Downtown West

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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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Downtown West

The colonial settlement’s near-north, beginning beyond West Canal Street, is a tale of amalgamated north-to-south corridors, which are further subdivided into distinct, west-to-east thirds. They fell this way:

First: New York Harbor, as a quintessential ice-free and limitless year-round port allowed the entire Hudson River shoreline to hold commercial potential. No portion more so than between West Canal and 14th Streets could accommodate the northward trajectory for ever-increasing hinterland raw materials and commodities to be shipped to international markets. Given then, the western corridor would evolve as one extensive commercial swath of docks, wharves, auxiliary warehouses and machinist shops.

Second: From the onset, providing food stuffs for the flourishing, commerce-oriented Dutch West India Company settlement, surely, was crucial to its survival and to being a shipping hub for commodities, initially timber and beaver skins. To insure the food supply sources’ continuity, Queen Anne granted Trinity Church a massive tract, extending north from the settled Lower Manhattan boundary, approximating Duane Street, through West Houston Street, and beyond the enumerable rivulets, ponds, and drained marshes leading to the Hudson River, and these flatlands were then leased farmable acreage. George III, then Duke of York, took over the northern 428-acre tract on his ascension to the crown: it was then King’s Farm, controlled by the King’s College of Trinity Church.

Third: The dominant landowners’ tracts fell neatly into one of six portions comprising the whole—West Canal to Houston, Houston to 14th, and 14th to 23rd Streets—was vast and tightly held.

1) The King’s Farm northeast portion was leased, for 99 years, to the British paymaster general Abraham Mortimer—at an absurd yearly rate. Nearby Minetta Brook, on contemporary Charlton Street west of Varick Street, he built Richmond Hill, the excessively impressive 18-room mansion, with numerous bays and a columned-portico entrance. Mortimer fled in 1776, the mansion and surrounding 26 acres then served as George Washington’s headquarters: and then, on Mortimer’s second departure, briefly as Vice-President John Adams’ residence. A subsequent investigation into war-time Trinity Church (of England) activities, chaired by Aaron Burr, left the remaining 55 year Richmond Hill lease in Burr’s hands—at an equally ridiculous land-lease rent. Burr returned here after dueling Alexander Hamilton. (Under further duress, Burr sold off all his Manhattan real estate holdings to John Jacob Astor; though J.J. would never own the leased land, controlling the property was instrumental to advancing his fortune.)

2) The entire southeast portion was left as lots to the fourth-generation Nicholas Bayard scions, inclusive of the Fresh Water at West Canal Street, as well as the entirety to the drained meadows at Houston Street, spreading as a parallelogram, taking in as far east as The Bowery, every Canal to Houston Streets Broadway frontage lot, and then west to Minetta Brook, present-day Minetta Lane, approximating West Fourth Street. In essence, the Bayard Farm East and West comprised all traditional Chinatown and Little Italy and SoHo to the Greenwich hamlet southeastern-most trail axes: Bleecker, Carmine, and West Third Streets.

3) The west-central portion was contested by feisty widow Anneke Jansen (aka: Jans) Borgardus, who inherited her first husband’s 62-acre tract, granted by the West Indies Company. The farmlands comprised the open westerly Greenwich hamlet fields—that is, after its Federal-era Grin’wich Americanization. (In fact Greenwijck, Pine District, was the Yellis de Mandeville farm, then Anglicized to Greenwich—pronounced as Grin’wich—by de Mandeville’s will.) However, after 100 years of her eight heirs—thereafter their heirs—claim litigating, Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Warren, commodore of the British New York Fleet, purchased the westerly portion. The remaining 200 tracts, comprising some 240 acres, sprawling from Christopher to West 18th Street, reaching a distant east to FitzRoy Road (a son-in-law) and Warren Lane, were subsequently bought individually as the Warren’s Greenwich Farms.

