Before the arrival of Europeans, the mouths of streams that eroded gullies in the East River bluffs are conjectured to have been the sites of fishing camps used by the Lenape, whose controlled burns once a generation or so kept the dense canopy of oak–hickory forest open at ground level.
In the 19th century the farmland and market garden district of what was to be the Upper East Side was still traversed by the Boston Post Road and, from 1837, the New York and Harlem Railroad, which brought straggling commercial development around its one station in the neighborhood, at 86th Street, which became the heart of German Yorkville. The area was defined by the attractions of the bluff overlooking the East River, which ran without interruption from James William Beekman's "Mount Pleasant", north of the marshy squalor of Turtle Bay, to Gracie Mansion, north of which the land sloped steeply to the wetlands that separated this area from the suburban village of Harlem. Among the series of villas a Schermerhorn country house overlooked the river at the foot of present-day 73rd Street and another, Peter Schermerhorn's at 66th Street, and the Riker homestead was similarly sited at the foot of 75th Street. By the mid-19th century the farmland had largely been subdivided, with the exception of the 150 acres (61 ha) of Jones's Wood, stretching from 66th to 76th Streets and from the Old Post Road (Third Avenue) to the river and the farmland inherited by James Lenox, who divided it into blocks of houselots in the 1870s, built his Lenox Library on a Fifth Avenue lot at the farm's south-west corner, and donated a full square block for the Presbyterian Hospital, between 70th and 71st Streets, and Madison and Park Avenues. At that time, along the Boston Post Road taverns stood at the mile-markers, Five-Mile House at 72nd Street and Six-Mile House at 97th, a New Yorker recalled in 1893.
The fashionable future of the narrow strip between Central Park and the railroad cut was established at the outset by the nature of its entrance, in the southwest corner, north of the Vanderbilt family's favored stretch of Fifth Avenue from 50th to 59th Streets. A row of handsome townhouses was built on speculation by Mary Mason Jones, who owned the entire block bounded by 57th and 58th Streets and Fifth and Madison. In 1870 she occupied the prominent corner house at 57th and Fifth, though not in the isolation described by her niece, Edith Wharton, whose picture has been uncritically accepted as history, as Christopher Gray has pointed out.
It was her habit to sit in a window of her sitting room on the ground floor, as if watching calmly for life and fashion to flow northward to her solitary door... She was sure that presently the quarries, the wooden greenhouses in ragged gardens, the rocks from which goats surveyed the scene, would vanish before the advance of residences as stately as her own.
Before the Park Avenue Tunnel was covered (finished in 1910), fashionable New Yorkers shunned the smoky railroad trench up Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue), to build stylish mansions and townhouses on the large lots along Fifth Avenue, facing Central Park, and on the adjacent side streets. The latest arrivals were the rich Pittsburghers Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. The classic phase of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue as a stretch of private mansions was not long-lasting: the first apartment house to replace a private mansion on upper Fifth Avenue was 907 Fifth Avenue (1916), at 72nd Street, the neighborhood's grand carriage entrance to Central Park.
Most members of New York's upper-class families have made residences on the Upper East Side, including the oil-rich Rockefellers, political Roosevelts, political dynastic Kennedys, thoroughbred racing moneyed Whitneys, and tobacco and electric power fortuned Dukes.
Construction of the Third Avenue El, opened from 1878 in sections, followed by the Second Avenue El, opened in 1879, linked the Upper East Side's middle class and skilled artisans closely to the heart of the city, and confirmed the modest nature of the area to their east. The ghostly "Hamilton Square", which had appeared as one of the few genteel interruptions of the grid plan on city maps since the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, was intended to straddle what had now become the Harlem Railroad right-of-way between 66th and 69th Streets; it never materialized, though during the Panic of 1857 its unleveled ground was the scene of an open-air mass meeting called in July to agitate for the secession of the city and its neighboring counties from New York State, and the city divided its acreage into house lots and sold them. From the 1880s the neighborhood of Yorkville became a suburb of middle-class Germans.
