New York Songlines: 50th Street

12th Ave | 11th Ave | 10th Ave | 9th Ave | 8th Ave | 7th Ave | Broadway | 6th Ave |
5th Ave | Madison | Lexington | 3rd Ave | 2nd Ave | 1st Ave


HUDSON RIVER



Pier 90

On June 20, 1945, the Queen Mary landed here with the first U.S. troops returning home from Europe after the defeat of Hitler.


S <===         12TH AVENUE               ===> N

South:









W

5
0
T
H

North:






Corner (600 W 51st): Food Network was here?


S <===           11TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:



552: Kyril & Metodi Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocesan Cathedral. This is the headquarters of the church's diocese for the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Corner (725 10th Ave): Skyline Hotel, formerly a Travelodge. Police dug up the grounds behind this hotel in 1979 in an unsuccessful search for victims of the Westies crime gang.

W

5
0
T
H

North:




525: Park West High School, built 1977 to a Max O. Urbahn design. The AIA Guide praises the south facade's "powerful cylindrical forms."

Corner (747 10th Ave): Hudsonview Terrace, a 38-story tan-brick apartment tower from 1976; was built as a money-maker for Park West.


S <===           10TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:


High School of Graphic Communication Arts

(439 W 49th): Built in 1959 as the High School for Printing and designed by Kelly & Gruzen, it's been called "one of the most vigiorous International Style Buildings in town." It was the first New York City high school to have escalators. It's on the former site of P.S. 84, immortalized in the musical Guys and Dolls as a rejected venue for the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York: "And they now got a lock on the door/To the gym at P.S. 84."

W

5
0
T
H

North:
















S <===           9TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:

World Wide Plaza

Block (720 9th Ave): This block-filling project went up in 1989, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill--it resembles the RCA Building on steroids. It was built on the site of the third Madison Square Garden, here from 1925 to 1966, designed by Thomas Lamb. The New York Rangers were established here in 1926, and the Knicks in 1946. The first Golden Gloves amateur boxing championship was held here March 28, 1927. A celebration for Adolf Hitler here on February 20, 1939, turned out 28,000 Nazi sympathizers. John F. Kennedy held his 45th birthday party here on May 19, 1962, with Marilyn Monroe singing him a very special ''Happy Birthday.''

350: The address of the New York Polyclinic Hospital; O. Henry died here on June 5, 1910, and Rudolph Valentino on August 23, 1926.

Corner (829 8th Ave): Here were the offices of the New York Morning Herald, where Bat Masterson, once a famed Western gunslinger, worked as a sportswriter. He died at his desk here on October 26, 1921.

W
E
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T
R
E
E
T

North:















335: Polyclinic Apartments, named for the hospital that used to be across the street




305 (corner): Longacre House, a 1998 apartment building that recalls Times Square's old name. It was built by developer Harry Macklowe and designed (like the Gershwin across the intersection) by Peter Claman.


S <===           8TH AVENUE           ===> N
The eastern boundary of Hell's Kitchen

South:

Corner: Gershwin Apartments, a 40-story apartment development built in 1998, named for the songwriting brothers. Includes the Palm steakhouse and Thalia, Greek.



















226: Amsterdam Court; includes Natsumi, Japanese restaurant/bar

216: Was Bare Elegance, seedy strip club that was more of an ala carte brothel. Closed in 2010 for being too close to the Times Square Church. In 1914, Charles Chessar moved his legendary Beefsteak Charlie's restaurant here, which was a hangout for horseracing afficianados and later, in the 1950s and '60s, for jazz musicians. The restaurant later inspired a an East Coast chain, launched in 1976 and hanging on until the early 21st Century. Snapple on 50th west of Broadway by eszter, on Flickr

210 (corner): Snapple Theater Center, an Off- Broadway house owned by the iced-tea company. Perfect Crime moved here after playing since 1987 at the Duffy Theater, making it the longest-running play on Broadway. Also at this address is Emmett O'Lunney's Harmony View, a pub; Emmett's father owns O'Lunney's on 45th Street.

W
E
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T
R
E
E
T

North:

Corner (830 8th Ave): Mario Ingrami and William S. Fryer designed this modernist building in 1985.

251: Frederico's, Italian

Circle in the Square Theatre

Built in 1972 as the third home of the Circle in the Square theater company (founded in 1951 on Sheridan Square). A rare example of theater-in-the-round on Broadway. Notable plays that premiered on Broadway here include Metamorphoses and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Built on the site of the Capitol Theatre. (See next door.)

