History of the East 86th Street Corridor
East 86th Street came into existence when it was designated by the “Commissioner’s Plan of 1811”. Prior, the area was oak-hickory forest and farmland. In 1837, the New York and Harlem railroad opened a station at East 86th Street and Park Avenue, connecting the Upper East Side with the busy city center in Lower Manhattan. The station, which operated until 1903, still exists in partial form as a relic underneath the north side of the intersection. The railway brought the first wave of burgeoning commercial development. Central Park was established in 1857 and construction, directed by Calbert and Vaux began the next year. This great park was an instant lure to the wealthy of New York who began purchasing park adjacent properties in the East 50s and 60s. With time, the mansions continued building northward on Fifth Avenue. Andrew Carnegie built his great mansion, now the Cooper Hewitt Museum on 91st Street in 1903.
The second half of the 19th Century brought a massive wave of German immigration. By 1885, the area, now dubbed “German Town” (later “Yorkville”) had the 3rd largest German speaking population in the world behind Vienna and Berlin. East 86th Street came to be known as “German Broadway” crowded with pubs, dance halls, theaters, restaurants and more to cater to this wave. The 1900’s brought fresh waves of immigration with a concentration from the former Prussian Empire and later Europe as a whole. The IRT Subway line opened its 86th Street Subway station in 1917, spurring further development, the loss of both the Third Avenue and Second Avenue elevated lines in 1942 and 1955 had the opposite effect. The area stagnated. While still serving as a center of entertainment with great theaters like the Lowes Orpheum and department stores like Gimbel’s, the area was suffering with many of the same issues that the cash strapped city was during the 1970’s and early 80s. Since then, the east 86th Street corridor has been on a steady climb. New high rises started sprouting during the 1980s and 1990’s. During the early 2000’s luxury condos, most significantly Robert A.M. Stern’s, The Brompton on 86th and Third, and the Lucida on 86th and Lexington Avenue replaced depressed low-rise retail buildings with new, modern homes for stores like H&M, Sephora and Barnes and Noble. The East 86th Street Association was founded in 2004 with a focus on sanitation, safety, and beautification. Currently, the neighborhood continues to flourish and improve. The streets are cleaner, more high end retailers continue to open to incredible demand, and the Second Avenue Subway, a 100 year vision has finally opened to rave reviews.