The value of a city view

Recently I gave my personal perspective on the value of an apartment with a view of nature after touring a series of Upper East Side penthouses with terraces. A few days after writing that post,  I was able to view a spectacular apartment on the Upper West Side with tremendous south facing city views; even the master bathroom had a window with a perfectly framed view of the Empire State Building! Now that it has programmable LED lights and even twinkles on occasion (thank you, Tour Eiffel, for the idea – imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery), I was captivated by the idea of taking a bath while looking at an ESB light show. The other day I also saw another apartment uptown which has the misfortune of being in a building with an entrance blocked by the Second Avenue subway construction, but also with great south facing views. It made me wonder, what is the value of an iconic city view?

The most obvious answer, of course, is that its value reflects market demands; the price a qualified buyer is willing to pay more for that apartment compared to an identical apartment in the same building without the view is the value. But why do we value an iconic view above one without one but with as much open space and light?

Perhaps for some it is conveys status; an apartment with an iconic city view clearly cost the buyer more. However, I believe that for many it is more than that. The feeling I get when I am in a wonderful apartment with a view of New York City’s stunning skyscrapers is a cinematic one. So many filmmakers have set the scene with a sweeping view of our skyline that to have such a view from the windows of our own homes roots us firmly in the city. The idea of mise-en-scène, the generating of a sense of time and place in a film, and setting a mood, can generalize to an individual’s creation of the kind of feeling they want in their home. For me, a city view embraces New York and all that it represents, grounding a person in this place and time.

So which is worth more, the view of nature that answers our animal beginnings, or the view of the city that sets us clearly within our current human-made environment? It’s an individual choice, and the one that speaks to you when you see an apartment will reveal which provides value to you.

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Lenox Hill

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Although there are many wonderful parts of New York City, and I plan to be walking through many in upcoming posts, after describing parts of Yorkville, Carnegie Hill, and Upper Carnegie Hill into El Barrio (see previous blog entries), it made sense to complete my tour of the Upper East Side with a dérive in Lenox Hill. As a reminder, Wikipedia defines a dérive as “an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.” As mentioned in earlier posts, I find that walking through a neighborhood gives me the best instinct for what it would be like as a place to live .In addition, it allows me to connect with the city in a more tangible way, as a part of it rather than as an observer of it.

Lenox Hill is an area of the Upper East Side of Manhattan between 77th Street and 60th Street, and between Lexington and Fifth Avenues. Lenox Hill itself was at what is now Park Avenue and 70th Street, and named for Robert Lenox, who owned much of the land in this area in the early 19th century (interesting fact: he was the executor of Archibald Gracie’s will, the same Gracie who built the mansion now used as the New York City mayor’s residence in Carl Schurz Park).

Starting on Madison and 77th, you can see two classic Upper East Side hotels – the Mark on 77th between Fifth and Madison, and the Carlyle (known as “The New York White House” during President Kennedy’s term) on Madison between 77th and 76th Streets. Both have a few residences as well as hotel rooms, if a home with maid and room service is what you have always wanted!  The Carlyle is also the home of Café Carlyle, the famous supper club where you can have dinner while hearing live cabaret or jazz performances. Walking south on Madison, you also run across two unique pharmacies: Zitomer’s, on Madison between 76th and 65th, and Clyde’s on Madison and 74th. Both are a far cry from the chain pharmacies that proliferate every few blocks –  if you are looking for an obscure European skin care product or a scented candle from Santa Maria Novella in Italy, try one of these distinctive shops.

At Madison and 75th Street is the new home of the modern art collection of the Metropolitan Museum, in the brutalist building once occupied by the Whitney Museum before its move to the Meatpacking District at the southern end of the High Line Park.

Continuing south on Madison is an enjoyable stroll, with the window displays of the designer shops themselves providing an artistic experience. Looking right while heading south on Madison, you can see beautiful rows of townhouses lining the blocks, and Central Park beckoning just on the other side of Fifth Avenue. Looking left, you see quiet residential blocks and, just one block over, the majestic expanse of Park Avenue. Fairly unique to this neighborhood is the contrast between the densely packed shops and restaurants all along Madison and Lexington Avenues, and the primarily residential expanses on the cross streets and along Fifth and Park Avenues.

