Categories
Neighborhoods Podcasts

Welcome to Yorkville: German life on the Upper East Side

EPISODE 332 The Manhattan neighborhood of Yorkville has a rich immigrant history that often gets overlooked because of its location on the Upper East Side, a destination usually associated with wealth and high society.

But Yorkville, for over 170 years, has been defined by waves of immigrant communities which have settled here, particular those cultures from Central and Eastern Europe — Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks. 

The neighborhood developed thanks to its location to various streetcar and train lines, but that proximity insured that Yorkville would evolve in quite a different way from the more luxurious Fifth Avenue just a few blocks away.

The corner of 86th Street and Second Avenue, 1916 — Library of Congress/Bain Collection

Yorkville’s German cultural identity was centered around East 86th Street — aka Sauerkraut Boulevard — where cafes and dance halls catered to the amusements of German Americans. The Yorkville Casino was a ‘German Madison Square Garden’, catering to those seeking cabaret, film and ballroom dancing.

Does the spirit of old Yorkville still exist today? While events in the early 20th century brought dramatic change to this ethnic enclave, those events didn’t entirely erase the German spirit from the city streets.

In this show, we tell you where can still find the most interesting cultural artifacts of this often overlooked historical gem.

This episode is brought to you by the Historic Districts Council. Funding for this episode is provided by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and Council Member Benjamin Kallos.

This episode features an interview with Historic Districts Council executive director Simeon Bankoff and with Council Member Benjamin Kallos sharing his experiences in the neighborhood.


Listen to our podcast on the history of Yorkville here:

To get this episode, simply stream on Stitcher or your favorite podcast player

Or listen to it straight from here: WELCOME TO YORKVILLE: GERMAN LIFE ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE


A map from 1870, showing Yorkville officially on the map. Interestingly this is a bit of a ‘ghost map’ as Jones Wood (pictured here as Jones Park) was never really developed as an official park.

Ehret’s brewery in its early years, then in its grander days:

A couple interesting streetscapes of Yorkville from 1885 (courtesy the Museum of the City of New York) showing homes with large yards along a streetcar route:

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York
East 86th Street in 1914 — Ephemeral New York
Gathering for a streetcar conductor’s strike in Yorkville on East 86th Street — Library of Congress/Bain Collection

A diversity of housing in just a few blocks (photos by Greg Young):

Beautiful Henderson Place!
The Cherokee Apartments

Some other sites of Yorkville (photos by Greg Young)

Carl Schurz Park
Bohemian National Hall
Zion-St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church ( 339—341 East 84th Street) which traces its congregation from the Lower East Side.

FURTHER VIEWING
An excellent short film about the history of Yorkville from the Friends of the Upper East Side

And a short introduction to Schaller & Weber:


FURTHER LISTENING

After listening to this show on the history of Yorkville, dive into our back catalog to check out shows on subjects mentioned in this show:

The East Side Elevated: Life Under the Tracks

The General Slocum Disaster 1904

Danger In The Harbor: The Black Tom Explosion

Archibald Gracie and His Mansion

4 replies on “Welcome to Yorkville: German life on the Upper East Side”

I can’t leave yet another comment…oh, ok, I will! Loved the podcast on German Yorkville.( Also, the Ben Kallos interview.)
Yorkville is where I have been living for a long time! My former apt. on a beautiful block of 78th St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave. was built in 1905 as an upscale tenement, I guess. In the back of the bldg., my former apt. had windows facing west into the long, skinny backyards of about 4 or 5 townhouses in a row. These were surrounded by the high rises on East 79th and also on Third Ave.
I only heard fire engines, because the tallish bldgs. blocked out the street traffic. I heard “boids”, lots of mourning doves and others. I could see part of the back of the Yorkville branch of the NYPL that you mentioned in this podcast from my bedroom window. It’s still my branch.
The landlord, a German immigrant, bought up and owned many walk-ups in the area, back in the day. The goal was to empty these twin bldgs. that had tiny shops downstairs and turn them into one luxury rental. (My bldg. would be called “mixed use” ) I moved to another bldg. of theirs built in 1910 just 5 blocks north. with a relocation deal.
The owner’s son and daughter divided up the rental properties between them after he passed away.
The 78th St. Bldg. is now a luxury rental bldg., where they successfully merged the two bldgs. into one. I walk by it sometimes and once saw online that they promote this now fabulous rental bldg. by using a photo of my old view into those townhouses’ backyards. Ha! They even built a rooftop garden. The architect of the 78th St. building had acclaim in his day at the turn of the 20th Century.

yorkville native here. i’m glad you mentioned the irish population at the beginnings of the neighborhood. there isn’t much left but my parents came from there in the 1940s, there was a well-established commercial and social network in yorkville, and we’re not gone quite. seneca village was about 1/3 irish, and it should be presented as a multi-ethnic place, which would be a nice example in these days. i live on a building that was part of the 1880s wave of apartments you mention at about 25:55, and two of my aunts lived in the model tenements, one in the cherokee and one in the C&S.

great story about that german anti-nazi! but i wouldn’t believe this if i didn’t see it with my own two eyes, nazi rallies on second avenue as late as the 1960s.

pedant’s note, wilson was governor of NJ, not NY.

This was so real to me. I grew up on East 92nd Street (349). We lived in a 2 bedroom apartment on the 5th (top) floor, with 8 children. My dad paid extra rent to keep pigeon coops on the roof. My mom was from both Irish and German descent, her name was (ironically) Grace Kelly… My dad was Tommy Meehan, Steamfitter Local 638, and pigeon Flyer. Thank you so very much for sharing this. You made my night!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *