By Katie Uva
New York City can be overwhelming in its vastness — more than 300 square miles, more than 8.5 million people, and so many distinct neighborhoods and languages spoken here that the number of neighborhoods and languages aren’t even fully agreed upon. New York City’s streets are the nervous system binding this far flung place and giant population together and their idiosyncrasies seem fitting for this metropolis — Edgar Street and Mill Lane in Manhattan vie for shortest street, while my childhood in Queens was punctuated by persistent confusion about whether I lived on 68th Road, Drive, or Avenue. Each borough has a Main Street, and Waverly Place has the distinction of being the only street in New York that actually crosses itself.
We began our journey in Marble Hill. Although on a map it appears to be unequivocally part of the Bronx, Marble Hill is administratively part of Manhattan, which makes it the northernmost neighborhood and Manhattan and the neighborhood in Manhattan whose residents have to travel the farthest for jury duty. Exiting the 1 station at 225th street, we crossed over the Broadway Bridge on foot, affording us a view of the Harlem River.
At 204th and Broadway we stopped and pondered the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, sitting handsomely atop one of those hills. Built in 1784, it is the oldest farmhouse in Manhattan, which is both an impressive feat and also demonstrates the vagaries of Manhattan real estate. The other four boroughs all have farmhouses from the 18th century, but houses from the same period in Manhattan were regularly lost to fires, destroyed in the Revolutionary War (as is the case for the house that occupied this spot before the current Dyckman house), sold, resold, and demolished to make way for more commercially viable properties. The Dyckman Farmhouse itself nearly met the same fate before being repurchased by Dyckman descendants in 1915 and then turned into a museum from 1916-onward.
We proceeded steadily down Broadway and were struck at 176th street by the grandeur of the United Palace Theater. Built in 1930 by Thomas W. Lamb, one of the leading theater designers of his day, its exterior is a jaunty collection of terracotta crenellations and fluted pilasters, an eclectic mix of styles described by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as "Indo-Persian," and by the AIA Guide to New York City as "Cambodian neo-classical." Forty-six years after it was first proposed, in 2016 the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated this theater, one of five Loew's "Wonder Theaters" in the New York metropolitan area, a landmark.
Morningside Gardens and Grant Houses provide an opportunity to consider the ambitions, the shortcomings, and contradictions of urban renewal. They were created with the strong partnership of the federal government; Title I funds backed the construction of Morningside Gardens and federal funds kept and continue to keep Grant Houses rents below market rates. Their supporters saw them as an opportunity to clear old, blighted slums and engineer a diverse community; however, in the process of doing that they overrode the objections of a diverse group of existing residents who already loved their community and displaced about 3,000 people. That being said the buildings now do stand as bastions of affordability in an area that has seen massive increases in housing costs over the past twenty years, increases that have been partly exacerbated by Columbia's controversial expansion above 125th street.
As we made our way down the Upper West Side, we began talking animatedly about the hot dogs we were going to get at Gray's Papaya (a mission we soon accomplished). But we also noted the mass and grandiosity of the apartment buildings we passed. Turrets, limestone, mansard roofs, and cupolas abounded. Among its stately sisters I was particularly taken with the Belleclaire, which exudes a feeling of tenacity. Its ground floor is currently bound by scaffolding and its exterior — red brick with limestone trim — seems downright scrappy compared to the Ansonia or the Apthorp. This is a building that has seen a lot of ups and downs over its 115-year history.
Like the New Yorkers we are, we started to get cranky as we approached midtown. From 59th to 34th streets, we kept our heads down, swerved around tourists, and dodged pitches from various costumed Elmos and Doras the Explorer.
At 23rd and Broadway the Flatiron Building greeted us, jutting proudly into the intersection, as many before me have noted, like the prow of a ship. When it started rising from its astoundingly irregular footprint in 1902, it delighted some and disgusted others. An unexpected side effect of its size and placement was its tendency to create wind tunnels, to scandalous effect.
In 1961 the zoning law was amended — among the new standards was a concept called incentive zoning, which meant that buildings could be tall with flat facades if they were set back from the street and provided a public plaza. 140 Broadway, built in 1968, is a prime example of this principle in action. It features a quintessential 1960s paved plaza whimsically offset by Isamu Noguchi's Red Cube.
 For more on Morningside Gardens, see Themis Chronopoulos, Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance; Andrew Dolkart, Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development; and Samuel Zipp, Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Postwar New York.