The New York of a century ago was a town in constant flux. Growing northward at the galloping pace of a mile every decade, the city’s centers of wealth, entertainment, commerce and residence metamorphosed in a constant, dizzying dance. One theme remained always – an agonizing housing shortage.
So when the 9th Avenue El’s opening in 1879 made the West Side easily accessible for the first time, most everyone expected would-be homeowners to absolutely pour into the area, checkbooks at the ready. But it didn’t happen that way. This was especially true in the southern portion of the neighborhood-to-be, the land where John Somerindyck had once farmed, fished and hunted his vast estate. The 1880s saw an invasion by hordes of cheap, speculative tenements west of Broadway. The land around Central Park remained mostly vacant. There was nothing particularly compelling to lure new homesteaders away fromthe heart of fashionable society far downtown along Fifth Avenue between Madison Square and Murray Hill. The billowing smoke and noise of the ugly but essential El on Ninth Avenue cast a palling cloud upon the area. Farther to the west ran the massive trackworks of the New York Central railroad line, which opened around 1880. Besides adding another dose of smoke and noise, the trains carried livestock to stockyards at 60th Street with its own special odors.
The Upper West Side experienced a building boom from 1885 to 1910, thanks in large part to the 1904 opening of the city’s first subway line. Like the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side is primarily a residential and commercial area today, with many of its residents working in more commercial areas in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. Although an affluent neighborhood the Upper West Side never acquired the crustiness associated with its fellow Central Park habitue on the East River.
Our walking tour will start at the foot of the Upper West Side in Columbus Circle...
at the southwest corner of Central Park; intersection of Broadway, Central Park West, 59th Street, and Eighth Avenue
The traffic circle, envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted as a grand entrance to Central Park in the mid 1800s, was not constructed until 1905. William Eno, who pioneered several early innovations in road safety and traffic control, designed the intersection. The monument of the Genoan explorer at the center, created by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, is the point at which distances to and from New York City are officially measured. It was erected as part of New York’s 1892 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World.
START WALKING NORTH ON BROADWAY.
62nd to 66th streets between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues
On May 14, 1959, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower stood near Broadway and 64th Street and broke ground on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, hailing it as a “great cultural adventure.” Envisioned as the largest and most ambitious of any performing arts complex in the world, Lincoln Center was considered a radical idea at the time, since the plan called for both educational and performing arts institutions in one location. The first president of Lincoln Center was John D. Rockefeller 3rd helmed Lincoln Center in the beginning and over the next five decades the following organizations have come online: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (June 22, 1956); New York Philharmonic (November 29, 1956); The Juilliard School (February 1, 1957); The Metropolitan Opera (February 21, 1957); New York City Ballet and New York City Opera (City Center of Music and Drama, Inc., April 12, 1965); New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (November 26, 1965); The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (January 1, 1973); The Film Society of Lincoln Center (November 4, 1974); Lincoln Center Theater (July 1, 1985); School of American Ballet (May 4, 1987); Jazz at Lincoln Center (July 1, 1996).
60 Lincoln Center; Broadway at 65th Street
At the time the idea for establishing the Institute of Musical Art was being kicked around in 1905 there was no music academy in America to rival the European conservatories. Frank Damrosch, the head of music education for New York City’s public schools, was convinced that aspiring American musicians need not tramp across the Atlantic Ocean for their training. He coaxed money from James Loeb and modestly planned for 100 students but he had greatly underestimated the demand for high-quality musical training. The School quickly outgrew its original home at Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, and, in 1910, moved to new quarters on Claremont Avenue. When Augustus D. Juilliard, a wealthy textile merchant died in 1919 his will contained the largest single bequest for the advancement of music up to that time.
171 West 71st Street, northeast corner of Broadway
Early in 1899 Hamilton M. Weed picked up this lot for $275,000 before the subway that was to open the West Side to easy development was announced. Weed called on his go-to architects Elisha Harris Janes and Richard Leopold Leo to design his apartment complex. The team created numerous exuberant Beaux Arts buildings during their years as partners from 1898 until 1911 but were never so flamboyant as they were for the French Baroque Dorilton in 1902. The brick exterior trimmed in limestone is flooded with balustrades, corner quoins, monumental sculptures and decorative terra-cotta all under a mansard roof punctuated by a riot of ornate dormers and chimneys and rich copper cresting.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST 71ST STREET.
The Church of the Blessed Sacrament
150 West 71st Street
The Parish of the Blessed Sacrament was founded in 1887 with the first mass held in a stable on 72nd Street when the surrounding land was open country. The first house of worship came in the form of a red brick Italianate building erected on 71st Street, just west of the current sanctuary. The old Blessed Sacrament church was torn down in 1917 and Gustave Steinback masterfully fitted a new Gothic-inspired church building into the now crowded streetscape, complete with a magnificent blue and red rose window.
