A la Mode Shoppe is the type of ice cream/candy shop that every neighborhood should have in it. It is a colorful spot with unusual, homemade ice cream flavors, and a nice selection of gourmet sodas, candies and gifts. The store is decorated with bright colors, comfortable chairs and a festive inviting environment. They even have a small party room off to the side of store with seating for small children.
The inside of A la Mode Shoppe (A la Mode Facebook)
What I come for is the ice cream. There are two flavors that I come for when I visit the store, Pink Sprinkles, which is Strawberry ice cream with loads of colorful sprinkles layered…
I can’t believe that with all this craziness with COVID-19 I was finally able to get back to walking the neighborhoods of Manhattan. I had not done this since I finished Central Park South before the holidays.
The whole City has morphed since March 13th. It is like a different world. Just like I saw on my recent Broadway walk through neighborhoods that I had seen in the past everything has changed so much. Restaurants and stores that had been part of the City fabric for years have disappeared. Interesting little hole in the wall restaurants that I had enjoyed so much in Turtle Bay and in Midtown are either shut or out of business. I have had to start revisiting neighborhoods just to see if things are still open.
The surprising part of today’s walk is how quiet the City was not just in Murray Hill but all over the place. I did not get into the City until noon and even Times Square at lunch hour was quiet. Port Authority looked like it had less than 50 people in it and it is surreal how quiet most of the restaurants that are open are to customers. This is what happens when there are not tourists. It was like looking at Manhattan through a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.
Since Murray Hill’s northern border is East 42nd Street, it was an easy walk across town. I had not walked around the neighborhood in about seven months, so I revisited a few places on the border of the neighborhood in Turtle Bay and Midtown East. It was shocking how many places shut their doors for good. It is surreal in that seven months ago these places were going strong. It is almost like Christmas 2019 did not exist where you could not walk on the sidewalks in Midtown.
I started my morning with a walk-through Bryant Park which is right behind the New York Public Library and one of most beautiful small parks in Manhattan. It was one of those really nice Summer mornings and the park was surprisingly busy. The tables and chairs are ‘socially distanced’ and park patrons did their best to stay away from each other. It also has the nicest and cleanest public bathrooms in Manhattan.
Years ago, when I worked in Manhattan in the early 90’s, Bryant Park was only used for drug dealing and criminal activity and was best avoided. What twenty years and a major renovation can do to a park. Today you can walk along the flowering paths and think you are in Paris. In the past there have been concerts and movies in the park but because of COVID-19, you can just sit in the park on a chair or bench and enjoy the sunshine and admire the flowers.
Just walking along the paths of Bryant Park can make you forget your troubles
I started my walk of the Murray Hill neighborhood at the New York Public Library admiring the stone carvings and statuary that is part of the entrance of the famous library. The library had just had a recent refreshing and looked magnificent with the fountains flowing and patrons filling the tables outside the building.
The New York Public Guards the borders of Murray Hill from Fifth Avenue
This famous iconic building was designed by the firm of Carrere and Hastings in the Beaux-Arts style and opened its doors May 23, 1911. The founding for this important library came from patronage of the wealth members of society who believed in the value education and opened it to the people.
The famous lion statues that grace the entrance of the library were designed by American sculptor Edward Clark Potter and they were carved by the Piccirilli Brothers, American stone carvers whose business was based in the Bronx.
Edward Clark Potter is an American born artist who studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and at the Academie Julian in Paris where he studied ‘animalier’, animal sculpture.
The Piccirilli Brothers were a family of stone carvers and artists in their own right who were from Massa, Italy and owned a business in the Bronx. There were responsible for many famous statues all over the City including the Maine Memorial in Columbus Circle and the Firemen’s Memorial in Riverside Park.
Artist Attilio Piccirillo, one of the most famous from the family
Another feature of the famous building and I had never noticed before was the elegant fountains that flank the entrance to the library. I did not realize that these fountains had just been restored in 2015 after thirty years of not functioning. They were restored with a grant from the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust (NYPL Site).
The fountain “Beauty”
The fountain “Truth”
These beautiful fountains were designed by artist Frederick MacMonnies, an American born artist who studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.
After having a snack at the tables in front of the library and throwing a few coins in the fountains for good luck, off I went to explore the borders of Murray Hill.
Enjoy the opening scene of “Ghostbusters” from 1984 shot at the NY Public Library:
Enjoy this scene from “Ghostbusters” from 1984 shot at the NY Public Library
Murray Hill is an interesting neighborhood with a fascinating past. The name “Murray Hill” comes from the Colonial Murray family, who were Quaker merchants and overseas traders. The family was presided by its patriarch, Robert Murray and his wife, Mary Lindley Murray, who raised a family in their home, Inclenberg, which is now the corner of Park Avenue and East 37th Street.
The Murray family mansion, Inclenberg, now the corner of Park Avenue and East 37th Street
Mrs. Murray was credited with delaying General William Howe and his army during General Washington’s retreat from New York following the British landing at Kip’s Bay on September 15,1776. According to the family lore, Mrs. Murray invited the officers to tea, treating them to cakes and wine with singing and poetry readings by her daughters, allowing a successful retreat by the Americans to the other side of the island to meet up with another branch of troops (Wiki and American History).
Mrs. Murray entertaining the British troops and hastening the American retreat
The plaque were the spot the house stood sits prominently on the corner of Park Avenue and East 37th Street.
The plaque dedicated to Mary Lindley Murray’s patriotism
I started my trip in exploring the neighborhood walking down East 42nd Street, the northern most border of Murray Hill with the Midtown East and Turtle Bay neighborhoods. East 42nd Street is host to many famous architectural gems of Manhattan starting as you cross Fifth Avenue and head to Grand Central Terminal, the crown jewel of Murray Hill to the north of the neighborhood.
There are still many tourists around the building taking pictures but not like in pre-COVID-19 years where the place is crowds of people milling around. The look of the building is impressive inside and out. The building was designed by the team of Reed and Stem for the overall design and Warren and Wetmore for interior and exterior designs. The detailed sculptures on the exterior were created by the team of Jules Felix Coutan, Sylvain Salieres and Paul Cesar Helleu including the crown gem of sculpture “Glory of Commerce”.
The “Glory of Commerce” sits proud above Park Avenue
Artist Jules-Felix Coutan was born in France and had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. “The Glory of Commerce” was one of his most famous works.
I was not surprised that most of the buildings were now closed to touring. The Chrysler Building looked closed to walk ins, the Ford Building with its indoor gardens and small gallery was closed and walking around Grand Central Station was like an episode of the “Twilight Zone”. There were maybe hundred people milling around with some tourists taking pictures of the ceiling. The downstairs food court which was always nuts at lunch had about three restaurants open and a very bored police officer looking at either a book or a cell phone.
The Grand Central Terminal Food Court is almost closed
The food court on the lower level usually bustling with people have lunch or snacks from the surrounding office buildings is down to about four or five open vendors and even they are not that busy. The only busy place in the food court was the public bathrooms as the few tourists in the City could not find a place to go. When I walked out of the food court to go back to 42nd Street, some guy looked at the famous Oyster Bar restaurant and said to me “I can’t believe this place is closed. It never closes.” The sign on the door of the restaurant said it was closing on March 16th by City order. It is amazing how time still stands still for parts of the City since the reopening. It’s the same in the subway system. There are still posters for things that say “March…”.
The terminal is barely filled these days
Exiting the building’s main entrance, look up closely before you leave and you will see the sculpture of the railroad’s founder, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. I have missed this many times, so you have to look on a angle for it. The statue used to sit at the Hudson River Freight Depot which has since been demolished (Wiki and Ernst Plassman bio).
The statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt the founder of the shipping and railroad empire
The statue was designed by artist Ernst Plassman a German born American artist who moved to New York in 1853. The artist studied under many famous artists in Europe before founding the “Plassman’s School of Art” in New York City in 1854.
After leaving the surreal Grand Central Terminal with the empty main floor and quiet halls (I can’t wait to see what it looks like again when a vaccine is found), I walked out the main entrance towards East 42nd Street. Pershing Square across the street was busy with what office workers who work in the area and tourists filling the tables of the cafe that was open for business. People really like sitting outside and moving the concept of restaurants to outside dining has made it extremely popular in the nice weather for what restaurants can open under this concept. On a nice day, people don’t mind socially distancing in Murray Hill.
Across the street from Grand Central Station where the now closed Cipriani is the former headquarters of the Bowery Savings Bank. Don’t miss the beautiful details of the bank’s design. This became the new headquarters in 1920 in the move uptown from their former Stanford White designed headquarters in Chinatown. It was designed by York and Sawyer in the ‘Italian Romanesque Style’ with William Lewis Ayres as a partner in the project (Wiki).
The former Bowery Savings Bank Building at 110 East 42nd Street
Another very interesting building with amazing details is the Chanin Building at 122 East 42nd Street. The building was named after it’s developer Irwin S. Chanin. You have to look close and then across the street again to see its details. The building was developed between 1927-29 and was designed by Sloan & Robertson in the “Art Deco Style” with a brick and terra cotta frontage.
I then passed the now closed to tourists Chrysler Building with it Art Deco design and interesting sculptures jutting out. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the building does not encourage people to enter who don’t work there. Still, you can read about my earlier visits there last year when walking the Turtle Bay neighborhood.
The Chrysler Building was built in the ‘Art Deco’ style by architect William Van Alen for Walter Chrysler, the owner of the company. The building held the title of the “World’s Tallest Building” for 11 months until the completion of the Empire State Building. The building along with 40 Wall Street and the Empire State Building competed for the “Race to the Sky” in 1929 right before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. You really have to look up to see the details to the building and walk its lobby (closed to the public during the pandemic).
You have to look up high to see this
When the building is open don’t miss the ceiling in the lobby. It is really detailed, and the security guards are really cool about letting you take pictures. In Post-COVID they do not want you to enter the building unless you work there. The work shows the ambitions and accomplishments of the business world (The Ornamentalist). The beauty of the art commerce is “Transport and Human Endeavor” by artist Edward Turnbull (I could not find anything on the artist online).
“Transport and Human Endeavor” by artist Edward Turnbull
As you walk down East 42nd Street towards the East River, you will pass The Daily News Building at 220 East 42nd Street. This interesting building was designed by architects Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells in the ‘Art Deco Style’ and built between 1928-1930 to house the Headquarters of the New York Daily News.
Their lobby was open when I was touring the Turtle Bay neighborhood (its now closed to the public) should not be missed with its interesting paintings on the walls and grillwork by the elevators all designed in the ‘Art Deco Style’.
Going into their lobby (now closed post-COVID) is really interesting to see the globe
The Ford Foundation Building is another interesting piece of architecture. The building was created by architects Kevin Roche and John Dinkleloo in the ‘Late Modernist Style” and was completed in 1968.
The Ford Foundation Building at 320 East 43rd Street
At the very end of East 42nd Street is Tudor City, one of the earliest examples of a planned middle-class communities. Built on what was once a combination of manufacturing and residential area surrounding First Avenue and the East River, architect H. Douglas Ives created Tudor City, named after the ‘Tudor Style’ design of the buildings with gardens, paths, bay windows and arches that make up the details of the buildings. It opened in 1926.
It’s worth the trip up the stairs to the gardens and paths on both parts of the complex. Not part of the original plan of the complex, they were designed by landscape architect Sheffield A. Arnold designing the North Park (Wiki). These cool refuges from the hot sun are nice on a walk around the complex.
The Tudor City Green spaces are nice on a hot day to relax
I also wanted to check out one of my favorite stores in Manhattan, Azalea & Oak, located at 5 Tudor Place but it was closed because of the COVID pandemic but open by appointment only or by internet. Don’t miss this unique children’s and accessory store. It has such interesting merchandise.
When I finally passed all this creative architecture in the ‘open air museum’ of East 42nd Street I got to First Avenue where the United Nations complex is located to the left and Robert Moses Park to the right.
Before you cross the street, there is a Ralph Bunche Park & Garden, a small garden on the edge of the park named after the Nobel Prize winner, who played a role in many peacekeeping operations sponsored by the United Nations.
The gardens have gotten a little overgrown since my last visit but still very colorful with flowers and plantings still crowding out all the weeds that are beginning to take over. Tucked in the park is a plaque to Bayard Rustin, a American leader of social movements and who helped organize the ‘Freedom rides’ of the 1960’s (Wiki).
As I crossed the street, I walked around the very sterile Robert Moses Park. For one of our great park system builders and who changed the highway system around New York City, they named one of the most unattractive parks after him. Though the man was far from perfect after reading the book “Power Broker” about his life, he changed the whole way New Yorkers lived. The park somewhat personifies him in the end of being sterile and aloof with the public.
The Robert Moses Playground is somewhat sterile and aloof
As I toured the parks the worst part is that the bathrooms here are closed to the public, so I had to keep walking to find somewhere to go. The border of the East River with FDR Drive I would not suggest walking down. You will walk down a combination of First Avenue and FDR Drive until you get to the East River Esplanade at East 36th Street, then you get the cool breezes of the river and the beautiful views of the Brooklyn coast. It’s nice on a hot day to sit back and enjoy the sunshine and cools breezes.
The East River Esplanade snakes from East 41st Street to East 34th Street
When I walked to East 34th Street, I came across another plaque that more to do with the history of Murray Hill, the Kips Bay (Keps Bay) landing of the British army to Manhattan. On September 15th, 1776, the British landed their army here in an ambitious military landing in what the type was a deep-water cover surrounded by a meadow. This led to the retreat of the American militia to another part of the island (Wiki). Today it is one of the boat landings for the New York ferry system and a start off point to walk the esplanade.
The Kip’s Bay landing by the British on September 15th, 1776
I walked all along the esplanade, enjoying the views and watching people walk their dogs and jogging like nothing was happening around them. It also offers the most breathtaking views of the Brooklyn skyline that keeps changing.
I give New Yorkers credit for their resilience. There are some people who go about life like nothing is going on around them but just doing it with a mask on. That does give me faith that things are getting somewhat back to normal.
When exiting the Esplanade and walking up the FDR extension, there is an interesting and very relaxing public square at 626 East 36th Street and FDR Drive next to the American Copper Buildings. It is a nice place to relax on the benches and just people come and go.
The little plaza by 626 First Avenue is a nice place to just sit and relax
I finally got to East 34th Street by the Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital later that afternoon and was surprised to find such a playful piece of art just outside. “Spot” is a Dalmatian balancing a taxi on his nose is located just outside the Children’s Hospital’s doors. “I wanted to make something so astounding to distract to even those arriving with the most serious procedures” (Artist Bio) the artist was quoted as saying when the piece was unveiled. It sits four stories in front of the hospital. It is a very playful piece of art that stopped me in my tracks.
“Spot” by artist Donald Lipski
Artist Donald Lipski is an American born artist who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cranbrook Academy of Art. He is best known for his large scale works in public places (Artist’s Bio).
I reached East 34th Street by lunch hour and I have to say for around a hospital there is a limited choice of take-out places around the facility. Most of the restaurants in the area are still closed or have gone out of business. Even before the pandemic, some parts of the neighborhood are being knocked down for new construction and work continued as I visited taking down many of the smaller buildings that used to house small restaurants.
I had lunch at Pizza & Pita at 344 East 34th Street right across the street from the small park that faces the hospital. I just wanted a slice of pizza and when I walked in a fresh pie had just come out. The pizza looked as good as it tasted.
Pizza & Pita at 344 East 34th Street
The sauce has an amazing rich flavor and the loaded with cheese for a gooey consistency. I was so impressed by the pizza that I went back later that afternoon for a Chicken Parmesan sandwich that was just as good. Two large freshly fried chicken cutlets loaded with their delicious sauce and loads of cheese on a fresh roll. It was heaven in every bite.
The pizza here is great!
I just relaxed and ate my lunch in the small public plaza across the street from the hospital and watched as the hospital staff came out from their frustrating days and ate their lunches beside me. It seemed to do them well.
While at lunch I admired another interesting art piece entitled “Stemmer” by New York City born American artist David Fried.
“Stemmer” at the plaza at East 34th Street and First Avenue
The artist grew up in New York City and attended the School of Art & Music and was accepted into the Arts Students League of New York. The “Stemmers” sculptures are one of his trademark pieces.
After lunch, I continued my walk down East 34th Street to the border of Murray Hill at Fifth Avenue. The neighborhood is very ‘old New York’ especially between First and Madison Avenues with the small buildings and high rises from the 1960’s and 70’s. The area is currently going through a makeover with new buildings, but it still has that “Woody Allen” feel of New York. Everything is not gleaming and new.
Tucked here and there by buildings and courtyards on East 34th Street is a bevy of interesting street art. The statue “Thinking Big” which was formally in Central Park South on Sixth Avenue last year has found a home in front of 222 East 34th Street.
Jim Rennert is an American born artist known for his large bronze sculptures depicting the everyday man. Mostly self-taught, his works are seen all over the country and really do make a statement.
Walking further down East 34th Street just outside a little courtyard of one of the apartment buildings is artist John Sewart Johnson’s II sculpture “The Right Light”, a bronze sculpture of an artist and his easel. The sculpture is located just outside a building between Third and Lexington Avenues.
‘The Right Light’ by artist John Sewart Johnson II
Artist John Seward Johnson II was an American artist who attended the University of Maine, and he is known for his ‘familiar man’ sculptures and icons paintings.
I reached Madison Avenue and walked past the grill work of another interesting office building. The Madison Belmont Building at 181 Madison Avenue was built in 1924 and designed by architects Warren & Wetmore in the Renaissance style with Art Deco details for the Cheney Brothers Silk Company.
“The Madison Belmont Building” at 181 Madison Avenue
Look up at the interesting grill work and details of the building
Reaching the border of Murray Hill to the south is the former B. Altman Department Store that closed in 1989 and in the other corner is the Empire State Building, once the tallest building in the world.
The B. Altman Building at 361 Fifth Avenue was built by Benjamin Altman for the new location for his ‘carriage trade’ store. The store was designed by architects Trowbridge & Livingston in the “Italian Renaissance Style” in 1906. The palatial store was home to couture clothing, fine furniture and expensive artwork.
The former B. Altman Department Store at 361 Fifth Avenue
As the shopping district left Sixth Avenue below 23rd Street, the former “Ladies Shopping Mile” (read my Victorian Christmas Blog on the shopping district) gave way to stores opening between 34th Street to 42nd Street and eventually to the Fifth Avenue locations between 50th and 60th Streets where what is left of the great stores stand today.
My blog on the Ladies Shopping Mile and a “Victorian Christmas”:
As I walked up Fifth Avenue, the western border of the neighborhood, I was struck by all the other beautiful buildings that must have housed fine retail stores as the shopping district moved to this area.
At the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 36th Street is 390 Fifth Avenue that was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White for the Gorham Manufacturing Company of fine silver products in 1903. It was designed in the “Italian Renaissance Style” and was used for manufacturing and their showroom. It later became Russeks Department store and has now found other uses.
390 Fifth Avenue-The Gorham Manufacturing Building
Further up is the dazzling 373 Fifth Avenue which was built in 1800’s for the home of Charles H. Russell when the area was dominated by great mansions. As one by one the mansions were razed for commercial use, the home was razed in 1906 and architects Hunt & Hunt built the current office building in 1906 for Joseph Fahys & Company and for silversmiths Alvin Manufacturing Company (Daytonian).
Walking further up Fifth Avenue into the 400 block, more unique buildings fascinated me. The first that has always caught my eye is 401 Fifth Avenue, the old Tiffany & Company building. The building was designed for the company by Stamford White of McKim, Mead & White and was completed in 1905. The building was used by the jewelry store until 1940 when it moved to its new location further up Fifth Avenue. The building was inspired by the Palazzo Grimani de San Luca in Venice, Italy (Wiki).
Another standout building further up is 411 Fifth Avenue with its interesting trim and sculpture along the sides and top of the building. This building was built in 1915 again by the architectural firm of Warren & Wetmore with what was considered baroque trim that included urns, flowers and heads with facial reliefs (Daytonian). The building was used for small luxury manufacturing for things like millinery, lace and silversmiths. Today it is used as an office building.
Approaching the New York Public Library again, I passed what were some of the great department stores along the Fifth Avenue retail corridor that once dominated between 34th and 42nd Streets.
The former Lord & Taylor headquarters store that opened in 1914 just recently closed with a sale to the now imploded WeWorks company and was just sold to Amazon for 985 million dollars. This former ‘grand carriage trade’ store replaced the former headquarters store at Broadway and 20th Street by Union Square and opened at this location at 424-434 Fifth Avenue. The 11-story building was designed by architects Starrett & Van Vleck in the ‘Italian Renaissance Revival’. The store closed for business in January of 2019 after over one hundred years in the location.
Lord & Taylor was founded in New York City in 1826 and has moved around the City several times in its long history. I will miss walking around the store and wondering through the store at Christmas time which was always magical in the store’s heyday. I like everyone in the City will miss their Christmas windows.
I’m not sure if Amazon will continue this tradition
Another great retailer was at 452 Fifth Avenue, the former home to Knox Hat Company which was incorporated into the HSBC Tower in 1984. The glass tower was built around the Beaux Arts building for the HSBC and it was considered an architectural marvel when it opened. The Knox Building was built in 1902 and is considered one of the finest examples of ‘Beaux Arts style’ in Manhattan.
452 Fifth Avenue-The Knox Hat Company Building part of the HSBC Building
The Knox Hat Company was considered one of the finest hat companies for men when it was founded in 1838. It once had 62 retail stores and was sold in all the finest stores. It did not survive the Great Depression and was merged with three other companies in 1932 to form Hat Corporation of American (Hat Co) (Bernard Hats history).
The last interesting building I saw before returning to the library to relax by the fountains again was 454 Fifth Avenue at 40th Street, the old Arnold Constable & Company department store.
Fifth Avenue at 40th Street-Arnold Constable & Company Department store
The building opened in 1915 and closed when the company went out of business in 1975. It is now part of the New York Public Library. Arnold Constable & Company was founded in 1825 and was considered one of the oldest stores in New York City. The building was created as the shopping district moved further uptown.
I finished my day back at the tables in front of the New York Public Library and then back in Bryant Park to relax under a tree. God did it pour that afternoon as I made my way around the streets surrounding Murray Hill. I did not realize just the rich history of the neighborhood and its role in the Revolutionary War but the treasure trove of street art and unique buildings that line its avenues.
You really do learn something new every day!
Check out my other blogs on Murray Hill as well:
Walking the Avenues of Murray Hill on August 14th, 2020:
I left the addresses and locations of the buildings and street art that I found in the full body of the blog. Remember don’t miss looking up and admiring the ‘open air’ museum that is free when walking on the sidewalks.
While I was walking around the Sutton East neighborhood on the border of Sutton Place and Turtle Bay, I came across Lin’s Gourmet Chinese Restaurant at 1097 Second Avenue. What looks like another run of the mill hole in the wall Chinese takeout place is anything but when it comes to the taste of their food and quality of the dishes.
What is nice is that they have a good lunch combination menu with a wide selection of dishes to choose from all in the $8.00 to $8.50 price range. Each of the lunch selections comes with a side of either pork fried, brown or white rice and a choice of soup or an eggroll. The portion sizes are quite large and it…
I came across Azalea & Oak when I was walking around Tudor City in the Turtle Bay neighborhood in New York. This unique and quirky store specializing in Women’s Accessories, jewelry and children’s clothing, gifts and stuffed toys was beautifully displayed and wonderful stocked with all sorts of handmade items. It is somewhat hidden in the Tudor City complex. I love their displays as well.
I was talking with one of the salespeople and she was telling me that the store had just been renovated from a flower shop into this new concept of a gift store. The owner is a former buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue and it shows in the selection of merchandise. Everything here is high quality.
The owner herself was the designer of the most of the jewelry in the shop…
I came across the Éclair Bakery when I was walking the Sutton Place neighborhood for my walking project, “MywalkinManhattan.com”. The bakery is on the side street of East 53rd Street close to Second Avenue on the border of the Sutton Place and Turtle Bay neighborhoods in an area some people in the neighborhood call “Sutton East”.
For all the confusion of what neighborhood it is in, Éclair Bakery is a rather large and narrow restaurant with seating in the front and back and the counter with all the baked goods in the middle. All the products here are lined up like colorful jewels in the display case.
The bakery selection
The bakery is the brainchild of Stephane Pourrez, a French Pastry chef from Paris. He was trained at Ferrandi and the French…
On my travels to the Turtle Bay neighborhood, I came across a little gem of a restaurant tucked into the office buildings that line the border of Turtle Bay and Midtown East. Hop Won Chinese Noodle Shop is located in a series of small mom and pop restaurants in what is left of the brownstone section of the neighborhood. The rest of the street had been leveled for new office towers and this small strip of restaurants is what remains.
Hop Won appears small from the outside but the restaurant is rather large in the back with lots of nice seating to enjoy your meal. The front section of the restaurant is where you do your ordering and during the lunch rush…
I covered the edges and the Avenues of Turtle Bay recently and it was time to walk all the streets. To cover the rather odd shaped part of the neighborhood, I walked from East 58th Street to East 48th from Lexington Avenue to Second Avenue first and on the second part of the walk, I covered from East 47th to East 44th Streets from Lexington Avenue to the East River on the second part of the walk to complete the neighborhood. I criss crossed some of the same blocks so I might be pointing things out for a second time that you should not miss seeing. Even amongst the all the modern architecture, there are many beautiful things to admire here.
It is an interesting mix of buildings and residential use and a neighborhood in much transition as it is becoming more commercial and more like Midtown as the small neighborhood feel is surrounded by glass tower apartment buildings and offices. The side streets still keep a localized charm while the Avenues have given way to the big towers. Here you can see the distinct difference in the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. The West Side has not lost that charm on the Avenues.
I started the walk revisiting 58th Street and walked past all the bath and home design shops that line the street. It is an interesting block of old brownstones and prewar apartment buildings fitted for all the small businesses. One stand out on the block was Bon Vivant at 231 East 58th Street Petit Fours and drinks (See reviews on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com).
Bon Vivant’s display at 231 East 58th Street (Closed August 2022)
This charming little bakery had the most whimsical little cakes for $3.50 for a small and $6.50 for a large. The cakes come in various flavors but do try the Lavender with its fusion of lavender petals and sweet fondant outside studded with flavors. Its a nice place to eat in and just watch the street traffic go by.
Their delicious Lavender Cake
At the end of the block on the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 58th Street is the Bloomberg Building at 731 Lexington Avenue. Designed by architect Cesar Pelli & Associates, the building opened in 2004 to house the Bloomberg Company headed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The building holds the offices and meeting areas for the company as well as the back part of the building which is connected by a seven-story courtyard to hold the residences. This impressive building replaced the empty and now defunct Alexander’s Department Store which had closed years earlier.