Gracie Mansion, the last remaining suburban villa overlooking the East River at Carl Schurz Park, became the home of New York's mayor in 1942. The East River Drive, designed by Robert Moses, was extended south from the first section, from 125th Street to 92nd Street, which was completed in 1934 as a boulevard, an arterial highway running at street level; reconstruction designs from 1948 to 1966 converted FDR Drive, as it was renamed after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, into the full limited-access parkway that is in use today.
Demolishing the elevated railways on Third and Second Avenues opened these tenement-lined streets to the construction of high-rise apartment blocks starting in the 1950s. However, it had an adverse effect on transportation, because the IRT Lexington Avenue Line was now the only subway line in the area. The construction of the Second Avenue Subway has brought up the price of houses in the Upper East Side somewhat.
Neighborhood boundaries in New York City are not officially set, but according to the Encyclopedia of New York City, the Upper East Side is bounded by 59th Street in the south, 96th Street on the north, Fifth Avenue to the west and the East River to the east. The AIA Guide to New York City extends the northern boundary to 106th Street near Fifth Avenue.
The area's north-south avenues are Fifth, Madison, Park, Lexington, Third, Second, First, York, and East End Avenues, with the latter running only from East 79th Street to East 90th Street. The major east-west streets are 59th Street, 72nd Street, 79th Street, 86th Street and 96th Street.
Some real estate agents use the term "Upper East Side" instead of "East Harlem" to describe areas that are slightly north of 96th Street and near Fifth Avenue, in order to avoid associating these areas with the negative connotations of the latter, a neighborhood which is generally perceived as less prestigious.
The Upper East Side Historic District is one of New York City’s largest districts, as is the neighborhood. This district runs from 59th to 78th Streets along Fifth Avenue, and up to 3rd Avenue at some points. In the decades after the Civil War, the once decrepit district transitioned into a thriving middle-class residential neighborhood. At the start of the 20th century, the neighborhood transformed again, but this time into a neighborhood of mansions and townhouses. As the century continued, and living environments altered, a lot of these single-family homes were replaced by lavish apartment buildings.
As of the 2000 census, there were 207,543 people residing in the Upper East Side. The population density was 118,184 people per square mile (45,649/km²), making Manhattan Community Board 8, coterminous with the Upper East Side, the densest Community Board in the city. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 89.25% White, 6.14% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.34% African American, 0.09% Native American, 1.39% from other races, and 1.74% from two or more races. 5.62% of the population were Hispanic of any race. Twenty-one percent of the population was foreign born; of this, 45.6% came from Europe, 29.5% from Asia, 16.2% from Latin America and 8.7% from other. The female-male ratio was very high with 125 females for 100 males. The Upper East Side contains a large and affluent Jewish population estimated at 56,000. Traditionally, the Upper East Side has been dominated by wealthy White Anglo-Saxon Protestant families.
Given its very high population density and per capita income ($85,081 in 2000), the neighborhood contains the greatest concentration of individual wealth in Manhattan. As of 2011, the median household income for the Upper East Side was $117,903. As of 2011, 60.6% of adults (25+) had earned a bachelor's degree or higher.
The Upper East Side maintains the highest pricing per square foot in the United States. A 2002 report cited the average cost per square meter as $8,856; however, that price has noticed a substantial jump, increasing to almost as much as $11,200 per square meter as of 2006. There are some buildings which cost about $125 per square foot (~$1345/㎡). The only public housing projects for those of low to moderate incomes on the Upper East Side are located just south of the neighborhood's northern limit at 96th Street, the Holmes Towers and Isaacs Houses. It borders East Harlem, which has the highest concentration of public housing in the United States.
The Upper East Side is one of few areas of Manhattan where Republicans constitute more than 20% of the electorate. In the southwestern part of the neighborhood, Republican voters equal Democratic voters (the only such area in Manhattan), whereas in the rest of the neighborhood Republicans make up between 20 and 40% of registered voters.
The Upper East Side is notable as a significant location of political fundraising in the United States. Four of the top five ZIP codes in the nation for political contributions are in Manhattan. The top ZIP Code, 10021, is on the Upper East Side and generated the most money for the 2004 presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and John Kerry.
