A few weeks ago I took a dérive (an unplanned walk in an urban environment) in the Hell’s Kitchen area. If you were at the north edge of Hell’s Kitchen and walked all the way east until you reached the East River, you would realize how quickly Manhattan neighborhoods can change; from gritty Hell’s Kitchen, you would walk through rapidly evolving “Billionaire’s Row” along 57th Street in Midtown, and then eventually into quiet, laid-back Sutton Place. Because of the geography of Manhattan, it is often confusing to some to find that there are often areas east of “First” Avenue, despite its name. In lower Manhattan, you find Alphabet City – Avenue A, B, etc. Avenue A eventually becomes Sutton Place briefly in midtown, before changing its name to York Avenue on the Upper East Side and disappearing at 96th Street.
So how did Avenue A come to be called Sutton Place between 53rd and 59th Streets? In 1987, the delightfully named Effingham B. Sutton constructed a group of brownstones between 58th and 59th Streets, lending the area his last name, if unfortunately not the first. Even tiny Sutton Place is subdivided again into Sutton Place South (from 53rd to 57th) and Sutton Place North (from 57th to 59th). The area, quiet and seemingly removed from busy midtown just a few blocks away, has been home to residents as diverse as Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, Aristotle Onassis, I.M. Pei, and Freddie Mercury (lead singer of Queen).
This dérive will begin at First Avenue and 59th Street, at the Bridgemarket development tucked under the Ed Koch (AKA the Queensboro, or 59th Street) bridge, home to a T.J. Maxx and a Food Emporium, as well as a Starbucks. Despite the pedestrian nature of those businesses, the Bridgemarket building is gorgeous inside, designed by Rafael Guastavino, who also did work on Grand Central Terminal and Grant’s Tomb (an interesting article on Guastavino and his son was recently on Curbed). Walking east, the bridge looms to your left; on the sunny early spring day when I did this walk, I found myself being unable to resist thinking of Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song.” This neighborhood does tend to make you agree with the sentiment, ”Slow down, you move too fast/Got to make the morning last” (even if no one has thought that they were “feeling groovy” for several decades now!).
Turning south to Sutton Place North, the buildings are post-war, except for a block of townhouses on the east side of the street. Crossing 59th Street, two imposing grand dames of Sutton Place South face each other, One and Two Sutton Place South. I tend to think that when Holden Caulfield refers to a “swanky party” on Sutton Place in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, it must have taken place at one of these two buildings. Before you know it, Sutton Place South has ended in a turn west on 53rd Street.
I recently attended a broker’s open house for several large apartments on Sutton Place, and was struck at the value of some apartments in this area compared to similar ones on Park Avenue. Of course, you are farther east, but in addition to the Second Avenue subway being completed in the next several years, there is also the M31 bus that travels the length of 57th Street before turning north and going all the way up York Avenue to 91st Street. There are some apartments with wonderful views, too; the East River across to Queens and the iconic Pepsi sign, and even the bridge looming to the north. Manhattan is truly a series of neighborhoods as diverse as cities, and that is one major reason that I never tire of walking around this city