On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the Park Avenue Historic District contains approximately 64 buildings and extends from the northeast corner of 79th Street to 91st Street. This broad thoroughfare is distinguished by greater-than-average width and landscaped malls that divide the avenue into multiple lanes of north- and south-bound automobile traffic.
These features, which accommodate the commuter railroad that travels below the surface, give this and other stretches of Park Avenue a unique appearance and character, contributing to its identity as a premiere residential address.
Laid out in the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 as Fourth Avenue, it became the route of the New York and Harlem Railroad in 1831, with double tracks running down the center. With the introduction of steam locomotives in 1837, the street was substantially widened from 100 to 140 feet. During the mid-1870s, as part of the Fourth Avenue Improvement, the tracks were sunk below street level, from 50th Street to 96th Street, and covered. To disguise the frequent ventilation openings, the center of the roadway was fenced off and landscaped. These malls, which were narrowed considerably by early 1930s, are one of district’s most distinctive features. In the late 1880s, all of Fourth Avenue became officially known as Park Avenue, attracting construction of row houses and small apartment buildings. Among these structures, only a small number of examples survive, such as a Renaissance Revival style apartment building at 957 Park Avenue. In 1903, following one of the city’s worst railroad accidents, the New York State Legislature banned steam locomotives in Manhattan. Electricity would quickly transform Park Avenue, making it attractive to upscale residential development. Though for a brief time, large private residences, such as the Reginald & Anna DeKoven and Louis Gouveneur & Natalie Bailey Houses (both New York City Landmarks) were built, the vast majority of buildings were speculative apartment houses.
The earliest high-rise apartment house in the district was 925 Park Avenue, designed by Delano & Aldrich in 1907-08, at the northeast corner of 80th Street. Many subsequent buildings would follow this model, adopting tasteful variants of the classical style, including Renaissance Revival, Georgian Revival, and Colonial Revival. These buildings were by well-known apartment house designers, including Schwartz & Gross, George F. Pelham, George & Edward Blum, and Rosario Candela. The largest number dates to 1924, when approximately seven buildings were completed. Many were designed with Medieval Revival style ornament, particularly in the late 1920s, when a new Multiple Dwellings Law was passed, encouraging setbacks which were frequently used as private terraces and penthouses. The district also contains two church complexes: St. Ignatius Loyola (a New York City Landmark) and the Park Avenue Christian Church, originally the South Reformed Dutch Church. Following the end of the Second World War, four Modern-style apartment buildings were erected. These structures maintain the avenue’s signature street wall, while incorporating such mid-20th-century modern features as ceramic panels and travertine marble. Despite examples of recent construction and window replacements, like the Upper East Side and Carnegie Hill Historic Districts which it adjoins and extends, this boulevard remains one of New York City’s best known and most recognizable residential corridors.