Yorkville in the snow: A love letter

When I started this blog almost three years ago, the second post I wrote (after the initial one describing my basic writing concept) was about Yorkville. This sub-neighborhood of the Upper East Side (you could describe it as the upper-upper-east-east side) is undervalued, in my opinion, as it is lovely, quiet, and convenient. The biggest complaint about Yorkville has been the long walk to the Lexington Avenue subway, but with the recent opening of the Q (Second Avenue subway, see my blog post about it here) that criticism is diminishing. In fact, between the opening of the Q and all the fantastic new development apartment buildings coming up in the area (Citizen 360 and The Kent, to name just two I have visited in the past month), I believe the days of Yorkville as a value play may be coming to an ending over the next few years.

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Today it snowed. Schools and many business closed, and I went out in the afternoon for a walk around my beloved Yorkville. It has never looked lovelier!

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The street blocks tend toward older tenement buildings, while the avenue blocks hold the larger apartments, particularly in the area between Third and York.

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The absolute crown jewel of the Yorkville neighborhood is Carl Schurz Park, with two dog runs, a large children’s playground, the East River Promenade, and plenty of meandering paths.

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Gracie Mansion, one of the oldest homes in NYC and the official residence of the mayor, is at East End Avenue and 88th Street, within the park.

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I have often thought that the Henderson Houses, a series of landmarked townhomes opposite Carl Schurz Park, create some of the prettiest blocks in the city.

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There’s something about this Gothic row of homes gazing out to the park that makes them seem like they are an illustration from a fairy tale.

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It’s very quiet in the area of Yorkville near the park. The only other part of Manhattan that feels this peaceful and removed to me is the Beekman area, also along the East River, but in the 50’s.

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On this afternoon, the park (like Central Park a few blocks away) was filled with sledders. Yorkville is a neighborhood filled with, and friendly to, children, and dogs, but also with older people and young singles looking for a rental bargain. I suspect that within a few years, Yorkville will be seen not as a place to search simply for value, but a neighborhood sought after and desired for its own unique characteristics.

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.
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