Gotham Diary:
Bella Vista
15 August 2019

¶ The other day, I paid a visit to our formerly-nearer neighbor in her apartment on the eighteenth floor. One thing led to another, and when I asked about impending construction across the street, she directed me to a closer look from her window, which commands a panoramic view of Midtown.

Like almost all such views, it’s not as panoramic as it used to be. When she moved in, over forty years ago, she could see Everything, you name it. Now, not so much. But the lesser buildings that have obstructed her view of the more famous ones have until recently been pretty far away. Now there are two new buildings just a few block down Second Avenue, one on the corner of 81st and a much taller one on the corner of 80th. And whatever goes up across the street — right across the street from her window — will make it a bit difficult to gaze at the distance. 

For some time, the lots formerly occupied by three vernacular buildings — townhouses, walk-ups, call them what you like — have stood vacant and undeveloped. A while ago, it occurred to me that the builders were waiting to be able to add a fourth lot to their parcel, and the view from our neighbor’s apartment confirmed this. Even though there is no sign of construction on the street — no scaffolding, no dumpster — we could see from the eighteenth floor that the building immediately to the west of the three vacant lots is being demolished from the side, as it were. There’s a dumpster pulled up right against its eastern wall, and it is not empty. So the obstruction of our neighbor’s view will be even more considerable. If there’s one thing I don’t much care for, it’s a view of the building across the street. 

For years, in our apartment across the hall from our neighbor, Kathleen and I were spared such crowding. Our view looked out high over the tops of all the smaller buildings on this particular block of Manhattan.* To be sure, when we moved in nearly forty years ago, there was much more to be seen, especially in the way of the East River and the Triborough Bridge, but none of the ensuing construction was closer than the corner of 87th and First. Spaciousness persisted. 

Now, of course, we have a view of the building across the street. but it is much nicer than the view from our living room upstairs, which did not share the spaciousness of the view from the bedroom or the view from the balcony, even though it looked in the very same direction. What we saw from the old living room was the big apartment house just a few steps east on 86th Street. Our new view is greatly softened by the verdure of sycamores and honey locusts. And we are much closer to the street, hardly any higher up than the top floor of a walk-up ourselves. The word for the effect is “Greenwich Village,” and it is really quite charming, if you don’t look too closely.

But I do worry about the honey locust in the center of the view. Every year, its leaves burgeon later than the others’, and they are the first to fall off. The tree is not small. Its absence would create a terrible hole. I can only hope that it will outlive me. 

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