The Metropolitan Museum Historic District epitomizes the architectural development of the Upper East Side in a variety of architectural styles and building types ranging from later 19th-century brownstone houses to mid-20th century apartment buildings.

The cosmopolitan Metropolitan Museum Historic District was designated in 1977 and runs along Fifth Avenue from 78th to 86th Street and incorporates many of the houses on the mid-blocks between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Development began in the area in the late 1860s, with the construction of several rows of brownstones in the Italianate style on 78th, 80th and 81st Street. By the end of the 1890s a number of large elegant mansions had been erected on Fifth Avenue. By the turn of the century many of the rows of brownstones were replaced with large mansions. The fashionable new mansions were primarily built in the Beaux-Arts and neo-Renaissance styles.

Across Fifth Avenue from the Historic District, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an individual landmark. It was designed by various architects between 1864 and 1990 including Calvert Vaux, Richard Morris Hunt, McKim Mead & White, and Kevin Roche. The quality of architecture in the district is extraordinary. Highlights in the district include East 79th Street, inarguably the finest collection of turn-of-the-century town houses in New York, 998 Fifth Avenue, McKim Mead and White’s paradigm of luxury apartment house living, and works by major early-twentieth century architectural firms like Carrère & Hastings (architects of the main branch of the NY Public Library) and Warren & Wetmore (architects of Grand Central Terminal).

The district has an artistic importance beyond the world-famous museum. The district became a center of the arts in the 1960s and 1970s and boasted a large number of art galleries in former townhouses and mansions. This artistic past is evident in a special piece of public art, the Alexander Calder Sidewalk. The owners of three adjacent galleries (1014-1018 Madison Avenue) commissioned Calder to design their sidewalk. Calder donated the design and the three galleries split the construction costs. Installed September 18, 1970, the sidewalk is 75 by 15 feet, and made up of black-and-white parallel and diagonal lines and crescents.