Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan

Monday, 29 June 2020 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, New York City
Reading Time:  20 minutes

Vintner Wine Market © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0

Vintner Wine Market © flickr.com – Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0

Hell’s Kitchen, sometimes known as Clinton (named for Governor George Clinton), is a neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City, west of Midtown Manhattan. It is traditionally considered to be bordered by 34th Street to the south, 59th Street to the north, Eighth Avenue to the east, and the Hudson River to the west. Until the 1970s, Hell’s Kitchen was a bastion of poor and working-class Irish Americans. Though its gritty reputation had long held real-estate prices below those of most other areas of Manhattan, by 1969, 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. Since the early 1990s, the area has been gentrifying, and rents have risen rapidly. Home of the Actors Studio training school, and adjacent to Broadway theatres, Hell’s Kitchen has long been a home to fledgling and working actors.

There were multiple changes that helped Hell’s Kitchen integrate with New York City proper. The first was construction of the Hudson River Railroad, whose initial leg – the 40 miles (64 km) to Peekskill – was completed on September 29, 1849, By the end of 1849, it stretched to Poughkeepsie and in 1851 it extended to Albany. The track ran at a steep grade up Eleventh Avenue, as far as 60th Street. The formerly rural riverfront was industrialized by businesses, such as tanneries, that used the river for shipping products and dumping waste.
The neighborhood that would later be known as Hell’s Kitchen started forming in the southern part of the 22nd Ward in the mid-19th century. Irish immigrants – mostly refugees from the Great Famine – found work on the docks and railroad along the Hudson River and established shantytowns there. After the American Civil War, there was an influx of people who moved to New York City. The tenements that were built became overcrowded quickly. Many who lived in this congested, poverty-stricken area turned to gang life. Following Prohibition, implemented in 1919, the district’s many warehouses were ideal locations for bootleg distilleries for the rumrunners who controlled illicit liquor. At 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. Early gangs, like the Hell’s Kitchen Gang, transformed into organized crime entities, around the same time that Owney Madden became one of the most powerful mobsters in New York. It became known as the “most dangerous area on the American Continent”. 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 longshoreman work 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, construction of the Lincoln Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel access roads, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal and ramps destroyed much of Hell’s Kitchen south of 41st 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, an Irish mob 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.

Although the neighborhood is immediately west of New York’s main business district, large-scale redevelopment has been kept in check for more than 40 years by strict zoning rules in a Special Clinton District designed to protect the neighborhood’s residents and its low-rise character. In part to qualify for federal aid, New York developed a comprehensive Plan for New York City in 1969–70. While for almost all neighborhoods, the master plan contained few proposals, it was very explicit about the bright future of Hell’s Kitchen. The plan called for 2,000 to 3,000 new hotel rooms, 25,000 apartments, 25 million square feet (2,300,000 m²) of office space, a new super liner terminal, a subway along 48th Street, and a convention center to replace what the plan described as “blocks of antiquated and deteriorating structures of every sort.” However, outrage at the massive residential displacement that this development project would have caused, and the failure of the City to complete any replacement housing, led to opposition to the first project – a new convention center to replace the New York Coliseum. To prevent the convention center from sparking a development boom that would beget the rest of the master plan with its consequent displacement, the Clinton Planning Council and Daniel Gutman, their environmental planner, proposed that the convention center and all major development be located south of 42nd Street where public policy had already left tracts of vacant land. Nevertheless, in 1973 the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was approved for a 44th Street site that would replace piers 84 and 86. But in exchange, and after the defeat of a bond issue that would have funded a 48th Street “people mover,” the City first abandoned the rest of the 1969–70 master plan and then gave the neighborhood a special zoning district to restrict further redevelopment. Since then, limited new development has filled in the many empty lots and rejuvenated existing buildings. Later, in 1978, when the city could not afford the higher cost of constructing the 44th Street convention center over water, the Mayor and Governor chose the rail yard site originally proposed by the local community.

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. Built in 1881, it is the second-oldest large apartment house in Manhattan. In 1980, the 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 Weissman was never linked to the harassment, he and his wife made top billing in the 1985 edition of The Village Voice‘s 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.