4) The northwest portion was Major Clarke’s Chelsea. As a French and Indian War hero, Clarke purchased, and subsequently acquired a virtual fiefdom which his wife and daughter expanded to include West 18th to 25th Streets, spanning the riverbank to FitzRoy Road (running north from West 21st Street and Eighth Avenue).

5) The central east consisted of significant tracts controlled by a variety of landholders, from south to north, as: the Sailor’s Snug Harbor Trust, Henry Brevoort (Mrs. Sarah Astor’s nephew), and the Mary Mann family. The largest tract was Henry Spingler heirs’ holdings, which stretched athwart, from West 12th to East 18th Streets, encompassing west of Fifth and east to Fourth Avenues. The Springler farm’s eastern-edge parcels were city-purchased to complete the Union Square traffic hub and park; and his lots, especially on 14th Street were to become boardinghouse rows under the heir’s leases—oddly enough, many built alongside the family mansion on West 14th Street.

6) The northeast, due east of the Clarke Chelsea reserve, was a mosaic of sizeable parcels between Eighth and Fifth Avenues. Additionally the most notable to their east was owned by Cornelius Williams, stretching as far northeast so that one parcel was sold to Ruggles for his Gramercy Park development. The Williams heirs sold the entirety to a second generation of Goelet brothers. The Peter Goelet mansion hugged Broadway’s west to Fifth Avenue, thereby: two property owners (the Goelets and Spinglers) held a major portion of the contemporary, Downtown East and West crossover neighborhood, Flatiron District.

Fourth: Though all-encompassing, the New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan spared the Greenwich hamlet and its environs. Though positively British in every way, the Downtown West landowners were patriots, and these vast tracts were spared by the Commissioners of Forfeiture seizures; whereas few landholdings were confiscated, complicating matters was the colonial land transfer records were not—in fact, were never—surrendered by the British occupying army. As with the Dutch retreat, this included Downtown West’s small farms and the hamlet lots.

For the most part, these modest cottages, then unassuming single-family homes were coveted as refuge, harboring Lower Manhattan residents fleeing early 1800s disasters, such as contagious diseases and consuming fires. Coincidentally, the hamlet successfully buffered the port industrial activity and its traffic congestion from the thriving, high-end, central residential corridor, which let nascent, aristocratic neighborhoods take hold, including the prerequisite purveyors, such as greengrocers, butchers, bakeries, and necessary services, like hardware stores, or the fashionable specialty clothing and household dry-goods shops, and allowed merchants to blossom as emporiums, as they followed Broadway’s opening northward.

Fifth: The ardently pursued commissioner grid plan accommodated the existing south-and-north avenues, and provided four east-and-west thoroughfares: West Canal, Houston, 14th and 23rd Streets. Eventually the mass transportation system factored in too, and each route moved northward following the grid as well. In 40 years, by the mid-century point, besides daily “Milk Train” runs from Columbia County, along railway tracks in Ninth and Sixth Avenues, the horse-drawn trams put Manhattan on the move. In 40 years, as the 20th-century neared, the IRT Elevated Railroads overhead, and extensive trackless, electric “Trolley” coaches carried passengers throughout Downtown Manhattan. In 40 years, motor bus lines, including double-deckers and subway mass transit systems, on underground tracks, through tunnels running north-and-south as well as east-and-west, crisscrossed Downtown moving millions, with the following affect:

    • The easterly Valley and Greenwich Village and Ladies Mile

Part of their residential appeal was that the Broadway to Sixth Avenue breath, including Fifth Avenue (and Fifth Avenue South), contained no overhead El and the surface lines were at the periphery. In fact, the Sixth Avenue IRT moved west on West Third Street, further emphasizing the Washington Square elite north from working-class south. Moreover, the El brought customers to the shopping district.

    • Central SoHo and Village

The Sixth Avenue El on West Broadway (formerly Fifth Avenue South) dissected the commercial Valley, and within the hamlet formed its easterly boundary.