 

The value of a view

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a broker’s open house tour, featuring Upper East Side penthouses with terraces. All the apartments included gorgeous interiors, large functional kitchens, and comfortable bedrooms – and yet I found myself constantly drawn to the windows with a view of Central Park. Even walking into another room adjacent to one I had just walked through enjoying the view, I would be unable to resist walking over to the windows to gaze once again at the spectacular scenery. For me, the highlight of each apartment tour was a trip outside to walk along a spacious terrace – even though on that particular day, the temperature was unseasonably cold. Many people think of a park view or terrace as a status symbol, and yet I was drawn to each simply as an observer, with no one there to be impressed (or not). As I finished up a few enjoyable hours at several wonderful buildings, I found myself wondering: what is the value of a view?

Since the apartments I was touring all had Central Park views, with trees, rolling hills, and a large body of water (the reservoir), my mind turned to the work of Diane Ackerman (author of The Natural History of the Senses, among many other works).  I heard her speak many years ago, and was struck by her observation that, as the human animal moves into increasingly artificial environments, we crave adding nature back into our habitats. This could be through cultivating plants in our tiny apartments, keeping companion animals, or spending a premium to see nature unfurl through our windows (or on our terrace). Human-made objects tend to be linear and three dimensional; natural objects tend to be more serpentine and of fractional (fractal) dimensions. The world we have created is fairly static and unchanging, while nature is constantly chaotic and fluctuating. Ackerman proposes that people need nature; we evolved as a part of the natural world and our industrial, mechanical world is too recent a development to completely remove this primal need.

So, is paying a higher price for an apartment with a view worth it? Of course, this is a personal decision for everyone looking to buy a home. For me, I can say that it does have value, and the only way you can be sure if it is worth it to you is to include a few options with views and see how you respond.

While these concepts apply to view of nature (whether Central Park, some other park, or a river), in another post I will discuss the different value of a city view. In my next blog post I will be back with another dérive (an unplanned walk around Manhattan).

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Central park : from the boat pond to Strawberry Fields

I had another blog post written for this week, complete with photos. Then, New York City decided to break into spring – finally, after a persistent and painful winter, it was suddenly warm, sunny, and bursting with new blooms. I was compelled to take a dérive in Central Park, as it beckoned a block from my office. A dérive, as described in more length in previous posts, is an unplanned walk within an urban landscape. While Central Park is undeniably beautiful and delivers a much-needed injection of nature into our lives in the concrete jungle, it is still supremely urban. One of the best aspects of Central Park is the way that massive buildings line the edges of the park, like an irregular geometric frame around a lush Impressionistic painting.

Entering the park at Fifth Avenue and 79th Street, the first thing that struck me was the fields of daffodils in bloom. Something I love about NYC is the way Christmas trees are recycled each year. As depressing as it can be to see dried trees lining the streets waiting to be picked up in January, they are turned into mulch that is used in city parks to protect and fertilize the bulbs that create these oceans of yellow in April! Walking roughly south, eventually you run into the sailboat pond, full of remote-controlled small boats on clear spring and summer days. Gazing at the pond, unless completely covered in climbing children, is the famous Alice in Wonderland statue. Commissioned in 1959 by George Delacorte, whose philanthropy has enriched many areas of the park, it was designed to be interacted with by children. The statue of Alice was based on the sculptor José de Creeft’s daughter, and the face of the Mad Hatter is a sly tribute to Delacorte himself. Also looking at the pond with his back to the west side, is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen absent-mindedly feeding a duck while staring at the apartment buildings on Fifth Avenue (perhaps looking for a hawk’s nest).

Heading west, you soon come across the Loeb Boathouse, an elegant restaurant (and, with Tavern on the Green gone, the only place within the park that deserves getting dressed up for). They even have a shuttle along upper Fifth Avenue for those who are too dressed up to walk to the restaurant through the park. The Boathouse sits on the location of an old functional structure that was used to store the rowboats that have launched from this location since the late 1800’s (and you can still rent them next to the restaurant). There is even a gondola for hire!

Walking past the Boathouse, roughly west, you come across the majestic clearing surrounding the Bethesda Fountain. Unveiled in 1873, Bethesda Fountain was created to commemorate the Civil War dead, based on a passage in the New Testament about a pool that healed anyone who stepped into it. However, to me it is always the symbol of healing from Tony Kushner’s brilliant Angels in America, when Prior says about it, “This angel. She’s my favorite angel. I like them best when they’re statuary. They commemorate death but suggest a world without dying. They are made of the heaviest things on earth, stone and iron, they weigh tons but they’re winged, they are engines and instruments of flight.” (Epilogue.17)

Continuing to head west, you enter Strawberry Fields. Dedicated to the memory of John Lennon and recognized by 121 countries as a Garden of Peace, it is officially a “quiet zone,” but you are likely to come across a performer playing Beatles tunes near the famous Imagine mosaic. The mosaic was given to the city of New York as a gift by the city of Naples, and was dedicated on October 9, 1985, on what would have been John Lennon’s 45th birthday.

So much to see on even such a relatively short walk in Central Park! The Park belongs to all New Yorkers, not just those fortunate enough to look out the windows of their homes and watch the seasons play out throughout the year. If you’re not a New Yorker, you are as always welcome to explore it as our guest; perhaps someone will even offer to take your picture at the Bethesda Foundation.Image

Upper Carnegie Hill into El Barrio

The line between Carnegie Hill on the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem, or El Barrio, once seemed carved in stone. Generally speaking, El Barrio stretches north of 96th Street, from Central Park to the East River. East Harlem was New York City’s first “Little Italy,” hence the famous Italian restaurants still in the area, like the original location of Patsy’s Pizzeria and Rao’s. After World War I, a large influx of Puerto Rican immigrants began the transition of this neighborhood to Spanish Harlem.  Regardless of the name, the area along Fifth Avenue north of 96th Street (now sometimes called “Upper Carnegie Hill”), has certainly undergone a transformation over the past decade.

For this dérive (an unplanned journey through an urban environment; see my previous blog posts), we start at Fifth and 96th, walking north. For several blocks, Fifth Avenue is dominated by Mount Sinai Medical Center, a dominant presence in this neighborhood. Just north of Mount Sinai, beautiful apartment buildings, pre- and post-war, emerge. Some of the apartments in these buildings with views of Central Park are being sold for prices that would have been unimaginable ten years ago!

Looking at the Central Park Conservatory Gardens (Fifth Avenue between 104th and 106th Streets), one can easily see the value of such a view. The entrance to the Gardens is a massive iron gate, built in Paris in 1894 and once the entrance to the Vanderbilt mansion at Fifth and 58th Street. The Gardens is divided into three spaces with different styles: Italian, French, and English. During the spring and summer, all sections of the Conservatory Gardens are lush and colorful, and of course in the autumn the entire park is overtaken by red, orange, and yellow foliage.

This area along Fifth Avenue also houses a few museums here at the top of “Museum Mile.” On either side of 103th Street on Fifth sit the Museum of the City of New York  and El Museo del Barrio. The Museum of the City of New York was founded in 1923 to educate the populace about the past, present and future of the city. It was originally housed in Gracie Mansion (see my blog post on Yorkville) but a dedicated building was constructed on land donated by the city, completed in 1932. Interesting artifacts housed in the museum are as diverse as original manuscripts by Eugene O’Neill, a man’s suit worn to George Washington’s Inaugural ball (which took place in NYC, the nation’s capital at that time), and a dollhouse containing an original miniature work by Marcel Duchamp. Founded 40 years ago, El Museo del Barrio celebrates the art and culture of all Latin Americans in the United States, and hosts concerts, educational events, and exhibitions.

