A small enclave in the northern reaches of the Upper East Side, Carnegie Hill is in many ways unlike any other neighborhood in New York City. Next to Central Park, quiet streets full of limestone rowhouses and pre-war co-ops are home to some of Manhattan’s most powerful residents, all of whom desire to claim this historic section of the Upper East Side as theirs. Yet Carnegie Hill wasn’t always like this; until Andrew Carnegie built his now-landmarked mansion on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street in 1901, much of the area was farmland. In turn, wealthy New Yorkers built their estates in the surrounding blocks, in doing so creating one of Manhattan’s most architecturally-significant neighborhoods. With the arrival of the subway a decade later, Carnegie Hill’s expansion continued at an even more rapid pace.
Even with such a history, it seems odd in a way that Carnegie Hill would ever feel the need to compete with other neighborhoods in New York City. The ultimate in luxury, Carnegie Hill’s co-ops, condos, and rentals are exquisitely detailed and prized on a scale seen in few other parts of the city. Perhaps such ambition comes from being usurped from holding the title of priciest Upper East Side neighborhood, a distinction now carried by Lenox Hill, if only with a difference of under $100 per square foot.
Perhaps what is most interesting about Carnegie Hill is its slow, northward-creeping border. For much of the Upper East Side’s history, 96th Street has been the area’s traditional boundary with East Harlem. As the city’s population has continued to grow and there is only so much supply on the Upper East Side, demand has steadily encroached into East Harlem, bringing with it the Carnegie Hill name. In some instances, a new border has been drawn, with 98th Street being an interesting border in particular. While two blocks may not seem like much, in Manhattan those two blocks are a wealth of valuable real estate.
While it is easy to lump the changing boundary of Carnegie Hill and East Harlem along with the further blurring of neighborhoods throughout Manhattan, this example in particular speaks volumes of the desire to live in a cherished Manhattan neighborhood and the quest for posh, yet affordable, housing. Further, the progressive adoption of such a boundary will allow for new development to capitalize on the Carnegie Hill name, exemplifying just how much power a .18-square-mile neighborhood really has in New York City.
The implications are interesting to say the least. How will new construction affect the neighborhood’s historic feel? As much of Carnegie Hill is protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the feeling of Old New York certainly will not subside. An increased population base will bring more people to this stunning neighborhood of Manhattan, not to mention boosted by an extensive array of museums, from the Guggenheim to the Cooper Hewitt. Maybe it is this concentration of activity and beautiful housing stock with a great location that keeps Carnegie Hill so in demand, and no wonder it seems to be getting slightly larger as time goes by.