To live in New York City is to be surrounded by living, breathing history. The city is home to more than 33,000 designated landmarks, standalone structures that the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission has awarded landmark status because they’re of “special historic, cultural or aesthetic value to the city of New York, state or the nation.”
The Upper West Side, in particular, is notable for having one of the greatest concentrations of landmark-designated properties in the city. The Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District (designated in 1990) is one of the city’s largest historic districts and is home to nearly 2,700 landmark locations—cultural institutions, NYC luxury apartments, iconic Central Park locations and even a subway kiosk among them.
Entering Central Park at W 72nd Street visitors almost immediately run into one of the park’s most famous landmarks: Strawberry Fields, a site that was dedicated to musician and social activist John Lennon in 1985. Featuring a meditative Garden of Peace with plants from 150 nations, the garden is a living embodiment of Lennon’s vision of world peace. A circular black and white tile mosaic with the word “Imagine” is frequently dotted with flowers and candles. A short stroll further into the park brings visitors to the Bethesda Terrace, which features stately staircases and elegant archways overlooking the iconic Bethesda Fountain with its Angel of the Waters statue, the lake and the rugged woods of The Ramble beyond. Considered the heart of Central Park, this landmark location has been featured in countless movies and television shows, from “Annie Hall” to “Sex in the City.”
Perhaps the neighborhood’s most famous landmark beyond the park’s borders is the American Museum of Natural History. The world-renowned cultural institution – which has landmark status for its interior, as well as the museum as a whole – houses 45 permanent exhibition halls, a planetarium, and a library. Its collections contain more than 32 million specimens of “plants, humans, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites and human cultural artifacts,” of which only a fraction are on display.
Other cultural gems in the neighborhood include the majestic Beacon Theatre, which is known for its stellar acoustics. Designed by Chicago architect Walter Ahlschlager, the 1929 theater’s landmark interior is best characterized as an “opulent pastiche of historical styles.” The interior underwent a $17 million restoration in 2008, ensuring its design and acoustics will be enjoyed by audiences for many years to come.
One of the Upper West Side’s most treasured landmarks is the 72nd Street Subway Kiosk, or Control House, which is located at the busy intersection of Broadway and 72nd Street. Built to serve the city’s very first subway system, it’s one of only three such structures that remain.
The Upper West Side also boasts its fair share of residential landmarks that combine upscale amenities with more than 100 years of history. The Chatsworth apartment buildings, which made its debut in 1904, are a fine example of an Upper West Side luxury apartment building that also boasts a storied past. Prominently situated at the foot of Riverside Park, The Chatsworth Apartments and Annex feature French-inspired classical and Beaux-Arts detailing and sweeping views of the Hudson River. A report by the Landmark Preservation Commission describes the property as “two exceptionally handsome apartment buildings that were constructed early in the twentieth century as luxury ‘housekeeping apartments’ for an affluent clientele.” Today, the buildings feature some of the most coveted apartments for rent in New York City.
Part of the city’s undeniable dynamism is that to live here means embracing the past, the present, and the future simultaneously. A power player on the global stage, the city makes great strides in business, technology, and innovation on a daily basis, with a constant eye on the future—all the while surrounded by its own extraordinary architectural history. It’s a glorious thing indeed.
For historic insights, walking tours, and more, check out “The Guide to New York City Landmarks,” the official guide to the landmarks of New York City, which is compiled by the architectural historians and research staff of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.