Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Julie Schwietert Collazo
It’s spring (finally!), which means I can resuscitate “New York City from East to West,” a series of posts I started a couple years ago; each one takes you on a quick but appreciative cross-town journey that’s faster and, I’d like to think, more enjoyable than a ride on the bus. No matter how many times I’ve walked a certain street featured in the series, I inevitably see something I’ve never noticed before.
Today, I walked across 47th Street, starting on First Avenue, right outside the gates of the United Nations.
It’s one of those places that most New Yorkers have probably never visited (we have); if they have they’ve probably visited only once, which is too bad. Apart from the general building tour, which is interesting if you’re intrigued by politics and diplomacy, the UN hosts art and educational exhibits and its grounds are studded with sculptures, gifts from member nations. I’d wait to visit though, if I were you; an ongoing renovation project, which was scheduled for completion in 2013, has not yet finished.
Just across the street, on the west side of First Avenue, is Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a strip of park that runs the length of the entire block from First to Second Avenues. At the eastern end is Dag, a café with both indoor and outdoor seating.
At the western end, you’ll find a farmers’ market each Wednesday. On the northern side of this block is the Church of the Holy Family, built in 1965 on the site of a former stable.
It’s a small church, but a lovely one, especially this time of year, as it has a small pocket garden attached to its side. The garden is far less busy than the plaza across the street, and is a peaceful spot if you want to sit and read or, as I did, feed your kid.
If you’re the hungry one, press on to 47th and Park, where you’ll find a diverse line-up of food trucks plating up everything from Korean and tacos to Korean tacos.
If you want to eat al fresco, there are plenty of places to join the Park Avenue office workers who have also picked up their lunches from the trucks.
As you keep making your way west, you’ll find two entrances to Grand Central Terminal, which may surprise you, since everyone associates 42nd Street with Grand Central.
“No one is quite sure exactly how many entrances there are….” wrote journalist Rick Lyman on the occasion of the transit hub’s 75th birthday (it just celebrated its 100th last year), and that seems to be true– I can’t find any definitive, official count either. Here, though, at the corner of 47th and Madison, are two: one with escalators and, a few paces behind it, an elevator entrance; they both opened in 1998.
Just across Madison, on the northwest side of the street, you’ll find The Center for Fiction, a spot for book lovers I stumbled upon for the first time about a year ago.
Both a literary events center and bookstore, their stock is strongest, as the name suggests, in fiction, but browse their shelves of used books in the back room and on the carts sitting on the sidewalk, and you’ll find non-fiction titles as well.
If you’re working on your own novel, you might want to step into Phil’s Stationery at 9 East 47th Street. It’s just the kind of store we’re in danger of losing here.
Staples and Office Depot, it is not, which is precisely why it’s so fabulous. It’s a cluttered mess, especially toward the back, where piles of dust-covered boxes with old, corded phones and other relics of technology sit haphazardly, blocking the aisles and serving no apparent purpose. But you’ll also find some unexpected treasures: a box of calligraphed ink stamps, an odd little music box, that sort of thing. You probably won’t find what you’re looking for (I didn’t); it’s definitely the kind of place where you go without any object in mind.
Once you cross Fifth Avenue, 47th Street becomes a gauntlet of wheeler dealers; you’ve entered New York’s Diamond District. Scheisters from Brazil, Africa, and Brooklyn stand outside businesses, ready to whisk you inside for a nice engagement ring or “statement piece” (What this one says is entirely up to your interpretation):
Keeping west, you’ll find other places like Phil’s and the Diamond District, spots we’d be worse off for losing. Who knows about these two theaters, for example, which lie just beyond the better-known Ethel Barrymore Theater (currently showing “A Raisin in the Sun,” featuring Denzel Washington, who plays his part on the same stage where “Raisin” debuted):
This is why it’s good to get out and walk the streets, even without a destination or plan to guide you: to learn these places exist and to get to know more about them.