What's the quickest way to visit an English country village? First, jump on the No. 1, 2 or 3 train to West 96th Street. Then walk west on 95th Street for half a block, and there it is - Pomander Walk, one of New York City's best-kept secrets.
It's hard to believe the Upper West Side conceals this picture-perfect walkway lined on either side with eight attached Tudor-style houses. The walk looks exactly as it did when it was built in 1921.
Houses Healy built
Thomas Healy, an Irish immigrant who made his fortune as a restaurant owner, purchased the land for the walk in 1920. Healy, a theater lover, commissioned the architects Shiras Campbell and Beverly King to build a residential enclave there, asking them to replicate the country village look of the sets from the play "Pomander Walk." That play had came to Broadway in 1911 after a run in London. The architects used the sets as an inspiration but altered the original Georgian design to look more Tudoresque.
It has been speculated that Healy built Pomander Walk to be attractive to visiting actors - as "light housekeeping" apartments (read: "no rooms for maids") that would be perfect for performers in town for a play's limited run. Whether or not it was his intention, Pomander did draw theater folks. Although unconfirmed reports say Humphrey Bogart, Lillian Gish and Margaret Hamilton lived there, it is certain that Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard and Nancy Carroll did.
Inside the gates
Once inside the locked wrought-iron gates, a visitor encounters 16 two-story houses built of brick, stucco and wood, each with a different facade. Trimmed in bright reds and greens and blues, some feature window boxes, others shutters; each has a two-step stoop and a postage-stamp garden in front. The houses were built with separate two-bedroom apartments, one upstairs and the other beneath, but a few buyers have purchased both apartments and combined them to make a single-family home. They went from rentals to co-ops in 1984.
The houses are small, each floor about 700 square feet, and have been described in real-estate speak as "diminutive," "dainty," "intimate" and "miniature."
What's life like there?
"Pretty fabulous," said Clarissa Wilder Rousson, who lived there for 10 years while she worked and went to graduate school. "I'd walk through the gate and all of the stress of the day would fall away. Where else in the city can you sit on the stoop in front of your house with a cup of coffee and wearing pajamas?"
Bram Lewis has lived on the walk since 1974 and helped ensure this "special place" was landmarked by the city in 1982.
"The neighbors have lots of impromptu get-togethers, and each year we gather to celebrate Bastille Day and Halloween, when we have a chili cook-off."