Historic Citizens Savings Bank Building: NYC Landmark

Visitors to Manhattan’s Chinatown and nearby streets are sure to see some unique and interesting architecture. On the edge of Chinatown, close to the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge, is a New York City Landmark building: the historic Citizens Savings Bank. Later known as the Manhattan Savings Bank, the building is now occupied by HSBC. (HSBC purchased Citizens Savings Bank’s successor in 1999.)

Citizens Savings Bank is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture and was designed by architect Clarence W. Brazer. The building was completed in 1924 and was designated a city landmark in 2011. It’s not a huge building, but it’s solidly built, with a domed roof. Today, it’s surrounded by modern buildings, making its architecture stand out in comparison.

Above the entrance is this sculpture and clock designed by Charles Keck. It portrays a Native American, a sailor, and an eagle. (Additionally, if you look closely at the photo above, you may be able to see the small stone “beehives” on either side of the sculpture – I learned that beehives symbolize thrift.)

There are also these imposing lions stationed near the entrance – I think they are a much more recent addition.

Although the building still operates as a bank, the employees graciously allowed me to enter and take a few interior photos. From my research, I learned that the somber interior was meant to instill confidence in the bank’s ability to protect depositors’ money. Banks in the 1920s generally did not have insurance for deposits, and it was not uncommon for banks to fail. Depositors wanted to place their money in banks that seemed safer, and architecture could be used to create such an image. There are still some original architectural design details in the bank’s interior, such as the dome and the subtle messages painted in each corner near the ceiling. Would these messages give you confidence in the bank?

Want to see this New York City landmark for yourself? The bank is located at the corner of Canal Street and Bowery on the edge of Chinatown. It’s several city blocks’ walk from the subway. Take the B or D train to Grand Street, the F train to East Broadway, or the J, Z, or 6 train to Canal Street.

Want more detail about the building, the bank’s history, and the NYC landmark designation? The entire city landmark commission report is found here.

 

Subway Station Art: East Broadway Station

The subway station at East Broadway on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has a beautiful ceramic tile mural by artist Noel Copeland. Copeland was born in Jamaica, but he immigrated to the United States and received his art education at the Pratt Institute School of Art and Design. He currently lives in New York City, and he has several public art installations across New York City, located in public schools, public housing complexes, community centers, and public transportation stations.

The mural at East Broadway is titled Displacing Details and is 24 feet long. In creating the mural, Copeland drew inspiration from historic buildings on the Lower East Side. In 1991, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded Copeland the Arts for Transit Creative Station Award for Displacing Details.

Here are a few photos of the mural. The first one shows the panel in the middle, which I love. There’s also a great border that surrounds the entire mural and illustrates various architectural details.

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If you are interested in seeing Displacing Details yourself, take the F train to East Broadway. The mural is on the mezzanine level.

NYC’s Historical Firehouses: Little Italy and Vicinity

In the early years of New York City’s history, the fire department was made up of volunteers. Beginning in 1865, however, the city had a professional firefighting force for the first time with the establishment of the Fire Department of New York. Over the next several decades, numerous firehouses were constructed to house neighborhood units. Most have since been torn down to make way for newer construction, but there are still some hidden gems scattered around the city. Each one has its own character and history.

The first firehouse I’m going to feature in this post is no longer an active firehouse, but it was originally home to Engine Company 31. It’s a gorgeous building, both a New York City landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture draws inspiration from 16th century French chateau. Today, the building is home to the Downtown Community Television Center, which provides workshops and other resources for documentary filmaking in the local community.

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The building has some beautiful, intricate details.

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If you want to see the old Engine 31 firehouse for yourself, it is located at 87 Lafayette Street.

Another historical firehouse is the home to Engine Company 55. It is located at 363 Broome Street in Little Italy. Unlike Engine 31, the Engine 55 firehouse is still an active firehouse.

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The building has some interesting architectural details.

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One interesting note: the character actor Steve Buscemi worked as a FDNY firefighter when he was young, and Engine Company 55 was his unit.

Much more important, this firehouse has bronze memorial plaques on the walls to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty. The oldest one is this one, memorializing men who died in 1903 and 1918:

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Tragically, Engine 55 was one of the first units responding to the World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11. The unit lost five of its own that day, and each one has his own plaque next to the firehouse’s entrance. Because the unit was one of the first ones on the scene of the terrorist attack, the firetruck itself was buried under the rubble when the towers collapsed. The crushed truck was not found until approximately 6 months later, when the recovery crews discovered it more than 40 feet below ground. Although the plaques look very similar, I thought it was important to honor each firefighter by showing them here. You will see that all of them state that the firefighter was “operating at Manhattan Box 5-5-8087.” From my research, it appears that 8087 was the fire alarm box associated with the World Trade Center.

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Views of New York City on a Foggy Night

My first Finding NYC blog post, more than one and a half years ago, showed some of my favorite photos of the New York City skyline. (You can find that post here.) One of the best views of Manhattan is from Gantry Plaza State Park, along the East River in Long Island City, Queens. The park is a wonderful place to watch the sun set over the city, and the city lights at night can be magical.

Last night we went to a restaurant not far from the waterfront, and afterwards we walked down to the park to view the city. The clouds were coming in, and fog was descending. It certainly was a different view than usual! Still, even without being able to see the skyline, the city was beautiful. Would you have guessed that this is New York City?

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This was definitely not the night to use the viewers – as demonstrated by my wife! Regardless, we had fun. And on a night like this, we had the park to ourselves.

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The fog was not so thick that we didn’t spy the Queensboro Bridge in the distance. This is one bridge that looks better at night, when the bridge’s structure is less visible.

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There are always the views of Long Island City and the gantry cranes – the fog had not obscured them yet.

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Or how about this view of the Hunter’s Point Library construction site, with its unique architectural design by architect Steven Holl? I can’t wait to see the library once it’s finished!

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Here’s another close-up view. Doesn’t it look intriguing?

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Finally, a photo of the vintage Pepsi sign. Even with some of the neon tubes unlit, the sign still glows brightly in the dark.

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(If you want to visit Gantry Plaza State Park yourself, the directions are found here, in my earlier Manhattan skyline post.)

Columbia University’s Beautiful Campus

If you’ve never been to the campus of Columbia University, it is definitely worth a visit.Visitors are welcome to tour the campus grounds, using self-guided tour materials offered on the university’s website here. Columbia University has a long history, at least by American terms – it was founded by royal charter from King George the II in 1754, when New York was still an English colony. First known as King’s College, the university’s name was changed to Columbia after the American Revolution.

Columbia University moved to its current location in the Manhattan neighborhood of Morningside Heights in 1897, and the buildings you will see on a walking tour have all been built since that time. One of the first buildings you will see as you enter campus is this one, the Low Library. Low Library is the oldest building on campus and now serves as the university administration’s headquarters. It’s also home to the Visitor Center, and you can pick up a map for your journey. (This is also one of only two buildings open to the public – other campus buildings require a university ID card for entry.)

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In front of Low Library is this statue, titled Alma Mater. The sculpture was created by artist Daniel Chester French, known best for his larger-than-life statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

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Another early building constructed on the new campus was Earl Hall, which from the first has housed diverse religious groups. From the tour materials, I learned that the building also contains the offices of community services organizations.

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Of course there are numerous academic buildings to see, but some of my favorite discoveries were public art. There was this statue by George Grey Barnard titled The Great God Pan.

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In contrast, there was also this modern bronze sculpture, Reclining Figure, by Henry Moore.

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A short distance away is Scholars Lion, by Greg Wyatt.

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Scholars Lion is a real contrast with another nearby sculpture, Clement Meadmore’s The Curl.

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As I continued walking, I found this statue titled Le Marteleur (not mentioned in the Visitor’s Guide), as well as a bronze casting of Auguste Rodin’s Le Penseur.

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Even smaller ornaments such as urns, light posts, and fountains – some simple, others ornate – are beautiful.

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Finally, a couple of photos of other distinctive campus buildings: St. Paul’s Chapel, which appeared to be undergoing some restoration, and Butler Library, the center of the university’s library system since the 1930s.

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It is easy to get to Columbia University by public transportation. Take the 1 train to the 116th Street station. The station is located next to the university’s entrance.

Exploring the New York Public Library

As I’m a voracious reader and lover of books and libraries, the New York Public Library – and specifically the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – is one of my favorite places in New York City. Although the library now has annexes all over the city, this building, which first opened to the public in 1911, is the one that most people associate with the NYPL. Today, I thought I’d take you on a tour of the library.

Here’s our view as we get ready to cross Fifth Avenue and approach the main entrance to the building. As you can see, the building is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture. Doesn’t it look promising as we approach?

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As we cross the street, we see the famous library lions. Since the 1930s, they’ve been known by the names Patience and Fortitude.

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During the Christmas season, the lions wear evergreen wreaths studded with pinecones and trimmed with a red bow.

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On either side of the main entrance are magnificent fountains. If you look closely, you may be able to see the netting that prevents birds from perching on the statues.

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Make sure you look around as we go through the entrance. The details on the huge bronze doors are incredible, and the arched ceiling of the portico is also magnificent.

