Park Heights: Where the Streets Have Just Rain

The latest in our series on the neighborhoods of New York City. Click here for the last one on West Williamsburg.

When 111 Central Park North went up four years ago, it was supposed to thrust the Park Heights neighborhood into the same gentrified air as parts of Harlem were seeing a few blocks north.

The reality of the situation, though, is that the stretch of city atop Central Park, between Eighth and Fifth avenues, with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the distance, is just about the same as it was in the pre-111 Central Park North days. When The Observer went to visit recently, the neighborhood was desolate. The rain-soaked street and sidewalk outside the luxury condo building, on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 110th Street, saw a couple walking their dog briskly.

Aside from that, an eerie lack of people—so long as you don’t count the joggers braving the conditions on the Central Park side of 110th.

“Nobody’s dying to get there,” Charlie Lewis, a senior vice president at Warburg Realty, told The Observer when we profiled the building in 2008. “When it comes down to it, there’s no market because it’s almost like a little nondescript area. It’s just a great place to be for park views, but there’s no neighborhood.”

That distinction, the one of the area having “no neighborhood” could easily be challenged. Park Heights does have its own distinct flavor. The entire neighborhood has a sheen of newness, though, not the flashy kind seen in some of the city’s trendier neighborhoods, and without the grit of some of Park Heights’ uptown neighbors. Nearly every corner has a bodega. The local grocery store is a Shop Fair. Every so often a hair salon with a bright, colorful awning grabs the eyes of passersby. Churches pop up on a few blocks; the most prominent, the Inglesia Christiana Church, completely surrounds a bodega that juts out onto the sidewalk.

With gentrification, the Shop Fair becomes a Whole Foods, the bodegas become artisanal delis, and the hair salons, trendy bars.

Perhaps that’s why 111 Central Park North, and other new developments, haven’t quite caught on. Such developments simply don’t fit in with the rest of Park Heights right now. In fact, it sticks out like a sore thumb. The building’s glass-and-steel construction clashes with the rest of the neighborhood’s nearly uniform brick designs. The retail space includes a Subway restaurant and a deli, the latter the neighborhood already has in spades. The small concrete courtyard that buffers the retail space from the street is a far cry from the tree-filled traffic medium a block west on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

Two blocks north, on 112th Street, another Park Heights development, The Lore, a cream-colored luxury condo with units going for $845,000 each sits across from a brick-face tower. The Lore isn’t quite in the same position as 111 Central Park North, financially or location-wise, but the building sticks out there, too. The website boasts the condos are “where timelessness and the contemporary live in luxurious harmony” and is rife with pictures of Columbia’s campus, four blocks uptown and a tad to the west.

For now, Park Heights seems much more timeless than contemporary.

mcoyne@observer.com

Park Heights: Where the Streets Have Just Rain