Astor Place and its namesake, the Astor family, stretch back in New York’s colorful history. John Jacob Astor’s rags-to-riches story (he arrived penniless from Germany via England) is one of the 19th century’s best. His American Fur Company and Pacific Fur Company cornered the fur trade; not surprisingly, the emblems decorating the Astor Place subway station are beavers, whose pelts made him one of the richest Americans of his day. The New York Public Library owes much of its existence due to the early Astor Library and subsequent bequests it received from the Astor Foundation. For decades, the reigning matriarch of the Astor clan, Brooke Astor, was a major benefactor of charitable organizations in New York, and despite her more than 100 years, she hasn't retreated from her incredible number of philanthropic activities.
Starting at Broadway, you’ll find the famous Astor Place Hair Designers, where barbers perform amazingly quick and stylish haircuts at very reasonable prices. Walking west to Lafayette Street, you’ll pass by a unique school that teaches and provides counseling for transgender, gay and lesbian youth, next door to a large Barnes & Noble Bookstore. Arriving at Lafayette, the street opens into a plaza containing the famous big black cube. Popular among skateboarders trying out new moves, the cube is a favorite meeting place for those en route to the nearby Public Theater, Cooper Union and East Village. An enormous new high-rise has been erected on the site of a former parking lot, which to some looks stylish and to others a garish Chinese-style condominium. Have a look at the lampposts here, many of which have been lovingly decorated with mosaic tiles (such as the above photo) by neighborhood residents.
Next door, take a look at Cooper Union’s landmark façade; the school was founded by Peter Cooper, a notable 19th century industrialist and philanthropist. Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Clinton have given speeches in its Great Hall. Also visit Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, or take in a movie or play. Its celebrated founder, Joseph Papp, founded it in 1954 as the Shakespeare Workshop. Renamed the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1962, the Delacorte Theater in Central Park became the Festival's permanent summertime home.
Astor Place ends at Third Avenue, so continue on down St. Marks Place, a great block haunted by the punk rockers in the 1980s, music and book stores in the 1990s, and now mostly an open-air market selling many of the same cheap knock-offs available in Chinatown. But the great Kim’s Video, bigger than ever, still has a fine variety of offbeat video, vinyl and CDs. Some of the better-known places to eat on St. Marks Place include Dojo, Grand Sichuan, Khyber Pass, La Palapa, and Yaffa Café. Get fresh coffee beans at Porto Rico Importing Co. near Second Avenue, and continue walking east to enjoy some of the East Village’s best offerings as you head to Avenue A, where St. Marks Place ends at Tompkins Square Park.
Address: 4 Astor Place
Cross Streets between Broadway and Third Ave.
- to 8th St/New York Univ
- to Astor Place -- 0.1
NYC.COM'S TOP 10 HISTORIC CITY SITES