A Secret World on the Upper West Side: A Trip Down Pomander Walk

When you first turn onto West 95th Street from Broadway, it seems like pretty much any Upper West Side block: a few apartment buildings, some fire escapes, a tree or two…Nothing in particular to catch the eye.

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In fact, I’m not even sure how many trips down the street it took before I finally noticed the gate.

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At first glance, you might think it to be the service entrance to the adjacent apartment building, or maybe the trash storage. But as you get closer, something very quickly comes into focus: a staircase…

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…leading to what has to be the most unexpected byway on the Upper West Side:

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My first thought? This shouldn’t exist:

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This is Pomander Walk, identified on the 94th Street side by this great sign:

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Built in 1922, Pomander Walk is lined on either side with 8 two-story Tudor homes…

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…alternating between stucco, brick, and half-timber in design:

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The inspiration for Pomander Walk stems from an appropriately unlikely origin: a play called Pomander Walk, a romantic comedy set in “a retired crescent of five very small, old-fashioned houses near Chiswick (London).”

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In 1920, nightclub wunderkind Thomas Healy bought a large portion of the block bordered by 94th & 95th Streets, Broadway & West End Avenue. Hoping to build a large hotel on the land, he created Pomander Walk as a temporary means of generating money until the necessary funds were raised, at which point it was to be razed. Below, a photograph from the late 1920s:

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Ultimately, Healy’s hotel was not to be: he died in 1927, leaving Pomander Walk to survive as the most unusual block on the Upper West Side. Below, an aerial view:

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Today, the houses remain in residential use (Pomander Walk is private), with most divided into two apartments. A two bedroom recently went on the market for about $700k.

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Pomander Walk is in immaculate condition, with beautifully maintained facades and lush gardens throughout (the flowering windowboxes really are the cherry on top):

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But had you visited in the 1970s, you would have found Pomander in a rundown state, in danger of succumbing to the whims of developers hungrily eyeing Healy’s huge plot of land. Thankfully, it was saved with a Landmark designation in 1982.

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What really sets Pomander Walk apart from the handful of other unusual residential nooks found throughout Manhattan are its gardens, which are clearly lovingly tended to, each with its own character.

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The cute little gardener’s shed:

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Really nice that Pomander, seen below in the late 1920s…

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…has only ripened with age:

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Healy built several other properties on the lot which still stand today…

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…and seen against the towering adjacent apartment buildings, the feeling is as otherworldly as it gets.

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Though the rent is a bit too steep for my wallet, I wish I lived on Pomander Walk simply to be able to astonish guests with a pretty neat magic trick…

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The ability to leave Manhattan simply by passing through a gate.

-SCOUT

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19 comments

  1. Isn’t this place similar to another post you did – the place they used in Boardwalk Empire?

  2. I’ve always been intrigued by that place. Thank you for giving me some history and photos!

    And it’s been said before, but thanks for your blog! Anyone who has any interest in New York – or history in general – has to love your articles.

  3. This is great! I want that 2-bedroom!

  4. Wow! I’m British and they really do look like the houses over here. Amazing!

  5. I looked at an apartment for sale in the 90s in one of the Tudor-style buildings with its entrance on 94th. It felt like a dollhouse inside with such tiny rooms. A kitchen was made out of what seemed to be a closet and the refrigerator was in the living room. Despite its oddities it was neat and apparently you got access the walk. Although it was not your property I was told that you could usually bring a chair in and have a sit. The off-putting part was that the bedroom was right on the street and so small that people would be walking by about five feet from your head when you were asleep. It had a second room which could be used as a super-compact office. I recall that it was under 200K!

  6. Around 2004 I got to visit one of the houses in Pomander Walk (I’ll have to be cagey about which one, the owner is more than a bit private). Interesting place, but wow, that was one of the smallest kitchens I’ve seen, even by Manhattan standards. And the house had this weird balcony with a dumbwaiter on the back.

  7. This is super cool! Great find!

  8. I just saw Hannah and her Sisters yesterday, and recognized this place! It’s in the montage where the architect is walking Holly and Carol around interesting buildings in the city.

  9. I was a dinner guest in an apartment there in 1975, and you are right, the lane looks far better kept up now. Yes, the apartment was quite compact, but the whole package had great charm.

  10. The little “gardener’s shed” is actually an old guardhouse, which was used by Humphrey Bogart’s bodyguard when Bogie lived on Pomander Walk. I have friends who have lived in one of the apartment houses across 94th Street for many years, and I found out that little tidbit when I shopped one of the units back in the late 90s / early 00s. They were much cheaper at the time, but even then, I couldn’t brink myself to pay that much dough for such a teeny place. And a fixer-upper at that. So it was off to Brooklyn for us…

  11. To the kind attention of Scout,
    I enjoy your view of NYC, would you like to do a fundraiser music show to gain benefactors for your film ?
    I book bands , as well as help friends with films.
    I am an actress/ singer, photographer and stylist.
    I work with film companies, film marketing companies, ect
    Merry Christmas and Warm Season Wishes , Pauline

  12. I used to live on 95th St on the Upper West Side. I always wondered why there was an English Garden Village in the area.

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  14. I lived in the immediate UWS neighborhood from 1979-1993, and I loved walking past “Pomander” to take a peek, on my way home from a film at The Thalia.
    I knew about Bogie and Bacall living on the “walk” in the 40′s but only recently discovered a very similar, and completely adorable, mini-mews type “lane” in the east 30′s between (I believe) 2nd and 3rd avenue.
    Amazing that it took me 30 years of living in Manhattan to discover that second “Pomander”ish fairy tale block.
    There are a few super cute similar set ups in the west village, but not quite as secluded as either of the two places I just described.

  15. thank you for writing about Pomander Walk. Thomas Healy is my maternal grandfather. Our family is very proud of this landmark in New York City. Juliana Youg

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  17. Sergio Del Pino

    I also once lived near there. I too discovered this wonderful,fantasy once. I got To go in once to see the walk and the homes and I just fell in love with this place. It is truly a wonder but that’s where it ends. I personally couldn’t see spending hundreds of thousands to live inside a doll house no matter how quaint. Still I admit they are lovely.

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