ‘Art Deco style’ and the extension on Sixth Avenue was built in the ‘International style’. Three separate firms were hired to design the complex with the principal architects being Raymond Hood of Hood, Godley and Fouilhoux who was a student in the Art Deco style, Harvey Wiley Corbett and Wallace Harrison of Corbett, Harrison & McMurray and to lay the floor plans for the project L. Andrew Reinhard and Henry Hofmeister of Reinhard & Hofmeister. They were working under the Associated architects so that no one person could take the credit for the project (Wiki). Two of the original tenants including Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and National Broadcasting Company (NBC) which still exist.
The original section of Rockefeller Center
Radio City Music Hall, known for the elaborate shows and the Rockettes, was finished in 1932 and the ice skating rink was finished in 1933 and the first Christmas tree was erected by the workers who were doing all the building.
The first tree in Rockefeller Center in 1933 with the constructions workers who erected it.
The rest of the complex went up over the next five years with extensions and renovations being done over the next fifty years. Many famous companies made Rockefeller Center their headquarters or moved their offices to the complex over the years. Still most tourists find their way to the restaurants and the famous rink at the holidays.
Rockefeller Center and the famous tree today
Of all the beautiful artwork that line the walls and courtyards of the complex, two stand out. Prometheus is a beautiful statue that stands proud above the ice skating rink. This beautiful cast iron, gilded sculpture was made in 1934 by artist Paul Manship. The work is of the Greek legend of Titan Prometheus who brought fire to mankind by stealing it from the Chariot of the Sun (Wiki).
Mr. Manship was a well known American artist who noted for his specialized work in mythological pieces in the classic style. He was educated at the St. Paul School of Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Artist Paul Manship
The other standout statue is of the God Atlas that guards the courtyard of the International Buildings. The sculpture was created by artist Lee Lawrie with the help of Rene Paul Chambellan. The statue was created in the Art Deco style to match with the architure of the Center and depicts Atlas carrying the celestial vault on his shoulders.
Atlas at Rockefeller Center
Mr. Lawrie was known as a architectural sculptor whose work is integrated into the building design. His work in the Art Deco design fit perfectly into the new building. Mr. Lawrie was a graduate of the School of Fine Arts at Yale.
Artist Lee Lawrie
Touring around Rockefeller Center can take a full afternoon itself especially at the holidays but in the summer months with the outdoor cafe open on the skating rink it is much more open. Also visit the underground walkways of shops and restaurants and visit the new FAO Schwarz that opened in the center.
Leaving Rockefeller Center and heading up Fifth Avenue you will pass the rest of the complex that was designed in a combination of the International and Art Deco design. When reaching the corner of East 53rd Street another historic church, Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue stands guard. Though the church has been part of Manhattan since 1823, the current church was built here by 1914 and consecrated in 1916 as an Episcopal parish (Wiki).
Saint Thomas Church
The church was designed by architects Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue of the firm Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson with added sculpture by Lee Lawrie. The building is designed in the French High Gothic style and has magnificent deals (Wiki). Even if you are not Episcopalian, going to services at the church is a nice experience. The services are always very relaxed and the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys is excellent. The music and songs are wonderful to hear and the concerts in the afternoon and weekends are a treat.
The next block up is a combination of unique buildings back to back with the University Club of New York (Princeton) and the Peninsula Hotel. These buildings are so beautiful in their place on Fifth Avenue.
The University Club of New York is a private social club and is just as elegant inside as it is outside. The building was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1899 and was designed in the Mediterranean Revival Italian Renaissance palazzo style.
The University Club of New York at 1 West 54th Street
Next door to the club is the New York branch of the Peninsula Hotel located at 700 Fifth Avenue at West 55th Street. The hotel opened in 1905 as the Gotham Hotel designed in the neoclassical style. The hotel lived in the shadow of the St. Regis across the street and the Plaza Hotel up the road and went bankrupt in 1908. The hotel had many incarnations over the next eighty yeas until 1988 when it was bought by the Peninsula Group. They spent forty five million dollars in a renovation (Wiki).
Take time to go inside and see the elegant public rooms and take a walk down the hallway to see the inside of the hotel. During the holidays it is beautifully decorated adn their restaurants are considered excellent.
