Tag Archives: Audubon Park Historic District

The Grinnell at 100: Celebrating Community, History


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In 2010 and 2011, residents of the Grinnell, a land-marked cooperative apartment house at 800 Riverside Drive in Manhattan’s Audubon Park Historic District, celebrated their building’s centennial with a year of activities including the launch of a centennial website, logo and photography competitions, and a birthday celebration for the neighborhood. Grinnell residents have now produced a book commemorating that centennial year, The Grinnell at 100: Celebrating Community, History.

Through a historical essay, numerous personal histories, biographical sketches, and 150 photographs and illustrations, the 94-page, full-color book traces a half-acre triangular block in northern New York City from primordial forest to a 21st-century co-operative apartment house.

Constructed between June 10, 1910 and July 29, 1911, the Grinnell sits on a triangular plot of land in Washington Heights where the family of George Blake Grinnell once pastured a few cows when the surrounding area was known as Audubon Park. “The Park,” a bucolic suburb that grew out of John James Audubon’s farm Minnie’s Land, remained suburban into the 20th Century, but became prime property for real estate development when the subway opened at 157th Street in November 1904. Six years later, when the extended Riverside Drive opened, its path crossing Audubon Park, the Grinnell heirs, led by eldest son George Bird Grinnell, sold their property. Developers quickly snapped it up and between 1909 and 1911 erected a group of Beaux Arts apartment houses. Noting the effects of rapid transit, newspaper commentators dubbed the two-year period Audubon Park’s “rapid transformation.”

Edited by Matthew Spady and designed by Jacqueline Thaw, featuring photographs by Charles Baum and Mo Ström, and contributions from more than 30 Grinnell residents, The Grinnell at 100 is a must-have edition for anyone with an interest in the history of New York City, Washington Heights, or the Audubon Park Historic District – and of course the book will interest Grinnell residents, friends, and admirers, past and present.

The Grinnell at 100: Celebrating Community, History, and an Architectural Gem, available at Lulu.com. For information about discounts on purchases of multiple copies, contact info@TheGrinnellat100.com.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers.

Exhibition: The Ground Beneath Our Feet


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On the occasion of The Grinnell’s 100th birthday, members of the Grinnell Centennial Planning Team have mounted an exhibition of more than 50 photos, prints, maps, and documents that tell the story of the half-acre triangle of land numbered 800 Riverside Drive, from the Native American Lenape people who inhabited northern Manhattan when Dutch settlers arrived in the early 17th Century through The Grinnell’s co-oping in the late 20th Century. The exhibition explores the individuals who have owned this unique half-acre during the last three centuries, and examines the political and economic events that inserted a triangle in the midst of the rectangular grid pattern that dominates New York’s street plan.

A slide presentation accompanying the exhibition highlights newsmakers who have lived at The Grinnell during its hundred year history, including operetta prima donna Christie MacDonald (a favorite of Victor Herbert who wrote “Sweethearts” for her); actress, playwright, and novelist Alice Childress; architect Max Bond; artist Ademola Olugebefola; Lucy McDannel, the first woman to graduate Yale Law School; and Catherine Phelan, a housekeeper who earned The Grinnell unwanted national publicity in 1934 when she murdered her employer Douglas Sheridan in his Grinnell apartment.

“The Ground Beneath Our Feet” is open to the public free of charge. There are three dates left:

Sunday, October 10th: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday, October 12th: 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 17th: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Photo: The Grinnell in 1950 when it appeared on the cover of Grace Magazine. At the time, the evangelist Sweet Daddy Grace owned 800 Riverside Drive.

Residents of The Grinnell Launch Centennial Celebration


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The residents of The Grinnell, a land-marked nine-story, triangular cooperative apartment house at 800 Riverside Drive in the Audubon Park Historic District, will begin a year-long celebration of their building’s centennial on June 10, 2010.

Heralding the festivities is the launch of www.TheGrinnellat100.com, a website combining oral history, media clips, historical essays, and images spanning the building’s 100-year history. The year’s events will also include centennial logo and photography competitions, exhibitions in the Grinnell’s community room, apartment tours, a gardening project, and a birthday party. A calendar of events is available on the website.

Constructed between June 10, 1910 and July 23, 1911, the Grinnell sits on a triangular plot of land in Washington Heights where the family of George Blake Grinnell once pastured a few cows when the surrounding area was known as Audubon Park. “The Park,” a bucolic suburb that grew out of John James Audubon’s farm Minnie’s Land, remained suburban into the 20th Century, but became prime property for real estate development when the subway opened at 157th Street in November 1904. Six years later, when the extended Riverside Drive opened, its path crossing Audubon Park, the Grinnell heirs, led by eldest son George Bird Grinnell, sold their property. Developers quickly snapped it up and between 1909 and 1911 erected a group of Beaux Arts apartment houses. Noting the effects of rapid transit, newspaper commentators dubbed the two-year period Audubon Park’s “rapid transformation.”

