Of the three buildings with plazas and some variation of Murray Hill in their names — Murray Hill and Murray Hill House are the others — Murray Hill Mews provides the greatest amount of potentially usable plaza. The word potentially is necessary because an adjacent restaurant, legally authorized to place tables and chairs on the space, too often fails to operate in ways that make clear to members of the public that they may sit without obligation to purchase anything.
The plaza encircles the building at lower and upper levels, along East 37th Street, the west side of Third Avenue, East 38th Street, and most of the tower’s west side. Entered up stairs from East 37th or 38th Streets 75 feet west of Third Avenue, the upper-level plaza is a capacious balcony ringed by three-foot walls that block the sight and much of the noise of the streets below. With its pavement recently brightened, it has a lean, clean look that shines when the sun is out.
During the summer, a restaurant spills its tables and chairs onto the upper-level East 37th Street side under authority granted by a Board of Standards and Appeals variance. That variance also guarantees that members of the public may sit anywhere without obligation. In the past, however, the restaurant’s arrangement and management of the seating areas have muddied the waters with regard to this public guarantee.
At a recent site visit, for example, one dubious configuration situated three small, unshaded tables along the southern balcony wall, segregated from the bulk of seating nearer the restaurant that was distinguished by oversized red umbrellas and waiter service. This two-zone grouping could easily suggest to members of the public that the three outlying tables were the public ones, while the other tables were private.
In addition, required signs stating that the plaza is “Open to public 9 am to sunset,” were missing, with glue marks on columns the only evidence of their former existence here. Remaining signs stating “tables available for public use” were displayed on the three outlying tables, further implying that the other tables were not. Such implication becomes explicit privatization when waiters inform individuals that they may not sit in the restaurant-area chairs without purchasing food and drink, as they did at a recent site visit.
Other aspects of the space are also disappointing. At a recent site visit, required fixed wooden benches and planters were missing on both East 37th and 38th Street sides, and the Third Avenue upper-level space connecting north and south sides was fenced off from public access. No record of City approval has been found for these discrepancies from legal requirements. The remaining lower-level portion of the space on Third Avenue is an empty strip several steps below the adjacent public sidewalk in front of stores. In the past, another restaurant has set up chairs and tables here, but the public would have the same right to sit without obligation to purchase as it does in the upper-level plaza. The through-block driveway west of the building, and the waterfall and fountain in front of the primary residential entrance there, are genuinely private space.