The Peninsula Hotel New York at 700 Fifth Avenue
Across the street from the Peninsula Hotel is the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church at 7 West 55th Street. The church was founded in 1808 and has been on this spot since 1875. The church was designed by architect Carl Pfeiffer in the Victorian Gothic style. The church is built with New Jersey Red Sandstone and the interesting part of the structure is that the clock tower has the original clockworks since 1875 and must be wound each week by hand (Wiki).
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church at 7 West 55th Street
On an Avenue of churches and department stores, another office building does stand out so you really have to look up and admire the detail work of the Crown Building at 730 Fifth Avenue one of the buildings that was gilded and gold leafed in the 1980’s.
The Crown Building was built in 1921 and was designed by architects from Warren & Wetmore who you will note had designed Grand Central Terminal and the Helmsley Building on Park Avenue. They changed the name to the Crown Building in 1983 because of the ‘crown like look’ when illuminated at night. The building has been owned by many well known families including the Marcos Family from the Philippines and the Spitzers of New York (Elliot Spitzer was New York’s former Governor). It has been many ownerships over the years and their are considerations by the new owner to turn it into condos (Wiki).
The Crown Building at 730 Fifth Avenue
The last building I visited on my walk up Fifth Avenue was my old employer, Bergdorf-Goodman Specialty store. This is truly the palace of luxury and innovation in fashion. There are designers here that keep popping up that I have never heard of all displayed in elegant fashion where the store looks more like a art gallery of fashion than just a store.
The Cornelius Vanderbilt II house on the site before Bergdorf-Goodman
Bergdorf-Goodman was once the location of the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion (which was torn down in 1926) and was opened in this location in 1928. The store was founded by Herman Bergdorf and was later owned by Edwin Goodman. The store is designed in the Beaux-Arts style and the inside of the store just went through a multi-million dollar renovation.
Bergdorf-Goodman at 745 Fifth Avenue
Bergdorf-Goodman is a lot of fun to walk around. My favorite floors are the first floor where Jewelry and Accessories is located. The displays of merchandise look like a museum and the Seventh Floor is stocked with interesting home furnishings, creative dishware and very pretty restaurant that overlooks Fifth Avenue and the park below. Pack your credit cards because you will find something you like here. Visit the store at Christmas for the creative window displays, the well-stocked Holiday Department or just go for Afternoon Tea in the restaurant. Its fun to window shop here.
The last place I visited was Pulitzer Plaza to sit down and relax from all of the walking and see the Pulitzer Fountain.
Pulitzer Plaza and Fountain at 1 Pulitzer Plaza
This busy little park is a refuge for people shopping on Fifth Avenue, tourists wanting to take pictures of the Plaza Hotel and the pigeons so watch out. The park is of the Grand Army Plaza that extends to the other side West 59th Street.
The fountain was designed by sculptor Karl Bitter and the park by architect Thomas Hastings of the firm Carrere & Hastings. The statue is of the Pomona, the Goddess of Abundance who is holding a basket of fruit. When Mr. Bitter died in a car accident, the statue was finished by his assistant, Karl Gruppe with the help of Isidore Konti. The fountain was dedicated in 1916 (Wiki).
The Goddess Pomona statue by artist Karl Bitter
While sitting in the park watching the tourists walk by muttering things about the “Home Alone” film that had been shot at the Plaza Hotel, it really struck me about the treasure trove of architectural styles, immense detail work on the buildings and the interesting statuary that lines this part of East Midtown. It is its own open air museum if you really take the time to look up and around and admire the true beauty of the neighborhood. Some of the most famous buildings in Manhattan are located right here.
I ended my walk back at the corner of Lexington and East 59th Street, revisiting the Turtle Bay neighborhood that I walked a few months earlier. As much as this neighborhood is changing, there still is enough of the past to admire. Look to see how the future intertwines with the past in Mid-Town East.
Places to Visit:
There are so many wonderful and beautiful buildings to see in this neighborhood that I mentioned their addresses in the main part of the walk rather one by one. Please walk both sides of Fifth Avenue and look across the street to admire the true beauty of these magnificent buildings.
Places to Eat:
Hop Won Chinese Restaurant
139 East 45th Street (between Lexington & Third Avenue)
New York, NY
Phone: (212) 661-4280/(212) 867-4996
Fax: (212) 867-0208
Open: Sunday Closed/Monday-Friday 10:00am-8:45pm/Saturday 11:00am-7:30pm
My review on TripAdvisor:
My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com: