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Hell's Kitchen, also known as Clinton and Midtown West, is a neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City located between 34th Street in the south, 59th Street in the north, Eighth Avenue in the east and the Hudson River to the west. The area provides transportation, hospital and warehouse infrastructure support to the Midtown Manhattan business district. Its gritty reputation kept real estate prices below those of most other areas of Manhattan until the early 1990s; rents have increased dramatically since and are currently above the Manhattan average.
Once a bastion of poor and working-class Irish Americans, Hell's Kitchen's proximity to Midtown has changed it over the last three decades of the 20th century and into the new millennium. The 1969 edition of the City Planning Commission's Plan for New York City reported that development pressures related to its Midtown location were driving people of modest means from the area. Today, the area is gentrifying.
The rough-and-tumble days on the West Side figure prominently in Damon Runyon's stories and the childhood home of Marvel Comics' Daredevil. Being near to both Broadway theatres and Actors Studio training school, the area has long been a home to actors learning and practicing their craft.
"Hell's Kitchen" generally refers to the area from 34th to 59th streets. Starting west of Eighth Avenue, city zoning regulations generally limit buildings to six stories. As a result, most of the buildings are older, often walk-ups. For the most part, the neighborhood encompasses the ZIP codes 10019 and 10036. The post office for 10019 is called Radio City Station, the original name for Rockefeller Center on Sixth Avenue.
Several explanations exist for the original name. An early use of the phrase appears in a comment Davy Crockett made about another notorious Irish slum in Manhattan, Five Points. According to the Irish Cultural Society of the Garden City Area:
When, in 1835, Davy Crockett said, "In my part of the country, when you meet an Irishman, you find a first-rate gentleman; but these are worse than savages; they are too mean to swab hell's kitchen." He was referring to the Five Points.
According to an article by Kirkley Greenwell, published online by the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association:
No one can pin down the exact origin of the label, but some refer to a tenement on 54th Street as the first "Hell's Kitchen." Another explanation points to an infamous building at 39th as the true original. A gang and a local dive took the name as well.... a similar slum also existed in London and was known as Hell's Kitchen.
Local historian Mary Clark explained the name thus:
...first appeared in print on September 22, 1881 when a New York Times reporter went to the West 30s with a police guide to get details of a multiple murder there. He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and 10th Avenue as "Hell's Kitchen," and said that the entire section was "probably the lowest and filthiest in the city." According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell's Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets. Another version ascribes the name's origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil's Kitchen, after its proprietors. But the most common version traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, "This place is hell itself," to which Fred replied, "Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen."
Hell's Kitchen has stuck as the general and informal name of the neighborhood even though real estate developers have offered alternatives of "Clinton" and "Midtown West" or even "the Mid-West". The Clinton name, used by the municipality of New York City, originated in 1959 in an attempt to link the area to DeWitt Clinton Park at 52nd and Eleventh Avenue, named after the 19th century New York governor.
On the island of Manhattan as it was when Europeans first saw it, the Great Kill which formed from three small streams that united near Tenth Avenue and 40th Street, wound through the low-lying Reed Valley renowned for fish and waterfowl to empty into the Hudson River at a deep bay on the river at the present 42nd Street. The name was retained in a tiny hamlet, Great Kill, that became a center for carriage-making, as the upland to the south and east became known as Longacre, the predecessor of Longacre, now Times Square. One of the large farms of the colonial era in this neighborhood was that of Andreas Hopper and his descendants; it spanned the distance between today's 48th Street nearly to 59th Street and stretched from the river east to what is now Sixth Avenue. One of the Hopper farmhouses, built in 1752 for John Hopper the younger, stood near 53rd Street and Eleventh Avenue; christened "Rosevale" for its extensive gardens, it was the home of the War of 1812 veteran, Gen. Garrit Hopper Striker, and lasted until 1896, when it was demolished; the site was purchased for the city and naturalistically landscaped by Samuel Parsons Jr. as DeWitt Clinton Park. In 1911 New York Hospital bought a full city block largely of the Hopper property, between 54th and 55th Streets, Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues. Beyond the railroad track, projecting into the river at 54th Street, was Mott's Point, with an 18th-century Mott family house, surrounded by gardens, that was inhabited by members of the family until 1884 and survived until 1895.
A lone surviving structure that dates from the time this area was open farmland and suburban villas is the carriage house (pre-1800) that once belonged to a villa owned by ex-Vice President and New York State governor George Clinton, now in a narrow court behind 422 West 46th Street. From 1811 until it was officially de-mapped the ghostly Bloomingdale Square was part of the city's intended future; it extended from 53rd to 57th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. It was eliminated in 1857 after the establishment of Central Park, and the name shifted to the junction of Broadway, West End Avenue, and 106th Street, now Straus Park. In 1825, for $10 the City purchased clear title to a right-of-way through John Leake Norton's farm, "The Hermitage", to lay out 42nd Street clear to the river. Before long, cattle ferried from Weehawken were being driven along the unpaved route, to slaughterhouses on the East Side. Seventy acres of the Leake, later Norton property, extending north from 42nd to 46th Street and from Broadway to the river, had been purchased before 1807 by John Jacob Astor and William Cutting, who held it before dividing it into building lots as the district became more suburban.
The first change that began to unite the area more closely to New York City was the construction of the Hudson River Railroad, which completed the forty miles to Peekskill on 29 September 1849, to Poughkeepsie by the end of that year, and extended to Albany in 1851. As far as 60th Street, the track ran at street grade up Eleventh Avenue, before the independent riverside roadbed commenced.
The formerly rural riverfront was transformed for industrial uses such as tanneries that could discharge their effluent into the river and ship their production by the rails. Hence the beginnings of the neighborhood of the southern part of the 22nd Ward, which would become known as Hell's Kitchen, start in the mid-19th century, when immigrants from Ireland, most of whom were refugees from the Great Famine, began settling on the west side of Manhattan in shantytowns along the Hudson River. Many of these immigrants found work on the docks nearby, or along the railroad that carried freight into the city along Eleventh Avenue.
After the American Civil War the population increased dramatically, as tenements were erected and increased immigration added to the neighborhood's congestion. Many in this poverty stricken area turned to gang life and the neighborhood soon became known as the "most dangerous area on the American Continent". Around the start of the 20th century, the neighborhood was controlled by gangs, including the violent Gopher Gang led by One Lung Curran and later by Owney Madden.
The violence escalated during the 1920s, after Prohibition was implemented in 1919. The many warehouses in the district served as ideal breweries for the rumrunners who controlled the illicit liquor. Gradually the earlier gangs such as the Hell's Kitchen Gang were transformed into organized crime entities around the same time that Owney Madden became one of the most powerful mobsters in New York.
After the Repeal of Prohibition, many of the organized crime elements moved into other rackets, such as illegal gambling and union shakedowns. The postwar era was characterized by a flourishing waterfront, and work as a longshoreman was plentiful. By the end of the 1950s, however, the implementation of containerized shipping led to the decline of the West Side piers and many longshoremen found themselves out of work. In addition, the construction of the Lincoln Tunnel had devastated much of Hell's Kitchen to the south of 39th Street.
In 1959, an aborted rumble between rival Irish and Puerto Rican gangs led to the notorious "Capeman" murders in which two innocent teenagers were killed.
By 1965, Hell's Kitchen was the home base of the Westies, a deeply violent Irish American crew aligned with the Gambino crime family. It was not until the early 1980s that widespread gentrification began to alter the demographics of the longtime working-class Irish American neighborhood. The 1980s also saw an end to the Westies' reign of terror, when the gang lost all of its power after the RICO convictions of most of its principals in 1986.
Today Hell's Kitchen is an increasingly upscale neighborhood of actors and affluent young professionals, as well as residents from the 'old days'. It has also acquired a large diverse community as residents have moved north from Chelsea.
