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Radburn Views: Manhattan’s skyline reappears

Photo by Vladimir Brook

By Rick Hampson 

One nice thing about Radburn in the 1930s was a view of the world’s tallest building.

In a memoir written in the 1980s, a former Beekman Place resident named MacIntosh Aldridge recalled meeting his young friends at a huge rock in a field across Radburn Road from Radburn School.

There, on a clear day, they could admire “the wonderful view of the relatively new Empire State Building,’’ which had topped out in fall 1930 and opened the following spring.

Over the years, the view was obscured by trees. But now Manhattan’s skyline is again visible from Radburn. And it’s higher than ever.

If you stand on the hill on the B Park side of the school and look southeast, to the left of the Fair Lawn water tower, you can see the tops of three new Midtown condominium apartment towers.

They are sentinels on “Billionaires’ Row,’’ an array of supertall, super-expensive residential buildings. Unlike the Empire State, an office building, these skyscrapers are pencil-thin – designed to flood apartments with natural light.

The ones visible from Radburn are (from left in photo above):

432 Park Avenue (at East 56th Street): 1,397 feet

111 West 57th Street (Steinway Tower): 1,438 feet

Central Park Tower (Nordstrom Tower), 225 W. 57th St.: 1,550 feet

The Nordstrom and Steinway towers were completed last year, 432 Park in 2015.

These towers are taller than the Empire State Building (1,250 feet, not counting its antenna) and stand on higher ground (just south of Central Park vs. 34th Street).

They’re also a rebuke too many notions on which Radburn was based, especially housing affordability.

Their target market is a trans-national nouveau riche – movie stars, Wall Street tycoons, Russian oligarchs – looking for a second (or more likely a tenth) home. Having made fortunes in nations less regulated economically and less stable politically than the USA, many of these buyers want a safe investment as much, or more, than shelter. And they don’t want to pay New York resident income taxes.

As a result, mansion-size apartments with 20-mile views go unoccupied much or most of the time. Not since the Gilded Age, when the rich spent only a few months at their marble Newport “summer cottages,” has so much expensive space been so infrequently inhabited.

And at a time when as many as 80,000 New Yorkers – including tens of thousands of children – are homeless, the contrast between penthouse opulence and street-level poverty is as dizzying as any high-rise view.

Meanwhile, back in Radburn, the view of the Empire State Building – now merely the city’s seventh tallest tower -- is only a memory.

And that big rock on which Mac Aldrich and his pals once stood? It’s actually called a “glacial erratic,’’ a remnant of the last Ice Age. It’s still there today, between 18-23 and 18-27 Radburn Road. But, as Aldrich noted decades ago in his memoir, “Somehow, it seems to be smaller.’’

Contributing: Stephen Taylor

Rick Hampson and Stephen Taylor lead free Historic Radburn Walking Tours. For information, contact

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