An apartment in a co-op on Park Avenue has been owned by a family member for over seventy years.
The unit was first owned by a cranky bachelor uncle, then it was taken over by his brother, my father. The place was then sold as part of my father’s estate, and, finally, a lesser unit was bought in the same building by a sister.
The building is an island within the island that is Park Avenue, which is on the island of Manhattan.
There is a reason that a number of old, very old, people have lived there. It is not because a giant crystal pyramid sits on the roof.
The land of longevity
One lady who lived there well into her hundreds was the widow of America’s first cardiologist. That’s right, a heart specialist before doctors specialized in individual body parts and diseases.
The reason for longevity is that everything in the building functions seamlessly. Once inside the heavy glass and iron doors and into the cathedral lobby, you are transported to a parallel universe devoid of aggravations, both petty and not so petty.
Elevators are clean, polished and function perfectly. Even all the floor buttons light up. In the cavernous lobby, marble floors are polished, and though old, no fabric or leather is tattered or worn.
In short, no maintenance detail is overlooked.
you are transported to a parallel universe devoid of aggravations, both petty and not so petty.
The seriously uniformed doormen have worked there for decades. You are welcomed and recognized like family as you walk in the door. The sense is that the doormen are family and you are family — family you all are glad to see.
Doormen make it clear that they are there to serve and nothing is too much trouble. Most importantly, at the same time, they are dignified, professional and never servile.
Delivered to your door
It is remarkable to me, living part of the time in D.C., that mail is actually not only delivered but dependably delivered in the morning to the door, along with The Times, the Wall Street Journal, and, hopefully nobody looking, the Daily News with the letters to the editor surreptitiously checked out before the neighbor retrieves the paper: “You know what I hate? Everything.”
Example: I am sitting around the place one miserable winter morning. The old possibly AM radio in the kitchen announces that snow and ice are accumulating and will continue to do so. The Long Island Expressway is at even more of a locked grid than usual. As for Metro North and the Long Island Railroad, don’t ask. Schools are, of course, closed and may some time in the future re-open. In short, it’s a complete abandon-all hope-ye-who-enter mess out there: “If you don’t absolutely have to go anywhere, please stay home.”
Snow is no problem
So I head to an elevator in the building, press the lit button that says “Taxi.” I sashay to the front door where there is a doorman wailing outside, with an umbrella, holding a cab door open. And that’s right, there’s very little sign of snow in front of the place. Apparently, no one ordered snow.
The family building is a microcosm of Park Avenue, which is in itself a discreet world within New York City.
there’s very little sign of snow in front of the place. Apparently, no one ordered snow.
Park Avenue represents stability, order, exclusiveness (remember Richard Nixon’s failed attempt to buy a unit) and continuity apart from the noise and the chaos that is The City.
New York City is a place of extremes. It is a mix of world-class excellence exemplified by Park Avenue and world-class depravity. Maybe world-class degeneracy is also a distinction as the best or, if you prefer, the worst of something unspeakable.
Basically, 56th Street and above are the residential buildings that make the street famous. Each stands as distinctive and, at the same time, in harmony with the others. The one thing I like about the relatively new gigantic middle fingers in the sky owned by foreign oligarchs is the contrast they create. They make me value the traditional buildings on Park even more.
The orderly residents of Park Avenue
Well dressed elderly couples arm in arm slowly proceed down the street.
Young mothers, ponytails hanging out the backs of baseball hats, (or their maids) deliver well-groomed kids to schools.
Gentlemen and lady executives and lawyers carrying fine leather brief cases march off to work appearing to be very much in control of things.
I have always loved the bouquets of well-behaved big dogs, little dogs, mutts and purebreds being walked by either doormen or professional dog walkers who are really aspiring film makers.
Stuck in time — and that’s good
In a city that’s constantly changing, a big part of the glory of Park Avenue is that it isn’t. Basically the place looks very much like it looked when my uncle moved in in the ’50s down to the landscaped malls along the middle of the street.
There is activity day and night, but on Park Avenue it seems to move in three quarter time.
There is also a sense of security walking on Park as there is always a doorman, in a turn-of-the-twentieth century admiral’s uniform, often with epaulets, braided hat and gold buttons, actively watching over things.
As it is with the family co-op, a basic reason to appreciate Park Avenue is the ease of living it enables. One never has to venture far from the vestibule. Groceries and dry cleaning are delivered to the door. Costco even quickly delivers great $6.99 a dozen croissants and thousands of other bulk things from its store on East 117th Street.
And for those venturing out of the Sanctum Sanctorum, there awaits an abundance of quality shopping within walking distance.
Museum quality windows on Madison
Walking a block west, one finds the amazing world-class shops lining Madison Avenue. Madison is about style. Each store window is a museum quality display — a work of art, especially around the holidays. Every window is a celebration of things retail…and pricey. An “Everything a Hundred Dollars Store” would not be out of place.
Venture one block east to find more modest offerings. Two particular favorites are the Cupcake ATM and the puppy store, a favorite stop for kids on their way back from school. Best to avoid thinking about puppy mills.
The residential center, however, remains the Park Avenue where it seems like most things, even physically, can be and are fixable.
One lesson to be learned: If you have money, there is no need to be ugly.
Money and the freedom to leave on weekends
Yes, it’s about money: lots of money. Money buys freedom, most of all, from worrying about money. This includes the freedom to buy your way out of daily aggravations and the ability to leave town to spend summers in the Hamptons or winters in Palm Beach.
Walk up Park on a miserable, polluted August weekend night and count the dark windows in the buildings. (Suppose they gave a street and nobody came.)
Unique and symbolic of Park Avenue is the beautiful median strip (aka “malls”) running down the center of the wide avenue. The malls, running from 47th Street to 97th Street, conceal the Metro North tracks. The covering of the tracks was enabled by the conversion of trains from steam to electric.
The residential buildings between 54th and 86th Streets privately subsidize the plantings and maintenance through an organization called the Fund for Park Avenue.
The Fisher Brothers, major real estate players about town, recently launched a privately funded, competition to “reinvent and enliven Park Avenue’s centerline malls” in the commercial district between 46th and 57th Streets “to bring these underutilized islands of green into the 21st Century.”
Hard to imagine the stolid residents of Park Avenue being amused at the unseemly actualizing down the street — “the biggest and boldest vision for crafting the worlds newest and most dynamic urban oasis…”