Murray Hill has long been known for its strong sense of community. Residents have fought to keep the area's distinct style intact since the middle of the 19th Century. To this day, the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association remains a vocal presence whenever developers attempt to infringe on the character of their homes and apartment buildings.
The area took its name from the first prominent residents of the community, Robert and Mary Murray. Although Robert was responsible for purchasing the land that housed their estate, it is his wife who is usually first mentioned in history books. A proper member of society, Mary Murray would hold functions for various American luminaries. Her most famous guest, however, was a British general.
After being surprised at the battle of Kips Bay, the green American militia was forced to retreat across Manhattan. Mrs. Murray, a true patriot, invited General Sir William Howe and his men to rest at their estate. As the General enjoyed a spot of tea, the Americans took advantage of the delay to regroup. They defeated the British the next day at the Battle of Harlem Heights.
When the city started to encroach on the neighborhood, Murray's descendents decided to do something about it. They submitted a registration with the city which stipulated that new residences be built only of stone or brick. The Murray Hill Restriction, as it became known, is what has kept the area in its pristine state.
One of the people who adhered to the restriction was John Pierpont Morgan, who purchased the entire eastern side of Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets. His enduring legacy is the Pierpont Morgan Library, which boasts one of the finest collections of rare books and illuminated manuscripts in the world. Unfortunately, it isn't a lending library.
Benjamin Altman was the first person to build a department store in Murray Hill. Although the store took up the entire 34th and 35th Street block between Madison and Fifth Avenues, Altman maintained a certain amount of modesty. It wasn't until over 40 years later that the store's name appeared on the building.
B. Altman & Co. declared bankruptcy in the late 80s, but his store opened up Fifth Avenue to other celebrated companies, including the original Tiffany & Company. After several years of vacancy, the Altman building is now home to the Oxford University Press, the City University of New York, and a branch of the New York Public Library.
The most noted building in the district, however, doesn't exactly conform to code. Built in a little over a year beginning in 1930, the Empire State Building towers over 1,400 feet over the rest of Murray Hill. 2.5 million people a year peer out over the majority of Manhattan from its 86th and 102nd floor observatories.
One of the great novelties of the Empire State Building is best viewed from the ground several miles away. Every day at dusk, colored lights illuminate the building. The colors change to match the season or holiday (red, white and blue on July 4th, red and green on Christmas), but they always go off exactly at midnight.
Although the Murray Hill Restriction is no longer on the books, the effect it has had on the area is a marked one. Many of the buildings here are over 100 years old, and a number of them have become designated landmarks. If you're looking for an apartment in a neighborhood that remains true to its roots, then you need look no further than Murray Hill