Midtown West A Starring Role on the Far West Side

Midtown West

This neighborhood has been known as various names throughout its storied history from Clinton and Hell’s Kitchen to Midtown West. It was once a rough-and-tumble area and soon it will be transformed into a mecca of residential and commercial spaces that will redefine its existence.

Hudson Yards

While construction cranes seem to be a permanent fixture on nearly every New York City street corner, the largest residential development project in U.S. history is taking shape on the Far West Side of Manhattan in Midtown West.

Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in history and the largest development in New York City since Rockefeller Center. It is anticipated that more than 24 million people will visit Hudson Yards every year. The site, according to Related Companies, will include more than 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space, more than 100 shops, a collection of restaurants, approximately 5,000 residences, a unique cultural space, 14 acres of public open space, a 750-seat public school and a 200-room Equinox®-branded luxury hotel complete with unparalleled amenities for residents, employees and guests. 

A major component of the Far West Side redevelopment was the extension of the No. 7 subway line west and south from Times Square and the construction of a new station at West 34th Street and 11th Avenue. Another phase of the plan involves renovating the old Farley Post Office near Penn Station into a new Moynihan Station, a transportation access point for passengers of Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road, and other component is the renovation of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

A number of office buildings have been topped out at the site, two super tall residential projects in Hudson Yards are on the drawing board, the subway extension opened in the fall of 2015, and the remaining phases of the long-term project are underway.

The city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO), a quasi-public agency that analyses the city’s budget and economic plans, projects that the total cost of the Hudson Yards project could climb to an estimated $947 million dollars by 2019.

AKA Clinton or Hell’s Kitchen

Whether you call it Hell's Kitchen, Clinton or Midtown West, its boundaries are roughly equivalent to an area between 34th Street and 59th Street, from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. The neighborhood supplies transportation, medical (mostly hospital), and warehouse infrastructure support to the Midtown Manhattan business district. Its "rough" reputation helped to depress real estate prices in the area when compared with most of the rest of Manhattan up until the early 1990s.

Historically, the neighborhood had a prominent role in the New York City underworld, especially as it pertains to the Irish American Mob. Infamous gangsters like Owney Madden, notable bootleggers such as Bill Dwyer, and Westies leaders James Coonan and Mickey Featherstone were all local natives. Various ethnic conflicts in the area formed the basis of the musical and film West Side Story. 

The origin of the name Hell’s Kitchen had many explanations as cited on Wikipedia. An early use of the phrase appears in a comment frontiersman 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.  

And local historian Mary Clark explained the name as this:  “...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 Tenth 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 Tenth 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 seems to have stuck as the most-used 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, often used by the municipality and city planners, 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.

As the name implies, Hell’s Kitchen was considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York City after the Civil War. Another story has it that the name originated from the Hell’s Kitchen Gang, organized in about 1868 by Dutch Heinrichs. This gang reportedly specialized in raids on the 30th Street Hudson River Railroad yard.  

In its hey-day, it was a low-rise, working-class, immigrant area dominated by tenements. Industrial construction adjacent to the Hudson River waterfront in the late 19th and early 20th centuries spurred further inland housing development. The  location of major transportation infrastructure at the beginning of the 20th century invited industry that sought cheap rents and accessibility. Beginning  in 1919, garment loft buildings replaced three- and four-story residential and  factory buildings as well as school and church properties.  

Theater Row and Billionaire’s Row

Today, development is booming in Midtown West and throughout New York City. Some of the most expensive residential real estate in the world is situated in the 53rd to 57th Street corridor around Central Park, a place which now has been tabbed with the moniker: Billionaire’s Row.  From Rafael Vinoly’s 432 Park Avenue-designed super tall tower built by Macklowe Properties/CIM Group to Extell’s Central Park Tower at 225 West 57th Street, which will top out at around 1,530 feet, these superstar skyscrapers are due to break all  of New York City’s residential sales records.

With the new development, retail and restaurants have sprouted up. Ninth Avenue, for one, is noted for its many fine 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. 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. Due to the abundance of restaurants, Restaurant Row is located on West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

Being near both the Broadway theatres as well as to various training studios and schools for actors, the Midtown West/Hell’s Kitchen area has long catered to actors helping them learn and practice their craft. Throughout the neighborhood's history, 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 to name a few. This is mainly due to the fact that the world-famous Actors Studio was located on West 44th Street, which rose to prominence over the years. 

If you’re lucky, maybe you could play a starring role by scoring your own property in the new Midtown West.     

Debra A. Estock is managing editor of The Cooperator.

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