Heaven on the Hudson

Mansions, Monuments, and Marvels of Riverside Park

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Pub Date 27 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 15 May 2023
Fordham University Press, Empire State Editions

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A colorful tale of a singular New York City neighborhood and the personalities who make it special

To outsiders or East Siders, Riverside Park and Riverside Drive may not have the star status of Fifth Avenue or Central Park West. But at the city’s westernmost edge, there is a quiet and beauty like nowhere else in all of New York. There are miles of mansions and monuments, acres of flora, and a breadth of wildlife ranging from Peregrine falcons to goats. It’s where the Gershwins and Babe Ruth once lived, William Randolph Hearst ensconced his paramour, and Amy Schumer owns a penthouse. Told in the uniquely personal voice of a longtime resident, Heaven on the Hudson is the only New York City book that features the history, architecture, and personalities of this often overlooked neighborhood, from the eighteenth century through the present day.

Combining an extensively researched history of the area and its people with an engaging one-on-one guide to its sights, author Stephanie Azzarone sheds new light on the initial development of Riverside Park and Riverside Drive, the challenges encountered—from massive boulders to “maniacs”—and the reasons why Riverside Drive never became the “new Fifth Avenue” that promoters anticipated. From grand “country seats” to squatter settlements to multi-million-dollar residences, the book follows the neighborhood’s roller-coaster highs and lows over time. Readers will discover a trove of architectural and recreational highlights and hidden gems, including the Drive’s only freestanding privately owned villa, a tomb that’s not a tomb, and a sweet memorial to an eighteenth-century child. Azzarone also tells the stories behind Riverside’s notable and forgotten residents, including celebrities, murderers, a nineteenth-century female MD who launched the country’s first anti-noise campaign, and an Irish merchant who caused a scandal by living with an Indian princess.

While much has been written about Central Park, little has focused exclusively on Riverside Drive and Riverside Park until now. Heaven on the Hudson is dedicated to sharing this West Side neighborhood’s most special secrets, the ones that, without fail, bring both pleasure and peace in a city of more than 8 million.

A colorful tale of a singular New York City neighborhood and the personalities who make it special

To outsiders or East Siders, Riverside Park and Riverside Drive may not have the star status of Fifth...

Advance Praise

"Riverside Park is the armature onto which Stephanie Azzarone has constructed a scrumptious encomium to much more than merely that elongated swathe of  greenery. She has used the history of the park and its adjacent eponymous avenue to tell a much broader story of how New York and the living styles of New Yorkers have developed and changed over the decades. She relates tales both enlivening and horrifying of some of the more interesting people who have participated in the development of the Riverside Drive neighborhood and she provides a well-narrated walking tour up the Avenue. Architecture, planning, art, politics, arrogance, and present-day concerns all are part of the book’s vivid  prose. With wit and delightful detail Azzarone simultaneously documents and charms."—Andrew Alpern, author of Posh Portals: Elegant Entrances and Ingratiating Ingresses to Apartments for the Affluent in New York City

"Heaven on the Hudson is a fascinating account of the rise, fall, and rise again of Riverside Drive. Azzarone's deep research and skillful storytelling makes this a brisk, lively read for New York natives and out-of-towners alike."—Esther Crain, author of The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910

"Heaven on the Hudson gives Riverside Drive, one of the world’s great thoroughfares, its due. All the beauty, all the architecture, all the notables, and all the history are offered in one book. For the local and non-local reader alike, this book is a page-turner. It surprises (even this historian) with enjoyable and fascinating details that reveal Riverside’s not-so-well known treasures. Best is that one can walk Riverside Drive with Heaven on the Hudson in hand to explore and enjoy. My high expectations for a long overdue and good book about Riverside Drive has been vastly exceeded."—Jim Mackin, author of Notable New Yorkers of Manhattan's Upper West Side: Bloomingdale-Morningside Heights

"Stephanie Azzarone marries sparkling prose to impressive research in painting the portrait of a very special place in New York City, Riverside Park and its undulating border of apartment houses and mansions. Along with a comprehensive history of the park, she brings to life not only the area's bricks and stones, but also its ghosts—now-vanished buildings and the storied denizens of generations past—all while reminding us of the city's larger social and historical context."—Daniel J. Wakin, author of The Man with the Sawed-Off Leg and Other Tales of a New York City Block

"Stephanie Azzarone’s Heaven on the Hudson is both a history and a love letter to the green coast of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In lively prose, the author recounts the improbable circumstances of Riverside Park’s creation, spanning the decades from the close of the Civil War through the Great Depression. She also  introduces us to a generous sampling of the geniuses, crusaders and eccentrics who built and lived along its magnificent bordering street, Riverside Drive."—Gilbert Tauber, Editor, oldstreets.com and nycstreets.info

"Riverside Park is the armature onto which Stephanie Azzarone has constructed a scrumptious encomium to much more than merely that elongated swathe of greenery. She has used the history of the park...

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Featured Reviews

This was great. Loved the writing and really enjoyed the ideas and concepts in this book. I had lots of fun. Highly recommend!

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A deep dive into the history of the development of Riverside Park and its surrounding architecture. Many of the more luxurious mansions that rimmed the Hudson at this point are gone, having celebrated a relatively short lifetime, making way for beautifully kept multi dwellings. As with any neighborhood, it has suffered some ups and downs, but today remains a desirable neighborhood given the names dropped by the authors.

One note -- this galley provided was rough. The letters "fi" and "fl" were omitted, as were any numerical references which enhance a reading experience, such as street numbers and monetary amounts.

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A historical collection of stories and photographs about the grand houses and their wealthy and famous occupants of the RIverside of the Hudson. This beautiful book contains modern photos of what some of these houses look like now, in the current modern city.

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Have you ever read a love letter to a city? Well, you are in luck if not because Stephanie Azzarone has written one to Riverside Park and Riverside Drive in New York City. "Heaven on the Hudson" looks at the often ignored portion of the city which doesn't have the instantly recognizable aspects of Central Park or downtown Manhattan.

A book like this can be very niche if not handled delicately. Azzarone is a longtime resident and her prose bears that out. She talks lovingly about various buildings and events which matured Riverside since the 18th century. She chooses her stories wisely to keep things interesting and moving along. This book is the equivalent of the friend at a party who loves a story so much that you get sucked in as well. I highly recommend getting the print version as the pictures are a huge part of the story.

Plus, there are a few scandalous episodes as well. That never hurts.

(This book was provided to me as an advance copy by Netgalley and Fordham University Press.)

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Heaven on the Hudson
By Stephanie Azzarone

This book is an account of life along the Hudson River (along Riverside Drive and Riverside Park). From the mercantile magnates beginning with Oliver De Lancey, who fought on the Tory side during the Revolutionary War, and Charles Apthorp, whose property ultimately came into the hands of William Ponsonby Furniss, a shipping magnate. The area blossomed with stately mansions, where giants of mercantilism and industry, as well as well-known figures such as Edgar Allen Poe passed some time.

The book tracks the ups and downs of the area, as descendants broke up or sold off the properties and the properties fell into disrepair and abandonment. It goes on to track the property through the civil war and after, when New Yorkers rehabilitated the area in different ways over the years since then, right up to the present..

The book is interesting, especially for anyone familiar at all with the area. The author obviously loves her little patch of "Heaven on the Hudson".

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The arduous research from the NYPL and the Museum of the City of New York alone is so totally daunting! The photographs alone make this book a bargain at any price. For those of us who geek history, and especially that of a given area of The City, this book is a real treasure of priceless information of the history and development of the area along the Hudson River, especially Riverside Park.
I requested and received a free temporary e-book courtesy of Fordham University Press/Empire State Editions and Adobe Digital Editions via NetGalley. Thank you!!

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Stephanie Azzarone has lived in Riverside Park for more than thirty years. She wrote this book to explain what she loves about her neighborhood. The first half of this book gives a general history of the neighborhood and the colorful characters who lived there in bygone days; the second half is a walking tour, with block-by-block descriptions of buildings, their architecture, and some of the famous people who've lived in them. There's also a glossary of architectural terms and, this book being printed by a university press, many pages of references, and a long index. The book is lavishly illustrated with pictures of buildings, celebrities, and the riverfront park itself.

For most people I know, the result might be summarized as "how part of New York City tried to be as nice as my town." In fact Azzarone mentions the inevitable effect of crowding on the neighborhood: street crime occurs, and the Hudson River became badly polluted. But people have worked to address these issues. Photos of the river today show clear water and people enjoying walking beside it.

People who live in, love, or have loved New York City are interested in this book. It's a local thing but bookstores and libraries far from New York may be surprised at the interest people show in a book about the poshest part of Manhattan. Those people will not be disappointed. This book is a feast for the eye and a delight for trivia buffs.

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Amazing book I'm from New York originally and I didn't even know the history Of riverside Park. It was interesting how this book talked about You're amazing buildings and how they were related to riverside park. I can't believe there are a lot on the national registry and New York City registry To preserve this I think that's great because you can see how things changed in New York. And how Robert Morse try Do the right thing by changing things but I don't think he should have knocked down New York yacht club. I find it I'll Grant's tomb was there and how the soldier Morel was there as well. I liked how the firefighter memorial was there to honor fire people who have died in fighting fires in the city. There's a lot of history to the upper West side time to riverside park. They mentioned an incident Which Jack carrack was involved You put this in one of his books. It While a dead person In a carpet Then threw him in the Hudson river. I liked the pictures in the book as well when you were reading about the places because it gave it a very visual effect.

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Heaven on the Hudson by Stephanie Azzarone is a delightful book that introduced me to an area I had only ventured into a couple of times while living in NYC. I found both the history and the glimpse at the area now quite interesting.

I wasn't sure how I was going to feel when I saw that a significant part of the book is history. It didn't take long before I was caught up in how the area was developed and went through several different lives. The writing kept me engaged and the information was very interesting.

That historical background definitely set the stage for the stroll up Riverside Drive. So much history for each of the buildings covered while also pointing out the amazing architecture as it is today (though it pained me to see a building essentially shaved of curves).

The second section, "The Sights," would make an excellent multimedia project. In fact, perhaps several. Like any neighborhood there is not just one history, not just one history to tell. Combining things such as a visual walking tour with pictures from the past could be made into a cultural history, a socioeconomic history, it could even be used to tell the story of The City as a whole through the lens of one drive and park. So many interesting possibilities. Even a biographical stroll, looking at the various people who have lived there.

I would recommend this to people who like to read about history of localities, as well as those interested in architecture. Those interested in the buildings themselves more than the people or the cultural history can do what I did, supplement the book with image/video searches online, as well as street-level map programs (though I spent some time behind a bus on Google Maps).

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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The book is full of interest facts, history about Riverside Park, Riverside drive. However,, my ARC copy has a couple of quirks…”fi” does not appear…so “firer” is “re” “deficiency” is “de ciency”…interestingly after this happening about 10 times my brain just started inserting the letters and I was okay with it. The other problem was no numbers appeared…so 110th st became “th st”. Etc…and i have absolutely no idea what years, decades any thing happened. That being said anyone interested in NY parks, architecture, history will love this books, just skim first to make sure it has numbers/dates!

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Excellent read. Author Stephanie Azzarone provides an in-depth yet fast-paced history of Riverside Park and Drive, an area of NYC that this reader has rarely seen books on. A good mix of history, photos from the past and more recent times, and a little bit of personal anecdotes from the author. It is definitely worth reading, especially for those who think Central Park is THE park of NYC. This book opens the door to learn something new about NYC.

Thanks to NetGalley and Fordham University Press for access to this ARC, which I voluntarily read and reviewed.

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I wanted to read this book because hit on several of my favorite things, history, old architecture, and life in New York City. I’ve long been fascinated by the people living their lives in NYC in the old prewar buildings with high ceilings and beautiful trim. Of course, not all are lucky enough to live in these historic buildings, but every now and then a regular person gets lucky enough to land an apartment with glorious architectural details.

Ms. Azzarone’s book details the early days of the Upper West Side along the Hudson and the development of Riverside Park. I started Ms. Azzarone’s book with great anticipation and having previously read some New York City history was not surprised by some of the beginning chapter information. From squatters living in the dirt, to mansion after mansion, the growth was phenomenal once the area began to be developed. I was disappointed not to see more photographs showing the beautiful mansions that were built along the Hudson by the absurdly rich of the time. Despite their exorbitant costs and lengthy build times, for the most part, they had a short time of existence before being replaced by multi-family buildings.

The reading could be a bit dry at times, but due to the author’s elaborate research, the entertaining tidbits lightened the mood and kept the story flowing. It was easy to see that this was a love story told by the author for the area she so deeply adores. If I ever visit, New York City again, this area will be on my list of must-sees.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Fordham University Press, for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion. I gave it 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

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