Before the mid 19th century, the Upper East Side neighborhood was predominantly farmland and the garden market district of New York City. From Turtle Bay to the Gracie Mansion, the easternmost part of the neighborhood was strung with villas that overlooked the scenic East River. However, in the 20th century with the introduction of the grid system, the stretch of 5th Avenue apartment buildings quickly became the most desirable addresses in the neighborhood and in The City at large. Not only did these residences have the luxury of overlooking Central Park, but also serenity and isolation from the rest of Manhattan, as no public transportation went to the neighborhood. Quickly, the Upper East Side became an oasis for celebrities and the wealthiest New Yorkers. From Carnegie’s and Frick’s to later Kennedy’s and Whitney’s, the area was exclusive and secluded from the poverty and noise of the rest of Manhattan. With the high density of wealth, the neighborhood grew beautifully with European Architecture influencing the designs of the many museums, diplomatic missions, houses of worship, hotels and even the streets. Subsequently, the neighborhood also experienced a dramatic lack of diversity in race that still exists to this day, as 89% of the Upper East Side is white. Nevertheless, the feats of the great wealth offers plenty of history for us to feed our eyes on.
The Plaza Hotel was built in 1883, designed by famous architecture firm, McKim, Mead & White. The hotel officially opened in 1890, however lasted a short fifteen years before determining it was far too small. In 1905 The Plaza was demolished and rebuilt, opening again in 1907. A room at the beautiful landmark was less than $3 per night; the same rooms running over $1,000 per night today. The hotel is known for its features in media and pop-culture and has been a go-to spot for celebrities and the super wealthy for over a century. Noteworthy: The Beatles stayed at the Plaza on their first tour to the United States.
From 1831 to 1855, New York City’s population roughly quadrupled. Fearing that there would be no nature or green space in this growing model of Manhattan, Central Park was erected. In order to determine the best plan for the space, the Central Park Commission was formed. The board decided there would be a competition for the best design, and ultimately chose Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s ‘Greensward Plan.’ These two men conceived of an idea that incorporated natural spaces of different heights and depths that prevented park-goers from seeing or hearing the bustling city around the park. To this day, from many places, that idea remains true.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by businessmen, financiers and artists who were leading thinkers of the time. They wanted to start a museum that brought American citizens to the frontline of art and education. Today the museum is famous for it’s ranging exhibitions and, in pop-culture, The Met Gala.
Henry Clay Frick House and Frick Collection
Henry Clay Frick was a massive art collector of the 20th century from Pittsburgh. Once he moved to New York City, he had his home (pictured above) built between 1912 and 1914 by Thomas Hastings. Frick resided there until 1919 when he died, willing the home to a public museum after Adelaide’s death in 1931.