Welcome to Upper East Side & Yorkville
Certainly, alongside Central Park, between Fifth & Lexington Avenues up to about 96th Street or so, the trappings of wealth are apparent everywhere, from the wellkept buildings, children with nannies or in private-school uniforms, limousines, dog walkers, etc. But like any other New York neighborhood, this too is one that’s diverse, with plenty of local residents who take great pride in the area yet live more modestly. Living on the Upper East Side reminds one of suburbia without the lawn, the commute or the driveway.
The Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is home to the most expensive real estate in the world, with Park Avenue in particular lined with multi-million-dollar homes. More “modest” apartments along 2nd, 3rd and Lexington Avenues are home to many investment bankers, finance and corporate types. Most of the neighborhood’s housing was built from the 1950s to the 1970s, and consists mainly of luxurious high-rises with doormen, except for some lovely walkups in the East 90s. More than one third of residents own their units, and at least 15% of buildings are condos. Mostly all residents take great pride in and care of their community environment. Because of its rich history, the Upper East Side has six distinctive historic districts. A historic district is an area of territory that has been designated by the Landmark Preservation Commission because of its special character or special historical or aesthetic interest, causing it to have a particular “sense of place.” Each historic district represents at least one period or style of architecture typical of one or more areas in the city’s history. Historical districts may contain a variety of building types and styles from several different eras.
The Upper East Side Historic District is one of New York City’s largest landmark districts, as the neighborhood is synonymous with wealth and social standing. Since the turn of the century, many of the city’s most affluent individuals have lived here. Today the district contains a rich blend of modest brownstone row houses, opulent townhouses, mansions and imposing apartment houses. Some of the finest American examples of urban residential architecture are found here.
Designated in 1981, this district reaches from 59th to 78th Streets along Fifth Avenue, and as far east as 3rd Avenue at certain points. In the decades after the Civil War, the open land with ramshackle buildings was turned into a booming middle-class residential neighborhood. At the turn of the 20th century the neighborhood metamorphosed once again, but this time into a community filled with mansions and townhouses. The Upper East Side boasts plenty of townhouses that were “stylishly updated” at that time, as brownstones then were considered dark, stodgy and unfashionable. As the 20th century moved on and living conditions changed, many of these single-family homes were replaced by luxury high-rise apartment buildings.
The Metropolitan Museum Historic District brings to life the Upper East Side’s architectural development with a variety of architectural styles and building types, ranging from late-19th century brownstone houses to mid-20th century apartment buildings. The cosmopolitan Metropolitan Museum Historic District was designated in 1977 and runs from 78th Street to 86th Street along Fifth Avenue. It also incorporates many of the houses on the mid-blocks between Fifth & Madison Avenues.
Development began in the area in the late 1860s when several rows of brownstones were constructed in the Italianate style on 78th, 80th and 81st Streets. By the end of the 1890s, several large elegant mansions had been built on Fifth Avenue, and by the turn of the century, many large fashionable mansions, built primarily in the Beaux-Arts and neo-Renaissance styles, had replaced entire rows
of brownstones. The quality of architecture in this district is extraordinary. High-lights include East 79th Street, hands-down the finest collection of turn-of-thecentury townhouses in the city, the luxurious 998 Fifth Avenue by McKim Mead and White, plus works by major early 20th century architectural firms like Carrere & Hastings (New York Public Library main branch) and Warren & Wetmore (Grand Central Terminal).
While the Metropolitan Museum of Art is itself an individual landmark, the district beyond the world-famous museum has artistic importance stemming from the 1960s and 70s when numerous art galleries opened in former townhouses and mansions. Its artistic past is evidenced by a special piece of public art – the 75-by- 15-foot Alexander Calder Sidewalk, featuring black and white parallel lines and crescents, which was commissioned by the owners of three adjacent galleries (1014-1018 Madison Avenue) and installed in 1970.
Henderson Place Historical District Henderson Place is a tiny architectural jewel hidden in a burgeoning city. Of the 32 houses originally built in 1881-82 by developer John C. Henderson for “persons of moderate means,” only 24 still survive today. All of the houses were designed by the architectural firm of Lamb & Rich, who were talented in interpreting the Queen Anne style. The historic district’s borders are the eastern end of East 86th Street/East 87th Street block between York & East End Avenues. Such features as wide-arched entryways, terra cotta plaques, and windows divided into tiny square panes, and projecting bays and oriels produced buildings that appeared of the highest level of design, though they were not initially built for high-class residents.
