When you are exploring the districts of New York City it is important to note their individual stories. That way it begins to make more sense to you. Within Gramercy and the Flatiron District, for example Gramercy Park and Madison Square represent completely different beginnings. Read on to learn about this eclectic area, where to wander, what to see and things to note.
The Gramercy and the Flatiron District was designed in 4 squares in the 1830s and 1840s. They were intended to emulate the quiet residential areas in many European cities. Some areas still do, such as Gramercy Park which has a dignified air of peace and tranquility where locals stroll leisurely with their dogs. Madison Square, however, is encircled with offices and traffic and apart from tourists it is largely used my local workers.
We are starting our tour of the Gramercy and the Flatiron District at Gramercy park.
This is New Yorks last private park and only local residents have a key. We stayed at a hotel right by the park and during that whole time we never saw anyone in there, despite loads of locals walking their dogs! Perhaps dogs aren’t allowed…
Although you and I can only poke our noses through the cast iron fences the area is pleasant to stroll around.
Just around the block is a tree lined stretch of East 19th street they call The Block Beautiful. There are lovely and varying houses along it.
These are restored 1920s residences. See if you can spot the ceramic giraffes.
Checkout no:132. The first sex symbol of the black and white silent movies lived there (Theda Bara) and so did a Shakespearean actress (Mrs Patrick Campbell) who played an early Eliza Doolittle.
Pete’s Tavern has been here since 1864, that’s since Lincoln was President! It still has a long bar and still serves steaks and chops.
On occasions there are a jumble of architectural styles from different ages. A church built in the famous brown stone, a tower of glass and the spire of the famous Met Life Building (which has a huge 4 sided clock a little further down).
Theodore Roosevelt birthplace is actually only a replica of the one he was actually born in, but it gives you the idea. More of that brown stone…
If you make your way to Broadway there is a stretch called ‘Ladies Mile’ from Union Square to Madison Square. Local ladies would arrive here from nearby townhouses in their shiny traps to shop in the elegant department stores.
Most of the shop fronts are very modern now, but you only have to peer upwards to see how grand it once was.
The iconic Flatiron building marks the start of Madison Square and is one of New Yorks early skyscrapers. It’s still impressive today. It was built in 1902 and at that time it was the tallest skyscraper in the world! It used a steel frame which started the era of skyscrapers.
The buildings unusual shape has helped create a strong wind along 23rd street. In the buildings early days, groups of men used to gather to catch a glimpse of ladies ankles as the wind stirred around their skirts. Police would have to move them along calling ’23-skidoo’ which was slang for ‘scram’.
The area is somewhat spoilt by the noise of constant traffic and the hubbub of local workers rushing to and from the nearby subway lines. But there are reasons to visit here too. There is a decent park with grass, trees and statues, with a view os some nice buildings, including the Empire State building.
Note Applellate Court (under repair when we visited). A small marble palace housing one of the worlds busiest court house. Cases involving Chaplin, Houdini and Fred Astaire have played out here.
There are also some decent places to grab a lunch here too and sit in the park to eat.
- The Shake Shake is in the park and has it’s own tables. It’s very popular.
- The Eataly is an Italian food market facing the square where you can find really nice coffee, gelato and things to eat.
Union Square is a bit of a concrete jungle. Although there is popular market there selling all sorts of seasonal produce. It is surrounded by restaurants, gourmet supermarkets and department stores.
It also has a few statues, including one of George Washington.
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