Incredible Pictures Of The Intricate Architecture On Manhattan's Gold Coast

gargoyle

Photo: Matthew Kassel

Sometimes I avoid marveling too long at the buildings here in New York because I don’t want to look like a tourist. But those who don’t marvel are missing out. New York gratifies the gesture of looking up, perhaps more so than another city in the world. Often, though, you can’t make out the finer details of tall buildings with the naked eye. So last weekend I went up to the Gold Coast—the most opulent section of the Upper East Side, roughly between 59th and 78th Streets and Fifth and Lexington Avenues—with a giant lens on my camera to capture some of those details.

You’d be surprised at how much work has been put into them: the frozen, ironic face of a grotesque I photographed looks like it’s in on some joke that nobody will ever know; the cornices that stick out from the tops of the buildings hide all sorts of stone flowers and filigree and lions’ faces in their shadows.

For the sake of simplicity, I only photographed buildings along Fifth Avenue, and with the exception of the Ukrainian Institute (whose details are so funny and shocking), I stayed between 59th and 78th Streets.

The pictures are rounded up here in order, from south to north, so you can take a stroll up Fifth Avenue and look at them yourself. You might want to bring a pair of binoculars. It’s worth it.

In the mid-1800s, Central Park was constructed to serve a rapidly growing population of New Yorkers—Irish and German immigrants especially.

A Le Vieille Russie, 781 Fifth Avenue

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

The park divided upper Manhattan in two; the West Side—known for its rough terrain—and the more accessible East Side.

A Le Vieille Russie, 781 Fifth Avenue

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

Tenements dominated the East Side; the poshness the area is known for is a recent conception.

Metropolitan Club, 1 East 60th Street

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

Steam trains ran along Park Avenue, and separated the less affluent side to the east from the developing, ritzy area to the west.

Metropolitan Club, 1 East 60th Street

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

In the 1890s, downtown capitalists and robber barons were attracted to buildings along Fifth Avenue—the Gold Coast.

Knickerbocker Club, 2 East 62nd Street

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

Many mansions were constructed along Fifth Avenue at the turn of the century.

811 Fifth Avenue

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

But many were subsequently demolished in two waves.

820 Fifth Avenue

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

The first took place in the twenties.

820 Fifth Avenue

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

And the second took place after World War II.

834 Fifth Avenue

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

High rise luxury apartments replaced them, though beautiful, old architecture still remains.

834 Fifth Avenue

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

And the economic explosion after World War II accounts for why the Upper East Side has remained a haven of luxury.

Temple Emanu-El, 1 East 65th Street

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

Residing along upper Fifth Avenue used to be looked down upon, but as affluence reached the area—in the form of Carnegies and Vanderbilts and Whitneys—the area began to take on the reputation it has today.

854 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

Some buildings with official side street addresses now use their de facto Fifth Avenue addresses as a status symbol.

The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street

Source: nyc-architecture.com

The area once offered a variety of men's clubs to serve the affluent residents of the area.

905 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

In the 1890s, J.P. Morgan commissioned the construction of the Metropolitan Club—a palatial building—because he was not admitted to the Downtown clubs.

927 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

The Knickerbocker Club, one of the few brick buildings in the area, was built in 1915.

927 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

The club would serve as a more uppity competitor to the Union Club, which was admitting J.P. Morgan's upstart associates.

927 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

The ornate, arched front of Temple Emanu-El, America's largest reform synagogue, stands relatively low compared to the other high rise buildings in the area.

953 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

The Frick Collection, another low-standing building with a large yard and much art inside, was completed in 1914.

956 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

The Ukrainian Institute, right at the south end of Museum Mile, was built in 1899 in a French Renaissance style.

960 Fifth Avenue

Source: nyc-architecture.com

At the southernmost tip of the Gold Coast is the Grand Army Plaza, an estuary of statues and horse carriages and hotdog carts that feeds into Central Park and up Fifth Avenue.

Ukrainian Institute, 2 East 79th Street

Birds probably have the best view of the buildings.

Ukrainian Institute, 2 East 79th Street

Source: AIA Guide to New York City

Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk, lives on the ledge of 927 Fifth Avenue.

Ukrainian Institute, 2 East 79th Street

Source: nyc-architecture.com

In 2004, Pale Male's nest was removed, though it was replaced when people protested.

Ukrainian Institute, 2 East 79th Street

Source: nyc-architecture.com

Notable residents of the area include Woody Allen (often seen strolling down Fifth Avenue with his wife), Lady Gaga, Spike Lee, and Jonathan Franzen.

Ukrainian Institute, 2 East 79th Street

Source: nyc-architecture.com

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