The area is host to some of the most famous museums in the world. The string of museums along Fifth Avenue fronting Central Park has been dubbed "Museum Mile", running between 82nd and 105th Streets. It was once named "Millionaire's Row". The following are among the cultural institutions on the Upper East Side:Acquavella Galleries
Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery
Anita Shapolsky Gallery
Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Greek Orthodox Church
Brick Presbyterian Church (New York City)
Church of the Epiphany, Episcopal church
Church of the Heavenly Rest, Episcopal church
Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, Modern Orthodox synagogue
Congregation Or Zarua, Conservative synagogue
Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, Orthodox Sephardic synagogue
Fifth Avenue Synagogue, Orthodox synagogue
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
St. Ignatius Loyola, Catholic Church
Jan Hus Presbyterian Church
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses (1499 1st Avenue at East 78th Street)
Park Avenue Christian Church, Disciples of Christ church
Park Avenue Synagogue, Conservative Jewish synagogue
Park East Synagogue, Orthodox synagogue
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
St. Ann's Church (East Harlem), Catholic Church
St. John the Martyr's Church, Catholic Church
Temple Emanu-El of New York, Reform synagogue
Temple Israel, Reform synagogue
Temple Shaaray Tefila, Reform synagogue
Third Church of Christ, Scientist
Islamic Cultural Center of New York, mosque
Cross Church, Southern Baptist
Many diplomatic missions are located in former mansions on the Upper East Side:The Consulate General of Austria in New York is located at East 69th Street, between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue.
The Consulate-General of France in New York is located at 934 Fifth Avenue between 74th Street and 75th Street.
The Consulate-General of Greece in New York is located at 69 East 79th Street, occupying the former George L. Rives residence.
The Consulate-General of Italy in New York is located at 690 Park Avenue.
The Consulate-General of India in New York is located at 3 East 64th Street between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.
The Consulate-General of Pakistan in New York is located at 12 East 65th Street.
Other missions to the United Nations in the Upper East Side include:
The United States Postal Service operates post offices at Lenox Hill Station (ZIP code 10021), 221 East 70th Street; Cherokee Station (10075), 1483 York Avenue; Gracie Station (10028), 229 East 85th Street; and Yorkville Station (10128), 1617 Third Avenue. New ZIP codes now include 10065, 10029 and 10075.
The Upper East Side is served by two subway lines, the four-track IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 <6> trains) under Lexington Avenue and the two-track Second Avenue Subway (N Q trains) under Second Avenue. There are also local and limited MTA Regional Bus Operations routes M1, M2, M3, M4, M15, M15 SBS, M31, M98, M101, M102, M103 going uptown and downtown, as well as the crosstown M66, M72, M79 SBS, M86 SBS, and M96.
The Second Avenue Line serves to relieve congestion on the Lexington Avenue Line. The first phase of the line opened on January 1, 2017, consisting of three new stations and a renovated fourth station. The line terminates at 96th Street and connects to the BMT 63rd Street Line at Lexington Avenue–63rd Street station before continuing to 57th Street–Seventh Avenue on the BMT Broadway Line. The planned Second Avenue Line includes three additional phases to be built at a later date, which will extend the line north to 125th Street/Park Avenue in Harlem and south to Hanover Square in the Financial District, and a new T train will run its entire length.
The New York City Department of Education operates public schools in the city.
Public lower and middle schools
Public high schools
Other schoolsHunter College High School
Boys' schoolsHunter College
Marymount Manhattan College
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York Medical College
New York School of Interior Design
New York University Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
New York University Institute of Fine Arts
Weill Cornell Medical College
The New York Public Library operates the 67th Street Branch Library at 328 East 67th Street, near First Avenue, the Yorkville Branch Library, 222 East 79th Street and the 96th Street Branch Library at 112 East 96th Street, near Lexington Avenue.
The Upper East Side has been a setting for many films, television shows, and other media.Constance Billard School for Girls and St. Jude's School for Boys in Gossip Girl
The Duchesne School in the vampire novels Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
Percy Jackson, title character of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians pentalogy
The neighborhood has a long tradition of being home to some of the world's most wealthy, powerful and influential families and individuals. Some of the notable people who have lived here include: