It has been nice being on this side of town again. It has been a few months since my last visit to the Upper West Side. I had a long day in the Soup Kitchen working on the Bread Station and of course, they put me on the dessert section handing out cookies and pies. They kept me going until we ran out of desserts half way through service. How I walked all the Avenues from West 72nd to West 58th Streets in some parts, I don’t know.
After Soup Kitchen, I revisited Lions, Tigers and Squares at 238 West 23rd Street for a sausage and onion pizza square ($10.89-See Reviews on TripAdvisor and Diningonashoestringinnyc@Wordpress.com), which is a deep dish Detroit pizza with the cheese baked into the crust and loaded with chopped sweet onions and spicy sausage. I took the pizza and relaxed on the High-line. I just watched everyone walk by and get jealous watching me enjoy my pizza.
After lunch, I walked up 9th Avenue which leads to Columbus Avenue by West 59th Street. The lower part of the Upper West Side is a neighborhood of extremes. This part of the Upper West Side is rather unusual in that once you pass West 70th Street everything is large block long buildings, new architecture and one of the most impressive cultural arts centers in the world.
In 1967, New York City planner, Robert Moses, had most of the neighborhood, over 67 acres demolished to make way for the new Lincoln Center complex.You can see the difference in the neighborhood as you pass West 71st Street and the change in each block. Some of the more historical buildings made the cut to survive and the rest were demolished. The City pretty much cleared the area of all buildings and housing and redeveloped everything south of West 70th Street from Columbus Avenue to Riverside Drive and the Hudson River to just past West 59th Street. You can see a distinct change in the architecture south of the low 70’s.
The area was once known as ‘San Juan Hill’ and ‘Lincoln Square’ and was the center of the Puerto Rican and Black community more so than Harlem and East Harlem was at the time. The whites were concentrated to the east from Amsterdam Avenue to Central Park West and the Blacks and the growing Puerto Rican population to the west to West End Avenue. The area was slated for demolition and renewal by the city planners.
I watched the neighborhood change from getting ready for Halloween to getting ready for Christmas (it tells you how long I spent on this side of the City), so I got to see how people decorated their homes during the duration of the holiday season.
Brownstones decorated for the holidays.
With the exception of some of the historical buildings and the Brownstone area between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West, they pretty much looked like they leveled the neighborhood from about West 71st Street all the way down to West 58th Street. Everything here now is relatively new in comparison to the rest of the Upper West Side. It is now filled with large apartment complexes, colleges, schools and office buildings though here and there some of the historic buildings were saved from the wrecking ball. With the exception of a small amount of brownstones and the apartment houses facing Central Park West, most of the buildings below West 71st are only about thirty to forty years old.
My first part of walking the neighborhood was walking down the new extension of Riverside Boulevard which is being built on claimed land that was once part of the railroad tracks. This area of the city has been added to on the shoreline of the Hudson River and the the City is just finishing the extension of Riverside Park with Hudson River Park.
This section of green space hugs the Hudson River from West 72nd Street to West 59th Street with new plantings, paths and playgrounds along the way. During my entire trip in the neighborhood no matter the weather, there were joggers, strollers and residents of the neighborhood sitting on the benches talking. This park has created a new neighborhood on the edge of this part of the Upper West Side.
All along Riverside Boulevard from West 71st Street to the extension by the walls of West 59th Street is lined with innovative luxury resident buildings that have a beautiful views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades. On a sunny day by the park, the views must be amazing from the windows facing the windows.
Turning the corner at West 70th to Freedom Place which dissects the riverfront from West End Avenue, you begin to see the changes that Robert Moses and the City of New York made when they leveled the neighborhood for Lincoln Center and the universities. The architecture changes from from prewar apartments and brownstones to modern buildings of the sixties, seventies up to current construction. These are much bigger more modern structures that change the complexity of the neighborhood.
Freedom Place and Freedom Place South are separated by resident structures between West 66th and West 64th Streets. This area is morphing again as buildings are being sandblasted back to life or being rebuilt. Freedom Place is an Avenue in transition as the neighborhood is changing again and bringing in a whole new set of residents.
