Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Then and Now: Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC

33rd Street at Lexington Avenue, Manhattan

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;
Lexington and 33rd Street, NYC, in 1974.
A lot of locations in Manhattan are defined almost as much by the monumental structures in the distance as they are by their immediate surroundings. That's probably true of a lot of cities with grand vistas such as San Francisco and Paris, but Manhattan has an incredible variety of evocative touchstones that instantly orient you and also give a neighborhood its flavor. These include things like the World Trade Center (old and new), the George Washington Bridge, the Empire State Building, and two buildings we're going to discuss here. One of the themes of this series of pictures is how little New York City has changed over the decades. The common view is that Manhattan is the City that Never Sleeps and that nothing stands still for more than five minutes. Anyone who has lived there for more than a cup of coffee, however, knows that there is an incredible amount of permanence to the Big Apple and the sands of time swirl around and through it without changing much. I found the above photo of midtown from 1974 and decided to do a little investigating on how much the scene has changed over 45 years. So, this is a comparison of Lexington Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan from 1974 to 2017.

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;
Lexington and 33rd Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
It turned out to be very easy to find the same spot as the 1974 photo. We are looking north on Lexington Avenue from the Murray Hill area. The Chrysler building on the east (right) side of Lexington is an obvious marker, as is the old Lincoln Building (60 East 42nd Street, now One Grand Central Place since a 2010 name change) on the west (left). The Chrysler building was completed in 1928 and the Lincoln Building in 1930. The buildings on this stretch of Lexington Avenue haven't changed at all. Even the one-way signs on the northeast corner appear the same, although now the one pointing east is on the bottom instead of on top. That's a change for you. Obviously, the Chrysler Buildings hasn't changed, nor has the Lincoln Building, and they are always useful for orienting yourself if you are walking around Midtown South and areas nearby.

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;
East 33rd Street, NYC, looking west toward the Empire State Building in November 2017 (Google Street View).
I don't know why they changed the name of the Lincoln Building to One Grand Central Place - apparently, it was just to emphasize its closeness to Grand Central Terminal, though that was not explicitly spelled out - but everyone who calls it anything just calls it the Lincoln Building. Incidentally, the Lincoln Building wasn't actually named directly after the nation's President, but instead after businesses named Lincoln including a bank that once were based there back in the day. However, since those businesses were named after the President, that seems like a distinction without much of a difference. I mean, they weren't named after Harry Lincoln or Sam Lincoln or Lincoln Logs or some other Lincoln. It was a clear reference to Abraham Lincoln, a link that the building's owners strongly reinforced for decades until new owners suddenly decided to make the switch. Don't be surprised if someday someone else buys the building and renames it the Lincoln Building, because that at least gave it an identity. Now, the building sounds like an annex off of Grand Central Terminal, which isn't very distinctive.

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;
Lexington and 33rd Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
The building to the right is 141 East 33rd Street, known as Stonehenge 33. It is a condo (not coop) finished in 1960. Without getting deeply into the distinctions between condos and coops in Manhattan, condos generally are more expensive because they are easier to rent out and there is no coop board to make your life miserable. Yes, that is a vast oversimplification, but to make it a bit more transparent, in a condo you actually own your apartment whereas in a coop you just lease it. Of course, you actually own it either way for all intents and purposes, but coops are considered slightly more residential since coop boards ostensibly act to make the building more suitable for people who live in the apartment that they own there. It is roughly the difference between owning a house with a Homeowner's Association (HOA) versus one without, but the monthly fees in each are similar. Condos are slightly more preferred by investors, while coops are somewhat more preferred by people who actually plan to live there. Some people prefer one, other people prefer the other, and a whole lot of people couldn't care less as long as they have somewhere to hang their hat. Anyway, someone is probably going to be offended by my description of the differences between coops and condos in NYC, so the bottom line is, just be aware that there is a difference if you ever want to move to New York City. My experience from talking to people in other parts of the country is that most people think that a coop is some kind of grocery store, not a place to live, but Manhattan is funny that way.

Lexington Avenue at East 34th Street, NYC, randommusings.;
Lexington Avenue at East 34th Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
The two closest buildings on the left in the 1974 photo are The Murray Park at 120 East 34th Street and, just beyond it, Murray Hill House at 132 East 35th Street (the one with the terraces). This is the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, and, obviously, nobody is looking to rock the boat with creative names for their buildings where a significant portion of their life savings are invested (though I have to admit that Stonehenge 33 does have a ring to it). The former was built in 1962, the latter in 1969. So, everything was settled along this street of Lexington Avenue five years before the original photo was taken in 1974, and probably will be for the next 50 years as well. A time traveler plopped down on the corner of Lexington and East 33rd instantly would know where he or she is, though they might wonder where all the grocery stores went. But, that is a rant for another day.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Residential areas in Manhattan tend to change very little over time, with many of them built solidly in the early part of the 20th Century and likely destined to stand into the 22nd. Please visit our other pages in this series if you liked this one!


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