A History of East 69th Street Between First and Second Avenues

Original photograph, Helene Meyers
Original photograph, Helene Meyers
Original photograph, Helene Meyers

When you walk down East 69th Street between First and Second Avenues today, you can’t help but admire how attractive the block has become in just a few short years. Gone are the tenements and most of the rooming houses. Now you will find a handsome, tree-lined street with the latest in modern apartment buildings. Facing them are the 28 brownstone houses (many of them handsomely remodeled) with their roots planted firmly in almost 100 years of the city’s history.

The land upon which this block lies was first owned by Cornelius Mattyson, by a grant presented to him in 1677 by Sir Edmund Andros, governor of the Province of New York. In the next century, the land extending roughly from what is now East 69th Street to East 74th Street and from Third Avenue to the East River belonged to David Provoost, a free trader. Provoost named his property Louvre Farm. By various conveyances a century later, much of the Louvre Farm property passed along to John Jones, who also used the land for farming. Eventually, in 1817, the farm was partitioned among Jones’ heirs, the northerly parcel (containing 69th Street between First and Second Avenues) being allotted to James J. Jones. This east side area, held by the Jones’ family, came to be known as Jones’ Woods, a popular recreation area. It was once considered as the logical place for a public park, however, the city instead decided to use the area which is now Central Park. As public transportation, notably the horse car lines on Third Avenue, drove up the island, the east side was quickly transformed into tenements, brownstone houses and cobblestones streets.

Among the most prominent of New York City builders in the nineteenth century was John D. Crimmins, who amassed a considerable fortune and reputation in early investments and construction. The private dwellings Crimmins built on the east side were the brownstone houses to be found today on 69th Street between First and Second Avenues, which were built in 1879. By the turn of the century, the east side was being settled by European immigrants. East 69th Street became a haven for many Hungarian, Jewish and Irish families. In recent years, as old tenements gave way to modern apartment buildings, some of these families relocated to many other neighborhoods in the city, but each Sunday many return to their little Hungarian Church located on the block. When the depression came in the 1930’s, most of the brownstones became rooming houses; however, in more recent years house after house has been restored to private residence.

The East 69th Street Association was formed in 1962 and has been responsible for much of the block’s improvement initiatives. For example, the Association has arranged for the planting of trees and plants, purchase of new trash cans, posting of signs, and  improvement of police patrols. Importantly, the Association, in 1964, was able to prevent the block from being re-zoned to commercial businesses, thus ensuring the block remain a pleasant residential street. The Association continues to be involved in community activities and meets regularly to discuss and advocate on issues that affect all of its citizens.