New York Songlines: 59th Street

with Central Park South

12th Ave | 11th Ave | 10th Ave | 9th Ave | 8th Ave (Columbus Circle) | 7th Ave | Broadway (Central Park) | 6th Ave |
5th Ave (The Plaza) | Madison | Lexington (Bloomingdale's) | 3rd Ave | 2nd Ave (Queensboro Bridge) | 1st Ave


HUDSON RIVER



Pier 99







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Block (840 12th Ave): This Con Edison building dates back to 1904 and was designed by Stanford White. It originally belonged to the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, New York City's first subway system, and provided all the power for the IRT trains (the numbered lines).




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Riverside South










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Corner (521 W 58th): Built 1951

John Jay College

Corner (899 10th Ave): Haaren Hall, the main building of CUNY's school of criminal justice, for police and associated professions. The building was completed in 1906 as the DeWitt Clinton High School, named for the New York governor (and NYC mayor, U.S. senator, etc.) who brought us the Erie Canal; C.B.J. Snyder did the Flemish Renaissance design.

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Manhattan Neighborhood Network

537: Manhattan's public access production facility, providing viewer-created programming for four public access cable channels. Founded 1992.

Corner (2 Amsterdam): Concerto Apartments, a 35-story building from 1991


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St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital

Corner: Formed by a 1979 merger of Roosevelt Hospital, which was founded in 1871 and located here, with St. Luke's, which dates back to 1846. (The gospel writer St. Luke, according to tradition, was a doctor.) The building here is a 1990 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design, a 13-story cube described by the AIA Guide as "grandiosity without grace."







Roosevelt East

Corner (925 9th Ave): The entrance to this 49-floor condo, built 1997, used to be Roosevelt Hospital's operating theater, built 1890-92.

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John Jay College

Corner (1 Amsterdam): North Hall, an annex to CUNY's school of criminal justice. The school was named for John Jay, president of the Continental Congress and co-author of the Federalist Papers.

447: This was the address of the Sloane Hospital for Women, where Nancy Reagan was born on July 6, 1921.

Church of St. Paul the Apostle

Corner (415 W 59th): Serves as the Mother Church of the Paulist Fathers, the Catholic religious order. Its cornerstone laid on July 4, 1876, it was designed by Jeremiah O'Rourke using 1,500-year-old Ravenna basilicas as his model. The interior was decorated by some of the era's leading artists, including John LaFarge, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Stanford White.

Corner: Two Columbus Avenue


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Coliseum Park Apartments

Built in 1957 along with the now-demolished New York Coliseum, this 14-story, two-winged red-brick complex has more than 500 apartments.

Time Warner Center

Corner (10 Columbus Circle): This 2003 megastructure, a home for the media giant, was designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The first major skyscraper built after September 11, it features twin towers-- with 55 stories, half of the World Trade Center's reach. The massive complex includes a hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, and a performance space for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Also some of the most expensive restaurants in New York City, including Masa ($300-a-plate sushi), per se and V Steakhouse.

Built on the site of the New York Coliseum, Robert Moses' 1954 convention center (Leon and Lionel Levy, 1954), widely viewed as an eyesore--and as a white elephant after the Javits Center opened in 1986. Demolished 2000.

313-315: Notorious dancehall manager Billy McGlory opened the 59th Street Theatre at this address in 1899, a move that was strenuously fought by the Holy Name Society of St. Paul the Apostle's Parish; by 1901 the venue was hosting "undenominational religious services" and it disappeared soon after 1916.

Corner (5 Columbus Circle): At the corner of 59th and Columbus Circle was the Majestic Theatre, an opulent house built in 1903 that opened with a live musical production of The Wizard of OZ; renamed the Park in 1911, it saw the debut of Pygmalion and was the uptown home to Minsky's burlesque show. William Randolph Hearst turned it into a cinema, the Cosmopolitan, in 1923; Florenz Ziegfeld brought live theater back in 1925. After a few more name changes and switches between film, theater, vaudeville and ballet, it was the International when NBC used it as a TV studio from 1949 to 1954--starting with Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows.