  • Westerly port district throughout, including within the northern West Village borders, each north-and-south avenue was an active people and goods transportation route: overhead, the Ninth Avenue El; street-level, Tenth Avenue trolley tracks, and both New York Central’s right of ways between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, with ground-level freight tracks augmented, in the 1920s, by a farther westerly trestle roadway above Washington Street.

The corresponding (strictly in) Downtown West neighborhoods, west of Broadway (between West Canal and Eighth Streets), west of Fifth Avenue (north to West 23rd Street), and running to Hudson Street, which midway is renamed as Eighth Avenue, are:

The Southern Third, West Canal and Houston Streets

  • SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District includes the Richmond Hill mansion and gardens, at Varick and Charleston Streets.

The Central Third, West Houston to 14th Streets

The Greater Greenwich Village comprises three distinct neighborhoods, defined between avenues, and radiate from a significant Square, from east to west, are:

  • Greenwich Village spans Broadway to Sixth Avenue (of the Americas), then Fifth Avenue north of Washington Square;
  • Village encompasses Sixth, Seventh Avenue South, and Hudson Street, then Eighth Avenue north to Greenwich Avenue;
  • West Village runs west of Hudson Street and includes Greenwich, and Washington to West Streets.

The Northern Third, West 14th to 23rd Streets

  • Chelsea covers the Hudson River to Eighth Avenue.
  • Ladies Mile advances between Seventh and Fifth Avenues.

West Canal to Houston Streets

To the Colonial Dutch, this was the Valley, an arable portion beyond Fresh Water Pond, once Pump Street, and present-day West Canal Street, to included Lispenard’s Meadows from Spring to North (Houston) Streets, and running from The Bowery west to the Hudson River. The eastern Valley, in its entirety though a mere portion within Nicholas Bayard’s extensive lots and tracts, was the pasture lands he purchased from Dutch settlers—Augustyn Herrman, the Steenwyck and Van Cortlandt families. Starting with 12 acres, in 30 years Bayard acquired the equivalent of 73 blocks along The Bowery and extending west to Broadway. (Above North Street to West Fourth Street, the property formed a scalene right triangle.)

In 1666, Bayard married Judith Varleth , and the new Mrs. Bayard’s uncle, Nicholas Varleth, one time ambassador to the colony of Virginia, by chance, was also his mother Anna (nee Stuyvesant) Bayard’s third husband. Nicholas Bayard’s step-brothers thereby by marriage became his half-brothers-in-law as well. Additionally, Peter Stuyvesant was a double, double-relative: Samuel Bayard, his father, had a younger sister, Nicholas’ aunt Judith (nee Bayard), and she married the colonial director general; furthermore, Nicholas’ mother, Anna (nee Stuyvesant) Bayard was the governor’s sister, which made Nicholas the governor’s nephew on both sides. Well-interconnected, to say the least, nonetheless Nicholas Bayard was the largest New Amsterdam real estate holder when he died. The Bayard’s had one son, Samuel, who inherited the East and West Bayard farm, which then passed to his son Nicholas (2nd), and then to Nicholas (3rd), who surveyed and “improved” the East Farm’s southern-most tracts in 1771.

(1812-40)
The Valley’s initial residential development occurred round rocky Bayard’s Mount—New York City’s Bunker Hill equivalent and southern Manhattan’s highest peak—west of Broadway on present-day Broome Street, and the neighboring leased (drained Lispendard’s Meadows) farm tracts surrounding Broadway and Spring Street were subdivided into smaller units, though gradually sold, as indicated on the Viele Map of 1865 (a civil engineer’s excavation tool still). However, little changed until urbanization held fast post-War of 1812; steadily, the estate’s eastern edge was elevated to an elegant neighborhood—initially, inhabited by the wealthy in their stately mansions. Rapidly, though, with Broadway’s increasing appeal, the east Valley was evolving as a suburban shopping quarter for Manhattan residents living near to Wall Street and Bowling Green.

