Roosevelt Island

Once home to an insane asylum, prisons, and a smallpox hospital, Roosevelt Island was originally called Hog Island and later Welfare Island before being renamed for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1971 (a decision that certainly helped make it seem a more palatable choice to those considering living there!). Only 2 miles long and 800 feet or less wide, this island, lying between Manhattan’s Midtown and Upper East Side and Queens, is owned by the city of New York but now has numerous rental buildings, one coop, and one condo (all landlease buildings, leasing the space from the city on a 99 year lease negotiated in 1969). Accessible via subway (the F line) but more famously by the Roosevelt Island tram, it is simultaneously very close to Manhattan and also a little isolated and remote. As I enjoy exploring a neighborhood by taking an unplanned walk (a dérive), I headed to Roosevelt Island this spring to see what living here might be like.

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The Roosevelt Island Tramway was intended to be a temporary way to entice residents to the neighborhood during its residential development. Opened in 1976, it makes over 100 trips per day, between the hours of 6 AM and 2 AM (every 15 minutes most of the day, but continuously during rush hours). Although not operated by the MTA, it uses the MetroCard and offers free transfers to the MTA system.

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When on the tram, you can’t help to imagine what it would like if the tram were to stop mid-journey (or something worse, thanks to the 2002 Spider Man film!). There has never been a Green Goblin attack, or anything similar, but the tram has been stuck before. The worst instance of this was in 2006 when two trams were stopped midair for seven hours due to an electrical outage. Rescue baskets were sent to the trams, but each could hold only 15 people, so the evacuation of the trams took a very long time. Following an extensive 2010 overhaul, there have been no similar incidents on the trams.

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The large (unphotogenic) construction site just south of the tram is the new Cornell University Tech Campus, due to open in 2017.

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Walking along the river, cherry trees blossom and frame a view west to Sutton Place in midtown Manhattan.

It is impossible to miss the creepy ruins of the old Smallpox Hospital on the way to the Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Opened in 1854, and closed a century later, the Gothic Revival building fell into disrepair. Now added to the National Register of Historic Places, a stabilization project is underway and it will one day be open to the public (hopefully only in daylight hours).

Opened in 2012, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park celebrates the former president as well as his famous 1941 speech about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Designed by the renowned architect Louis Kahn, it is a beautiful and spare park with spectacular views of Manhattan, including a direct view of the United Nations.

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Heading back north and past the tram station, Roosevelt’s Island Main Street unfolds.

Built in 1798, Blackwell House is the sixth oldest surviving home in New York City.

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1888 Chapel of the Good Shepherd, on the National Register of Historic Places.

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There is a free red bus around the island, and it was easy to return via the F subway, one stop to Lexington and 63rd.

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Roosevelt Island had a population of 11,661. Roosevelt Island has relatively affordable rents and prices compared to midtown Manhattan, and the buildings are largely full-service buildings with amenities such as swimming pools and gyms. Many apartments feature the kind of spectacular view of Manhattan found in red-hot Long Island City, Queens. I found the small town atmosphere of Roosevelt Island to be very unique. Along Main Street was everything a person would need – an apartment, groceries, a library, public school, and so on. Just a few hundred feet from midtown Manhattan, it felt like being in a small town anywhere in the United States. Less distant in terms of a commute from central Manhattan than many parts of the five boroughs, it still feels a world away – the skyscrapers of Manhattan a bit like a mirage just across the East River.

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Beautiful Brooklyn Heights

It might surprise you to learn that the first neighborhood to be protected under the 1965 Landmarks Preservation Law in New York City was not in Manhattan – it was Brooklyn Heights. I have had the pleasure of being in the area several times in the past few months, and regardless of the time of day, I find it to be an extraordinarily beautiful and gracious neighborhood. Since I love to take an unplanned walk in the city (a dérive, see my initial post about it here), one of my daughters and I took off on a beautiful warm early spring day to enjoy a walk in Brooklyn Heights.