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We’ve entered into the grand Astor Hall. The white marble reflects the light shining through the front windows.

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Here’s one of my favorite details in the entire library – a small marble plaque set into Astor Hall’s floor. The plaque remembers Martin Radtke, a Lithuanian immigrant to the United States who educated himself during regular visits to the library over the course of his life. Upon Martin’s death in 1973, the library discovered that he had left his savings to the library – $368,000 in all. How special that he has been honored in this way.

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There’s so much more to see as we explore the library’s many rooms and corridors. Can you imagine sitting at one of the tables for a while, reading a book you’ve requested from one of the librarians? If you have the time, we can catch up on some news in the periodicals reading room, or explore an atlas in the Map Division reading room. And there’s so many interesting architectural details and art to experience as well. Don’t forget to look up! The ceilings display more fine craftsmanship.

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Periodically throughout the hallways you may spy these lions along the wall, remnants of the original water fountain system. You can’t get a drink of water from these fountains today, but they are still fun to see.

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One of the most impressive rooms in the library is the Rose Reading Room, which stretches the length of a football field. The Rose Reading Room has just reopened after a lengthy restoration process. The ceilings are beautiful in this room as well, and there are so many other interesting architectural details to explore.

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Let’s not forget to head down to the ground floor. As we exit the elevator, we spy this rare artifact: a set of pay phone booths! Unsurprisingly, none of them are in use.

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And then we come to the library’s Children’s Center. The entrance to the Children’s Center is guarded by lions as well, although these two are made of Lego blocks.

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The Children’s Center is a magical place, with a mural of various New York City landmarks stretching around the room.

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Best of all there are the original stuffed animals that inspired author A. A. Milne to write the children’s book Winnie the Pooh.

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I hope that you enjoyed our tour. There are even more treasures to be discovered if you visit the New York Public Library for yourself. The library even offers free tours on a daily basis. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, between 40th and 42nd Streets. (Yes, the building stretches the length of two city blocks – but the short blocks!)

A personal note: I wrote this post as a tribute to a wonderful friend and family member that we lost this week. Roy lived an incredible life, full of love and family adventures. His wife Rosie, my cousin, has become a close friend as we’ve collaborated on family history projects. Roy had lost his eyesight over the years, but he still participated in numerous book clubs and loved to read. He was one of those special people who are life-long learners. Somehow, writing about a library seemed like the perfect way to honor his memory as his family prepares to celebrate his life tomorrow.

Brooklyn’s Central Library

Many people have heard of the New York Public Library, but what about Brooklyn’s Central Library? The Central Library’s Beaux-Arts design was created by architect Raymond F. Almirall, and from the front is meant to look like an open book. Although construction on the library began in 1912, the economic effects of World War I and the Great Depression meant that it wasn’t completed until 1941.

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One of my favorite parts of the Central Library is the 50-foot high entrance to the building. There are two main features on the entrance facade: a series of 15 sculptures portraying various characters in American literature, and on the columns on either side of the door, a series of bas-relief sculptures that the library website describes as “depicting the evolution of arts and sciences.” The project’s sculptors were Thomas Hudson Jones and Carl P. Jennewein.

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Here are some close-up views of a few of the entrance sculptures. In order from top to bottom, they include: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, from the children’s poem by Eugene Field; Brer Rabbit, from Joel Chandler Harris’s Tales of Uncle Remus; Moby Dick, the whale from Herman Melville’s novel of the same name; and the raven from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem.

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I also love this quote carved into the limestone to the right of the library’s entrance, written by former Brooklyn Library Board President Roscoe C. Brown.

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Still more treasures are located along the side of the buildings, in between the windows. Each small quote is different, making further exploration rewarding. Here are just a few.

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And tucked off to the side is this special entrance to the Children’s Library, with these adorable cast iron squirrels decorating the gates.

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For those interested in visiting the Central Library for themselves, it’s just a short walk from either the Grand Army Plaza subway station or the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum station. Take the 2 or 3 train to either stop.

Reflective Accident: NYC Architecture and Bergdorf Goodman Windows

I hadn’t had the chance to check out Bergdorf Goodman’s holiday windows, so after Christmas dinner we headed off to check them out. I wanted to get photos of the windows to post on the blog, as last year’s Bergdorf Goodman windows were spectacular. (You can see last year’s windows here.) According to David Hoey, Senior Director of Visual Presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, “The windows are like magical realist versions of natural history museum dioramas.”

Unfortunately, there was still too much daylight when I took my photos. As a result of the sunlight, I wasn’t able to capture clear photos of the window displays. But when I later looked at the photos on my computer, I found some unexpected results – reflections of neighboring buildings partially obscuring what is behind the glass. I thought that the results made for some interesting images. You’ll have to tell me what you think!

