New York Songlines: 53rd Street

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HUDSON RIVER









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DeWitt Clinton Park

This park, opened in 1905, is named for U.S. senator, NYC mayor and New York governor DeWitt Clinton, best remembered as the politician most responsible for the Erie Canal, which connected the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean and ensured New York City's place as the commercial capital of the United States. He was also the first president of the New-York Historical Society.

The park gave its name to the surrounding neighborhood, Clinton, adopted as a euphemism for Hell's Kitchen.

The playground here is the Erie Canal Playground, named for Clinton's greatest accomplishment.

Maria's Perennial Garden features 19th Century flowers as well as those that attract butterflies and bees.

The Clinton War Memorial known as Flanders Fields (for the John McCrae poem inscribed on its pedestal) features a doughboy statue by Burt W. Johnson; it was dedicated in 1929 as a memorial to the neighborhood's World War I dead.


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AT&T

Block (811 10th Ave): A "windowless colossus" (AIA Guide) that houses telephone switching equipment. A 1964 effort by Kahn & Jacobs.






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

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440 (corner): PS 111 Adolph S. Ochs, a K-8 school named for the publisher of the New York Times from 1896-1935.

410: Midwest Court apartments. Bigfoot, a 160-foot blimp advertising Pizza Hut, crashed here on July 4, 1993, with only minor injuries to the pilot and co-pilot.

400 (corner): Note the "Green Man"-- an ancient fertility symbol often found on buildings.

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Corner (792 10th Ave): Certified Auto Sales




433: The Montel Williams Show is taped here.





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St. Benedict's Church

342: Built as a Protestant Evangelical church in 1869, in the 1890s it became home to a Roman Catholic church with a black congregation, then known as St. Benedict the Moor's, which moved here from Bleecker Street.

318: The Improv, longstanding comedy club

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

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Corner (888 8th Ave): Seasons, A Floral Design Studio; Sansha NYC Dance Store






The back wall of the Roseland Ballroom is here. (See 52nd Street.)




Broadway Theatre

Broadway by RcktManIL, on Flickr

1685 (corner): Built in 1924 to a Eugene DeRosa design, it was originally the Colony Theatre, where "Steamboat Willie," the first talking cartoon, debuted in 1928. (Mickey Mouse had been introduced in "Plane Crazy" six months earlier.) After being renamed the Broadway, it saw the premiere of Fantasia in 1939. Broadway by Kevin H., on Flickr My Fair Lady, The Music Man and South Pacific all had their Broadway debuts here, as did My Sister Eileen. It's also been home to such successful musicals as The Wiz Evita, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and The Color Purple.

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Ed Sullivan Theatre

New York City by Ryner12, on Flickr

(1697 Broadway): Built in 1927 as Hammerstein's Theater, Arthur Hammerstein's tribute to his father Oscar. It was later known as the Manhattan Theater and Billy Rose's Music Hall.

In 1936, CBS began radio broadcasts from here, and it was converted to a TV studio in 1950. It was home to the classic show The Honeymooners as well as The Merv Griffin Show, and such game shows as What's My Line?, To Tell the Truth, Password and The $20,000 Pyramid. Ed Sullivan Theater by sarowen, on Flickr

But it was most famously home to the The Ed Sullivan Show, which aired from here until its 1971 cancellation. It was here that Elvis Presley performed on September 9, 1956, the camera famously avoiding his swiveling hips, and The Beatles made their U.S. television debut on February 9, 1964. Since David Letterman moved to CBS in 1993, it's been the studio for his Late Show.

The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting is located in this building and is accessed through the 53rd Street side.

In the same building, at 1695 Broadway, is Omido, a sleek sushi restaurant designed by AvroKO.


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260: This was the address of the Marshall Club, a gathering place in the early 1900s for black writers, musicians and performers. Novelist and songwriter James Weldon Johnson lived on the second floor.





Corner (810 7th Ave): New York Convention and Visitors' Bureau; Visitors' Center, 810 Deli

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1700 Broadway by Mr Curle, on Flickr

Corner (1700 Broadway): A 42-floor Emery Roth building from 1969 that has been home since 1996 to DC Comics and Mad magazine (which Bart visited when The Simpsons came to New York). Europa Cafe is on the ground floor.

Corner: Maison, French


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

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Sheraton New York

Corner (801 7th Ave): Built in 1962 as the Loews Americana (Morris Lapidus, architects), it was bought in 1979 by Sheraton (then a subsidiary of ITT) and renamed the Sheraton Centre. It got its current name in 1989. Whatever the name, it's a "sleek supermotel that offers characterless but efficient quarters for the traveler," according to the AIA Guide. On the ground floor is the Streets Cafe.

Credit Lyonnais Building

Corner (1301 6th Ave): A 1964 office tower, 45 stories designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates; originally known as the J. C. Penney Building. Serves as headquarters for the Pricewaterhouse Coopers accounting firm. Noted for Jim Dine's Looking Toward the Avenue, gargantuan green pastiches of the Venus de Milo, in its plaza. The film Michael Clayton used the offices of the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf here for some of the interior shots.

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159 (corner): Tower 53 is a 37-story white-brick apartment building from 1968. On the ground floor is Lindy's, the original of which was immortalized in Damon Runyon's stories as "Mindy's"; this latter-day chain-owned incarnation is regarded as charmless and overpriced.




New York Hilton

Corner (1335 6th Ave): A 49-story slab emerging from a boxy base, completed 1963 to Harrison & Abramowitz' design. Philip Pavia's Ides of March, an abstract sculpture group, was in front here until 1988, when it moved to the Hippodrome. Etrusca and Remi, both Italian, are the hotel restaurants.

The climax of the film Michael Clayton was shot here.


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

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Black Rock

Corner (51 W 52nd): The 38-story headquarters of the CBS network, built in 1965 as the only skyscraper designed by Finnish-born Eero Saarinen. The nickname comes from the imposing, triangular black granite pillars that run the length of the building. It was the first New York highrise to have a reinforced concrete (rather than steel) frame. China Grill is on the ground floor.

40: Was the Museum of Arts and Design, now moved to Columbus Circle.


31: Museum of Modern Art Design Store

Donnell Library

20: A branch of the NYPL system with an emphasis on children's books; displays the original stuffed animals that inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories.


















Tishman Building

Corner (666 5th Ave): This was the address of the mansion of William Kissam Vanderbilt Jr., great-grandson of the Commodore, an auto-racing enthusiast who founded the Vanderbilt Cup. The 1905 mansion, designed by McKim, Meade and White, was the last of the Vanderbilts' Fifth Avenue mansions. In 1957, an aluminum-clad office building with an apocalyptic address was put up here with a million square feet of space; the lobby waterfall was designed by Isamu Noguchi. Brooks Brothers, founded 1818, is on the ground floor, along with Hickey Freeman and the NBA Store. Top of the Sixes, the top-floor restaurant, is now the Grand Havana Room, a private cigar club.

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Financial Times Building

Corner (1330 6th Ave): A 41-story completed in 1965 and designed by Emery Roth & Sons. Originally built for ABC, it became ITT's headquarters after the conglomerate bought the network. It's now the U.S. base of the British business paper.

American Folk Art Museum

45: Founded in 1961 as the Museum of Early American Folk Arts, the institution moved to this innovative building in 2001. The first New York City project by Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates, it uses textured white bronze panels to create a faceted, handmade-looking structure.

MOMA

25: Founded in 1929 and moved to this building in 1939, the Museum of Modern Art exhibits some of the most iconic images of the Modern movement, including Van Gogh's Starry Night, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy, Dali's The Persistence of Memory and Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie. It's also known for its film library, established in 1935 and now containing more than 22,000 films.

Museum Tower

15: A 52-story highrise by Cesar Pelli that was part of (and helped pay for) MOMA's 1985 expansion. There are supposed to be 14 different colors on the tower's facade, but some are skeptical.