Brooklyn Heights

Surrounded by Dumbo (see my love letter to this neighborhood here) , Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Downtown Brooklyn, getting to Brooklyn Heights is quite easy via public transportation. You can take the 2-3-4-5-N-R-W to Court Street-Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn, the A-C-F-N-R-W to Jay Street-MetroTech, or the 2-3 to Clark Street.  Before setting off on our walk, we had wood fired pizza at Dellarocco’s, which I highly recommend (214 Hick’s Street, off Montague Street). On the way there we walked past block after block of beautiful townhouses.

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I always find myself drawn to the water, and was unable to stay away from the gorgeous Brooklyn Heights Promenade. One of the more recent additions to Brooklyn Heights, the promenade was completed in the 1950’s.

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Rows of of lovely townhouses and apartment buildings face the promenade and gaze toward lower Manhattan.

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The promenade ends at the Brooklyn Bridge (for instructions of how to walk across the bridge from Brooklyn, see this post). John A. Roebling, the 19th Century engineer and designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, lived in Brooklyn Heights.

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The views from the Brooklyn Heights can be incredible. Here is a view toward the Statue of Liberty at sunset.

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Benches line the promenade for relaxing while strollers, both pedestrians and those containing children, move along the pathway.

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The view of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights is extraordinary.

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The Brooklyn Heights Promenade eventually merges into Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Jane’s Carousel, dating from 1922, invites all to stop and take a ride on a hand painted wooden horse, to the sound of authentic calliope music.

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Brooklyn Heights has attracted writers and artists since its inception, and walking around the neighborhood it is easy to see why. Benjamin Britten to W.H. Auden, Walt Whitman to W.E.B. DuBois, Arthur Miller to Lena Dunham – all have found inspiration in the quiet beauty of Brooklyn Heights. Truman Capote, another resident, wrote Brooklyn Heights:  A Personal Memoir, in which he famously states, “I live in Brooklyn. By choice.” More and more people have made this choice over the past two decades. which has made this one of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York City.  The average price for a two bedroom apartment is $1,712,000 (compared to $1,149,000 for Brooklyn on the whole), and for a three bedroom it is just under $4,000,000. Townhouses can go for considerably more than that, but most people who live here consider the neighborhood well worth the cost. Brooklyn Heights has come a long way from Capote’s 1950’s description of street gangs and alley cats, but the allure of the area endures.

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.

Walking in Los Angeles (really?)

The rivalry between the great US city on the East Coast (New York) and the one on the West Coast (Los Angeles) is, in my opinion, partially true but largely fabricated. You can find great restaurants, nightlife, and art in either. New York has snow; Los Angeles has smog. Los Angeles clearly wins for beaches and weather; New York is the victor in the live theater domain and has Central Park. While in general the cost of renting or purchasing a home in Los Angeles is less than in NYC, there is a variety of housing choices at price ranges from moderate to extravagant in both cities (you will nearly always get more space in Los Angeles, though, since NYC is severely physically restricted in how it can expand, especially Manhattan island). However, there is one giant difference that completely shapes the experience of living or visiting each city: NYC is the quintessential walking city (and the experience of walking in it was my motivation to begin this blog), while LA has the ultimate car culture. On my numerous visits to LA, I have often commented that the one thing that would prevent me from ever living there is that I hate having to drive everywhere. On a recent trip, however, I decided to take a few walks and see if a quality walking experience could be found in the city of angels.

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I was staying downtown at 7th and Grand, and decided to walk to Wi Spa, on Wilshire and S. Rampart. According to Google maps, this is a walk of just under 2 miles, and I routinely walk 5 miles or more per day in NYC. This route was a fairly direct one since Wilshire was just a block parallel to 7th, but almost immediately I noticed the difference between walking in NYC vs. LA. This route had me walking next to and in close proximity to heavy traffic most of the time.

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In addition, unlike virtually anywhere I walk in NYC, I was alone on the sidewalk for most of the time despite being surrounded by people in cars. I recalled Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Pedestrian,” set in the future where a lone walker in the evening was so unusual that the protagonist of the story ended up being carted off by the police for a psychiatric evaluation. Although born in Illinois, Bradbury was an Angeleno for most of his life, and I wonder if a similar solitary experience walking in the city inspired him to think of this story.

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Eventually I went by MacArthur Park (yes, the inspiration for what has been called “the worst song ever written,” although I have a fondness for it since I recall enjoying the number in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” on Broadway). Although it had some lovely areas, the only people I saw also enjoying it were living in a sort of tent city there.

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Shortly after MacArthur Park, I was at Wi Spa. If you are in Los Angeles and would enjoy an authentic Korean spa experience, this one can’t be beat (I have never been so clean as after a scrub there).

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The view of downtown Los Angeles walking back was pleasant, but it did occur to me that just as Los Angeles has widely varied neighborhoods, the experience of walking would also vary from place to place. For my next dérive, I went to Santa Monica. I drove there, but the Metro Expo line can also take you there as of this past spring.

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It occurred to me while in Santa Monica that perhaps no one was walking on Wilshire because there wasn’t much to see! There were plenty of people walking in Santa Monica.

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The Third Street promenade is just east of the Santa Monica pier, and has shopping, dining, and street entertainers (my favorite to date were the skateboarding bulldogs I stayed to watch one time – very talented).

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Walking back from a stroll along the Promenade and back, I turned along Ocean Avenue.

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Again, plenty of walkers, plenty of places to eat and shop. The ocean just across the street, and the sun warm. Not bad!

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Heading over one block west, I found the Hotel California . . . somehow smaller than I had imagined for a place filled with people who can “check out, but can never leave.”

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The ocean front walk, even on a week day, was busy with walkers, bicyclists, and skateboarders.

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Walking back, I took the sandy stretch at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, heading back toward the pier. A very different experience than the walks I routinely enjoy in NYC, but there was something magical about the sounds and textures of this walk (I would never dream of talking off my shoes to walk in the city, not even in my beloved Central Park). Los Angeles is vast, and sprawling, so while it is not practical to walk to get from place to place as it can be in New York City, there are wonderful places to walk – you just have to drive to get there.

A resource for real estate . . . and more

East 81

I was having lunch yesterday with customers with whom I have worked for over a year, and we are now happily in contract for an apartment that makes them feel good just spending time in it (even if the reason we are in it is to meet with contractors to plan a lengthy renovation!). While talking to them about our process (and about the course yet to come of selling their current apartment), they mentioned that they had been surprised at how many aspects of the journey I had been able to help them with, not just the obvious ones of sending them listings, making appointments to see apartments, negotiating the terms of their offer, etc. It occurred to me that I have never stated something that I feel strongly: I want to be your resource for real estate in NYC, and for so much more as well. There is never any obligation to ask me a question for yourself, or for a friend or family member, and I love doing it. Here are some examples of issues I have dealt with/ questions I have answered for people before, some of whom go on to become customers, and others who might become so in the future, but are not currently:

  1. Questions about the market: How’s the coop versus condo market? What are interest rates likely to do and how will that affect sales? What generally happens to the real estate market during an election year?
  2. Questions about value: What is my apartment worth? Can I get an apartment in another neighborhood with more space/light/quiet for the same price I am currently paying/for what my apartment is worth? Can I buy an apartment for approximately the same monthly costs as I am currently paying in rent?
  3. Questions about neighborhoods: What area of NYC is a possible value play these days? How is X neighborhood evolving?
  4. Questions about investing: What are the value neighborhoods where an apartment would be rented quickly and profitably? Does it makes sense for me to buy an apartment for my student or young adult to live in? What kind of appreciation might I get if I keep the apartment for X years?
  5. Questions about other professionals: Do you know a good real estate lawyer/accountant/insurance agent/mortgage broker/interior designer/contractor/stager/housekeeper/moving company/dog walker/pet groomer? (Answer:Yes!)
  6. Questions about new development: What’s going on in the super-luxury market? How do new development sales affect/relate to traditional coop sales? Are there any new developments in X neighborhood/for X price point?
  7. Questions about moving/relocation: Can I get a rental/buy a coop or condo if I don’t have a green card/visa? Can I use an out-of-town guarantor? How I can set up a bank account in the US before I move? Can I wire money to my lawyer and have her bring the funds for my condo at closing? How do I set up with Con Ed/Verizon/Time Warner?
  8. Questions about dealing with a landlord/coop or condo board: How can I go about getting an alteration agreement approved? Is my landlord required to get rid of the rats? (Note: this question came to me while on vacation from the panic-struck out-of-state friend of a customer, whose daughter was a new renter in the city!)
  9. Questions about timing: What is the best time to look for a rental? What is the best time to put my apartment on the market if I choose to do so? How does the outdoor space in my apartment affect when it might best sell?
  10. Questions about living in the city: How do you handle deliveries in a non-doorman building? Will Seamless/Fresh Direct/Ikea deliver to a fifth-floor walk-up? What are the recycling rules? How can I get tickets to Hamilton/discount tickets to other shows? How does Citibike work?

