Entrance to Gracie Mansion

Entrance to Gracie Mansion

By Carter B. Horsley

One of Manhattan's shorter avenues, East End Avenue is similar to Sutton Place, about a mile to the south, in that it boasts of a block of nice townhouses, many spectacular river views and a mix of apartment buildings, some of which are among the best in the city.

Sutton Place has been fully developed for a few decades, but East End Avenue still has some underdeveloped sites in its southwestern area.

Gracie Square skyline

View from Carl Schurz Park of Gracie Square skyline

Whereas Sutton Place has several small parks and one large communal garden overlooking the East River shared by the townhouses between 57th and 58th Street, the northern section of East End Avenue and the short block of Gracie Square front on Carl Schurz Park, named after the politician and newspaper editor and which overlooks the East River and contains Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of the City of New York (although Mayor Bloomberg has chosen to reside in his own townhouse on 79th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues).

Main entrance to Carl Schurz Park

Main entrance at 86th Street to Carl Schurz Park

Carl Schurz Park is quite pleasant with a formal entrance at the terminus of East 86th Street, a playground at 84th Street and a broad esplanade that stretches for several blocks. "A brilliant solution to the intersection of city, river and highway. Suspended over FDR Drive is a sinuous expansive esplanade overlooking Hell Gate's churning waters.

Esplanade looking south

Esplanade looking south

It is edged with a curved, user-friendly wrought iron fence so effective that its form was appropriated for the Battery Park City esplanade," noted Elliot Willensky and Norval White in their wonderful book, "The A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Fourth Edition," Three Rivers Press, 2000. To the north, it overlooks the Triborough Bridge, which opened in 1936, which is elevated over Randalls and Wards Islands, and the Hells Gate Bridge, which opened in 1917 and was designed by Gustav Lindenthal.

Carl Schurz Park esplanade looking north

Carl Schurz Park esplanade looking north

There is excellent cross-town bus service on 79th and 86th Streets and York Avenue, but the closest subway line is on Lexington Avenue. There is express bus service to the Wall Street area that stops at 79th Street.

Carl Schurz Park esplanade looking south

Esplanade looking south

The southern terminus of East End Avenue is 79th Street, where the full-block City & Suburban Homes project of low-rise apartment buildings, many with courtyards, had been the site of a major development controversy in the early 1990s. Peter Kalikow, a developer who at the time was the publisher of The New York Post and went on to become the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, had acquired the complex and announced plans to raze it and erect four high-rise luxury apartment towers. As part of his plan, he offered to relocate existing residents on the block into upgraded apartments on the site at the same rents, but community opposition thwarted his plan and led to the block's designation as an official city landmark. The block had been an early "model tenement" scheme, similar to another further down York Avenue in the mid-60s.

East End Avenue looking south

City & Suburban Homes, low building at right, at south terminus of East End Avenue

Unlike the Cherokee Apartments that occupy much of the block between the FDR Drive and York Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets, the City & Suburban buildings had little architectural distinction.

Cty & Suburban Homes

City & Suburban Homes project occupies full block bounded by York Avenue, the FDR Drive and 78th and 79th Streets

While they are nicely maintained, they are drab, in marked contrast to the very impressive, pre-war luxury apartment building at One East End Avenue directly across 79th Street.

Townhouses between 86th and 87th Streets

Town houses between 86th and 87th Streets back onto midblock Henderson Place. Tall brown-brick building at right center is Beth Israel Hospital North that was demolished by developer Orin Wilf who replaced it with a residential condominium building designed by Peter Marino.

The red-brick, Queen Anne-style townhouses between 86th and 87th Streets constitute the Henderson Place Historic District. There are 24 townhouses remaining out of the original 32 that were designed by Lamb & Rich and erected in 1882. Henderson Place is a mid-block cul-de-sac that has entrances to some of the houses across from the lobby of a high-rise apartment building.

While the townhouse block between 86th and 87th Streets has great charm while also providing more light and air and good vistas to its surrounding buildings, the low-rise building at 91 East End Avenue has undergone several renovations over the years.

91 East End Avenue

91 East End Avenue

It was remodeled to create very spacious, loft-like apartments in the last quarter of the 20th Century and given a black stucco facade emblazoned with a very large stainless steel street number, but at the start of the 21st Street its gray fašade was painted white in another remodeling and the large and handsome street number sign sadly removed.

The Chapin School

The Chapin School at 100 East End Avenue

The park is not the only attraction to the East End Avenue area. Two of the city's finest private schools for girls Chapin and Brearley are located one block part. Chapin occupies a nice Georgian-style building on the northeast corner of 84th Street at 100 East End Avenue. The 1928 building was designed by Delano & Aldrich. The Chapin School was enlarged in 2007-8.

The Brearley School

The Brearley School at 610 East 83rd Street

This is a very quiet area with little traffic, which also means that it is not always easy to catch a cab. Brearley (see The City Review article) occupies a 10-story building directly overlooking the East River at 612 East 83rd Street. It was designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris and completed in 1929. In 1941, the John H. Finley Walk (named after a former president of the City Council and an associate editor of The New York Times, was opened extending the esplanade of Carl Schurz Park a few blocks to the south and provided an overpass extension to the Brearley School.

In his superb "Streetscapes" column in the September 2, 2007 edition of The New York Times, Chrisopher Gray wrote in the 1920s, "East End was still a mix of tenements, and, below 84th Street, factories," adding that "Elisabeth Pell, who lived on 86th Street off East End in the 1920s, said in 1980, 'We would just sniff along - coffee, sugar, something that smelled like popcorn, all depending on the wind.'" (9/4/07)

Asphalt Green

Asphalt Green

The Asphalt Green Sports and Arts Center at 655 East 90th Street is one of the area's major landmarks with its parabolic arch structure. It was originally the Municipal Asphalt Plant and was designed by Kahn & Jacobs and erected in 1944. In 1982, it was altered to designs by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum with Pasanella + Klein as design architects into a sports center. In 1993, the Asphalt Green Aquacenter was opened at 1790 York Avenue between 90th and 92nd Streets to designs by Richard Dattner. "A sensuous Post Modern construction in undulating brick, glass block, and bright green sash. An honor for the neighborhood," proclaimed authors Willensky and White in their "AIA Guide to New York Architecture, Fourth Edition."

In their wonderful book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War and the Bicentennial," (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman noted that in 1968 a major proposal might have significantly altered the northern vistas from Gracie Mansion:

"Without question the most aesthetically and technologically daring postwar proposal for the Upper East Side's riverfront was Moshe Safdie's unrealized Habitat I (1968). Like Safdie's similar and also unrealized Habitat II, later proposed for lower Manhattan..., the sprawling development, which included stores, parking and a marina in addition to housing, was to be composed of complexly interlocking lightweight concrete modular units. The project, planned for a platform to be built in the East River, would extend roughly from Ninety-first to Ninety-fourth Street; a portion of the complex was to span the FDR Drive. Each octahedral unit was to be thirty-two feet across; some apartments would feature duplex formats, skylights and landscaped terraces. Pivoting interior walls would allow for the simple redesign of room configurations."

The spectacular design is illustrated in the authors' book and it is sad that Safdie was unable to develop such projects in the city as they superb examples of Brutalist megaprojects, which have unfortunately been too much derided by some critics.

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