A day (and evening) in Bushwick

When Peter Stuyvesant chartered the area he called Boswijck (“little town in the woods”) in 1661, it included the areas of Brooklyn now called Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick. Like its neighbor Williamsburg a decade ago, Bushwick is transforming itself from an industrial working-class neighborhood to a haven for artists. Vogue magazine declared Bushwick #7 in its 2014 list of 15 coolest neighborhoods (one of only three in the US, and the only NYC area to make the list). Since I love unplanned walks in the city (see my initial post about the concept here) I recently spent a chilly March day exploring what Bushwick has to offer. I mean, already parodied by Saturday Night Live and in the title of an episode of “Girls,” what more could a neighborhood want?

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At least until they shut down the L for repairs, it is easy to get to Bushwick (and the J, Z, and M lines will do when the L does go down). I emerged from the Morgan Avenue stop and began to walk with a purpose to Roberta’s.

Roberta’s pizza is legend, and I intended to find out if all the hype was warranted. The wait for a table during peak times can exceed 2-3 hours, so I wanted to show up for brunch and get in before the crowds arrived. Roberta’s also makes fresh bread in the pizza oven every day before opening, and the bread with homemade salted butter was a fantastic appetizer. The pizza did not disappoint, and a green juice cocktail rounded out the brunch nicely.

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Leaving Roberta’s full and happy, I was tempted to throw my shoes up to join the others.

 

Walking down any street in Bushwick was a visual treat. Street art is a big thing in Bushwick, especially since 2012 in the area now called The Bushwick Collective and curated by Joe Ficalora.

In an afternoon of wandering, I found spaces full of artists making and exhibiting their work, as well as a film and photo studio.

Maria Hernandez Park had playgrounds, basketball courts, and lawns, surrounded by rows of townhouses.

Housing in Bushwick is varied – lovely prewar townhomes, more modern single family homes with parking in front, converted industrial spaces, and new development condos. People priced out of Williamsburg have found Bushwick, and the rising prices here in turn are sending people to nearby Ridgewood, Queens. Costs are still lower in Bushwick than in Brooklyn as a whole (but who knows for how much longer?). For instance, median rental prices go from $1750/month for a studio to $3000/month for a three bedroom, while median sales prices go from $329K for a studio to $799K for a two bedroom, and there are still a few townhouses to be found for $1.5M.

As the evening approached, I had drinks and dinner at Sincerely Burger on Wilson Avenue.

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The day ended with opera – Rossini’s Otello performed at LightSpace Studios in Bushwick by LoftOpera, a Brooklyn-based company bringing a fresh take on opera (and affordable prices) to younger and decidedly unstuffy audiences. Heading back to Manhattan from the Jefferson Street L station around 11:20, I heard music and laughter coming from many bars and restaurants, as well as from a few apartments. After an enjoyable day in Bushwick, I could see the allure of living here – still relatively affordable with an abundance of things to see and do.

Calatrava’s Oculus and the revitalized World Trade area

For over a decade after the events of 9/11/01, I avoided the area where the World Trade Center had once stood. The enormous gap in the lower Manhattan skyline, achingly obvious from any vantage point, was almost unbearably immediate when felt from street level while negotiating barriers set up for the clean up and eventual rebuilding of this area. Over time New Yorkers began to see One World Trade rise, just off to the side of that empty skyline space, and witness the completion of the 9/11 museum and memorial reflecting pools. In 2016, the area has blossomed fully into the revitalized part of the city that everyone had hoped it could become. As a person who loves to take an unplanned walk in an urban environment (see my initial blog post about the process here), I recently took the subway down to Fulton Street and began to wander.

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Almost any subway line can get you to Fulton (2 3 4 5 A C J Z N R W). The Fulton Center transit hub is gorgeous, with the Sky-Reflector Net as its focal point. Hundreds of mirrors reflect sunlight from a massive skylight down four stories to retail shopping areas below.

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Emerging from Fulton onto Broadway, be sure to look down. This is the “Canyon of Heroes” where ticker tape parades have been held throughout the centuries, from celebration of the finishing of the Brooklyn Bridge to the safe return from the moon of the Apollo astronauts. Markers along the sidewalk note the various achievements celebrated in this way.

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Almost immediately I came across St. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766 and the oldest surviving church building in the United States. This gorgeous Georgian building was designed after London’s St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and is a National Historic Landmark. George Washington worshipped here on his Inauguration Day, and the church has survived not only the great fire of 1776 when a quarter of the city was destroyed by the British, but also was unscathed by the events of 9/11, becoming instead a place for recovery workers to rest and receive counseling.

