Monday, March 19, 2012

An Ode to 29th Street

By Charles Kessler

One of the things I love most about New York and other great cities is the mind-boggling variety of visually interesting things you can see by just walking down a street: people, of course, mostly wearing black clothing, but enormous variety within that, Korean markets with their flowers displayed in front, ornate old churches, Art Deco bistros and thousands of businesses, every one different (unless it's a chain, and there are relatively few of those in great cities). (See Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities for the importance of diversity in big cities.) In addition, over time older cities naturally accumulate a great number of buildings with different architectural styles; and sometimes these styles are even mixed together in the same building; and sometimes they have decorated tops that can’t even be seen from the street.

To celebrate the abundance of this architectural diversity, I took photographs of several buildings along one of the many streets in Manhattan that yield unexpected delights — the eastern end of 29th (the western end of 29th Street is unfortunately pretty bleak). This isn’t a grand area like the Financial District, nor is it festive like Times Square or Fifth Avenue, and it isn’t quaintly beautiful like the West Village; in fact the street as a whole isn’t at all charming or even particularly different — but that’s what makes coming across these buildings such a joy.

Starting from the farthest west is this brick carriage house and next to it one of the rare wood clapboard buildings left in Manhattan — both on the National Register of Historic Places.
201 E. 29th Street
Here is a typical late 19th-century brick tenement you find all over the city, but this one has a silly, adorable addition in the front:
143 E. 29th Street
Next is the Belgian restaurant Resto. The facade is different stylistically from the rest of the architecture on the street, but it's all the more interesting because of it. I couldn't get a good picture so I'm using a photo from this food blog.
Resto - 111 E. 29th Street (Between Park and Lexington)
I'm cheating a little here since the entrance to this luxurious hotel is on Madison, but the entrance to the hotel's restaurant is on 29th, and you can best see the building from 29th Street.
The Carlton Hotel, Madison Avenue at 29th Street.
Lobby, Carlton Hotel
About a year ago I was thrilled to come upon this quaint church and garden (below) in the midst of a busy high-rise district, and the joy I felt at the time is the impetus for this post. 
The Church of the Transfiguration surrounded by high-rise buildings, 1 E. 29th Street.
The Church of the Transfiguration, also known as "The Little Church Around the Corner," is one of the most famous Episcopal churches in the United States. Established in 1848, its congregation has taken pride over the years in being welcoming and inclusive. The church has also been involved with theater for a long time -- it has been the the national headquarters of the Episcopal Actors' Guild since its founding in 1923. The interior of the church is dark and cozy and contains beautifully carved wood and some of the oldest stained glass in the country.

Marble Collegiate Church is another active and welcoming church on the street. Although its Sanctuary is currently undergoing renovations, people are encouraged to visit their 29th Street lobby. The colorful banners hanging from the fence represent prayers for the thousands of soldiers and civilians killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Marble Collegiate Church, 5th Ave. at 29th Street.
Next is the very hip Ace Hotel, and in it the John Dory Oyster Bar, The Breslin Bar and Dining Room, and the excellent Stumptown Coffee. Their lobby is open to the public and, despite being full of more people using MacBook Airs than you'll find at any Apple store, it's a pleasant place to drink your Stumptown coffee.
Stumptown Coffee at the Ace Hotel, 20 W. 29th Street.
And last, the grand finale, the bustling blocks around 29th Street between Fifth and Sixth with hundreds of small, some tiny, stores that sell ribbons, buttons, costume jewelry and notions of all kinds. This is the New York capitalism of legend, the capitalism of the old Lower East Side, where new immigrants open up small shops, hire family or other immigrants, work incredibly hard and (sometimes) make a better life for their children. I'm not talented enough to capture this scene in a photograph; you need to experience it in person. I find the area very moving.
29th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenues.


Jeffrey Collins said...

Thanks Charles for this wonderful trip to the east side. I've only ever been to the east side of manhattan twice, I think. I've got so much walking to do when I finally move there.

Charles Kessler said...

You'll love it here. I obviously do!

jane said...

Oh man, this post makes me want to be there now rather than May as planned!

Charles Kessler said...

New York is great in May. The Met will open what should be a good roof installation by Tomás Saraceno sometime in May, and the galleries are going full blast.