Midtown East Overview
Midtown East is a commercial hub in Manhattan. With Grand Central Station bringing in tens of thousands of commuters from all over the metropolitan area, Midtown East is absolutely packed during the day but much quieter at night. But it's not just corporate America that sets up shop in Midtown East. Fifth Avenue is dotted with ultra-high end boutiques, including Tiffany's world famous flagship store.
In the the sections below, you'll get a glimpse into life in Midtown East. But before you go anywhere, make sure you scroll through the photos in the gallery below. Nothing can tell the story of a neighborhood as well as a few good photos.
MIDTOWN EAST History
Like most of Manhattan, the Midtown East neighborhood was once home to family farms. One of the first prominent families in this area was the Dutch Beekman family, who owned a large tract of farm land and built a generous estate. Their home was used as a headquarters for British soldiers during the American Revolution. Nathan Hale, a Continental Army spy, was brought there after being captured by the British. Before being hanged, he spoke the famous line, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country."
Other wealthy families were attracted to the area for its quiet surroundings and easy access to the East River (after all, you don't want to travel far to board your yacht).
As with the rest of the surrounding areas, during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, factories, coal yards, breweries, and slaughterhouses were built throughout Midtown East. What was once an area for wealthy families became a home for German and Irish immigrants who lived in crowded tenement buildings. Many of the Irish immigrants helped to finance the building of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, which opened in 1879.
In 1875, E. B. Sutton, a wealthy dry goods merchant, built upscale row homes in Sutton Place. He hoped to attract wealthy residents back to the area, but his plan failed. It wasn't until the 1920s that the tenements were torn down and members of the city's elite began to buy homes there. Sutton Place remains one of the most upscale and expensive neighborhoods in the city, and is home to many politicians and diplomats-many of whom work nearby at the United Nations. During the 1920s, the wealthy also began moving to Beekman Place, where the Beekman mansion once stood.
Around the same time that the neighborhood was again gentrifying, it was also becoming a transit hub. In 1871, Cornelius Vanderbilt opened a railroad station there and named it Grand Central Depot. It was demolished in 1899 to make room for the larger Grand Central Station. That station was replaced by Grand Central Terminal in 1913, which still stands today.
Given its central location and easy access, it should be no surprise that the area became a commercial center in the second half of the 20th Century. The Chrysler Building was the world's tallest building when it opened in 1930, but lost that title to the nearby Empire State Building just eleven months later.
MIDTOWN EAST Vibe
In Midtown East, you’ll find some of the more refined attractions of the city: the elegant Chrysler Building (versus the chunkier, more commercialized Empire State Building in Midtown West), ethereal Grand Central Terminal (as opposed to grittier Penn Station and Port Authority to the west), and upscale Saks Fifth Avenue (compared to everyman’s Macy’s on the west side). East of Fifth Avenue, things are less chaotic and noticeably posher than on the other side, although there’s still plenty of tourist and commuter traffic.
The neighborhood is famous for its business, high-end shopping, and tourism, but much of it is actually residential, especially east of Third Avenue. Sutton Place, on the far east side of Manhattan in the 50s, has long been known as a spot for wealthy city homeowners. Its historic townhouses and luxury high rises have been home to heirs and heiresses of the Vanderbilt, Morgan, and Heinz families, as well as celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Freddie Mercury.
Just to the south, Turtle Bay is the micro-neighborhood within Midtown East where the UN headquarters stands, along with charming (and pricey) brownstones and townhouses with coveted gardens—as well as famous past residents such as Katherine Hepburn and E.B. White. Beyond the posh townhouses that still stand on surprisingly quiet, tree-lined streets of Midtown East, most of the residences here are convenient high rises (mostly with doorman service), from historic buildings to sleek new constructions.
Because of the convenience to the UN headquarters, international corporations, and more, the population of Midtown East is highly professional as well as culturally diverse. Fine dining restaurants and after-work-crowd bars abound, but the neighborhood definitely sees most of its action on weekdays.
Being part of Midtown, the neighborhood is of course quite urban in feel, but pockets of calm can be found: east of Third Avenue there are a lot more trees and a few small parks, and some of the lucky residents here have access to courtyards or rooftop gardens, and views of the historic bridges that span the East River.
MIDTOWN EAST Transportation
Likes it neighbor to the west, Midtown East is a popular spot for businesses making it a key commuting destination. Within just a few blocks, you will have access to a handful of subway lines, but beware, it's not too easy to get west without a transfer.
The southern end of Midtown East is a short walk away from Grand Central Station, which serves as the hub for New York and Connecticut commuter rails. These trains can take you just about anywhere along the Hudson River or up into Connecticut, which makes for an easy day-trip from the City. Also, for those looking to travel to Roosevelt Island, there's a short commuter tram.
Midtown East Subway & Walking Times
MIDTOWN EAST Guidebook Landmarks
There are few places that native New Yorkers love as much as tourists do and vice versa, but Grand Central Terminal is one of them. Somehow, below the stately arches and turquoise-and-gold ceiling in the main concourse, the bustling crowds seem wonderfully exciting instead of annoying. Take a moment to admire the stars on the celestial ceiling, when you're not seeking out foodie treats in the shops and dining concourse.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was the sole financier of the huge private building project that came to be known as Rockefeller Center. The 14 original Art Deco buildings that made up the complex were erected from 1930 to 1939, and included Radio City Music Hall and the GE Building (popularly known as 30 Rock for its address at 30 Rockefeller Center). Besides the stores and well-known companies that make their home in the complex, Rockefeller Center attracts public attention with its skating rink, sculptures, 200 flagpoles, and massive Christmas tree.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
On Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, find a bit of the Old World tucked between the skycrapers of Midtown—a grand, thrillingly ornate Neo-Gothic cathedral. Not surprisingly given how elaborate it is, St. Patrick's Cathedral took a while to be built: the cornerstone was laid in 1858, but work stopped during the Civil War, and was finally completed in 1878. The spires were added later in 1888, and several other additions and renovations have been made along the way. St. Patrick's serves as the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
MIDTOWN EAST Insider LANDMARKS
In 1989, the Berlin Wall came crashing down. A year later, a handful of pieces ended up in New York City. Tucked in somewhat discreetly on East 53rd Street, the Wall is displayed in the Plaza owned by Tishman Speyer, a major real estate developer. Fun fact: it's not the only piece of the Berlin Wall that has made its way to New York City. This contiguous five segment section features a large yellow face painted in the post-modern style as well as other graffiti.
Tiffany and Co.
Tiffany's flagship store on Fifth Avenue represents the fifth and final destination for the world-famous jewelry store. Originally founded in 1837 by Charles L. Tiffany, the shop actually began as a stationery store. As the company expanded its scope to selling European jewelry and then eventually manufacturing its own gold and silver jewelry, it continued to outgrow its space until finally settling into its flagship space on Fifth Avenue. New York Jets and Giants players are all eager to bring home one of the company's most famous pieces: the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy.
MIDTOWN EAST Parks & Recreation
Bryant Park (10 acres)
Although Bryant Park has long been a public space, it used to serve as an accompaniment to the now long-gone Croton Distributing Resevoir which was the final stop for water from Upstate New York before being distributed across NYC. The space was officially repurposed as Bryant Park in 1884 and named after William Cullen Bryant a poet and editor of the New York Evening Post. Like so many public spaces in NYC, the Park fell into disrepair in the 1970's and 80's before being salvaged by the Rockefeller family. Today, it is well known for its free summer movie screenings, colorful carousel, and a great place to eat lunch or read a book from the NYC library across the street.