RETURN TO BROADWAY AND TURN RIGHT.
72nd Street IRT Control House
Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, south of 72nd Street
The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) was the private operator of the original New York City Subway line that opened in 1904 with underground trains running from City Hall up to 145th Street. Architects George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge provided the unusual Flemish Renaissance headhouse that today provides no station entrances from the sidewalk.
Central Savings Bank /Apple Bank
2100 Broadway, northeast corner of 73rd Street
Apple Bank took its first deposits in 1863 as the Haarlem Savings Bank when Harlem was still a remote suburban village not part of New York City. There were over 30,000 accounts by the end of the century and through the name changes has emerged as New York’s 4th largest bank. This Italian Renaissance vault came from America’s greatest bank architects, Edward York & Philip Sawyer, in 1928. A coffered barrel-vault spans the grand banking hall where deposits are still being taken.
2109 Broadway, between 73rd and 74th streets
William Earle Dodge Stokes, heir to one of America’s greatest mining fortunes, set out to build the town’s grandest hotel in 1899, which he planned to name for his grandfather Anson Green Phelps. Paul E.M. Duboy, a sculptor, got the job but Stokes listed himself as “architect-in-chief” on the project. The result was an 18-story, Parisian-influenced ornament that helped usher in luxury living on the Upper West Side. Tenants enjoyed a grand ballroom, a swimming pool, a theater, the town’s first air conditioning and a system that sent messages swooshing in pneumatic tubes from room to room. Live seals splashed in the fountain, and Stokes kept a pet bear and farm animals in the roof garden next to his apartment, accessed via a cattle elevator he installed. Celebrities from Enrico Caruso to Babe Ruth have lived here, and the Chicago White Sox conspired here to throw the 1919 World Series.
Many Upper West Side residents will swear that this neighborhood institution under the trademark blue awning is the world’s greatest supermarket.
Schwab Mansion site
11 Riverside Drive
Two blocks west of Broadway, along the Hudson River steel magnate Charles M. Schwab moved into his new, 75-room French chateau-style mansion on the block bounded by 73rd and 74th Streets, West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The site had formerly been occupied by the New York Orphan Asylum and had been purchased by financier Jacob Schiff. Apparently Schiff’s wife worried that “she would never see her fashionable friends again if she had to live on the Drive” and reluctantly Schiff sold the property to Schwab, who was an associate of Andrew Carnegie’s in running United States Steel. The cream-colored granite structure had 116-foot-high pinnacles and was impressive enough to lead Carnegie, who had recently built his own mansion on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street that is now the home of the National Museum of Design, to ask a friend, “Have you seen that place of Charley’s...It makes mine look like a shack.” It was the largest and most lavish mansion ever built in Manhattan. When he died in 1939, Schwab bequeathed his magnificent house set in lush gardens behind handsome fences to the city for the mayor’s residence, but Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia indignantly rejected it. “What, me in that?” he reportedly said. In 1943, the Mayor moved into Gracie Mansion in Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side. Without fanfare, the Schwab mansion was torn down five years later in 1948.
2211 Broadway, between 78th and 79th streets
Loyalist Charles Ward Apthorp owned one of the largest swaths of land, some 300 acres, on the Upper West Side in the 1700s. This apartment building that consumes a full block, was raised in 1908 resides on the site of the ancestral Apthorp home. Charles W. Clinton and William Hamilton Russell drew up plans for the world’s largest apartment house for landowner William Waldorf Astor. Modeled after the Pitti Palace in Florence and brought to life by the passion of William Waldorf Astor, Formally divided into four buildings, the Apthorp comes together around a spacious courtyard. Some who have lived here: Al Pacino, Conan O’Brien, Cyndi Lauper, and Rosie O’Donnell.
2245 Broadway at 80th Street
In 1934 Louis and Lillian Zabar started Zabar’s by renting an Appetizing Counter in a Daitch Market. Louis had a philosophy. He would sell only the highest quality smoked fish at a fair price. He wanted his customers to trust him and he wanted them to become “regulars.” He traveled to the smokehouses and sampled the smoked fish himself. He refused much more than he accepted. He developed a reputation of being hard to please. Over the years Lillian and Louis took over the Daitch Market - and Zabar’s - an Upper West Side institution was born.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST 81ST STREET AND WALK TO CENTRAL PARK.
211 Cenral Park West, northwest corner of 81st Street
Architect Emery Roth placed four brawny apartment blocks on Central Park West and The Beresford, completed in 1929, is the largest. Roth infused his design with Italian Renaissance motifs, including three octagonal copper-topped towers. It takes it name from the six-story Hotel Beresford that was erected by Alva Walker here in 1889. Jerry Seinfeld, Diana Ross, John McEnroe and Tony Randall have been among the Beresford’s celebritiy residents.
