Park Avenue through the 1930s was known as ‘the street where the rich people lived’. To have an apartment there was ‘to have arrived’. When you arrive you’ll see fewer apartments and a new kind of ‘rich people’ – multi-national corporate headquarters.
Some of the world’s most deservedly well-known architecture is sited along this wide boulevard that, for tourism purposes, begins at Grand Central Station.
Approaching the terminal from downtown you’re greeted by an ordinary Greek facade at 42nd Street and Park. But the interior is a sight to behold. Recently restored to its early 20th-century glory, mammoth in size and gleaming with marble and brass, the busy concourse is still used by thousands daily.
Inside its catacombs is the famous Oyster Bar where just outside a tourist can find the ‘whispering gallery’. Stand in one corner of the arched walkway facing the stone. Speak softly and someone in the opposite corner 20 feet away can hear every word clearly – an ‘accident’ owing to the way the sound travels up and around the arch. Then go have some oysters and beer.
Up the escalator and across the huge lobby you come out onto Park Avenue in mid-town. The sight is an amazing, wide corridor of famous buildings and zooming cars. Walk across the street and look back at the MetLife (originally the Pan Am Building for whom it was constructed). Still, one of the largest office buildings on the planet, its distinctive octagonal floor plan, and wide facade are breathtaking.
You won’t be able to see the lower half of the building, though, since it’s blocked by the still impressive Helmsley with its golden top. The view is particularly spectacular driving down Park from the north at night when the dome is lit.
A short walk to 53rd Street brings you to the Lever House, still occupied by the original tenant, the international cleaning products company. An architectural original, the green-glass-facade tower rises above a similar one-story horizontal slab set on tall pillars.
The building is kept sparkling cleanout of pride and as an advertisement for its owners’ products and the plaza underneath is a wonderful place to stand in the shade and watch the busy street.
While standing there, across the street you’ll see the famous Seagram Building, built only a few years later in 1957. This whiskey-colored marvel reflects the tastes of its original developer, the liquor king Samuel Bronfman. Sparing no expense on materials, when completed the building was the most costly skyscraper erected in New York.
And now that you’re tired and hungry, step into the Seagram and head to The Four Seasons restaurant where (if you planned ahead several months) you can dine in one of the greatest establishments ever created. Admire the food, but don’t forget to look around at the sculpture and French walnut décor.
Stay out of the pool in the middle, though. The maitre’d gets angry when you try to cool off there.