Upper West Side

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Each part of town has several neighborhoods. Our residential-real-estate survey condenses its developmental highlights through Manhattan’s boom-and-bust economic cycles.

In no way is its intention a complete history: rather, the survey reflects the overriding characteristics that remain (through its rise, fall, and then {often} subsequent gentrification).

Furthermore, the seven additional elements–our highlights, photographs, maps, and suchlike–aim to create a mosaic of the lifestyle and housing types throughout Manhattan.

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Upper West Side

Prior to Central Park opening in 1858, from the Bloomingdale Road intercession at West 59th Street (Central Park South) and Eighth Avenue (the Great Circle) and spreading to the Hudson River, was the Bloomingdale. Even though truncated in half, by Central Park absorbing Fifth to Eighth Avenues, and, as though Central Park wasn’t a unique enough border, the western and northern borders were implanted as Riverside and Morningside parks—both designed by Olmstead and Vaux as well. Resembling Central Park West, each park design included an integral bordering residential avenue.

  • Riverside Park is a relatively narrow strip, and runs along the Hudson River for three miles beginning at West 72nd Street—curving, rising and falling on gently graded tiered slopes—to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (West 125th Street). Conceived to conceal the New York Central tracks and authorized in 1872, however, it was completed 30 years later (with intermittent northern extensions). The designers used rocky precipices as a backdrop for elm tree groves with sylvan lawns, and esplanades to stroll. It was Olmsted who combined the park and avenue into a single design, creating a curving and meandering roadway and promenade, undulating atop the easterly bluff, and overlooking the landscaped hillside leading to the river’s (manmade) waterfront.
  • Morningside Park, conceived as an accommodation (to the New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan), for distinctly steep and particularly rugged terrain—a mass of impenetrable protrusions. In 1872, roughly 30 acres were designed in collaboration with Jacob Wrey Mould; Vaux and Mould executed an altered plan, which was completed in 1885. (Previously, Mould and Vaux collaborated on the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park’s Bethesda Plaza and the Bow Bridge.) Morningside Drive, as a Ninth Avenue continuation, is perched on the winding western edge cliff, spanning Cathedral Parkway to West 122nd Street, and includes Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

Besides three entirely hilly, rocky terrain parks, there were intermittent streams, creeks, marshes, and abundant colossal protrusions. For the Native people, the Reed Valley trading post to the flatlands of Harlem Valley was Amayah Kithakie “a wasteland.” While Peter Stuyvesant had degreed Haerlem Common as 72nd Street’s north, between the southern settlement and Haerlem trading post and village, remained uninhabited. The first British Governor, Richard Nicholls, granted a “Thousand Acre Tract”—roughly West 42nd Street to West 89th Streets—to a Dutch and English syndicate.

The Bloomingdale district terrain accommodated a few sheep pastures, but negligible farmed tracts, the homesteads staked out by mostly Dutch Reform and Quaker and French Huguenot families had flowering gardens galore. Their 1700s estates endured. British colonial merchant families and the city mayors established their country homes along this stagecoach route too. Some—though not many—landowners had been loyalists during the Revolutionary War: consequentially they lost their property by confiscation. All the while, Manhattan was developing and the four-mile stretch, between the Circle and Bloomingdale Village, remained family property lines abutting one another; many estates running from the Hudson River and east beyond Sixth Avenue.

Before 1855 and Central Park, there were isolated patches with only a few streets laid out, and those few had easily managed obstructions, particularly in the West Eighties and stretching two blocks from the proposed parkland to the Western Boulevard. There were vast estates, small tracts, fewer individual plots, various denomination rural community churches, and roadside taverns (by the score) for stagecoach passengers, with beer gardens to attract day-trippers.

Over centuries an insulated society evolved north of Saw-Kill to the Bloomingdale hamlet gates, including six third-generation Hopper heirs’ West Fifties manor houses, the old Havermeyer House, at Columbus Circle, ending on the bluff above the Hudson River, at fourth-generation de Peyster and Livingston and Rogers riverfront mansions and villa nestled near their hamlet St. Michael’s Church.

The West End’s slow initial development began in the 1878 when the Ninth Avenue El opened. Development accelerated with a post-Spanish American War, 1898 housing boom blasted off; the better-suited Upper West Side was applied, and it still does. With a remarkable collective heritage, these homogeneous cohesive and adjacent geographic areas retain similar Upper West Side traits, and they always did.

The biggest development boost west of Broadway, prior to 1900, was the creation of Riverside Drive and Park (1873-75 for pre-planning, for its construction 1875-80, with later additions north of West 72nd Street near the Hudson River). Opened to the public in 1880, the drive roadway sat unfinished until the West 96th Street viaduct, crossing Striker’s Bay, was approved, and then for construction to begin.

The West End development pace sped up, with building as never before, in 1886, and the rapid population of long-neglected, gigantic, rock masses—occasionally topped by shanties or grazing goats’ glances—disappeared as the streets were graded and substantial buildings rose by the thousands, where one year before fallow, wildflower fields lay barren or rocky, market gardens bloomed. The early phase saw an initial burst of speculatively-built, row house and flats building construction for the middle and upper classes. This was due in part to 20-year restrictive Covenants in place, as well as the Citizens’ West Side Improvement Association efforts, which was founded in 1884, by William Earle Dodge Stokes with his fellow active developers.

By the turn of the century, their focus shifted to larger apartment buildings as increasing costs ended row house construction, and as the newly opened 7th Avenue IRT, with stations on Broadway, made the West End more accessible to the city. The 1901 Tenement House Act and the 1916 zoning ordinance guiding multiple dwelling construction scale contributed to the transformation West End Avenue, Riverside Drive, West 79th and West 86th Streets’ streetscapes, where row houses and smaller buildings were being replaced by larger apartment houses.

Bloomingdale Road

Understanding the Upper West Side is to appreciate Broadway’s role in Manhattan’s Manifest Destiny. Since British control in the 1660s, the city’s expansion began along Broad Way (Broadway) from behind the stockade (Wall Street), to Fresh Water Pond (Canal Street), to Love Lane, at 21st Street. In the 1820s, an initial progress laying out the grid stalled at 21st Street while post-War of Independence boundary disputes persisted, and while awaiting a completed Clinton survey and Randel map of Manhattan to West One-Hundred-Fifty-Fifth Street.

Meanwhile, during the 1820s economic boom years with persistent epidemics, fires, and commerce, the city’s middle classes were propelled northward, engulfing the semi-suburban central Bayard Estate, easterly Bowery and westerly village of Greenwich Village, continually setting new northern limits where civilized society would live: On and around Washington Square, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, and then along lower Fifth Avenue to Love Lane. By 1860, for the most part, paving through to Central Park was completed, but not beyond. Fifth Avenue was still a dirt path.

Western Boulevard

Besides ferry service, initially paths and trails, turned to a cart way connected the Dutch northwest riverside districts. The widest central trail, Bloomingdale Road, followed the cart way around the rocky hills throughout the 1700s. Renamed Western Boulevard above West 60th to 115th Streets (later extended to West 147th Street, linking the Kingsbridge Road and Kings Bridge and the mainland), soon shortened to The Boulevard, and then renamed Broadway in 1899.

The mid-1850s Manhattan maps already show a “greater” Bloomingdale district as having comprised the One-Thousand Acre Bloemendahl historic constituencies and extending to the present-day Morningside Heights southern borderline, as one area commonly referred to as the West End. The 1703 Bloomingdale roadway was the districts’ lifeline: as its heart and soul, it remains the major Upper West Side major thoroughfare. In 1825, West 70th to 110th Streets (Harsensville to Bloomingdale Village) still held significant Manhattan country seats—and between were no less generous estates owned by illustrious names—and they provided the fodder William Astor built on to extend his father’s already vast West End landholding legacy.

