Murray Hill Neighborhood Association Celebrates 50 Years


Manhattan Moves Uptown

The Murray family had acted just in time. In 1848, Lexington Avenue was opened from 30th to 42nd Street and in 1851, the Fourth Avenue railroad tracks were covered over from 32nd to 40th Streets. The eight-block stretch of road was renamed Park Avenue, and the description was apt-the central malls were lavishly planted and featured well-groomed paths suitable for an enjoyable stroll.

People of wealth were beginning to move uptown from lower Manhattan, and Murray Hill was a now a favored destination. But it was obvious that Murray Hill had arrived as a neighborhood when the Astors moved uptown. It was the Mrs. Astor who ruled society in the late 1800s from her mansion on the northwest corner of Fifth and 33rd Street. This was the mansion with the famous ballroom that would hold only 400 people-the only 400 who counted.

Commerce sprang up at the neighborhood's eastern borders. In 1878, the Third Avenue El opened, as did shops from greengrocers to shoemakers in service to the middle class as well as the waves of new immigrants who filled the areas east and north of Murray Hill with shanties and squatters' huts.

The Grand Central Depot opened at the north end of the Park Avenue Tunnel in 1871, and by the following year, the surrounding blocks became hotel territory. The elegant Hotel Belmont and the Grand Union Hotel flanked the two south corners of 42nd Street and Park Avenue. One block south, between 40th and 41st Streets, the magnificently rococo Murray Hill Hotel stood until the 1970s-it was the crowning glory of the gilded age, with red and white marble floors, carmine plush furniture and rococo walls and ceilings in its 600 rooms. Among its regular patrons were Presidents McKinley and Cleveland, Mark Twain, and "Diamond Jim" Brady.