Monday, November 01, 2004

A New Identity on the Other Park Avenue

July 20, 2003
A New Identity on the Other Park Avenue

hen the Rev. Stephen S. Garmey, the vicar of Calvary Episcopal
Church, arrived 33 years ago, "not a single person" lived on Park
Avenue South between 17th and 23rd Streets, he recalls. The strip
was all commercial, an urban canyon of skyscrapers and office
buildings, busy by day, a little gritty by night.

The residential incursion began slowly, with some converted lofts
just around the corner on side streets, and picked up speed in the
1990's as destination restaurants and trendy hotels opened one
after another, often side by side. Another spike came after the
Sept. 11 attacks, when young downtown professionals decided to move
uptown, but not that far uptown, and found they could get almost
anywhere from Park Avenue South by public transportation.

Today, the avenue is in full renaissance, not just to 23rd Street
but on up to where "real" Park Avenue addresses begin at 32nd.
Several major residential conversions of commercial space are under
way, restaurants continue to multiply and a youthful energy infuses
the street at all hours of the day and night.

"It's definitely all changed now — a whole new life — and for the
better," Mr. Garmey said, noting that the neighborhood now has its
share of small nursery schools as well as the eating places that
make this one of the best restaurant neighborhoods in the city.

Park Avenue South stretches from Union Square to Murray Hill and
nudges against Gramercy Park, the Flatiron District and Rose Hill,
and it has never been identified as a prime residential area, but
that is what makes it such a find today, said Pamela Huson, a
Douglas Elliman sales agent.

"There are sleeper buildings in the area that are better priced
because people don't think of it as a neighborhood," she said. In
the current market, one-bedrooms, about twice as common as two-room
apartments, are "where a lot of the deals are," she added, after
calculating a median price of $416,000 for one-bedroom co-ops, up
$3,000 from last year.

Conversion from commercial space often means unusual floor plans and
loftlike apartments with soaring ceilings and windows to match. Even
rear windows at the new Bullmoose Condominum, above the Gramercy
Tavern at 42-48 East 20th Street, invite the sunlight. Although
occupancy is not projected until late fall, 21 of the 24 units,
developed by Alchemy Properties Inc., are under contract. Priced
from $807,000 to $2,225,000, the one- and two-bedroom loftlike
apartments come with top-of-the-line kitchens and high-speed
Internet access, but they also are seeped in history. Bullmoose
recalls the political party established by Theodore Roosevelt, who
was born a few doors away. The 1890's Beaux-Arts building once
housed a military-badge manufacturer.

A block north, Max Capital Management plans to convert two former
office buildings into a residential tower with a doorman and more
than 100 high-end units starting at $850 to $900 per square foot.
Sales are to begin early in 2004. The buildings, which are at 260
Park Avenue South and 48 East 21st Street, until recently were
headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers.

Every building along the street has its story. "What's nice is that
you can look out and see history," said David Mandl, an architect
who lives and works on Park Avenue South. He recites the building
names like an architectural tour guide, beginning with the hotel W
New York-Union Square. It is the former Guardian Life Insurance
Building, which was Germania Life before anti-German sentiment in
World War I caused a name change.

Jim Naureckas, an editor at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, has
researched the street for his online guide to New York City,, starting at 14th and
working north. Among the lore he has collected: the Tiffany Glass
and Decorating Company had design offices and manufacturing
facilities at Nos. 333-335 from 1871 to 1905; the Dionysian at No.
303 was named by Isadora Duncan, who lived there in 1914-1915; the
N.A.A.C.P. was founded at No. 287 in May 1909; the Velvet
Underground played at No. 213 when it was home to Max's Kansas
City, where Andy Warhol and David Bowie could be found inside but
Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were not cool enough to get in;
Tammany Hall was at 17th Street.

THE rooftop pyramid on the New York Life Building, built in 1928,
remains a landmark, but Mr. Naureckas reminds Web visitors that the
site at East 27th Street had earlier been the home of an early train
depot, P. T. Barnum's Hippodrome, the original Madison Square Garden
and its replacement designed by Stanford White, who was shot and
killed in the Roof Garden by his lover's husband.

The street today seems to change character at 23rd, with most of the
energy pulsating to the south. Virginia Juliano, a publishing
executive who has worked at 27th Street for 14 years, can remember
when streetwalkers, drug dealers and fleabag hotels coexisted with
office workers and insurance executives.