Along the Bloomingdale Road the noteworthy estates and residences, from south to north, were:

Harsenville, West 68th to 81st Streets

  • The largest tract was owned by Jacob Harsen who married into the Hopper family. On Harsen Road (traversing West to East 71st Street), and the Bloomingdale Road, he built a family villa with extensive gardens. The Dorilton replaced the Harsen villa in 1902.
  • At West 75th Street stood the elegant Somerindyke summer home—an aristocratic Dutch colonial family, with a 1600s fortune made in New Jersey fur trading and leased farmland. The Somerindyke House had passed down from century to century, until the Astor Apartment complex was erected in 1905.
  • The Stone House, at West 78th to 79th Streets between Broadway and West End Avenue, was on Oliver De Lancey estate. In 1799 the northern tracts between West 83rd to 89th Streets were sold to John McVickers. Thirty-five years prior, the southern tract with a manor house, outbuildings, gardens, orchards, and woods was sold to Charles Ward Apthorp, a lawyer who accumulated his wealth in shipping, land speculation, and brokering military supplies (with foreign coin). Apthorp died in the mansion in 1797; his daughter Charlotte, married to John C. Van Den Heuvel, a Dutch governor of Demerara, rebuilt the mansion. In 1827, their heirs sold to Harmon Hendricks, and an established neighboring tavern took a long-term lease, opening as the elaborate Mansion House. A third owner, Poillon, sold the lots to William Astor in 1878. Within 25 years, it was demolished for the enormous apartment house and hotel Apthorp.
  • A significant landmark, the Ansonia Hotel, was begun in 1898. It did not replace one country manor house, on the contrary, two families’ property were joined as Broadway’s West 73rd-to-74th-Streets block-front lots.
  • On the south side of West 84th Street and to the Boulevard’s east, atop a rock where the street cut through and severed the property in half, was Edgar Allan Poe’s temporary residence. Virginia, Poe’s wife, was in poor health so the couple came in 1844, and boarded with a Mrs. Brennan to enjoy the pure, fresh air. The house, with a commanding view up, down, and across the Hudson River stood until 1893. The southern tract is built-out between West 82nd to 83rd Streets, with an archetypal, plush, Upper West Side 1900s beige-brick color and terra cotta, multiple-family dwelling, designed by Gaetano Ajello.
  • Elmwoods, between West 78th to 89th Streets and from Columbus to Amsterdam Avenues, was a 200-acre tract’s fine hilltop mansion. First, Brockholst Livingston, the adjacent riverside tract owner, spanning West 89th to 92nd Streets, purchased the mansion. Then, Jauncey Lane’s William Jauncey purchased the estate for his eldest daughter, who inherited his easterly estate encompassing West 84th to 89th Streets as well. The Colonel and Mrs. Thorne lived in Elmwoods for 50 years before the estate became a public house and picnic grounds, Elm Park. During the Civil War, the property was converted as a drill encampment for recruits off to the front. The Boulevard lots fell into William B. Astor’s hands; in 1916, Charles Platt designed Astor Court.

Bloomingdale Hamlet, West 100th to 124th Streets

Leading to the northern district was a cove, Striker’s bay, running from West 96th to West 98th Streets. Beyond James Striker’s estate, encompassing Columbus Avenue, he built a West 99th Street, riverfront farmhouse flanked by cherry trees, and through to the supra-exclusive village of Bloomingdale remained essentially intact until the leveled and paved Bloomingdale roadway was ordered in 1890. There, there were the copious estates of William Rogers, Fredrick, Nicholas, Gerald, and James De Peyster; the Harman Van de Water apple and pear orchards, was perched on the cliff edge, where Morningside Heights drops off.

Additionally, the village included the enormous New York Hospital grounds, with a children’s asylum stretching east of the Bloomingdale Road from West 107th to 113th Streets—and that was the 1890s Columbia-Barnard Morningside Heights Campus nucleus. Ten years prior, Church of the Cathedral of St. John the Devine, purchased the smaller eastern portion. Plus, J.J. Astor put his initials here, too, at Bloomingdale Square, (now Straus Park, named for the Macy’s owners)—the gateway to Morningside Heights. The Manchester and Manhassett, built on West 108th to 109th Streets lots owned by John Jacob Astor IV, William Backhouse Astor’s son, were completed from 1904-09.

The Boulevard

Mannahatta, “the island of hills,” was anything but easy to implement, to survey or to grade, from farms and pastures private roads to manor houses, even within Corporation of the City of New York common lands and confiscation and eminent domain. The Western Boulevard was commonly called the Boulevard when the roadway opened in 1868. Beginning at the top, with William “Boss” Tweed, implementing the grid promoted graft with city officials, who by insider information bought lots in advance of its progress. Between 1843 and 1858, for example, Manhattan’s land values doubled, certain areas far more—though hardly on an even keel or easy path. Moreover, the flat East side proceeded quicker and straightforwardly compared to the craggy West End.

The Tweed ring went to work right away; as with all the “rings” workings, construction was a gigantic steal. Even un-level minds realized how rugged the terrain became beginning at Harsen Road: between high hills were small dales, and then steep, crustier obstructions—cliffs. The Tweed gang did certainly show great foresight by abandoning complex profitable routes, and following the old road bed. Tammany’s fall shortly after the leveling process began at the southernmost and least treacherous section, left an unpaved portion to West 70th Street—consequentially, mud-hole prone in foul weather, cloud-spewing dust bowl otherwise—with the district’s life line hanging by a threat for 15 years. In 1890, the Boulevard’s rock obstructions were ordered leveled, the roadway graded and paved to West 79th streets. Thereafter, only to be continued in sections as rapidly building required; the final far north portions to West One-Hundred-Fifty-Fifth Street were completed in 1907.

During the mid-1860s streetcar routes opened along the park block, still Eighth Avenue, and reached West 81st Street, Manhattan Square. Beyond, the terrain became impassable. Huge outcroppings of rocks blocked development. Rocky hills, some as much as 100-feet high needing removal, and the process created enormous piles to be carted off. In 1881, for instance, the Ninth Avenue El chucked, spit and spewed above, while below the West 81st Street station, at Columbus Avenue, was a mountain of rocks to make way for the grid roadways.

The Broadway Squares

From Columbus Circle and Central Park West (Eighth Avenue) on a north-northwest trajectory, Broadway crosses Ninth renamed Columbus Avenue (in 1896), Tenth renamed Amsterdam Avenue (as of 1890), and Eleventh Avenue renamed West End Avenue (at its 1872 opening), and each forms a three-way intersection, and the squares created, south to north, are:

  • Lincoln Square, between West 63rd and 66th Streets, home of the Performing Arts Center and Richard Tucker Park;
  • Sherman Square, between West 70th and 73rd Streets, with Verdi Park, the once-notorious Needle Park, (that’s history now);
  • Straus Park, at Duke Ellington Boulevard, which is West 106th, to 107th Streets at West End Avenue (and jimmy-rigged when applying the commissioner’s Grid Plan by altering the roadway, creating an innovative pocket park).

The Four Parallel Avenues

In turn, the northwest Broadway initial trajectory from West 60th to 70th Streets continues due north to 96th Streets, and create three distinct sectors, as corridors, and they are:

  • West: Broadway to West End Avenue to Riverside Drive
  • East: Central Park West to Columbus Avenue
  • Central: Columbus to Amsterdam Avenues to Broadway
  • South: Broadway’s ten-block north-northwest crossing from Central Park West to Amsterdam Avenue, encompassing West 60th Street (through Lincoln Square) to West 69th Street.

The West End’s schist outcrops and craggy cliffs undeniably hampered the grid plan’s implementation. Where the West Sixties rough terrain ended in a small valley between West 67th to 74th Streets, the remaining West Seventies however were rougher going still. Beyond West 81st Street the remaining West Eighties were somewhat less consistently rugged, not so above West 93rd Street, and so the roadways progress proceeded, as:

  • 1812, Eighth Avenue throughout;
  • 1819, Tenth Avenue to Sherman Square;
  • 1837, Ninth Avenue to Lincoln Square as well as West 79th and 86th Streets, from Ninth Avenue to the Bloomingdale Road;
  • 1857, Ninth Avenue was completed, and the West Eighties were started from there to the Bloomingdale Road, and were completed in 1862.
  • 1857, the low West Sixties opened too, but were completed in 1872;
  • 1869, the West Seventies were started from Eighth to Tenth Avenues, and completed in 1874;
  • 1869, Riverside Drive was completed;
  • 1872, West End Avenue was begun and opened two years later.
  • 1877 through 1882, all the West End streets were opened.

While the streets and avenues were laid out, development and improvements did not proceed at an even pace though. First of all, every would-be building lot was piled high with demolished former obstructing rock which were as tall as the hills. Next, only after the debris was carted off could the mid-block protrusion be leveled, the rock removed, and then the land graded, subdivided, and sold to build on.

Lincoln Square

Besides Corporation of the City of New York controlled key tracts abutting Central Park, and strategic Bloomingdale Road plots in 1800, the bulk west of Central Park was owned by a row of Johns, namely a Low, Bogart, Gottsberger, Talmman, and one David Cargill. The very oldest present structure on the Lincoln Square dates back to 1923: the 12-story Empire Hotel. The adjacent mid-block lots were improved with respectable single-family row houses, even as early as the 1870s; they are gone, each and every one. The sole remaining 1890s structure, between West 67th and 68th streets, to Broadway’s east, is the Twenty-Second Regiment of Engineers of the National Guard armory. Since reconfigured for commercial usage in the 1960s, the armory is virtually unrecognizable.

On lower Central Park West, the initial tenements, then flats buildings are gone. Along the park-facing avenue, two 1910-era apartment houses remain, and they are notable indeed: Harperley Hall (built as an “artist” co-operative ownership, and rare, as built in the Arts and Crafts style); and neighboring Beaux-Arts, Second Empire-influenced, Prasada, also between West 64th and 65th Streets—each the epitome of luxury then (and now too).

Slowly, since Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was proposed, from Broadway’s incursion at Columbus Avenue and stretching to the river, a residential breadth evolved in and round two extensive 1950s housing projects, in park-like settings. Little else survived on Lincoln Square or the surrounding blocks.

The 1950-60s housing clusters are:

  • A city-sponsored, low-income housing effort, between Amsterdam and West End Avenues, comprising West 61st to 64th Streets, with two recently adjoining middle-income buildings.
  • Lincoln Center Apartments run along West End Avenue, between West 66th and 70th Streets, spreading east to Amsterdam Avenue, as a middle-income planned community. (At one time rental units owned by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, now co-operatively co-owned.)

The buoyant upscale Central Park West row is a residential potpourri. Beginning at West 60th Street, the medley starts with No. One, a slick, glass-façade tower, next to a recent addition, as an homage fitting nicely next to a classic Art Deco double-tower, which is near to a pair of classic turn-of-the-century gems and continuing so forth to West 69th Street, at No. Eighty-Eight, where each unit is a quintessential Central Park West duplex apartment

Nowadays, in addition, the high-end apartment tower stretch, radiating from Lincoln Square, includes:

  • A Riverside Drive extension, Riverside Boulevard overlooking Riverside Park South which covers the railroad yard’s northern portion;
  • An apartment house swath straddling West End Avenue, between West 61st and 66th Streets;
  • The Amsterdam Avenue blocks lining West 60th to 69th Streets;
  • The Amsterdam (inclusive of Columbus) Avenue to Broadway blocks on West 60th through 63rd Streets, surrounding Fordham College at Lincoln Center.
  • The Central Park West adjacent West Sixties tree-lined streets, running to Columbus Avenue, contain an array of pre-war apartment houses built-full, and includes several studio buildings on West 67th and 68th Streets. Recently nearby towering new-construction buildings (with park views on the upper floors), have squeezed themselves in this seven-block triangle, too.

Broadway’s Reach

Riverside-West End

Broadway, to the Bloomingdale district’s south, was a major thoroughfare, while its block fronts within the district remained undeveloped long after other streets in the area: the uncertain plans for the type of public transportation to be built there was a significant issue. This section of Broadway finally did blossom as a busy street in anticipation of the 1904 IRT subway. It was eventually completed beneath. The three-and-a half Broadway block fronts reaching far west from the Upper West Side/Central Park Historic District contain large buildings (with one exception), all of which were originally constructed with street-level shops, or eventually received them. The three twelve-story, turn-of-the-century, apartment buildings, are—Dorilton at 71st Street (Janes & Leo, 1900-02); Embassy, at 70th Street (Robert Maynicke, 1899-1900), and the Spencer Arms, at 69th Street (Mulliken & Moeller, 1904-05). Of these buildings designed in the Beaux-Arts, neo-Renaissance style, and dating from 1904-07, of particular interest is the one-block harmony, though built three years later than the adjacent flats building, with a design by a different architect using the same design elements.

At Broadway’s trajectory adjustment due north above West 72nd Street, constituting Broadway, West End Avenue to Riverside Drive, and north through to West 109th Street is essentially one cohesive neighborhood, though once the West End country seats’ Hudson River frontage. The southeastern point, Sherman Square starts at the singular, Dorilton: a truly over-the-top Beaux-Arts Broadway belle. The square’s northern portion to 73rd Street comprises Verdi Square, which is encased within landmarks: The triangular Central Savings Bank, sitting at the square’s north, is opposite 100-year old, luxury apartment house sisters, Severn and Van Dyck, and adding excellence to a historic backdrop, to the west is the Ansonia Hotel.

The renowned hotel’s erection began in 1899, was completed in 1904, and along with the expected tearooms, restaurants, and a grand ballroom, a lobby fountain had live seals. The Ansonia included many other firsts—for instance Turkish baths and air-conditioning; or the rooftop farm’s milking cows, six goats, 500 chickens and ducks providing fresh milk and eggs for the dining room’s “hearty” breakfast menu. Moreover, in the basement arcade, surpluses were sold cheaply to the public. Within three years, however, by order of the Department of Health, the animals were gone. The array of guests-in-residence were important New York arts and letters luminary names—Theodor Dreisner, Elmer Rice, and W.L. Stodard; Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Toscanini, Menuhin, Pons, Caruso, and Pinza; Hurok, Ziegfeld, Bernhardt, and Burke; and for years, both Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey called Ansonia their home: that, as a tradition, has continued.

In addition, one dozen grand 1900-16 Broadway Belles, in the Beaux-Arts or Classic Revival style—considered in their heyday to be the peak of chic—are scattered to West 108th Street. These outstanding early apartment houses crowed their up-to-date conveniences, such as glass-line refrigerators, long-distance telephone lines, porcelain tubs, basins and sinks, gas and electric fixtures, as well as fireproof doors and partitions—no trifling matter in an age of erupting catastrophic fires throughout Manhattan. They line up along Broadway as:

  • West 69th Street, Spenser Arms, 1903;
  • West 71st Street, Dorilton, in 1902;
  • West 72nd-73rd Streets, Van Dyke and Severn, 1911;
  • West 73rd Street, Ansonia, 1904;
  • West 77th Street, Wellsmore 1910
  • West 79th Street, Apthorp, 1904;
  • West 84th-85th Streets, Euclid Hall, 1903;
  • West 86th Street, Belnord, 1908;
  • West 89th Street, Admaston, 1910;
  • West 90th Street, Cornwall, 1909;
  • West 108th Street, Manchester, 1910;
  • West 108th-109th Streets, Manhassett; 1904.

To Verdi Square’s north, a two-mile sweep consists of landmark apartment house strips and row house historic districts, running to West 109th Street. The low-rise, mid-block, single-family row houses that adjoin moderate-scale apartment house-lined Avenues continue uninterrupted. Overall, well-protected as a historic district patchwork, this Upper West Side quadrant is intact—inestimable 1880-95 single-family row homes, generous town houses, a sprinkling of corner mansions, and a plenitude of 1910-30 luxury apartment houses lining Riverside Drive and West End Avenue and Broadway. Numerous community efforts to amalgamate the several historic into one, encompassing West 70th to 105th Streets, and to Broadway’s west; it is an ongoing process. On instance of why is: Tucked in the Broadway-to-West-End-Avenue mid-block, between West 94th-to-95th Streets, Pomander Walk is time-out enclave as a cottage-like row of houses—without historic-district protection.

Morningside Heights

Sitting on the steep bluff rising to West 123rd Street, the Dutch colonial-era Bloomingdale hamlet rested above the thriving riverbank Native people’s trading post, Muscoota, “the flatlands.” Morningside Heights, though, begins at Cathedral Parkway (West 110th Street), to the cliff edge along West 123rd Street, and from the Hudson River to Columbus Avenue (thereafter Morningside Avenue). The narrow hilltop, with a sheer drop north and east, was a 1880s powerhouse enclave—an all-but-forgotten far West End elite community destined to be the Upper West Side’s educational focal point and preordained as a religious center too. Beforehand, in the 1860s the city engineers were stumped by a sheer schist protrusion to the village east, below the proposed Amsterdam Avenue. Their expedient solution was shoestring parkland within the portion that could not be surveyed, definitely was not gradable, and therefore could not be subdivided.

When construction was announced in 1882, Morningside Park was an instantaneous magnate, a prosperous class flocked to the flats buildings built along the avenues (that were) to surround the proposed park. Each year, while the proposals were bantered back and forth, plus budget constraint delays, dozens of high-end flats building proceeded on Manhattan and Morningside Avenues, and Morningside Drive carved out to overlook the park. One developer outdid the next with spacious layouts and the innovative conveniences offered. It’s history includes a sorted period, though, beginning in 1905-10 period.

To Bloomingdale hamlet’s southeast was the New York Hospital and Bloomingdale Insane Asylum grounds, when offered for sale it appealed to Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine seeking to build the city’s largest sanctuary. Construction on the Carrere & Hastings initial design began in 1892, and simultaneously, Columbia University purchased the majority hospital acreage. These two highly-esteemed institutions came, built and dominated. Furthermore, each spore schools for music and dance as well as theological institutions, such as Riverside Church and Union Theological Seminary.

Additionally, the Morningside portion from Broadway to Riverside Drive (where Grant’s Tomb rests), were improved relatively early on. The significant riverside anchor planted on West 110th Street, a mega-complex, Henrick Hudson, the conspicuous, rococo, monumental slice of residential architecture with 192 units; and northerly, on West 116th Street, sits the colossal curved Paterno, which accommodates the drive’s bend and caps off this historic Riverside Drive stretch. One notable block to Riverside Park’s east, between West 116th and 123rd Streets, is Claremont Avenue. Intersperse among the Barnard College campus includes the era’s more respected apartment houses, such as the Sophomore, Number 15; Barnard Court, No. 21; Peter Minute, No. 25; Lincoln and Dacona, Nos. 130-136. Plus the 1910 Gaetan Ajello designed Italian Renaissance style duo—Nos. 29 and 35 (Eton Hall adjoining Rugby Hall), with rich ornamental white- and cream-color marble, glazed white-brick and terra-cotta façades.


The Schuyler District

The West End midsection, inclusive of West 72nd to 90th Street, encompassed Columbus (including Amsterdam) Avenue, and then spanned to Broadway. By the 1880s, progressive tenement apartment houses were built, and soon lined every street above West 79th Street, as well as along Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. Both Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues evolved to serve as a purveyor resource for nearby Central Park and Broadway luxury apartment houses. It is where the Upper West Side working class put down roots as well. Moreover, although the dominant Manhattan specialty shops or department stores did not open emporiums on Broadway, there was no better retail shopping district than neighborhood merchants’ domain.

The Schuyler district has two predominant late 1880s dwelling types, including:

  • Working-class, single-family row houses (many converted as individual apartment units);
  • Tenement apartment house rows, along Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues and as clusters on the streets. West 87th Street and north, by the score, every tenement house rows was bulldozed to make way for extensive low-income housing projects.

Manhattan Valley


Between Central Park West and Broadway, the northeast quadrant, is Manhattan Valley. Valley, as a steep-pitch drop starts at West 94th Street, only rising again at Morningside Park. Moreover, in the Central-Park-West-to-Columbus-Avenue mid-block, at West 100th Street, Manhattan Avenue runs to West 124th Street. The Manhattan Valley stretch along Central Park West is a snapshot of the evolving avenue at the Great Depression’s advent—as if stopped dead in its progression. The ten-block long collection runs the gamut from turn-of-the-century tenement apartments and apartment hotels, to Flats and French flats buildings, to three classic 1920s luxury apartment houses, a string of six-story façade renovations, and it includes one hospital-conversion-to-residential usage, at Duke Ellington Avenue. Additionally, the West 104th and 106th Streets, along Manhattan Avenue is a historic district cluster. The row houses were begun in 1885, under the auspices of the city council, and was completed over five years. The city’s prominent contributing architects were C.P.H. Gilbert, E.L. Angell, and J.M. Dunn. These brick-and-stonework row houses, with a stoop, enhanced by terra-cotta trim, ironwork, elaborate cornices, some with gargoyles, and others with sunburst motifs are intact.

The 1960s Columbus-to-Amsterdam-Avenues urban-renewal housing strips were developed initially to West 94th Street, and then extended to West 97th Street. Thirty-five years passed, with four immense Park West Village apartment houses (designed all in a row by Skidmore, Owen, Merrill), standing isolated and very alone, spanning Central Park West to Columbus Avenue and West 97th to 100th Streets. So things stood…then…finally, on the Park West Village western edge, bordering upper Columbus Avenue, Manhattan Valley’s 21st-century gentrification arrived. Upper Columbus Avenue is currently a thriving ultramodern apartment house and upscale retailing strip. Additionally, one revival spores another: farther west, between West 97th to 100th Streets, on Broadway, has grown in baby-steps, with tall, sleek glass-and-steel towers coexisting among traditional clumps, soaring above the 1900s buildings to project a glimpse of the coming new-age skyline.

The first land speculation wave resulted after Central Park construction in the late 1850s. Land speculators immediately focused on the vacant blocks adjacent to the park. Lot improvement, however, was influenced by a set of complex mid-to-late 19th-century interrelationships: mass transit innovations and what part the Boulevard would play, specified parkland proposals and the extensive time before commencement began, irregularities opening roadways and delays providing infrastructure including paving, and inflated land values. The West End was further disadvantaged by a rugged topography, and being remote from the city’s historic Fifth Avenue axis. Without all of the above to hamper development and to impede improvements, the alternative Upper East Side Fifth-to-Third-Avenues sector advanced, and proved to be in competition for developers’ resources.

The second speculative wave followed the Civil War as stagecoach service evolved into horse-drawn tram lines, and then advent of the Ninth Avenue El stations at the Great Circle, West 66th, 72nd, 81st, 86th, 93rd, 99th and 104th Streets along Columbus Avenue. The laying out of streets west of the park was authorized, and three years later a very wide, landscaped with mall, now called the Boulevard was opened to replace the Bloomingdale Road. Paved and of use though must be differentiated from merely designated as opened. With decisive anchored avenues nearby, Central Park West and Riverside Drive, what social fabric remained for the Boulevard remained uncertain.

Real-estate speculation had doubled land prices, as much as 400 percent for park-side and the adjacent blocks, significant but less substantial gains were achieved along the proposed river park, too. The Panic of 1873 scotched that, the speculative bubble burst. When building activity in the city resumed with the elevated Ninth Avenue line, westerly blocks of the El stations were generally vacant. The nearby streets, except West 81st Street, were open west to the Boulevard: only half graded and far less paved. In fact, in 1880, the West Eighties structures included wood-frame houses, two churches, one Public Society grade school, a coal yard and silk ribbon mill were clustered along West 80th to 84th Streets, between Ninth Avenue and the Boulevard.

The Upper West Side development pace speeded up in 1886, with building as never before, and the rapid population of the gigantic, long-neglected masses of rock crowned by a rickety shanty and a browsing goat, disappeared as the streets were graded, and thousands of substantial buildings rose where a year before fallow rocky fields lay barren or market gardens bloomed. Yet, the rugged and isolated West End required mass transit advances to be resolved before development could reach its logical conclusion.

Here’s what came about. Throughout the 1800s the Manhattan’s population increased 58% per decade, though not always evenly. Broadway was in such a chaotic state it required “the forceful presence of police officers to maintain order.” New York publisher Alfred Ely Beach began a search for an alternative to unruly surface transportation, below-ground. He opened an unprecedented subterranean travel curio in 1870. This “pneumatic transit system” paved the way, even consisting of a 312-foot, single-track wind tunnel, with only a 22-passenger car propelled over the tracks by a 100-horsepower fan.

In the 1890s, as electric trolleys replaced horse-drawn cars with trackless coaches using overhead power lines, Boston in a similar situation to New York City, and under increasing public pressure, funded America’s first subway excavation and construction, and it opened in 1897. New York’s first below-grade mass transportation stretch, a mere 9 miles long in 1902, with a 42nd Street spur as the 1904 IRT 7th Avenue-Broadway subway line, was operational from New York City Hall Park to West 145th Street. The subway was well-received and expanded soon after its inception.

What did the Tweed Ring’s demise in 1873, precipitate by the decade-long delayed roadway development? Time, time for two additional glorious Calvert and Vaux parks to be proposed, approved, and for construction to begin; for the IRT Ninth Avenue rapid transit line’s perfection and its operation along Columbus Avenue to advance; for one severe, post-Civil War economic downturn to correct itself and a robust, burgeoning upper middle class to erupt; for Harlem to be incorporated into New York City; for the age of invention to arrive, bringing innovations such as electricity; telegraph transmission, followed by the telephone; apartment-house dwelling for the privileged to evolve, by offering fire-proof housing with elevators, making 12-14 story residential edifices commonplace.

Unbeknownst except to a few, namely Astor’s heir William B., a great city’s sector would be built-out. When the time came, did anyone truly know this rocky rural terrain would be catapulted to the epitome of urbane and cosmopolitan? Transformed from this particular quintessential suburban enclave? Or who could envision Broadway, as a broad promenade? Or glorious Central Park West, West End Avenue, and Riverside Drive high-end residential swaths?

For 50 years, despite a burb, the panic of 1901 which was caused by railroad stock manipulations and resulted in a stock market pandemonium, or belch, the panic of 1907 banking crisis which resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System, the West End operating under another guiding star: it thrived. The defining element, no matter what, was the 7th Avenue-Broadway subway on its way.

The Easterly Upper West Side

Central Park’s Reach

To Lincoln Square’s northeast is one contiguous Upper West Side historic district to West 96th Street, and among Manhattan’s most prestigious (and well-documented as) pricy real estate. The swath enjoys protective Covenants from further development that includes each avenue apartment house as well every adjacent street’s residential structure. The safeguards continue at West 67th Street as the westerly, end-to-end, Columbus-Avenue-to-Broadway blocks. From there, the district includes the architecturally-significant row house-lined streets extending west from further development, though zigzagging, as: East of Amsterdam Avenue through West 88th Street, thereafter, east of Columbus Avenue.

Lower Easterly

From Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, enveloping Columbus Circle to West Seventy-Seventh Street, between the Chanin towers: 25 (Century), spanning West 62nd to 63rd Streets, and 115 (Majestic) West 71st to 72nd Streets on Central Park West, is considered among Manhattan’s most prestigious (and well-documented as) priciest real estate. Contemporaneous with the avenue construction, side street apartment buildings and apartment hotels were introduced early on. Between 1902 and 1929, nine studio apartment buildings were concentrated on West 67th Street. Alongside row houses, block-ending tenements and flats buildings were designed with a like multiple-family dwelling, either side-street oriented or on the Amsterdam or Columbus Avenue block front, allowing two major facades. The Rochelle Apartments, on West 75th Street, is a lone attempt to build a luxury apartment house (in the flats building style), on Columbus Avenue, designed by Lamb & Rich and completed in 1896.


This Roth-to-Roth skyline-defining strip takes in his West 74th-to-75th Street San Remo, and tri-wing, Beresford, at West 81 street, on Manhattan Square’s northeast corner. (At one point a highly-prized address, the neighboring section was stamped Planetarium Station {in deference to the Hayden Planetarium}, its postal name.) Additionally, and not to be denied, are the Charles W. Clinton & William Hamilton Russell, 1906 Beaux-Arts style Langham, spanning the West 73rd-to-74th Streets block front; and the Townsend, Steinle and Haskell, the 1908 Second Empire Kenilworth, on West 75th Street and Central Park West.

One West 72nd Street, the Central Park West signature Dakota, designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh, in a north German Renaissance character, echoing a Hanseatic town hall, which included a large dining hall (meals were sent up by dumbwaiters), an in-house electricity power plant and central heating. Edward S. Clark, the Singer Sewing Machine founding partner, purchased the park front and contiguous lots from John Schiff; thought fool-hearty to build so far north, and surrounded by emptiness. When the apartment house opened in 1884—all 64 apartments had rented out beforehand—the Dakota tenants enjoyed a garden, private croquet lawns and tennis court behind the building between

West 72nd and 73rd Streets.

North Easterly

The West Nineties is a majestic apartment house swath, including the Schwartz & Gross duos, Nos. 315 (West 92nd) and 336 (West 94th Street), the significant Art Deco Central Park West apartment houses designed by Emory Roth, Eldorado Towers (West 90th-to-91st Streets) and the Ardsley (West 92nd Street, as well as park-facing, turn-of-the-century gems, Saint Urban, (actually, West 89th Street), and Turin (West 93rd Street). West Ninety-Sixth Street, the northernmost boundary imaginable (socially speaking), ends the premier residential stretch, with a classic Rosario Candela pre-war apartment house. It is true that the 1903 Carrere & Hastings, First Church of Christ, Scientist, with its imperator, Baroque bell tower at the cross street’s north, was the marker (much as the 1845 First Presbyterian Church, at 12th Street ended the hoity-toity lower Fifth Avenue Sunday promenade).

Easterly Row House Development

Speculative single-family homes rose in short rows along the side streets earlier, and more consistently than the adjacent avenue luxury apartment houses. The 19th-century, speculative housing construction illustrates the enormous contribution to the city’s architectural heritage was forged within the Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District. It all began on West 73rd Street, off Central Park, when Henry J. Hardenbergh, the Dakota Apartments’ eminent architect was commissioned by its owner, Edward Clark, to build 28 row houses—of which 18 have survived. Two years after, home construction in the West 76th Street block started. (That particular Central Park West to Columbus Avenue block, 125 years later, remains a showcase Manhattan town-house block beautiful, because it manages to seem like a lane.) Thirteen years later, 44 customized row houses had been built in the West Seventies, off Central Park West.

This high concentrated development within a few blocks of Henry J. Hardenbergh’s beginnings on West 73rd Street, burst through the classic, brownstone designs used throughout midtown, demonstrating a vast range of styles, (other than the stand-by: Beaux-Arts, neo-Gothic, and Classical Revival), expressed in the vocabulary of Neo-Greco, Queen Anne, Italianate, and Renaissance, Romanesque, and Jacobean Revival styles, as well as Clarence True’s idiosyncratic Elizabethan Renaissance Revival style based on an English Renaissance prototype, thereby, creating the American basement, with a shorter stoop.

Furthermore, generous stretches within the West Seventies tree-lined row-house blocks were built-out by under a single architect’s oeuvre, creating a sphere of influence. By Henry J. Hardenbergh, for instance, are: 15A, 15, 17, 19, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 63 and 65 West 73rd Street. It is true that the Welch, Smith & Provot contribution, Nos. 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 West 73rd Street, likewise make a statement on the block, though accomplish with a shorter expanse. Twenty years later, the effect was aptly put on West 74th Street side-street block, with an extensive Anglophile Nash-inspired town house row, designed cohesive whole.

Additionally, the entire neighborhood benefits from a cohesive continuity theme which continued through George M. Waigrove’s Nos. 3, 5, 7, 9, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 26 and 28 West 75th Street. Moreover, one block north, the same exact architect, Waisgrove, was responsible for Nos. 27, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, 52, 54 and 56 West 76th Street. Equally credit-deserving for that special urban streetscape, is the Cleverdon & Putzel partnership with, Nos. 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22 and 24 West 76th Street.

The West Eighties park blocks as well, were enthusiastically improved in the same 20-year span, as extended single-family rows, and designed by the era’s eminent architects, too. For example, Neville & Bagge work is seen concentrated primarily in West 80th, 81st, and 88th Streets; George F. Pelham’s houses are found on many side streets, and the firms of Gilbert A. Schellenger and Thorn & Wilson (the two most prolific) are located on virtually every historic district street. Moreover, George W. DaCunha who had recently established himself among Manhattan architect pantheon with 32 Gramercy Park East, designed several Queen Anne style rows of houses, which were constructed from 1884-6, and include Nos. 32, 34 & 36, 38, 40, 42-44, 59, 61 and 63 West 83rd Street. The final fine-fine example block: West 95th Street, which includes James S. Post, represented by Nos. 40, 42 and 44 West 95th Street; the McKim Mead, and White designs, for Nos. 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36 and 38 West 95th Street; and the Carrere & Hastings short strip, Nos. 46-50 West 95th Street.


Broadway to Riverside Drive

What remains, as though encapsulated by time, the westerly portion of the Upper West demonstrates how this corridor developed from a 1700s rural district, to 1800s suburban country seats, and then to a 1900s urban quarter. RSD gets off to a good start, having developed with a Gaetano Ajello small footprint apartment house, at the Riverside curve, on 72nd Street, sitting aside Gilbert’s class One Riverside mansion, and then a very respectable Art Deco Deco-gem on West 73rd Street. At the first cross street, West 79th Street, in 1905, Pelham George F. Pelham designed the Riverdale apartment house. Surrounding the next cross street, West 86th Street, are two turn-of-the-century specimens: the Dorchester, designed by Neville & Bagge and completed in 1909; and the Clarendon, a 12-story apartment house, designed by Charles E. Birge and built in 1906. Across West 86th Street and built-full to West 87th Street in 1938, is the Art Deco jewel, the Normandy. This landmark, 240-unit residence is divided into a north and south wing, separated by a glass-front lobby, overlooking planted gardens on the Drive, leading to separate elevator vestibules for quietude and privacy. A fitting continuation, spanning West 89rh to 90th Streets, is a Riverside Drive’s fine landmark, and the sole West End contribution of J.E. Carpenter. Possibly the pre-war luxury apartment house innovator, completed this Gothic Revival design circa 1925.

Each West Eighties block to West End Avenue is within the Riverside/West End Historic district, built-out between 1885 and 1900. While what lies on these 17 consecutive blocks would fill volumes, it is the remarkable calm created by the breathe of innocuous, but deceptively distinctive apartment- house blocks, yet, as each adds to the whole that make West End Avenue: it is that whole that signifies the area’s tenor. What is more, the avenue’s swath throughout the West Seventies to Verdi Square, at West 73rd Street and Broadway, which contains first-rate, luxurious, corner avenue apartment houses examples, as well as significant turn-of-the-century tenement and flats-style buildings, apartment hotels and side-street apartment houses.

First, the 1903 Beaux-Arts Red House, on West 85th Street, off Riverside Drive was the Harde & Short team’s earliest commissions. Between 1895 and 1900 Harde had worked with James E. Ware and Associates on Upper East Side projects, and with Ralph Townsend on Upper West Side tenements as well as the seven-story flats building a few blocks south, at 425 West End Avenue. Next, surrounding West 86th Street, among Rosario Candela’s best 15-story Upper West Side designs are 325 and 334 West 86th Street and 522 West End Avenue, all in the Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles and completed in 1923. Next, Clarence True, built one of several nearby West End Avenue apartment houses, on West 85th Street, 520 West End Avenue, which has been individually designated as a New York City Landmark. Next, Schwartz & Gross developed five important West End Avenue corners between West 85th and 80th Streets. Next, (1883-1983)

Merely at the halfway milestone, in the course of Gaetan Ajello’s nearly 20-year career he designed more than 30 apartment buildings for several of the Upper West Side‘s major developers particularly the Campagna and Paterno families, including on West 85th, 84th, and 83rd Streets. Next, across West End Avenue, Neville & Bagge designed the West 83rd and 84th Streets corners. Next, one block south, on West 82nd Street, Charles Birge designed the Selkirk, a side-street, sliver building, originally an apartment hotel. The West End Avenue West Eighties conclude with two 1882 flats buildings, 410-12 West End Avenue, by Henry Andersen, and a complimentary George F. Pelham, Jr. early commission, 411 West End Avenue, on West 80th Street, in dark-red brick with terra cotta accents.

The West Seventies, where Broadway curves southeast while West End Avenue continues south as an apartment boulevard, are six diverse residential structures. First, at West 79th Street, the Art Deco Wexford, No. 400, by Margon & Holder, the firm collaborated with Emery Roth on the Eldorado, where Roth introduced to each tower’s design, already with similar bands, the icon setback endings and top finials. Next, the Clinton and Russell, Apthorp Apartments, built on an immense internal court. These eminent architects worked closely with Astor’s (William B, J.J. III, and Vincent) on Graham Court and the Astor Hotel. Next, a classic avenue apartment house with a terra-cotta-colored-brick façade, designed in 1916, by Neville and Bagge to contribute to the West End Collegiate Historic District’s character, at 325 West End Avenue, on West 75th Street.

In the West 73rd Street block to Broadway, from West End Avenue, is first the Level Club, designed in 1927 by Clinton and Russell as a men’s club. It has flexibility in its background: a hotel for 30 years, 1960-80 drug re-habilitation center, before 1980s condominium conversion. The neo-Romanesque structure was typical of the era’s Masonic temple influence, which included secret symbols, and bronze filigreed globes atop its columns. Finally, but never last, is an invincible Upper West Side icon, Ansonia Hotel, built to rival the Dakota, at Verdi Square.

