Resting in the shadows of the United Nations, Turtle Bay is a quiet and tranquil neighborhood that offers a respite from the hectic pace found in neighboring Midtown East. Bounded by 42nd Street, 29th Street, Fifth Avenue and the F.D.R. Drive, Turtle Bay is similar to the other low-density Midtown East enclaves, Beekman and Sutton Place.
Once a pastoral site for ship-building, Turtle Bay was largely developed with brownstones in the mid-19th century. With the onset commercial development along the bay, the neighborhood quickly fell into decline, overrun with breweries, gasworks, slaughterhouses, cattle pens, coal yards and railroad pens. The deterioration was exacerbated by the opening of the elevated rail lines along Second and Third avenues.
Turtle Bay's revival began in 1918, when Charlotte Hunnewell Sorchan bought a total of 20 dilapidated rowhouses on 48th and 49th streets between Second and Third avenues. She went on to renovate the properties, renaming the new enclave Turtle Bay Gardens after the common garden area she created from the adjoining backyards. Later, she sold the homes, at cost, to her friends, which included Maria Bowen Chapin, former owner of the Chapin School.
But the biggest shift occurred with the construction of the United Nations Headquarters, built in 1948 on 18 acres of cleared commercial land. At the same time, the city demolished the elevated train lines, which lead to greater development of high-rise offices and condominiums.
Turtle Bay is home to a mix of diplomats and affluent residents, which, over the years have included celebrities such as Katherine Hepburn, Ricardo Montalban, Stephen Sondheim and E.B. White, who wrote "Charlotte's Web" while living on 48th Street.
Famed for its pristine brownstones and townhouses, Turtle Bay is also building a reputation for its sleek modern residential high-rises. Its most notable modern additions include Trump World Tower, a soaring 70-story slender tower of bronze and black glass constructed in 2001; and 50 U.N. Plaza, a 42-story tower slated for completion in late 2014. The shiny, jewel-like building at 50 U.N. Plaza is developed by Zeckendorf Development, the mastermind of 15 Central Park West, and designed by the pre-eminent architect Norman Foster.