When thinking of Turtle Bay one immediately wonders, where on Earth did the name originate? Where are all the turtles? Where’s the bay? Even if you search the records of New York City you will still have great difficulty finding congruent answers to these questions. Stories in The New York Times haven’t been entirely consistent. According to the newspaper, the Dutch governor of New York granted a 40-acre manor known as Deutal Bay Farm to two Englishmen in 1639. “Deutal” was used to describe the supposed shape of the bay. One article claimed that it means “bent blade,” while another said “bowling pin.” Unfortunately, we’ll never know for certain which is more accurate, because the U.N. building now stands in the space the bay once occupied. Another source, the Turtle Bay Association, believes the name came from a turtle-filled creek, which passed through the Deutal Bay Farm. It could be that “deutal” eventually gave way to the English word “turtle,” and, instead of referring to the shape of the bay, it described the extreme number of turtles that could be found in the surrounding area.
Originally, the area was a boatyard safe haven where vessels could escape the tumultuous winds blowing down the East River. By the turn of the century, immigrants, tenements, slaughterhouses, and other “pleasantries” sprung up with a rabbit-like rapidity. The turtle-esque bucolic feel was gone. In the ’40s, the ugly industrialization gave way to the establishment of green spaces, corner grocers, and a great many personalized shops. By the late ’50s, residents of the area began to come together to seek out common goals for the best of their community. These efforts resulted in the formation of the Turtle Bay Association in 1957, the purpose of which was to monitor the future growth of the neighborhood. While the residential part of the area bloomed, the commercial district boomed. Turtle Bay was fast becoming one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, and many privileged individuals chose to move there permanently. Change, of course, continues. Ask Toni, who works at Empire Purveyors Meats & Poultry at 901 First Avenue (and refused to give her last name). “We’ve been here for almost a quarter of a century now,” she says. “It’s a whole lot of young singles and young families coming to the area.” The combination of young professionals, oodles of bars, and a wealthy commercial district suggest that this once quiet area will become a hopping social stage.
Boundaries: Turtle Bay lies nestled between Lexington Avenue and the East River. It extends as far uptown as 53rd Street and as far downtown as 42nd Street.
Transportation: Grand Central Station, located on 42nd Street, has the No. 4, 5, 6, and 7 lines as well as the shuttle to Times Square. The A and E, and 6 trains can be found on Lexington Avenue for those heading toward Penn Station or just straight downtown. If you would like to take the bus you can catch the M15, which travels directly down Second Avenue into the East Village or up First Avenue to the Triborough Bridge. There’s also the Q32, which will take you to the Empire State Building and into Herald Square.
Main Drags: Second Avenue is brimming with upscale restaurants and also a variety of very affordable eateries. There are also bars galore, stunning high-rise office buildings, and a multitude of quaint shops geared both towards tourists and residents.
Average Price to Rent: According to Neil Young, a Corcoran real estate specialist, resident, and active member of the Turtle Bay Association, studios rent for $1,200 to $3,000; one-bedrooms for $1,750 to $5,000; two-bedrooms for $2,100 to $15,000; three-bedrooms for $5,000 to $25,000. Mr. Young points out that “the real estate prices and the extremely low monthly maintenance costs are some of the best values in New York City.”
Average Price to Buy: Studios sell for $175,000 to $435,000; one-bedrooms for $275,000 to $1.8 million; two-bedrooms for $630,000 to $4 million; three-bedrooms for $2 million to $7 million; lastly, penthouses can be purchased for $3 million to $15 million.
Landmarks: The U.N. building is the area’s greatest landmark. Besides being a monument representing the pursuit of world peace, it’s a representative microcosm of New York’s melting pot. If you want to take a tour make sure you don’t go while school and student tours are in session—wait for the summer or go after 3 p.m. And if you’re worried about political demonstrations disrupting the peace you can relax; protesters don’t invade or in any way disrupt the lives of residents—just the lives of the U.N. delegates. Tudor City, another landmark, is a neighborhood inside this neighborhood. If you are interested in living in an extremely quiet, isolated locale, rich with history, personality, and its own private park, then you’re in for a treat. Trump Towers is also in Turtle Bay, but many residents consider it more of a land invasion then a landmark.
