Old-world charm in New York

Pomander Walk in New York is an English-style alleyway modelled after the cobbled streets in London flanked by timber-framed homes.
Pomander Walk in New York is an English-style alleyway modelled after the cobbled streets in London flanked by timber-framed homes.PHOTO: NYTIMES

In spite of the growing modernity in the city, there are quaint neighbourhoods such as Pomander Walk

NEW YORK • Pomander Walk is a century-old gem hidden among the high-rises of the Upper West Side.

The English-style alleyway, modelled in the manner of cobbled London streets flanked by timber-framed homes, is gated and private.

An anomaly for the neighbourhood, Pomander Walk is one of a few precious mews and mews look-alikes still in existence in New York, despite the encroaching modernity all around.

The street and its ilk have a special allure for city dwellers hungry for a taste of the architectural past - so much so that developers elsewhere in the city often attempt to create a similar sense of privacy and exclusivity by offering imitation carriage-house facades, interior courtyards or even just the word "mews" to conjure a bygone era.

Glass-clad towers that climb ever higher give quiet spaces like Pomander Walk added poignancy: The alleyways offer pockets of respite that are hard to come by.

They also help preserve New York's low-rise legacy while hearkening to a quieter and more communal way of life.

"Today, the mews provide a nice break from the street grid," said Ms Michelle Young, a professor of architecture at Columbia University and founder-editor of Untapped Cities.

"It's a quaint surprise to happen upon a mews, especially with the high skyscrapers that surround them."

A mews traditionally housed horses - the term originally referred to the royal stables in London, which were built where the king's hawks had been mewed, or confined.

But the livery stables once abundant in New York are now mocked by recent developments that bear the name but resemble neither stables nor barns - Carnegie Mews, Soho Mews and Stonehenge Mews, to name a few, are all residential towers.

The word is now used to signify places of prestige or charm.

Ms Young has tracked the proliferation of so-called fake mews. "It's become a real estate marketing term that is completely disconnected from the original usage," she said.

The Pomander Walk complex, named for a popular British stage comedy of the day, is not technically a mews.

Stretching from 94th to 95th Streets between West End and Broadway, it was conceived by a restaurateur named Thomas Healy and built in 1921.

It encompasses 27 buildings, including town houses interspersed with timber-framed cottages. The town houses were built to have two apartments, but many have been converted into single-family homes.

Ms Brelyn Vandenberg and her husband, Gregory, a fresh fruit importer from New York, had searched high and low for a New York apartment. They wanted something that felt neighbourly and unique.

They began their search in the West Village and went to more than 30 open houses.

"I was resistant to moving to Manhattan," said Ms Vandenberg, a native of North Carolina. "I thought it would be too city-like."

Then she saw the listing for a Pomander Walk apartment - a small, roughly 69 sq m unit that retained its old-world charm and compact kitchen. They purchased the lower level of the town house in 2008 for about US$799,000.

The plan was always to grow into the space. When the couple had two young boys, they began eyeing the apartment upstairs. They ultimately bought it in 2014 for about US$1 million.

"We spend most of our afternoons with the door open," Ms Vandenberg said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2018, with the headline 'Old-world charm in New York'. Print Edition | Subscribe