TURN RIGHT ON CENTRAL PARK WEST.
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
Theodore Roosevelt’s father was one of the museum founders in 1869; the first exhibits were displayed in the old arsenal in Central Park - the collection today numbers some 30 million specimens and 46 permanent exhibition halls display a small fraction of it. Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould, veterans of the Central Park design, drew the plans for the museum’s first permanent home, a picturesque Victorian Gothic structure that opened in 1877. It was soon overshadowed by a turreted and towered brownstone in the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style by J. Cleaveland Cady. Extending along 77th Street, the towers rise 150 feet above the adjacent park. The entrance on Central Park West is the New York State Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, a magnificent Beaux-Arts rendering by John Russell Pope, completed in 1936.The building at 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue is the glorious Rose Center for Earth and Space. Even if you don’t have time for the Cosmic Pathway or Hayden Planetarium, you can admire the building, a stunning glass cube enclosing a glowing white globe.
New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
This was New York’s first museum, founded in 1804. Today four centuries of America’s heritage seen through the prism of New York City are located in this Neoclassical building, an Edward York and Philip Sawyer effort from 1908. It is the second depository designed specifically for its collections, replacing an 1857 building at the then-fashionable intersection of Second Avenue and 11th Street, where it stayed for the next fifty years. A. Stewart Walker and Leon N. Gillette, who practiced architecture in New York for almost forty years, added the flanking pavilion sin 1938.
TURN RIGHT ON 76TH STREET.
Universalist Church of New York
4 West 76th Street
Originally home to the Fourth Universalist Society, this church reflects the long-lasting popularity of the Gothic Revival as a style for Christian ecclesiastical structures. It went up in 1898, some sixty years after Gothic churches began to appear on New York streets. Built to serve churchgoers from the immediate neighborhood, the church also attracted members of high society from across the park.
RETURN TO CENTRAL PARK WEST AND TURN RIGHT.
151 Central Park West, northwest corner of 75th Street
The Kenilworth is one of several distinguished French Second Empire-style apartment houses on the West Side that are among the city’s most eye-catching residential buildings. Designed by Townsend, Steinle and Haskell for the Lenox Realty Company, this 13-story building, which is surrounded by a dry moat, was erected in 1908 and converted to a cooperative in 1958. It has only 42 apartments. The limestone trim set against the red brick appears almost as cake icing.
145-46 Central Park West, between 74th and 75th streets
Another effort from architect Emery Roth, construction began here in 1929. He took advantage of recent zoning changes to insert dueling ten-story towers topped up with lanterns intended to call to mind the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates from ancient Greece. The building is dressed in light brown brick and terra-cotta, above a three-story limestone base. The lengthy list of famous San Remo residents include Steven Spielberg, Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs, Demi Moore, Glenn Close, Dustin Hoffman, U2 frontman Bono, Steve Martin, Bruce Willis, Eddie Cantor, Stephen Sondheim, and Aaron Spelling. Screen siren Rita Hayworth spent her last years there.
Site of first auto traffic fatality
Central Park West and West 7th Street
On the evening of September 13, 1899 Henry Bliss, a New York real estate man, jumped down from a streetcar and was struck by a passing automobile here. When he died the next morning, Mr. Bliss became the first person killed by an automobile in the Western hemisphere. A sign above eye level on the park side of Central Park West offers a remembrance.
135 Central Park West
The Langham was another mammoth apartment building that went fishing for deep-pocketed tenants with a French Renaissance design in 1905. Charles W. Clinton and William Hamilton Russell provided the design. Members of the Bloomingdale and Saks families were among the first to sign leases to pay $500 a month (a good working wage was about $2 a day) when the building opened in 1907.
1 West 72nd Street, northwest corner of Central Park West
The Dakota, constructed on designs by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, opened in 1884 and immediately its French flavor made it one of the most influential buildings in New York City. According to popular legend, the Dakota was so named because at the time it was built, the Upper West Side of Manhattan was sparsely inhabited and considered as remote as the Dakota Territory. It is more likely that the building was named “The Dakota” because moneyman Edward C. Clark, a founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, harbored a fondness for the names of the new western states and territories. High above the 72nd Street entrance, the figure of a Dakota Indian keeps watch. The building is best known as the home of former Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, starting in 1973, and as the location of Lennon’s assassination in 1980. The Strawberry Fields memorial was laid out in memory of Lennon in Central Park directly across Central Park West.
