Residents and visitors alike can always find something to do in Turtle Bay. Stroll among the sculptures of the United Nations. Duck into a friendly pub and watch the game. Jog along the East River. Take a yoga class or work out at the Vanderbilt Y. Attend an event at the Japan Society or a concert at the Turtle Bay Music School. Tour Turtle Bay’s sites. For a panoramic view of the environs, slip away to the penthouse lounge of the Beekman Tower Hotel, an Art Deco landmark.
The following sites are some highlights. Know any others? Send us a message or post your favorite spots in Turtle Bay on our Facebook page.
The area of First Avenue between 42nd and 49th Street, site of the United Nations complex, is officially known as UN Plaza.
321 East 42nd Street (through to 43rd Street), between UN Plaza and Second Avenue
Considered to be among the city’s finest works of architecture, the offices of this building surround a soaring atrium of lush plantings. The 12-story glassed in area shelters a terraced garden with full-grown trees and a pool, open to the public.
A self-contained neighborhood with its own post office and park, this residential enclave hovers on abutments over First Avenue and UN Plaza. Tudor City can be approached by walking up the hill from Second Avenue or by climbing up the steps in Ralph Bunche Park (First Avenue at UN Plaza). Built between 1925 and 1928, the private renewal effort transformed a shantytown once known as Goat Hill into genteel apartment buildings in the Tudor style. Tudor City’s park is maintained by a nonprofit tenants’ group, Tudor City Greens. A favorite with joggers, its tranquil setting makes the park a nice place to read and reflect. Two small public playgrounds are located on adjacent city property. A staircase known as the Scharansky Steps (named for the Soviet dissident) at the northeast end of Tudor City leads down to UN Plaza and Ralph J. Bunche Park, just opposite the United Nations. [I’ve only been there once, and don’t know how much all this still applies. We should research to be sure.]
UN Plaza at East 42nd Street [map]
This small public space with benches and ivy-clad trees was named after the first black UN official, who served as secretary to the Palestine Peace Commission and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three years later. The park’s vertical aluminum sculpture, Peace Form One, is by a contemporary black artist, Daniel LaRue Johnson. The Isaiah Wall, given by New York City to the United Nations, bears a quotation from the book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.” With its proximity to the UN, the park is frequently the site of demonstrations.
United Nations Plaza, (First Avenue) between East 42nd and East 48th Streets
John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s donation of the $8.5 million site, assembled by real estate tycoon William Zeckendorf for a private development, secured the location for this international institution dedicated to world peace. The UN complex contains three main buildings: the Secretariat, completed in 1950, the General Assembly building (1952) and the Dag Hammarskjold Library (1963) in a park-like setting. An international team of renowned architects led by America’s Wallace K. Harrison drew up the designs. Every major nation has donated some work of art to the headquarters. The General Assembly lobby and outdoor promenade are open to the public. Tours of the United Nations are offered daily (9 AM to 4:45 PM). Access to the grounds during the same hours is free. The promenade contains wide expanses of manicured lawn, magnificent sculptures, an esplanade overlooking the East River, cherry trees, and rose gardens. A monument to Eleanor Roosevelt offers a quiet place to sit and reflect. The words inscribed there are worth noting: “Rather than curse the darkness, she lit a candle, and her light has warmed the world.” The Delegates Dining Room, on the top floor of the Conference Building is open to the public and though the buffet lunch is pricey, it affords a sweeping view of the East River among impressive surroundings. For reservations, call (212) 963-7626. One of the most arresting sculptures, visible for blocks, is Tsereteli Zurab’s contemporary representation of Saint George killing the dragon. The mammoth monument was presented by the Soviet Union to commemorate the 1987 signing with the U.S. of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. The dragon’s body consists of parts of a Russian intercontinental ballistic missile and an American Pershing missile.
One UN New York Hotel
1 United Nations Plaza, NW corner of East 44th Street at First Avenue
Built in 1976, this sleek building of aluminum and blue-green reflective glass houses an elegant Hyatt hotel, inviting public spaces and offices. Its irregular shape presents an interesting visual effect. The hotel’s Ambassador Grill, with its mirrored skylights creating the illusion of a night sky, is a favorite among the diplomatic crowd.
307 and 310 East 44th Street, between UN Plaza and Second Avenue
Named for the adjacent Beaux Arts Institute, these two cubistic compositions face each other on opposite sides of the street. Built in 1930, they bear the hallmarks of the Art Deco period.
304 East 44th Street between UN Plaza and Second Avenue
Built in 1928, the principles of the Beaux-Arts school of architecture can be readily seen in this structure, which embodies the Art Deco style. The building now houses a mission to the UN. Wikipedia says, “The Beaux-Arts Institute of Design (BAID) was an art and architectural school at 304 East 44th Street in Turtle Bay, Manhattan, in New York City. It was founded in 1916 by Lloyd Warren for the training of American architects, sculptors and mural painters consistent with the educational agenda of the French École des Beaux-Arts.”
James P. Grant Plaza & UNICEF House
East 44th Street between UN Plaza and Second Avenue
This vest-pocket park next to UNICEF House bears the name of UNICEF’s executive director from 1980-1995. The park is open to the public 24 hours and its chairs and cafe tables provide a convenient spot for bag lunches. Free lunchtime jazz concerts are featured during June and July. Next door the UNICEF House provides exhibits of the UN agency’s work for children around the world with a gift shop that offers a diverse selection of Unicef greeting cards by international artists.
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza Park
East 47th Street between First and Second Avenue
This block-long public space leading to the United Nations traditionally served as a staging area for demonstrations. In 1995, an ambitious landscape renovation by the city was undertaken, transforming the barren plaza into a magnificent park befitting its location as a Gateway to the UN. In May, 1997, the park’s extensive border planting was dedicated as the Katharine Hepburn Garden. In July, 1999, the entire reconstruction was completed and the park’s official opening was celebrated August 18, 1999. Six fountains enclosed by iron-latticed pergolas grace the garden area, which is bounded by granite seating walls. The center promenade features two rows of facing benches and an entrance pavilion. The park has proven popular with office workers and tourists as a lunch spot while neighborhood residents enjoy the well lit benches and glimmering fountains in the evening. Works of outdoor public art are curated through NYC Parks & Recreation “Art in the Parks” program.
Noteworthy also is the park’s Holocaust Memorial and the adjacent Wallenberg Memorial, located on the traffic island of UN Plaza.
Membership in Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a nonprofit community organization, is open to all who wish to play a role in the conservancy of the park.
333 East 47th Street, Hammarskjold Plaza
This organization, dedicated to understanding and appreciation of the Japanese culture, presents numerous programs and exhibits. The building, funded by John D. Rockefeller III and erected in the early 1970s, provides a striking example of modern Japanese architecture. It also houses a lovely Zen garden.
Holy Family Roman Catholic Church
315 East 47th Street, Hammarskjold Plaza
The present church, built on the site of a stable, was dedicated in 1965 to serve the needs of the UN community, as well as the Turtle Bay parish. Particular concern for the plight of refugees throughout the world is portrayed in the stained glass windows, which dominate the west wall. The word “hope” in various languages is worked into the design. A large aluminum statue of the risen Christ above the altar provides a focus for this spirit of hope. Enjoy a moment of tranquility in St. Mary’s Garden, the church’s lovely courtyard with a statue of St. Mary, a bridge over a pond, benches, and lush plantings.
225 East 51st Street
The Sutton Place Synagogue has a fascinating history going back to the late 1800s, when an orthodox synagogue was established on the second floor of a building at East 50th Street and Second Avenue. The present Synagogue (now conservative) opened in 1976 and was built on the site of a former Con Edison building that the congregation had used for a number of years. An addition is now planned, to be used as a community center. The Synagogue now offers numerous programs for the congregation and community.
317 East 50th Street
The “First Church” is the mother church of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States and Canada. The REC holds to the traditional Anglican faith and practice of the English Reformation.
143 East 43rd Street
The Church of St. Agnes is a phoenix, risen from the ashes of a devastating fire in December of 1992. Now rebuilt from the ground up, the Church is back in its traditional role as a landmark for Catholics throughout the New York area. It has for many years been best known for its weekly Latin Tridentine Mass (11:00 AM every Sunday). The Church has numerous daily Masses and offers a veritable smorgasbord of services, from novenas to a Community Club to a well-attended soup kitchen for the homeless.
224 East 47th Street
Once a hotel for railroad conductors, today this well managed facility offers budget-priced accommodations (bunk beds and small rooms) to many youth groups and frugal European tourists. If you want to stay in shape and avoid the steep fees of Manhattan’s health clubs, check out the Y’s modern fitness center. It has all the essentials, including an Olympic-size swimming pool, basketball courts, gyms, and steam rooms, plus a full roster of fitness classes led by expert instructors. In addition to its array of adult fitness classes, the Y offers special programs for teens, as well as seniors, and a calendar of seasonal outings and events. The Vanderbilt YMCA also provides the Turtle Bay Association with a small office and the use of its conference room for scheduled meetings.
226-246 East 49th Street, between Second and Third Avenues
During the 1920s, this group of brownstones was restored, and the yards of two rows of town houses set back-to-back on 48th and 49th street were turned into a communal garden by taking a six-foot strip from each plot to form a common path. Low walls and individual plantings mark the private yards. Popular with the literati, the block was immortalized by E. B. White in his essay Here Is New York. Other residents included Dorothy Thompson (1941-1957), Julian Bach (1960s), and Max Perkins (1930s). In the late ’40s, two adjoining houses (221 and 223 East 48 St.) were connected by designers Russell and Mary Wright to form the studio, showroom and living space for their post-war industrial design, which included the enormously popular American Modern dinnerware. Stephen Sondheim has been a long-time resident of the Gardens, as was Katharine Hepburn until recently.
Efrem Zimbalist House
225-227 East 49th Street
Built in 1926 for the violinist, his wife, diva Alma Gluck, and her daughter, novelist Marcia Davenport. Later Henry Luce lived here, but in the 1950s the house became the 17th Precinct Station House and later still was divided into apartments. Look for the violin carved over the doorway!
East 51st Street between Second and Third Avenues
With its 25-foot-high waterfall cascading over the rear wall and artfully landscaped trees and plantings, this is truly an oasis of serenity for residents and those who work in the area. Built in 1970-71 by the Greenacre Foundation (founded by Mrs. Jean Mauze, the former Abby Rockefeller), the park was dedicated to Laurance Rockefeller and the late Allston Boyer in recognition of their invaluable assistance in its creation. The park owes its award-winning design to Hideo Sasaki, former chairman of Harvard’s Landscape Architecture Department, and Harmon Goldstone, who served as consultant. The park is open to the public during daylight hours from March through December. Attendants are on duty at all times, and there is a small concession that serves food. The Greenacre Foundation, which owns and masterfully maintains the park, also operates a reference center at 457 Madison Avenue (51st Street) in conjunction with The Municipal Arts Society. With its exhibit space, reference desk, and specialty book store, this center serves as a clearinghouse of information on urban open space, including the design and management of urban parks.
224 East 52nd Street
One of Turtle Bay’s oldest institutions, TBMS celebrates its 75th anniversary in the year 2000. Since its modest beginning with six students, this academy has provided music instruction for thousands of active music lovers. The school offers private instruction, workshops and classes, as well as an active community outreach program and free community concerts.
317 East 52nd Street
Built in 1992, the present church continues a long tradition of providing a home away from home for seamen and other travelers from Norway. It has now become a religious, social, and cultural center offering shows, exhibits, concerts, and a library of Nordic literature.
3 Mitchell Place/First Ave at East 49th St.
Originally the Pan Hellenic hotel for women sorority members, the hotel has been renovated and today offers more spacious accommodations than the dormitory style rooms of the original. A fine example of Art Deco architecture, the building was recently awarded landmark status.
The two blocks east of First Avenue (49th and 50th Streets) rise up to a bluff that overlooks the East River. This hill originally included the property of James Beekman’s colonial mansion, Mount Pleasant, built in 1763. Walking tours point out the distinctive row of town houses remodeled in the 1920s.Since the early development of Manhattan, Beekman Place has enjoyed a quiet elegance that makes it one of Manhattan’s most sought after addresses. An enclave of old money, the hill was home to members of the Rockefeller family and Huntington Hartford. Theatrical personalities also enjoyed the high life on Beekman Place, among them Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Ethel Barrymore, and Katharine Cornell. Irving Berlin lived in 17 Beekman Place, the James V. Forrestal House. Several famous people lived at the large apartment building, 1 Beekman Place, which is at the corner of Beekman and Mitchell Place, including novelists Mary McCarthy and John P. Marquand. Remember the novel and subsequent film Auntie Mame? This was where Patrick Dennis’s real Aunt Mame lived!
between 49th and 51st Street, along FDR Drive
From 51st Street, a staircase leads down to Peter Detmold Park, a charming public park featuring the wisteria-covered James Amster Pavilion, a small garden and a dog run, which is maintained by the community (PDP-ARF). Peter Detmold and James Amster served as past presidents of the Turtle Bay Association, and both were known for their tireless service to the community. There is also an entrance (handicap access for the disabled at 49th Street, a few steps before FDR Drive. A footbridge leading from the staircase (north end of park) crosses over Detmold Park and FDR Drive to a short esplanade built along the East River. From here, you can watch the barges and sailboats. Across the river, the ruins of an old building are visible. This fortress was a hospital once used to quarantine smallpox patients.
entrance on 49th Street just before FDR Drive
Tucked behind the luxury residential and office building 860/870 UN Plaza, this children’s playground features swings, slides, a modular play system, sandbox, sprinkler and water fountain. There are chess tables and benches, and a constant breeze from the East River. A pay telephone is conveniently located just outside the entrance gate. [Update?]
On the northwest corner of 51st Street and First Avenue is an historic building erected in 1892 as a primary school, on the site that was once James Beekman’s mansion, Mount Pleasant. The present structure, Romanesque Revival in style, has served as the UN International School, as a community center, a nursery school, and a shelter for homeless women. It’s facade was preserved Across First Avenue (No. 940) is the Pisacane Mid-Town Seafood shop, a fish market that replaced one which had been operating on the site since the building was built, ca. 1860.
Other Famous Haunts
Thomas Wolfe lived at 865 First Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets in 1935 and Truman Capote at 870 United Nations Plaza, at 49th Street, for some years before his death in 1984. The luxury building of 860/870 has been the New York home (past and present) of quite a few celebrities and socialites, among them Johnny Carson and his wife, Joanna, and the late philanthropist Mary Lasker, who is fondly remembered for her donation of cherry trees and thousands of daffodils to the United Nations lawn.
Legendary residents of the East 50s have included the writers Alexander Woollcott, John Steinbeck (330 East 51st St.), and John O’Hara, who stayed at the Pickwick Arms Hotel (230 East 51st St.—now the Pod Hotel) while writing Appointment in Samarra.
In the mid-1800s, before the grid system transformed the area’s once bucolic farmland, Edgar Allan Poe, reformist Margaret Fuller, and publisher Horace Greeley (New York Tribune) lived in Turtle Bay, which still had a bay. Poe wrote fondly of rowing a skiff over to Blackwell (now Roosevelt) island. For quotes from their writings on the property and surroundings, see History of Turtle Bay.