In the 1910s, the west side of Columbus Circle between 59th and 58th streets was home to at least eight houses of prostitution.


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Columbus Circle

NYC: Columbus Circle from The Shops at Columbus Circle by wallyg, on Flickr Christopher Columbus atop the pillar at Columbus Circle by NYCArthur, on Flickr

A roundabout honoring one of history's greatest monsters. It's not that he should be held responsible for all of Europe's effects on a New World that he didn't even realize he had found; rather, he should be held responsible for what he did personally to the inhabitants of Hispaniola, whom he exploited and exterminated with an efficiency that would have made Eichmann proud. His statue, by Gaetano Russo and dedicated on the 400th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage in 1892, stands on a 70-foot pillar featuring representations of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Speaking of monsters, Columbus Circle is menaced by the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters.

The circle got a major makeover in 2005 to make it more hospitable and accessible to pedestrians.


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240 (corner): This 1941 apartment building, designed by Mayer & Whittlesley was home to Antoine de Saint-Exupery when he was in exile from Nazi-occupied France. He spent his time here researching an Allied invasion of France and writing The Little Prince. Lois Lane lives here in the film Superman. On the ground floor is San Domenico, said to be Pavarotti's favorite restaurant. This is said to be the first New York apartment building to make extensive use of balconies.

230: The offices of Marc Lowenberg, dentist to the stars

The Gainesborough

222: This 1907 studio building features spectacular double-height living rooms facing Central Park. Bandleader Artie Shaw lived here in the early 1940s.

220: A 20-story grey-brick apartment building that went up in 1954; Mayer & Whittlesley and M. Milton Glass, architects.

210: This 23-story apartment building, fronted with glass balconies, has a driveway in front--a Manhattan oddity. 60 Minutes' Don Hewitt, the Mets' Keith Hernandez and suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark have lived here.

200 Central Park South

200 (corner): The curved base of this 35-story modernist residential tower, built 1963, allows more apartments to have park views. Residents have included Raquel Welch and Dino De Laurentiis.

Previously on this site was Jolson's 59th Street Theatre, built in 1921 by the Shuberts and designed by Herbert J. Krapp. The first show there, Bombo, starred blackface megastar Al Jolson. The theater also seems to have had the first Broadway productions of The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya. Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre had its U.S. debut here in 1923. In 1937, Orson Welles led the cast of The Cradle Will Rock--shut out of the Maxine Elliott Theatre for political reasons--to the theater, then called the Venice, where the actors performed the play from the audience to avoid violating Actor's Equity rules. Renamed the New Century Theatre in 1944, it saw the premiere of Kiss Me Kate before it was shuttered in 1954 and torn down in 1962.

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Central Park

Arguably the greatest work of art in all of human history. At least, I have been known to make that argument.

An 853-acre expanse of green in the middle of Manhattan, its 25 million annual visitors make it the most-visited public park in the world. Responding to calls from civic leaders like William Cullen Bryant, the city acquired the land in 1853 and held a design contest in 1857, choosing the Greensward Plan of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux (rhymes with "Walks"). After the moving of 3 million tons of earth and the planting of 270,000 trees and shrubs, the park--almost entirely landscaped, despite its naturalistic appearance--opened to visitors in 1859 (though not officially completed until 1873).

The entrance here is known as the Merchant's Gate-- appropiately enough for the entrance nearest Trump Tower and Time Warner Center. There's a memorial here to those who died in the explosion of the battleship Maine, which served the same role in the Spanish-American War that WMDs did in the Iraq War.


























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New York Athletic Club

180 (corner): A 1929 Renaissance Revival clubhouse designed by York & Sawyer for a sports club founded in 1868, whose members have subsequently won at least 123 Olympic gold medals. The club introduced the sport of fencing, bicycle racing and squash courts to the United States. Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey was a member, as is George Steinbrenner.

Replaced the Spanish Flats, an innovative, ahead-of-its-time apartment complex built in 1883 by Josť F. de Navarro.