The impressive Bloomberg Tower dominates the northwest corner of the Turtle Bay neighborhood at 731 Lexington Avenue
As you round Lexington Avenue onto East 57th Street, you will notice the mix of old and new buildings with a collection of old grand hotels and modern office buildings. The street itself is lined with all sorts of businesses catering to the busy Midtown customer. On stand out business is Royal-Athena Galleries at 153 East 57th Street (See my review on LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com-Closed in 2022), which carries ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek art of museum quality at all prices.
It is part museum and part store. It is like visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and seeing price tags on all the artworks. Everything here is authenticated and anything over $5,000 is registered with the Art Loss Registry in London so you know where it comes from. Don’t miss walking through the gallery cases and tables to see all the beautiful items.
Royal-Athena Gallery 153 East 57th Street (closed in January 2022)
Also, part of the shopping district is the iconic Hammacher Schlemmer store at 147 East 57th Street, which has been in this location since 1926. The company was founded in New York City as a hardware store for finding hard to find tools in 1848 in the Bowery district downtown. The company was founded by Charles Tollner and R. Stern with Albert Hammacher investing in the company in 1859. William Schlemmer bought out Charles Tollner part of the company in the 1860’s. It stayed in the family until 1953 when it was sold to investors (Company History).
The store is like a playground for adults with all sorts of unusual items on sale like fishing equipment, survival kits, transportation vehicles and clothing and accessories not found in the department stores.
The Hammacher Schlemmer store at 147 East 57th street
Rounding the corner on Second Avenue towards East 56th Street, you will pass the unassuming High School of Art & Design at 245 East 56th Street, which is closed for the school year except for a few students taking summer classes and their gallery which is still open to the public. I went to see the “Honors Illustration Show” in the John B. Kenny Gallery, which was still opened when I was walking the neighborhood.
The High School of Art & Design at 245 East 56th Street
I only got to spend about a half hour viewing the show which dealt in different media forms with the theme of social justice, social media, racism and phobias in modern society. The graduating students created their works in all media aspects including painting and quilts, which I thought was interesting.
The John B. Kenny Gallery at the High School of Art & Design
The Kenny Gallery was named after John B. Kenny who was one of four art teachers that founded the school in 1936. He became principal of the school in 1941. Originally named the School of Industrial Arts, the name was changed to the High School of Art & Design in 1960 when the school moved to its currently location (School History page).
After saying my goodbyes to the security staff for letting me spend time alone in the gallery I turned the corner at Lexington Avenue and walked down East 55th Street towards Second Avenue again. I passed the Central Synagogue, which is the second oldest continuous Synagogue in New York and the oldest in the City. Designed by architect Henry Fernbach between 1870-72, the building was designed in Moorish Revival.
I admired the Central Synagogue on the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 55th Street at 652 Lexington Avenue
Walking down the street, I revisited some of the sites I had seen before. On the corner of Third Avenue and East 55th is the original P.J. Clarke’s Restaurant at 915 Third Avenue which was jammed with people for happy hour.
P.J. Clarke’s has been in this location since 1884 at 915 Third Avenue
This famous restaurant has been in business since 1884 and is named after Patrick J. Clarke who bought it from the original owner after ten years of working there. The restaurant is currently privately owned. When you look at the structure, the building is a holdout wraparound of 919 Third Avenue when the rest of the block was torn down. The building was built around the bar. This makes it really stand out.
Look for the sculpture, ‘Red Flying Group’ in front of 909 Third Avenue by artist Ann Gillen. This unusual sculpture really stands out for its bold design. Ms. Gillen was raised in Brooklyn and is a graduate of both Pratt and Columbia University. As an artist, she is noted for her use of Greek theory of matter which uses geometric forms to explain spatial relationships. When she creates a piece, she considers the work’s axis, resistance to gravity, the manner of construction and the color dynamic. This really shows in this particular piece (Wiki and Artist Bio).
The Red Flying Group outside of 909 Third Avenue by artist Ann Gillen
Making the next turn onto East 54th Street from Second to Third Avenue on the corner of Third Avenue that stretches from East 54th to East 53rd is the well-known ‘Lipstick Building’. The building was completed in 1986 by John Burgee Architects with Philip Johnson and is called the ‘Lipstick Building’ because of the ‘set-backs’ that were required by the zoning laws for use of light. With its oval design and pinkish hue, it almost looks like a retracting lipstick. An oval building really stands out among the rest of the glass boxes along Third Avenue (Wiki and Builders history). The building had been featured in the papers recently being the offices of Bernie Madoff and his major Ponzi scheme.
The Lipstick Building that looks like a ‘contracting lipstick’
When crossing back from East 54th to East 53rd by Lexington Avenue again please notice all the turn of the last century architecture in both the office buildings and hotels (See this on Day One Hundred & Thirty-Eight Walking the borders and Avenues June 2019). This line of hotels was built to accommodate the railroad patrons coming into New York City from Grand Central Station.
At 599 Lexington Avenue in the lobby of the building at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 53rd Street, look into the glass lobby and notice the colorful sculpture “Salto nel Mio Sacco” by New York artist Frank Stella. This colorful ad whimsical piece translates to ‘Jump into my Sack’ (Art Nerd).
Frank Stella is a New York City artist who had worked in many mediums before being influenced by the abstract artists of the 50’s and 60’s like Jasper Johns. His use of many materials and colors reflex in his artwork. This piece which is made in aluminum and colorful paints in a three-dimensional form with all different shapes on top of one another. This bold work was quoted by the artist in saying, “the essential issue is to have a sense of form without it being illustrational, to make things that impress the eyesight and have an impact”. (New York Times McGill 1986).
Walking towards Second Avenue into the heart of Turtle Bay, you will notice a series of excellent restaurants on both side of the street. You will also begin to notice more brownstones and small apartment buildings which gives this part of Turtle Bay its character which is rapidly disappearing. You can wonder amongst the ethnic restaurants and small retail stores tucked into the block.
East 52nd Street offers its charms as well full of brownstones and small apartment buildings. The Consulate of Hungary takes up a large portion between Second and Third Avenues and tall office buildings line the Avenue.
Look up and notice the detailed stonework of 240 East 52nd Street with its carved windows and stone faces staring at you from every direction as you pass by. The building was built in 1900 and is considered an “Old Law Tenement” which means that it is built in a dumbbell shape to let in natural light and fresh air.
At the end of the block as you walk down Lexington Avenue to East 51st Street is the famous subway grates that were featured in the 1955 movie, “The Seven Year Itch” with Marilyn Monroe. The famous scene was shot here at night and took 14 times to film to get it right.
The grates today that I walked on top of and did not know.
The famous 1955 scene in the movie
When walking down East 51st Street from Lexington Avenue you will notice more hotels popping up not just on the Avenue but on the side streets as wellbeing refigured into older buildings. I revisited the old RCA Headquarters at 570 Lexington Avenue which was designed by architects Cross & Cross in the Gothic style. You really have to look up and around the building to see the details in it. Try to look at the building from a distance to see its sculpture work and admire the ‘GE’ clock outside the entrance.
One place that I found and is such a nice place to just sit and relax is the Greenacre Park at 217 East 51st Street. This wonderful little park is situated between two buildings and has nice shade trees and benches to relax on and go down the stairs and you will come to a waterfall and streams on the side where the water replenishes itself.
Greenacre Park was built between 1970 and 1971 by Abby Rockefeller Mauze, who founded the Greenacre Foundation in 1971 who still maintains the park. The park was designed by architect Hideo Sasaki and Harmon Goldstone. The park is privately owned but open to the public (Greenacre Foundation).
The park is composed of three levels. The lowest level has a 25-foot waterfall composed of huge, sculptured granite blocks with the east wall trickling down its face to form a brook along the sidewalk. The central level is landscaped with locust trees and small chairs and tables and then there is a raised terrace which has a trellis roof to protect park goers and there is a small snack shop, Carol’s Cafe, (See review on TripAdvisor) offering a variety of refreshments (Greenacre Foundation).
I ate at Carol’s Cafe one afternoon when visiting the neighborhood and the food is very good. I had a cheeseburger ($8.95) that was loaded with fresh veggies and one of the coldest cans of Coke ($1.00) I had in a long time. It was fun to eat at one of the tables and just relax (Beware though and check your bill. These people can Bait and Switch on posting their prices).
Carol’s Cafe offers delicious food at reasonable prices but check your bill!
Across the street from the park is another really nice and very reasonable restaurant, The Pho 6 at 222 East 51st Street (See review on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). It is a Vietnamese restaurant offering some of the simplest and freshest food since my trip to Vietnam back in 2016.
The Pho 6 for very reasonable Vietnamese food at 222 East 51st Street (Closed August 2020)
The room is done all in woods and the walls, tables and chairs are all made of the same material which makes for interesting decor. The food is delicious. I had an order of Pork Spring Rolls ($6.00) which were crisp and full of ground pork and fresh veggies and Vermicelli Noodles with grilled Shrimp ($10.00) which was studded with fresh shrimp and topped with assorted greens. The whole meal was wonderful and very reasonable for what I ate.
The delicious Pork Spring Rolls at The Pho 6
After lunch, I continued to walk down East 51st Street to round Lexington Avenue again to East 50th Street and look at the details and renovations of the old hotels lining this part of the Avenue. The Waldorf-Astoria which sits between East 50th and 49th Streets is currently going though a major renovation to make it part hotel and part condo.
The Waldorf-Astoria at 301 Park Avenue was opened in 1931 replacing the original hotel where the Empire State Building now sits. The hotel was designed in Art Deco design by architects Schultz & Weaver. The hotel when finished will contain 350 condos and 350 hotel rooms with most of the public rooms reopened. It will be interesting to see the results.
The Benjamin Hotel at 125 East 50th Street sits across from the Waldorf-Astoria and recently went through a major renovation and is open for business. The former Hotel Beverly was built between 1926-27 by architect Emery Roth and was designed in Romanesque Motif with pelican and owl sculptures around it. The hotel currently was named after Benjamin J. Denihan Sr., who is the new owner of the hotel (New York Landmarks).
The rest of East 50th Street is dotted with mom-and-pop businesses, pre-war apartment buildings and Consulates being so close to the United Nations. Here and there there are still brownstones letting you know that Turtle Bay is exists alongside the commercial district.
East 49th Street is graced by The Barclay InterContinental Hotel which sits at the entrance of the neighborhood at 111 East 48th Street. The hotel stretches from East 49th to East 48th Streets. Designed by architects Cross & Cross in 1926 in the neo-Federal Colonial Style the hotel was part of Terminal City as part of the Grand Central complex and had been owned by the Vanderbilt family (Wiki).
The InterContinental Barclay Hotel at 111 East 48th Street
Walking down East 49th Street to Third Avenue you will see the historic Smith & Wollensky Restaurant at 797 Third Avenue which has been serving the neighborhood since 1897 when it was called Manny Wolf’s Steakhouse. The restaurant was opened by Allan Stillman, the founder of T.G.I. Fridays in 1977 and who still owns the original restaurant (the rest of the chain is privately owned). Known for their USDA Grade A Prime Meats, the restaurant is still a popular neighborhood institution (Company History and Wiki).
This building like the rest of the neighborhood has seen the change in times as it too is surrounded by a glass skyscraper at 797 Third Avenue
Ms. Werner is a Manhattan based fine artist who studied at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. She has created what is called ‘interactive art’ with the ‘Etazin’ an outdoor lounge chair. She was quoted by saying she was creating “large pieces that were both beautiful and useful.” (JustLux 2017)
Further down the street is lined with brownstones which is the back part of the Turtle Bay Gardens that line East 48th Street. The lovely stretch of brownstones is residential and also houses more Consulates. Many of these historic homes were built in the 1860’s.
When you double back to Third Avenue look up at 780 Third Avenue to the murals by Brazilian graffiti artist, Eduardo Kobra, who has three murals in the neighborhood. The one on the right side of the building on East 49th Street is of an exhausted fire fighter who fought bravely on 9/11. The 343 represents the number of fire fighters killed that day and pays honor to them.
The 9/11 Tribute to Fallen Fire Fighters by Eduardo Kobra on the East 49th Street side of the building
On the other side of the building is another mural by Mr. Kobra “Genius is to Bike Ride”, which is a commentary of the new bike lanes in New York City. Mr. Kobra is weighing in on the debate of adding bicycle lanes on New York streets to relieve traffic. The mural is of Albert Einstein riding a bicycle. Einstein was rumored to have come up with some of his best ideas while riding a bicycle (780 Third Avenue building history).
“Genius is to Bike Ride” by Eduardo Kobra on the East 48th Street side of the building
As I finished that afternoon at East 48th Street, I walked past these murals again taking a good glance of the vibrant colors, the detail work and the message each was trying to tell of the City. Mr. Kobra knows how to tell a story in his paintings.
I finished walking down East 49th Street and stopped abruptly to see the building at 225-227 East 49th Street. It looked like a creepy old fraternity house. It was built in 1900 as a Converted Dwelling/Rooming House and now contains apartments. Look at the writing carved in the doorway from 1926 and unusual coat of arms that greets you at the doorway with the words “Erected in the Year 1926”, whatever that means carved over the entranceway. It looks more like ‘enter if you dare’.
I completed the top part of the neighborhood by walking part the Turtle Bay Garden Historic District homes again, looking at these historic brownstones that were built in the 1860’s and how luck they were saved by Charlotte Hunnewell Sorchan in the 1920’s. She bought these twelve historic homes, renovated them to modern feel and restored them to their former glory combining the homes with the brownstones on East 49th Street so that they all looked out on a common garden. Don’t miss admiring the work that was done on them and that the owners still continue into today.
The Turtle Bay Gardens Historic District on East 48th Street between Second and Third Avenues
At 237 East 48th Street at the Turtle Bay Gardens Historic District there is a plaque to Dorothy Thompson, a journalist who lived in the home from 1941-1957. Her novel “I saw Hitler” and her column ‘One the Record’ were influential in calling for the intervention of America into World War II. She was one of the first female foreign correspondents in the 1930’s and had been expelled from Germany right before the war.
Dorothy Thompson, Turtle Bay resident, journalist and foreign correspondent
Also near the brownstones is a modern home by William Lescaze at 211 East 48th Street, the Father of the Modernist Movement and the designer and builder of this historic home that served as his living quarters and studio. It may not seem that radical today but it was when it was designed in 1934.
I finished my first day of walking the streets of the upper part of the neighborhood and I was exhausted by the heat. The weather had gotten to me. Turtle Bay has a lot to do and see. Here and there is tucked another gem that you can only see by walking around the neighborhood.
I came back to explore the streets of Turtle Bay after a long day in the Soup Kitchen. They had me working in the prep kitchen making salads and cutting vegetables for the next day’s service, so I was tired when I arrived in the neighborhood. It was a little cooler then the first day around 80 degrees, so it was more pleasant to walk around and take my time.
I started with lunch at Lin’s Gourmet Chinese Restaurant at 1097 Second Avenue by 57th Street (See my reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). This was my second time at the restaurant having lunch and I highly recommend it. I order the Shredded Beef with Hot Spicy Sauce with pork fried rice and hot & sour soup ($8.25). The food was excellent and perfect on a hot day as it seemed to cool me down.
Lin’s Gourmet Chinese Restaurant at 1097 Second Avenue
The beef was cut in very thin slices like the accompanying vegetables and was cooked with hot chilies to give it some bite. The dish was studded with shredded carrots and celery, so it was a nice combination of flavors. They did not skip on the beef, and it was a generous portion. The hot & sour soup also had its share of chilies and the whole meal woke me up and I was ready to walk again.
After lunch, I started my day walking down First Avenue to East 47th Street and started by taking a break in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, which I had read was the comprise of the grand entrance to the United Nations complex. This popular park is full of nice shade trees, benches, a small restaurant and the Katharine Hepburn Garden.
The park and many of the surrounding buildings to the park were named after Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold who was born in 1905 to the former Prime Minister of Sweden in World War One, Hjalmar Hammarskjold. Mr. Hammarskjold had served many government and educational positions over the years in Sweden until 1953 when he was asked to serve as Secretary-General of the United Nations. His work in Middle East Peace talks, involvement in the Suez Canal dispute and work in operations in the Republic of Congo earned him a reputation in the United Nations. He died in a plane crash near Norther Rhodesia in 1961 and was post humorously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961 (NYCParks.org).
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza has been part of the NYC Parks system since the land was acquired in 1948 and was renamed for him in 1961. In 1997, the park had a major reconstruction which created a symmetrical layout from north to south. The same year the Katharine Hepburn Garden was created on the south side of the park. The Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was formed to raise funds for the park, organize events and keep the place clean (NYCParks.org).
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Turtle Bay
The Katharine Hepburn Garden, which is inside of the park, is a quiet oasis from the hustle of the city. Ms. Hepburn, one of most accomplished American actors, moved to Turtle Bay in 1932 with her then husband, Ludlow Ogden Smith, had joined the Turtle Bay Association in 1957 and was instrumental in keeping construction from encroaching into the neighborhood. In 1997, the community got together and dedicated this garden in her honor for the work she did in the neighborhood and for her love of gardening and flowers. It is so peaceful to walk along this path and just look at the plantings.
Across the street from Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is the Japan Society at 337 East 48th Street. It was founded in 1907 to promote friendly relationships with the United States and over the years has promoted Japanese art and culture, held lectures and hosted Japanese dignitaries and royalty. During the strained times of World War II, the Society did not take sides politically and closed for time. In 1971, under the direction of then President John D. Rockefeller III the organization grew, and a new building was opened, the Japan House, designed by architect Junzo Yushimura. It became the first building in New York of Japanese contemporary design. It now hosts many exhibitions and social functions. When I was visiting the neighborhood, they were promoting their film festival which I attended. That was a lot of fun.
I saw four excellent films including the release of the musical “Dance with Me” which was a light weight and fun musical. The director knew what he was doing when he wanted to create escapism from the troubles outside. I can’t wait for the Society to open their Fall exhibition.
Watch ‘Dance with Me’ the opening film to the Film Festival
At the end of the block right on the island on First Avenue in front of the United Nations Building is the monument to Raoul Wallenberg. You could almost miss them (I did twice look for them) but they stand like so many black pillars in a row at 300-386 East 47th Street.
The Raoul Wallenberg Monument
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish citizen who was educated in the United States in the 1930’s and when he returned to Europe was recruited by the U. S. Refugee Board to go to Hungary to save as many Hungarian Jews as possible. His and his colleagues’ efforts help save over 100,000 Jewish citizens by issuing protection from the Swedish Government. His own ending was more tragic in that when the Soviets entered Budapest he disappeared (Wiki).
The monument by designers Gustav and Ulla Kraitz are made of Swedish black disbase and bronze and were dedicated in 1998. Take time to look at the inscriptions on each of the five pillars. Gustav Kraitz is from Hungary and studied at the Art Academy in Budapest when the war broke out. He fled to Sweden in 1956 after the invasion of Hungary and stayed on as a visiting professor. There he met his wife; Ulla and they continue their artwork together and apart.
A store that stood out when walking past it was the Gabrielle Carlson Studio at 501 Lexington Avenue near East 47th Street (moved to 1034A Lexington Avenue in 2022). The clothes in the window really stand out for the vibrant and almost jewel like colors in deep greens, red and purples. The side tables are lined with custom ‘Made in New York’ jewelry. If you are lucky to meet Ms. Carlson like I did she can give you advice and help dress, you for the office or a nice evening out on the town.
A satisfied customer outside Gabrielle Carlson Studio
As I walked down East 46th Street I passed Sparks Steakhouse at 210 East 46th Street. Well- known for their food and service it was also the spot of the assassination of ‘Big” Paul Castellano, the Boss of the Gambino Crime Family in December 1985. This ‘hit’ took place right outside the restaurant and the gunmen fled down Second Avenue. This still casts a shadow on an excellent restaurant for those of us who remember the incident.
Artwork seems like it is all over this neighborhood especially when I crossed onto East 45th Street and was greeted by the painting “Youth Employment” tucked into the side of the building by artist Cenzano.
Youth Employment by Cenz
When walking in the other direction on East 44th Street I saw the painting by artist Faith XLVII, “Gender Equality”.
These paintings that were created so close to the United Nations to promote programs such as youth employment, child labor laws, green jobs, gender equality at work and forced labor (Brooklyn Street Art).
Faith XLVII is an international artist who is based in Los Angeles. Through her works she attempts to disarm the strategies of global realpolitik in order to advance the expression of personal truth. In this way her work is both an internal and spiritual release that speaks to the complexities of human condition its deviant histories and existential search (Artist Bio).
I passed ‘Zuma’ again in front of the Nigerian Consulate created by artist Billy Omebegho and have to say it does pack a punch.
I finished my walk at the James P. Grant Plaza at East 44th Street and First Avenue. I needed a rest from all the walking and from the heat. The cool waterfalls and chairs to relax in.
James P. Grant Plaza at East 44th Street
This little pocket park adjoins the UNICEF Building and was dedicated to former Director of UNICEF, James P. Grant who worked tirelessly to combat preventable childhood illness and a ‘childhood survival and development revolution’ (NYCPark.org).
By the time I got to East 44th Street I was exhausted. The summer heat was getting to me, and I had to rewalk the neighborhood several times to go back to things I wanted to see for a second time. Turtle Bay offers so many wonderful things to see if you look up and around. They are tucked here and there, in corners of parks, on the sides of buildings, in front of you on the sidewalk or if you just look up at the structure of the that building that you have passed a hundred times.
The street art alone makes Turtle Bay its own open-air museum and it is nice to see so many perspectives on life from so many artists of all ages ranging from the traditional to the contemporary that I have learned a lot from them. Walking around this neighborhood is not just enjoyable but entertaining but educational as well. The United Nations has done its job here bringing together so many visionaries into the neighborhood.
For more information on my walk in the Turtle Bay neighborhood, please read my blogs on Turtle Bay:
The Borders of Turtle Bay:
‘MywalkinManhattan.com-Day One Hundred and Eighty-Three: Walking the Borders of Turtle Bay’:
The Street Artwork and Architectural Buildings are too numerous to name but I gave the best directions to see everything. Like I said, Turtle Bay is an open-air museum with loads of public art to see. Just look up and you won’t miss anything.
I can’t believe it is my forth anniversary of my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com”. What started out as just a simple walk through the entire Island of Manhattan has morphed into visits to the outer boroughs and to outside the City. There is countless restaurant reviews, museum visits, visits to parks and historical parks and window shopping in stores all around the Tri-State area.
These additional views of the City have inspired the extension blogs to this site, “VisitingaMuseum.com”, “LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com” and “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com” to showcase more wonderful things to do, places to see and places to eat in New York City. What started out as a small site has now morphed into a blog that explores all the wonderful things to do and see in neighborhoods all over the City.
The best part of this experience is that I thank all the input that my students have given me on the sites and all the comments that have made it more enjoyable to the reader from adding in TripAdvisor reviews to contributing pictures and videos of the areas discussed. I want to thank them for their ideas and suggestions.
Today I entered the Turtle Bay neighborhood which is located next to Sutton and Beekman Place in the neighborhood that surrounds the United Nations located next to the East River. Over the last twenty years the borders of the neighborhood have become blurred with Midtown with much of Second, Third and Lexington Avenues giving way to large apartment and office complexes. There are still pockets of brownstones with local businesses dotted on the Avenues and side streets but they are becoming few and far between.
Turtle Bay has an interesting history as part of Manhattan. ‘Turtle Bay’ was originally a cove in the East River that was shaped like a knife which the Dutch gave the name “deutal” for knife. The cove was filled in after the Civil War. The neighborhood was originally a forty acre farm named “Turtle Bay Farm” that extended from what is now East 43rd to East 48th Street and from Third Avenue to the East River. When the street grid system was put into place after the Civil War, the hilly cove and surrounding areas was graded and filled in and subdivided for development (Wiki).
The neighborhood changed dramatically after the Civil War until the turn of the last century when the center of the neighborhood became a brownstone section and the river portion of the area became home to manufacturing with breweries, power plants and laundries and tenement homes to house the workers. The overhead elevated trains on Second and Third Avenues added to the decline of the neighborhood (Wiki).
The rowhouses of ‘Turtle Bay Gardens’ were saved by resident, Charlotte Hunnewell Sorchan. She bought eleven of the brownstone homes and had them renovated with stucco fronts and a common garden in the back. These have been lived in by celebrities such as actresses Ruth Gordon, June Havoc and Katharine Hepburn. It was named a historic district in 1966 (Wiki).
The 2,800 unit Tudor City was built between 1927 to 1932 replacing the dangerous shanty town of ‘Prospect Hill’ where Irish gangs ruled and the neighborhood and the rest of the neighborhood was leveled between 1948 and 1952 for the United Nations Headquarters. When the elevated trains were torn down by 1956, it opened the neighborhood to new construction of high rises and apartment buildings (Wiki).
I started the walk at my favorite neighborhood starting point, 24 Sycamores Park on First Avenue and 60th Street, where I mapped out the walk. With schools letting out for the summer, the park was mobbed with kids with their nannies and baby sitters. It was nice to relax after a long day at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. They kept me busy on the hot line and we served over 800 lunches that afternoon, so I was tired. It is fun to just sit back on the benches under the trees and watch the kids chase one another and the pigeons.
Since my walk of Sutton Place, East 59th’s empty store fronts are starting to fill up with new businesses again. A lot of the windows are covered with brown paper, so it looks like more businesses are coming to the neighborhood. This is how the City keeps changing. I had covered all of Second Avenue to 48th Street in my blog of Sutton Place and since technically the neighborhood does not start until East 53rd Street, I started the walk East 58th Street between Second and Lexington Avenue and then walked down Lexington Avenue to East 43rd Street and then to the United Nations by the river (I will include East 58th Street to East 54th from Second to Lexington Avenues in my Turtle Bay walks).
I started the afternoon with lunch at Lin’s Gourmet Chinese Restaurant at 1097 Second Avenue (See the reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). They have the most amazing lunch specials for between $8.00-$8.50. I had the Beef with Broccoli with a side of pork fried rice and an eggroll ($8.25).
Lin’s Gourmet Chinese Restaurant at 1097 Second Avenue
The quality of the food is excellent as the beef was tender and well-seasoned with a combination of Hunan and soy sauce and the broccoli was perfectly cooked, a rarity in many of these take out places. The service is really friendly too. After lunch, it was off to walk the borders and Avenues of the neighborhood.
The Beef and Broccoli was delicious
Lexington Avenue from East 58th to East 43rd Street is pretty much a commercial district. The left side of the road is lined with famous hotels and luxury apartments. Sharing this edge with Midtown East Manhattan, this area of the neighborhood is geared towards the business world and just keeps developing. I can see more newer buildings replacing the older ones in the future. Most of the hotels have been renovated in the past decade to reflex the increase of tourists into the City.
When crossing East 58th Street from Second to Lexington Avenue, I came across a gem of bakery, ‘Bon Vivant’ at 251 East 58th Street between Second and Third Avenues (See my review on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com). This elegant little store sells the most delicious Petit fours, pastries and beverages in an elegant atmosphere. I just walked in to see what it was like and I ended up eating a large Lavender Petit Four ($6.00), that was light and sweet with just a hint of the lavender leaves in the filling. It’s a unique little store where the desserts are displayed like a work of art.
Bon Vivant for pastries at 251 East 58th Street (Closed in August 2022)
Having some energy from the dessert, I continued the walk over the next block to Lexington Avenue. Lexington Avenue is the border of the neighborhood and is more commercial than residential. The Avenue is lined with hotels and office buildings and home to some of the oldest and well-known hotels in Midtown.
On the corner of Lexington Avenue between East 59th and 58th Streets is the Bloomberg Tower at 731 Lexington Avenue, one of the first buildings merging the borders of Turtle Bay with Midtown East. This massive 55 story building of glass and steel was built in 2001 for the Bloomberg L.P., the home of the Bloomberg empire including the offices for the main company and Bloomberg news.
The building was designed by renowned architect, Cesar Pelli & Associates and developed by Vornado Realty Trust. The back part of the building is called One Beacon Court and is home to condos and retail businesses and have their own private entrance. This building replaced the closed but once popular Alexander’s Department Store. Security is really tight around here and the police will watch you (Wiki).
The Bloomberg Tower ushering in a new look modern look for the neighborhood
Historical buildings especially around Lexington Avenue still prevail. One of the first buildings to really pop out at me on Lexington Avenue was the Central Synagogue at 652 Lexington Avenue on the corner of 55th Street. Designed by prominent architect Henry Fernbach, the synagogue was built between 1870 and 1872 is the oldest continuing synagogue in New York City and the second oldest in New York State. The building is one of the oldest synagogues in the country. The outside of the building was designed in Moorish Revival while the inside exterior is in a Gothic design. The Synagogue practices the Reformed Jewish faith (Wiki).
Another beautiful building is on the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 51st Street, the former RCA Victor Building now known as the General Electric Building. It was designed and built by architect John Cross of Cross & Cross in 1931. The 50 story building was designed in the Gothic style and you really have to look at the details in the structure with the elaborate masonry and architectural figural sculpture all over the building (Wiki).
The building is decorated with lightning bolts and hands with blots in their hands to represent the growth of lightening and electricity. The edges of the building are decorated with figures representing energy and the dome of the building represents ‘Gothic tracery’, representing electricity and radio waves and lit from within at night. There is even a clock with the ‘GE’ logo on it on the side of the building (Wiki).
Look at the detail work of 570 Lexington Avenue
The Gothic Tracery tower of 570 Lexington Avenue
Lexington Avenue has many such historical buildings up and down the Avenue especially with hotels that dot both sides of the street. Since I started this part of the walk on June 21st, the first day of the Summer (The Summer Equinox) and the longest day of the year, there were concerts everywhere in Midtown. I stopped at 570 Lexington Avenue where they have a courtyard on the side of the building near the subway entrance.
The building was hosting part of a concert series that afternoon for people walking by while the Godiva Chocolate store in the courtyard was handing out ice cream samples to hot patrons. It was enjoyable to just relax and listen to the combo while eating that sweet, rich ice cream.
When walking down the remainder of Lexington Avenue, the street is dotted with famous hotels down to East 42nd Street. This was part of the 1916 rezoning of this part of the City when Grand Central Terminal opened to rail traffic and the City needed luxury hotels to cater to the Upper-Class customers who used the rail service. Some of the oldest and most famous hotels in New York line Lexington Avenue.
Across the street from 570 Lexington Avenue is the historic 30 story Hotel Benjamin at 125 East 50th Street. The Benjamin was the former Hotel Beverly and after a massive renovation in the late 90’s was renamed after the new owners founder, Benjamin J Denihan Sr. Built in 1926-27 by building developer Moses Ginsberg and designed by architect Emery Roth, the hotel was marketed for ‘sophisticated New Yorkers at a moderate rate’. The hotel is richly decorated in a Romanesque motif and incorporates pelican and owl sculptures and warrior head corbels (NYC Landmarks Preservation).
The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 301 Park Avenue between 50th and 49th Streets is currently closed and going under a massive renovation to condos. This block long hotel’s back faces Lexington Avenue. The hotel is converting from 1413 hotel rooms to 350 condos and a 350 room hotel when it is complete.
The hotel was designed by architects Schultz & Weaver and was designed in the Art Deco design which was popular when the hotel opened in 1931. The original hotel was demolished for the building of the Empire State Building. The hotel has been home to many famous restaurants and was considered the ‘jewel’ of the Hilton Hotel empire. Countless society events and celebrity visits too extensive to name have taken place in this hotel. It will be a wait and see when it reopens in 2021.
The InterContinental Barclay Hotel at 111 East 48th Street stretches back to East 49th Street.
The InterContinental Barclay was designed by architects Cross & Cross in 1926 in the neo-Federal American Colonial style. The thirteen-story hotel was part of the concept called ‘Terminal City’ which was part of the New York Central and Terminal Corporation owned by the Vanderbilt family and contains 702 rooms. The hotel still hosts Society and corporate events.
The Hotel Roger Smith at 501 Lexington Avenue is a family run hotel that was originally called the Hotel Winthrop and gets its current name when it was part the Roger Smith Hotel Chain in the 1930’s. The hotel was designed by architects Hearn & Erich in 1926 and is made of brick with a clean look.
The Hotel Lexington opened in 1929 one of the last hotels of the building boom on Lexington Avenue. Designed by architects Schultz & Weaver who designed the Waldorf-Astoria, the Hotel Lexington was the promise of General J. Leslie Kincaid, who was President of the American Hotel Company of ‘a modern hotel with a refined atmosphere and with exceptional service without the hassles of a large hotel.” The hotel has Normanesque terracotta decorations that adorn the outside of the hotel (Wiki).
Toward the edge of the neighborhood at East 45th and Lexington Avenue is the Grand Central Post Office Annex that was built between 1903 and 1914 under the direction of the New York Central Railroad. Architect firms of Warren & Wetmore with the collaboration with architectural firm Reed & Stern designed this annex to provide railroad related office space, shops and a network of underground tracks and tunnels.
Grand Central Postal Annex at 450 Lexington Avenue
As you round Lexington Avenue to East 43rd Street to the edge of Turtle Bay, you will enter the lobby of the Chrysler Building. The Chrysler Building has a very interesting history in Manhattan as the once ‘tallest building in the world’ opening one day before the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
The building was the brainchild of former New York Senator William H. Reynolds, who had a goal to build the ‘World’s Tallest Building’. He hired famed architect William Van Alen to design the building which in the late 1920’s was an Art Deco design which represented the progress, innovation and modernity of the time. By the time Reynold’s sold the property to Walter Chrysler in 1928, Van Alen and his former partner at the architectural firm they once worked at, H. Craig Severance were in a race to build the World’s Tallest Building (Wiki & Chrysler Building history).
The “Race into the Sky” began between the Chrysler Building being designed by Van Alen and 40 Wall Street being designed by Severance. They kept added floors trying to top one another and, in the process, build their buildings higher than the Woolworth Building then the tallest in the world. 40 Wall Street was raised to 925 feet when it opened making it the tallest building until Van Alen secretly assembled a 125 spiral for the top of the building and in October of 1929, the spiral was raised and riveted in pieces on the top of the building making it 1046 feet. It would stand the tallest in the world until the Empire State Building was finished a few years later in 1931. The Chrysler Building was the still the World’s Tallest Steel Frame Building, with a steel frame surrounded by masonry (Wiki).
Still the outside of the building is studded with gargoyles for five floors and there were hubcaps and fenders at the 31st floor and eagles on the 61st floor. Because of the 1916 Zoning, there are setbacks on various floors of the building (Wiki). The inside of the lobby is just as impressive.
On the ceiling of the triangular shaped lobby is the mural “Transport and Human Endeavor” by artist Edward Trumball, which was painted in 1930. It represents the ‘energy and man’s application of it to the solutions of his problems’. Look to the detail work to see all the figures that the artist was trying to portray (Wiki).
The lobby of the Chrysler Building should not be missed
After the small tour of the Chrysler Building, I proceeded out the door down East 43rd Street towards the United Nations Building. West 43rd Street is an interesting block. By Second Avenue, you will begin to see the transition from the once ‘brownstone’ neighborhood on the corner of Second Avenue and 43rd Street to the more modern ‘glass boxes’ that now dominate the neighborhood. Here you can see how Midtown East is creeping into this once residential neighborhood.
The buildings on both sides of the street are almost a juxtapose of styles and uses until you get toward the end of the block, and you are in front of the Ford Foundation Building at 320 East 43rd Street. This impressive building was built between 1963-67 and houses the Ford Foundation. It was designed by architect Kevin Roche and engineer partner John Dinkeloo who are credited for creating the first indoor tree-filled atriums in New York, which set the tone for these public spaces in modern buildings (Wiki).
The Ford Foundation Atrium at 320 East 43rd Street
What is interesting about the design of this building is that it is a perfect glass block from the outside but a created L-Shaped design on the inside because of the atrium garden. The large windows let the sunlight in so that you can walked this tiered garden on several levels. The only problem is that there is no place to sit down in the garden and just look at it.
Just off of the main lobby is the small Ford Foundation Gallery that is also open to the public. This was a real treat in that it really gave an interesting look at ‘controversial art’. As said by gallery director, Lisa Kim, “Guided by inclusion, collaboration and urgency that are underrepresenting in traditional art spaces. In doing so, our hope is for the Ford Foundation to be a responsive and adapted space, the one that serves the public in its openness to experimentation, contemplation and conversation.” (Ford Foundation Gallery website).
The Gallery is currently showing “Radical Love” an exhibition on art from different cultures that is sending a message of love and acceptance in society. The show’s theme is “offering love as the answer to a world in peril” and shows different artists around the world trying to portray a social median to the problems of hate and prejudice (Ford Foundation Gallery Site).
After finishing up at the Ford Foundation Gallery, I toured the indoor atrium one more time walking all the tiers of the gardens and not believing that I had never seen this all before. It is really a beautiful building that you all need time out to explore.
I walked to the end of the block only to discover Tudor City with its beautiful Gothic architecture and well landscaped grounds. Tudor City is one of the first planned middle-class housing ‘skyscraper’ complexes in New York City. Built in 1926, the complex was called Tudor City due to the Tudor Revival architecture of the complex. The complex starts right behind the Ford Foundation Building and extends between East 43rd to East 40th Street on a small cliff that overlooks First Avenue, the U.N. Complex and the tip of Roosevelt Island (Wiki).
Tudor City between East 43rd to 40th Streets overlooking First Avenue
The complex was designed by the team lead by architect H. Douglas Ives for the Fred F. French Company, developers of modern apartment complexes and was the brainchild of Leonard Gans and Paine Edson, who bought up what had been derelict housing and manufacturing businesses. The complex did expand into the 1930’s and now contains 13 buildings and two parks that the buildings face in a ‘U’ pattern (Wiki).
You really have to look up at the buildings to see the great detail that was designed to give them that Gothic look. When Mr. Ives team designed the buildings, there was an array of towers, gables, turrets, bay windows, four centered arches and chimney stacks amongst the detail work with cast iron and terracotta details. You have to walk the entire complex and really look to the detail work which is quite amazing (Wiki and my own observations).
What was really nice was the small parks that line the inside of the ‘U’ shaped courtyard of the buildings. These two parks are now run by Tudor City Greens Inc., which has run the parks since 1987 and cares for the landscaping and maintenance. They do a wonderful job caring for the parks which when I walked through were being replanted and watered and full of people either reading books or having group discussions.
While walking through the building complex, I came across Azalea & Oak at 5 Tudor Place, a little boutique specializing in women’s accessories and children’s dress-up clothes and toys (see my review on LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com). This unique little store has one of the nicest selections of children’s dress items, accessories and handmade toys that I have seen in the City.
The salesperson told me the owner was formerly from Saks Fifth Avenue and you could see it in the detail of the store design and the quality of the merchandise. Don’t miss their selection of stuffed animals and handmade crowns and masks. This will be much to the delight of the younger set of customers. The owner also designs her own jewelry so there are unusual pieces to see.
The Stuffed toys at Azalea and Oak at 5 Tudor Place
I rounded 43rd Street and came back to visit Ralph Bunche Park that is at the end of East 43rd Street. It is not much a park as most of it is under scaffolding for renovations of Tudor City. The park is named in 1979 after Ralph Bunche was the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Mr. Bunche was a diplomat, scientist and academic who won the award in 1950 for work on mediation with Israel.
As you are walking down the granite stairs to First Avenue, notice the quote from Isiah 2:4 carved into the wall “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spires into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” The stairs, now called the ‘Sharansky Steps, named after dissident Nathan Sharansky, were built and dedicated during the construction of the U.N. In front of the stairs is a 50-foot steel obelisk by artist Daniel LaRue Johnson, entitled “Peace Form One” that was created in 1980 (Wiki).
Mr. Johnson has studied at Chouinard and in Paris and was part of the African American artist movement in Los Angeles that dealt with the social and political changes in the mid-Twentieth century. He had also known Mr. Bunche as well (Artist Bio).
The Sharansky Steps with the Wall of Isiah
Once down the steps, you will find yourself in front of the United Nations Building that sits on the East River and is very impressive.
The United Nations Building complex is under ‘lock and key’ and don’t bother trying to walk around the grounds. Everything is behind a fence with tons of security surrounding all sides of the building. The complex is about 18 acres that line the East River from East 42nd and East 48th Streets.
