New York City: Grand Army Plaza
Continuing with my New York City posts, I wanted to post an article about Grand Army Plaza, the plaza that lies at the intersection of Central Park South and 5th Avenue at 59th Street. This Plaza evokes an Old World grandeur unmatched in Manhattan, with the possible exception of the Helmsley Building framed against the MetLife Building viewed down Park Avenue.
The beautiful buildings on this major intersection have impressed tourists and residents alike for over a hundred years. The most recognizable, the French Renaissance château-style Plaza Hotel, stands like a rock, impervious to the ever changing tastes and fashions of the metropolis around it. Its front yard is a film set, the backdrop to a long list of movies, from the light-hearted Christmastime movie of Home Alone 2, to the tear-jerking final scene in The Way We Were. The horse drawn carriages lined up across Central Park South, while present year-round, take on a special place during the holiday season, decked out in red and white like royal stallions gracing an imperial courtyard. Even the pigeons that call this plaza home seem to know they’re in a special place.
Across Fifth Ave, the Chateauesque Sherry-Netherland stands nearly 600 feet above Fifth Avenue. It is designed so perfectly that it is hard to believe anyone actually lives inside. It stands like a queen on the chessboard of Fifth Avenue. Next door is the Metropolitan Club, a short and stout building among its taller neighbors. It is a private social club with an impressive set of beautifully designed rooms adorned with gilded paintings on the ceilings, grand chandeliers, and regal staircases. Up Fifth Avenue is the Pierre hotel, a copper-roofed apartment hotel as tall as the Sherry-Netherland and every bit as exclusive–a triplex on its penthouse floors goes for over $100 million.
Each of these buildings frame the centerpiece of Grand Army Plaza, Augustus Saint-Gaudens,’s recently re-gilded General Tecumseh Sherman statute. It is a militaristic monument, one projecting power and prestige appropriate for such a setting. South of this statue is the vaunted Bergdorf Goodman department store, a Beaux Arts masterpiece occupying the former site of Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s mansion. Across Fifth is the Apple Store, now the main destination for the hordes of Russian, German, Brazilian, and other assorted tourists that grace the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue at all times of the year taking advantage of the weak dollar.
Even though I already did a Central Park post, I’m going to creep a little bit into the southeastern end of the park and showcase the beautiful little lake called The Pond. This body of water might be one of the most photographed locations in Manhattan. It’s amoeba-like pattern is gorgeous at any time of the year, especially fall and winter, and it’s actually full of wildlife, including a bunch of turtles.
Walk up the stairs and go out into the plaza again. Take in the smell of roasted peanuts, the patter of the horse footsteps against pavement, the whir of yellow taxis driving through steam clouds billowing up from beneath the streets. If you listen closely, you just might hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue echoing faintly off the buildings around you.