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Wonder what the windows look like without the reflections? Click here to see Bergdorf Goodman’s reveal of this year’s holiday windows.

Hidden Treasures of Roosevelt Island: Smallpox Hospital and Four Freedoms Park

In the middle of the East River between Manhattan and Queens is Roosevelt Island, with the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge stretching overhead. Most people never visit Roosevelt Island, unless they happen to take a trip on the Roosevelt Island Tram. (Riding the F train when it stops at the Roosevelt Island station doesn’t count!) But it’s definitely worth taking the time to explore Roosevelt Island further. Today, I thought I’d focus on the hidden treasures found on the south end of the island: the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital and Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.

The Smallpox Hospital ruins capture the imagination. The original building was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. and completed in 1856, when Roosevelt Island was still known as Blackwell’s Island. It is an example of Gothic Revival architecture. Renwick is more commonly known for other Gothic Revival designs in New York City, including Grace Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The building had a short life treating smallpox patients before becoming part of the City Hospital complex on the island. In the 1950s, City Hospital moved to Queens, and the Smallpox Hospital, which also became known as the Renwick Ruins, was abandoned. It’s continued to deteriorate since.

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In 1972, the Smallpox Hospital was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it has also been designated a New York City landmark. Because the building is in poor condition, there are fences preventing public access. In places, you can see the steel scaffolding that has been used to stabilize the remaining walls.

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Just past the Smallpox Hospital ruins you will spy Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which was designed by famous architect Louis I. Kahn. The park’s name comes from President Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, where he identified four key freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Here is what the park looks like from the entry.

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Continue walking along the path on either side of the elevated portion of the park, towards the southern tip of the island.

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If looking west, towards Manhattan, here is your view.

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On the other hand, if looking east, towards Queens, you have this view of Long Island City and the iconic neon Pepsi sign.

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Looking back from the other end of the elevated park, there is this perspective. The shaded grass makes a relaxing location for a break or enjoying a picnic.

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At the very tip of the park is a giant block of granite. One side hosts this giant bronze bust of President Roosevelt, while the opposite has the relevant words from his Four Freedoms address.

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Finally, far off in the distance, you will also have a (usually hazy) view of the Williamsburg Bridge.

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There are two main ways to get to Roosevelt Island by public transportation. If traveling by subway, take the F train to the Roosevelt Island station. You can also travel from Manhattan using the Roosevelt Island Tram, which I previously wrote about here. Once you get off of the tram, face towards Manhattan. You will be walking to the end of the island on your left (the south end of the island). It’s about a 15 minute walk to the Smallpox Hospital ruins and Four Freedoms Park, with plenty of scenic views of New York City along the way. There’s a paved walkway along the river, and you will also pass through Southpoint Park along the way.

Madison Square Park

If you are ever in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, it is worth taking the time to visit Madison Square Park. Surrounded by tall buildings on every side, including the iconic Flatiron Building, the park offers different experiences depending on the day and time: large, leafy shade trees and flowers; bronze monuments; a dog park; public art, concerts, and festivals; and one of the most popular Shake Shack locations in the city.

Currently, this is one of the big attractions in the park. Created by sculptor Martin Puryear, this impressive work is titled “Big Bling.” As the park website explains, “Big Bling is part animal form, part abstract sculpture, and part intellectual meditation.” I learned that the mesh-like substance covering the immense sculpture is chain link fencing, not something I normally expect to see used in a work of art. It’s fascinating to view the piece from different angles throughout the park.

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There’s this statue of William H. Seward, a former governor and senator of New York, who served as U.S. Secretary of State during a critical time in U.S. history, from 1861 to 1869. The tall building behind him, with its distinctive clock tower, is the landmark Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower.

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The park has a lovely fountain, surrounded by large planters with flowers.

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This statue of David Glasgow Farragut seems to be a favorite gathering spot in the park. On one occasion, visitors to the recent Pakistani Festival congregated next to the statue. Most recently, I found a couple of people practicing martial arts.

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Here are some more photos from my explorations of Madison Square Park and nearby Worth Square, which is also managed by the park’s conservancy.

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Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President of the U.S.
Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President of the U.S.

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Flatiron Building
Flatiron Building
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Monument to Major General William Jenkins Worth
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Major General William Jenkins Worth

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It’s easy to get to Madison Square Park. The R and N trains’ 23rd Street Station exits right at the edge of the park. Other 23rd Street Stations are also within a couple of blocks, and are accessible from the 4, 6, F, M, and 1 trains. The park is bordered on the south by 23rd Street and on the north by 26th Street, on the east by Madison Avenue and on the west by 5th Avenue.