Next in social importance as a residential street in the old days was Madison Avenue. Starting at 23rd Street, this avenue for many years was the only rival to Fifth. Today nothing remains of its former polite grandeur. The residence of S. L. M. Barlow, a once noted lawyer, stood on the corner of the avenue and '223rd Street. This entire block is now occupied by the vast buildings of an insurance company, which extends back to Fourth Avenue, demolishing in its expansion the old Academy of Design and the ultra-fashionable Lyceum Theatre, the scene of the early labors of the late Charles Frohman. The New York prototype of Christie's famous London auction room is on the south side. Some famous collections have been dispersed here, the May Jane Morgan sale, with its famous peach blow vase, among them. The chief features of the huge Metropolitan Building are its wonderful interior stairway, a reproduction of the similar entrance to the Grand Opera House in Paris, and its tower and clock.
The clock dials are of reinforced concrete, faced with mosaic tile and are 261/2 feet in diameter. The figures on the clock face are four feet high. The minute hand is seventeen feet long and weighs one thousand pounds. The hour hand is 13½ feet long, weighs 750 pounds. The bells vary in weight from 7 to 15,000 pounds. The tongue weighs 200 pounds, and strikes every hour, and a set of Handel chimes proclaims the quarter hours. After dark a white flash from the summit indicates the hour; the quarter hours in one, two, three, and four red flashes. The clock is visible for twenty miles. Electric power is used and the whole is set 350 feet above the sidewalk. One has to view it from a neighboring high building to get a "close up" and thus realize its immensity.
The most important thing from a visitor's point of view is the tower, which is about 700 feet high. Admission to the Observation Gallery is 50 cents. Select a day when the wind blows northwest.
Opposite the Metropolitan is Dr. Parkhurst's Church, the last work of the late Stanford White. Critics go in raptures over this structure and point out its many artistic qualities.
The building is very low and has a dome and minarets like a Moorish temple. Engaged Ionic columns form the entrance. All this may be art, but for a sacred edifice it is the most frivolous looking structure ever conceived by the mind of man. For a "movie" house it would be fine. The site has recently been purchased by the Metropoltian, and this burlesque on religion will be removed, for which much thanks.
On the next block is the highly ornate Appellate Court House, a really dignified and impressive building. The several statues which adorn this building make an interesting approach and lend a judicial atmosphere to the structure. The interior mural decorations are much above the average and are justly famous. All the great artists are represented by some of the most important work they have ever executed. By all means visit the Appellate. It is a liberal education in mural painting. Go in the morning when the court is not in session.
On the corner of 26th Street is the home of the Manhattan Club, the leading Democratic club in the city, and the rival of the Union League.
The famous Madison Square Garden comes next, occupying an entire block. It is the home of the horse show. This event marks the formal opening of the social season in New York. The building shows the influence of the Alhambra in Spain. The statue of Diana on the tower is famous. Designed by Stanford White, who met his death here in its roof garden at the hands of Harry K. Thaw in 1906.
The beautiful offices of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is directly opposite. It was founded by Henry Bergh. The Society had as its original founders such men as Peter Cooper, James Lenox, Hamilton Fish, John Jacob Astor, Jr., August Belmont, John, Wesley and Fletcher Harper. It retains to this day a similar impressive membership.
On East 27th Street, just a few steps off the avenue, is the lineal descendant of the old French Huguenot Church that originally stood in Petticoat Lane (see tab-let on Produce Exchange)—the Church du Saint Esprit. The Huguenots from New Rochelle walked every Sunday to the old church and returned the same day. All the old Huguenot families in the city have been connected with this church in some way or other since its establishment in 1688.
The avenue is fast filling up with loft and business buildings beyond this point. Few residences now remain. Most of them are vacated by the owners and are awaiting business tenants. The most conspicuous exception is the J. P. Morgan house, occupying the block between 36th and 37th Streets. Mr. Morgan lives in the 37th Street corner. The library is, of course, one of the most famous in the world. Its treasures include some of the rarest items known to collectors. The manuscripts are probably its most unique possessions; they include nine of Scott's novels; Pope's "Essay on Man," Milton's "Paradise Lost," Burns' "Cotters' Saturday Night," Dickens' "Christmas Carol," etc. It is, however, only an aggravation to dwell upon these, as the library is not open to the public and the librarian, Miss Belle De Costa Greene, is not over liberal in granting permission for strangers to pay it a visit. Still, she uses intelligent discrimination in making exceptions, and a properly worded request has been known to produce results.
The name Murray Hill comes from Robert Murray, whose farm it was.
The American troops narrowly escaped capture at this point, following their defeat at the Battle of Long Island. Aaron Burr was leading them to safety in Harlem when the British sought to cut off their retreat. Mrs. Murray entertained some passing British Generals and made them so comfortable that the Continental troops were well north of the hill 'ere the officers decided to bestir themselves. A skirmish occurred at about Fifth Avenue from 38th to 42nd Streets, but by the time the English threw their line across the island the last American soldier had already passed to safety.
At the 37th Street corner, northwest, is the residence of Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes. The huge granite structure on the opposite corner is the residence of the late Joseph De Lamar, who made millions in mining.
The town house of Percy Pyne, 2nd, whose grand-father founded the great National City Bank, is on the north corner of 40th Street, and opposite the residence of William Rockefeller, brother of John D. The rest of the avenue to 42nd Street is given up to business. At 42nd Street we come into a new region of office buildings, hotels and the Grand Central Terminal.