Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Walking in the City - Gramercy Park, New York

 For my first walk in the city since returning from my Amtrak Adventure, I decided it was time to pay some attention to the streets of Manhattan rather than the Avenues. With that in mind, I decided I would walk from 1st Avenue to 10th Avenue along 23rd Street, come back along 22nd Street to 1st and then continue in this zig-zag pattern until I reached 17th Street and Union Square.  

The walk along 23rd Street took me past one of my favorite buildings: The Flat Iron Building, an ornate triangular-shaped edifice designed to fit into the wedge of land available to the developers.

The building is only six feet across at the narrowest end. 
And this is what it looks like from the other end.

The next building to attract my attention was this rather elegant structure on 22nd Street East which was built as the Manhattan Trade School for Girls (the name is still engraved above the doors) and used as such from 1907-1915 before increased demand for vocational education for girls led to the need for larger premises. Today the building is still used as a school but is now a city public middle and high school - The School of the Future. 

If only future schools could be located in such beautiful buildings. I've never understood why older schools are often attractively designed while the newer ones, like the one on the left, (JHS 104 Simon Baruch), look more like prisons than places to inspire learning. Yes, the windows might have to have bars on them for security reasons, but couldn't they have made the building look a little more attractive and welcoming?

By the time I got back to 1st Avenue on 22nd Street, I realised that walking the full length of the streets was going to take a lot longer than I'd anticipated so I decided to limit my walk to between 1st and 5th Avenue which as it happens, turns out to be mostly the Gramercy Park district. The park itself is bordered by 21st and 20th Street to the north and south and Gramercy Park East and West which lie between 3rd Avenue and Park Avenue.

The park is one of only two private parks in the city. To gain access you have to be a resident of the surrounding houses or apartment blocks. There are quite strict rules about usage of the park, including apparently the taking of photographs in it even if you are a resident. 

View from the locked gates

It might be considered a status symbol to have a key to the park, but on the day I walked past there was no one at all using it, in sharp contrast to the neighborhood's other park areas which bustled with activity. 

My walk took me along mostly residential streets, but at the intersection with the Avenues, there were some interesting shops to be found.

I couldn't resist a peek into Burdick Chocolate Shop on E 20th Street - the sign outside announced they had both chocolate mice and penguins! 

A little further along the street I came across Beecher's Handmade Cheese store, where you can actually see the cheese being made in giant tubs.  

I was intrigued as I had first come across a handmade cheese store during my recent visit to Seattle and had no idea there was a similar store in New York. It turned out the two stores are both part of the same company, and despite the old-fashioned picture on the sign have only been in business since 2003 in Seattle and 2011 in New York.   

East 18th Street is home to Pete's Tavern, which was established in 1864 and claims to be the oldest continuously operating bar and restaurant in New York City.


It has also been recognised by the Friends of Libraries USA. (now known as United For Libraries USA) as being the place where O. Henry wrote 'The gift of the Magi' and Ludwig Bemelmans wrote 'Madeleine.' 

I guess in the days before coffee shops became popular as places to hangout, a bar was a decent alternative for a writer who didn't want to hide away at home, but unfortunately for O.Henry he was a heavy drinker so picking a bar as an office-away-from-home might not have been the wisest decision. 

My walk ended at 17th Street and Union Square, a busy place at the best of times, but even more crowded than usual due to the Farmer's Market. It's one of the contradictions that I like best about New York - one minute you are on a quiet residential street, the next in the center of the hustle and bustle of one of the most vibrant cities on the planet.   


  1. Great post, Mel! I've been to NYC but didn't have much time to walk it. Your posts make me want to go back and discover more...

    1. Thanks DV, I just love the fact that wherever I walk it seems there is always something new to see - possibly because I'm paying more attention to my surroundings than if I'm just trying to get from A to B.
      BTW - I think Seattle would be a great city to walk too.