West 57th Street

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So much of New York real estate press these days is about the flurry of enormous new development skyscrapers along 57th Street. Although some of the press is about how these buildings will change the skyline of Manhattan, particular from the viewpoint of Central Park, most is about the stratospheric prices many of the apartments in these buildings command. This has lead to this neighborhood being called “Billionaire’s Row”  – and with the average price of these new condo apartments approaching $20 million and the two apartments in One 57 selling for over $90 million each, being a billionaire couldn’t hurt. The term “Billionaire’s Row” is a throwback to the term “Millionaire’s Row” given to Fifth Avenue north of 50th Street, particularly those buildings along Central Park, in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Families like the Astors, Vanderbilts, Fricks, and Whitneys all jockeyed to built the most impressive homes along this stretch, and of course Andrew Carnegie’s mansion at 90th Street (written about in my previous blog post about Carnegie Hill) was perhaps the zenith of this activity.

I have written about the enjoyment of taking an unplanned walk through an urban environment (a dérive), and decided to walk around this part of town while imagining what it would be like to live there (as opposed to rushing through on the way to a Broadway show). Starting at Fifth and 57th Street, a powerhouse of a corner with Bergdorf’s, Tiffany’s, and Louis Vuitton trying to out-dazzle each other, I walked west and almost immediately noticed 9 West 57th Street – impossible to miss because of the enormous red sculpted “9” in front. Standing in front of this building and looking directly up, the curving slope of its façade is almost dizzying. In addition, its mirrored surface reflected, on the day I was there, the sky dotted with puffy clouds. Looking across the street at this point, I was surprised to see something I had never noticed when not  imagining I lived here: a supermarket (Morton Williams) on the south side of the street midway between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It’s nice to know that the billionaires have this available (although one imagines most of them are eating out or catering).

Crossing Sixth and continuing west, I look south and realize that Le Parker-Meridien New York being in the neighborhood might make it easier to get to the Burger Joint at an odd time and avoid the huge line (and desperate search for a table). At this point, I also realized how close I was to one my favorite places to eat in the city, Todd English’s Food Hall in the Plaza (59th between Fifth and Sixth). On the north side of this block is elegant Steinway Hall, now closing as a showroom for fine concert pianos but soon to be part of a new skyscraper built primarily on the lot next to the hall, but with air rights over the Steinway building. The star of the block currently, of course, is One 57, at 157 W 57th Street. Nearing completion, and yet already close to sold out, currently it dominates the area, but with the other “tower power” buildings planned, it will eventually be simply a part of the reimagined Manhattan skyline. It will briefly be the city’s tallest residential building, at over 1000 feet, but will soon be overtaken by 432 Park (with a height of almost 1400 feet, when it is finished it will be the highest residential building in the Western hemisphere).

The southeast corner of Seventh and 57th Street is home to Carnegie Hall, reason enough to consider living here! On the north side of the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, you can glimpse trees in Central Park – for now – through the empty space soon to be another duo of tall residential buildings. It’s easy to forget how close you are to Central Park while walking along 57th Street, although the view of the Park that north-facing apartments in One 57 above 225 feet or so has certainly contributed to their value.

Crossing Eighth Avenue, look north to see Columbus Circle, the ending location of one of my recent blog posts. The look of the apartment buildings changes as you continue west. In the same period of time that Fifth was turning into “Millionaire’s Row,” 57th Street became the home of several large apartment buildings (like the Parc Vendome and Alwyn Court) designed to lure wealthier (if not quite in the league of those on Millionaire’s Row) New Yorkers away from their townhouses and into full service buildings with doormen and spacious apartment layouts. Looking at the Parc Vendome, one of four massive imposing apartment buildings on 57th near Ninth Avenue, I noticed the different feel these buildings have compared to the slender tall towers sprouting up along the street.

Turning north, I was struck with how quickly the tone of the neighborhood changes – within a few blocks, the midtown feeling is gone and you are clearly on the Upper West Side, and steps from Central Park as well as Lincoln Center. Thinking about it, this is the genius of 57th Street as a place for residential buildings, straddling Central Park and Upper West Side (or East, in the case of 432 Park) on one side and busy, bustling midtown on the other. London has a “Billionaire’s Row” as well, but it’s a series of mansions in a quiet part of North London (Bishop’s Row). This central location for New York’s strip of “power towers” is an advantage for anyone looking to live in the middle of the island. These new tower developments have been controversial, but so many architectural developments that were initially hated (The Eiffel Tower and original World Trade Center, for instance) became icons over time. Perhaps one day the new developments changing the skyline of Manhattan along 57th Street will become accepted and integrated into the look of New York City, a place that is always changing, and therefore, never boring.

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