In addition to checking out the landmarks listed here, architecture buffs may also want to seek out these notable buildings: The Lever House, built in 1952 at 390 Park Ave., between 53rd and 54th streets, and the neighboring Seagram Building (1958), at 375 Park Ave., are the city’s best examples of the form-follows-function, glass-and-steel International style, with the latter designed by master architect Mies van der Rohe. Also in Midtown East is the Sony Building, at 550 Madison Ave., designed in 1984 by Philip Johnson, with a pretty rose-granite facade and a playful Chippendale-style top that puts it a cut above the rest on the block.
The Upper West Side is home to two of the city’s prime examples of residential architecture. On Broadway, between 73rd and 74th streets, is the Ansonia, looking for all the world like a flamboyant architectural wedding cake. This splendid Beaux Arts building has been home to the likes of Stravinsky, Toscanini, and Caruso, thanks to its virtually soundproof apartments. (It was also the spot where members of the Chicago White Sox plotted to throw the 1919 World Series, a year before Babe Ruth moved in after donning the New York Yankees’ pinstripes.) Even more notable is the Dakota, at 72nd Street and Central Park West. Legend has it that the angular 1884 apartment house—accented with gables, dormers, and oriel windows that give it a brooding appeal—earned its name when its developer, Edward S. Clark, was teased by friends that he was building so far north of the city that he might as well be building in the Dakotas. The building’s most famous resident, John Lennon, was gunned down outside the 72nd Street entrance on December 8, 1980; Yoko Ono still lives there.
In Search of Historic Homes
The Historic House Trust of New York City preserves 23 sites, located in city parks in all five boroughs. Those particularly worth seeking out include the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Harlem, a grand colonial mansion built in the Palladian style (in 1765) and now Manhattan’s oldest surviving residential house.
Built around 1764, the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, is the only Dutch colonial farmhouse remaining in Manhattan, stoically and stylishly surviving the urban development that grew up around it.
The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage was the last home (1846–49) of the brilliant but troubled poet and author, who moved his wife here because he thought the “country air” would be good for her tuberculosis. The house is outfitted as a memorial to the writer, with period furnishings and exhibits on his life and times. Note: The Cottage went through a major renovation in 2010-11 and is now ready to receive visitors once again.
The Merchant’s House Museum is a rare jewel: a perfectly preserved 19th-century home, complete with intact interiors, whose last resident is said to be the inspiration for Catherine Sloper in Henry James’s Washington Square.
Each of the 19 other houses also has a fascinating story to tell. A brochure listing the locations and touring details of all 23 of the historic sites is available by calling [tel] 212/360-8282. You’ll also find information online at www.historichousetrust.org. Admission to each house is generally no more than $5 ($8 at Merchant’s House).
Historic Downtown Structures
To find a good sampling of “ancient” New York, head downtown, where it all began.
You might want to first stop at the southern tip of the island at Battery Park, where an old fort called Castle Clinton National Monument still stands. The fort, or what remains of it, was built between 1808 and 1811 to defend New York Harbor against the British. In the mid–19th century the fort was the city’s first immigration center. A small museum has exhibits that follow the evolution of the fort.
Not far from Castle Clinton, across the street from the northeast corner of Battery Park, at 1 Bowling Green, is the relatively modern 1907-built U.S. Customs House, which houses the National Museum of the American Indian and a federal bankruptcy court. Designed by Cass Gilbert and now a National Historic Landmark, the granite structure features giant statues carved by Daniel Chester French (of Lincoln Memorial fame) lining the front that personify Asia (pondering philosophically), America (bright eyed and bushy tailed), Europe (decadent and whose time has passed), and Africa (sleeping). Inside, the airy oval rotunda designed by Spanish engineer Raphael Guastavino was frescoed by Reginald Marsh to glorify the shipping industry (and, by extension, the Customs office once housed here).
One of Wall Street’s most recognizable sights is the imposing Federal Hall National Memorial. Built in 1842, the memorial, with the 1883-built statue of George Washington on the steps directly across from the New York Stock Exchange, was erected on the site of New York’s first City Hall. Inside, it’s now a museum, with exhibits that elucidate the events surrounding the memorial and other aspects of American history. The infrastructure of the memorial suffered from the massive shock of the nearby attack on the World Trade Center; as a result, it underwent a $16-million rehabilitation.
George Washington was a visible presence in 18th-century New York and he worshiped at St. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766 and part of the Trinity Church. The chapel now serves as a memorial to the victims of 9/11.
So now we know where Washington worshiped, but where did he eat? At Fraunces Tavern, the same place where he bade farewell to his officers at the end of the Revolution. This 1907-built tavern is a replica of the original 1717 tavern. It’s now a museum and an actual restaurant.
Harlem's Architectural Treasures
Originally conceived as a bucolic suburbia for 19th-century Manhattan’s moneyed set, Harlem has always had more than its share of historic treasures. To find them, pay a call on the Astor Row Houses, 130th Street between Fifth and Lenox avenues (see above), a fabulous series of 28 redbrick town houses built in the early 1880s by the Astor family and graced with wooden porches, generous yards, and ornamental ironwork.
Equally impressive is Strivers’ Row, West 139th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Frederick Douglass boulevards, where hardly a brick has changed among the gorgeous McKim, Mead & White neo–Italian Renaissance town houses since they were built in 1890. Once the original white owners had moved out, these lovely houses attracted the cream of Harlem, such “strivers” as Eubie Blake and W. C. Handy.
Handsome brownstones, limestone town houses, and row houses are atop Sugar Hill, 145th to 155th streets, between St. Nicholas and Edgecombe avenues, named for the “sweet life” enjoyed by its residents. In the early 20th century, such prominent blacks as W. E. B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, and Roy Wilkins lived in the now–landmark building at 409 Edgecombe Ave.
And if you’re venturing this far uptown, don’t miss the Jumel Terrace Historic District, west of St. Nicholas Avenue between 160th and 162nd streets. Of particular note is Sylvan Terrace, which feels more like an upstate Hudson River town than a part of Harlem—well worth seeking out for architecture lovers. A walk along it will lead you directly to the grand Morris-Jumel Mansion, which is open to the public for tours.
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