Upper Manhattan

Table of Contents || Neighborhood Map || Parks || Historic Districts

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Each part of town has several neighborhoods. Our residential-real-estate survey condenses its developmental highlights through Manhattan’s boom-and-bust economic cycles.

In no way is its intention a complete history: rather, the survey reflects the overriding characteristics that remain (through its rise, fall, and then {often} subsequent gentrification).

Furthermore, the seven additional elements–our highlights, photographs, maps, and suchlike–aim to create a mosaic of the lifestyle and housing types throughout Manhattan.

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Upper Manhattan

Hamilton Heights gradually climbs to a loftier Washington Heights. In fact, Manhattan’s highest elevation (barely remarkable at 265 feet above the Hudson River) is West 183rd Street. The Upper Manhattan neighborhoods are nestled within and around a rocky terrain, set on ridges and cliffs—more typical of Adirondack Mountain Park, 175 miles north. Therefore, the emphatic eastern and western boundaries are quintessential examples of Manhattan’s natural landscape and rugged topography. Moreover, schist protrusions define the open spaces and residential enclaves.

If Manhattan were Oklahoma this is its panhandle, a thin sliver surrounded by rivers, not within the Peter Stuyvesant Haerlem Common, nor considered on the commissioners’ Grid Plan, nor is Broadway and the transit system at its best. There is no Fifth Avenue, and for residential developer’s it was Upper Manhattan, a secondary consideration. It, too, though, submitted eventually to Manhattan’s Manifest Destiny: as the lands’ end.

The Neighborhoods

Greater Washington Heights, formerly Fort Tryon, the once-time Fort Washington, encompasses West 155th to 194th Streets, includes distinctive neighborhoods, as:

  • Audubon Park is the southernmost community, to Harlem’s north. It encompasses West 155th to West 164th Streets, and spreads west from Amsterdam Avenue to Riverside Park, surrounding the Audubon Terrace Historic District and Trinity Cemetery.
  • Morris-Jumel District takes in West 160th to 162nd Street, from the Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Avenues intersection, spreading one block to cliff-hanging Edgecombe Avenue. The diminutive enclave includes the namesake museum, Sylvan Terrace, which climbs the knoll to the 1700s manor house, and Jumel Terrace with a line of town houses.
  • The Heights comprises West 159th to 178th Streets—south of George Washington Bridge and its access highways—from Broadway to the Hudson River.
  • Hudson Heights begins at West 179th and continues to 192nd Streets, both along the Hudson River’s ledge and extending east to include Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue.
  • Fort George, West 163rd to 193rd Streets, at the Harlem River edge, and sprawling west to Broadway.
  • Inwood is not Washington Heights proper. It is an independent community unto itself, starting at West 200th and then winding round the terrain to 222nd Street, the Harlem Creek Canal, spanning the Hudson to Harlem Rivers. In other words: Water-bound, as the island’s northernmost tip.

The Parklands

Lengthways on the river’s cliff lies the dominate feature: a nine-mile, 678-acre, shoreline green space, occluding the northeastern-most corner, below Fort George Hill ridge. These isolated, open, common preserves and parklands, beginning in the southwest and continuing to the southeast, are:

  • Fort Washington Park is within the Hudson River Greenway, running from West 155th to Dyckman Street, which approximates West 207th Street. This ribbon parkland reserve hugs the Henry Hudson Parkway’s shoreline, bulges between West 176th and 182nd Streets, and includes both a hilltop land trail and waterside path. The important highlights, include:
    • George Washington Bridge, always of course, strong and solid, though never clad in the Beaux-Arts encasing masonry towers, as per Cass Gilbert’s original plan;
    • Jeffery’s Point Light House (aka Little Red Lighthouse), sited on the promontory under the George Washington bridge, and built in 1880, to improve navigating the Hudson River;
    • Grecian Temple, at West 190th Street, created in 1925 as a driver’s scenic outlook, across the Hudson River to the Palisades.
  • Fort Tyron Park, to West 190th Street’s north, is set within such geological features as pre-historic landscapes, dense forests, wetlands, saltwater marshes, and it was created by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of Central Park’s architect.
    • The Cloisters and medieval gardens are matchless. Gifted to the city by John D. Rockefeller in 1917; between 1935 and 1938 the Cloisters Museum was assembled by incorporating five French abbeys as well as recreated period plantings and herbal gardens.
  • Inwood Hill Park runs north along the Hudson River, conforms to the island’s rounding contour, therefore, continues easterly, and then finishes midway along Spuyten Duyvil Creek. A natural forest, in the Colonial-era known as Cock Hill—a derivation of the Lenape, Shorakapok, and placed between the ridges. The rivers provided fish, the forest forage, and the caves shelter—no small matter to the nomadic.
  • Highbridge Park, along the Harlem River riverfront at West 200th Street, runs south to West 155th Street. The cliffs and river frontage were acquired piecemeal—beginning during the Civil War, and continuing for 100 years. The parklands majestic cliffs also include:
    • The city’s oldest High Bridge, which was built to carry the Old Croton Aqueduct over the river.
    • A picturesque, Romanesque water tower, built to afford gravity farther out for all Upper Manhattan, and was subsequently moved.
    • The Harlem River Speedway now closed.
    • Sport features and recreation facilities, which have been enlarged continuously.

The five additional mid-island parks, from south to north, are:

  • Mitchell Square, West 166th Street, at Broadway;
  • Jay Hood Wright, West 173rd Street, along Fort Washington Avenue;
  • Bennett, West 183rd Street and Fort Washington Avenue, at Manhattan’s highest elevation
  • Gorman, West 188th Street, at Broadway;
  • Ishram, West 212th Street, at Broadway.

North-to-South Avenues

Again, Broadway is center-island, though each street spanning the Hudson to Harlem Rivers is designated as West. Moreover, between West 156th and 187th Streets, the existing Uptown avenues cross and converge, splinter off and reemerge. Broadway, Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Avenues retain their name. Furthermore, Broadway does not terminate in a rocky, wood-covered slope: it, alone, endures above West 200th Street, carrying on to the northeastern-most mainland bridge. The avenues, from east to west, are:

  • Edgecombe runs to West 171st Street, on a ledge above Highbridge Park;
  • Amsterdam runs to West 188th Street, and resumes below Fort George Hill as Tenth Avenue;
  • Audubon, beginning at West 165th Street, and Wadsworth, at West 173rd Street, loop together, and then merge into St. Nicholas, which forms one terminus at West 193rd—as Fort George Avenue;
  • Broadway continues right through to West 222nd Street;
  • Bennett begins on West 183rd Street, hooks east abruptly as West 195th Street;
  • Fort Washington begins at West 156th and ceases at West 193rd Street;
  • Pinehurst, which begins at West 176th runs to 187th Street;
  • Haven is West 165th Street’s continuation, and runs to West 177th Street;
  • Cabrini Boulevard runs north of West 179th to 193rd Streets;
  • Colonel Robert Magaw Place, which begins in the mid-Bennett-to-Fort-Washington-Avenue block, and hooks at West 181st, then ends at 183rd Street;
  • Overlook Terrace, traverses east-to-west, from Fort Washington to Bennett Avenues—climbing the west ridge;
  • Wadsworth Terrace, at West 188th, as a loop to 193rd Street—along the east ridge;
  • Fairview Terrace, at West 193rd Street, to Fort George Avenue from Broadway.

The Southern Neighborhoods

Ascending the Heights

Approaching the northern city limits consisted entirely of farms and rolling countryside in 1703, when the north-and-south cobblestone roadway between northwestern Harlem (at West 147th Street) and the city began. During the late 18th century, with one (notoriously irregular) stagecoach route as the sole alternative to the Hudson River ferry system, wealthy New Yorkers with four-in-hand coaches carved out rural estates along the riverbank. By century’s end, fine homes dotted the region. In fact, the New York City commissioners 1811 Grid Plan for streets and avenues did little to alter the rural nature: natural obstructions delayed urbanization for better than 55 years. The primary (only) landholders—where streets nor avenues where drawn in—were Andrew Duncan, whose heirs sold off ten substantial portions,; Stephen Jumel, whose widow updated the 40-year-old mansion; and three early 1800s heiress: Hannah Murray, Rosannah Bowers, and Blaze Moore.

Uptown Manhattan ends at the landmark, Trinity Cemetery, with its graceful walks and 100-year-old elms, which comprises West 153rd inclusive to 155th Streets, from Amsterdam Avenue to Riverside Drive. After 100 years, Harlem’s carpenters and working classes gradually spread one mile upriver, and the Battle of Harlem Plains was fought here, too. Seventy-five years later, John James Audubon registered to his wife, Lucy, 14 acres, spanning West 156th to 158th Streets, and stretching from Bloomingdale Road (once “the Public Road,” now Broadway) down the steep slope, with rushing streams converging at the riverbank. Through thick and thin, while still accessed by the stagecoach, Lucy added on 10 acres. Fifty years later, the Audubon heirs and their ten neighbors, consumed by Riverside Drive encroaching and the expected subway urging New Yorkers Uptown were perforce to sell: rural Audubon Park disappeared.

The historic district is an irregular shape, starting along West 155th Street, and to the south side of West 158th Street, with two additional lots at 609 and 611 West 158th Street, at Riverside Drive (West) to Broadway. A full block rectangle (at Broadway, between West 155th and 156th Streets), is not residential at all, but a cobblestone path between facing Greek-Revival-column institutional buildings. The mid-block, original Beaux-Arts design, by Charles Pratt Huntington, built with funds provided by his cousin, the robber baron Archer Milton Huntington, was completed 22 years later in 1930.

Riverside Drive provides a prominent residential venue within the Audubon Park Historic District, where (the westerly) Riverside Drive becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway (which reemerges briefly two miles north, at the Inwood Hill Park rise). Easterly, a second Riverside Drive East raises along West 156th Street, running to West 164th Street. This north-to-south spit, with its surrounding streets, is still a secluded residential district. Thereafter, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital dominates.

West One-Hundred-Fifty-Fifth to 158th Streets was built out with single-family homes replacing the farmhouses, villas, and estates. Within this quite small area, along Riverside Drive and east of Broadway, better than one dozen grand, luxury apartment houses were built in just a few years; each included a rear court, some an exterior front court, many designed around an interior court design. These up-to-the-minute multiple-resident dwellings, built by the preeminent builders (Schwartz & Gross, for one), who employed renowned turn-of-the-century architects (Neville & Bagge, for instance), intended for well-heeled families—with maids, cook and governess, as two generous apartments per floor, comprising nine or ten rooms and two or three bathrooms. They changed the pastoral landscape to a cityscape. These clustered apartment houses include:

  • Audubon Hall, on Broadway and 156th Street;
  • Goya, at 605 West 156th Street;
  • Velazquez, at 611 West 156th Street;
  • Cortez, 625 West 156th Street;
  • Hispania Hall, on Broadway and 157th Street;
  • Hortense Arms, at 602 West 157th Street;
  • Kanawah Court, 614 West 157th Street;
  • Sutherland, at 611 West 158th Street;
  • Rhinecleff Court, at 788 Riverside Drive;
  • Crillon Court, at 789 Riverside Drive, and Riviera, at 790 Riverside Drive;
  • The Grinnell, at 800 Riverside Drive;
  • Cragmoor Dwellings, at 801 Riverside Drive;
  • Rio Rita, at 807 Riverside Drive.

Washington Heights

Several distinct Washington Heights enclaves attracted middle-class residents who arrived with the 1880s Broadway El. At the 20th-century mark, Irish immigrants move in, and then throughout the years between the European wars, German political refugees (many were Jews) began settling within Washington Heights. Throughout World War II Poles and Hungarians joined the settled in Irish community along the southern sector’s multiple-family dwellings: an area now predominately Spanish-speaking Dominicans, who began arriving after World War II. In the 1970s, the Russians were coming, and the new arrivals fanned out to occupy those same apartment houses along the steep hills and broad avenues to Broadway’s east.

During the initial building boom, an astonishing 120 similar high-end apartment houses were erected (heel-to-toe, one after another), running between West 165th and 184rd Streets. As Ring Lardner referred to as, “filled with the new such-and-such bunch of latest so-and-so’s”. The best-known examples of the era’s luxury living edifices are still whole—for instance:

  • On Broadway, Bradley Court, at West 165th Street;
  • On St. Nicholas Avenue Fluri, at West 177th Street, Fort Tryon, at West 180th Street and the Palmerston, at West 184th Street;
  • On Fort Washington Avenue, Pinehurst, at West 180th Street, and Hazelhurst, at West 181st Street.

 

Plus, above West 183rd Street there are numerous six-story, Art Deco-era apartment house instances, which are scattered among older red-brick and terra-cotta façade apartment buildings.

Hudson Heights

Atop the Hudson River cliffs, above West 181st to 193rd Streets, at Broadway’s west, are accessed via Cabrini Boulevard, from the south, they are: Pinehurst or Fort Washington Avenues. From the east, West 187th Street on Bennett Avenue; additionally, access is by one awe-inspiring (yet narrow enough to be easily overlooked), stair-passage which could take one’s breath away. Along the hilltop neighborhood plateau avenues (with few exceptions), remain low-rise apartment house rows, once owned by three families: Watkins, Sickles, and Whites. Moreover, now comprising several planned complexes—developer’s attempts to use vast tracts to their best advantage—a park-like setting—and they are:

