Whether you are a longtime resident or have only seen the city on TV or in film, the words "prewar buildings" tell a story of their own about New York; and no fewer words give a greater introduction to a neighborhood quite like they do for the Upper West Side. The area's architecture is legendary, with storied names like Dakota, Ansonia, Apthorp, Manhasset and Astor Court. A host of early 20th Century behemoths line Riverside Boulevard and Drive, caressing Riverside Park; plus the area's also home to the renowned Museum of Natural History.
By the 19th Century, smaller residences appeared, and much of the waterfront area was energized by shipping, transport and manufacturing. A major boom came with the addition of the Hudson River Railroad in the 1830s. Central Park was also created during this time, approximately 1850-60s, which oddly enough brought in many squatter shacks, boarding houses and taverns. In 1869 the American Museum of Natural History was completed, then another major change took place in the area in the later 1800s with the arrival of the elevated train line along Ninth Avenue (which was renamed Columbus), as well as Columbia University's move to Morningside Heights. One of the most famous area residences was completed around this time as well. The Dakota building stood alone alongside Central Park, with the area around it not yet developed. The building took on its name because many likened its location to that of The Dakota's of America. Over time, a small group of the building's well-healed owners would form the very first co-op in the city, each owning a share of the corporation that governed the building.
Major development still would not begin on the Upper West Side or in Morningside Heights until the turn of the 20th Century and the opening of the city's first subway line, then known as the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line.
Riverside Park was conceived in 1866, with its first segment being completed in 1872. Construction of the park would last until the late 1930s when Robert Moses added 132 acres of land to the park, covering the old Hudson River Railroad tracks. He also added playgrounds to the area as well as the 79th Street Boat Basin. The 1960s saw another period of renewal at the area's gateway in the lower West 60s, with the construction of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Fordham University's campus.
At its entry at the southwestern foot of Central Park, the area starts far more modern and polished than further north, as it's greeted by both a statue of Columbus and Trump Tower. Further in along Broadway and on Columbus, Amsterdam and eventually West End Avenues and Riverside Drive, you'll encounter a myriad of pre- and some post-war buildings of varying sizes. These get larger particularly along parts of Broadway, West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard and Drive. The niche is primarily a grid, with Broadway's traffic running in both directions down the center. Its southern edge begins at 59th Street and Central Park, stretching towards the river then up to 110th Street where it becomes Morningside Heights that extends to 125th Street, with St. Nicholas at the eastern end and Riverside Drive to the west. The 2 and 3 express trains will take you through the Upper West Side before heading to Harlem and The Bronx. The B and C trains also have stops along Central Park West, while the 1 train runs the entire area along Broadway.
Classy apartment buildings on the Upper West Side
The Upper West Side (including Morningside Heights) covers a large area in upper Manhattan bounded by 59th St on the south, 125th St on the north, the Hudson River on the west, and Central Park and Morningside Park on the east. The area encompasses four distinct Manhattan neighborhoods -- the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Bloomingdale, and Manhattan Valley -- and includes one of its finest parks, Riverside Park, which runs along the river all the way from 59th to 125th Streets.
Often called the city's quintessential neighborhood, the area includes delightful residential streets, the twin-towered facades of the old apartment hotels on Central Park West and Riverside Drive, two of the city's best-known markets (Zabar's and Fairway), one of its major museums (the American Museum of Natural History), an Ivy League university (Columbia University), and the Neo-Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The area is an architectural historian's delight with many of its buildings (especially in Morningside Heights) built before the Second World War and quite a few built before the First World War, though the area is changing with the construction of large condominium buildings south of 110th St. The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, running from 62nd St to 66th St, contains the Metropolitan Opera, the New York State Theater, home of the New York City Opera and Ballet; Avery Fisher Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic, the Juilliard School, and the New York Public Library's Library for the Performing Arts, among other institutions.
From west to east, the Upper West Side is oriented along Riverside Drive, West End Ave (which is called 11th Ave south of 59th St), Amsterdam Ave (called 10th Ave south of 59th St), Columbus Ave (9th Ave), and Central Park W (8th Ave). All these avenues change from numbers to names north of 59th St. The 66-block stretch of Broadway forms the backbone of the Upper West Side and lies diagonally across the avenues; it begins at its juncture with Central Park West at Columbus Circle (59th St), crosses Columbus Ave at Lincoln Square (65th St), crosses Amsterdam Ave at Verdi Square (72nd St), and then merges with West End at Straus Square (aka Bloomingdale Square, at 107th St).
- The primary subway service to the Upper West Side is the 1 local train and the 2 and 3 express trains, which run under Broadway. All three trains stop at 72nd St and 96th St, with the 1 also stopping at 59th St (Columbus Cir), 66th St (Lincoln Center), 79th St, 86th St, 103rd St, 110th St, 116th St (Columbia University), and 125th St. The 1 train continues north along Broadway, while the 2 and 3 trains branch east north of the 96th St stop and head into Central Harlem.
- Also serving the neighborhood are the A, B, C, and D trains, which run under Central Park West (called 8th Ave north and south of Central Park), although the A and D express trains usually stop only at 59th St (Columbus Cir) and 125th St (at St. Nicholas Ave), except after midnight, when the A goes local until about 5:30AM. The B (weekdays only) and C local trains stop at 59th St, 72nd St, 81st St (Museum of Natural History), 86th St, 96th St, 103rd St, 110 St, 116th St, and 125 St.
- There are numerous bus routes which service this neighborhood.
On foot or by bicycle
- A walk or bike ride to the Upper West Side is a very pleasant way to get in in good weather, whether going through Central Park from the Upper East Side or heading north from the Theater District.
- Apthorp, 2207 Broadway and 390 West End Ave. A beautiful early 20th-century high-rise luxury apartment building, taking up the entire square block between 78th and 79th Streets. between Broadway and West End Ave. Its companion, the Belnord, takes up the square block between 86th and 87th Streets between Broadway and Amsterdam. Both buildings were completed in 1908, at a time when the Upper West Side was still full of wide open spaces.
- Dakota Building, 1 W 72nd St (Subway 1, 2, 3 to 72nd St; B, C to 72nd St). This massive apartment building has been (and is!) home to many celebrities. Probably best known was the former Beatle John Lennon, who was gunned down outside the building on 8 December 1980. Lennon had been living at the Dakota with his second wife, Yoko Ono, who still resides in the building. A memorial to Lennon exists at the entrance of the Central Park. The building has become a popular place of pilgrimage for many who admire him.
- Time Warner Center, Columbus Cir (Broadway and 59th St; Subway A, C, 1, B, D trains to Columbus Cir). Has the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for dining, drinks, and Chihuly chandeliers. It also has a small, ultra-high-end mall with luxury shops and Botero sculptures. In the basement is a large Whole Foods Market, and there is seating for eating their prepared food and salad bar items (cheaper than eating in a restaurant). Or better yet, on nicer days, pick up a prepared meal to-go and venture across the street to Columbus Circle or Sheep's Meadow in Central Park for a nice outdoor meal.