115 Central Park West, between 7st and 72nd streets
In 1930 Irwin Channin created one of Central Park West’s famous twin-towered apartment houses, the 29-story Majestic on the former site of the famous 12-story, 600-room Hotel Majestic that had been built in 1894 by Albert Zucker with a roof garden and bowling alleys. The Depression took its toll on the building and Chanin defaulted on its mortgage in 1933. Columnist Walter Winchell and mafia boss Frank Costello, the “Prime Minister of the Underworld,” lived in the Majestic, and Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the convicted kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh’s baby, worked on the building as a carpenter.
99 Central Park West, southwest corner of 70th Street
America’s oldest Jewish congregation was founded by Spanish and Portuguese immigrants in 1655, although they were not given permission to worship in a public synagogue for several decades. The congregants first gathered in this Neoclassical house of worship, dominated by a quartet of large Corinithian columns, in 1897.
88 Central Park West, southwest corner of 69th Street
This handsome, 12-story, beige brick apartment building overlooking Central Park was an early project from Simon I. Schwartz and Arthur Gross in a partnership that lasted from 1902 into the 1950s. After it became a co-operative in 1958 one of the first buyers was actress Celeste Holm. She paid $10,000. She stayed until her death at the age of 95 in 2012 and her eight-room suite went on the market for $13,950,000 - 1,395 time more than her purchase price.
First Church of Christ
77 Central Park West, southwest corner of 68th Street
In the 1860s, Mary Baker Eddy recovered from an illness after reading of the healing of Jesus, and in 1879 she established the Christian Science Church in Boston, dedicated to using the power of religious belief to heal. Seven years later a group of followers started New York’s first Christian Science church, operating for years out of rented quarters. They settled on 96th Street and Central Park West when a faction broke off and started the Second Church of Christ here in 1901. After many contentious years the two sects unified, taking this site but importing the name from up the street.
Hotel des Artistes
1 West 67th, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
This 18-story building has 115 apartments, most duplexes with double-height living rooms and balcony bedrooms. Architect George Mort Pollard crafted the Neo-Gothic building as a co-operative with artists in mind. Over the years it attracted such famous practitioners of the arts as heartthrob actor Rudolph Valentino, dancer Isadora Duncan, playwright Noel Coward, New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay, writer Alexander Woollcott, and Norman Rockwell, the artist. Artist Howard Chandler Christy, an early resident, painted murals for the building’s famous restaurant, Café des Artistes.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST 66TH STREET.
ABC Television Headquarters
West 66th Street
This block is home to ABC Television; No. 77 is the headquarters building and home to World News Tonight. Three massive buildings comprise the ABC complex, each with different brick facings and fenestration but all designed by the same architect in the 1980s - Kohn Pederson Fox.
RETURN TO CENTRAL PARK WEST AND TURN RIGHT.
55 Central Park West
southwest corner of 66th Street
Simon I. Schwartz and Arthur Gross designed this Art Deco tower in 1930 for moneymen Victor Earle and John C. Calhoun, who had been developing the Upper West Side for decades. It would be admired by architecture critics but remembered by movie fans for its star turn as the building where Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis were haunted in Ghostbusters.
50 Central Park West, southwest corner of 65th Street
Erected in 1907 by Franklin and Samuel Haines and designed by Charles W. Romeyn and Henry R. Wynne, the Prásáda originally began life as a French Second Empire-style apartment house.
In 1919, its mansard roof came down in an insensitive makeover, although New York City has certianly seen worse.
New York Society for Ethical Culture
33 Central Park West, southwest corner of 64th Street
The school first opened in 1878, as a free kindergarten founded by Felix Adler when he was 24 years old and still idealistic enough to believe in educating poor children, which wasn’t done then. By 1890 the school’s academic reputation was such that wealthy parentss ought it out and in 1895 the name changed to “The Ethical Culture School.” The school moved into this landmark building in 1904. The entire school operated here until 1928 when the high school division (Fieldston) moved to Riverdale in the Bronx.
25 Central Park West, between 62nd and 63rd streets
The sister of the Majestic apartment building several blocks to the north, the Century opened in 1932 as one of the buildings in the stable of prolific developer Irwin S. Chanin, who also built the 56-story Chanin Building on East 42nd Street and many famous theaters around Times Square such as the Roxy, the Biltmore and the Majestic. Each of the twin towers is topped with intersecting vertical and horizontal fins. It has not weathered the years as gracefully as its neighbors to the north; for instance a look at its roster of celebrity tenants does not reveal any of recent vintage: agent William Morris, Lee Shubert, the theater magnate, writer Marc Connelly, and entertainers Ethel Merman, Robert Goulet, Ray Bolger, Fay Wray and Nanette Fabray.
A FEW MORE STEPS RETURNS YOU TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN COLUMBUS CIRCLE.