Unfortunately though these buildings don’t have the personality of those above West 71st Street. The detail to the architecture is more ‘big box’ then the stonework with carved details. What is does show though is a new modern neighborhood in Manhattan. These is one detail that stands out. On the corner of West 62 Street is Collegiate Garden, a small rose garden with benches to relax. When it was in bloom during the end of the Summer and beginning of Fall it was in full bloom. It was a nice place to just relax and watch people walking their dogs.
West End Avenue in this part of the Upper West Side does not have that pre-war classic look to it. In this section of the neighborhood it is modern apartment buildings dominated by 150 West End Avenue. This complex of modern apartment buildings covers from West 70th Street to West 66th Street. From West 63rd to West 61st Streets from West End Avenue to Amsterdam Avenue is the Amsterdam Houses which were built in the late 50’s when the neighborhood was being leveled.
They are currently going under a renovation. Still it was creepy walking through the complex. Someone threw something out the window when I walked by. Also most of the construction workers stared at me as I walked through the complex as I had to criss cross it several times to walk this part of the Avenues. I still get that debated look on everyone’s face of whether I am a cop or DEA.
Like West End Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue is very similar to West End Avenue dominated by new construction, the Fordham University campus, two high schools one being the famous Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts where many famous actors, singers and performers have graduated from.
This part of Amsterdam Avenue is a place of extremes right across the street from one another. You have the Amsterdam Houses right which were built in the 1950’s right across the street from Lincoln Center which was built in the 1960’s. Literally a huge change in walking across the street.
I walked all through the Amsterdam Houses and got a lot of looks from the construction guys who were working on the renovation of the complex. Like most of the neighborhood, even the complex is going through changes. The whole complex was under scaffolding or under wraps as all the buildings were being fumigated. It is so strange that the City would have built this complex in this area considering what Robert Moses thought of the poor and being across from the new ‘jewel’ of the neighborhood, Lincoln Center.
If you thought you were in some upscale part of the area trust me I was reminded when a bottle was lodged from one of the top floors at me when I was walking around. It is amazing what people will do when someone was just walking around. That was the wake up call to what gentrification is doing to change the neighborhood. It will be interesting to see what the results of the renovation will look like. The weird part about this complex is that it sits like an island in the middle of a neighborhood that is getting richer and richer.
As you pass the Amsterdam Houses though, you are reminded that this is now a neighborhood of culture. Right across the street from the projects is Lincoln Center, one of the most influential and prestigious entertainment complexes in the world.
The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a 16.3 acre complex of buildings that house the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and the New York City Opera. Built as part of the “Lincoln Square Renewal Project” during the Robert Moses program of urban renewal in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the complex spans from West 60th to West 66th Streets between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.
Under the direction of city planners and civic leaders that included John D. Rockefeller III, almost the entire neighborhood from West 59th Street to West 69th Street from Amsterdam to West End Avenue was leveled of its tenements and the has become home to two college campus, two high schools, the sprawling Lincoln Center campus and many new apartment buildings that now line the streets from the Hudson River to Columbus Avenue.
Over the past fifty years, the entire neighborhood has changed with new buildings for schools and housing on the spot where black and Irish gangs used to do battle. This once area of immense black culture has given way to an upper middle class enclave that now includes the Time Warner Building with the Mandarin Hotel and upscale shops.
As you continue the walk up Amsterdam Avenue, you will pass Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts whose Alumni reads like a Who’s Who in the entertainment world. On the next block up from that is the Martin Luther King High School, which specializes in Law, the Arts and Technology. At lunch hour and after school the neighborhood is teeming with teenagers gossiping and yelling at one another. Nothing has changed in the 35 years since I graduated. The conversations are still the same.
As you cross over the West 70th Street border of the neighborhood, you start to see the older section of the neighborhood and this is the tail end of the neighborhood before everything below was leveled. You will see a distinct change in the architecture and how the city planners must have saved the more historic buildings of the neighborhood bounded east of Broadway.
Passing Sherman Square, a small pocket park on the corners of Amsterdam, Broadway and West 70th Street that is dedicated to Civil War General William T. Sherman once had a past all of its own as the notorious “Needle Park” of the 60’s and 70’s, where drug dealers and pushers used to habit. I had to watch “The Panic in Needle Park” again to see how this stretch of the neighborhood has changed. Between Verdi Square and Sherman Square with the new plantings, trees and freshly painted benches and a branch of Bloomingdale’s around the corner, it is amazing how a city transformed itself in 35 years. The area is now loaded with new housing, restaurants and stores (and its still morphing!).
