Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan

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View from center of Hell's Kitchen, at 48th Street on Ninth Avenue, looking northeast toward Time Warner Center and Hearst Tower.
Public housing.

Hell's Kitchen, also known as Clinton and Midtown West, is a neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City (U.S.). It covers the area on the West Side, between 34th Street and 59th Street, from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River.

The neighborhood provides transportation, hospital and warehouse infrastructure support to the Midtown Manhattan business district. Its gritty reputation held back real estate prices in the area, compared to much of the rest of Manhattan, until the early 1990s.

The rough and tumble days on the West Side figure heavily in Damon Runyon's stories and the childhood home of Marvel Comics' Daredevil. Various Manhattan ethnic conflicts formed the basis of the 1957 musical and 1961 film West Side Story.

Once a center of poor and working-class Irish Americans, over the last three decades of the 20th century and into the new millennium, Hell's Kitchen has undergone change as a result of its location at Midtown. The 1969 edition of the Plan for New York City book, authored by the City Planning Commission, stated that people of modest means were being driven from the area by development pressures due to the Midtown location. Today, many actors live in the neighborhood due to its closeness to the Broadway theaters and Actors Studio training school.

Borders of area[change | change source]

Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd and Eighth Avenue.

"Hell's Kitchen" generally refers to the area from 34th to 59th streets, southwest of Central Park. Starting west of 8th Avenue, city zoning regulations limit buildings to 6 stories high (although exceptions are often made). As a result, most of the buildings are older, often walk-ups. For the most part the neighborhood covers the ZIP codes 10019 and 10036. The post office for 10019 is known as Radio City Station, the original name for Rockefeller Center on Sixth Avenue.

  • Southern boundary: Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea overlap and are often lumped together as the West Side since they support the Midtown Manhattan business district. The traditional dividing line is 34th Street. The transition area just north of Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station includes the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
  • Eastern boundary: The neighborhood overlaps the Times Square theater district to the east at Eighth Avenue. On its southeast border, it overlaps the Garment District also on Eighth Avenue. Here, two landmarks reside - the New Yorker Hotel and the dynamic Manhattan Center building (at the northwest corner of 34th Street and Eighth Avenue). Included in the transition area on Eighth Avenue are the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street, the Pride of Manhattan Fire Station (from which 15 firefighters died at the World Trade Center), several theaters including Studio 54, the original soup stand of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, and the Hearst Tower.
  • Northern boundary: The neighborhood edges toward the southern boundary of the Upper West Side, and 57th Street is considered by some to be the traditional northern boundary. However the neighborhood often is considered to extend to 59th Street (the southern edge of Central Park starting at Eighth Avenue) where the avenue names change. Included in the 57th to 59th Street transition area are the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center (where John Lennon died when shot in 1980), and John Jay College.
  • Western boundary: The western boundary is the Hudson River.
Hell's Kitchen gear for sale in the Video Cafe on Ninth Avenue.
Restaurant Row on West 46th Street.
Hell's Kitchen Park.

Name[change | change source]

Several different 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.[1]

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.[2]

Local historian Mary Clark adds a story when she states the name:

...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 [Heil, not "hell"]. 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."[3]

Today, most residents of the area, and most New Yorkers in general, refer to the area as "Hell's Kitchen", with "Clinton" being the name favored by the municipality, "gentrifiers", and eager real estate agents.

References[change | change source]

  1. Walsh, John (September 1994). "The Five Points". Irish Cultural Society of the Garden City Area. IS-5.
  2. Greenwell, Kirkley. "Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association". HKNA Official website, 2010: HKhood.
  3. Klara Madlin Real Estate Inc., "Clinton/Hell's Kitchen", 2009, web: KMhood, retrieved 15 June 2011.

Other websites[change | change source]