9: George Washington Vanderbilt II had a townhouse here designed by Richard Morris Hunt and completed 1887. Now the address of The Modern, MOMA's fancy restaurant.

St. Thomas Church

Corner: The Episcopal congregation, established in 1823, moved here from in 1870. The original church on this site was designed by Richard Upjohn in the Gothic style. After a fire destroyed it in 1905, it was rebuilt "as medievally as was possible in early Twentieth-Century New York" (Fifth Avenue), reopening in 1916 (Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, architects).

Former President Benjamin Harrison was married here on April 6, 1896; Consuelo Vanderbilt married the Duke of Marlborough here November 6, 1895. Thomas Dewey married June 16, 1928. The church is affiliated with the St. Thomas Choir School.


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

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Corner (665 5th Ave): The Rolex Building was built in 1924 as Georg Jensen, Scandinavian department store. Modernized in 1977 when the watch company moved in. The Swiss consulate is located here; St. John clothing is on the ground floor.













10: The publishing house was formed by Rupert Murdoch's 1990 merger of two venerable publishing houses, Harper & Row and William Collins Ltd. The former, founded in New York City in 1817, was the original publisher of Melville's Moby Dick, Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym, as well as many of the works of Henry James, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells and Edna St. Vincent Millay (who quipped of her publisher, "although I reject their proposals, I welcome their advances"). It founded both Harper's Magazine and Harper's Bazaar, though neither today is connected to the publishing house. It merged in 1962 with Row, Peterson and was bought by Murdoch in 1987.

12: The Laboratory Institute of Merchandising is a business school for the fashion industry founded in 1939; it's been here since 1965.

18: A 14-story building designed by Walter M. Mason and completed in 1925

Corner (510 Madison Ave): Developer Harry Maclowe is building a sharply angled 30-story office tower at this address, to be completed in 2008. Unusually for an office building, the design includes a swimming pool.

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Corner (673 5th Ave): Blanc de Chine, stylish flagship of the clothing chain. A Doubleday Book Shop closed here in 1990, after Doubleday's corporate parent Bertelsmann sold its bookstores to Barnes & Noble. This address used to be the townhouse of David H. McAlpin, a wealthy tobacco dealer who built the McAlpin Hotel.

1: Americans for the Arts, a non-profit that encourages private-sector support for art. Merged in 2005 with the Arts & Business Council, which was founded in 1965 by the New York Board of Trade.

Samuel Paley Plaza

3: A vest-pocket park named for a cigar manufacturer who was also the father of CBS founder William Paley, who paid for the place. It was designed by Robert Zion and installed in 1966.

This used to be the site of the legendary Stork Club, opened as a speakeasy in 1929 by bootlegger Sherman Billingsley. Considered the epitome of glamour and class, the club hosted the likes of Bing Crosby, Ernest Hemingway, Rocky Marciano, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and mobster Frank Costello were both habituees. Columnist Walter Winchell presided over the goings on from Table 50 in the exclusive Cub Room (ala Sweet Smell of Success). The club appears in All About Eve and The Wrong Man.

9: Burger Heaven

11: Alto, Italian

Corner (520 Madison Ave): Continental Illinois Center is a 43-story red-granite office tower with a gently sloping facade and a roofline that looks like giant steps. The 1982 building was designed by Swanke Hayden & Connell.

A graffiti-covered portion of the Berlin Wall is on the 53rd Street side of this building.


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

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Corner (509 Madison Ave): This 21-floor building was designed by Robert T. Lyons and completed in 1929. It housed photographer Alfred Stieglitz's last studio.

38: During Prohibition this was Don Juan, a speakeasy. Later Michel's, a French restaurant.

42: Another speakeasy, Tony, named for proprietor Tony Gardella. Later the Hour Glass restaurant.

46: The speakeasy Louis & Armand's

54: A speakeasy known variously as Jimmy's and the Park View Club

56: Mason's Tennis, which bills itself as New York City's only full-service tennis shop, has been around since the 1970s.

