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A Taste of Tranquillity on the Upper East Side
Publication: The New York Times
Date: Feb 12, 2006


A Taste of Tranquillity on the Upper East Side

By CLAIRE WILSON Published: February 12, 2006

IT has four bedrooms and seven baths and a 15-acre backyard that is unique in the city. Cabdrivers and delivery guys can find it, no problem. There's a nice, high fence for security, off-street parking and a big, breezy front porch with river views.

Sure, the butter-yellow clapboard and white wood trim are murder to maintain, but in a city where everybody and everything seems to have a price, Gracie Mansion is so priceless that invitations to speculate on what it might go for were it to be sold have even the most savvy brokers reluctant to hazard a guess.

"They would be numbers we could barely speak," said Sharon Baum, senior vice president and director of the Corcoran Group's exclusive-property division. "They would have no bearing on anything. But if someone wanted it ..."

Fact is, not even the mayor wanted to live in the mayor's official residence, that priceless piece of history that he could have had - free - for as long as he remained in office. No one really knows why Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg shunned it for his town house several blocks southwest, but on this 11-block stretch of East End Avenue, no one cares, either, and no one seems offended. Residents so love their neighborhood that once in, if they decide to move it's often a matter of feet, not miles.

"I've done as many as four sales for people moving back and forth across the street," said Margie Goldin, senior vice president at Stribling & Associates. "People who come here find it very hard to leave. They say, "Now that I live here, I can't live any other place.' "

What You'll Find

Running between 79th Street and 90th Street, East End Avenue is an almost suburbanlike haven defined by the riverfront Carl Schurz Park and a variety of housing options that includes red-brick and brownstone town houses, tenements, a charming mews and sprawling co-ops in some of the borough's most prestigious prewar buildings. New luxury condos are rising on the site of the former Doctors Hospital at 88th Street.

Excellent schools make East End Avenue attractive to families, but with no buses and little commercial traffic, it is quiet and safe for pedestrians of all ages. Karen Goodell, her husband, Tim, and their three daughters, ages 7, 9 and 12, embrace the calm of a neighborhood many people consider too isolated and too far east to be convenient.

"It is the most noncrazy part of the city," said Ms. Goodell, who has lived in the area for almost 20 years. "Part of it is the water and the view and the peace of it all, but it's also about being able to push a stroller down the street and not worry about getting hit by a car every two minutes."

The fact that people don't move away means they all sort of know one another and treat one another like good friends, if not family. Phil Philips, who lives in the same apartment he grew up in on the north side of East 86th Street ("the new-money side," he says), was so eager to give a party at his father's former coffee shop, the Mansion, on York Avenue, when he took back the lease in December, that he invited everyone for an enormous black-tie New Year's Eve bash. The Champagne, cheeseburgers and cold salmon from Russ & Daughters were on him.

"Is this a neighborhood, or what?" asked Gigi Zimmer, a retired pharmaceuticals sales representative and a 15-year resident of East End Avenue who was at the party.

What You'll Pay

Property in the area can be 12 to 20 percent less expensive than comparable apartments a few blocks west, according to Daniel Ruiz, a vice president at Brown Harris Stevens. For example, a two-bedroom, two-bath unit selling for $750,000 near East End Avenue would cost about $845,000 at an address between Second and Lexington Avenues, he said. "There are some good values," he said.

A 6,200-square-foot, 12-room triplex maisonette at 10 Gracie Square is on the market for $12.75 million, according to Michele Kleier, the president of Gumley Haft Kleier. There's also a four-bedroom Henderson Court town house listed for $3.895 million, but according to the listing broker, G. Laurie Cooper, president of a brokerage firm that bears her name, there aren't nearly enough family-size apartments on the market.

"The families looking for apartments are not finding them," Ms. Cooper said.

Addressing that shortage, 10 of the 110 condo apartments in the original plan at 170 East End Avenue, designed inside and out by the architect Peter Marino, are being combined into five 6,300-square-foot units priced at $14 million each, according to Orin Wilf, president of Skyline Developers, which is working on the project. Three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath apartments in the 20-story building, which is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2007, range from $3.35 million to $5.3 million, Mr. Wilf said.

Rental apartments around East End Avenue are about as available as they are in the rest of the city, which is to say not very, according to Gordon Golub, managing director of the Citi Habitats branch at 84th Street and First Avenue. Current two-bedroom, two-bath listings include a 1,100-square-foot unit in a pet-friendly building with a gym and a garage for $3,800 a month, and a 1,400-square-foot unit with a balcony and a dining room that can be converted to a third bedroom, for $4,600 a month.