Although the neighborhood is immediately west of New York's main business district, development lagged for more than 30 years because of strict zoning rules called the Special Clinton District designed to protect the neighborhood's low-rise character.
When the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden at 50th Street and Eighth Avenue was torn down in 1968, New York developed a master plan calling for two to three thousand hotel rooms, 25,000 apartments, 25,000,000 square feet (2,300,000 m2) of office space, and a new super liner terminal in the neighborhood, which it described as "blocks of antiquated and deteriorating structures of every sort." During this time a proposal was made to build the world's tallest building on the Madison Square Garden site and a massive convention center at 44th Street and the Hudson River.
The district severely restricted development in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. The world's tallest building was not to rise and its Madison Square site was to remain a parking lot until 1989.
Provisions of the District:
The SCD was originally split into four areas:
The mixed use area and other area are now combined into "Other areas."
Building height in the Preservation Area cannot exceed 66 feet (20 m) or seven stories, whichever is less.
Special permits are required for all demolition and construction in the SCD, including demolition of "any sound housing in the District" and any rehabilitation that increases the number of dwellings in a structure. New developments, conversions, or alterations that create new units or zero bedroom units must contain at least 20% two bedroom apartments with a minimum room size of 168 square feet (16 m2). Alterations that reduce the percentage of two bedroom units are not permitted unless the resulting building meets the 20% two bedroom requirement.
In the original provisions no building could be demolished unless it was unsound.
As the gentrification pace increased, there were numerous reports of problems between landlords and tenants. The most extreme example was the eight story Windermere complex at the southwest corner of Ninth Avenue and 57th Street—two blocks from Central Park.
Built in 1881, it is the second-oldest large apartment house in Manhattan. In 1980, the then owner, Alan B. Weissman, tried to empty the building of its tenants. According to former tenants and court papers, rooms were ransacked, doors were ripped out, prostitutes were moved in, and tenants received death threats in the campaign to empty the building. All the major New York newspapers covered the trials that sent the Windermere's managers to jail. Although the building's landlord, Alan B. Weissman, was never linked to the harassment, he and his wife made top billing in the 1985 edition of The Village Voice annual list, "The Dirty Dozen: New York's Worst Landlords."
Most of the tenants eventually settled and moved out of the building. As of May 2006, seven tenants remained and court orders protecting the tenants and the building allowed it to remain in derelict condition even as the surrounding neighborhood was experiencing a dramatic burst of demolition and redevelopment. Finally, in September 2007, the fire department evacuated those remaining seven residents from the building citing dangerous conditions and padlocked the front door. In 2008 the New York Supreme Court ruled that the owners of the building, who include the TOA Construction Corporation of Japan, must repair it.
While almost all fire stations in Manhattan lost firefighters in the September 11 attacks, the hardest hit station was Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue, which lost 15 firefighters. Given its proximity to Midtown, the station had specialized in skyscraper fires and rescues and in 2007 was the second busiest firehouse in New York City, with 9,685 runs between the two companies.
Its patch reads "Pride of Midtown" and "Never Missed a Performance". Memorials dot the station's exterior walls and a granite memorial is in a park to its north.
Ladder 21, the "Pride of Hell's Kitchen", located on 38th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, and stationed with Engine 34, lost 7 firefighters on September 11. In addition, on September 11, Engine 26 was temporarily stationed with Engine 34/Ladder 21 and lost many firefighters themselves.
Developer Larry Silverstein made part of his fortune that eventually earned him the lease for the World Trade Center by building and managing buildings in the neighborhood. Silverstein's architect David Childs who is designing the Freedom Tower designed the Time Warner Center and Worldwide Plaza buildings in the neighborhood. Signature features of those towers are slated for the Freedom Tower.
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Zoning has long restricted the extension of Midtown Manhattan's skyscraper development into Hell's Kitchen. The David Childs designed Worldwide Plaza established a beach head when it was built in 1989 at the former Madison Square Garden site, a full city block between 49th and 50th Streets and between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.
