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Activate your body, mind, spirit and stomach in the Murray Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side.

Downer Avenue, home of the late Harry W. Schwartz Book Shop and the timeless Downer Theatre, was one of my stomping grounds when I was in my 20s. I’ve practiced yoga on Farwell and been to bars on Murray. A recent walk through Murray Hill (and lots of talks with friendly store owners) has given me even more reasons to return and explore its restaurants, shops and services. I want to throw some pottery, listen to some jazz, learn how to meditate, buy some toys and perhaps even try out a pedicure.

Map of Murray Hill Points of Interest


Take a Closer Look


History

After a Scot named James Murray developed land north of North Avenue in 1835, dubbing it “Murray’s Addition,” two major factors affected what would eventually become the Murray Hill neighborhood, a bustling area of small businesses, restaurants, bars and residences of all kinds that stretches north from North Avenue to Newberry Boulevard and east of Oakland Avenue to Downer Avenue.

First, the population boom of 1880-1910 brought the affluent classes west from the lake and working-class residents north from downtown. The former were attracted to Newberry Boulevard’s stately homes, which connected Lake Park and Riverside Park, both designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm. The latter filled into more modest bungalows, duplexes and apartments.

Second, the history of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a series of innovations and mergers and acquisitions that transformed the character of Murray Hill and the other small neighborhoods that surrounded the campus, especially Cambridge Woods to the west and Kenwood Park and Prospect Hill to the east. In 1895, Milwaukee-Downer College, a pioneer in women’s education, was formed. The following year, the Milwaukee State Normal School moved to the East Side from downtown. Later known as the Wisconsin State College of Milwaukee, its main focus was primarily teacher education, though it increased its offerings throughout the years. In 1956, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was established. It expanded its footprint by acquiring mansions (out of style after World War II) and the Normal School and other buildings; it also began building many new spaces.

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Local historian John Gurda eloquently describes the nature of the Upper East Side: “Tenured professors and tender freshmen live on the same blocks. Lake Drive doctors and struggling doctoral candidates shop in the same stores. Architectural jewels shine down the streets from worn-out student flats. Old businesses have found new customers, and new businesses have opened in old storefronts, including a global assortment of restaurants.” He adds, regarding UWM, that it “lends the community a cosmopolitan air that is rare in the larger city. Some Milwaukee neighborhoods are insular, sufficient unto themselves. The Upper East Side is quite the opposite: rather than an island, it more closely resembles a fast-moving stream that is constantly bringing in new people, new ideas, new life.”

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