By Carter B. Horsley
Buses and trucks are banned
from West End Avenue, which is the Upper West Side's equivalent
to Park Avenue on the Upper East Side, which, of course, is broader
and has a landscaped median like Broadway.
While many of Park Avenue's
mid-rise apartment buildings have larger and more lavish apartments,
West End Avenue gives it strong competition architecturally as
many of its buildings are a bit older and more interesting.
Indeed, it could be argued
that it has several of the best looking and most interesting apartment
buildings in the city such as 243, 263, 495, 601, 610, 640, 645,
666, 740, 910 and the Cleburne at 924 West End Avenue.
In a February 23, 2003 article
in The New York Times, Nancy Beth Jackson wrote that "a
century ago, Charles Schwab, known as the Steel King, bought an
entire city block on West End Avenue and built a cream-colored
granite castle called Riverside inspired by Loire Valley chateaus."
"The largest and most
lavish mansion in Manhattan at the time," she wrote, "it
took two years and $6 million to complete and included 75 rooms,
three elevators and a chapel, and had spectacular river views.
Mr. Schwab, the founder of U.S. Steel, died in 1939. Refused by
the city as a mayoral residence, his castle was razed eight years
later. Today, the mammoth red-brick Schwab House, with more than
800 co-op apartments, covers the same block bounded by 73rd and
74th Streets, West End and Riverside Drive. But one thing hasn't changed. West End Avenue excels
as a residential street....Sidewalks are rarely crowded.
'It's the Park Avenue of the West
Side, with no commercial traffic and no reason to be there unless
you live there,' said Steve Friedman, a vice president of the
Corcoran Group. 'On West End Avenue, you have a sense of knowing
who's coming and going.' It offers larger-than-average apartments,
proximity to Riverside Park, convenient shopping on Broadway,
easy access to public transportation, some of the city's finest
cultural attractions as neighbors and outstanding public and private
schools, pre-kindergarten to postgraduate, within walking distance."
The article quoted Gale A.
Brewer, the city councilwoman whose district reaches up West End
to 96th Street, as observing that "'Once you move to West
End Avenue, you don't leave, which is not as true on other streets,''
adding that ''There's a real sense of community. You see the same
families from generation to generation.''
When it was created with the
renaming of the northern end of 11th Avenue, Ms. Jackson wrote,
"it was part of a vision of grand and elegant boulevards
in the rustic reaches of Manhattan along the Hudson. Mansions,
no more than two to the block, were to be built on Riverside Drive
and the Boulevard, as Broadway was then called."
According to the article, "West
End Avenue was to be a street of shops and small businesses catering
to those mansions, recalls Peter Salwen in 'Upper West Side Story,'
a history of the area. But it was Broadway that became the service
street to West End's upscale housing. 'West End Avenue chugged on in its own way,' Mr. Salwen
said in an interview. 'Young designers built large row houses,
borderline mansions, creating a wonderful residential character.
Now there's something oddly timeless about it. It has class and
lots of style.'''
"By the 1920's,"
Ms. Jackson continued, "apartment buildings had replaced
many of the homes, but the elegance remained in wood-paneled lobbies,
stained-glass foyers and architectural detail. Spaces have been
refigured over the years, but West End Avenue north of 70th Street
is still known for its classic sixes and sevens, sprawling apartments
with two or three bedrooms and a maid's room with bath. The signature
of many of the buildings is a canopied entrance even though the
building may have an elevator operator instead of a full-time
doorman. 'The buildings are well constructed, so you don't have
the issues that come up in East Side apartments like sound transmission,'
said Steven R. Wagner, a West Side real estate lawyer....'West
End Avenue just keeps getting better and better,' said Naomi Sutton,
an associate at Klara Madlin Real Estate who has lived in Lincoln
Towers for 25 years, first as a renter and then as an owner after
the 1960's housing project turned co-op. 'Nothing feels rundown
The article noted that "For
nearly 60 years in the middle of the 20th century, parts of West
End Avenue were 'declasse,' Mr. Salwen said. S.R.O. hotels, prostitutes
and drug addicts became common on some cross streets. But by the
1980's, the street had begun to recover its grandeur."
Donald Trump's huge residential
development of Riverside South between 59th and 72nd Street began
a dramatic make-over of the area. He eventually sold the lower
half of his project to Extell Development which continued his
plan with the same architect, Costas Kondylis, for four more residential
towers and then hired Christian de Portzamparc to design the lower
end of the property around which other developers built new glossy
towers in the early years of the 21st Century.
The Trump and Extell buildings
block many of the Hudson River views from the older Lincoln Towers
residential complex at the base of West End Avenue. Ms. Jackson's
article noted that while many of the buildings in the area "timeless
charm,...they offer something more valued by many families: eligibility
for grade school children to attend Public School 199, named after
Jesse Isidor Straus of the family that built Macy's to its glory.
'People get a lease at the Trump buildings just to be able to
come to 199,' said Carol Stock, its principal. 'We're a very sought-after
The Collegiate School, for
boys from kindergarten through 12th grade, traces its roots to
1628 and the Dutch West Indies Company.
There are many churches in
the neighborhood including the Flemish-style West End Collegiate
Church, built at the end of the 19th century, the 110-year old
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church at 91st Street. Congregation
B'nai Jeshurun, the oldest Ashkenazic congregation in the city,
and the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, a United Methodist
church on West End at 86th.
In 2008, a campaign began to
designate West End Avenue between 70th and 107th Streets as a
The petition submitted to the
Landmarks Preservation Commission provided the following commentary:
"West End Avenue is one
of the most distinctive residential avenues in New York City and
it deserves and meets the criteria for Historic District status.
Already designated are blocks between 75th Street and 78th Street
and those between 87th and 95th Streets. We urge the Commission
to extend and expand the Historic Districts to include the blocks
down to West 70th Street and up to West 107th Street. West End
Avenue is lined primarily with Pre-War apartment buildings of
unified height; most are approximately twelve to fifteen stories.
These buildings were erected in the 1910's and 1920's by a small
group of acclaimed architects specializing in apartment-house
construction in that era. Spread intermittently between some of
these unified apartment buildings are historic townhouses that
predate the construction of 1910-1920....Even when West End Avenue
was first being developed, the Avenue seemed unique. In 1888,
an organization called the West End Association declared that
"West End Avenue, alone of all city avenues, has a chance
of remaining a site of private residences exclusively and permanently."
(Robert Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman: "New York
1880-Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age"; Monacelli
Press, New York 1999; p. 759).