Whether you are a longtime resident or have only seen the city on TV or in film, the words "prewar buildings" tell a story of their own about New York; and no fewer words give a greater introduction to a neighborhood quite like they do for the Upper West Side. The area's architecture is legendary, with storied names like Dakota, Ansonia, Apthorp, Manhasset and Astor Court. A host of early 20th Century behemoths line Riverside Boulevard and Drive, caressing Riverside Park; plus the area's also home to the renowned Museum of Natural History.
The entire area north of 59th Street well up to Harlem was, as most of the city, pure country with rolling hills, fields, farms and streams. It was around the 18th Century that many country residences were established, particularly by well-to-do New Yorkers who lived on and near what was then Anthrop Farm and Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway).
By the 19th Century, smaller residences appeared, and much of the waterfront area was energized by shipping, transport and manufacturing. A major boom came with the addition of the Hudson River Railroad in the 1830s. Central Park was also created during this time, approximately 1850-60s, which oddly enough brought in many squatter shacks, boarding houses and taverns. In 1869 the American Museum of Natural History was completed, then another major change took place in the area in the later 1800s with the arrival of the elevated train line along Ninth Avenue (which was renamed Columbus), as well as Columbia University's move to Morningside Heights. One of the most famous area residences was completed around this time as well. The Dakota building stood alone alongside Central Park, with the area around it not yet developed. The building took on its name because many likened its location to that of The Dakota's of America. Over time, a small group of the building's well-healed owners would form the very first co-op in the city, each owning a share of the corporation that governed the building.
Major development still would not begin on the Upper West Side or in Morningside Heights until the turn of the 20th Century and the opening of the city's first subway line, then known as the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line.
Riverside Park was conceived in 1866, with its first segment being completed in 1872. Construction of the park would last until the late 1930s when Robert Moses added 132 acres of land to the park, covering the old Hudson River Railroad tracks. He also added playgrounds to the area as well as the 79th Street Boat Basin. The 1960s saw another period of renewal at the area's gateway in the lower West 60s, with the construction of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Towers apartments, and Fordham University's campus.
At its entry at the southwestern foot of Central Park, the area starts far more modern and polished than further north, as it's greeted by both a statue of Columbus and Trump Tower. Further in along Broadway and on Columbus, Amsterdam and eventually West End Avenues and Riverside Drive, you'll encounter a myriad of pre- and some post-war buildings of varying sizes. These get larger particularly along parts of Broadway, West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard and Drive. The niche is primarily a grid, with Broadway's traffic running in both directions down the center. Its southern edge begins at 59th Street and Central Park, stretching towards the river then up to 110th Street where it becomes Morningside Heights that extends to 125th Street, with St. Nicholas at the eastern end and Riverside Drive to the west. The 2 and 3 express trains will take you through the Upper West Side before heading to Harlem and The Bronx. The B and C trains also have stops along Central Park West, while the 1 train runs the entire area along Broadway.