In the lower part of Verdi Square, you can continue to admire what the Art in the Parks is doing with the statue “In Sync” by artist Kathy Ruttenberg. This unusual sculpture looks like a deer mashed with people and the strangest expression on its face. It is part of the project “Kathy Ruttenberg on Broadway, a series of sculptures by the artist. It is a cross between some surrealist beast in “Alice in Wonderland” or you would see “Over the Rainbow”. What I loved about her work in this outside show was how depicted nature in such an unusual fashion.
In Sync by Kathy Ruttenberg
“Kathy Ruttenberg on Broadway: in dreams awake”: features six large-scale, figural sculptures artist on the Broadway malls between 64th and 157th Street. In her first major outdoor installation, Ruttenberg created narrative works, combining human, animal and plant forms that bring alive a wonder world in which different species merge and figures serve as landscapes. The artist employs a variety of sculptural media including paginated bronze, glass mosaic, transparent cast resin and carefully orchestrated LED lighting. The interaction among color and form, opacity and transparency and even light itself used as a medium highlights the inherently theatrical nature of the visual storyteller’s art (Broadway Mall Association 2018).
Kathy Ruttenberg’s video on the exhibition
Ms. Ruttenberg was born in Chicago but her family moved to New York City. She received her BFA with Honors from the School of Visual Arts in 1981. It was noted that her work expresses a distinctly feminine perspective with mostly women as main characters and masculine characters depicted in complex but usually secondary roles. The natural world and our relationship to it underpin her work and feature broadly in her narratives (Wiki). Try to see the works before they disappear in February of 2019.
Sitting at the corner at 171 West 71st Street and Broadway near the intersection with Amsterdam Avenue is The Dorilton Apartments which looks like a Victorian wedding cake. The apartment building is a reminder when apartment buildings were not glass boxes but graced with elegance and loaded with carved marble and statuary.
The Dorilton Apartments
The apartment building was designed by Janes & Leo, the New York based architectural firm of Elisha Harris Janes and Richard Leopold Leo for real estate developer Hamilton Weed. The building is noted for its opulent Beaux-Arts style limestone and brick exterior, featuring monumental sculptures, richly balustraded balconies and a three story copper and slate mansard roof. The building was finished in 1902 (Wiki).
You can see through the gateway in front to the courtyard of the building, something similar to The Dakota and The Ansonia a few blocks away. Residents enter their building through a narrow entrance that leads into a recessed courtyard and the masonry archway over this entrance rises to the 9th floor. The doorway to this courtyard is comprised of a stone doorway topped with globes, all of which is sandwiched in between detailed wrought iron fencing (Wiki). You can see from the building that it sits as a grand dame amongst the new buildings in the area and was spared the wreaking ball by being on the right side of the neighborhood.
As you cross into West 72nd Street, you are greeted by the upscale coffee stands that are now in Verdi Square which lies above Sherman Square. It just goes to show how thirty years has changed this once downtrodden section of the Upper West Side. There is still grit along this side of the Avenue but slowly, like the rest of Manhattan, is covered up by scaffolding and will either be sandblasted or torn down to make way for the next high-rise. Still as written in various other walks, West 72nd Street still holds onto its charms with older shops in its business district that are geared to the locals and not the tourists.
On the way back down Amsterdam Avenue by the corner of West 63rd Street is the firehouse FDNY Engine 40/Ladder 35 made famous by the David Halberstam novel “Firehouse” based on the events of 9/11 which was published in 2002. Mr. Halberstam discusses in his book the tragedy of that day and the companies loosing their members (eleven) in the collapse of the towers.
The memorial outside the firehouse shows the members who were lost that day. Take time to look over the memorial and say a prayer for these members who gave up their lives to make us safe.
Engine 40/Ladder 35
After meeting Mr. Halberstam at a book signing, it inspired me to write my novel, “Firehouse 101” a fictional tale taking it from the standpoint of the people were survived and were left behind to pick up the pieces of their own lives. My novel took it from the standpoint of the neighbors and friends where Mr. Halberstam took it from the stand point of the non-fictional lives of the fire fighters lost. I swear for the couple of weeks that I criss crossed the neighborhood and passed this firehouse, I just kept thinking of the sacrifice these men made and how that inspired books to be written.