  • Hudson View Gardens, between West 184th and 186th Streets, which opened in 1924, and developed by Dr. Charles Paterno, son of Joseph Paterno, a pioneering residential housing development titan. The mock-Tudor complex on West 180th Street, at Fort Washington Avenue, was designed by George F. Pelham, who also designed the nearby, upscale 1908 rental building, Pinehurst.
  • George F. Pelham Jr., his son, designed Castle Village, on Cabrini Boulevard, between West 182nd and 186th Streets which, too, overlooks the Hudson River. This five apartment house series, with four wings, was completed in 1939, and converted to co-operative ownership in 1985.
  • The third complex, at West 190th Street, between Fort Washington Avenue and Cabrini Boulevard. is the 16-story, post-war Cabrini Terrace, likewise co-operatively co-owned.

Inwood

The northernmost Manhattan community stretches above West 200th to 222nd Streets, (where the island ends at Spuyten Devil Creek), and thereafter is mainland United States. This was “Nipinichsen”—the fort from which the Wappinger confederation war canoes sallied out to attack Henry Hudson’s Halve Moon returning down-river: Lenapehoking (the “land” or “hunting grounds”), with several small villages which settlers carved out as homesteads. Covered with xeric, hilltop chestnut-oak trees, white oak-tulip hillside slope forests, hemlock-northern and red maple hardwood forests, and shrub swamp, beech, softwoods, such as white pine, spruce, fir, and the broadleaf deciduous forests, were cleared. The timber, rolled down the Haerlem River, beyond Hell’s Gate to Saw-Kill in the East Seventies, to be milled for shipment to Holland. (1640s)

Dutch Magistrate farmers, Jan Jopsten, Jan Broersen, and William Jansen Schudt shorn and sowed the fields that had been reserved for fishing and hunting only; which sparked conflicts and limited settlement—until the disputed Wappinger claims had been settled. Then, 65 years passed before Revolutionary forces enforced an evacuation to build the five-side, earthwork Fort Cock; Hessian troops captured the fort in November 1776 and held it until 1783. Thereafter, it was Fort George. For 150 years, Inwood Hill parkland and the valley remained the country estates of Jacobus Dyckman, in the south; Abraham Dyckman, Henry and Dennes Post, Jacob Hyatt, and Dominick Lynch; at the northernmost tip—Augustus Van Courtland. In 1917, John D. Rockefeller II purchased and gifted a prominent southern portion for The Cloisters.

All but two southern Upper Manhattan avenues continue beyond West 188th Street: Broadway and Bennett Avenue. To reach Inwood, though, requires traversing a narrow pass between the Hudson Heights and Fort George ridges, which accommodates one roadway: Broadway. With that said, Bennett Avenue, after abruptly hooking east, it is West 195th Street and immediately crosses Broadway; as Hillside Avenue, moving east- northeast across the valley.

Beyond the pass, Broadway emerges to immediately fan out northwest, whereas at this nexus a second thoroughfare, Nagel Avenue, heads northeast: their V-shape encases the western residential enclave. A north central rolling knoll, comprising Isham Park, ends the residential enclave streets. The farthest northwest point is Columbia University’s Baker Athletic Complex and Lawrence A. Wien (football) Stadium.

Meanwhile, from the southeast Amsterdam Avenue—running throughout Fort George reemerges (below the slope), as Tenth Avenue—again, parallel to the Harlem River shoreline. It, then, separates Inwood’s residential west from an industrial east: As Inwood Hill Park occupies the western slope at the Hudson River, the eastern ridge flattens as the industrial sector, which includes a power plant, warehouses, freight tracks, rail yards, several bridges to the Bronx, and vast parking lots.

The two major retail strips radiate out from the Broadway and Dyckman Street intersection, with nine residential Streets running northwest to southeast, with a given surname, not a (West, of course) number. The streets and avenues are perpendicular and set slightly askew to the traditional right angle grid: they wind around quite steep hills, especially climbing to Inwood Hill Park. What’s more (running northeast-to-southwest), the nine Avenues have a settling family’s name, such as (Dutch colonial) Vermilyea Avenue, (Irish-American) Payson Avenue, and (English colonial) Seaman Avenue, names existing in no other part of town. East of Tenth Avenue, though, the side-streets adjacent to the railroad yards are numbered, starting at West 202nd continuing to 222nd Streets.

North of Hudson Heights the craggy Fort Tyron Park ridge falls sharply, creating a narrow plain, before rising precipitously as Inwood Hill Park. The surrounding slopes both protected Inwood and isolated the enclave all the while the sole downtown access was the Broadway (M101) bus. The IND express line reached Inwood in 1936, nonetheless (unlike each West Wide neighborhood counterpart), only limited residential development arrived with it. Due to the Great Depression and World War Two, the side and cross-street residential dwellings remained modest, five- or six-story, late 1930s Art Deco style multiple-family dwellings—with unattended entrances—predominantly.

