Midtown

WALKING TOURS

1. FIFTH AVENUE: From Rockefeller Center to the Plaza Hotel

What is Midtown without Fifth Avenue? This stretch from 50th to 59th streets evolved from a posh 19th-century residential area to a major 20th-century commercial center. We consider clashing images of a glamorous district — the 19th-century residential model of mansions, clubs and churches, and the 20th-century model of skyscrapers, hotels and department stores.. Sites visited (besides Rockefeller Center and the Plaza) include St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Thomas’s Church, a Vanderbilt mansion, and Rockefeller townhouses.

2. REFLECTIONS: Art and Architectural Glass In Midtown Manhattan

The buildings of Manhattan are made of brick, stone, wood and steel — but also of glass. On this walk through Midtown in the 50s along Fifth and Park avenues, we will see how glass works in architecture, from stained-glass windows in 19th-century churches to transparent glass walls in modern skyscrapers. Highlights include: the decorative glass designed by French master Rene Lalique for the facade of the Coty Building (now Henri Bendel); the imported English “Whitefriars” stained glass at St. Thomas’s Church; the tinted glass skyscraper built for the Corning Glass Company (with Steuben); the Art Deco art glass at Rockefeller Center; the glass curtain-wall International Style skyscrapers of Lever House and the Seagram Building, and the sparkling glass canyon of Park Avenue.

3. CREATING MIDTOWN: The Private and Public Plans that Shape the Heart of Manhattan

When it comes to planning the future of the metropolis, the City proposes but the builder disposes. Today’s Midtown Manhattan is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between the City’s various regulatory agencies, especially the Planning Commission and the Landmarks Commission, and the major players who built according to their rules. On this tour you will visit half a dozen major Midtown projects dating from the 1880s to the 1980s: Rockefeller Center, the wholesale private redevelopment between 5th and 6th Avenues, which gave New York its best known public square. The Villard Houses, the 19th-century row houses behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral designed to look like a single palace, redesigned in the late 20th century as the centerpiece of the Helmsley Palace Hotel. Park Avenue, the World War I-era landscaped boulevard that replaced ugly Fourth Avenue, by sinking the train tracks of the New York Central 100 feet underground. Park Avenue’s 1960s rebuilding, sparked by the modern masterpieces of Lever House and the Seagram Building. And the St. Bartholomews block, including the General Electric Building, with its evolving story of redevelopment, controversial and otherwise.

4. THE AVENUE I’M TAKING YOU TO: 42nd Street, River to River

From the East River to the Hudson, 42nd Street is Midtown’s great 20th century boulevard. Tour includes a look at the United Nations, the 1920s new town in town of Tudor City, the steel and glass botanical garden headquarters of the Ford Foundation, the great East Side skyscrapers — Chrysler, Daily News, Chanin — Grand Central Terminal, the Public Library, the revitalized Bryant Park, 42nd Street from Belasco to Disney, the experimental Theater Row, and the west side riverfront precincts.

5. NEW YORK’S AVENUE OF THE ARTS: 57th Street, River to River

From the automobile showroom district by the Hudson (descendant of the horse-and-buggy center of a century ago) to the exclusive enclave of Sutton Place, 57th Street is one of Manhattan’s most varied thoroughfares. Its central stretch houses some of the city’s most storied arts institutions, including Carnegie Hall, the Fine Arts Federation (now the Art Students’ League), CAMI Hall, the Rodin Studios, the Osborne Apartments, and the famous 57th Street galleries.

6. THE FABULOUS BROADWAY THEATERS: Times Square Reborn

Walk the streets of “the Great White Way,” tracing the history of New York’s Broadway theater district from Oscar Hammerstein in the 1890s to Walt Disney in the 1990s. See the great Broadway theaters built between the turn of the century and the onset of the Great Depression — stunning works of art in themselves, and monuments to the lively history of American theater. Many of the finest were built as lavish headquarters for Broadway’s great impresarios, who spared no expense in their decor. The Belasco Theater on 44th Street was designed to the specifications of the extravagant David Belasco, the self-styled “Bishop of Broadway” who, among other eccentricities, wore a clerical collar. The Little Theater, built for aristocratic New England producer Winthrop Ames, originally sat a tiny audience of 300. Ames, pioneering the “little theater” movement of intimate drama, had his theater designed to match: its precious Georgian style facade looks less like a typical Broadway theater than a Colonial New England manor house. Other great Broadway houses include the recreation of the Petit Trianon in Versailles built for producer John Cort; the exotic Moorish fantasy built for vaudeville king Martin Beck; the pseudo-Florentine palace built for the Theater Guild, and the delicately sculpted Music Box built by Irving Berlin for his Music Box Revues. Times Square has been heavily redeveloped in recent years, in an attempt to clean up some of the crime and pornography that have historically afflicted the area. The tour includes it all: theaters, skyscrapers, and city planning at its most controversial.

7. ART DECO METROPOLIS: 42nd Street

(see “Art Deco Metropolis” itineraries)

8. ART DECO METROPOLIS: From the Waldorf-Astoria to Rockefeller Center

(see “Art Deco Metropolis” itineraries)

9. ART DECO METROPOLIS: From the Chrysler Building to Rockefeller Center

(see “Art Deco Metropolis” itineraries)