Riverside Park is longer than Central Park by an extra 18 blocks. It stretches long and lean against the Hudson River with lush grass, memorials and plenty of sports fields. Its original design was finished in 1872 and was created in tandem with Riverside Drive, the road that runs along its eastern border.
Today Stephanie Azzarone is here to teach people about the history of the neighborhood along the Hudson. She describes her new book, “Heaven on the Hudson,” as “a colorful tale of a singular New York City neighborhood, and the personalities that make it special.” The book, the first Azzarone has written, covers the history of the Riverside Park area from the 18th century to today.
Azzarone previously worked in communications, founding her own company, Child’s Play Communications. She also spent years working as a freelance writer. She has been living near Riverside Park for over 30 years, and her love for the neighborhood inspired her to create a book: “I am a born and bred New Yorker. The book is really my love letter to the neighborhood.” Before the Upper West Side, she lived on the Upper East Side but moved after her landlord doubled her rent. Once she moved across town she never left.
“Heaven on the Hudson” started as Azzarone’s side project to learn more about the neighborhood she loves. “There were only bits and pieces here and there about the area. There was nothing that pulled it all together in one place,” says Azzarone. She compares it to Central Park which you can find dozens of books on; she wanted Riverside to have a same story and history to it.
Architecture of the Area
Azzarone wanted to create a through line that told the story of her neighborhood that would be accessible for people no matter where they live. “I did not want it to read as a textbook, I wanted it to read almost as historical fiction in a way,” she says.
The book covers scandals, celebrities, and more. But her main love is the architecture of the area. Azzarone loves “both the exquisite architecture on the drive from 19th century villas and row houses, through art deco skyscrapers, as well as the beauty and peacefulness of the park itself.” Though she loves to take long walks along Riverside Drive to admire the buildings along the way, nature in the park is a plus as well.
One of her favorite stories within the book tells of a crime in the 1970s involving a dentist who murdered both of his in-laws.
“There was a dentist who lived on Riverside Drive and had just very recently married into a wealthy family. This gentleman was very eager to get his hands on his wife’s future inheritance. So he murdered both his mother-in-law and his father-in-law within the space of two months. This was not your ordinary shooting, or stabbing or smothering type of murder. He dosed his in-laws food with diseases like typhoid, and diphtheria, which was amazing to hear. While the mother-in-law died very quickly, the father in law was a tougher case. Because this dentist was so impatient, he added arsenic to the father-in-law’s food. That did the trick except that while the forensics at the time, could not trace the doses of disease, they could tell if arsenic was used. So he was arrested and executed.”
Azzarone wants her book, which comes out on September 27, to be just as much about the people living in Riverside Park area as the life of the architecture and park. She loves the stories of the people and places in the neighborhood and wants others to share her love and appreciation.
“I hope that anyone who chooses to read the book will also read the introduction because it really tells where my heart is in choosing to write Heaven on the Hudson,” she says. “I want people to appreciate the fascinating history behind Riverside Park and Riverside Drive.”