Strolling east on Fifth, there is a quiet nature to the neighborhood that does perhaps justify the term “Upper Carnegie Hill.” Turning east on 106th Street, however, things become more vibrant, with abundant dining opportunities once you reach Lexington Avenue. Heading south on Lex, you can’t miss Duffy’s Hill at 103rd, one of the steepest grades in New York. Whoever Duffy was, he was certainly out of breath! There is a 6 subway stop right at 103rd before the hill begins, if it looks too daunting. However, a little cardio and some stretched calf muscles will reward the walker with several blocks of interesting places to eat and a few new condo residential buildings. Lexington between 104th and 99th Streets has been called a new “restaurant row.” On Lexington between 99th and 100th Street, check out Lloyd’s Carrot Cake (http://www.lloydscarrotcake.com/). The first time I had a Lloyd’s carrot cake, I was at a friend’s party and the cake had been bought from the original location in Riverdale. If this location is more convenient than Riverdale (as it is for me), you can try a slice before purchasing an entire cake. On the corner of Lexington and 97th is ABV (http://www.abvny.com/), a casually sophisticated place to eat and drink, with great tapas, interesting cocktails, and live music on Monday nights.

Ending up at Lexington and 96th Street, the 6 subway or a crosstown bus can take you quickly where you need to go elsewhere in the city. Whether or not East Harlem is the “next Williamsburg,” as has been touted, it’s a neighborhood with good value and plenty to offer as a place to visit or to live.Image

A walk around Carnegie Hill

For today’s dérive (an unplanned journey through an urban environment; see my previous posts), you are in another sub-neighborhood of the Upper East Side in Manhattan – Carnegie Hill. Yes, this area is named after Andrew Carnegie of Carnegie Hall fame, whose former mansion now houses the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (part of the Smithsonian). The rough outlines of this neighborhood are E. 86th Street to the south, Third Avenue to the east, Fifth Avenue to the west, and E. 96th to the north (although with recent gentrification of the area near the park north of E. 96th, some call that area Upper Carnegie Hill rather than East Harlem).

Standing on the south side of 86th and Fifth, the imposing bulk of the Metropolitan Museum is still visible a few blocks behind, but the smaller, elegant, Neue Galerie (dedicated to early 20th Century German and Austrian art) sits on the corner, signaling a change from grand to more intimate. Walking north on Fifth, Central Park is an overwhelming presence to your left, but I will leave a dérive in Central Park for later in the spring, when it is a riot of color with seas of sunny daffodils and explosions of pink and white blossoms from the flowering fruit trees (although the Park has its own special beauty covered in snow, this particular winter has left me longing for spring).

At Fifth and 88th, it is impossible to miss the Guggenheim Museum, whose most impressive work is the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building itself. Built in 1959, it was intended to be a “temple of the spirit,” and the museum is known for using its innovative space creatively to showcase exhibitions. The Maurizio Cattalan exhibition in 2011, “All,” hung over 100 of the artist’s works from the ceiling, and the observer experienced the pieces from different perspectives while moving around in the museum’s circular ramps. The museum also hosts special events during the year, including an excellent “Works & Progress” series that shows the creative process behind developing works in dance, music, or drama.

Once you have passed the Guggenheim, the quiet nature of this neighborhood truly reveals itself; other than the museums, it is primarily a residential neighborhood. In fact, until the Church of the Heavenly Rest opened its “Heavenly Rest Stop” on Fifth between 89th and 90th Streets, there were few places to get a quick bite to eat or a cup of coffee unless venturing to the east to Madison. On Fifth between 90th and 91st, there is the namesake of the neighborhood, Andrew Carnegie’s mansion, now the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (currently closed for renovations but due to reopen later in 2014).  It’s hard to imagine, but this 64-room mansion was once the home of Carnegie, his wife, and their daughter! It was the first home in the United States to have a structural steel frame, the first in New York City to have an Otis elevator, had heat and central air conditioning (certainly unusual for the turn of the 20th century) and the conservatory was made entirely of Tiffany glass.

Continuing north on Fifth, on the corner of 92nd is the Jewish Museum, which recently held a wonderful retrospective of Art Spiegelman’s work (most notably, Maus). Like the Cooper-Hewitt, the Jewish Museum also occupies a former family mansion, that of the Warburgs.

Turning east on 92nd, one is struck by the quiet elegance of these off-avenue blocks, dotted with townhouses. When I first visited the Pimlico neighborhood in London, it reminded me of Carnegie Hill, edged by the Thames rather than Central Park, but with the same peaceful quiet on side streets. The northwest corner of 92nd and Madison houses Ciao Bella, a New York City local gelateria with intense flavors as varied as blood orange and malted milk ball.

On Madison Avenue in Carnegie Hill, there is an abundance of shops, many one of a kind, and casually refined restaurants where it is unlikely to be too noisy to hear your companion’s conversation.  Sarabeth’s, on Madison between 92nd and 93rd on the east side of the street, is a neighborhood staple, and getting a table for brunch can involve a bit of patience if you didn’t have the foresight to make a reservation (they are on OpenTable).

Continuing east on 92nd, you cross Park Avenue – be sure to look south and appreciate the expansive view all the way to the MetLife building above Grand Central. The buildings along Park Avenue provide financial support to maintain the malls in the middle of the divided street. In the spring, there are carpets of tulips, and the holiday season brings a forest of evergreen trees lit with tiny white lights (started in 1945 to honor those who died fighting in World War II).

At Lexington and 92nd Street, this dérive will end at the 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community center serving the neighborhood since 1874. In addition to the classes and sports club offered on the site, it regularly hosts concerts, lectures by notables, dance performances, and film screenings.

The Carnegie Hill Historic District was created in 1974 to preserve the unique environment of much of this neighborhood, ensuring that Carnegie Hill retains the quiet understated elegance that makes this an inviting place to walk through or live in.Image

Yorkville: From Lexington and 86th Street to the East River Promenade

Although the Upper East Side is roughly a large rectangle of space bounded by 59th and 96th Streets to the south and north, and from Fifth Avenue across to the East River, within this large area are several distinct neighborhoods. Today I will be taking a dérive through Yorkville. In my first blog post, I explained the concept of a dérive – an unplanned journey through an urban environment.

Getting off the 4, 5, or 6 at the E. 86 subway stop puts you on busy, commercial 86th Street. Heading east, make sure to enjoy the fantastic burger smells emanating from Shake Shack on the south side of the block between Lexington and Third (following in my footsteps, if you have the time and the line is not snaking out the door, go in and treat yourself to Danny Meyer’s brisket-infused delicacy). When you cross Third Avenue, you have entered Yorkville. The highlight of this block to me, a resident, is the excellent Fairway Market. From experience, I can recommend that you try to avoid shopping after 6 PM on weeknights or virtually any time on Saturday, when the lines to check out can become tangled with the mass of people trying to get on the elevator for the lower level, making for a stressful experience. Crossing Second Avenue, one gets the less-than-scenic view of a large construction site for the long awaited Second Avenue Subway line. Estimated completion date for the line is December, 2016, and I hope they are not too far off! In the early 20th century, Yorkville was a German immigrant enclave, and crossing Second and looking south, you can see evidence of that – a German biergarten, Heidelberg Restaurant.
Getting to First Avenue, the Duane Reade on First and 86th is much like every other Duane Reade in New York, but was recently renovated. As an aside, I once had an interesting conversation with Dan Ackroyd while waiting to pick up a prescription here (Pope Benedict was visiting the area at the time, leading to an amusing chat with him about the pontiff). Turning north on First on the east side of the street will take you by Glaser’s (http://www.glasersbakeshop.com/) between 87 and 88th. This bakery, started in 1902 by German immigrants, is a neighborhood staple, and on weekends and holidays the lines can be formidable. In my household, my girls have always just called this “the bakery” (as in, “Could you get me some bakery brownies?”) and may not in fact know the actual name. I suspect it is just “the bakery” for many loyal neighborhood residents.

Arriving on E. 88th, turn right and head east. How many of you read to your children (or were read to as a child) The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Weber? The sequel was called Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, after the star of both books. On the south side of the street on this block is The Shaggy Dog, a pet grooming business. When Bernard Weber came to my daughters’ school once, he showed a photo of The Shaggy Dog when describing his choice of E. 88th for the location of his book, making me believe that the fictional Lyle might in fact have lived on this block.

Crossing York, ahead you can see the first glimpses of Carl Schurz Park. Once again, the old German roots of this neighborhood emerge, as the park was named after German-born Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz in the early 20th Century. As you cross East End, eyes are drawn to something very unusual in Manhattan – a two story wooden mansion. Built in 1799 and the official home to mayors of New York City since LaGuardia (except for Michael Bloomberg, who had an even better home on E. 79th Street near Fifth that he couldn’t bear to leave). A tip for those living the area with children: it’s a great spot for trick or treating. Giuliani handed out candy personally during his time at Gracie Mansion, and during the Bloomberg years, the mayor would leave candy with the security detail to hand out. (Perhaps in another blog post later in the year I will give some more detailed personal tips about trick or treating in the neighborhood.)

Carl Schurz Park is just lovely; it is of course much smaller than Central park but also more cohesive, with a uniform look. Like Central Park, it has a Conservancy group for its maintenance (http://www.carlschurzparknyc.org/). Although there are not off-leash hours for your dogs like there are in Central Park, there are two dog runs where you can take your dog to play with others off-leash within a gated area. The small dog run is for dogs up to 25 pounds, and the large dog run is for dogs larger than that (or for smaller dogs with big attitudes; my beagle fits this category). Because Carl Schurz Park is relatively narrow; even a short wander will take you to the East River Promenade, with a fantastic view of the East River’s “Hell Gate” and its ferociously swirling currents.

My dérive is over, and there are so many other aspects of this neighborhood that I regret not being able to mention, but you will have to check out this area for yourself and see what you discover. From experience, I can tell you that Yorkville is a convenient (even more so once the Second Avenue Subway is finished, but for now there are Select Bus Service routes on First and Second) and comfortable neighborhood to visit or live in. As a real estate professional, I will also note that this neighborhood offers great value for someone looking to purchase a home.
Yorkville

The joy of a New York City dérive

I love living in New York City. There are so many reasons for this: the palpable energy level, the abundance of every kind of visual and performing arts, limitless food delivery options, yes, even “the city that never sleeps.” That final cliché can never be fully appreciated this until arriving at Southwark station with a large suitcase at 5 AM and realizing that the London tube, which closes overnight, has not even opened three hours before needing to get to Heathrow to make an international flight – trust me on this one. Who could imagine that a subway would ever shut down? However, when forced to think about what I love most about living in Manhattan, my mind keeps turning to the joys of walking. Given no time constraints, I would always choose to walk over taking a bus, subway, or taxi. Regardless of the weather, there is such a tangible connection to the city when striding down a sidewalk, a visceral bond that cannot be experienced from inside a glass and metal bubble. From the windows of a taxi, you are an observer of the city and its neighborhoods; when walking, you are a participant within it.

In my blog, I will write about various things I enjoy in New York City, but many posts will describe my personal experiences of walking around various neighborhoods. Despite living in Manhattan for over 25 years, I am constantly surprised by how much there is to learn and explore even in familiar surroundings. The neighborhoods themselves are almost like mini-cities of their own; the feeling of walking through the Upper West Side is very different from that of walking through the East Village, and that is part of the joy of the city – it is always changing and there is always more to discover. Although I am a licensed real estate professional with Warburg Realty, this blog will not be primarily about residential buildings, it will be about neighborhoods. While many of my daily walks involve getting from one place to another at the maximum walking speed possible, listening to music on my iPhone, and thinking about the next ten things I need to do, there is a special pleasure to be had in occasionally slowing down and really observing my surroundings. I will be writing about a specific kind of walking within a city neighborhood, called a dérive. Wikipedia defines a dérive as “an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.” My self-imposed rules for blogging a dérive (and, since these rules are self-imposed, I will feel free to break them on occasion) are that I will not set out with a set path within my chosen neighborhood, and that any photographs I show will be taken by me on my iPhone.

My hopes for this blog are that New Yorkers reading it will find a new perspective on their city, and that those not as familiar with the city will learn a little about why I find it such an exhilarating place to live and work. If you are thinking of moving to New York or relocating within the city, perhaps my blog will help you begin to find some neighborhoods that interest you to begin your search for a home. If I can help you find a home in New York City, please do contact me. My first dérive will be in an area of the Upper East Side called Yorkville, which happens to be my home turf.Image