Essex House

160: This Art Deco hotel built in 1930 (originally known as the Park Tower, later the Seville Towers) was home to show business types long before it became the official hotel of Saturday Night Live. George Burns and Gracie Allen lived here in 1934, Betty Grable and Milton Berle were residents in the 1940s, and Igor Stravinsky made his home here from 1969 until his death in 1971. David Bowie and Iman lived here in the 1990s until 2002. Opera singer Lily Pons used to keep a jaguar here that had free run of her suite. Other famous residents have included Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee and Telly Savalas. Soul singer Donny Hathaway threw himself from the 15th floor here on January 13, 1979.

City Review says the building's illuminated rooftop sign ''has been one of the city's worst skyline blights for decades.''

Hampshire House

150: This 1931 building--recognizable by its steeply pitched copper roof-- was home to Ingrid Bergman in 1946 when she played in Joan of Arc on Broadway. Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner played house here from 1948 until their marriage in 1951. Later it was home to director Milos Forman and two of the world's greatest tenors-- Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. In 1970, actress Sophia Loren was robbed of $900,000 in jewelry in her suite here by master thieves Bobby Comfort and Sorecho "Sammy the Arab" Nalo.

128: Musician Billy Joel owned this 16-story building, built in 1924, and lived here with then-wife Christie Brinkley.

120: Berkeley House

116: Park House

The Navarro

112: This building, designed by James E. Carpenter and Rosario Candela, opened in 1927 as an apartment hotel, home to prizefighter Jack Dempsey (1934-35) and publisher Bennett Cerf (1939?-1941). From 1988 to 1997 it was a Ritz-Carlton--when Warren Beatty and Annette Bening lived here--and it was briefly part of the Sheraton and Inter-Continental chains before being turned into a luxury co-op in 2004.

The Trump Parc

100-106 (corner): When it was the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, it was home to writer Anais Nin in 1934-35; she called it the Hotel Chaotica. Artist Frida Kahlo stayed here in 1933 with Diego Rivera, and felt she was badly treated. Mobster Lucky Luciano lived here in the 1920s. Bought by Donald Trump in 1988 and redesigned down to the frame, it became home to such celebrities as O.J. Simpson, LaToya Jackson, Larry Hagman ("J.R. Ewing") and Morton Downey Jr. Recognizable by the gilded teeth on the tower on top.

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Heckscher Playground

Probably the park's most famous playground, at three acres the largest and the only one included in the original Greensward Plan. It's noted for an elaborate castle-like sprinkler area set at the base of the climbable Umpire Rock. It's named for August Heckscher, a German-born mining and real estate tycoon who donated a lot of money to benefit children.

The underpass that leads to the playground is known as the Dipway Arch.

















The Carousel

There's been a carousel here in Central Park since 1871, when the original model was powered by a horse and a blind mule on a treadmill in an underground pit. This was thankfully replaced by a steam-powered model around the turn of the century, which burned down in 1924, as did its replacement in 1950. The current ride was put in place in 1951, but the horses, discovered in a Coney Island trolley barn, date to 1908; they were hand-carved by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein.



















Artists' Gate

This entrance was dubbed by the Central Park commissioners in 1862, but like most of the other entrances wasn't marked until 1999. The plaza here--which is the top of the Avenue of the Americas--features statues of Latin American liberators.

Jose Marti, a journalist and poet (he wrote the words to "Guantanamera"), was killed fighting for Cuban independence in 1895; he had spent the previous three years in exile in New York. He's a hero to both pro- and anti-Castro Cubans; this statue was given to the city by the Castro government in 1965, after having been donated for that purpose by the sculptor, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington. It depicts Marti being fatally wounded.


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Ritz-Carlton Hotel

50 (corner): This is the third incarnation of the luxury hotel in Midtown Manhattan, and the second on Central Park South. It used to be the San-Moritz hotel, known as "the biggest little hotel in town." In 1935, it became home to Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, who were fleeing Nazi Germany. Later, in 1941, artist Marc Chagall came here after leaving Nazi-occupied France. It has also been home to columnist Walter Winchell and Yankee star Mickey Mantle. Winchell, who supposedly lived here rent free in return for plugging the hotel in his column, threatened to leave if management allowed gangster Lucky Luciano to live here; they didn't.