As the Pearl Street easterly shopping district faltered, simultaneously the elegant Broadway stores continually arrived, and the cobblestone artery was elevated to the city’s premier thoroughfare. The east Valley was urbanizing, within 20 years as the most densely populated part of town, enterprises—hotels, restaurants, theaters, minstrel halls, even brothels and gambling casinos—had arrived. (The latter element excluded: a foreshadowing of the 150 year later, phantasmagoric Broadway to West Broadway revival as the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, with art galleries, shopping and restaurants as the world-renown loft-living district.) The influx of foot traffic, in the late 1830s, immediately had an ill-effect on the pioneering residents. As newer enclaves evolved further uptown the initial aristocratic inhabitants left. They moved themselves north to Washington Square, subsequently to Madison Square.

(1840-70)
Daniel D. Badger, a well-known architect, erected the first cast-iron-façade building, others followed, by the hundreds. Similar cast-iron-fronted buildings soon lined Mercer, Green, and Wooster Streets, Grand, Broome, Spring and Prince Streets, including West Broadway. Industry and commerce continually seeped in during the years leading up to the Civil War. The Valley became “Hell’s Hundred Acres,” the city’s bawdy red light district. So much so, the district overflowed from Saturday nights to Monday mornings with besotted crowds, filling the narrow sidewalks, and lying about until dawn in alleyways, such as Franklin Place, at the district’s heart. By then, the residential population had declined by 25%.

(1880-1960)
Gradually, the storefronts along Broadway—where elegant shops once stood—displayed inexpensive clothing; for one century, wholesale houses and outlet stores remained a permanent fixture up to Houston Street. Over the ensuing seven decades, a burgeoning import and export textile industry settled in, thrived, and added to traffic congestion servicing the sweatshop rag trade. The cobblestone streets and avenues were an urban industrial wasteland: housing small factories, where clothing, fashion trimmings and accessories, as well as household dry goods were manufactured. This light-manufacturing expanse followed Broadway uptown—passing West Houston Street, then engulfing all the streets to East 14th Street—employing fresh immigrant waves, who were paid low wages. The Great Depression suppressed all that. In the mid-20th century, the low rents and plentiful, uninterrupted, well-lighted spaces attracted plastic artists. When they filtered in, in a remarkably short time frame, an unprecedented onrush for loft spaces to convert to residential usage—and thereby to participate in the “SoHo lifestyle” experience was in demand.

(1973)
This Grand-daddy of loft-living districts, as the 1973 designated Soho-Cast Iron Historic District—although 30 identifiable Federal period buildings remain within the historic district boundaries—magically aura endures. Beginning on West Broadway, with its initial, early 1970s world-class art galleries, then expanding on its neighborhood watering holes (the Spring or Broome Street Bars, and the long-time Raoul’s or Fanelli’s), and cutting-edge fashion boutiques, suddenly spreading to Broadway, now with one international flagship store next to another, crowding the narrow, cobblestone streets. Likewise, the loft spaces above, many originally with “artist-in-resident” designated leases were converted to cooperative ownership, and then the sprucing up began in earnest; once renovated and transformed into something else—with a worldwide appeal. Then, luxury hotels and commensurate restaurants arrived again too.

West Houston to West 14th Streets

The Greater Greenwich Village significant commons, from east to west, are:

  • Washington Square, three-blocks wide, West Fourth to Seventh Street, detouring Fifth Avenue to La Guardia Place (once Fifth Avenue South), and one-avenue long, spanning University Place to Sixth Avenue (of the Americas);
  • Sheridan Square, at a six-way intersection, where Grove, Christopher, Barrow, and West Fourth Streets as well as Waverly and Washington Places converge and diverge, crossing (wider and renamed) Seventh Avenue South.
  • Abingdon Square, where Bleecker crosses West 11th, Bank, and Bethune at Hudson Streets.
  • High Line (both innovative and recent), runs above Gansevoort, Little West 12th and 13th, and then beyond 14th Streets.

