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Column: You might even see the Island from here
It took a while, but my wife and I have come to complete and irrevocable agreement on one Manhattan issue (I forget the other two): If we came into unfathomable money, we would opt for a modern high-rise over a more gracious brownstone walkup. (Note to self: play the occasional damn Powerball! You never know.)
For years we held the opposite view, largely driven by our neighborhood walks westward toward Central Park. The four-block trip took us past impossibly beautiful brownstone and limestone structures that got better with each step. In the East ‘70s where we live, the closer you get to Fifth Avenue, the Park’s eastern boundary, the grander the real estate. Our block, between Third and Second avenues is not as nice as the block to its west but better than the block to its east. And the gradual degradation continues until you hit FDR Drive and the always boiling East River. There is the occasional stinker but the three- to five-story homes we pass by on our walks seem the embodiment of elegant New York living, and for years it was the residence style of choice, assuming an influx of unfathomable money, that is.
But there is this obsession Manhattan has with height. We live on the 16th floor and even from our relatively modest altitude we are afforded a nighttime tableau of hundreds of lit apartment windows with all kinds of unknown human activity lurking behind. Other than the routinely breathtaking views from the city’s classic observatories — the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center and the martyred Twin Towers — I have never witnessed the city from way up high, in a residence. And that’s exactly where my Powerball money would go. (And to a hill farm in Vermont and a villa in Positano, Italy.)
Obviously I am not shopping around for a lavish sky-high residence, but if you put a gun to my head and made me choose, it’s no contest. It would be the so-called “One57 building,” fittingly enough on West 57th just south of Central Park. This is the building from which a large section of a construction crane was dislodged by Hurricane Sandy and dangled perilously overhead for days. It is 90 stories tall, although some quibblers say 75, but, oh man, what a location. Down the block from Carnegie Hall, roughly in the middle of the island, if you lived high enough here you would have the entire glittering borough of Manhattan beneath you with Queens and Brooklyn and (sigh) New Jersey thrown in. It is from such a perch that I would blithely entertain friends, slice garlic thinly or just read a book, looking up every once in a while to drink in the great urban hive all around me. I’m sorry, brownstone walkup, but this is where my head is at these days.
Getting back to reality, there is one obvious drawback to vertical living. During the blackout of 2003, the trek in a darkened stairway from lobby to floor 16 was amusing only once. I’m assuming that residents of One57 would not face that predicament, what with modern backup generators and all. In our building, erected in late 1920’s, when you lose power, you lose it authoritatively.
Because it is highly doubtful that I will be in discussions anytime soon with New York State lottery officials on my preferred payout scheme, I must satisfy myself with the here and now of our 16th floor abode. That is not difficult. It’s a small apartment, nice enough, and I am always glad to return to it from Shelter Island weekends. Anyway, I strongly prefer our neighborhood to the one surrounding the One57 building of my dreams. I once saw Jason Giambi in the Citarella market down the block, with highly gelled hair and the eyes of a hunted animal. Johnny Damon was rumored to be living across the street, but there were no sightings of him during his Yankee years.
Our 16th floor view is east, with the occasional fiery sunrise. We used to have a sliver of a view north, up Third Avenue, until they tore down five old classic Manhattan storefronts, including a ridiculously pricey butcher and a favorite neighborhood bar/restaurant, and built a 20-story luxury apartment building. It’s an old New York story: No view is safe here; well, I guess upper floor One57 owners needn’t worry about that.
Standing at our bedroom window, you can see across the East River into Queens, where my grandson lives in Astoria. The other day I found myself deep in idle thought about him. What if his parents took him outside and securely attached him to a large weather balloon and let him go? I’m pretty sure that our Manhattan/Queens alignment is such that from our bedroom window I could see his speck of a body rising slowly as he took in his magnificent view of the city. This batch of idle thought obviously has some major flaws. For starters, he’s not the Icarus type and would probably throw a major league conniption getting strapped in to the harness, and there is the problem of returning him safely to the planet’s surface.
I guess it’s back to the idle thought drawing board.