“I am sure you will bring us all luck and happiness,” Rose Hicks had written Jane just before her niece and nephew left California. And now, as their car pulled up to Seventy East Seventy-Seventh Street, the building’s doorman may well have been the first non family member to welcome Jane Hall and her brother Dick to Manhattan. Dressed in formal regalia like his colleagues in surrounding apartment houses on the Upper East Side, he stood attentively under the canopy to – among many other duties – ensure that residents were not disturbed by anyone who did not belong in the building. In 1930 the Manhattan doorman was (and he still is) an institution, the symbol of a life in which privileged people derived great comfort from social and geographical boundaries. Jane – the acute observer and aspiring writer – began to take note.
The nine story burgundy-colored brick building had an elegant facade. Built at the end of the Great War, its eight room apartments with mahogany paneled libraries, formal dining rooms and a working fireplace spoke of another era. But this was only a temporary home; soon after Daysie Hall had died, Randolph Hicks had leased Apartment 7B at 1100 Park Avenue, a brand-new building on 89th Street. For the next two years, until she graduated from high school and the unrelenting Depression made it impossible for the Hickses to pay for three-bedrooms, Jane and her aunt and uncle would live in Carnegie Hill.
The prime residential area stretched from 86th to 96th Street, west of Third Avenue to Fifth Avenue and took its name from Andrew Carnegie’s 1901 mansion that is now the National Design Museum on Fifth at 91st Street. It was a perfect neighborhood for prosperous families***; perhaps most important, 1100 Park was only three blocks from the small independent school for girls that Jane would attend while her brother studied at the University of Virginia.
“I think it’s perfectly ripping to live on Park Avenue. Everybody’s been asking me what my address will be . . .wait till I give them an earful of that. Don’t you love living there better than on 77th?” Jane had asked her aunt at the beginning of July when she learned their new address. Of course she assumed everyone in the world had heard of Park Avenue. Contemporary guidebooks confirmed her impressions: “From the standpoint of social prestige Park Avenue – probably the dullest looking important street in the world – is the Gold Coast of New York.… Up north in the nineties, typical eight room apartments cost $5000 and up.”* (These were rental apartments. 1100 Park, one of many buildings designed in the prosperous 1920s and completed in 1930, did not become a cooperative until 1955.) Another guidebook by Rian James observed, the Avenue “trips daintily along through the center of Manhattan, with its top hat thrust jauntily on the back of its head; its nose in the air; it silver-tipped ebony walking stick flashing gaily in the sunlight. For Park Avenue is the street of streets.”** And all the while underneath this “Boulevard of the Bigwigs” that began on 32nd Street and extended North into a “squalid, thickly populated” world of tenements, New York Central Railroad trains rumbled on through the days and nights.
But first things first. Rose had so many practical matters on her mind there was hardly time for Jane and Dick to walk up to Carnegie Hill. The new apartment would not be ready until after the middle of September and so, almost immediately, the four would head south to the farm in Fauquier County, Virginia that was to be their second home. From there Dick could easily make the approximately eighty-mile trip to Charlottesville by train or car. Exasperated by Jane’s and Dick’s unsuitable clothes, Rose made sure they were outfitted for their new lives before they left the city. Dick acquired a college wardrobe and Jane enough clothes for the city and the country. At least she would wear a uniform to The Nightingale-Bamford School which fortunately did not begin until October 1. (That will be the subject of another post down the road.)
“New York is the greatest, grandest, most glorious show on earth – and it’s never closed. It’s more than a city – it’s an adventure around the world – an adventure compressed within 31 pulsating miles. And don’t take it seriously. Nobody does!”
Screenwriter Rian James 1930
*Helen Josephy and Mary Margaret McBride, New York Is Everybody’s Town (1931)
**All About New York (1930)
***This is a small section of a Research Print of Plate 118 of the 1930 Block Map that I purchased from c Historic Map Works, Portland, ME.
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