The city under Michael Bloomberg relaxed zoning all over the city in the wake of the September 11 attacks. This led to a real-estate building boom with Hell's Kitchen getting some of the biggest projects in the city including the Hearst Tower at 56th Street and Eighth Avenue.
An indication of how fast real estate prices rose in the neighborhood was a 2004 transaction involving the Howard Johnson's Motel at 52nd and Eighth Avenue. In June, Vikram Chatwal's Hampshire Hotel Group bought the motel and adjoining SIR (Studio Instrument Rental) building for $9 million. In August, they sold the property to ElAd Properties for about $43 million. Elad, which owns Plaza Hotel, is in the process of building The Link, a luxury 44-story building.
Hell's Kitchen's gritty reputation had made its housing prices lower than elsewhere in Manhattan. Given the lower costs in the past and its proximity to Broadway theatres, the neighborhood is a haven for aspiring actors. Many famous actors and entertainers have resided there, including Burt Reynolds, Rip Torn, Bob Hope, Charlton Heston, James Dean, Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Alicia Keys, John Michael Bolger, and Sylvester Stallone. This is due in large part to the Actors Studio on West 44th, which rose to prominence under Lee Strasberg and is famed for its method acting style.
With the opening of the original Improv by Budd Friedman in 1963, the club became a hangout for singers to perform but quickly attracted comedians, as well, turning it into the reigning comedy club of its time. Located on West 44th near the SE corner of 9th Ave, it has since shuttered, replaced by a restaurant.
Manhattan Plaza at 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues was built in the 1970s to house artists. It consists of two 46-story towers with 70 percent of the apartments set aside for performing artists. The Actors' Temple and Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Church with its Actors' Chapel also testify to the long-time presence of show business people.
The neighborhood is also home to a number of broadcast and music-recording studios, including the CBS Broadcast Center at 524 West 57th Street (also the home of Black Entertainment Television's 106 & Park show), Sony Music Studios at 460 West 54th Street, Manhattan Center Studios at 311 West 34th Street, and Right Track Recording's Studio A509 orchestral recording facility at West 38th Street and Tenth Avenue. The syndicated Montel Williams Show is also taped locally at the Unitel Studios, 433 W. 53rd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.
Comedy Central's satirical program The Daily Show is taped in Hell's Kitchen. In the summer of 2005, it moved from its quarters at 54th Street and 10th Avenue to a new studio in the neighborhood, at 733 Eleventh Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets. The old location at 54th and 10th is now home to The Colbert Report. Next door to Colbert at 511 W. 54th St. is Ars Nova theater, home to emerging artists Joe Iconis and breakout star Jesse Eisenberg, among others.
The headquarters of Troma studios is located in Hell's Kitchen. The Baryshnikov Arts Center opened at 37 Arts on 37th Street in 2005, the Orchestra of St. Luke's opened the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in the same building in 2011. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opened at 55th Street and Ninth Avenue in 2006.
The Clinton Community Garden is a result of the actors living in the area. Since they mostly work at night in the local theatres, they took time to create a garden in a rubble-strewn lot. Eventually it became a selling point for gentrification, providing real estate agents with another selling point.
Transportation in the area is highly diverse.
Ninth Avenue is noted for its many ethnic restaurants. The Ninth Avenue Association's International Food Festival, stretches through the Kitchen from 37th to 57th Streets every May, usually on the third weekend of the month. It has been going on since 1974 and is one of the oldest street fairs in the city. In addition to the usual American[clarification needed], Caribbean, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Irish, Mexican and Thai restaurants, there are multiple Afghan, Argentine, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Turkish, Indian, Pakistani and Vietnamese restaurants. Restaurant Row is located on West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.
Hell's Kitchen's side streets are mostly lined with trees. The neighborhood does not have many parks or recreational area though, but smaller plots that were converted into green spaces. One of them is Hell's Kitchen Park.
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Notable current and former residents of Hell's Kitchen include:
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