As you pass the firehouse, you are walking in the back section of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Towards the bottom of the Avenue heading to West 59th Street is Fordham University and Mt. Sinai Hospital campus which run from Amsterdam Avenue to Columbus Avenue as you cross West 59th Street. As you walk from Amsterdam Avenue to Columbus Avenue down West 59th Street, you pass these active campuses.
At the corner of West 59th Street and Columbus Avenue is the William J. Syms Operating Theater that was built in 1891. This is the last part of the old Roosevelt Hospital that was part of the neighborhood. William Syms was a gun merchant, who had had surgery at the hospital. After a successful surgery at the hospital, he wanted to give more than his bill which the hospital would not accept (Wiki).
William Syms Operating Hospital
What he did is upon his death, he left Roosevelt Hospital $350,000 of which $250,000 was to be used for an ‘operating theater’ and at the time used the most innovative materials to keep out bacteria. It had been used for this purpose until the 1950’s and left to ruin. The structure today was gutted and it now going to be used as a private school. The building is now part of modern structure that has been expanded. Look to the details of the building and the signage that is carved in.
As you walk further up Columbus Avenue, you pass the front part of the college and hospital campus and the new construction that happened in the 1960’s to the 1980’s. By the time you get to West 62nd Street to West 66th Street you get to the Lincoln Center complex and its grandeur especially at night with the lights of all the buildings ablaze. It is even more beautiful as we got closer to the holidays when everything was being decorated for Christmas.
Across the street from Lincoln Center is Dante Park which is located at the corner of Columbus Avenue, Broadway and West 66th Street. This little triangle of green across the street from the Empire Hotel and Lincoln Center, was originally called Empire park. The park, which was established in 1921 by Americans of Italian decadency and named it after Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet. At Christmas time, there was one of the most beautiful Christmas trees in the City lit in the park which was part of neighborhoods Annual Winter’s Eve festival, which takes place in the last week of November.
Across the street from Dante Park is the Empire Hotel, a small boutique hotel that has been part of the neighborhood since 1923. The hotel was built by Herbert DuPuy, who had knocked down the original structure in the park and opened this unique hotel on December 5, 1923 (Wiki). It has been part of the neighborhood dining experience since with a series of restaurants over the years that has graced the ground floor. Between the park and the hotel it sits in contrast to the rest of the neighborhood that has been rebuilt over the years.
Columbus Avenue gets interesting once you cross over West 68th Street as the modern structures of lower Columbus Avenue give way to the smaller brick buildings that house a series of homegrown restaurants and stores with an every growing number of national chain stores. Back in 1984, just as the economy was booming due to the rise in Wall Street and junk bonds, Columbus Avenue from West 70th Street to West 84th Street was the new ‘happening neighborhood’ with papers touting it as the next Madison Avenue.
Through several booms and busts in gentrification and the rise of rents, there is not much left of that era except the American Museum of Natural History. On my walk through the Upper West Side in the few months that I have explored the streets of the area, I have started to watch stores and restaurants change hands and open and close with lighting speed. Some have moved further up the Avenue and others have transplanted to other parts of the City.
Broadway has seen the most changes from West 59th Street to West 72nd Street with loads of new apartment buildings and stores built along the street since the 1980’s. I remember all the construction along Broadway in those years and I have never seen this section of the City change so much. Many modern apartment buildings are popping up along the street and this is going all the way up into the 90’s and 100’s now. Still it is interesting to see the old and new structures mix in various parts of the neighborhood.
I ended the walk in the neighborhood by walking across West 72nd Street, looking at the street come to life after work hours. The restaurants started to fill up and people were walking up and down the street heading into stores for dinner. I saw the guys lighting the lights around The Dakota at the corner of West 72nd and Central Park West. It is such a beautiful building.
I walked down to the Museum of Modern Art on West 52nd to see a movie and I just relaxed for the rest of the evening. It had been a long afternoon and my feet were killing me.
Places to Eat:
Lions & Tigers & Squares
238 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011
Hours: Sunday-Saturday 11:00am-12:00pm
My review on TripAdvisor:
My blog on Diningonashoestringinnyc@Wordpress.com:
Places to See:
The Dorilton Apartments
171 West 71st Street
West 65th Street & Broadway and Columbus Avenue
Sherman Square & Verdi Square
West 70th-72nd Streets