Studios range from $1,400 a month for 400 square feet in a walk-up building to $1,725 a month for 575 square feet in a prewar building with an elevator. These, too, are cheaper than their equivalents just a few blocks away. "With the West 30's and 40's and Wall Street, this is one of the three most affordable areas in Manhattan," Mr. Golub said.

What to Do

With sweeping views, jogging paths, dog pens and basketball courts, Carl Schurz Park is popular with residents the year round. "In the spring, the tulips come out and there are the most beautiful cherry blossoms," said Susan Danilow, a mother of two and director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy who has lived on East End Avenue for almost 30 years. "When the days get longer, people come home from work and take walks on the esplanade."

On a five-and-a-half-acre campus above the park, the nonprofit Asphalt Green sports center has an Olympic-size swimming pool, indoor and outdoor courts, fields and tracks, a fitness center, exercise programs and a steam room and sauna. Four membership plans range in price from $1,000 to $1,400 a year.

There is a Gristede's supermarket on East End Avenue, but the kind of small shops that have always served the area are dwindling. Residents travel a few blocks for shops like Eli's Vinegar Factory, where you can also have brunch, or to the wide variety of restaurants.

The Schools

Public schools serving the area include Public School 158 on York Avenue, which teaches prekindergarten through Grade 5. Of fourth graders there, 79.4 percent scored at or above grade level in reading and 98.2 percent performed at or above grade level in math. Some students from P.S. 158 go on to Junior High School 167, the Robert F. Wagner School, on East 76th Street, where 67.7 percent of eighth graders scored at or above grade level in reading and 71.8 percent performed at or above grade level in math.

Private school options include some of the city's most prestigious and academically demanding. Among those are the Brearley School, on East 83rd Street, which teaches kindergarten through Grade 12. Annual tuition there is $29,175, for kindergarten through Grade 4, and $29,700, for Grades 5 through 12, both including fees.

The Chapin School, on East End Avenue, teaches kindergarten through Grade 12. Tuition there is $25,600 for all grades and does not include fees, which pay for such things as lunch and class trips. The Town School, on East 76th Street, teaches boys and girls in nursery school through Grade 8. Tuition there is $25,700, including fees, for Kindergarten through Grade 4, and $26,500, including fees, for grades 5 through 8. Other private schools include St. Joseph's School of Yorkville on 87th Street, which teaches prekindergarten through Grade 8 and where tuition is $3,500 a year, and the St. Stephen of Hungary School on East 82nd Street, which teaches kindergarten through Grade 8 and where tuition is $3,400.

The Commute

The neighborhood is served by the crosstown M86 and M79 buses, as well as the M31, which runs down York Avenue from 92nd Street to 57th Street, then across town to West End Avenue. Commuters to the downtown financial district can take the X90 Express Bus for $5 or vans operated at rush hour by Mario's Transportation. Fares on the vans are also $5 and two of the three routes require reservations.

Some people walk five blocks to the Lexington Avenue subway where, at 86th Street, you can pick up the Nos. 4, 5 or 6 trains or the No. 6 at 77th Street. The first leg of the proposed Second Avenue subway, a 2.2 mile stretch between 63rd and 96th Streets, is scheduled to be completed by 2012. Car owners love East End Avenue for its access to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, which you can enter and exit at 79th and 96th Streets.

Seasonal ferry service from East 90th Street to Yankee Stadium has been suspended but will resume when a planned new pier is built. Commuter ferry service to the financial district is also in the works.

The History

East End Avenue is part of Yorkville, a community settled in the late 18th century by German immigrants whose descendants gave the community its character well into the 20th century.

The Gracie estate, built in 1799, was one of many belonging to some of New York's most prominent families - Astors, Rhinelanders and Schermerhorns - that were divided in the mid-19th century to make way for the park, town houses and eventually the grand apartment buildings, like 1 East Avenue, 120 East End Avenue and 10 Gracie Square, which were constructed around 1930.

Gracie Mansion became the official residence of the mayor in 1942, after stints as the park's public toilets and concession stand and home to the Museum of the City of New York.

What We Like

Carl Schurz Park is one of the city's most beautiful retreats and a wonderful place to watch the sunrise every day.

What We'd Change

There is a 10-story, 4,000-ton capacity Department of Sanitation marine transfer station proposed for a point just above East 90th Street, whose 400-truck parade of garbage will bisect the fitness and recreational facilities of Asphalt Green, 24 hours a day and six days a week.