Murray Hill appeals equally to 20-somethings eager for a night out and residents who love it as the quiet enclave filled with play spaces for children, great delis, and architectural gems. “Contrasts make the area distinctive” says the New York Times. “The common theme is that there is no common theme.” While it’s gained a popular image, there are still some facts about it that most people don’t know.
Meet the Murrays
Murray Hill takes its name from Mary and Robert Murray, who bought the land which now lies between 33rd and 39th Streets in the 18th century. The Robert Murray was a wealthy merchant who built a massive estate on the property, leading locals to refer to the area as Murray Hill. Although the hill has since been leveled by urbanization, the name lives on.
The Hill was Deliberately Flattened
The levelling was, in fact, part of an innovative work relief program designed to keep dockers employed during the 1808 embargo that closed New York harbor. Between twenty and forty feet were sliced off the summit and used for fill, all shoveled by hand.
Mary Murray Helped Defeat the British
Mary Lindley Murray is credited with playing a crucial role in facilitating General Washington’s retreat from New York following the British landing at Kip's Bay, September 15, 1776. She delayed William Howe and his army by inviting the officers to tea, distracting them long enough to allow Israel Putnam to escape the city and join up with George Washington’s forces. Her tea party tactics saved 4,000 men, who otherwise would have been cut off and captured.
Author O. Henry’s Local Drinking Hole
Pete’s Tavern is a local institution, and claims to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant & bar in New York City. Prolific short story writer O. Henry lived just down the street and is reported to have been a regular. Pete’s Tavern, then named Healy's, appears in his short story "The Lost Blend" under the name "Kenealy's."
Some of Murray Hill’s grandest architectural gems include the Mayor James Harper Residence (located on the west side of the park) and the Players and National Arts Clubs (on the southwestern side of the park). The more modern Baruch College building looms just south of there. Towering fourteen curving stories above ground, the college building provides a unique combination of new technology and dazzling architectural design.
While not an obvious destination for most tourists or local wanderers, Murray Hill is a treasure trove of interesting spots and sights, and well worth a meander.
Murray Hill is nearby the prestigious Gramercy Park, inaccessible to all but the residents of surrounding buildings. One afternoon a year, usually the first Saturday in May, the park is open to the public. For the rest of the year, visitors have to make do with peering through the wrought-iron gates and admiring the incredible period architecture situated on its outskirts.
The New York Times highlights some of the area’s other distinctions: “It has the oldest surviving co-op building in the city (34 Gramercy Park East, built in 1883), which had the last hydraulic elevator in the city (electrified in 1994). It has the largest Victorian mansion in the city (the National Arts Club at 15 Gramercy Park South), which was the city's first private club to admit women on an equal basis with men (in 1898).”