For people interested in historic architecture and a family-friendly atmosphere, the neighborhood commonly called Carnegie Hill is one of the most desired locales in Manhattan.
Carnegie Hill effectively forms a village within the Upper East Side that extends from 86th to 96th streets between Central Park and Third Avenue and up to 98th Street from Fifth to Park avenues. It may not have the the too-cool-for-its-own-good aura of downtown, but “The area definitely has a powerful draw,” says Rob Sanderson, who has lived in three different Carnegie Hill buildings over the course of his 55 years. “There are certain people who love the culture, and it’s just a great community. It’s completely charming.”
Ever since Andrew Carnegie moved into 2 East 91st Street at the turn of the 20th century, the area that bears his name has been one of the most prestigious in the city among old-money types such as the Astors and Vanderbilts, who followed his lead and dotted the neighborhood with stately mansions.
But it was Carnegie who was the trendsetter for the elegant townhouses being built after the wealthy began to pour into the area. The second part of the name—the Hill—comes from original settlers, the Wickquasgeck Indians, who called the area Manahatta, meaning “hilly island.” Today the area of Carnegie Hill retains its designation principally in homage to the land before it that has long since been flattened by development.
“We like to think that people are attracted to the historic character of this neighborhood, because in the period when mansions were being built, the late 1800s, Andrew Carnegie chose to live here and that made it fashionable to live here,” says Lo van der Valk, president of Carnegie Hill Neighbors, which was organized in 1970 to preserve the historic architecture in the neighborhood and protect it from high-rise construction. “You can read excerpts in the paper that say a lot of wealthy people thought he was crazy; the streets weren’t even paved yet, but he felt confident that this was a nice neighborhood to live.”