But things have changed of late as the restaurant scene marches
north. Dos Caminos, Chango and Park Avenue Country Club opened
north of 23rd, joining pioneers like Huston's. At 25th Street,
owners of Sushi Samba plan a 9,000-square Mediterranean restaurant
called Barbounia, to be designed by Karim Rashid.

A new Alchemy Properties project is planned for the northern
section. This involves five adjoining brownstones on East 29th
between Park Avenue South and Lexington that formerly housed the
Sheltering Arms Children's Services.

The length of the street has become a mix of tourists dropping by to
visit Gramercy Park; male and female models represented by top
agencies in the neighborhood; celebrities like Kate Hudson spotted
walking with her mother, Goldie Hawn; and insurance executives on
business lunches. But perhaps the most surprising addition has been
the nannies and young mothers pushing strollers home from nursery

Real estate agents and developers say that schools are rarely a
prime concern for people moving in, but the new conversions are
attracting young families. Diana Schmitter, an advertising vice
president and creative director moving into the Bullmoose with her
husband, a lawyer, thinks the neighborhood will be great for their
17-month-old son, Luke. They settled on their 1,704-square-foot,
two-bedroom apartment because of the greenmarket and newly redone
children's park at Union Square Park and "getting home from work
much faster."

Fran Shapiro, sales manager at an Italian glass company, is buying a
similar apartment, and for her, it is like coming home. She grew up
on 21st and Third, attended the Friends Seminary, a private school
on East 18th Street. She and her husband, now a lawyer, were
classmates at Stuyvesant High. Their daughter, Ella, is only 18
months ago, but they are already considering Public School 40,
Augustus St. Gaudens School, with prekindergarten through fifth
grade, at 319 East 19th Street., a Web site run by the nonprofit group Advocates
for Children of New York, describes the school as "a cozy
neighborhood school where a love or reading and writing is combined
with an appreciation of the importance of play." Class size is 24 to
28 with more than three-fourths of the students meeting English arts
and math standards. Slightly less than half of the students go on to
public schools, most of them to Middle High School 104, Simon Baruch
School at 330 East 21 Street.

The nearest high school is Washington Irving High School at 40
Irving Place between 17th and 18th Street.

The neighborhood attracts the most urban of the urban — young
professionals to empty nesters — who like being within walking
distance of movie theaters; stage theaters; Indian food shops on
Lexington Avenue; Baruch College, also on Lexington; and, of
course, the restaurants and bars.

"The neighborhood is buzzing at night," said Jessica Duffy, manager
of the Citi Habitats office on East 22nd Street. "Old rundown
storefronts have been turned into hip, posh nightclubs with W Hotel
at the bottom of it all."

From a real estate standpoint, many rental apartments have unusual
configurations that make them attractive as shares. Jeremy
Steinberg, 24, a Fox News Channel account executive, and two
friends converted a one-bedroom apartment into a three-bedroom.

"I'm from Los Angeles; I wanted a real New York City living
experience, and you can't get more New York City than this," said
Mr. Steinberg whose block has City Crab Restaurant at one end,
L'Express at the other and Sushi Samba expanding in between, taking
over the space that was occupied by a stationery store. Patria is
across the street. "I like the vibes of the Union Square area."

THE distinction between Park Avenue and Park Avenue South can be
confusing. Early on, the Bowery above Cooper Square was renamed
Fourth Avenue in an effort to improve its image. In the 19th
century when the New York & Harlem line, the city's first railroad,
asked to extend service north of 14th, the granite ridge under what
is now Park Avenue South was blasted away to make room for the
tracks. Steam bellowing up along the line discouraged all but the
poorest of the poor and a tough gang called the Fourth Avenue Boys.
In the 1860's, as the cut in the ridge was paved over, landscaped
stretches to the north began calling themselves Park Avenue. The
remnant between 32nd Street and Union Square was later named Park
Avenue South.

It may be time for another name change. "We need a name for our
little neighborhood," says Josh Baron, a public relations
consultant, who has lived on upper Park Avenue South since the
mid-90's, choosing the rental apartment, which has since been
converted to a co-op, for its location and good value. Ms. Huson,
the real estate agent, agreed. "It has its own little niche," she
said. "It just doesn't have a name."


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