Walking through midtown along First Avenue is a stereotypically hectic New York City experience, with multiple lanes of busy traffic, shops, and restaurants creating a noisy and bustling ambiance. Walk just a few steps east of First on 51st Street, however, and it is as if the city has magically melted away. Welcome to Beekman Place, a quiet residential oasis just blocks from the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
Beekman Place itself is only two blocks long, from 49th to 51st Streets, running just a short block east of First Avenue. However, apartments in the streets immediately surrounding Beekman Place are often said to be in the eponymous neighborhood (itself a sub-division of the Turtle Bay area). Perched high above the east river, able to survey the FDR Drive but feeling removed from it, there are views of the iconic Pepsi Cola sign to the east, the Ed Koch Queensborough bridge to the north, and the United Nations to the south.
The area received its name due to the Beekman family mansion built there in 1760. During the Revolutionary War, the British headquartered in the mansion for a time. Nathan Hale (“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country”) was tried as a spy in the mansion’s greenhouse, and was hanged in the orchard surrounding the home. Later, George Washington was a frequent visitor to Beekman mansion while president. The mansion was eventually torn down in 1874 after being abandoned in the 1850’s during a cholera epidemic. Eventually the area became a slum, only to have its fortunes turn with the building of One Beekman Place in 1929. The area became virtually a synonym for a certain type of privilege (Hubbell Gardiner in “The Way We Were” had grown up on Beekman – enough said), home to Rockefellers and foreign royalty.
Taking a dérive (an unplanned walk in an urban environment) in the area after previewing an apartment for sale for a customer, I found the area to be far from stuffy – charming and livable. East 51st Street ends in a steep series of steps that lead to Peter Detmold Park. The dog run here is relatively famous among pet owners in the city, being very large and beautiful. A non profit group, PDP-ARF (Peter Detmold Park – Animals Run Free) maintains the dog run, and it is a center for neighborhood events. The Beekman neighborhood association was going to hold a caroling party on the December afternoon that I was there, an almost small-town touch to this quiet gem.
Looking up from the park toward the back of the homes on the south side of Beekman Place, I realized what spectacular views over the East River those apartments have – many with private terraces. Walking back up from the park and taking the very short stroll along the fronts of those homes on Beekman Place, the feeling is similar to the Gramercy area, but with virtually no traffic. There is only one way to drive in (E. 50th) and two ways to drive out (E. 49th and 51st), but no reason to do so unless you live there. Walking back toward First Avenue on E. 49th, I found myself on another of New York City’s quirky one-block streets, Mitchell Place.
Walking away from Beekman Place, within just a few blocks I was in the heart of midtown, passing the Waldorf Astoria. I loved the contrast of this quiet sleepy yet residential area with the bustle of midtown so near. Prices in this neighborhood, while not low budget, are still less than similar apartments on Park or Fifth, in part because it is so far to the east of the 4-5-6 subway line. Elegant yet livable; remote yet close to the heart of the city; supremely pet friendly – Beekman Place won me over.