Like neighboring apartment buildings, the Grinnell lured the prosperous middle-class uptown with amenities such as uniformed staff, spacious apartments “adapted to those accustomed to private houses,” enameled woodwork and paneled dining rooms, and proximity to the subway (“only 200 feet”) – all at prices “30% less than the Middle West Side.” Built around an airy courtyard, The Grinnell remained a fashionable building through the Great Depression, usually fully occupied. In the late 1940s, the Evangelist Daddy Grace bought the Grinnell, considering it and the Eldorado on Central Park West the prime properties in his real estate portfolio. Both were part of his estate when he died in 1960. Although Daddy Grace reputedly refused to integrate his properties, the actress, playwright, and author Alice Childress lived at the Grinnell from the 1950s into the 1970s, though in the ‘50s, she was certainly an exception, rather than the rule.

During the 1970s, the Grinnell suffered landlord neglect as did many apartment buildings in Manhattan. Grinnell tenants organized and demanded better services, eventually resorting to a rent strike to force the owner into providing basic amenities such as heat and hot water. When the landlord abandoned the Grinnell, owing large tax and utility bills, the residents began the arduous process of assuming management of the building, eventually buying it from New York City in 1982. The resulting co-op became The Grinnell, HDFC (Housing Development Finance Corporation).

During the ensuing three decades, determined boards of directors and dedicated residents revived what was virtually a dead building, replacing and upgrading building systems and restoring common areas to their original beauty. Individual co-op shareholders have restored their apartments, improving their personal investments as well as the co-op’s financial health.

The centennial events will celebrate these achievements as well as the diversity of the Grinnell’s population. From a homogenous population at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Grinnell has progressed to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic population mirroring the city around it.

A theme running through the centennial celebration is the Grinnell’s place in its community. Grinnell residents actively supported the Audubon Park Historic District effort and are the first private participants in the Heritage Rose District of New York City, a project sponsored by Borough President Scott Stringer’s office. During the centennial year, the Grinnell garden committee will increase its heritage rose collection to thirty bushes, all of them fully visible to the neighborhood, and will dedicate its Heritage Rose Garden in June 2011. An exhibition in September 2010, “The Ground beneath Our Feet,” will trace the close ties between the Grinnell and land surrounding it. A photo competition and exhibition in February 2011 will focus on the Grinnell’s neighbors; submissions must be views of the neighborhood as seen from the Grinnell’s windows. All events, including the Grinnell’s birthday party on October 17, 2010, will be open to the public.

John James Audubon’s 225th Birthday Event


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John James Audubon’s 225th Birthday will be commemorated on Saturday, April 24th 2010 at 4PM in the Riverside Oval (156th Street at Riverside Drive, NYC), a few steps from the site of the naturalist’s final home in northern Manhattan.

In May 1842, Audubon moved his family to a fourteen-acre farm in northern Manhattan, a large triangular plot resting on present-day 155th Street, stretching from Amsterdam Avenue to the Hudson River, and including the land surrounding the Riverside Oval, the site of one of the Audubon barns. 765 Riverside Drive, adjacent to the Oval marks the site of Audubon’s house (pictured here).

Audubon called his farm Minnie’s Land, but after his death, his sons and wife renamed it Audubon Park, selling large portions of their land to wealthy New Yorkers who inhabited villas under the forest trees, laying out their gardens and drives where Audubon once had enclosures for both wild and domesticated animals. Audubon Park was a name familiar to New Yorkers from the mid 1850s until about 1910 when developers, capitalizing on the newly-opened subway with a stop at 157th Street, purchased large portions of the land and erected the magnificent Beaux Arts apartment houses that exist in the area today. In 2009, Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the blocks between 156th and 158th Streets west of Broadway the Audubon Park Historic District.

The event is being sponsored by the Riverside Oval Association, a not-for-profit neighborhood organization, plants and maintains green spaces in the Audubon Park Historic District, presents musical events, and sponsors oral history evenings at neighborhood buildings. Audubon’s 225th Birthday Celebration will kick off the 2010 gardening season and give residents in the neighborhood an opportunity to meet Oval Association members and become involved in the Association’s activities.

In the event of rain, the celebration will take place in the community room at the Grinnell, 800 Riverside Drive.