Turning west on Vesey Street, it is impossible to miss Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub, now often just referred to as the Oculus. As a transportation center, it primarily serves New Jersey PATH commuter trains, and is filled with retail including an Apple Store. The striking architectural style is apparent both outside and within. The exposed bleached bones of the building seem to echo to me the vertical exterior girders of the original World Trade Center. From the strip of skylight running along the roof, you can catch glimpses of One World Trade, and on clear days, puffy clouds. In my opinion, it’s thrilling, and also spiritually uplifting, befitting its location.

From the lower levels of the Oculus, you can walk underground to reach the Winter Garden Atrium as well as all the shops at Brookfield Place, a major new shopping area (dare I say “mall”?). The Winter Garden holds various free public concerts and other art events throughout the year.

One of my favorite areas in this part of Brookfield Place is Le District, kind of a French version of Eataly (a second location of which is in the Oculus shopping area, by the way).

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Continuing west out of Le District, the Hudson River awaits. During the warmer months there are areas to eat outside while watching boats go by (I highly recommend the  P.J. Clarke’s there for that purpose).

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Heading east again, I stayed above ground. The area, of course, is dominated by One World Trade (once dubbed the Freedom Tower). Now bustling with business, and with an observatory in the top, it is the iconic symbol of this reborn area. This neighborhood is bursting with new real estate developments as well – I have recently viewed 100 Barclay and Thirty Park Place, for instance, both of which have direct close-up views of One World Trade. With all the new shopping and dining opportunities in the area, someone purchasing here no longer has to feel isolated from the bustle of the city.

Of course, One World Trade lies just to the north of where the World Trade Center once stood. The footprints of the giant towers are now reflecting pools surrounded by the names of those who lost their lives there. The National 9/11 Museum is next to the reflecting pools, and it is a worthy if sobering place to visit if you have not been (I went about two years ago with my father). If you see a flower stuck into one of the carved names, know that it is that person’s birthday – the site keeps track of birthdays and memorializes each person each year on that day.

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To the east of the reflecting pools, Calatrava’s Oculus soars. It is said that it was meant to symbolize a dove of peace being released from a child’s hand. To me, it seems as if it is a great prehistoric bird, perhaps just landed or just taking off, guarding this most sacred space. Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes, this part of New York City suggests our tremendous resilience and our unbounded hope for the future.

Gramercy Park

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Most neighborhoods in New York City have a story to tell – generally, it is a cyclical one, perhaps from farmland to residential, to tenements, and back to gentrification. There are however a few areas of New York City that have remained remarkably stable. One of these is the Gramercy Park neighborhood, which was created to be a fashionable residential location and has remained fashionable to the present. The neighborhood is roughly between Third and Park Avenue South, and between 18th and 22nd Streets. The Historic District encompasses some of this area, and nowadays the greater area might be considered to go all the way from 23rd to 14th Street, still between Third Avenue and Park Avenue South.

My favorite way to experience a neighborhood is to walk through it without a pre-planned route (a dérive). Emerging from the subway on Park Avenue South and 23rd Street, I immediately noticed that there are generally low lying buildings here. The Manhattan schist, or bedrock, is deeper in this part of the island, so generally there is nothing over 20 stories in height. Venturing farther from the subway stop, the quiet nature of this neighborhood becomes clear. Originally the area was swampy, but in 1831 the land was bought, and a plan for the area designed by, Samuel Ruggles. The most significant part of his plan included a private park, like the private garden squares popular then, and still found today, in London.

As you walk toward Gramercy Park, the tall and heavy fences with locked gates cannot be ignored. Gramercy Park is the only private park in Manhattan. It lies between 20th and 21st Streets (Gramercy Park South and North), and midblock streets called Gramercy Park East and West. As Lexington Avenue heads south, it hits a dead end at the park, and reemerges on its south side as Irving Place. Only the residents of the buildings facing the park have keyed access to the park and the value of an apartment that includes the right to a key is significantly increased compared to one close by but without access. Keys can be also checked out by members of the Player’s Club, and guests of the Gramercy Hotel can be escorted to the park by a hotel employee and let in, then picked up when they are ready to leave. The keys to these locks cannot be copied, the locks are changed every year, and hefty lost key fees insure that the park remains private. The keys are even individually numbered and coded.