40: A 1941 apartment building designed by Mayer & Whittlesley, built on the site of the Dalhousie, a pioneering 1884 apartment house. Gangster Meyer Lansky, an associate of Luciano's, lived here from 1948-53.

38: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald rented an apartment here in 1920-21, where Scott worked on The Beautiful and the Damned.

36: Singer Al Jolson lived here in 1922, at the height of his popularity.

Park Lane Hotel

30: This hotel, owned by "Queen of Mean" Leona Helmsley, was the site of her house arrest after she was released from her tax-evasion prison sentence. She and her husband Harry built the 46-story hotel in 1971. Previously, Ethel Merman lived at this address in the 1960s.

Plaza Hotel

This Henry Hardenbergh-designed castle opened in 1907, replacing an earlier outgrown version.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived the high life here in 1922. Frank Lloyd Wright rented suite 223 here from 1953 until his death in 1959; it was here that he designed the Guggenheim Museum. The Beatles stayed here on their first visit to America in February 1964. Truman Capote's Black and White Ball was held here on November 28, 1966. From 1988 until 1995 it was owned by Donald Trump.

The hotel is the setting of the children's classic Eloise, and is a setting for innumerable films, including North by Northwest, Barefoot in the Park, Funny Girl, Plaza Suite, The Way We Were, The Great Gatsby, Network, Love at First Bite, Arthur, The Cotton Club, Crocodile Dundee, Big Business, King of New York, Home Alone 2 and Almost Famous. It was repeatedly featured on Sex and the City and The Sopranos.

Grand Army Plaza

This plaza, technically a part of Central Park but really a distinct entity, is bifurcated by Central Park South, a layout inspired by Paris' Place de la Concorde. It honors the Grand Army of the Republic, the powerful post-Civil War veteran's organization, comparable to the American Legion.

Pulitzer Fountain

The southern half of Grand Army Plaza is centered on this fountain, into which F. Scott Fitzgerald once jumped "just out of sheer joy," It was funded by the will of publisher Joseph Pulitzer --a beyond-the-grave challenge to his rival William Randolph Hearst, who had underwritten Columbus Circle's Maine Memorial. The statue in the fountain is Karl Bitter's Abundance, featuring the Roman goddess Pomona. Bitter, who had promoted the Place de la Concorde as a pattern for the Plaza, finished the clay model for the sculpture the same day he was fatally struck by a car outside the Metropolitan Opera House.

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Jose San Martin, toward the center of the plaza, was a general who led the rebellion against Spain in Argentina, Chile and Peru. This sculpture is a gift from the city of Buenos Aires, a smaller-scale copy of the 1862 statue by Louis Joseph Daumas that presides over that city's Plaza de San Martin. It was installed here in 1951 after we sent Buenos Aires a statue of George Washington. Simon Bolivar, on the east side of the plaza, liberated Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia (which was named in his honor). The statue by Sally James Farnham was a gift from Venezuela installed in the park in 1921 and rededicated here in 1951 to celebrate the renaming of the Avenue.




A short ways into the park here is the Cop Cot, a rustic wooden shelter (of sorts--it lacks an actual roof). Not intended as a place for police to sleep, its name means "Hilltop Cottage" in Old English.











The Pond

Olmstead and Vaux set this lovely and tranquil artificial lake below street level so as to immediately bring visitors out of the city into a more pastoral experience. It's also one of the most beautiful views into the park from outside.

Nestling as it does the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, an area of the park where people are kept out for the sake of wildlife, The Pond is a favorite stop for ducks, geese, seagulls and other waterfowl. The ducks that Holden Caulfield worries about in Catcher in the Rye are swimming in The Pond.









This entrance to the park is The Scholar's Gate--because the NYPL is 17 blocks south? It is and was intended to be the busiest entrance to the park. Many sketch artists and a few puppeteers or balloon animal makers will be found along this path--there used to be more masseuses.

The stairs leading down to The Pond are marked by the Lombard Lamp, a replica of a lamp on the Lombard Bridge in Hamburg, Germany, donated by Hamburg in 1979. The original was designed by sculptor Carl Borner in 1869.




William Tecumseh Sherman

The northern half of the plaza is dominated by Augustus St. Gaudens' gilded statue of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who marched through Georgia and declared that "war is Hell." The female figure leading Sherman, said to represent Peace, is modeled on St. Gaudens' mistress Davida Johnson.

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General Motors Building

Block (761 5th Ave): This was the site of the Savoy Plaza Hotel, an elegant skyscraper hotel from 1892 that was home to Trader Vic's. The 50-story white-marble office tower that Edward Durell Stone designed for the car maker, completed in 1968, contrasts starkly with the decidedly non-Modern look of most of its neighbors. Since 1990, the north lobby houses the toy store FAO Schwarz, where Tom Hanks frolics in Big. More recently the once-sunken plaza here is the glass-cubed entrance to the 24-hour Apple Store, occupying a space that was once the car-themed Autopub. CBS's Early Show is also based here.

8: Here was Childs Spanish Gardens, an all-night branch of the pancake chain with Iberian decor.
























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Sherry-Netherland Hotel

Corner (781 5th Ave): Opened in 1927 by ice cream magnate Louis Sherry and Waldorf-Astoria manager Lucius Boomer. The 38-story building was designed by Schultze & Weaver (who also did the Waldorf-Astoria) in a neo-Romanesque/Renaissance style with Gothic touches, including griffons guarding the front entrance. The lobby was modeled after the Vatican Library and includes friezes salvaged from Cornelius Vanderbilt's mansion. Guests included many show biz notables like George Burns, Danny Kaye, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.; Francis Ford Coppola lived here long enough to make it his daughter Sophia Coppola's childhood home, as depicted in New York Stories.

Cipriani's is the restaurant here, founded by Harry Cipriani and patterned after his Harry's Bar in Venice. Also in the hotel since 1961 is A La Vieille Russie, an antique business founded in 1851 with a specialty in Faberge eggs (Malcolm Forbes was a frequent customer), and Dominico Vacca, men's clothing.

15: Artist Piet Modrien lived in an apartment building formerly on this site in 1943-44, during the last four months of his life.

CIT Building

Corner (650 Madison Ave): Built as an eight-story glass box in 1957, designed by Harrison & Abramovitz; in 1987, a 19-story green-glass tower was added, designed by Fox & Fowle. The City Review calls the original structure Harrisson & Abramovitz's "masterpiece," but says the addition made it "even better."

CIT was an insurance company; it moved out in 1981.


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

In the Marvel Universe, there's a barber shop at this intersection that serves as an entrance to SHIELD's secret headquarters. Don't tell!

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Corner (625 Madison): Offices (not the store) of the Bulgari jewelry company are located here. Was Revlon's headquarters for 15 years, until 2003--before that, it was Nabisco's for almost three decades. The ground floor houses crystal shops like Baccarat, Stuart Weitzman and Swarovski, and women's clothing stores like Eres, Wolford and Fratelli Rossetti. Also Pierre Deux French Country.
















Pepsi-Cola Building

Corner (500 Park): A modest Modernist 10-story office building with a glass-and-alumninum facade, built for the soft-drink company in 1960 to a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design. Pepsi soon moved to suburban Westchester, and the building became home to the Olivetti Corporation, the style-conscious maker of office equipment. Now house Amro Bank as well as the Janet Sortin spa. A 40-story condo tower was added in 1980 that meshed with the original structure surprisingly well.

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Corner (635 Madison): Tourneau, luxury watches. In the 1920s at this location, Polly Adler ran one of her famous brothels, frequented by socialites, celebrities and members of the literary establishment, including George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker (who came for the ambience). Gangster Dutch Schultz hid out from mob rivals at her establishments.

53: Edward Hopper lived in a studio here in the early years of the 20th Century; he moved out in 1913, the year he sold his first painting, though he didn't sell another one for 10 more years.

55: Delmonico Plaza

59: This building used to be the Playboy Club, where Gloria Steinem worked undercover as a bunny. Singer Deborah Harry also worked as a bunny here in her pre-Blondie days.