Paramount Plaza

Manhattan - Paramount plaza by Nniiccoollaa, on Flickr

Corner (1633 Broadway): Originally known as the Uris Building, this 48-floor building went up in 1970 on the site of the Capitol Theatre, demolished in 1968. The 1919 cinema was designed by Thomas Lamb and was managed for a time by Samuel "Roxy" Rothapfel. It originally sat 5,300, making it the largest cinema in New York at the time and probably the world. It was the flagship of MGM's cinema chain; The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind both opened here in 1939. The talent show Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour, a huge phenomenon in its 1930s heyday, was broadcast from here on CBS Radio. The last movie to play here was 2001. Mars 2112 by Cord Woodruff, on Flickr

Now houses the U.S. offices of Hachette Filipacchi, the world's largest magazine publisher; several of their American magazines are based here, such as Elle, Woman's Day and Premiere. Located in the sunken courtyard is Mars 2112, a touristy sci-fi-themed restaurant.


S <===           BROADWAY           ===> N

In the Damon Runyon story "Breach of Promise," Harry the Horse says he carries eight slugs in his body from this intersection to Brooklyn. It's also where Runyon runs into the title character of "Madame La Gimp."

At this intersection on December 7, 1988, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev got out of his limousine to greet New Yorkers--an incident that symbolized the new spirit of glasnost.

South:


















Morgan Stanley Building

Corner (750 7th Ave): A stylish building by Kevin Roche John Dinkleloo, completed in 1990. Houses the Majestic Delicatessen, opened in 1972, and Martinique Jewelers, founded 1963.

W
E
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T

North:

Winter Garden Theater

hot strike by somethingstartedcr azy, on Flickr

Block (1634 Broadway): Starting life in 1885 as the American Horse Exchange Building, it was largely rebuilt as the Winter Garden in 1911 and remodeled by Herbert J. Krapp in 1923. Its debut production included the Broadway premiere of Al Jolson.

Here were the Broadway bows of Wonderful Town, West Side Story, Funny Girl, Mame, Steven Sondheim's Follies and Pacific Overtures, Beatlemania and 42nd Street. Cats set a Broadway record by playing here 7,485 performances between 1982 and 2000; the ABBA-based Mamma Mia! has been here since 2002. The Twyla Tharp/David Byrne collaboration The Catherine Wheel was performed here in 1981.


S <===           7TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:

Lehman Brothers Building

Corner (745 7th Ave):

A 2001 office building by Kohn Pedersen Fox, noted for the multi-story video screens that wrap its base; they remind me of the nature show that suicide volunteers get in Soylent Green. Originally built for Morgan Stanley and sold to Lehman in 2002.

The Lehman Brothers investment bank was founded in Birmingham, Alabama in 1850 by three German immigrant brothers, and moved to New York after the Civil War. It declared bankruptcy during the financial crisis of 2008 and the company's New York headquarters were acquired by the British bank Barclays along with its North American investment banking and trading divisions.


Exxon Bulding

1251 (block): Technically part of Rockefeller Center, but not really, this 54-story office tower was built in 1971 to a Harrison, Abramowitz & Harris design. Exxon used to be Esso, which was Standard Oil of New Jersey ("S.O."), part of the breakup of the Rockefellers' Standard Oil Company. Exxon is now merged with Mobil, formerly Socony--Standard Oil Co. of New York.

W
E
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T
R
E
E
T

North:

Corner: This space, which now has the dubious distinction of being "America's Largest TGI Friday's," was once the entrance to the Roxy Theatre, considered the most majestic cinema ever built. Seating 5,920 when it was built in 1926, it was named for impresario Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel, who had managed a number of other movie palaces before building his own. Gloria Swanson was on hand for both the theater's opening and its demolition in 1960. It inspired namesake cinemas all over the world, not to mention the band Roxy Music. In "You're the Top," Cole Porter wrote, "You're the pants on a Roxy usher."

135: The American Management Association Building features Bobby Van's Grill and a Tad's Steaks branch.

Time & Life Bulding

Another addition to Rockefeller Center, this 1959 tower was the first building to be added to the complex on the west side of 6th Avenue. Designed by Harrison & Abramowitz, before Harris was added to the name. Time and Life were the flagships of Henry Luce's magazine empire, now part of Time Warner. Time's offices are still here. CNN's American Morning had its studios on the ground floor from 2002-06; SportsNet New York is now based there. The blue metal sculpture in front is Cubed Curve, by William Crovello.