These are just samples of the many types of questions I have been able to answer in the past. Let me say again – none of these questions obligate you in any way! Of course, if you are looking to buy or sell, I would like you to give me a chance to explain what I can do for you, but I do genuinely love being a resource without any expectation in return. One more thing, when preparing a package of information to give potentials sellers last week (I do have the exclusive on their apartment now, and it will hit the market next month), I was struck again by the Corcoran mission statement (shown below) and how perfectly it dovetails with my own standard of behavior as a real estate agent. I have been told on more than one occasion that I “don’t seem like a real estate agent” to which I reply, “If I had to be the kind of real estate agent you are referring to, I wouldn’t be in this business.” Luckily for me, Corcoran supports my own desire to put the customer, not the payday, front and center of every decision, and to provide exceptional service.

julie.brannan@corcoran.com

Mission Statement

Real estate and the human creative spirit

Dakota

Recently I was at the Association for International Art Dealers (AIPAD) show at the Park Avenue Armory. The abundance, diversity, and quality of the art shown in one space almost created a feeling of sensory overload, and I started to think about how thrilling it is to be in any place where the creative impulse is expressed by people, whether it be visual art, theater, dance, music, or architecture and design. The need for creative expression is fundamental to how we see ourselves as humans – the recognition we feel when we view the cave paintings from Paleolithic people living 40,000 years ago in Lascaux, France, emotionally spans the gap in time between us and them.

After leaving AIPAD, my thoughts turned to how we express our creativity when it comes to where we live. It might be a more efficient use of valuable real estate space to have every building in Manhattan exactly the same, with apartments only differing in how much space and how many rooms someone needed (and perhaps whether or not you felt the need for a doorman). The gables, terracotta ornaments, and decorative gargoyles at the Dakota (seen above) have no practical purpose. However, we all instinctively recoil when imagining Manhattan as a series of uniform buildings, neighborhoods identifiable only by street names as boundaries, not because you see the San Remo or a series of cast iron buildings. Rather than selecting an apartment near our workplace, many of us choose to live instead in neighborhoods farther away that express who we are as a human being. A person walking through the Art Deco lobby of the Century on Central Park West on the way to their apartment is surrounded by an esthetic that fits their own, and that is different but no less personally valid than that of someone entering their loft in Metal Shutter Houses in West Chelsea.

Real estate involves money and can be thought of as an investment, but unless you are buying solely to invest, the choice of what apartment you decide to live in speaks to so much more than a rational financial decision. We as humans need to express ourselves creatively, and we do so when we decide only to look at pre-war apartments with working fireplaces and moldings, or only on the Upper West Side park block with a terrace, or only downtown in a modern building with a view of the High Line. A good real estate agent will listen to what you want in the way that a search engine cannot. You can run a search for a two bedroom/ two bathroom apartment in a certain price range in a certain neighborhood and come up with some possibilities, or a good agent can listen to the creative desires being expressed and select apartments that are an excellent place to start looking. Sometimes you may even be introduced to a new neighborhood that you didn’t initially consider but that the agent thought you might like, based on what kind of apartment, and building, and neighborhood, you are looking for.

Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of our daily lives off our souls.”  I can’t imagine a better way to wash this daily life debris off our souls than returning at the end of our day to a home that reflects our own sense of what is beautiful, from the external architecture of our building to the layout and décor of our personal space.

Yorkville: From Lexington and 86th Street to the East River Promenade

Although the Upper East Side is roughly a large rectangle of space bounded by 59th and 96th Streets to the south and north, and from Fifth Avenue across to the East River, within this large area are several distinct neighborhoods. Today I will be taking a dérive through Yorkville. In my first blog post, I explained the concept of a dérive – an unplanned journey through an urban environment.