Hotel Delmonico

Corner (502 Park): This 32-story building with a distinctive red-tile roof traditionally marks the boundary between the commercial Park Avenue to the south and the high-end residential to the north. It was built in 1928 as the Viceroy Hotel; in 1929, the fabled restaurant Delmonico's moved in, meriting a name change. Lyricist Lorenz Hart lived here in 1943, the year he died; TV host Ed Sullivan was a resident from 1944 until his death in 1973. In the 1970s, it was home to the auction house Christie's (which moved out in 1998) and to the ritzy disco Regine's (1976-91). Donald Trump bought the building in 2003, renamed it the Trump Park Avenue and made some dubious glassy additions.


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Banque de Paris Building

Corner (499 Park): A 27-story black-glass tower designed by I.M. Pei, completed 1984. The elegant lobby features a painting by Jean Dubuffet. On the ground floor is Bernard Aud, housewares.

















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Sherry-Lehmann

Corner (505 Park): A venerable wine and liquor store that moved here in 2007 after nearly six decades at 679 Madison. Founded in 1934 by Jack Aaron, an ex-bootlegger who used to supply wine and spirits to the 21 Club; it was named for its original home in the Louis Sherry building. It merged in 1965 with M. Lehmann, a gourmet grocery store founded in the early 1900s. The store has introduced brands like Dom Perignon and Chivas Regal.

It's on the groud floor of the Aramco Building, built in 1948 for the Saudi Arabian state oil company and designed by Emery Roth & Co. It was given a black-and-gold makeover in 1987 by Der Scutt.

International Plaza

750 (block): This 31-story blue cylindrical tower, topped with a Sumerian-style cone, is a 1989 work by Helmut Jahn.


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Bloomberg Tower

Block (731 Lexington): A 55-story banded office tower that houses the billionaire mayor's media company, with condominiums known as One Beacon Court stretching above. Built in 2007 to a Cesar Pelli design.

Previously on the site was Alexander's, the flagship of a discount department store chain founded in 1928 that went bankrupt in 1992; the five-story marble building here was built in 1968 and demolished in 1968. It survives as a real estate company controlled by Vornado (which itself began as the Two Guys discount chain).

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Bloomingdale's

Block: Starting out selling hoop skirts on the Lower East Side in 1861, the Bloomingdale brothers had a proto-department store, the East Side Bazaar, by 1872, which they moved to the corner of 59th and Lexington in 1886. By the 1920s, they had expanded to fill the entire block. It became part of Federated Department Stores (parent company of Macy's), in 1930; the following year the cobbled-together store here was remodeled in a unifying Art Deco style. The store is credited with inventing the designer shopping bag in 1961; Queen Elizabeth shopped here in 1976.


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Corner (989 3rd Ave): Phil's, men's clothing; Shooz & Soulz, designer shoes





Corner (1103 2nd Ave): Le Triomphe, a 30-floor apartment building from 1983.

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Roosevelt Island Tramway

It's like taking an amusement park ride to work. Built in 1976 as a temporary alternative to a long-delayed subway project.

It's attacked by the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, and it also appears in the Rafael Yglesias movie Dark Water.


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300 (corner): Landmark Apartments, 36 stories from 1971.









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Queensboro Bridge

Also known as the 59th Street Bridge-- this is the bridge that Simon & Garfunkel sing about in "Feeling Groovy." Completed in 1909, the bridge is mentioned in The Great Gatsby: "The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world". It features as an icon in Woody Allen's Manhattan and the TV series Taxi.

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400 (corner): Writer John Cheever lived here in the late 1940s before moving to suburban Scarborough, New York in 1951.






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Bridgemarket

A vaulted space under the Queensboro Bridge, with a ceiling covered in Gaustavino tile. Long neglected as city storage space, it was converted in 1999 into a Food Emporium and a Conran's Restaurant & Housewares Store.



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City Review: Introduction to Central Park South

What am I missing on 59th Street? Write to Jim Naureckas and tell him about it.

New York Songlines Home.

Sources for the Songlines.