New York City Above Forty Second Street – Part 3

It might be that now you would like to return south by way of the East Side of the City, to see some of the residential developments there.

Or you may prefer to cross the Park and visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the New York Historical Society, soon to have a new building, and the American Museum of Natural History.

But certainly you will not want more museums on the day that you have had any two or more of the Bache Collection, the Frick Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Better continue north on Fifth Avenue to 125th Street and get a daytime view of Harlem, to which you may return some evening for a glimpse of the ‘night life.’

As a study in racial and social conditions Harlem is intensely interesting. Read the chapter called ‘Portrait of Harlem’ in ‘New York Panorama’ of the American Guide Series. Mr. Footner’s chapter on Harlem is also excellent; and so is Will Irwin’s.

In 1930, when the latest census was taken, nearly 328,000 Negroes were residents of New York, the largest single concentration of Negro population anywhere in the world. About a quarter of a million of them live in Harlem.

The ideal way to see, and learn, something of this great community of black people, interspersed with a few whites, is a well-informed courier. Failing that, read ‘Portrait of Harlem’ and see what you can do for yourself. In certain sections, as many as 3871 Negroes live in a single block. Then there are sections like ‘Sugar Hill’ on the West Side along St. Nicholas and Edgecomb Avenues with handsome big apartment buildings and fine private houses, and ‘Strivers’ Row’ on 138th and 139th Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues.

Most visitors to New York think of Harlem as a region of ‘black and tan’ cabarets and dance halls. It is a very great deal more, and well worth some intelligent study. Particularly ought visitors from overseas to give some serious thought to Harlem, because they have nothing like it in Europe; it is distinctly American; one of our gravest problems and also the source of much of our gayest amusement. In 1937, fifty per cent of Harlem’s population was on relief.

The Negro population of Harlem is a recent matter, dating only from the early years of this century, and increasing enormously during the World War when so many thousands of southern Negroes came north in search of higher wages.

The name of Harlem dates back to Peter Stuyvesant who founded there, in 1658, the village of Nieuw Haarlem which centered about what is now 125th Street and First Avenue.

If you finish your exploration of Harlem on the East Side, go to the East River, and look over toward Randall’s Island where there was a British camp during the Revolution, which 250 Americans tried to capture — but didn’t. Jonathan Randall bought the island in 1784, and in 1835 the city bought it from him for $50,000. It is spanned by the new Triborough Bridge and given over to a park with a very fine municipal stadium; south of it, between about 100th Street and 115th Street, is Ward’s Island, with a Manhattan State Hospital for the In-sane, and a new million-dollar sewage-disposal plant. But Robert Moses, the exceedingly able Commissioner of Parks, has his eye on this island also for recreation grounds for the swarming East Side; and it may have become so by the time you see it.

The long, narrow island extending from 86th Street south to about 46th Street was formerly called Blackwell’s Island or `the Island’ among those who had most traffic with it. Until recently it held the City Prison, the Bridewell or Workhouse, two hospitals, a training school for nurses, and the New York City Home for the Aged and Infirm. Mayor La Guardia tore down the notorious city prison and transferred the convicts to Ricker’s Island, farther north in East River. Now there is on Welfare Island the first municipally owned hospital in the world for the care and cure of chronic invalids of whom there are so many, increasing so rapidly, that it has been suggested America may become a nation of invalids. Yet chronic disease is not necessarily incurable nor incapacitating. The new hospital on Welfare Island was designed to be a center of research and experimental practice whose findings shall benefit all America, and all humanity.

The magnificent pile of white buildings at 69th Street and York Avenue is the New York Hospital — Cornell University Medical Center, one of the greatest institutions in the world for the study and cure of disease. South of it is the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research whose outposts are to be found in every part of the world. I receive the printed reports of the Institute and read them with intense interest. What is being accomplished is one of the very great epics of modern times. I wish that stories of what it is doing might be better known to millions of people, as an antidote to all we arc asked to read about human degeneracy.

(See, also, when you are in the neighborhood of 168th Street and the Hudson River, the superb Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, one of the greatest institutions of healing in the world.)

In Carl Schurz Park, between 84th and 89th Streets, is the old Gracie Mansion where Washington Irving was a frequent visitor. It was built about 1794, and has recently been restored and furnished in the style of its early days. John Jacob Astor had his country home near-by, where the Doctors’ Hospital now stands, at 88th Street and East End Avenue.

Gracie Square, at 86th Street and the East River, is one of the recent reclamations of what had been slum property for high-class residences, and is now very `smart.’

The area between Second Avenue and Fourth Avenue, 83d to 89th Streets, was the village of Yorkville, traversed by the old Post Road.

At 77th Street and the East River are the East River Homes, designed especially for tubercular families. Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt furnished the money to build them. And on Avenue A, between 78th and 79th Streets, you will find an apartment house containing 1014 apartments for people of modest means. While on the river between 76th and 78th Streets is John Jay Park surrounded by `model’ tenements which were among the earliest of their sort in New York.

On the river front between 58th and 54th Streets you will find Sutton Place, which used to be an exceedingly modest neighbor-hood of little old houses and has become in recent years one of the `swankest’ addresses in New York. Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt and Miss Anne Morgan are among those who have their homes in Sutton Place; and there are immense and expensive apartment houses near-by.

Between 52d and 53d Streets on the river front is River House, the lower floors of which provide the quarters for the ultra-smart River Club, and the upper floors constitute one of the most magnificent apartment houses in New York. The scene of `Dead End’ was the foot of 53d Street, under the very shadow of River House.

South from 51st Street to 49th Street runs Beekman Place, where many well-known people live in charm and quiet that seems miles away from a teeming metropolis. The Beekman house, which stood here, built in 1763, became headquarters for the British generals during the Revolution, and it was there that Nathan Hale was tried and sentenced.

Continuing south, you come to Tudor City between 48th and 40th Streets, not directly on the river, but on a bluff above it. There, rents start at $56 a month for one room which has a bed in the wall and a kitchenette in the opposite wall; and every room is full, all the time, with people waiting to get in when the present occupants get out.