There goes the neighborhood

Featured image
Looking west across the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. 6:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, February 4, 2019.  The weather outside yesterday in New York was delightful. I mean: 56 degrees on the first of Feb. Climate warming, I dunno, but it’s almost warm in New York right now.  And the same is forecast for today. We’re a month and two weeks into Winter, and while it’s been quite cold on some days, on many others it’s been pleasantly not as cold. The only precipitation, save a couple of times briefly when it snowed, has been rain. This isn’t new; it’s been going on (changing) weather-wise around here for the last few years.

These snowless days, we forget that at this time of the year it could be cold, windy and brutal. Here we see the corner of 79th Street and York Avenue on January 25, 2015 — winter as usual.

Meanwhile, it’s been quiet around the town from this reporter’s point of view. A lot of people I know are out-of-town these days, namely in the warmer climes like Florida and specifically Palm Beach and Jupiter Island. That doesn’t make the town quiet but you do get the feeling there are a lot of people in that particular boat and it’s one we see sailing about the town all the time. 

Perfect example: I had dinner with Gillian and Sylvester Miniter on Sunday night at Sette Mezzo. That restaurant is usually a madhouse on Sunday nights (early). You dine with the din. Last Sunday it was not even half full.  I figured they were all home watching the Super Bowl. I was surprised that Sylvester wasn’t watching (he had it on his cell and taped it). 

I asked Oriente the host/maitre’d where everyone was. “They’re down in Miami!” he said. I thought he meant watching it on the tube. No, a lot of the Sunday regulars were down in Miami. I don’t follow football (no kidding!) but it was explained that the location was perfect for any and all who go or like to go to FLA. PB, wherever.

Sette Mezzo on Lexington Avenue.

Meanwhile I was here in my little hut on East End Avenue, luxuriating in the silence. I have lived in this neighborhood for a little more than 25 years. I was drawn to it by my friend Beth DeWoody who lived in the area. Some people say it’s out of the way. It definitely is out-of-the-way for those people. It’s a 13-block area of what was originally called Avenue B Uptown, right on what used to be the banks of the East River (now occupied by the FDR Drive). 

In the olden days it was a retreat in warmer weather from the heat of the city which was way downtown. By the early 19th century the area closer to York Avenue and westward attracted a lot of German immigrants and was known as Germantown. When it was paved Avenue B became an area for tenements and small factories. Much of the land was part of the Astor Estate. 

The first JJ Astor had a summer retreat nearby in the early 19th century. It was his great-grandson Vincent Astor who built a grand luxury apartment on 85th Street and East End Avenue. At the time – the late ’30s/early ’40s – he had built for himself a 10,000 square foot penthouse overlooking the East River, Queens and Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s house which is across the avenue.

Carl Schurz Park was named for the man in 1910.

Over the years it quietly developed into an entirely upscale residential area, not to be confused with Park or Fifth Avenues. Because it is not a through street — beginning at 79th and ending at 90th — it is often very quiet, especially at night, and five of those blocks front Carl Schurz Park which sits on 15 acres along the river with the same view that Vincent Astor — and his second and third wives, Minnie, and Brooke — had. Schurz was a German immigrant who migrated in the 1800s and became a well-known journalist as well as a senator from Missouri. 

Brooke Astor lived in the neighborhood at 10 Gracie Square, before she met and married Vincent, whose building was only a block away. 10 Gracie has had several prominent residents such as Gloria Vanderbilt, Andre Kostelanitz, Madame Chiang kai-Shek. The author Jane Stanton Hitchcock grew up there. 

By the 1940s and the residence of Vincent Astor as well as the city’s acquisition of Gracie Mansion, it became a very popular residential area. Babs Simpson, the Vogue editor, lived in my building, Lady Sarah Churchill lived at number 60, as did Anthony Quinn; Arthur Godfrey lived at 1 Gracie Terrace, Ernie Kovacs lived at #55; as did Orson Bean and Donald Pleasance; Patricia Neal lived at 45 East End, as did Walter Cronkite and Don AmecheBea Lillie lived at #25, and John O’Hara lived at 1 East End, as did Johnny Carson with his first wife Jody.

Since I’ve lived in the neighborhood it has been a den of massive construction. By “den” I mean: you’re part of it, like being in the room. The noise, the racket, the tremendous dust of all varieties, including metal, the massive trucks coming and going razing and raising, and again, the noise, often seven days a week! Robert A. M. Stern was the architect of an elegant looking new co-op  on the northwest corner of 80th, one block north is a new 30 story co-op that recently opened (having replaced a longstanding apartment house). Then on 83rd, the Brearley School has recently opened a new building that contains classrooms and gyms and other departments. 14 stories.

That’s the building that’s been on my mind most because when I go out on my terrace, that is what I am looking at (to the south). Construction in the city (which seems as if its at its all-time peak) is distracting in all the wrong ways, including in the way it affects traffic and getting around. Nevertheless it is also (for me anyway) watching Change.

I took these photos of the southwest corner of 83rd Street and East End Avenue beginning in late 2016 when word was confirmed that half that block  would be raised and Brearley was building a multi-story building (its main building is one block was, on the river, on 83rd Street).

The southeast corner of 83rd Street and East End Avenue in 2016. The scaffolding indicated the razing. Before that there was a deli, a restaurant, a cleaner and a hairdresser on the ground floor (very convenient) and apartments on the four floors above.

It finally opened a few months ago. As annoying as its creation was to the neighborhood, now it is in residence, commanding even, and we are used to it and have accepted it as a marker. It has an interesting yet agreeable presence.

One block to the north, however, sits the Chapin School, and they too are “expanding” and upwards. And upwards. That is another one of those annoyers although I think we’re all used to it to the point where we don’t really notice it. Sort of.

A robin redbreast with worm overlooking the construction.
Scaffolding up, netting covering, the razing had begun, 2016.

Ready to go upwards, 2017.

2019. Just about ready for the students.

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