The complex was designed by architect Wallace Harrison for the firm of Harrison & Abramovitz and was completed in 1952. The whole area was cleared of manufacturing and the complex replaced blight in the neighborhood with a brand-new building and parks. The Rockefeller family was one of the biggest cheerleaders for the site and Nelson Rockefeller helped purchase the land for the site (Wiki).
The building is built in a long horizontal block that houses the meeting rooms and a tall tower in the center for the Secretariat. The building is surrounded by pathways and lawn to give the building the impression of power and with the flags of the nation’s surrounding it, an international flair. Still walking up United Nations Plaza back up to East 48th Street to where I stopped at the edge of Sutton East, there is armed security all over the place and its best to blend into the crowds.
The United Nations Building which covers the edges of Turtle Bay with the East River
I continued the walk-up United Nations Plaza up to East 48th Street and walked down the block towards Third Avenue. Once you round First Avenue, you will see less security in front of the buildings when you go back into the neighborhood.
East 48th Street is a beautiful block of old brownstones and apartment buildings and has a real neighborhood feel to it. I have discovered that the blocks above East 50th Street once you past Second Avenue are becoming more commercial with lots of large apartment and office buildings. It feels more like Midtown and once you get below East 50th Street, it looks more historical and quintessential ‘Old New York’.
I walked up and down the remainder of Second Avenue from East 43rd to East 48th Streets that border the neighborhood with Sutton East. Most of the buildings are glass boxes with commercial businesses on the bottom. There is one stand out on these five blocks in front of the Consulate General of Nigeria at 828 Second Avenue on the corner of East 44th Street and Second Avenue. It is a sculpture called ‘Zuma’ by artist Billy Omebegho.
Mr. Omebegho is considered one of the foremost modern sculptures in Nigeria and created the work in 1991. Born in Nigeria in 1944, Mr. Omebegho studied art at both Cornell University (fellow Alumnus) and New York University. The work ‘Zuma’ was created in 1991 and is a zig-zag form to symbolizes rebirth and renewal and the snake like pattern represents air, water, heaven and earth (Culture Now). This unique sculpture had some controversy in 2005 when the Consulate was approached about replacing it but it still stands proudly at the entrance.
As I passed along Second Avenue to Third Avenue, I passed a row of brownstones on the right which are the Turtle Bay Gardens houses. These were the homes that were saved, preserved and renovated by Charlotte Hunnewell Sorchan in the 1920. The two rows of ten homes were built in the 1860’s and when they were renovated and updated now share a common garden with the homes on East 49th Street. These graceful brownstones set the tone for the neighborhood (Turtle Bay History).
Turtle Bay Gardens Historic District
As you pass Turtle Bay Gardens, another unique house stands out at 211 East 48th Street, the William Lescaze House. William Lescaze was a Swiss-born New Yorker who was credited with bringing the modernist movement in the United States by building this house in 1934. The four-story home served as his personal home and studio (Curbed NY).
As I rounded back down Second Avenue to East 43rd Street and crossed over to Third Avenue to walk from East 43rd to East 59th Streets this is another block in transition. Third Avenue has pretty much been torn down is more like Midtown than Turtle Bay. There are a few holdovers from another era meaning the 60’s and 70’s in the way of restaurants.
Tucked in between all the glass towers that have changed this part of the neighborhood there are some culinary gems that still serve customers as they have for years starting with Smith & Wollensky at 797 Third Avenue.
Smith & Wollensky is a legendary steakhouse that has been in this location since 1977. What is interesting about this popular restaurant is that the name was taken out of the phone book. The creators of the restaurant, Allan Stillman (of TGI Friday’s fame) and Ben Benson, looked in the phone book to Smith and then Wollensky to get the name.
The restaurant was originally called Manny Wolf’s Steakhouse which had been in business from 1897 until the name change in 1977. It is now owned by the Patina Restaurant Group although the original New York restaurant is still owned by Mr. Stillman. The restaurant is known for its USDA Prime Grade beef which is all butchered in house (Wiki and Smith & Wollensky history). The building like the rest of the neighborhood is surrounded by a glass box skyscraper.
Another well-known restaurant on Third Avenue is P.J. Clarke’s at 915 Third Avenue on the corner of Third Avenue and East 55th Street. P. J. Clarke’s was established in 1884 by a Mr. Duneen and Patrick J. Clarke was one of his employees. After ten years of working at the bar, he bought the establishment from Mr. Duneen and renamed it P.J. Clarke’s. The restaurant has been known for its pub food and popular bar scene.
The restaurant like Smith & Wollensky’s is a holdout from the past and is surrounded by a glass office building. 919 Third Avenue was built around the restaurant in the late 60’s and the owners, the Lavezzo brothers had the owners build around their property. In an agreement, they bought the building from the two brothers and knocked the top two floors of the restaurant down. Due to financial difficulties the brothers lost the restaurant and it is now owned by new group of investors (Wiki).
P.J. Clarke’s in comparison to 919 Third Avenue showing the changes on Third Avenue
Third Avenue has it pockets of the old neighborhood here and there but is now firmly establishing itself as part of Midtown with its gleaming office buildings and apartment houses giving the Avenue a modern look.
As I walked back down Third Avenue, some street art caught my attention. Outside the U.S. Post Office at 909 Third Avenue is the sculpture, Red Flying Group by artist Ann Gillen, that adds some life to the building that looks like geometric blocks.
Red Flying Group by artist Ann Gillen outside 909 Third Avenue
Ms. Gillen has been trained in Industrial design at Pratt and got her MFA from Columbia University’s School of Art. She is noted in the use of color and the structure suggests a human body in motion. She uses all sorts of materials in her art noted with metals and stone work. Red Flying Group is based on man’s sense of motion (Wiki).
The other standout on Third Avenue was the mural of the fallen fireman in honor of 9/11. The mural by artist Eduardo Kobra, who based the painting on a photo of fire fighter Mike Bellantoni, who arrived at the scene after the second tower fell. The picture was taken by New York Post photographer Matthew McDermott (NY Post 2018). The painting depicts an exhausted fire fighter on the scene.
Mural outside of 780 Third Avenue
Mr. Kobra was noted in saying of the mural “I was paying homage to the fire fighters who fought bravely that day. The helmet represents the 343 fire fighters lost that day and the colors represent one goal, to pass on the message of life, of a restart and of reconstruction.” (Time Out Magazine).
Mr. Kobra is a Brazilian street artist who has a passion for street art. His use of squares and triangles bring life to his paintings. His use of photorealism and color bring life to his works of art (Wiki).
The one building that does stand out prominently on Third Avenue is on the corner of Third Avenue and 53rd Street, “The Lipstick Building” at 885 Third Avenue. The building was designed by John Burgee Architects with Philip Johnson and was completed in 1986. What stands out about this building is the oval design and color of the building. What makes the building unusual is the ‘set back’ space required by zoning laws and how the building seems to retract ‘as if it retracts telescopically’ (Wiki and Architectural firm).
It also has a usual shade of burgundy or dark pink that makes it stand out among the other office buildings in the area. At the base are large columns that act like a ‘post-modern’ entrance to the building and allow pedestrians to walk freer in the space (Wiki and Architectural firm). I just think the building has a unusual beauty to it in that it defies the contemporary design of the squarer glass boxes and its shape and color make it stand out in a neighborhood where there is too much of the same design. Buildings like this is what gives the City character.
The columned entrance to the Lipstick Building
As I rounded down Third Avenue to East 43rd Street and headed up Third Avenue again, you can see more changes in the distance in the area around Grand Central Station with new buildings soon to be open on Madison Avenue and along 42nd Street. More construction and more buildings are going up around the station.
As I traveled up Lexington Avenue to East 59th Street, I saw the after-work crowd bring more life to the neighborhood. Between the office buildings and the hotels in the area, the place was loaded with tourists and office workers milling around after a long day and the sidewalks were jammed.
I ended my day rounding East 59th Street and having dinner from Blue and Gold Deli at 1075 First Avenue. I had been in earlier to buy a lottery ticket (did not win so still walking) and noticed their menu and the very reasonable prices. I decided on a Meatball hero ($7.00) with a Coke which I took over to 24 Sycamores Park to eat. It was still light out at 8:00pm and I watched the children playing around in the park with their parents while I ate. The meatball sandwich was loaded with meatballs and a nicely spiced tomato sauce. It was good but not a standout, so it warrants another try.
As I ate and watched the night sky get darker, it was fun to watch the world go by and people continue on with their business. I really wonder if they see the same things I do when walking to work or school.
The bitter winter finally gave way to some warmer weather and I was finally able to continue walking the streets of Manhattan again. It had been almost three months since I finished the Upper West Side but the holidays were particularly busy and full of activities that had me running from the Hudson River Valley to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for Christmas plus a host of holiday activities, fundraisers, dinners at the house with my family, parties, selling Christmas trees and generally a lot of running around. On the first warm (at this point 48 degrees) and sunny day, off I went to continue my walk starting on the Upper East Side and revisiting East 59th Street.
After a long day at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen serving up breads and pastries to the guests, I walked up to the Upper East Side to start my walk of Sutton and Beekman Places by the East River, neighborhoods steeped in history and beautiful architecture. It was a beautiful warm day with the sun shining and that was a plus.
I started the afternoon with lunch at Flip, the restaurant inside the main Bloomingdale’s store on Lexington Avenue and 59th Street (see my review on TripAdvisor). I had been here a few times before when walking the lower part of the Upper East Side. It is located in the lower level of the store and has the most wonderful hamburgers and sandwiches. I had the Bavarian Burger ($18.00), which was delicious and the perfect pick me up after a long day serving other people.
The burger was made with a combination of ground meat and short ribs and was topped with caramelized onions, apple smoked bacon, Brooklyn lager cheese sauce and homemade bread and butter pickles on a pretzel roll served with a side a steak fries. It tasted as good as the description. I highly recommend a trip to Flip when visiting Bloomingdale’s main store. You will find it in the downstairs Men’s Department.
I started my walk at 24 Sycamores Park on East 60th Street. I needed to take a quick rest after that big lunch and it was such a nice day to just relax on the benches and watch the kids play with their nannies. It is such a great little pocket park with an interesting history. It was one of the parks developed for the Upper East Side residents who complained to Robert Moses that there was no greenery on their side of the City. Here I planned my walk around Sutton Place, Beekman Place and Sutton East (between First & Second Avenues), which some people consider part of the Turtle Bay neighborhood.
After relaxing in the park for a half hour and catching my breath from the Soup Kitchen and lunch, I started my walk along First Avenue. This is lined with elegant apartment buildings and a combination of old brownstones and mansions. It depends on what part of the Avenue you live on. The area around Sutton Place and Beekman Place is pretty much self-contained and off to itself. You really have to walk through the side streets and the parks to see the real beauty of the neighborhood and the little gems that make the neighborhood special.
The one thing I have noticed in this part of the neighborhood is that a lot of the stores on East 59th Street from Second to First Avenue have closed down and have joined the rest of the epidemic of empty store fronts in the City. Since I finished the walk of the Upper East Side in December, in just three months about a half dozen businesses have closed down. It will be interesting to see what replaces them.
I started the day walking down from East 59th Street and walked the perimeter of the neighborhood from FDR Drive to Second Avenue from East 48th Street where the United Nations is located to East 59th Street, the border of Sutton Place with the Upper East Side. Here and there lots of buildings and restaurants stand out.
I walked down Sutton Place from Sycamore Park down to the United Nations Building. This official border of Sutton Place is lined with pre-war apartment buildings, modern co-ops and a few brownstones and mansions tucked here and there.
Sutton Place is named after Effingham B. Sutton (1817-1891), a shipping magnate and entrepreneur, who made a fortune during the Gold Rush. He developed a series of brownstones between East 58th and 57th Streets in hopes of reestablishing the neighborhood for residential purposes from its then current state of small factories and commercial purposes. The Sutton Place Parks at the end of each street from East 59th through East 54th Street were established in 1938 when the FDR Drive was built taking away the access to the river. There are a series of five parks now along the East River at the end of each block (NYCParks.org).
At the corner of East 59th Street and Sutton Place starts the series of mansions that line this part of the street. In 1883, this little stretch of roadway had been renamed Sutton Place, a nod to Mr. Sutton, who had constructed that row of brownstone residences in 1875 (Daytonian in Manhattan).
The Vanderbilt and Morgan Mansions on Sutton Place
The beautiful old mansion at 2 Sutton Place was renovated by Anne Vanderbilt, the widow of William K. Vanderbilt. She sold the Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue that had been built by her husband’s family and bought the Effingham Sutton House. She hired architect Mott B. Schmidt to renovate the home into a 13 room Georgian mansion.
Anne Vanderbilt Mansion at 2 Sutton Place; next door is the Anne Morgan Mansion
Anne Tracy Morgan bought the 3 Sutton Place, the house on the corner of Sutton Place and East 57th Street and merged it with the home at 5 Sutton Place. Mott Schmidt filed revised plans for Anne Morgan’s house at 3 Sutton Place when she bought 5 Sutton Place and had the homes merged. The plans called for the rebuilding of the two structures into a four-story dwelling in American Colonial style with a roof garden and Morgan and Vanderbilt would share a common garden. To create the illusion of a vintage home, Mott reused the bricks from the old buildings on the site. The house was completed in 1922 (Daytonian Manhattan).
The entrance to the Vanderbilt Mansion at 2 Sutton Place
As you walk the side streets between East 58th through East 48th Street, these dead-end blocks offer magnificent views of Roosevelt Island and the Queens-Brooklyn waterfront which is quickly changing from old warehouses to luxury high-rises and waterfront parks. Each has its own unique view of Roosevelt Island.
At the end of Sutton Place at the corner of East 53rd Street there is a small park, Sutton Place Park South, overlooking the tip of Roosevelt Island and FDR Park with its beautiful landscaping and stonework. It is a nice place to just relax and enjoy the cool breezes and hear the racket of FDR Drive zooming by.
Sutton Place Park South at the tip of Sutton Place
At 11 Sutton Place was once the home to architect I.M Pei and his wife, Eileen. They lived in the house for 45 years. The four-story residence is now on the market for eight million dollars. Mr. Pei was responsible for some of the most famous and innovative architecture in the twenty century.
11 Sutton Place was home to architect I. M. Pei and his family
This wonderful park should be visited by everyone who visits Manhattan. It has the most spectacular views of Roosevelt Island and the Queens/Brooklyn Waterfront and on a sunny warm day, it is one of the most relaxing parks I have visited since MywalkinManhattan.com started.
Sutton Place Park South
It is nice to sit amongst the cool breezes of the river by small gardens and shade trees. There were two dedications in the park that stood out to me. One was to Clara Coffey and the other was to Bronka Norak.
Clara Stimson Coffey was a landscape architect who in 1936 accepted the role of Chief of Tree Plantings for the NYCParks system and helped design several parks including the Clement Clark Moore Park in Chelsea which I recently visited on my Victorian Christmas Tour (Day One Hundred & Twenty Eight).
Bronka Norak was a long time Sutton Place resident and upon her death, her husband, the late Adam Norak, left an endowment for the maintenance of the flowers, trees and shrubs in the park.
On the west side of Sutton Place is lined with pre and post war apartment buildings each with a doorman that will look you over if you walk around the neighborhood too much as I did. You would think that they would have better things to do.
As I crossed back over East 59th Street, my next part of the walk took me to First Avenue which itself is going through a transition. Many of the old buildings and store fronts are giving way to new apartment buildings. As with the rest of Manhattan, this area is going through a makeover to upscale housing.
On my next trip to Sutton Place after another long day at the Soup Kitchen (the Bread Station is beginning to get to me. Every time we have desserts available, the guests’ pound on me), I walked from Ninth Avenue and West 28th Street to First Avenue and East 59th Streets. On top of all the exercise from running around the Soup Kitchen, I got even more walking in but on a sunny, warm day it does not make much a difference.
I stopped into Jimbo’s Hamburger Place at 991 First Avenue (See reviews on TripAdvisor) and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for lunch. This small hole in the wall diner has been there for years and is a favorite for many of the older neighborhood residents who seem to know the owners quite well. The food is here is wonderful and the whole menu is very reasonable for this neighborhood.
I had a cheeseburger with fries ($8.50) that tasted as if the meat had just been ground and cooked perfectly with a nice caramelization on the meat. The fries were cooked to order and the whole meal was delicious and hit the spot. What was nice was to talk to people who had lived in Sutton Place. The restaurant has a nice neighborhood feel to it and the patrons had obviously been eating here for years. One woman who sat next to me eats here every day. I guess as you get older and are single you don’t want to cook for yourself anymore.
Jimbo’s Cheeseburger and fries
After lunch, I continued the walk down First Avenue, I stopped at 931 First Avenue which had once been an old elementary school that had been built in 1892 in the Romanesque style. Instead of knocking the school down, the builder incorporated the school into the office tower above and around it. It gives the building a modern twist. As I was looking over the current renovation, I noticed a plaque on the corner wall.
The former P.S. 135 now the Beekman Regent Building
The school sat on the site of patriot James Beekman’s estate, Mount Pleasant, that had once been the British headquarters during the Revolutionary War. James Beekman (1732-1807) was a prominent New York City merchant and came from a family of merchants, lawyers and politicians. His ancestors had been Mayors of New York City and Albany and held positions as Governors of New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. His grandfather, Gerardus Beekman, had been the acting Governor of New York under British rule (Wiki).
James Beekman whose name is given to Beekman Place
His estate and mansion, Mount Pleasant, had been used by the British as their headquarters during the war. The estate covering what is currently now both Sutton and Beekman Place. This was also the site for the trial of Patriot Nathan Hale.
Nathan Hale had volunteered to go behind enemy lines during the war and was recognized in a tavern by Major Robert Rangers of the Queen’s Rangers. Another story was he was turned in by his own cousin, Samuel Hale, who was a loyalist. Either way, Hale was questioned at the Beekman mansion by British General William Howe and was led to gallows on September 22nd, 1776 (See MywalkinManhattan.com on the Upper East Side. He was hung where there is a Pier One store at present).
Mount Pleasant, the home of James Beekman and his family
The house was moved once to a buff at First Avenue and East 50th Street when the street grid was put into effect and the house was torn down in 1874 at the start of the real estate boom after the Civil War (Untapped Cities).
I continued walking down First Avenue until I reached East 48th and 49th Streets where the road forks into First Avenue and United Nations Plaza. This area is filled with Embassies and offices for the United Nations and Trump World Tower is at end of the neighborhood at 845 United Nations Plaza, so traffic here is rough and the security all around the place is tight.
The Bridge leading to the East River Walk
When I reached the east side of First Avenue and at 51st Street, I took a turn down the road to the river and I went over the pedestrian bridge at the end of the block. This leads into the enclave of Beekman Place, the former estate of James Beekman. As you cross the bridge, you will enter Peter Detmold Park and its extension leading down FDR Drive, General Douglas MacArthur Park.
Peter Detmold (1923-1972) was once a tenant of the Turtle Bay Gardens. He was a veteran of World War II, serving under General George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge in France. Upon his return to civilian life, he was a Cornell graduate and when he moved to the City, became the one of the founders and President of the Turtle Bay Association and the founded the Turtle Bay Gazette. He along with other residents fought to keep the are residential and away from the commercial districts that were creeping into the area. On the night of January 6, 1972, after returning home from a meeting of the East Side Residential Association, he was murdered inside his building. The murder still has not been solved and the park was named after him later that year (NYCParks.com).
Activist, Veteran, Resident of Turtle Bay and fellow Cornell Alumnus Peter Detmold
Before I walked the bridge to the overpass, I walked down the steep stone steps down to the park area. It is a really hidden park. The area is surrounded by stone walls and apartment buildings above. To the left is a dog walk park that is extremely popular with residents and pooches alike. It is always busy.
To the right is a series of garden beds and benches to sit down and relax. There are tables where people were eating their lunches or playing with their dogs and being the beginning of spring, lots of flowers are in bloom. I walked around the area and watched as groups of residents talked and ate their meals or played games. The parks trees were just budding so the park had a canopy covering the top. When you walk through the gate at the end corner of the park, it leads to the General Douglas MacArthur Park and playground. Here you will find the much-needed public bathrooms and they are in good shape.
The General Douglas MacArthur Park and Playground was named for General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), who had a illustrious military career that spanned four wars and five decades. Having served in the Philippine Islands and Mexico, he served in France during WWI. He was called back into service for WWII serving as the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific and developed the strategy of “island hopping” that turned the tide of the war. He also served in the Korean War as well. After serving as an unofficial advisor to two presidents before retiring in 1951. After that, he retired at the Waldorf Towers in NYC (NYCParks.com).
The park was originally built as part of the UN Plaza then was ceded to the City by Alcoa Associates and became part of the NYC Parks system in 1966. The small playground has a several swings, jungle gyms and tables to play chess along with bed of flowers and shade trees. It is right around the corner from some of the United Nations buildings so the outside can be busy with cars coming and going. The best part is the bathrooms are nice and open until 5:00pm (NYCParks.com)
After visiting both parks, I went back to Peter Detmold Park and went back up the narrow stone stairs and walked over the crosswalk to the riverfront promenade that lines the East River from East 51st to East 54th Streets offering breathtaking views of Governors Island and the Queens Riverfront. On a sunny day, the whole riverfront gleams.
View from the Riverfront Promenade
After walking the Promenade to East 54th Street and walking back, its hard to believe that changes in the riverfront areas in both Queens and Brooklyn in the last fifteen years. The whole coast is lined with luxury housing, boast slips and parks offering excellent views of the East Side of Manhattan.
Once you exit the park, you will notice a small tree lined street with brownstones and pre-war apartment buildings. You have just entered Beekman Place, a tiny enclave of older homes and an assortment of embassies.
I glanced down a small road lined with small brownstones, townhouses and pre-war apartment buildings and proceeded to detour down Beekman Place to tour the road and the side streets, each leading back out to First Avenue from East 51st Street to Mitchell Place.
As you walk down this quiet enclave of majestic architecture, there is a lot to admire in the surrounding buildings and the serene side streets of 50th Street and Mitchell Place. Each block is lined with unique buildings all decorated with plantings.
21 & 23 Beekman Place
Many famous people have lived in this neighborhood. At 23 Beekman Place, stage actress Katharine Cornell and her husband, Guthrie McClintic lived. Ms. Cornell was once considered one of the greatest American actresses on stage, best know for her roles in ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ and her Tony award winning role in ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’. Her husband was a famous theater and film director whose production company produced all of his wife’s plays (Wiki).
At 21 Beekman Place, Ellen Biddle Shipman, one of the most famous and best regarded landscape architects in the United States known for her formal gardens with a lush planting style. A Radcliffe graduate, she is best known for her work on the Longue Vue Gardens in New Orleans and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University, considered her finest work (Wiki).
As you walk to the end of these streets facing the river, you get the most spectacular views of the Queens waterfront and Roosevelt Island. Along East 51st, East 50th and Mitchell Place you will find an assortment of embassies from countries I am not too sure people might know.
I exited down Mitchell Place at the edge of the neighborhood and passed the Beekman Tower at 31 Mitchell Place. Originally called ‘The Panhellenic’, the tower was built between 1927 and 1928 in the Art Deco style by architect John Mead Howells. It was opened as a residence for women of the Greek sororities who were entering the workforce in New York City but by 1934, the building had male residents. Today this graceful building is being used as a corporate apartment building.
The Art Deco Beekman Tower at 31 Mitchell Place & First Avenue
I walked back up First Avenue, I looked across the street and saw the most beautiful floral displays and flowers for sale outside of Zeze Flowers at 938 First Avenue (See review on LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com). This is more than a store it is more like a museum of flowers. Everything from the window displays with the ‘Man in Moon’ to the exotic flowers enticing you inside you will be taken by the beauty of store.
Once inside Zeze Flower Shop you will admire the beauty of the displays, statuary and the gorgeous orchids that line the shelves and tables. All the tables are lined with all sorts of decorative objects and the walls with vases to hold their carefully cut flowers. The store itself is a work of art and the bouquets and arrangements look like something out of a painting. There is a lot of care in this store and the staff is attentive and friendly.
The beautiful flowers and gift ideas of Zeze Flower Shop
On the way back up First Avenue, I passed the spot of the Beekman Mansion again at First and East 51st Street and admired the renovation of the building which was once a school. The building, The Beekman Regent at 351 East 51st Street, had been designed and built in 1892 by George W. Debevoise, who was the Superintendent of Board of Education at the time as P.S. 135. Later it had become the United Nations School. It now serves as a luxury apartment building that won the 2002 Mercedes Benz Property Award for the ‘finest new redevelopment in the world’ (Beekman Regent history).
The Beekman Regent building at 351 East 51st Street
I continued up First Avenue past a long line of restaurants. I have noticed just in the two weeks that I have been walking the Sutton Place neighborhood, two businesses have closed and the storefronts are empty.
Another restaurant I ate at when walking the Upper East Side at another time was Go Noodle at 1069 First Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor). There combination platter at lunch are reasonable and I had a chicken with string beans and an egg roll ($8.50) that was delicious.
I made it back to East 59th Street in time to see the traffic building up on the Queensboro Bridge. The lights from the waterfront started to come on and when I walked back to 24 Sycamores Park, the place was still filled with families. I was exhausted and saved the rest of the walk for another day.
I came back to the neighborhood a week later on a beautiful sunny day after a long day working the Bread Station at Holy Apostles again. These guests love their bread and we were busy again, so it was another long walk up to Sutton Place. Here I started at East 59th and Second Avenue. Technically this area is known as Turtle Bay but some creative people in the real estate industry have called the area between First and Second Avenues between East 59th and 49th “Sutton East” as I saw on some of the buildings. So down Second Avenue I went to visit ‘Sutton East’.
Second Avenue between East 59th and East 48th Streets has become a real hodge-podge of buildings as the area closer to Midtown, between East 48th and 50th Streets have given way to larger office and apartment buildings. Once above East 51st Street, there still is a mixture of older brownstone and smaller apartment buildings that house the mom & pop stores and restaurants that keep the borders of Sutton Place and Turtle Bay unique.
I started my day with lunch at Mee’s Noodle Shop at 930 Second Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor) which I had passed a few times when walking back to Port Authority. The menu and the write ups on the restaurant had been very good and there is a lot of creativity to the selection. Since it was Good Friday when I visited, I stuck to all seafood dishes which was a nice choice. The restaurant’s specialty is dumplings and noodles that are made fresh on premise, and you can see them being made as you walk in.
Mee’s Noodle Shop at 930 Second Avenue (Closed in August 2022)
I ordered the steamed seafood dumplings ($6.50) which were a combination of crab, shrimp and scallop. They were really light and had a nice taste to them with the soy dipping sauce. For my main part of the meal, I ordered the Shrimp Lo Mein (Small $7.35/Large $9.20). This was especially good because all the noodles were being made in front of me and were fresh and cooked to perfection. The dish was studded with nice size shrimp and an array of vegetables including a very well cooked Bok choy. The service could not have been nicer especially during the lunch rush.