Riverside Drive’s Reach

For Broadway’s west as well as West 72nd Street’s north, prior to 1900 the biggest residential housing development boost was the Riverside Park and Drive completion. The long-neglected, gigantic, rock masses—occasionally topped with shanties, graced by grazing goats’ glances—disappeared. The Hudson River shoreline project began in the late 1860s, with 1873-75 for planning, and 1875-80 for construction, and then later additions once breeching Striker’s Bay by the West 96th Street Viaduct. The park and drive were not officially completed until 1898, although a smaller section between 72nd Street and 79th Street was opened in 1891. With Olmsted’s broad promenade design inserted above, it would seem probable that the western bordering avenue, Riverside Drive, would evolve in a similar manner to Central Park West. Assumable, then, is a similar, large-scale apartment house swath would follow: Likewise, the Riverside-Drive-to-West-End-Avenue side streets would progress as a parallel high-end residential corridor, eventually to West 110th Street.

With the Drive construction started and the public opening presumed to be near, in West 83rd and West 84th Streets (which had been open for 20 years), architects executed their brownstone single-family homes in Romanesque and Renaissance Revival designs. Where a decade before, fallow wildflower fields lay barren, or where rocky, market gardens bloomed, development pace sped-up in the adjacent streets. Substantial residential improvements followed by the thousands. Once underway, the early phase was exclusively speculatively-built row houses, or occasional flats buildings, designed for the middle and upper classes. In 1885, McKim, Mead & White, engaged by the builder George W. Rogers, a known quantity in Manhattan real estate circles, filed plans for six row houses at the southwest corner of 83rd Street—Nos. 300-308—with the last West End Avenue-facing only. West End was then a street of row houses for the prosperous, with a more expansive sense of architectural innovation than was practiced on the side streets. The “Rogers Group” was executed with broad, sloping roofs of tile and crow-stepped gables, suggesting both medieval and Flemish influences.

The prolific George F. Pelham, to name another, as well as other architects combined different type and texture stones, highlighting harmonious brick shades, and with adorning terra cotta or copper decorative elements. Alfred B. Ogden, a third example with a substantial and established city architectural practice, the father-and-son team specialized in Queen Anne, Romanesque and Renaissance Revival row house designs. In addition, Neville & Bragge, William Tuthill, and Clarence True erected row houses by the score, ranging in style, size, and materials in picturesque and eclectic variations of the popular neo-Greco and Beaux-Arts styles, which are found throughout the Riverside-West End quarter.

When the initial gusto for speculative single-family, row-house construction sagged, opposite the West End Collegiate Church excavation site, and encompassing a full city block along West 77th and 78th Streets, inclusive of Riverside Drive to West End Avenue, the elite Manhattan architect firms—chiefly among them Lamb & Rich, in association with the likes of C.P.H. Gilbert and Clarence True—created a virtual array of Italian, French, and Flemish Renaissance jewels. The row house façades were designed to camouflage that these were not custom-built homes at all. As a marketing tool, it worked and did revitalize the sagging row house market.

A few blocks north, on West 81st Street, Charles Israels, an architect-builder, began five row houses combining Romanesque and Renaissance Revival elements. Two years later, on West 80th Street, he repeated the row using the same designs. Shortly after, on the adjacent Riverside Drive block front, Clarence True designed and developed several town houses with a connected mansard roof, which created the illusion of a mansion. (Indeed, the residents thought they lived in one too.) Another similar-façade scheme was successful on West 71st Street, in the West-End-Avenue-to-Riverside-Drive block, which is a considerable cul-de-sac. The 33 row houses were erected in six groups, with uniform Renaissance-inspired detailing, creating a cohesive whole.

Clarence True, a well-known architect and inexhaustible 1890s developer practiced on the Upper West Side extensively, where he is said (most often by himself) to have designed over 400 houses. He popularized the American basement row house, and was largely responsible for developing the southern end of Riverside Drive. In 1899 True published “A True History of Riverside Drive,” largely a self-promotion real estate catalog envisioning the Drive lined with large elegant town houses. He purchased the available Drive lots south of West 84th Street, and proceeded to design town houses for them. Many True houses, including nine located in the West-End Collegiate Historic District, were in his idiosyncratic Elizabethan Renaissance Revival style, which he had based on English Renaissance prototypes. His Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District apartment houses display elements of the Renaissance, Romanesque, and Jacobean Revival styles, in addition True designed one commercial building and hotel.

West End Avenue’s Reach

A comparison, though not obvious at first, the one-block Broadway-to-Riverside-Drive expanse is equally wide as from Central Park West to Columbus-Avenue, exactly. What’s more, a broad, prosperous-class West End Avenue is counted in, as well as the district’s central nervous system—Broadway. West End Avenue developed according to the 20-year restrictive Covenants in place, abetted by the Citizens’ West Side Improvement Association efforts, which was founded by William Earle Dodge Stokes with fellow active developers’ support. The Covenants were directives guiding Eleventh Avenue to be comprised of small shops; it simply was not to be.

The protracted financial panic of 1873, which ended in 1878, and then an additional five years passed before the city-wide real-estate speculation recommenced. Slowly still, the West Seventies and Eighties revived, as additional portion of the streets were leveled, grated, and paved; and then, development continued above along the Drive’s length to West 96th Street. With street-level, horse-drawn coach tracks’ conversion to electric-power trams along the avenues and crisscrossing the cost streets, the genteel, residential construction wave renewed. Within 12 years single-family homes, off Riverside Drive and West End Avenue, stretched as far north as on West 105th and 106th Streets. There, another two-block inclusive row house enclave was strung along the north and south of the Riverside Drive-to-West-End-Avenue span. Furthermore, they are punctuated by mansions and town houses sited on Riverside Drive. The entire enclave adheres to specific Covenants ordered by the owner to Janus & Leo (of Dorilton fame), and the architectural firm meticulously oversaw the builder, James A. Farley.

The architectural style was not specified: the single-family homes were to be of the highest quality materials, with similar architectural details, and in a suitable character to integrate with the neighborhood. Startling results were evident shortly after construction began. At their completion, the row houses featured lavish Beaux-Arts, limestone detailing, English basements, with each outlined Covenant fulfilled. Moreover, two river-facing mansions, at 330 and 331 Riverside Drive, as well as the adjacent town houses, 333-337 Riverside Drive, were designed by Robert Kohn—known for the New York Society for Ethical Culture building, on Central Park West, at West 64th Street. Each reflects perfectly, albeit exuberantly, the row houses along West 105th Street. Collectively, 100 years hence, the mansions and row house grouping were designated as one landmark district. One noteworthy example of this neighborly architectural harmony, in a similar but decidedly splashy, French Renaissance style, was achieved in the subsequent Riverside Drive Schinasi mansion, at West 107th Street, designed by William Tuthill.

The Transition

By the turn of the century, the development association’s focus had shifted to larger apartment buildings, as increasing costs ended row house construction, and as the Seventh Avenue IRT was to open stations on Broadway: therefore, the West End rapidly would become more accessible to the city. Additionally, Broadway’s incursion at West 107th running to 109th Streets, which is West End Avenue’s terminus, corresponds with the northerly Central Park border, further firmly planting a borderline at West 110th Street. Meanwhile, above West 86th Street on West End Avenue, as well as the surrounding streets, apartment house development did arrive with the 1903 IRT Broadway line: it decimated the slow-starting, grand-scale, speculative row house construction boom that had taken off two years prior. Whatever remaining West End Avenue town house construction of the era are isolated near to West Eighty-Sixth Street, clustered in the low West Nineties, and Nos. 854, 856, and 858 West End Avenue, at West 102nd Street.

The 1901-16 zoning ordinances, by guiding the multiple-family dwelling safety, construction, and scale with zoning for elevators in place, each contributed to the remarkable West End Avenue, Riverside Drive, and West 79th and 86th Streets transformation. As the row houses and smaller buildings were being replaced throughout the old village of Bloomingdale, continuously—seemingly at once—four-story single-family blocks were exchanged for upmarket, seven-story, French flats buildings, replete with a ground-floor shop or restaurant. Then, interspersed at the row house’s avenue corners, even taller apartment hotel appeared, which was increasingly gaining popularity with the up-coming affluent classes. They, too, in a flash would be demolished for deluxe, apartment houses (shoulder to shoulder, so to speak), now defining West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. Though dominating, it was the corner apartment houses, and the zoning consistent height that retained its signature personable scale.

A remarkable 1910-30 residential streetscape of staid, red-brick apartment house, bespeaking the comfortable, quite comfortable, substantial and very substantial families in residence, were executed in illustrious designs by Gaetan Ajello, Rosario Candela, John Carpenter, Neville & Bagge, McKim, Mead, and White, Schwartz & Gross, or George Pelham, are found on Riverside and West End Avenue corners, between West 68th to 96th Street.

It is true too that abundant Upper West Side transportation evolved from meager beginnings. Forty-years before urbanization, local stagecoach and the Harlem River Rail Road stations were the public transportation augmenting the Hudson River ferry services. Next, amble horse-drawn trams lines were replaced by steam engines, then electric-power, and then autobuses, running north and south along every avenue, including Broadway, crisscrossed the cross streets services. Moreover, the Riverside Drive bus to Washington Square passed along Fifth Avenue, connecting the ladies to their favorite shopping districts. Of course, it was the IRT Ninth Avenue Elevated Railroad, when completed in 1891, which permanently changed the entire complexion. Furthermore, the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue underground line—begun in 1902, opening in stages, and was completed in 1903—sealed the deal. Manhattan was to have a diverse and thriving Upper West Side.

Changes in the demographic to the north-northeast played a major role. Beginning with the Ninth Avenue El, and culminating with the subway, the Hell’s Kitchen African-American community moved to Manhattanville, the Harlem Valley Village, to live nearby available factories. This, then-considered “social predicament” redoubled in 1910: a wave of eastern European Jews and southern Italian immigrants, by-passing the traditional stopover on the Lower East Side moved to southwest Harlem, near enough to Morningside Park. This prompted the uptown middle classes, who were quite social conscious, to pack it up, move south, and occupy the up-to-date, well-appointed apartment houses rising along Riverside Drive and West End Avenue. In turn, developers were encouraged by the influx for even more ultramodern and luxurious apartment houses—built to rival the dozens of grand, 1900-10 Beaux-Arts and Classic Revival apartment houses and apartment hotels on Broadway, between West 71st and 108th Streets. The West End district joined Central Park West as the American Dream’s utmost rung, residing among the swells in Manhattan’s multi-family apartment “heaven on earth.”

The cycle did not abate for better than four decades, until every possible site had been assembled—many reassembled, and several times over—up to the Great Depression, which killed off Upper West Side luxury housing construction all together. In between time though grand, full-staff—factotums to scullery maids—homes for the likes of William Randolph Hearst on West Eighty-Sixth Street, at Riverside Drive; Marion Davis, his mistress, ensconced nearby in her West 105th Street town house; or the mystic of the Gish sisters and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall living together in a Pomander Walk cottage—epitomizing “to live on the Upper West Side.” (By the way, both Bogart and Bacall are products of that era’s upbringing.)

Boom and Bust Cycles

The Great Depression-era brought the robust Upper West Side’s 40–year housing boom to its knees, where it remained at its nadir until the late 1970s. Forty-five years after, not even Robert Moses’ massive urban renewal projects, such as the Mitchell Lama housing development programs north of West Eighty-Sixth to 97th Streets, along Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, or 1959, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which dominated Lincoln Square, could revive the moribund Upper West Side. Almost universally the area was thought to be the mid-1950s Broadway musical, West Side Story depiction.

Before the Upper West Side could regain a vestige of its former prestige, many spacious apartment house units had been subdivided, and their detailing removed by a tenant-to-owner co-operative conversion—most without means to move on, yet the budget to modernize. Well-appointed lobbies—relegated as a thing of the past as well—were replaced with less than appropriate furnishings. Fortunately, the truly important apartment houses on the three residential avenues (though down on their heels), were not beyond restoration.

Throughout the mid-1930s to mid-1970s, the four Central Park West twin-tower apartment houses held their own: Century (West 62nd to 63rd), Majestic (71st to 72nd), San Remo (74th to 75th), and the Eldorado (89th to 90th Streets), as well as the three-wing Beresford (81st to 82nd Streets). Surprisingly, though, all along the residential avenues—running for endless consecutive blocks—the decorative (and obviously well-secured) façades fared fairly well, and retain their rich architectural beauty still.

Gradually, beginning early in the 1970s, more adventurous pioneers moved in. By the mid-1970s, an Upper East Side co-operative-conversion explosion overflowed to the Upper West Side, with young families taking advantage of the more reasonably priced, family-size apartments, and that trend continued unabated throughout the 1980s. The early 20th century construction bonanza, however, left few prime sites available:

  • On Broadway development was none existent between West 72nd to 86th Streets, and thereafter limited at five building sites to West 96th Street.
  • On Riverside Drive, from West 73rd to 74th Streets, the demolished Schwab mansion site was developed as red-brick complex; at West 78th Street, a white-brick, 21-story, post-war building; and on the West 79th Street north corner, a six-story building received a facelift. It was decades before another corner Riverside Drive site could be assembled—in the West Nineties.
  • On West End Avenue, at West 81st Street, one post-war apartment house went up—but none other. On Central Park West, at West 68th Street, one rental apartment house was erected in the late 1960s.

Twenty years later, above West 88th Street, two Central Park sites were built out with a condominium, though new-construction held to the standard. Then, after a 25 year wait, the last full block where a major apartment house could be developed, the assemblage was complete. The Mayflower Hotel, which occupied West 61st to 62nd Streets, and Central Park West to Broadway, held a 100-year land lease expiration to wait out; a Beaux-Arts music publishing hub, on the Broadway frontage, had been pulled down 30 years beforehand. What remained was a grey-gravel lot, surrounded by a mesh storm fence. The wait ended, with a benefit—because Robert A.M Stern’s Fifteen

Central Park West fit so well as the new Central Park West southern anchor.

Two decades after Lincoln Center’s 1958 groundbreaking ceremony—steadily radiating south to Columbus Circle and north to Verdi Park—a bevy of Broadway apartment houses created two condominium tower canyons along Broadway, as well as on Columbus Avenue, between West 69th and 65th and 63rd to 60th Streets. It was an additional decade before a consequential Upper West Side development site freed up to Lincoln Square’s west—along the Hudson River (above the West Side railroad yard). Then, twenty years more passed before to West 73rd Street’s north, several condominium towers (with rental apartment houses sprinkled here and there)—wherever residential real-estate developers could possibly assemble a building site—were gradually built alongside Broadway’s venerable, grand belles. Again, to the north-northeast, the late 1990s South Harlem “Golden Triangle” revival brought a new influx. Without a preconceived notion of a prior social demarcation line, Manhattan Valley, above West 96th Street, between Broadway and Central Park West that distinction was obliterated.

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