S <===           6TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:

Rockefeller Center

The land that is now Rockefeller Center was once the Elgin Botanic Garden, 20 acres of mainly medicinal herbs established by Dr. David Hosack, the physician who attended Alexander Hamilton after his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. The Lewis and Clark expedition sent plants here for identification.

The garden was sold to the state in 1810, which granted it to Columbia University, which allowed the garden to be developed. In 1929, the land was leased to John D. Rockefeller, who built on it an Art Deco masterpiece that is one of New York City's crowning architectural achievements.

RCA Building

30 Rockefeller Plaza (block): The crown jewel of Rockefeller Center, completed in 1933, this 70-story limestone masterpiece is attributed mainly to Raymond Hood. Diego Rivera's mural, Man at Crossroads Looking With Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future, was painted over by Nelson Rockefeller when Rivera refused to take Lenin out of the artwork. The murals visible today are Jose Maria Sert's American Progress and Time. Above the main entrance is Lee Lawrie's relief sculpture Genius.

The famous Rainbow Room is on the 65th floor, which opened in 1934 as a nightspot for Rockefellers, Astors and Morgans. Entertainment was provided by the likes of Mary Martin, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Comden and Green, and Judy Holliday. It's touted as the "most perfect room in New York."

The "Top of the Rock," the recently reopened rooftop observatory, is a great alternative to the Empire State Building-- the sailors go there in the movie On the Town.

RCA was the Radio Corporation of America, formed in 1919 as a joint subsidiary of General Electric and AT&T; both NBC and ABC were initially launched by RCA. When GE reacquired RCA in 1986, GE CEO Jack Welch insisted on renaming the RCA Building the GE Building. Jack Welch is a poor role model for America's children.

NBC's main New York studios are located in this building, where shows like NBC Nightly News, Saturday Night Live and Late Night With Conan O'Brien are taped; The Tonight Show used to broadcast from here in the Jack Paar/early Johnny Carson days. TV was broadcast from here as early as 1935; Arturo Toscanini used to broadcast from the same studio that today houses SNL. Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater originated here in 1948, TV's first massive hit; later, in 1956, the building was home to Twenty-One and the quiz show scandal.

W
E
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T
R
E
E
T

North:

Radio City Music Hall

Corner (1260 6th Ave): When it opened in 1932, this auditorium's 6,200 seats made it the largest in the world. Impressario Sam "Roxy" Rothafel intended it to be a live venue, but it soon became a cinema featuring a live pre-show showcasing precision dancers--originally the Roxyettes, now the world-famous Rockettes.

The auditorium saw the premieres of such films as Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris and King Kong (shared with the Roxy). The Woody Allen character comes here in Radio Days; Daddy Warbucks buys out a whole show here in Annie. It also appears in The Godfather and Hitchcock's Saboteur.








































AP Building

Corner (50 Rockefeller): Headquarters of the U.S.'s most important wire service, co-owned by its member newspapers. Above its doorwasy is News, a stainless steel relief by Isamu Noguchi. Activist Allard Lowenstein was fatally shot here on March 14, 1980, by a deranged acquaintance.


S <===           ROCKEFELLER PLAZA           ===> N

The annual site of what is arguably America's most famous Christmas tree.

South:

Skating Rink

The skating in the sunken plaza, which occurs from October until April, was a gimmick added as an afterthought to try to salvage what had turned out to be a difficult-to-rent section of the Center. It subsequently became one of Manhattan's most recognizable landmarks; it's seen in many films, including Sunday in New York, Autumn in New York and Home Alone 2. The statue of Prometheus, who defied the gods to bring fire to humanity, is by Paul Manship; it's been called the fourth most famous sculpture in America.

British Empire Building

Corner (620 5th Ave): A 1933 building meant to showcase British culture and commerce, but aside from Crabtree & Evelyn, there's not much anglophilia in evidence. It does have upscale shops like Cole Haan shoes, Coach handbags and Teuscher Swiss chocolates. Over the entrance is Carl Paul Jennewein's bronze Industries of the British Commonwealth.

W
E
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T
R
E
E
T

North:

International Building

630 (corner): Completed in 1935 as part of the original Rockefeller Center complex, this is a reduced-scale (41 stories) version of the RCA Building. It houses Brasserie Ruhlmann, Laurent Tourondel's restaurant named for Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann.









626 (corner): The ground floor of the south wing of the International Building, known as the Palazzo D'Italia, is mostly taken up by Banana Republic's flagship store--what does that say about Italy? The entrance bronzes The Italian Immigrant and Italia by Giacomo Manzu were given to Rockefeller Center by Fiat.


S <===           5TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:

Corner: Site of the New York Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, the first such school in the U.S. when it opened in 1852.

Saks Fifth Avenue

Block: Launched in 1924 by Horace Saks and Bernard Gimbel, partners in Gimbel's on 34th Street, it brought upscale shopping to what was then a largely residential neighborhood. The building replaced the Democratic Club and the Buckingham Hotel.





New York Magazine

444 (block): Founded in 1968, it has a paid circulation of 437,000, which seems like an awful lot. The magazine moved into the 13th-15th floors here in 1996; previously the 43-story building, which dates back to 1931, had been home to Newsweek, from 1960-94.

E
A
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T
R
E
E
T

North:

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Begun in 1858 and dedicated in 1879, St. Pat's is seen as symbolizing the ascension of New York's Catholic community, as the archbishop's seat moved from the Lower East Side to the heart of New York's elite district (though the neighborhood wasn't all that elite back then). Designed by James Renwick, Jr.--the architect of Grace Church--who modeled it on the Cologne Cathedral. Here's an aerial view.

Pope Paul VI said mass here on October 4, 1964, during the first papal visit to America. Funerals were held here for Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (1891), Gov. Alfred E. Smith (1944), slugger Babe Ruth (1948), conductor Arturo Toscanini (1957) and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (1968).

Corner (452 Madison): The Cardinal's Residence, another Renwick design. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre were married here on April 3, 1920--they couldn't have the wedding in the cathedral itself because it was a mixed marriage.


S <===           MADISON AVENUE           ===> N

South:
























Corner (300 Park): The Colgate Palmolive Building was built in 1955 as the headquarters of the toothpaste and soap company. (They also make Ajax and Fab.) The building, another Emery Roth design, has been called ''a beige box with an horizontal emphasis that conveys the heaviness of a fat plantation owner sleeping and immovable on some stodgy club verandah.''

E
A
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T

North:

Villard Houses

Corner (451-457 Madison): These were originally six brownstone mansions sharing a central courtyard, designed to resemble an Italian palazzo; the design is by Joseph Wells, with some interior work by Stanford White. They were put up by Henry Villard, an abolitionist who served as a Civil War correspondent for the New York Tribune, later came to own both the New York Post and The Nation, made a fortune in railroads, helped finance Thomas Edison and founded General Electric. Saved from demolition by the Landmark Commission, the building now serves in part as the entrance to the 1980 New York Palace Hotel, erected by the Helmsleys and now owned by the Sultan of Brunei.

The house on this corner was Villard's own residence, though he only lived here a few months before declaring bankruptcy in 1883; the house was bought in 1886 by Elisabeth Mills Reid, wife of New York Tribune editor Whitelaw Reid. In October 1942, Andre Breton organized the First Papers of Surrealism here, an art show that included Marcel Duchamp webbing up the exhibit space with 16 miles of string. In 1943 the building became the Women's Military Services Club, which in the next two years allowed 250,000 female troops to stay for 50 cents a night.

Corner (320 Park): Mutual of America


S <===           PARK AVENUE           ===> N

South:

The Waldorf-Astoria

100 (block): One of the world's most famous hotels started out where the Empire State Building is now--formed by the merger of the Waldorf and Astoria hotels, owned by rival branches of the Astor family. (Waldorf was John Jacob Astor's German hometown.) When the skyscraper replaced the old hotel, it moved to this 625-foot Art Deco landmark (designed by Schultze & Weaver), at the time the largest hotel in the world; when it opened on September 30, 1931, the first guest to be served dinner was the king of Siam.

Future president JFK lived here, as did former president Herbert Hoover (who also died here, on October 20, 1964). Other long-term residents include Cole Porter, Marilyn Monroe (1955), Frank Sinatra, Lucky Luciano (1933-36), Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck, Moss Hart, Henry and Clare Booth Luce, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Rainier and Grace of Monaco, Henry Cabot Lodge, Adlai Stevenson, Henry Kissinger and generals Eisenhower, MacArthur and Bradley. Every sitting president since FDR has stayed here as a guest; LBJ met with Pope Paul VI here on October 4, 1965, during the first papal visit to the U.S. The first Tony Awards were presented here on April 6, 1947.

The hotel was featured in the Ginger Rogers film Weekend at the Waldorf, as well as the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Maid in Manhattan. Sandy Dennis and Jack Lemmon were not able to stay here in The Out-of-Towners, Al Pacino picks the place for a last hurrah in Scent of a Woman, and Gene Hackman is kicked out of the hotel (appearing as the Lindbergh Palace) in The Royal Tenenbaums. Its namesake salad is compared to a Berlin ballad in the song "You're the Top." The hotel's Empire Room was an early venue for Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross.

The hotel is now owned by the Hilton chain. The restaurant is called Peacock Alley, named for the corridor in the original Waldorf-Astoria where the fashionable paraded.

E
A
S
T

5
0
T
H

S
T
R
E
E
T

North:

St. Bartholomew's

109 (corner): An Episcopalian congregation founded in 1835, ''St. Bart's'' is considered one of the more fashionable churches in town. A 1919 work by Bertram Goodhue (who considered it his favorite), its entranceway was salvaged from an earlier St. Bartholomew's designed by Stanford White. The church tried to tear down Goodhue's Community House and sell the land to developers, but the city successfully defended its landmark law in court-- an important precedent for preservationists.

Saint Bartholomew was an apostle about whom little is known; tradition holds that he was martyred by being skinned alive. I suspect that churches are named after him largely because of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, an attack on Protestants in France.





















Corner (560 Lexington): The Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral Branch of the New York Public Library originated in 1887 as the Catholic Archdiocese's Cathedral Library Association. It's a small branch located below street level.


S <===           LEXINGTON AVENUE           ===> N

The Big Map has a photo tour of 50th Street from here to the East River.

South:







Corner (800 3rd Ave): The Icelandic consulate is one tenant in this gigantic brown-glass monolith--a 41-story Emery Roth & Sons design from 1972.

E

5
0
T
H

North:



151: The club Tatou opened here in 1990; in 1992, during the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton showed off his sax skills here. The space used to be Versailles, where Desi Arnez was once the bandleader.

155 (corner): Affinia 50 Hotel, formerly the Plaza 50.


S <===           3RD AVENUE           ===> N

South:

Corner (805 3rd Ave): Crystal Pavillion houses the Japanese restaurant Oikawa.







E

5
0
T
H

North:

Corner (825 3rd Ave): This 40-story Emery Roth & Sons tower, built in 1969, is known as the Random House Building, though the publisher moved out in 1999. On the ground floor is La Maganette, Italian noted for its salsa dancing. The Norwegian consulate is on the 38th floor.



S <===           2ND AVENUE           ===> N

South:



316: The brownstone that once stood at this address (torn down for the apartment building at No. 320) was the site of a triple murder committed on March 28, 1937, by Robert Irwin, known to the papers as "The Mad Sculptor." The crime was predicted by Dr. Frederic Wertham, the author of the influential anti-comic book book Seduction of the Innocent.

E

5
0
T
H

North:

Corner (964 2nd Ave): Nessa, a pub

301-303 (corner): Described by the New York Times as "a sweet grey building with a Beaux-Arts feel," it was hit by a falling crane from 51st Street on March 15, 2008; the landlord is trying to use the minor damage as an excuse to tear down the building. On the ground floor is the restaurant Crave Ceviche Bar--for now.

305: The townhouse here was totally destroyed by the crane collapse, including a subterranean bar called FUBAR--a military acronym meaning Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.








Corner (891 1st Ave): Azaza, Asian, was Wylie's Ribs and Steak Joint.


S <===           1ST AVENUE           ===> N

South:

400 (corner): This is the address of The Women's Mosaic, "Recognizing our unity, celebrating our diversity."




414-420: This block has several notable townhouses like these, remodeled in the 1920s


Corner (12 Beekman): Apartment building dates to 1957

E

5
0
T
H

S
T

North:

401 (corner): This was the second site of Mount Pleasant, John Beekman's mansion, moved from the vicinity of 51st Street when 1st Avenue was opened up. The Beekmans left the neighborhood during an 1850s cholera epidemic; the building--which had served as the British Revolutionary War headquarters and the site of Nathan Hale's trial--was demolished in 1874.

405: Another notable townhouse

417-419: More townhouses

Corner (20 Beekman): A 13-story building designed by Hyman Isaac Feldman


S <===           BEEKMAN PLACE           ===> N

South:

Corner (17 Beekman): Luxembourg House serves as that nation's consulate; the townhouse was built in 1929 for former Defense Secretary James Forrestal (designed by Harold Steiner). Irving Berlin lived here from 1947 until his death at age 101 in 1989.




E

5
0
T
H

North:

Corner (19-21 Beekman): A red-brick Georgian-style townhouse








450 E 51st:







Is your favorite 50th Street spot missing? Write to Jim Naureckas and tell him about it.

New York Songlines Home.

Sources for the Songlines.

Share