Overall, the neighborhood ambiance is somewhat akin to the Bronx Grand Concourse. Which raises the question, whether the uppermost Upper Manhattan neighborhood, Marble Hill—before its 1914 obliteration for the manmade Spuyten Duyvil Creek Expansion—would have remained even more so? Although the ongoing Washington Heights migration advances, only three low-rise riverfront clusters (two at Tenth Avenue’s juncture with Nagel Avenue. One alongside the Columbia University sports complex), are the extent of recent working-class residential activity. Manhattan’s northernmost community, therefore, is underdeveloped, continuing—as though frozen in time—a Brigadoon-like, 1950s

Inwood existence.

On Fort George Hill

Reaching the eastern Fort George neighborhood, from the Inwood valley, requires climbing Fort George Hill (the street)—and it is steep indeed. Once there, though, the neighborhood spans a four avenue wide ridge, which extends from West 193rd to 156th Streets—with Highbridge Park running continuously along the riverbank below. The north-and-south avenues are Broadway, Wadsworth Terrace (West 188th to 193rd Streets), and Wadsworth, St. Nicholas, Audubon to Amsterdam Avenues. Within the northern sector there are two residential enclave breaks to the ever-present, always consistent grid plan:

  • Washington Terrace, a one-half block long row of houses, at West 186th Street and between Audubon and Amsterdam Avenues, which is a distinctive single-family-dwelling enclave.
  • Laurel Hill Terrace, off Amsterdam Avenue, between West 188th and 183rd Streets, juts over the park and provides a grouping of apartment houses with an exceptional east view.

Additionally two-story, single-family (semi-attached but, still, atypical of Manhattan row houses) are scattered off each avenue.

Morris-Jumel

In the southeast quadrant, at West 162nd Street, where St. Nicholas crosses Amsterdam Avenue, to Fort George’s south, is a quirky Piece de Resistance, the Jumel Terrace Historic District, which includes Sylvan Terrace. This diminutive district takes in West 162nd to 160th Streets, with 49 fine single-family row house examples, wood or brick construction primarily, and consistent with Queen Anne and Romanesque architectural tenets. Echoing the ten Jumel Terrace homes, 29 additional row houses, on West 160th and 162nd Streets, complement the custom-design—on generous 25-foot lots—boasting town-house quality, exterior, terra-cotta and limestone detailing.

In addition, one singular pre-war apartment house, the Schwartz & Gross developed, 555 Edgecombe Avenue, commands the southern vista. However, on a gentle rise, set within a mews-like lane, is an 1884 bijou—Sylvan Terrace. This one block, gaslight, Belgian-cut cobblestone-paved lane, with a story-book look, consists of 20 three-story, clapboard row houses—each a consistent yellow hue and black shutters, and include matching exterior staircases, with under-the-stoops service entrances. Moreover, this jewel leads to the historic district anchor, Manhattan’s oldest home—where George Washington actually slept in, his Continental Army marshaled as headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Plains, and Aaron Burr committed his final dalliance—the Morris-Jumel mansion. Despite its checkered past, perched above Highbridge Park and bounded at the east by a sheer cliff, with the Long Island Sound beyond, as well as open views west to New Jersey’s Palisades.

Once, before Sylvan Terrace lead to Jumel Mansion, below the bluff from its Palladian portico stretching south for three miles, lays the Harlem River Plains and mid-Manhattan hills, with McGowan’s Pass, the key military installation protecting the city. Beforehand, however, directly below the bluff is Sugar Hill Historic District Northeast Extension. Despite the Panic of 1873, which crippled most Manhattan real estate speculation, little effect was apparent in rural Harlem. The Benson tract farms were melded into Central Park and the adjoining tracts sold off, as standard city lots, from 1880-89.

Or, at Pinehurst, the 110-acre private reserve (of father and son Bradhurst) which was subdivided with the much-anticipated “elevated roadway” on Ninth Avenue, servicing West 145th and 155th Streets. It came to pass in 1879. Therefore, the neighborhood was attractive to both developers and new middle-class residents. In 1889, along with the “Closing of the West,” Manhattan had been built-out with row houses. With the 1904 subway opening, Upper Manhattan gave way to flats buildings. By 1909, apartment-house construction followed. A swath, which had been rural retreats, with its well-bred seclusion and charm, replaced.

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