A piece of the nabe

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Looking north along Park Avenue through the windshield of a taxi. 4:00 PM. Phoot: JH.

Sunny and cold, in the low 30s and lower at night, yesterday in New York. Snow forecast briefly but no snow.

Thursday afternoon in the city. It was a beautiful sunset, looking northeast from my terrace, I caught this shot at about 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon. East End Avenue looking north from 83rd Street. It’s the metropolitan sunset from my windows and terrace.

There’s a wondrous moment for me at this hour when the facades of the buildings take on a soft pink glow. It grows from brighter to darker within the quarter hour, and at the moment in this photo it is the dusk in the city. Then there are the pink and grey clouds beyond, passing over the East River.

Looking north from the terrace of the pink and grey clouds of yesterday’s sunset passing over the East River at 90th Street and East End Avenue.

The avenue was named Avenue B when the grid was planned in 1811. York Avenue (named for the famous Sergeant York) was Avenue A; the uptown roads on the grid. The neighborhood was originally part of the working class Yorkville area of tenements, with some industry often nearby.

You can see there’s not much traffic on the roads, for a Manhattan thoroughfare at the end of the day. On the weekends there is even less. In the midnight, house there’s only an occasional car passing by.

A young Maria Bowen Chapin.

The building under construction on the left – the north corner of East 84th Street is the Chapin School which was founded by a Miss Maria Bowen Chapin in 1901.

Delano & Aldrich who designed many landmark buildings in New York (and elsewhere), such as the Colony Club, the Knickerbocker as well as private mansions many of which are still standing, were the architects. This was an important development of the area at the time. In the blocks below 84th to 79th Streets, it was still small factories.
The new building opened in 1928. It has long been one of the top private girls schools in New York and has a lot of fame in its alumna, including Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill; Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Lily Pulitzer, Blanchette Rockefeller, Tricia Nixon Cox and her sister Julie Eisenhower; Queen Noor of Jordan (when she was Lisa Halaby), Vera Wang, Brenda Frazier, Sister Parish, Sunny von Bulow, Stockard Channing; Aerin Lauder, Jane Lauder, the name just a handful of prominent women of the past century who were young students there.

The original Delano & Aldrich building was expanded several years ago, adding four more floors and radically departing from the classic architecture. On top of that is another expansion in the works, and what that will look like, we’ll just have to wait and see. To the eye right now it evokes only questions to be later answered in the future.

The Delano & Aldrich-designed Chapin school in 1928.

Next to Chapin is 110 East End, a residential doorman building that went up in 1951. This was a new look in the neighborhood, reflecting the post-War “modern” sensibility.

Changes/There goes the neighborhood. The limestone apartment building on the next corner (East 85th Street) is 120 East End Avenue. It was built in 1931 by Vincent Astor who occupied the top penthouse, which was at the time the largest penthouse in Manhattan (10,000 square feet).

Mr. Astor was then married to his first wife Helen Huntington. They lived at 123 East 80th Street, in a mansion he built which is now home of The New York Junior League. The East End Avenue penthouse marked the change in his marriage where the couple lived separate lives until they divorced in 1940. It was during that time that he also began a long relationship with Minnie Cushing whom he finally married after his divorce.

Vincent Astor occupied the top penthouse at 120 East End Avenue when it was built in 1931. Museum of the City of New York. Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) / Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.5488.

Minnie was already a well known young socialite in the city. She and her sisters were the daughters of the nationally famous pioneering brain surgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing – Barbara (Babe) who later became Mrs. William Paley and Betsey, who was first married to FDR’s eldest, James Roosevelt and then John Hay “Jock” Whitney.

The Astor acquisition of properties in Manhattan began a century before when his great-great-grandfather John Jacob Astor began accumulating lots and even acreage when it was all undeveloped and even uninhabited. Land in this area of the island was among his possessions. His holdings became vast by the mid-19th century when he died the world’s richest man. His business was officially known as the Astor Estate.

John Jacob Astor IV in 1895.

When Vincent Astor inherited, at age 21 after the death of his father John Jacob IV on the Titanic, he began improving the quality of the location for those who lived there. 120 was part of that improvement, intended for men and women of his ilk. He liked the area so much that he also built two more apartment buildings, 520 and 530 East 86th Street, right off East End.

The brick tower next to 120, is 130 East End two years before Vincent Astor’s 120. It was designed by one of the most influential and prolific architects of 20th century New York, Emory Roth. The late actor Peter Boyle had a penthouse there for years. Neighbors and fans often saw him sitting on a bench in Carl Schurz Park directly across the avenue and overlooking the East River.

Carl Schurz is 15 acres bordering East End and Gracie Square (last block of 84th Street) and the river. The land was originally part of the Gracie farm (as in Gracie Mansion, now the Mayor’s house, which was built in the 18th century).

The low-lying buildings just beyond 130, concealed from my view by the trees, is known as Henderson Place, a block of brick attached houses facing East 86th, East End Avenue and East 87th. Built in in 1882 when East End Avenue as still known as Avenue B uptown, by a man named John Henderson, who speculated in real estate development.

Henderson place.

It’s right across the avenue from the Gracie property. Its architects were firm of Lamb and Rich who about the same time were also architects for Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill summer house in Oyster Bay. Its original tenants were families although by the 1920s it attracted theatre people like Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine, Noel Coward, John Barrymore.

I’ve never been in one of the houses although they are treasures to their residents. In the Spring when the pear trees blossom, they grace these houses on the avenue side – another moment of nature’s thrill in the neighborhood.

Pears on Henderson place.

The glass and concrete building just beyond is 170 East End and up until 2005 was a hospital, built in 1929 and also facing Gracie Mansion. For many years it was mainly a maternity hospital, the birthplace of many scion and heiress. It was also known in the tabloids for being a quiet, restful choice for the well-to-do and the celebrated such as Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Claire Boothe Luce, Eugene O’Neill.

Doctors Hospital became famous in the 1950s when Mrs. Ann Woodward “accidentally” shot her husband, William Woodward Jr., and to avoid the press hungry for the story of the banking heir’s death, her lawyers put her in hospital. Twenty years later Truman Capote in his roman a clef published in Esquire “Cote Basque 1965” and told a story that strongly intimated that Mrs. Woodward murdered her husband in a rage because he was leaving her for another woman. When she read the galleys of Capote’s story, she took an overdose and killed herself. In the years following, both of the Woodward sons also committed suicide.

170 East End when it was Doctors Hospital.

Beyond 170, on 88th and 89th are two more residential buildings overlooking the river as this is where the land narrows. All of these buildings from Chapin northward, have magnificent views of the park, the river, Roosevelt Island and Queens. They also get the sunrise, and a more romantic view of the sunset clouds rolling by.

And so you have a piece of the nabe. Some thing of it as “out of town” because it’s a short street – 13 blocks. During the day the sidewalks are busy with neighbors visiting the park with their dogs as well as the mothers and nannies pushing the prams and the little ones on the swings, as well as the walkers, the joggers, and the neighbors imbibing on the serenity and wisdom of the river and its traffic. It’s a little bit of the heaven of Manhattan.

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