New York City Above Forty Second Street – Part 1

The main north and south artery of New York from 8th Street to 59th Street is Fifth Avenue. Everything is reckoned as east or west of Fifth Avenue.

Starting north from 42d Street to visit the main points of interest to strangers, you would almost certainly use Fifth Avenue. East of it is Madison, running due north to 137th Street, the lower reaches of it, from 42d Street north, lined with fine hotels, shops, office buildings. East of Madison Avenue is Park Avenue, the thoroughfare of super-luxurious hotels, apartment houses, and small specialty shops. East of Park Avenue is Lexington Avenue, with many big hotels and small, less-expensive shops. East of Lexington Avenue you are little likely to go except to see some of the ultra-smart residential developments at certain points along East River between 42d and 86th Streets.

West of Fifth Avenue the north-and-south avenues are Sixth Avenue, which is of small concern to visitors except as it passes Radio City Music Hall at 50th Street; and Seventh Avenue, which has many big hotels and is an important artery of the theater district. Then Broadway, which crosses Fifth Avenue at 23d Street, Sixth Avenue at 34th Street, Seventh Avenue at 42d Street. Beyond Seventh Avenue, or Broadway, there is not much to concern the visitor except the many theaters between Broadway and Eighth Avenue from 42d Street to 50th; and the steamship docks along the river north of 42d Street and south of 60th Street.

Broadway from 42d Street to about 52d is `the Great White Way,’ the greatest amusement area in the world. The time to see it, for its lights and its crowds, is at night, between 8 and 12. As the time to see Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Park Avenue is in the daytime.

Starting up Fifth Avenue from 42d Street, the first interest of the sight-seer will probably be looking westward from the Avenue along 43d, 44th, and 45th Streets, whereon, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, lie many noted clubs: the Harvard, the Lambs’, the New York Yacht, the City Club, the Town Hall Club, the Bar Association, and others. Much that is interesting in New York life for a considerable part of her population has to do with that group of clubs and with others of like sort which are not very far away.

At the northeast corner of 47th Street is the old-fashioned residence which was once that of Jay Gould and then the home of his daughter, the late Mrs. Finley J. Shepard. It is almost the last of the famous millionaires’ homes which used to line Fifth Avenue south of Central Park. Another is the home of Robert W. Goelet, at the southeast corner of 48th Street. On the northwest corner of 48th Street and the Avenue is the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, tracing its ancestry to `the church in the fort’ of early New Amsterdam. Theodore Roosevelt was a member of this church.

Mrs. Russell Sage, whose immense benefactions are too little remembered, it seems to me, lived at 604 Fifth Avenue, adjoining the Collegiate Church on the north. She gave away, during her lifetime and by bequest, more than $75,000,000. Mr. Sage was an associate of Jay Gould’s in the development and sale of railways, and was a money-lender on a large scale. The dispersal of his wealth he left to Mrs. Sage.

Now you come to Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Thomas’s Church, and other buildings which make this area of some four blocks the `hub’ of New York.

In 1801, the twelve acres of land which now comprise Rockefeller Center, were purchased from the city for $4807.36 by Dr. Hosack, professor of Botany and Materia Medica at Columbia University, who established there a botanical gardeD, the first in the United States. In 1814 this land became the property of Columbia, whose trustees rented it, in 1823, for $125 a year and taxes. Today the university has from it an annual rental of $3,000,000.

As the nineteenth century wore on toward its middle years, the trustees hoped that the university, then located at Barclay Street, well south of where City Hall Park is today, would be permanently situated on this property. And there is a tradition that St. Patrick’s Cathedral was located where it is in anticipation that it would always face the quiet garden of the university.

But by 1851 the tract had been divided into city lots. And by the time the Civil War was over there were a few homes built in this semi-suburban section. No. 4 West 54th Street was one of these. Built by C. P. Huntington, the California railway magnate, it was bought in 1884 by John D. Rockefeller whose city home it remained until his death. His son lived at No. 10 in the same street. Both houses have been recently demolished.

When the senior Rockefeller took up his residence in 54th Street, the Standard Oil Company was fourteen years old; and young John D. was ten. St. Luke’s Hospital was at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street. And Columbia University, with a staff of eleven professors in the Liberal Arts College, and a grammar school attached, was at Madison Avenue and 49th Street. On Fifth Avenue between 51st and 52d Streets there was a Catholic Orphan Asylum, surrounded by lawns and trees. Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., creator of Rockefeller Center and benefactor of half the world, has seen tremendous changes in this neighborhood since he came to it, a boy of ten. And not to be a little bit conscious of this is, I think, to miss much more than a little bit in our impressions of Rockefeller Center, which, along with St. Thomas’s Gothic Church, occupies the `back lots’ where little Johnny Rockefeller played his boyhood games.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral was begun in 1858 and dedicated in 1879. Its architect was James Renwick — which was a strange name to be associated with St. Patrick’s, for an earlier James Renwick was the last of the Covenanting martyrs — and al-though some critics find flaws in its rendering of Gothic and most people agree that it is less perfect architecturally than St. Thomas’s, over the way, I think there can be no one who does not feel that it is a noble structure and one whose beauty adds immeasurably to this vicinity. Nor is it, I think, dwarfed by the colossal structures facing it. I think it holds its own with fine dignity.

Certainly it functions almost ceaselessly. Almost any time one passes it, except in the dead o’ night, he is conscious of it as a temple of a living faith which is sought, in prayer, by multitudes of people in every walk of life.

To the south of it, across East 50th Street, is Saks’ big store for luxury apparel. North of it, across East 51st Street, used to be the fashionable Union Club (now at Park Avenue and 61st Street), whose founders were from the most distinguished families of early New York. Opposite are the imposing edifices of Rockefeller Center, culminating in the R.C.A. Building which rises to a height of 70 stories.

Rockefeller Center covers 2M full-size city blocks on Fifth Avenue, between 48th Street and 51st Street, and back, a very long `east-and-west block’ to Sixth Avenue. The northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 48th Street it cannot lease, because the Church of St. Nicholas holds it in perpetuity.

Originally, the plan was to build a superb new Opera House there, and surround it with smart restaurants, shops, etc. But after Mr. Rockefeller had leased the `Hosack farm’ from Columbia for $3,000,000 a year rental, the Metropolitan Opera Corporation decided that its resources did not warrant such an expensive move. So it stayed on in its dingy building of glorious memories, on Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets, where it has been since 1883. And Mr. Rockefeller had to find something else to do with his lease. So he engaged John R. Todd, whose firm had erected many of the city’s great buildings, to submit a plan. Mr. Todd is an engineer — but he is much more: he has brilliant ideas not only for construction, but for making construction pay. To him are attributed many of the features which make Rockefeller Center so very much more than a marvel of steel and masonry and architectural effect; which keep it `in the news’ and in the forefront of consciousness not of New York’s millions alone, but of the nation’s and the world’s.

Rockefeller Center is undoubtedly the first objective in New York of a vast majority of visitors. And it is a daily, or at least a frequent, objective of tens of thousands who are resident in New York.

Besides the $3,000,000 ground rent there are $2,000,000 to pay annually in taxes, $1,500,000 for operating costs, and interest on the money borrowed to put up the buildings, estimated to cost $65,000,000.

Rentals have been extraordinarily good, considering the `depressed’ times in which they have had to be made. But if any Rockefeller draws from Rockefeller Center money for world-wide benefactions, it will probably be one of a succeeding generation. In 2015 all the buildings are to become the property of Columbia, without cost.

Tours, with a guide, leave every half-hour between 10 A.M. and 6 P.M. and every hour from 6 to 9 P.M., and cost $1. They are interesting but rather fatiguing. Tours of the National Broadcasting Studios start every 10 minutes, last about an hour, and cost 55 cents. There is also a Television Tour, at the same price.

You will almost certainly visit Radio City Music Hall to see a performance. It seats 6200 and is the world’s largest theater. It is at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 50th Street. There, in an auditorium of breath-taking grandeur, you hear a superb orchestra and good vocalists, see magnificent stage spectacles and superlative dancing, enjoy first-class vaudeville and the best motion pictures. The complete show takes at least two hours, and is repeated four or five times a day.

And you will not improbably attend some performance at the Center Theater, another unit of the project, at the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 49th Street, where you may hear a popular-price opera company sing standard grand operas, or hear a popular light opera like `The Great Waltz.’ But this big theater is often `dark’; and there are frequent rumors that it may be torn down.

You will almost certainly, unless you are on a very slim bud-get, eat one meal in the world-famous Rainbow Room on the sixty-fifth floor. Lunches there are no more expensive than in any other first-rate restaurant. Dinners and after-theater suppers, when the floor show is on (and it’s always a very good one!), come rather high — but well worth it if you’ve got the money.

But if it’s `view’ you’re after, I think there’s nothing finer than the cocktail lounge, adjoining the Rainbow Room, at the hour for tea or cocktail. The south-looking sweep of vision is at its loveliest as the lights come on in the great cliff-buildings around 42d Street, and beyond.

Likewise, you may be asked to tea on some of the lofty garden terraces, like that of the British Empire Building, in the quarters of the English-Speaking Union.

So, if pressed for time or disinclined for considerable walking, you may omit the tour of the whole `Center,’ and take only that of the broadcasting studios.

There are very many restaurants in various buildings of the Center. There are many beautiful travel offices (it is the travel headquarters of the world) and many interesting shops.

The New York Museum of Science and Industry has its quarters in the Forum of the R.C.A. building. On the plan of the famous Deutsches Museum in Munich and the Rosenwald Museum in Chicago, it is a place for a good half-day, and not for a `glimpse.’ Henry Robinson Towne left two and a half million dollars toward a museum where people might learn the workings of science and industry, and what was accomplished with that beginning led other moneyed men to supplement the original gift, and the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations to give it their support.

You may think that you are only vaguely interested in science and industry. There are people with ideas like that! But don’t be sure of it until you have at least `exposed yourself’ to the fascinations of this museum. I can’t begin to enumerate its exhibits, here; but they certainly include something for every taste.

Perhaps there’ll be ice-skating in the sunken plaza in front of the RCA Building when you see it. Perhaps it will be filled with gay umbrellas sheltering groups who are lunching in that incomparable setting.