Carnegie Hill Historic District Carnegie Hill, which encompasses East 86th Street to East 98th Street, from Fifth to Lexington Avenues, is situated on a hill and has a distinctive topography. The historic district includes approximately 400 buildings. Its primary period of development was between the late 1870s and the early 1930s, giving way to several significant building types within the district: rows of brick and brownstone townhouses from the 1870s through 1890s; large freestanding townhouses and mansions from the 1900s through the 1930s; flat buildings and apartment hotels such as the Hotel Graham from the 1900s through the 1930s; and larger apartment buildings from post-World War I to the 1930s. The name Carnegie Hill dates from the first years of the 20th century, after Andrew Carnegie built his mansion on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street. He purchased land in what was then called “Prospect Hill,” a section already well developed with row houses and a few modest apartment houses and tenements. The decision to build there by such a wealthy man as Carnegie led to a succession of other mansions built in the area as well as luxury apartment houses that sprang up throughout the neighborhood. Again, the houses evidenced a mix of styles, from neo-Greco and Romanesque Revival row houses (1870 & 80s) to neoclassical and neo-Federal style homes (early 20th century).
Treadwell Farm Historic District is one of New York’s oldest historic districts, designated in 1967 after the inception of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The district comprises East 61st and 62nd Streets between 2nd & 3rd Avenues and was named for the Treadwell family, who owned the undeveloped land here beginning in 1815. Most of the buildings are four-story row houses built between 1868 and 1875. Today, the district is appreciated for its aesthetic portrayal of the design style of the 1910s and 1920s, when most of the buildings were “modernized” with stoop removal and stripped detail to define a more simplified elegance. The Hardenbergh/Rhinelander Historic District consists of six row houses and one “French Flats” building built in 1888-89 for the estate of William C. Rhinelander, which took on the Northern Renaissance Revival style designs of architect Henry J. Hardenbergh. Located at the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and East 89th Street, these buildings are characteristic of the residential development of the Carnegie Hill-Yorkville area brought about by transportation and street improvements in the late 19th century. The Rhinelanders, a prominent family in Manhattan real estate, were significant in that development, and controlled the properties in this historic district until 1948.
The six houses of red brick, brownstone and terra cotta form a picturesque yet symmetrical composition, and are endowed with a variety of window entrance enframements and a roofline composed of prominent pediments and cornices. The flats building behind the houses complements the style, and is dominated by a broken pediment/cornice surmounted by a pedimented window. Common design history and 60-year ownership by the Rhinelander family has helped these buildings survive as an entity, though they were later surrounded mostly by apartment buildings. Other prominent owner-residents have included artist Andy Warhol and the Fertility Institute of New York.
At the northeast section of the Upper East Side, stretching from the 70s and 80s along York, 1st & 2nd Avenues, Yorkville is home to rows of beautiful, well-maintained Italianate townhouses from the late 1800s, as well as more recently built apartment complexes. It is a diverse area within the neighborhood, with a mix of high and low buildings, young and elderly residents. Yorkville was originally a 19thcentury German-American community discrete from the rest of New York, centered at 86th Street & 3rd Avenue. In those days, York Avenue was called Avenue A, taking on its present-day name from World War I hero Alvin C. York. Over the years, Yorkville has also welcomed many other waves of immigrants over the years, and some local shops and restaurants still reflect this past European heritage. In the late 18th century, Yorkville was a small hamlet between New York and Harlem, with country estates attracting wealthy families of German origin, like the Schermerhorns, Rhinelanders and Astors. Yorkville quickly became a suburb area drawing middle-class Germans upon the arrival of the New York and Harlem Railroad in 1834, including people like the Rupperts who opened a brewery in the area. By 1900, as waves of Eastern European and Italian immigrants came in, many Germans who’d also been living downtown in the Lower East Side began moving to Yorkville due to unbearable living conditions.
No matter who lived there, Yorkville was always a solid neighborhood through the Depression years – people worked either in small businesses or for the brewery, and enjoyed leisure time at local restaurants, beer gardens and Viennese- style cafes. In the years before World War II, Yorkville was a center of both Nazi and anti-Nazi activity. After the war, the area saw a last wave of German immigration and later an influx of Hungarians. Hispanics filtered down from Spanish Harlem, but these days the area has attracted affluent young working couples and singles settled into the high-rise living that rapidly changed the face of the neighborhood.
More Neighborhood History
Key events furthering the development of the Upper East Side as Manhattan’s “Gold Coast” are: 1896, when Caroline Schermerhorn Astor moved to her mansion at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street, bringing about the deluge of society that made Fifth Avenue the fashionable address it still is today; 1901, when steel magnate Andrew Carnegie occupied his mansion at Fifth & 91st Street, further extending the boundaries of the acceptable, and christening the area as Carnegie Hill; 1907, when New York Central Railroad created train service down Park Avenue to Grand Central, subsequently bringing about the construction of an underground railroad tunnel. The railroad tracks separated the wealthy (west from Park to Fifth Avenue) from the poor (east to Yorkville and the river). When the tracks were finally buried, the stigma was removed, and Park Avenue itself was transformed into one of the most prestigious residential addresses in the city.