The Upper East Side is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, between Central Park/Fifth Avenue, 59th Street, the East River, and 96th Street. The area incorporates several smaller neighborhoods, includingLenox Hill, Carnegie Hill, and Yorkville. Once known as the Silk Stocking District, it is now one of the most affluent neighborhoods in New York City.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the mouths of streams that eroded gullies in the East River bluffs are conjectured to have been the sites of fishing camps used by the Lenape, whose controlled burns once a generation or so kept the dense canopy of oak-hickory forest open at ground level.
In the 19th century the farmland and market garden district of what was to be the Upper East Side was still traversed by the Boston Post Road and, from 1837, the New York and Harlem Railroad, which brought straggling commercial development around its one station in the neighborhood, at 86th Street, which became the heart of German Yorkville. The area was defined by the attractions of the bluff overlooking the East River, which ran without interruption from James William Beekman’s “Mount Pleasant”, north of the marshy squalor of Turtle Bay, to Gracie Mansion, north of which the land sloped steeply to the wetlands that separated this area from the suburban village of Harlem. Among the series of villas a Schermerhorn country house overlooked the river at the foot of present-day 73rd Street and another, Peter Schermerhorn’s at 66th Street, and the Riker homestead was similarly sited at the foot of 75th Street. By the mid-19th century the farmland had largely been subdivided, with the exception of the 150 acres (61 ha) of Jones’s Wood, stretching from 66th to 76th Streets and from the Old Post Road (Third Avenue) to the river and the farmland inherited by James Lenox, who divided it into blocks of houselots in the 1870s, built his Lenox Library on a Fifth Avenue lot at the farm’s south-west corner, and donated a full square block for the Presbyterian Hospital, between 70th and 71st Streets, and Madison and Park Avenues. At that time, along the Boston Post Road taverns stood at the mile-markers, Five-Mile House at 72nd Street and Six-Mile House at 97th, a New Yorker recalled in 1893.
The fashionable future of the narrow strip between Central Park and the railroad cut was established at the outset by the nature of its entrance, in the southwest corner, north of the Vanderbilt family’s favored stretch of Fifth Avenue in the50s. A row of handsome townhouses was built on speculation by Mary Mason Jones, who owned the entire block bounded by 57th and 58th Streets and Fifth and Madison. In 1870 she occupied the prominent corner house at 57th and Fifth, though not in the isolation described by her niece, Edith Wharton, whose picture has been uncritically accepted as history, as Christopher Gray has pointed out.
It was her habit to sit in a window of her sitting room on the ground floor, as if watching calmly for life and fashion to flow northward to her solitary door… She was sure that presently the quarries, the wooden greenhouses in ragged gardens, the rocks from which goats surveyed the scene, would vanish before the advance of residences as stately as her own.
Famous residents move in
Before the Park Avenue Tunnel was covered (finished in 1910), fashionable New Yorkers shunned the smoky railroad trench up Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue), to build stylish mansions and townhouseson the large lots along Fifth Avenue, facing Central Park, and on the adjacent side streets. The latest arrivals were the rich PittsburghersAndrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. The classic phase of Gilded AgeFifth Avenue as a stretch of private mansions was not long-lasting: the first apartment house to replace a private mansion on upper Fifth Avenue was 907 Fifth Avenue (1916), at 72nd Street, the neighborhood’s grand carriage entrance to Central Park.
Most members of New York’s upper-class families have made residences on the Upper East Side, including the oil-richRockefellers, political Roosevelts, political dynastic Kennedys, thoroughbred racing moneyed Whitneys,and tobacco and electric power fortuned Dukes.
Construction of the Third Avenue El, opened from 1878 in sections, followed by the Second Avenue El, opened in 1880, linked the Upper East Side’s middle class and skilled artisans closely to the heart of the city, and confirmed the modest nature of the area to their east. The ghostly “Hamilton Square”, which had appeared as one of the few genteel interruptions of the grid plan on city maps since the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, was intended to straddle what had now become the Harlem Railroad right-of-way between 66th and 69th Streets; it never materialized, though during the Panic of 1857 its unleveled ground was the scene of an open-air mass meeting called in July to agitate for the secession of the city and its neighboring counties from New York State, and the city divided its acreage into house lots and sold them. From the 1880s the neighborhood of Yorkville, became a suburb of middle-class Germans.
Gracie Mansion, the last remaining suburban villa overlooking the East River at Carl Schurz Park, became the home of New York’s mayor in 1942. The East River Drive, designed by Robert Moses, was extended south from the first section, from 125th Street to 92nd Street, which was completed in 1934 as a boulevard, an arterial highway running at street level; reconstruction designs from 1948 to 1966 converted FDR Drive, as it was renamed after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, into the full limited-access parkway that is in use today.
Demolishing the Els on Third and Second Avenues opened these tenements-lined streets to the spotty construction of high-rise apartment blocks from the 1950s. However, it had an adverse effect on transportation in that the sole subway line was on Lexington Avenue. The construction of the Second Avenue Subway has brought up the price of houses in the Upper East Side somewhat.
As of the 2000 census, there were 207,543 people residing in the Upper East Side. The population density was 118,184 people per square mile (45,649/km²), making Manhattan Community Board 8, coterminous with the Upper East Side, the densest Community Board in the city. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 88.25% White, 6.14% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 2.34% African American, 0.09% Native American, 1.39% from other races, and 1.74% from two or more races. 5.62% of the population were Hispanic of any race. Twenty-one percent of the population was foreign born; of this, 45.6% came from Europe, 29.5% from Asia, 16.2% from Latin America and 8.7% from other. The female-male ratio was very high with 125 females for 100 males. The Upper East Side contains a large and affluent Jewish population estimated at 56,000.
Given its very high population density and per capita income ($85,081 in 2000), the neighborhood contains the greatest concentration of individual wealth in Manhattan. As of 2011, the median household income for the Upper East Side was $117,903. As of 2011, 60.6% of adults (25+) had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The Upper East Side maintains the highest pricing per square foot in the United States. A 2002 report cited the average cost per square meter as $8,856; however, that price has noticed a substantial jump, increasing to almost as much as $11,200 per square meter as of 2006. There are some buildings which cost about $125 per square foot (~$1345/㎡). The only public housing projects for those of low to moderate incomes on the Upper East Side are located just south of the neighborhood’s northern limit at 96th Street, the Holmes Towers and Isaacs Houses. It borders East Harlem, which has the highest concentration of public housing in the United States.