CAR-FREE SATURDAY Part 4: Union Square to East 32nd

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On the first three Saturdays in August the Department of Transportation shuts down Lafayette Street, 4th Avenue, Park Avenue South, Park Avenue and part of West 72nd Street in theSummer Streets program, designed to give New Yorkers the run of these streets without threat of auto traffic. It’s been a smashing success after its 2009 institution, though the program is geared toward bicyclists and runners; plodding pedestrians like your webmaster are still largely relegated to the sidewalk, mostly by necessity. On August 7, 2010 I decided to walk the route and give the event a ForgottenNY spin.

The innocuous-looking deli at 213 Park Avenue South bears no trace of the iconic, famed club Max’s Kansas City. Max’s held forth here from 1965-1981, where fashion, art and rock all came together in a scene that still reverberates nearly 30 years after its closure. After Andy Warhol became a regular at what was originally a steakhouse in the late 1960s, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lou Reed followed. After a hiatus in 1974 Max’s was reborn as a key component of the new wave/punk scene that was percolating, and the New York Dolls, Blondie, the B52s and a young Madonna appeared here as well.

The Bowery Boys on Max’s

Quiet Park Avenue South at about 9:30 AM on Summer Streets Saturday #1 of 2010, August 7th.

At East 22nd, the shell of the former New York Bank for Savings now fronts an apartment building called Gramercy Place. The bank was built in 1894 by architect C.L.W. Eidlitz, the apartments in 1987; you can tell that styles have changed in 93 years.

One of the oldest buildings on Park Avenue South, if not the oldest, is the 1848 Calvary Episcopal Church at East 21st. Its steeple is long gone. The Roosevelt family, including Theodore who was born on nearby East 20th, worshipped here.

At East 23rd the eastern end of the giant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company complex appears. Most buildings were constructed in 1893 and redesigned in 1957, with the clock tower that looms over Madison Square completed in 1909. Looking east on East 23rd, we can see two former area concerns, the well-known Manufacturers Hanover trust logo (the bank, after some mergers and acquisitions, is now JP Morgan Chase). For the other sign, of course we consult Walter Grutchfield at 14 to 42 and discover that Illfelder Importing was in business here from the 1930s into the 1980s. Its painted sign has held up remarkably well.

The New York Life Building at East 26th and Park Avenue South, with its gilded pyramidic roof, was constructed in 1928 by Cass Gilbert, who has previously masterminded the Woolworth Building. This site was previously occupied by the southern terminal of the New York and Harlem Railroad, P.T. Barnum’s Hippodrome, and the original Madison Square Garden.

The great author was born way downtown on #6 Pearl Street, and spent his last 28 years in a house at 104 East 26th near Park Avenue South. He wrote Billy Budd there.

I couldn’t help but get in closer and get some of the NY Life Building’s neo-Gothic details.

With the New York Life Insurance Company design,Gilbert melded the neo-Gothic embellishments of his earlier buildings with the cubic geometries of 1920s skyscrapers, making this building a significant transition from the historical revival-style skyscrapers of the 1900s to the Art Deco towers of the late 1920s.

The building’s famous golden pinnacle was erected in 1967 and stands 617 feet above street level. The tower was lighted on the company’s 140th anniversary in 1985 and has been lighted ever since. New gold leaf ceramic tiles were installed ten years later to commemorate New York Life’s 150th anniversary. The building is the star of a national television advertising campaign that has aired since 1999 and, according to studies, has become recognizable to over 35 percent of American people nationwide. New York Life

One Park Avenue, which is Park Avenue’s first address at East 32nd. One Park, the building, is fronted by two classic-look lampposts, the genus or species of which I can’t determine. It was built in 1926 and is the former home of Henry Holt Publishing.

The Park Avenue Tunnel allows northbound autos, but not trucks, pedestrians or bikes (as the signs illustrate) to quickly bypass East 33rd to East 40th and access the Park Avenue Viaduct, which rims either side of Grand Central Terminal. The tunnel was constructed in 1834 as an open cut to bring trains of the New York and Harlem Railroad under Murray Hill rather than have the tracks ascend and descend downhill. The tunnel was roofed over in 1850, and the Lexington Avenue subway tunnel was built under it 5 decades later — so here we have one tunnel sitting atop the other.

Page completed August 18, 2010

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7





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