Skip to main content

From The Great Gatsby: Nick Carraway's Walk, A Slideshow and A Map

The Great Gatsby
Note: The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Lurhmann, opened in theaters on May 10, 2013. The post below dates from the summer of 2009.

The New York zeitgeist this summer seems interested in revisiting F. Scott Fitzgerald's acclaimed masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, first published in April 1925. Director Baz Lurhmann has bought the rights to make a new film version, the radio program Studio 360 featured an in-depth look at the acclaimed novel, and even the Mannahatta/Manhattan exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, the one that investigates the island's verdant Eden, prominently features a quote from the book on the wall. One reason for the resurgent interest is Fitzgerald's vivid portrait of New York culture during the Jazz Age, a time that invites a comparison with the city's most recent boom years and its subsequent loss of relative affluence. Beyond this interpretation and the literary ones mentioned by your high school English teacher, the book makes a good summer beach novel, with its breezy Long Island setting, reckless drivers, and endless cocktails. So much for Prohibition.

When he's not pulled into Jay Gatsby's magnetic vortex, Nick Carraway, the book's narrator - a budding 29-year-old bond trader (surely he would be a hedge funds guy in a contemporary remake) and a Yale man, spends most of his summer of 1922 working in the city. Toward the end of Chapter 3, he explains, "Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust." Much like the author Fitzgerald, Nick is the kind of walker-voyeur type who watches the world with dispassion but with a keen sense of observation. He spends lunch with coworkers dining "in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee."

Nick's description of his evening routine is brief, but his words are geographically specific enough to follow in a real life New York context:

"I took dinner usually at the Yale Club—for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day—and then I went up-stairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour. There were generally a few rioters around, but they never came into the library, so it was a good place to work. After that, if the night was mellow, I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel, and over 33rd Street to the Pennsylvania Station."



On a recent summer evening much like the narrator describes, I traced Nick's walk from the Yale Club to Pennsylvania Station. Circumstances of weather and the long days of summer sunsets over the Hudson do not change, but the built environment has changed greatly from 1922 to 2009. The specters of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, two towers constructed in the years following the novel's publication, followed me on my walk, as if they were looking over my shoulder. And while I tried to erase these immense stalkers from my virtual sight in order to imagine Nick's walk, I also faced the challenge of adding to my imagination two monumental buildings that he saw and that are no longer there - the Murray Hill Hotel, a grand rococo hotel dating from 1884, and Pennsylvania Station, the glorious Beaux-Arts monument from 1910 by McKim, Mead and White.

The reserved and handsome Yale Club still stands, just west of Grand Central Terminal at 44th and Vanderbilt. Arriving for the walk via the 6 train, I quickly fell into the mood of the Jazz Age upon seeing professionals of our era sipping, as advertised, "Cocktails from another era" at The Campbell Apartment. At the Yale Club, a light was on upstairs, as if Nick was still there studying his investments, and a short time after an alum emerged from the gilded-hued revolving door of the Vanderbilt street entrance. I walked the block west to Madison and proceeded south, noticing that the land slightly declined with these blocks. Those familiar with the novel will be amused by the presence of so many optical shops along the way. Shades of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg!


View From The Great Gatsby: Nick Carraway's Walk in a larger map

The Murray Hill Hotel, the 600-room hotel that once stood at 112 Park Avenue at East 40th Street, was modern for its time and popular with the city's elite at the turn of the century. The wealthy residents of Murray Hill convened in the lobby to smoke cigars and drink coffee. One notable habitué was J.P. Morgan, the powerful financier, who died in 1913. Walking south on Madison, Nick would have strolled past Morgan's home and library at the southeast corner of 36th Street. With just the mention of Murray Hill, Jazz Age readers of The Great Gatsby would have understood Fitzgerald's implicit reference to the world of the old rich. Jay Gatsby, by way of contrast, was nouveau riche.

Turning on 33rd St. and walking west gradually opens a sportier and a shadier world - Jack Dempsey's Pub, followed by peep shows and a neon sign advertising "Live Girls." The route opens onto the crossroads of Herald Square to the north and Greeley Square to the south. A statue there of Horace Greeley, editor of The New York Tribune, invites another literary connection to Fitzgerald's novel. Greeley's most famous dictum, "Go west, young man!" echoes the novel's western-versus eastern moral and cultural themes.

Reaching 7th Avenue, Nick would have passed on his left The Hotel Pennsylvania, a great columned hotel built in 1919 by the Pennsylvania Railroad and designed by McKim, Mead & White. Like the demolished Penn Station across the street, one that gave way to the eyesore known as Madison Square Garden, this structure, too, faces an uncertain future. Leave Nick here to catch his train, and walk one more block west to 8th Avenue to see the enormous Corinthian colonnade of the James A. Farley Building. New York's main post office, another monument by McKim, Mead & White, was built in 1912 and when opened in 1914 was known as the Pennsylvania Terminal. Plans are on the drawing board to convert this space into a new entrance for a renovated train station, but the complexities and debate over the Garden's future has left development of this area of the city in limbo. While we continue to debate the uses of real estate, Nick Carraway has probably slipped off to West Egg. Who knows? He may have already gone home to the Midwest by now.

Additional Notes:

• See images of Penn Station, a glorious Beaux-Arts monument from 1910 by McKim, Mead and White, on this page at NYC-Architecture. Read about Penn Station's destruction as featured on an episode of Mad Men in this post on WOTBA.

• Read about walks near Penn Station in the post, From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Distance and Time in Manhattan.

Images in slideshow by Walking Off the Big Apple from Monday, July 6, approx. 8:20 p.m. - 8:45 p.m.









Popular posts from this blog

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements. UPDATED October 10, 2020.  Many favorite local destinations have now reopened.  Hand sanitizer dispenser at the Marble Hill station of Metro-North's Hudson line Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations    • Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map  (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity. • As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER. • The  9/11 Memorial  reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices. • (update) Libraries: NYPL. T he library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.   • Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets.  • The High Line  reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entra

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had

Circling the Met: A Springtime Visit to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

For a double feature of art and nature, the Metropolitan Museum of Art happens to be conveniently situated in Central Park. The front of the museum faces Fifth Avenue, its monumental wings stretching the blocks between E. 80th and E. 84th. The sides and the back of the museum are within easy walking distance of several prominent landmarks within the park.  Cedar Hill in Central Park Before a visit to the Met, consider taking a walk around the museum beginning on the southern side. A walk in the park can serve as a good preparation for a museum visit, because looking at or noticing the shapes and colors of the built and natural environment can enhance the art experience. Cedar Hill in Central Park The path south of the 79 Street Transverse leads to a scene at Cedar Hill very much like a panorama, with a vast wide-angle expanse of green grass and hill. Take the first path that leads back over 79th Street to the southern side of the museum. This path brilliantly disguises the motor traffi

MoMA in Masks

Update. Beginning September 28, MoMA will require all members to reserve tickets in advance.* Walking into the gallery devoted to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (c 1920) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman seated on a bench. She was looking at the artist’s dreamy depiction of his garden at Giverny, and I thought for a moment she might be dreaming as well. As she was the only person occupying what is usually a packed room for fans of Impressionism, I was hesitant to invade her private garden reveries. At MoMA I would enjoy my own such private moments with my favorite MoMA works that afternoon, including Marc Chagall’s I and the Village (1911). The painting depicts a colorful and geometric fairy tale of peasants and animals, memories of the artist’s childhood home outside Vitebsk. And I had a long time to feel the scorching sun of photographer Dorothea Lange’s Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (1938), a setting closer to my hometown. Later I wou

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge:  "The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apr

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima