The southeast corner of Midtown East is dominated by the campus of United Nations buildings and diplomatic offices.
North of 42nd Street, south of 59th, and east of Fifth Avenue, Midtown East has four — at least — very distinct areas. Fifth Avenue, which forms the border between the east and west halves of Midtown, is the commercial heart of not just the neighborhood but arguably Manhattan as a whole. Park Avenue, after it emerges north of Grand Central Terminal, is largely a row of office buildings, some of them Modernist masterpieces, along with a few older survivors like St. Bartholomew’s Church and the Racquet and Tennis Club. The southeast corner of Midtown East is dominated by the campus of United Nations buildings and diplomatic offices. Finally, the rest of the eastern half of the neighborhood is largely residential and can feel in some ways like an extension of its neighbors (Murray Hill to the south, the Upper East Side to the north).
The opening of Grand Central in 1913 was a pivotal moment in the development of Midtown East, though as important as the station itself was the fact that the train tracks leading to it were buried underground. The result was that Manhattan had a new grand boulevard with wide sidewalks and a leafy median, Park Avenue, to develop. Among the first generation of buildings that followed, St. Bartholomew’s (completed in 1917), the Racquet and Tennis Club (1918), and the Waldorf-Astoria hotel (1931) still stand, later joined by a number of post-war office buildings. Those booms extended beyond Park to Lexington and Madison, though the closer one gets to the East River, the higher the ratio of residential to office buildings. In 1952, the opening of the UN headquarters was another key event, and its employees, and those of the many consulates here, continue to shape the character of the area.
Running along the western edge of Midtown East, this section of Fifth Avenue is the home of Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co., Zara, and COS — as well as one of New York City’s most famous landmarks, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s not necessarily where residents of Midtown East go for their daily shopping, but they do enjoy having one of Manhattan’s most famous shopping streets at their doorstep. The neighborhood has a number of hotels (mostly on Lexington), from luxury ones to more budget-friendly options, with restaurants and bars that cater to city residents as much as visitors. When you need a hardware store or a supermarket, as a rule, the best strategy is to head east. While Third Avenue has a few stores providing the basic necessities of urban life, that number increases on Second and First.