By the 1980s the area south of 42nd Street was in decline. Both the state and the city hoped that the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center would renew the area. Hotels, restaurants, apartment buildings, and television studios were proposed. One proposal included apartments and hotels on a 30 acres (12 ha) pier jutting out onto Hudson River, which also included a marina, ferry slip, stores, restaurants, and a performing arts center. At Ninth Avenue and 33rd Street, a 32-story office tower would be built. Hotels, apartment buildings, and a Madison Square Garden would be built over the tracks west of Pennsylvania Station. North of the Javits Center, a “Television City” would be developed by Larry Silverstein in conjunction with NBC. One impediment to development was the lack of mass transit in the area, which is far from Penn Station, and none of the proposals for a link to Penn Station was pursued successfully (for example, the ill-fated West Side Transitway). No changes to the zoning policy happened until 1990, when the city rezoned a small segment of 11th Avenue near the Javits Center. In 1993, part of 9th Avenue between 35th and 41st Streets was also rezoned. However, neither of these rezonings was particularly significant, as most of the area was still zoned as a manufacturing district with low-rise apartment buildings. By the early 1990s, there was a recession, which scuttled plans for rezoning and severely reduced the amount of development in the area. After the recession was over, developers invested in areas like Times Square, eastern Hell’s Kitchen, and Chelsea, but mostly skipped the Far West Side.

Hell’s Kitchen has become an increasingly upscale neighborhood of affluent young professionals as well as residents from the “old days”, with rents in the neighborhood having increased dramatically above the average in Manhattan. It has also acquired a large and diverse community as residents have moved north from Chelsea. Zoning has long restricted the extension of Midtown Manhattan‘s skyscraper development into Hell’s Kitchen, at least north of 42nd Street. The David Childs– and Frank Williams-designed Worldwide Plaza established a beachhead 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 that was exempt from special district zoning rules. This project led a real-estate building boom on Eighth Avenue, 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 Street and Eighth Avenue. In June, Vikram Chatwal’s Hampshire Hotel Group bought the motel and adjoining Studio Instrument Rental building for $9 million. In August, they sold the property to Elad Properties for about $43 million. Elad, which formerly owned the Plaza Hotel, is in the process of building The Link, a luxury 44-story building.

Amy's Bread © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0 Between 47th and 48th Streets on Ninth Avenue toward Time Warner Center and Hearst Tower © Roger Rowlett/cc-by-sa-2.5 Charley O's Restaurant & Pub © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0 Chelsea Grill © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0 Eighth Avenue 46th Street © Jim.henderson Hudson Yards from Hudson Commons © Rhododendrites/cc-by-sa-4.0 Looking south on Tenth Avenue from 59th Street © Roger Rowlett/cc-by-sa-2.5 Ninth Avenue at 49th Street facing south © Dmadeocc/by-sa-2.5 O'Flaherty's Pub © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0 Restaurant Row on West 46th Street © Roger Rowlett/cc-by-sa-2.5 Social Bar & Grill © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0 The House of Brews © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0 Vintner Wine Market © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0
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Between 47th and 48th Streets on Ninth Avenue toward Time Warner Center and Hearst Tower © Roger Rowlett/cc-by-sa-2.5
In 2003, the New York City Department of City Planning issued a master plan that envisioned the creation of 40,000,000 square feet (3,700,000 m²) of commercial and residential development, two corridors of open space. Dubbed the Hudson Yards Master Plan, the area covered is bordered on the east by Seventh and Eighth Avenues, on the south by West 28th and 30th Streets, on the north by West 43rd Street, and on the west by Hudson River Park and the Hudson River. The City’s plan was similar to a neighborhood plan produced by architect Meta Brunzema and environmental planner Daniel Gutman for the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA). The main concept of the HKNA plan was to allow major new development while protecting the existing residential core area between Ninth and Tenth avenues. As plans developed, they included a mixed-use real estate development by Related Companies and Oxford Properties over the MTA’s West Side Yard; a renovation of the Javits Convention Center; and the 7 Subway Extension to the 34th Street–Hudson Yards station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which opened on September 13, 2015. The first phase of the Related project, completed in March 2019, comprises The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards, a public space centered around the Vessel structure, the Shed arts center, and several skyscrapers. By the 2010s, the neighborhood had become home to young Wall Street financiers.

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, and Sylvester Stallone. This is due in large part to the Actors Studio on West 44th at which Lee Strasberg taught and developed method acting. 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. Once located near West 44th Street and Ninth Avenue, it has since shuttered, replaced by a restaurant. Manhattan Plaza at 43rd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues was built in the 1970s to house artists. It consists of two 46-story towers with 70% of the apartments set aside for rent discounts for those who work in the arts. The Actors’ Temple and St. Malachy 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, where the CBS television network records many of its news and sports programs such as 60 Minutes and The NFL Today; the former Sony Music Studios at 460 West 54th Street, which closed in 2007; 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 at the Unitel Studios, 433 West 53rd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. In 2016, rock music singer and songwriter Sting recorded his album entitled 57th & 9th at Avatar Studios, a music studio located near the intersection of 57th Street and Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. The Comedy Central satirical news program The Daily Show has been taped in Hell’s Kitchen since its debut. In 2005, it moved from its quarters at 54th Street and Tenth Avenue to a new studio in the neighborhood, at 733 Eleventh Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets. The 54th and 10th location was used for The Colbert Report throughout its entire run from 2005 until 2014. Until its cancellation, the studio was used for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, following Stephen Colbert‘s departure from Comedy Central. Next door at 511 West 54th Street is Ars Nova theater, home to emerging artists Joe Iconis and breakout star Jesse Eisenberg, among others. The headquarters of Troma studios was located in Hell’s Kitchen before their move to Long Island City in Queens. 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 Metropolitan Community Church of New York, geared toward an LGBTQ membership, is located in Hell’s Kitchen.

Ninth Avenue is noted for its many ethnic restaurants. The Ninth Avenue Association’s International Food Festival stretches through the Kitchen from 42nd 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. There are Caribbean, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Irish, Mexican, and Thai restaurants as well as multiple Afghan, Argentine, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Turkish, Indian, Pakistani, and Vietnamese restaurants. Restaurant Row, so called because of the abundance of restaurants, is located on West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Notable establishments on Ninth Avenue include Mickey Spillane’s, part-owned by the mobster’s son, who also owns Mr Biggs on Tenth Avenue/43rd Street. There are more restaurants and food carts and trucks on Tenth Avenue between 43rd and 47th Streets, including Hallo Berlin.

Hell’s Kitchen’s side streets are mostly lined with trees. The neighborhood does not have many parks or recreational areas, though smaller plots have been converted into green spaces. One such park is De Witt Clinton Park on Eleventh Avenue between 52nd and 54th streets, across the West Side Highway from Clinton Cove Park. Another is Hell’s Kitchen Park, built in the 1970s on a former parking lot on 10th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets. A newer park in Hell’s Kitchen is the Hudson Park and Boulevard, which is part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project. The 100 by 150 foot (30 by 46 m) Clinton Community Garden is located on West 48th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, and consists of 108 plots. Previously a haven for illegal activity, in 1978 the West 48th Street Block Association joined with the Green Guerillas to secure a lease for the site to renovate it for community use. When the city put it up for auction in 1981, residents formed the Committee to Save Clinton Community Garden, through both appeals to Mayor Ed Koch and unsuccessful efforts to purchase the site. In 1984, one month before the auction, the garden was transferred to the city’s Parks Department, making it the first community garden to become parkland. It is open from dawn to dusk, and over 2,000 residents have keys to the park, which is used by an average of 500–600 people, including over 100 children, during the warm months. Recreational programs provide for events that include an annual Summer Solstice event, art shows, chamber music picnics, gardening seminars, and dance recitals. Residents have also held weddings in the park, and photographers have used it for photo shoots.

Read more on NYCgo.com – Hell’s Kitchen, The New York Times, 29 April 2015: Rapid Change in Hell’s Kitchen, Wikivoyage Manhattan and Wikipedia Hell’s Kitchen (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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