Shops: The list of shops is endless. One place to try out is the Come Again Erotic Emporium located at 353 East 53rd Street. This hot spot is more than just a store for horny old men. It has items oriented for couples that enjoy playing “dress up” and role-playing, individuals who want to purchase something special to surprise their significant other. It also boasts one of the most extensive “dirty” libraries I have ever been privileged to witness, allowing its readers to trace the evolution of erotic etymology as far back as the 19th century. Another great little shop is Empire Purveyors Meats & Poultry where everything is fresh and tasty. Ask for a specialty and Toni will tell you that in her shop, everything is special!
Green Space: You don’t need to worry about finding a park to stroll through or a bench to sit down on, relax, and read a book. If you have a dog that enjoys the company of other dogs, you can go to the dog run at Peter Detmold Park located between 49th and 51st streets along FDR Drive. And you can kill two birds with one stone if you have kids and a dog: Right next door is MacArthur Playground fully equipped to make your child squeal with delight. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza Park (East 47th Street between First and Second avenues) is for those individuals seeking a quiet garden enclave outfitted with benches, fountains, and gardens providing the perfect scenery for a nice lunch break. The list of parks goes on and on—for further information regarding these grassy knolls check out turtlebay-nyc.org/places.html. Then there’s Robert Moses Park: Eva Moskowitz is attempting to trade this large popular park for an “esplanade” catering to U.N. delegates who want to bike, walk, and run. If you want to play b-ball, softball, or some old-fashioned Canadian-style hockey somewhere else besides Central Park, you may be sorely disappointed. (This, however, isn’t set in stone. The Turtle Bay Association is doing everything within its power to make sure that these recreational options remain open to their residents.)
Famous Residents: Many famous residents have called Turtle Bay home, including Walter Cronkite, Katherine Hepburn, Dorothy Thompson, and Edgar Allan Poe. Although not known for certain, it is rumored that Nathan Hale (an American spy during the revolutionary war) was laid to rest on the gallows by the British army somewhere around Third Avenue and 51st Street.
Best Restaurants: If you’re in the mood for sushi go to Sushi Yasuda (204 East 43rd Street, 212-972-1001). For a delicious, rare tenderloin there’s Sparks Steakhouse (210 East 46th Street, 212-687-4855). And if you feel like a taste of Italian, try Ristorante Grifone (244 East 46th Street, 212-490-7275) or L’Impero (45 Tudor City Place, 212-599-5045)—but be warned that while your stomachs may be full at the end of your meal, your wallets will most certainly be empty. If you want to save some money, there’s the great Jimbos Hamburger Place, located at 991 First Avenue (212-355-6120). Best burger in town. ‘Nuff said.
Best Bars: Go to Second Avenue for a succession of fantastic bars. There’s Metro 53 (307 East 53rd Street, 212-838-0007) if you want to shake and bake to hip-hop and techno. Try Sutton Place (1015 Second Avenue, 212-207-3777) if you want to drink and smoke at the same time, because here the third-floor rooftop comes equipped with a full service bar! For a relaxing evening of drinking and conversation try Oz Bar & Grill (889 First Avenue, 646-840-0800). It’s outfitted with luscious divans and a very attractive bartending crew. And on Wednesday nights you can hear groovy live jazz performed by local musician David Ross.
Annual Events: There’s the Turtle Bay Street Fair in May. All along Second Avenue, extending from 45th to 55th, the streets become a giant strip mall where vendors sell anything from food and clothing to furniture.
Crime Stats: The 17th Precinct is a relatively safe area to live: There were no murders in the past two years and six rapes in that same time. In 2004, there have been 46 robberies (down five from the previous year), 39 felonious assaults, and 89 burglaries. While this year’s record looked similar to last’s, there is a dramatic improvement in the past decade, with the crime rate dropping an overall 64 percent.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 7, 2004