Getting off the 4, 5, or 6 at the E. 86 subway stop puts you on busy, commercial 86th Street. Heading east, make sure to enjoy the fantastic burger smells emanating from Shake Shack on the south side of the block between Lexington and Third (following in my footsteps, if you have the time and the line is not snaking out the door, go in and treat yourself to Danny Meyer’s brisket-infused delicacy). When you cross Third Avenue, you have entered Yorkville. The highlight of this block to me, a resident, is the excellent Fairway Market. From experience, I can recommend that you try to avoid shopping after 6 PM on weeknights or virtually any time on Saturday, when the lines to check out can become tangled with the mass of people trying to get on the elevator for the lower level, making for a stressful experience. Crossing Second Avenue, one gets the less-than-scenic view of a large construction site for the long awaited Second Avenue Subway line. Estimated completion date for the line is December, 2016, and I hope they are not too far off! In the early 20th century, Yorkville was a German immigrant enclave, and crossing Second and looking south, you can see evidence of that – a German biergarten, Heidelberg Restaurant.
Getting to First Avenue, the Duane Reade on First and 86th is much like every other Duane Reade in New York, but was recently renovated. As an aside, I once had an interesting conversation with Dan Ackroyd while waiting to pick up a prescription here (Pope Benedict was visiting the area at the time, leading to an amusing chat with him about the pontiff). Turning north on First on the east side of the street will take you by Glaser’s (http://www.glasersbakeshop.com/) between 87 and 88th. This bakery, started in 1902 by German immigrants, is a neighborhood staple, and on weekends and holidays the lines can be formidable. In my household, my girls have always just called this “the bakery” (as in, “Could you get me some bakery brownies?”) and may not in fact know the actual name. I suspect it is just “the bakery” for many loyal neighborhood residents.

Arriving on E. 88th, turn right and head east. How many of you read to your children (or were read to as a child) The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Weber? The sequel was called Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, after the star of both books. On the south side of the street on this block is The Shaggy Dog, a pet grooming business. When Bernard Weber came to my daughters’ school once, he showed a photo of The Shaggy Dog when describing his choice of E. 88th for the location of his book, making me believe that the fictional Lyle might in fact have lived on this block.

Crossing York, ahead you can see the first glimpses of Carl Schurz Park. Once again, the old German roots of this neighborhood emerge, as the park was named after German-born Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz in the early 20th Century. As you cross East End, eyes are drawn to something very unusual in Manhattan – a two story wooden mansion. Built in 1799 and the official home to mayors of New York City since LaGuardia (except for Michael Bloomberg, who had an even better home on E. 79th Street near Fifth that he couldn’t bear to leave). A tip for those living the area with children: it’s a great spot for trick or treating. Giuliani handed out candy personally during his time at Gracie Mansion, and during the Bloomberg years, the mayor would leave candy with the security detail to hand out. (Perhaps in another blog post later in the year I will give some more detailed personal tips about trick or treating in the neighborhood.)

Carl Schurz Park is just lovely; it is of course much smaller than Central park but also more cohesive, with a uniform look. Like Central Park, it has a Conservancy group for its maintenance (http://www.carlschurzparknyc.org/). Although there are not off-leash hours for your dogs like there are in Central Park, there are two dog runs where you can take your dog to play with others off-leash within a gated area. The small dog run is for dogs up to 25 pounds, and the large dog run is for dogs larger than that (or for smaller dogs with big attitudes; my beagle fits this category). Because Carl Schurz Park is relatively narrow; even a short wander will take you to the East River Promenade, with a fantastic view of the East River’s “Hell Gate” and its ferociously swirling currents.

My dérive is over, and there are so many other aspects of this neighborhood that I regret not being able to mention, but you will have to check out this area for yourself and see what you discover. From experience, I can tell you that Yorkville is a convenient (even more so once the Second Avenue Subway is finished, but for now there are Select Bus Service routes on First and Second) and comfortable neighborhood to visit or live in. As a real estate professional, I will also note that this neighborhood offers great value for someone looking to purchase a home.
Yorkville