Park Avenue Plaza

(55 E 52nd): A 15-sided prismatic glass tower whose 45 stories rise above--and depend on the air rights to--the Racquet & Tennis Club. Includes a remarkable arcade that serves as a short-cut to 52nd Street.

Racquet & Tennis Club

Corner (370 Park): This private men-only club, founded in 1876, is housed in an Italian Renaissance palazzo designed by McKim, Mead & White and completed in 1918. Its five-story height is designed to be twice the width of Park Avenue.

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Corner (515 Madison Ave): Du Mont Building is a 42-story skyscraper built 1931, designed by J.E.R. Carpenter. The Europa Cafe on the ground floor.

45: The U.S. headquarters of Banco Santander, Spain's largest bank and the third largest in Europe. A 20-story building from 1991, notable for the large circle on its glass facade.

Lever House

Corner (390 Park): This 21-story blue-green glass office tower, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's Gordon Bunshaft for the British soap company Lever Brothers and completed in 1952, is considered one of the most important and influential Modernist buildings in New York City. It pioneered the use of the glass curtain wall--preceded in the city only by the U.N. Secretariat Building--and the dramatic break with the street wall. It was landmarked in 1982--as soon as it became eligible--and was extensively restored in 1998, when an Isamu Noguchi sculpture garden was added. Damien Hirst's Virgin Mother, a 35-foot, partially cross-sectioned pregnant nude, was installed in 2005. Since 2003, the building's been home to Lever House Restaurant.


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

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Seagram Building

Corner (375 Park): This 39-story brown-glass-and-bronze office tower, built in 1958 for the Seagram's beverage company, is considered the epitome of the International Style and architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's American masterpiece. Its superbly proportioned geometric form and use of floor-to-ceiling windows were enormously influential on corporate architecture; the New York Times has called it the most important building of the 20th Century. The vertical bronze beams on the exterior are, ironically, a decorative element intended to express a fuctionalist aesthetic. The plaza surrounding the building--taking Lever House's rejection of the street wall farther by eliminating the earlier building's base--was so admired that zoning laws were changed to encourage similar public spaces...few of which were as successful as this one.

The building is home to The Four Seasons, a restaurant known for its power lunches, whose sumptuous interior was designed by Philip Johnson, who was van der Rohe's collaborator on the entire structure. Painter Mark Rothko was commissioned to do art for the restaurant, but he decided he hated the place too much and kept the series for himself.

In the series That Girl, the Marlo Thomas character works in a magazine stand in this building.

The address used to be an apartment building on the block's northern corner, where songwriter Harold Arlen lived in the penthouse in the 1940s.

100: Brasserie is a French restaurant in the Seagram Building, opened in 1959 and given a space-age redesign (complete with video surveillance) in 2000.

116: An apartment building here torn down for the Seagram Building was the home of actor Montgomery Clift from 1935-43, when he was a teenager and young man.

Shangri-La New York

Corner (610 Lexington): This is a very slender, 61-story apartment/hotel tower that is planned for the former site of the YWCA New York headquarters, built here in 1912. It housed the first public swimming pool in New York state; the YWCA's national offices were here until 1980.

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Citibank Building

Block: This "bland, undistinguished, 39-story tower" ( City Review), designed by Carson & Lundin and Kahn & Jacobs, has been since 1961 the headquarters of Citigroup-- notwithstanding the 1978 construction of the more prominent Citicorp Center. The move here by Citibank--then known as the First National Bank of New York--sparked a trend of big banks moving from Wall Street to Midtown.

There's a Hale & Hearty Soup and a Pret a Manger on the ground floor--local chains.











































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

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Corner (599 Lexington): This 47-story, angular pale-green office tower, designed by Robert Segal of Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates and built by Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman in 1986, has a triangular plaza on its northwest corner, opening up vistas for the Citicorp Center. The lobby facing the plaza features Frank Stella's 1985 painted sculpture, Salto Nel Mio Sacco ("Jump Into My Sack").

If you ever transfer from the 6 train to the E or the F, you have this building to thank-- the developers built a connection in order to be allowed more bulk. There's a nifty wedge-shaped glass canopy over the entrance in the plaza.

Marriott Courtyard Midtown East

Corner (866 3rd Ave): Originally built for Macmillan Publishing, this 31-floor Emery Roth-designed office tower now houses a Marriott hotel as well as the Memorial Sloan-Kettering outpatient center for cancer care.

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Citicorp Center

Block (880 3rd Ave): Fifty-nine stories built in 1977 for the banking giant, designed by Hugh Stubbins Jr. The 45-degree angle on this building's roof--originally intended for solar panels that were never installed--make it one of the most distinctive on the Midtown skyline. Set on four giant columns that allow it to cantilever over St. Peter's Church on Lexington. Includes Houston's, American, and Cucina, Italian; also a Barnes & Noble.

It was the first skyscraper in the United States to feature a tuned mass damper to protect against wind-induced oscillation. Nevertheless, the structure turned out to be dangerously vulnerable to hurricane-force winds, leading to reinforcements that were kept secret for 20 years.

153: The address of Houston's and Verdici, restaurants located in Citicorp Center


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

This intersection's reputation as a center for male prostitution was immortalized in the Ramones song "53rd & 3rd."

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Corner (875 3rd Ave): This 29-story office building, designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill and completed (at long last) in 1983, is described by the AIA Guide as an "octopod invention." (A liquor-store holdout at 871 3rd Avenue resulted in its oddly angled shape.)









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Lipstick Building

Corner (885 3rd Ave): A striking 1986 building of 34 stories by Philip Johnson, given its nickname for its elliptical shape, telescoping contour and red granite exterior. Toscano, Italian, is now the Lipstick Cafe.

247: This four-story townhouse is the New York branch of Seicho-No-Ie, a spiritual group founded in 1930 in Japan. The name translates as "The Home of Infinite Life, Wisdom and Abundance." It sounds a little like Christian Science.


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312: This 1866 landmark is a rare surviving wooden building in Manhattan. The round-topped dormer windows and corbeled entrance hoods reflect the French Second Empire Style.

314: Built at the same time as 312, its original wooden slats have been replaced by aluminum siding.

350 (corner): Parnell's Pub, Irish, with food a cut above the usual pub fare. Named for Charles Parnell, advocate of Irish home rule.

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317: Regents, restaurant and piano bar

319: Steven Romer, who used to live here, set a record for most money stolen by a lawyer from his clients--$7 million, a crime he was convicted of in 1991. He was still doing time as of 2005.

Corner (965 1st Ave): Madison Restaurant, a 24-hour diner opened in 1948


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

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Corner (962 1st Ave): Was the Mayfair, longstanding coffeeshop that closed in the early '00s.

(415 E 52nd): Sutton House, a 19-story white-brick apartment building from 1959.

422: Thirty-four stories from 1974.

River House

Corner (435 E 52nd): This 1931, 26-story luxury apartment building by Bottomley, Wagner & White has been called "arguably the city's, if not the world's, finest apartment building." It originally came with its own yacht dock. Edwin Howard Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio, threw himself to his death from his 13th floor apartment here on January 31, 1954, in part due to legal fights over his radio patents. Henry and Clare Booth Luce lived here from 1936-60. Other residents have included Henry Kissinger, Marshall Field, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and Angier Biddle Duke. Earlier on this site was the Cremo Cigar factory.

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411 (corner): Sutton Manor, a 20-story white-brick apartment building from 1960. Scarlett Johansen and Ryan Reynolds lived here when they were married.

(420 E 54th): A 38-floor trapezoidal apartment building whose long sides are at a 45-degree angle to the Manhattan grid. Built by Harry Macklowe in 1981.

425: A five-story building from 1926

Corner (60 Sutton Place South): This 20-story red-brick apartment complex features many oddly angled apartments, designed by Arthur Wieser to maximize the project's river views.


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EAST RIVER







What am I missing on 53rd Street? Write to Jim Naureckas and tell him about it.

New York Songlines Home.

Sources for the Songlines.

"53 Skidoo," Forgotten New York's trek down 53rd Street.

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