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A Brief History Of Yorkville: From the Revolutionary War to Barack Obama

Early Beginnings

It’s hard to believe now, but Yorkville was once sleepy and unremarkable – certainly a far cry from its current state as a prime neighborhood with picture-book mansions and luxury condos lining its streets. During the Revolutionary War, Yorkville was a key strategic territory where some of Washington’s Continental Army was stationed. Though a bit down-at-heels until the late 1800s, Yorkville was an incredibly industrious place during the nineteenth century, when it was home to masses of Irish and German immigrants, many of whom worked on the Croton Aqueduct (of which you can still see remnants scattered across the city). In fact, so synonymous was Yorkville with its European inhabitants, it earned the nickname “Germantown,” became a refuge for many after World War II, and is still home to German delis and restaurants as well as the annual Steuben Parade.

Famous Residents

Yorkville has been home to a host of famous residents, many from the world of entertainment. Basketball star Bob Cousy lived here, as did baseball legend Lou Gehrig, who resided at 309 East 94th Street. Remember the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz? He was played by actor Bert Lahr, who grew up in Yorkville in the early 1900s. James ‘you dirty double-crossing rat’ Cagney was another screen great who grew up in Yorkville during that time period, when the neighborhood was somewhat less salubrious than it is now. In 1989, a section of East 91st Street between Second and Third Avenues became James Cagney Place. Over at 179 East 93rd Street, one can only imagine the chaos that reigned in the Yorkville residence where the Marx Brothers lived when they were very young. As the home of Gracie Mansion, Yorkville has also hosted numerous mayors of New York, although perhaps its most famous political resident of all is U.S. President Barack Obama, who lived at 339 East 94th Street before and after graduating from Columbia University.

Gracie Mansion

But let’s return to Gracie Mansion: this is, after all, an iconic Manhattan address, and quite possibly the ultimate Upper East Side residence, though it’s actually in Yorkville. The mansion was built in 1799 by a well-to-do stock trader named Archibald Gracie. In those days, it was located so far from the center of the city as to be considered a country retreat. Alas, Gracie soon found himself strapped for cash, and the house was sold to a series of owners until 1896, when the City of New York acquired it. In 1942, Gracie Mansion became the official mayoral residence of New York City, and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia moved in. Since then, it’s been home to many a mayor of New York, though not all of them. Michael Bloomberg, for example, only used the house for meetings. But current Mayor Bill de Blasio and family have once more made it a home. Oh, and fittingly, the mansion is situated in Carl Schurz Park – a nod to one of Yorkville’s great German residents.

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