Battery Park City

Battery Park city

A few months ago, I wrote about an unplanned walk through an urban environment (a dérive) I had taken through one of the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan – Tribeca. Today’s derive starts where Tribeca, the Financial District, and Battery Park City intersect, at Chambers and West Streets. I often like to write about the history of the area I will be walking through, but Battery Park City, the site of today’s journey, is a newborn compared to most of New York City. Battery Park City sits on land created in large part from soil and rock excavated during the building of the original World Trade Center in the early 1970’s. One of the earliest uses of the newly created land was for seating areas to watch the “Operation Sail” flotilla during the celebration of the American Bicentennial in 1976. Construction of residential buildings began in the 1980’s and has continued since then, with 11 buildings constructed in the 2000’s and three new buildings so far in this decade.

Crossing busy West Street over the pedestrian Tribeca Bridge, you realize what spectacular views this neighborhood has of the new One World Trade Center building (recently officially declared the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, besting the Willis Tower in Chicago after a contentious ruling about  antennae versus spires). Stuyvesant High School  lies just over the west side of the bridge. This elite public high school boasts four Nobel laureates among its alumni, and only about 3% of all applicants who take the rigorous standardized admissions test are lucky enough to attend, with no tuition. The high school’s building was erected in the early 1990’s, and marks the northernmost edge of Battery Park City.

Between Stuyvesant and the Hudson River sits the entrance to Nelson Rockefeller Park, a gorgeous spacious park with views of Tribeca and sailboats to the north, and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to the south. This park, on the sunny summer weekend day I was there, was filled with bikers, sunbathers, families with strollers, pets walking their humans, and people playing games from basketball to chess – the area was vibrant and welcoming. All along the east side of the park, tall apartment buildings face the Hudson, with occasional views of One World Trade framed in intersections a few more blocks to the east.

Just beyond the residential buildings to the east lies the Goldman Sachs complex, and continuing south, Brookfield Place, which holds several financial companies as well as the Winter Garden, which holds free concerts and other events throughout the year. Near the Winter Garden is a yacht harbor. The businesses in the area contribute to the restaurants and shops that support the area’s residents as well. Continuing south, the bulk of the residential buildings exist in three developments, Gateway Plaza, Rector Place, and Battery Place.

One thing that is important to know is that all the buildings in Battery Park City lease their land from the city rather than knowing it outright, but your broker and attorney can  explain how that affects a particular building you might be interested in. In addition, there is no direct subway service to Battery Park City, but there are bus lines, and the subway and PATH lines servicing the financial district are only a few blocks to the east. The surprising thing about this neighborhood is how quiet and peaceful it seems, just a few blocks from the center of the financial district. Although the real estate value has rebounded in the last few years, there is still a variety of apartments available at many price points. If you are interested in potentially moving to this area, I would recommend visiting it a few times, on a busy weekend afternoon and perhaps also on a weekday evening. I wrote a few months ago about the value of an iconic city view, and if this appeals to you, it is hard to imagine a view more iconic than that of the Statue of Liberty, just one of the advantages to this new and vibrant neighborhood in Manhattan.

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The Upper West Side: from Central Park to Riverside Park

UpperWest

In a past dérive (an unplanned walk through an urban environment), I started at the corner of Central Park West and 81st Street, and walked south on CPW to Columbus Circle. For this dérive, the starting location is the same, but this walk goes from one great park to another: from incomparable Central Park west to the delightful Riverside Park, on the Hudson River. This walk illustrates why the Upper West Side continues to be a top location for residential real estate in Manhattan – it’s a primarily residential neighborhood, with a variety of different types of homes, and with all the neighborhood amenities one needs to enjoy life.

Starting at Central Park West and W. 81st Street, the Museum of Natural History dominates to the south. Founded in 1869 by a group including Theodore Roosevelt, Senior (father of President Teddy) to increase knowledge of the natural world in a time when zoos were relatively rare and limited in scope, and travel to see many of the wildlife shown was impossible for nearly everyone, it is a classic – but it can be a bit jarring to modern eyes to see stuffed and preserved animals, many of which are now endangered. Teddy Roosevelt became an iconic part of the museum, donating two elephants from one of his expeditions and eventually being honored by his image in the towering statue that welcomes visitors to the main building. Walking along W. 81st, however, eventually the Rose Center for Earth and Space, housing the Hayden Planetarium as well as many interactive educational displays, can be seen through the thick August foliage. It’s quite a change from the winter, when the glowing blue globe within a transparent cube can be seen from many directions through the leafless tree branches.

Behind the museum, on this Sunday afternoon, there is a greenmarket set up, with locally grown produce, honey, cheese, and bread. These greenmarkets are a wonderful addition to New York City life, and you can find out their locations and times at http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket.

Turning west on W. 82nd, the characteristic nature of this neighborhood becomes apparent: larger stately apartment buildings on the Avenues and on the corners, and charming brownstones filling in the cross streets. The material covering brownstones is a type of sandstone from the Jurassic or Triassic eras, so having an abundance of brownstones so near the dinosaur skeletons at the American Museum of Natural History seems only fitting.

Passing Broadway, and then West End Avenue, I smile as I remember a recent conversation with an Australian looking for an apartment near Riverside Park. He wondered where all the theatres were, and eventually I had to explain that Broadway was only “Broadway” as he thought of it in the 40’s and 50’s, and that “West End” bore no resemblance to the same area in London! In fact, as you get closer to Riverside Park, the neighborhood becomes more peaceful and residential, eventually leading to the pastoral beauty of Riverside Park.

The Upper West Side holds a variety of choices for someone looking for a home – running the gamut from the stately views of Central Park or Riverside Park in the majestic buildings on Central Park West and Riverside Drive, to the quiet and sometimes quirky floor-through apartments in brownstones on quiet cross streets. I recently helped a customer find a pet-friendly home near Riverside Park (with its off-leash hours and dog runs), and was delighted when she saw the 500 square feet of outdoor space in a certain brownstone garden apartment and knew that she and her dog had found their perfect home. Everyone looking for a home in New York City deserves the same result, and with the abundance of different neighborhoods and types of residences, with patience and the help of a good broker, it should be possible.

In the Heights

WashingtonHeights

This week’s dérive (an unplanned walk through an urban environment) takes place in a Manhattan neighborhood that holds Manhattan’s oldest surviving mansion, has a safer crime rate than Greenwich Village, is only 20 minutes from Times Square via express subway, and was the subject of a recent Tony Award winning musical – Washington Heights. Surprised? It’s time to take a closer look at this northern Manhattan neighborhood while there is still value to be had in this rapidly-evolving area.

Washington Heights lies just above Harlem, just below Inwood (the very top of Manhattan), and between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. It is in named for Fort Washington, the highest spot in Manhattan and the site of a major battle with the British during the American Revolution (we lost that battle, but of course won the war). Currently the area has a large Dominican population (who descriptively call the neighborhood, “El Alto” for its hills and elevation), and the conflict between the existing residents and the process of gentrification was one of the themes of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award winning musical, “In the Heights.” New developments are beginning to be built in the area – I recently sold such an apartment to investors and will be renting it out for them. After taking photographs of the apartment, it was time to take an unplanned walk in the neighborhood and discover its personality.

Starting at W. 168th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, I will note that Washington Heights is actually easier to get to than some neighborhoods closer to midtown but without as many public transportation options. The A train (express) can get you to midtown in 20 minutes, and the C (local) and the 1 makes several stops along the Broadway line in the Heights. Dominating the area at the 168th Street stop is Columbia Medical Center. Surprisingly, the land it sits on was once the home of Hilltop Park, the home of the New York Highlanders baseball team from 1903-1912. They eventually moved their ballpark to the Bronx and changed their name – to the New York Yankees.

Walking east along W. 167 Street to Edgecombe Avenue, you dead end at a surprisingly pastoral park along a high bluff. Huge sections of the Manhattan schist left over from when the ice age receded form the edge, and tower to your left as you walk south along Edgecombe. At 162 Street, I was intrigued by a sign to the right for the Morris-Jumel Mansion, and walked along 162nd before turning onto Jumel Terrace to see a large white mansion with pillars. Built in 1765, it was used by George Washington for his headquarters for a few months in 1776, and at various times hosted guests as illustrious as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. A National Historic Landmark since 1961, it is now a museum decorated entirely in the Georgian style, with a bed that supposedly belonged to Napoleon.

Continuing along W. 160th Street after turning from Jumel Terrace, there are beautiful rows of townhouses as well as a few large prewar apartment buildings. Turning south on Broadway, a bustling, but not overly crowded, thoroughfare awaits with plenty of shopping and restaurants. At W. 155th Street, the southern edge of Washington Heights, I was surprised to see a large (over two full blocks) cemetery, part of Trinity Church Wall Street but created in 1842 because they had run out of space in their downtown location. Still in use (recent additions were Mayor Ed Koch and Jerry Orbach), it has a large monument for John James Audubon, the famed naturalist best known for his detailed illustrations of birds. His name graces a nearby micro-neighborhood within Washington Heights – Audubon Terrace, a series of eight Beaux-Arts buildings in what was once his land. The nearby apartment buildings on Riverside where it makes a sharp eastward turn between 155th and 158th Streets represent a hidden gem within Manhattan real estate, a C train stop to get you to the rest of the city, but seemingly quiet and removed from it.

Taking the C back downtown, I reflect on the surprising variety of experiences available in this less-known (and perhaps misunderstood) area of Manhattan. Regardless of how long a person has been living in New York City, the richness and uniqueness of its many neighborhoods always allows for fresh discoveries – and in this case, the potential for great value in real estate.