Central Park West.
Central Park West is a wide avenue lined by the park on one side, and by beautiful residential buildings on the other. As I walked towards it from 81st street I was impressed by the quiet that surrounds the neighborhood, that is at least until one gets to the American Museum of Natural Sciences, which is surrounded by groups of tourists, school tours and families and a surprising amount of children. Indeed, there are two types of people that I saw walking down the avenue, either the typical tourist, or the nanny bringing home children from school. I took the walking tour around four pm which would explain this latter presence.
There is a ban against the building of commercial enterprises in the neighborhood, which allows for two types of buildings that align the street: high-class residential mansions, and even larger institutional buildings, of which there are two: the
of Natural History, and the New York Historical Society.
of Natural History, the most prominent building of the promenade from 81st to67th street
, was founded in 1869. The complex is enormous covering a whole block, and with 46 permanent exhibition halls. From Central Park West, the most prominent feature is the large Roman entrance with a
memorial to Theodore Roosevelt built by John Russell Pope in 1936. It shows
on a horse lead by an Indian and an African American. The statue is probably the most politically incorrect statue I have ever seen.
I loved the New York Historical Society, because of the presence of
school paintings. They now have on view the famous series The Course of the Empire by Thomas Cole. These are five impressive landscapes depicting the vicissitudes of an fictional city from its rise to its destruction. There is also a humorous exhibition on La Fayette, which figures a real guillotine.
Without my guidebook, I would never have thought to look closely at the big buildings along the road, but actually they are interesting in design. The typical type of building along the avenue has two towers. This was created in response to a ban that did not allow big skyscrapers to be built without letting in enough space for the sun. Two high towers is a good solution, as it manages to include more apartments without blocking the sun from the street.
The first building on81st street
is the Beresford. It is one of the largest apartment buildings of
, and has three towers rather than two. This is an ingenious device that hides the great bulk of the building. It’s architect, Emory Roth, also built the
which is a couple of blocks down. Construction began on the
in 1929 as the Beresford was being completed. That year the city enacted its Multiple Dwelling Act and that law allowed residential buildings of greater height than previously permitted in exchange for larger courts and yards. Roth’s design met with the new law’s requirements that towers not exceed 20 percent of the site and be setback 70 feet on all sides.
The Dakota is also a couple of blocks down. It is famous in popular history for being the location where John Lennon was murdered. It was commissioned by Edward Clark in 1880, and named because of his fondness with the names of the newly discovered territories. However, many believe that it was called the Dakota, because it was built in the
Upper West Side
, in an area so scarcely populated at the time that it was considered as far away as the Dakota territories. It even has a memorial to John Lennon right in front of it. Every year Yoko Ono, who still lives in the building makes a public procession to the memorial in memory of her husband.
The walk is topped off between 66th and65th street
with the Ghost Busters building that is actually as sinister as it is in the movie. The façade is spiked with black iron points and the building goes straight up and has a turret which is also sprinkled with spikes. I liked the walk a lot more than I thought I would. If one ever is going to visit the Natural History Museum this is a short walk down a peaceful neighborhood. Also, the sheer monumentality of the buildings makes them fun to walk into.