The statue in the middle of the park is of Edwin Booth as Hamlet, one of the best Shakespearean actors of the 19th century (namesake of the Booth theatre – and brother to John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln). He lived at 16 Gramercy South and eventually gave the building for the formation of the Player’s Club. Every Christmas eve the park is opened to the public for caroling, so if you’re dying to be inside those locked gates, this is your one opportunity (or, you could buy a place with a key).

Walking around the perimeter of the park (outside the gates, of course!) the Gramercy Park Hotel, built in 1925, dominates the northern edge, while the western edge features a line of immaculate townhouses. E.B. White’s Stuart Little takes place on Gramercy Park, presumably in one of these homes. Most of New York City has some kind of interesting history waiting to be uncovered, but Gramercy Park seems to have more than most neighborhoods; for instance, Thomas Alva Edison and John Steinbeck once lived on the park. Nearby, Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace on E 20th Street is a National Historic Site.

While the idea of a gated private park in New York City does seem to go against our democratic ideals, it has certainly preserved the value of the residences facing Gramercy Park and stabilized the neighborhood. Of course, Central Park is open to all, and proximity to it can also significantly increase a home’s value. Gramercy is a quiet, pleasant neighborhood – on the cusp between midtown and downtown, but with some of the understated characteristics of streets in Carnegie Hill uptown.

Murray Hill

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Have you ever watched an old movie or television program and heard someone’s phone number expressed as “Murray Hill” followed by five numbers (for instance, the Ricardos in I Love Lucy were at MH5-9975)? That telephone exchange once covered all of the east side of Manhattan, with an East 37th Street building serving as the hub. The Murray Hill neighborhood itself covers roughly the area between E. 34th and E. 40th Streets, between Madison and Third Avenues. After showing a customer a potential home recently, I took an unplanned walk (a dérive) to experience what it would be like to live or work in Murray Hill.

However, my first questions were: who was Murray and was there truly a hill (because I was unable to detect a significant one while walking the area)? In fact, Robert Murray was a Quaker, an Irish immigrant around the time of the American Revolution who became a successful shipping merchant and built a house on what would now be Park Avenue and 36th Street. The area would have been the limits of uptown Manhattan at that point, with farmland continuing north. At that point there was a hill (since leveled) and a reservoir existed where Bryant Park and the New York Public Library now sit. For a time in the 19th Century, Murray Hill was the destination for many of the industrial age’s titans to build their mansions and townhouses, before the birth of Millionaire’s Row further uptown on Fifth Avenue with views of the newly created Central Park.

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Starting on Park Avenue and 40th Street, magnificent Grand Central Station looms just a few blocks north, the Chrysler Building emerging behind it and to the side – looking like a cross between a skyscraper and an Art Deco fairytale castle. One of the things I appreciated immediately was that the many shorter buildings in the area create multiple opportunities for iconic views of the Chrysler Building to the north and east, and the Empire State Building to the south and west. The high rise buildings, like the one I was showing to a customer, often have several apartments with perfectly framed views of these buildings. In fact, these views are made more spectacular by close proximity. Wandering the streets in no particular order, the sudden unexpected views of these iconic skyscrapers was a real delight.

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While the avenues in this neighborhood are bustling and full of restaurants, bars, and shops, the streets tend to be surprisingly quiet. Many of the street blocks contain rows of townhouses or mid-rise buildings, with the high rise buildings tending to be on the Avenues. Eventually I came across the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison at 36th Street. I happened upon it from the side, on 36th Street, and first noticed the sculpted lionesses guarding this side entrance. I was not surprised to discover later that they were by the same artist who created the better-known lions at the front of the New York Public Library a few blocks away. The magnificent main building was created to house the manuscript collection of Pierpont Morgan, a prominent financier in the beginning of the 20th century. His son later gave his father’s collection and the building for the creation of the Morgan Library and Museum. Although best known for its illuminated manuscripts and sketches, it also houses original handwritten musical scores and lyrics, from Mozart to Bob Dylan (his first draft of “Blowin’ in the wind,” written on a scrap of paper).

Heading out of the neighborhood into Kips Bay to the east, I realized that the proximity to the Queens Midtown Tunnel could make this a very convenient neighborhood for those who regularly head to Long Island. With Grand Central Terminal only a few blocks away, it is also well situated for people who use Metro North to go to upstate or to Connecticut. Murray Hill struck me as an interesting midtown neighborhood, with options for high rise living with killer skyscraper views as well as peaceful townhouse living with a view of leafy trees.

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