After lunch I walked the distance of Second Avenue, looking over all the menus on the restaurants that lined the Avenue. There is a lot to choose from. There are coffee shops, Italian restaurants, Continental, German, Thai and several very good pizzerias. What I like about Second Avenue in this stretch of the Avenue is the juxtaposed look of the buildings that give it character. The most action at night seems to be between East 50th and 51st Streets where a lot of the bars are located. This part of the neighborhood I read that the residents here worked hard to fight the city on new construction to keep the character of the neighborhood the way it has been.
A nice place to sit and relax is the Katherine Hepburn Place by Sterling Plaza at Second Avenue and East 49th Street. This little park named after the actress who lived and advocated for the neighborhood is a small area of trees and benches that is nice to rest for a bit. It is nice to people watch here especially the dog walkers who all seem to converge here.
As I walked back up to East 59th Street, I began to notice that again smaller businesses between that and East 57th were beginning to close. It seems that the fringes of the Upper East Side are beginning to blend into this neighborhood. When you reach the top of the block at East 59th Street, you are greeted with the traffic going into the Queensboro Bridge, the tram going back and forth to Roosevelt Island and the sheer movement of people.
On the way back down Second Avenue, I visited La Vera Pizza at 922 Second Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor) for a quick slice. The pizza is really good and they make a delicious Sicilian slice ($3.00). The slice was pillowy and crisp and their sauce has a lot of flavor to it.
There is a distinct difference when you cross East 48th Street from the neighborhood as all the brownstones disappear and you see more office and apartment buildings on that part of Second Avenue. From East 58th to East 49th Streets, you will see a transition and change block by block. Some blocks will be all brownstones and small mom & pop businesses and others it will be a new building with a combination of businesses at street level.
From here, I walked block by block and explored the side streets of the neighborhood and there are many hidden gems in way of restaurants, stores and historic architecture to explore.
Starting on East 59th Street a lot has changed since I walked the neighborhood since before the holidays. A lot of the stores that I had passed were gone and the stores were empty. Either to changing times or higher rents, these businesses disappeared right after the New Year so I turned the corner at Second Avenue and walked down East 58th Street and was surprised by the trove of stores and restaurants on the street. There are still a lot of antique stores and florists on the street as well many restaurants. You will also see the most amazing views of the Queensboro Bridge as it extends from Manhattan to the shores of Queens in the distance.
The Queensboro Bridge on East 59th Street
When you turn the corner and enter 58th Street towards the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge, you will see two small brownstones, 311 and 313 East 58 Street. They were built between 1856-57 by Hiram G. Disbrow for his own use. They were built in the Greek Revival-Italianate style with a porch with a picket fence (Streeteasy). 311 is now the home of Philip Colleck Ltd., an antique furniture store where they carry beautiful classic furniture for the home. 315 is still a private home right next to the ramp on the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge. These two interesting little brownstone homes stand out against the modern high rises that dot the rest of East 58th Street.
This pretty much dominates East 57th Street as well until you get to the Morgan and Vanderbilt Mansions at 2 & 3 Sutton Place with the amazing view of Roosevelt Island and the Queens Waterfront. There is a real beauty in the line of old mansions and brownstones between East 58th and 57th on Sutton Place.
The mansions on Sutton Place
East 56th Street is lined with an array of pre and post war buildings as well with more great views of the river at the end of street of the East River on Sutton Place. East 55th Street is about the same but there is a standout with A La Mode, an ice cream shop at 360 East 55th Street.
A La Mode at 360 East 55th Street
A La Mode (see my review on TripAdvisor) is a very cute and engaging ice cream shop that caters to the locals. The selection of homemade ice creams offers a few unusual flavors. I enjoyed a double scoop of Pink Sprinkle (Strawberry with colored sprinkles) and Partly Cloudy (Cotton Candy with baby marshmallows) both of which were colorful and delicious. They also carry an assortment of gifts and clothes for that lucky child. I must have enjoyed eating it because everyone smiled at me on my walk down to Sutton Place Park to enjoy it and the views.
As I rounded the corner onto East 54th Street, I stopped by both Sofia Pizza and Marinara Pizza many times when touring the neighborhood. Sofia Pizza Shoppe at 989 First Avenue (see review on TripAdvisor) has been noted as being one of the best slices in the City by several magazines. I would bypass the traditional slice as it was okay ($3.25) but the Sicilian slice ($4.50) was delicious. It had a nice pillowy consistency, and the sauce is loaded with flavor of fresh tomatoes.
Marinara Pizza at 985 First Avenue and the corner of East 54th Street (see my review on TripAdvisor) is a beautiful open restaurant that allows you to look in at all the pizzas. I had a slice from a pizza that just came out of oven, and it was excellent. Their sauce is delicious and well spiced, and the cheese was nice and gooey. Between the slice of pizza here and the sundae at A La Mode while looking at the view at Sutton Place Park at East 54th Street it was the perfect afternoon. People were smiling back at me that I seemed so happy to indulge in my ice cream while walking down the street.
When you get to the end of East 54th by Sutton Place, there is a small set up stairs that will take you to the first part of Sutton Place Park, Sutton Place Park North, with benches that overlook the skyline of Queens and Roosevelt Island. On a nice day, it is the perfect place to soak up the sunshine and relax while looking at soaring skyline.
Walking down East 54th Street from the park you will find the Recreation Center 54 at 348 East 54th Street with the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater next door at 350 East 54th Street. The Neo-Classical building was built in 1911 as a recreation facility for the working classes and has many of the original details inside such as wrought iron staircases and marble baths. Originally called the 54th Street Baths and Gymnasium, the facility has now morphed into complete gaming experience with basketball, volleyball and swimming (NYCParks.org). Really look up to see the beauty of the building.
Recreation 54 Building on East 54th Street
On the outside of the Neighborhood Playhouse School next door, there is a plaque for Sanford Meisner, one of its most famous faculty. He developed the ‘Meisner Technique’, which is a self-investigation for the actor.
The Sanford Meisner Plaque at the Neighborhood Playhouse School
Mr. Meisner, who had wanted to be an actor since he was a child has studied under Lee Strasberg at the Theater Guild for Acting. In 1935, he joined the faculty of The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater which had been founded in 1928. He had served at the Director of the Acting Department until his retirement in 1990.
At the other end of East 54th Street by Second Avenue, there is an interesting and relaxing little public space that is part of the apartment complex, The Connaught Tower. This is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a long walk with benches, small gardens and shade trees. In the front of this public space is the artwork by artist Alexander Liberman, ‘POPS209: Accord’, a large geometric sculpture
Mr. Liberman’s, Russian born immigrant as way of France, career as an artist covered many different forms of art including photography, painting, sculpture and retiring as an Editorial Director at Conde Nast. In his sculpture work, he was noted for his use of industrial objects like steel drums, and I beam and then painting them in uniform bright colors. POPS209: Accord is example of that, but you almost miss it as the trees are growing all around it.
After several breaks in this public space, it was off to explore East 53rd Street. As I made my way back to the river passing the southern part of Sutton Place Park and rounding Sutton Place South onto East 53rd. Be careful when walking in this area. You are blind to cars coming on street from Sutton Place South and they may not stop.
What stands here is this small red brownstone at 413 East 53rd Street that sits like a poor sole amongst the large apartment buildings that surround it.
This little building doesn’t look as good as this now on the outside, but it does have a colorful history in the transformation of this neighborhood several times. The property was once part of the Beekman estate in an area of summer homes and estates of wealthy downtown Manhattanites.
After the Civil War and the land boom that pretty much doomed the Beekman’s estate, this area was built up with tenement housing for the working class who worked in the nearby factories and this little house must have built somewhere in the late 1880’s. It has been lived in by several interesting characters.
The house was once lived in by corrupt politicians who were once slum lords in other parts of the neighborhood, then by a prostitute and her pimp and after that to an insurance company which dealt with cremations. After that it became a sheet metal shop and was fought over and sold by the slum lord’s estate (Daytonian in Manhattan).
By the time that Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Morgan built their homes up the road, the little brick building became a clock shop and then for the next several years was an antique reproduction store. Its last incarnation was as a dentist office and the upper two floors was renovated into a luxury home. Now it sits empty and boarded up waiting for the next stage of its history. So much history for such a small building.
As you pass the corner of East 53rd Street and First Avenue, take a peek inside the doorway to 400-402 East 53rd and look at the secret garden behind the locked door. If you glare to the back, you will see the garden that is hidden behind all the buildings on this part of First Avenue between East 53rd and 52nd Streets. If you could only sneak inside to take a peek.
The secret garden hides behind this entrance
Walking further down East 53rd Street, two small wooden homes that stood out among all the luxury buildings and commercial shops on the street. These two little wooden homes are two of the last remaining in Manhattan and are currently landmarked.
The homes were built in 1866 by Robert and James Cunningham, two returning Civil War veterans who returned to an ever-changing City. The area had once been the farm of David Devore and now contained slaughterhouses and factories and was considered ‘sketchy’. The brothers built the two twin wooden homes right before the City changed the building codes banning wooden homes due to fires destroying the City like the ‘Great Fire of 1835, which destroyed most of downtown (Daytonian in Manhattan).
The two homes are built in the French Second Empire Style and have mansard roofs and brick basements and a shared garden in the back of both homes. The brothers leased the homes out until 1870. In the 1920’s 312 East 53rd was leased to Lincoln Kitsten, who founded the New York City Ballet and then to Society Hostess Muriel Draper and her dancer son, John. The homes were landmarked in 1968 and 2000 respectively (Daytonian in Manhattan).
As you cross the street at Second Avenue and walk down the other side of the street heading back to the river, you will pass Éclair Bakery at 305 East 53rd Street (see reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com), which I consider one the best independent bakeries I have tried on my walk since Estrella Bakery in Washington Heights and the now closed Glaser’s Bakery on the Upper East Side.
Éclair Bakery has some of the most delicious pastries, quiches and sandwiches at what I consider very reasonable prices for this part of the city. The Strawberry and Nutella mini doughnuts ($2.50) are pillowy and coated with sugar filled with fresh strawberry jelly and chocolaty Nutella and are three bite wonders.
The eclair’s ($5.75) come in various flavors and are arranged in the case like jewels. The Hazelnut was my favorite. The Quiche with ham and cheese ($5.75) when warmed up has a nice custard like texture and a sharpness due to the cheese. Everything here is delicious, and the service is really friendly.
Do not miss a visit to Éclair Bakery when visiting Sutton Place
East 52nd Street between the river and Second Avenue is filled with mostly pre- and post-war buildings and filled with many embassies and consulates. As you walk toward the United Nations, you will notice that a lot of the smaller apartment buildings and brownstones between East 52nd and East 48th Street have many foreign signs.
Turning the corner onto East 51st Street on Second Avenue, you will see a change in the neighborhood again. Second Avenue is the border between Turtle Bay and Sutton Place East neighborhoods, and you will notice as you get further down the avenue block by block you will see a change between new modern apartment buildings and the smaller brownstone buildings that house the locally owned restaurants. It still is a neighborhood in this section between East 51st and East 49th Streets.
Again, on the corner of East 51st Street and First Avenue, you will pass the site of the Beekman Mansion on the way back to the East River. At the end of street, you will return to Peter Detmold Park. On a beautiful sunny day, take another walk across the bridge to take in the views of the East River and Roosevelt Island or just sit on the benches in the park and watch people playing with their dogs.
There is one little standout building on the Street at 328 East 51st Street. This beautiful little yellow townhouse was built in 1861 and was the home of actress Katharine Cornell when she moved back to the City in 1965. The two tiny sculptures that sit above the doorway are of Julia and Comfort Tiffany, the twin daughters of Louis Comfort Tiffany who were born in 1887. Ms. Cornell commissioned sculpture to artist, Mary Lawrence Tonetti, who was a good friend of her’s and whose son-in-law, Eric Gugler and architect, had designed the actress’s homes in Martha’s Vineyard and Sneden’s Landing (New York Times). Really look at the stonework and grill work of this home.
328 East 51st Street has a beauty of something in the French Quarter
When you turn the corner again to East 50th Street, the area around Beekman Place closer to the East River by the park has more classic brownstones and prewar apartment buildings and the area between First Avenue and the river is its own little enclave. Here the brownstones on the side streets are filled with many consulates. As you walked down to Second Avenue, the streets are lined with pre and post war buildings. Take the time though to walk Beekman Place and Mitchell Place near the Beekman Tower. It is like its own neighborhood.
Walking back and forth down East 49th Street, you will notice this lower part of the neighborhood is changing to more modern buildings and businesses catering to the United Nations around the corner and the same with East 48th Street which is more modern buildings and parking garages for the UN. The classic brownstones give way to the modern buildings of Midtown.
Still, you have two great restaurants between East 49th and 50th Streets, Mee’s Noodles for those wonderful dumplings and noodles at 930 Second Avenue and La Vera Pizzeria on the corner of East 49th Street and Second Avenue at 922 Second Avenue (see reviews on TripAdvisor). My last trip into the neighborhood I made another trip to La Vera Pizzeria and the place was crowded with people getting off work from Midtown. Their pizza is very good, and the service is friendly.
You can see how this part of the City like all others is in a state of transition as the brownstone buildings with their independent businesses are giving way to the more modern structures of today changing it to an extension of Midtown. Still many parts of the blocks have a ‘neighborhood’ feel to it and the area is loaded with interesting buildings, wonderful restaurants, small pocket parks and amazing views of the East River and the outer boroughs changing skyline. It is a wonderful place to just walk around and enjoy!
Steve Tyrell and Neil Sedaka “Laughter in the Rain”. It cheered me up!
I don’t know why but I kept humming this the entire time I walked Sutton Place.