The February 4th New York Times issue states that Manhattan’s Upper East Side Yorkville neighborhood is on the rebound. A recent visit to my old haunts at the Heidelberg Restaurant at 86th and Second Avenue was hampered by a hole in the ground, the new Second Avenue subway. Eighty years ago, when I was ten, the Second Avenue Elevated Line provided the means of transportation for the neighborhood. That line along with the Third Avenue El bit the dust in the late 1930s.
The Times article is filled with pictures of high rise rental and co-op towers which now dominate the Yorkville scene. The five story First Avenue old law tenement into which both my mother and I were born passed out of existence in the 1960s. When I returned to First Avenue with members of my family in the 1990s, on the city block on First Avenue between 80th and 81st, now towered a twenty-seven story high rise. The line of five and three story tenements were gone. Rents for the newly constructed high rise co-ops sell for $ 350,000 to $ 500,000 for a studio apartment to $ 600,000 to $1 million for a one bedroom. The remaining rehabilitated tenement two bedroom apartments rent for $ 2,500 to $ 2,800. These are usually shared by the young aspiring urban dwellers. As I reminded my grandson Luke who not lives in such an apartment in Brooklyn, the monthly rent the up and coming millennials now pay would have covered the rents for all the tenement families on my First Avenue block back in the Depression years.
The New York Times lead-off picture showed residents casually strolling along the East River promenade in Carl Schurz Park. The East 84th Street scene in Carl Schurz Park in the 1930s were rocks off which Yorkville boys took their diving and swimming lessons. At 86th Street a large drain pipe poured the affluence of the neighborhood into the East River. In the center of the Carl Schurz Park was the attractive Gracie Mansion. For those of us who played ball in the Park, the Gracie Mansion provided the public toilets from our game breaks.
The Yorkville map which accompanied the article sparked memories of the role that the neighborhood provided for growing up on the East Side. The neighborhood as I characterized it represented the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Among my friends there were those of Czech, Slovak, Austrian, Hungarian and German background, and others of Russian, Irish, Scots-Irish and Italian heritage. The languages of the various ethnic groups were still heard on the streets and in the shops. As the New York Times reminds us this ethnic blend is missing from Twenty-first Century Yorkville. But one thing does remain: The public school which provided a lively mix of all these children. I noted on the map on 82nd Street between First and Second Avenues the notation of Public School 290. Back in the 1930s this was P.S. 190. Except for the numerical change the public education of the children of the neighborhood continues on. There were many happy memories of P.S. 190. As the article tells us that even today that families moving into Yorkville are attracted by the quality of the public education in the area. Life in Yorkville says the New York Times “is relatively quiet and family oriented compared with other other Manhattan neighborhoods.”