Greenwich Village

The neighborhood centerpiece and Fifth Avenue’s southern terminus is Washington Square Park. An elective affinity for Manhattan’s elite was friable, and to the north, there and then, The Avenue was to be theirs to own, occupy, and dominate—this was the pinnacle. Washington Square is bound on the south by West Fourth Street, Washington Square North (East Seventh Street, as Waverly Place), Washington Square West (MacDougal Street), and to the east, University Place. The meager beginnings were the common council of New York City purchasing the dePeyster eight-acre parcel to be a graveyard: its northern portion, as a German cemetery, the southern part, as a potters’ field (for the unknown and indigent).

(1826-33)
Shortly after, the city council purchased the land immediate southwest from Nicholas Bayard—in order to properly drain the insect-ridden Minetta Brook. The cemetery wasn’t long-lived, it closed and was then transformed into a military parade grounds; the following year, a spacious pedestrian commons opened to the public. One decade later, the Washington Parade Ground was Washington Square. An affluent merchant-class residential district (now NoHo) was blossoming to the east near Broadway, which was populated by New Yorkers fleeing the recurring epidemics. Meanwhile, a second prosperous enclave appeared at the foot of Fifth Avenue. This was to become Washington Square Park’s northern perimeter. These (land-leased lots from Trustees of Sailor’s Snug Harbor), stately red-brick, town houses were designed within the Greek-Revival vocabulary, and were completed between 1829 and 1833. The Row (as it was known) had step-up entrances, though not stoops, with Ionic or Doric columns and marble balustrades. MacDougal Alley and Washington Mews North, two private livery mews, were soon added as an amenity for the Row’s tenants.

(1830s)
From the onset, the Row was a magnet that drew in society, the crème de la crème among New Yorkers. After all, the William C. Rhinelanders were in residence here, and that attraction began even before the Washington Parade Ground was reconfigured as a park in 1850. Washington Square Park was subsequently reworked with more paths, and a new fence surrounding it. Again, the park was redesigned, with curving rather than straight secondary paths, under the auspices of newly-formed New York City Department of Parks. Then, the streets surrounding the square were the city’s only desirable residential district for the elite.

New York University’s presence at Washington Square’s east seemed inconspicuous enough to begin with, but since its first Main Building, a Gothic tower constructed by Sing-Sing (“stone-on-stone,” to the Munsee-speaking), prison labor, sparking the 1834 Stonecutter’s Riot, was complete, the university has remained a vital force. Some might imply omnipresent, as evidenced by: the campus acquired a 99 year lease, then purchase fee simple nine additional loft buildings with retail stores. Yet, the university did displace what was a ghastly sweatshop zone.

(Mid-19th Century)
Washington Square, lower Fifth Avenue as well as the adjoining Sixth-Avenue-to-Broadway blocks as the New York City’s social epicenter became a powerful place-name, and Greenwich Village has remained so since its Golden Age. So much so, the 1845 Gothic Revival, First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, in fact, ended where the upper-crust considered their private promenade: past lower Fifth Avenue’s opulent mansions and grandest broad-stoop, brownstone town-house residences to 12th Street. As is as, once the hoi polloi joined in on their Sunday strolls, societies’ best families felt impelled to pack up and move further north along Fifth Avenue, and then across 14th Street—as far as, once unthinkable, 19th Street—where the August Belmont (and his wife, Admiral Perry’s daughter), Peter Goelet, the noted real-estate owning eccentric, and the wild and wily Springler family mansions (with vast tracts still). These incursions by their sycophants, and coupled by the elite’s knee-jerk migration farther northward, is how Fifth, thereafter, The Avenue had no rival.

Even as society’s flight continued, Greenwich Village set the example throughout Manhattan for single- and multiple-family housing design and construction: every conceivable dwelling type—with untold variations by modification—is found. As important: longtime resident groups, with attenuated preservation instincts, react with absolute resolve when protecting the architectural character and integrity.

(1899)
The signature marble memorial arch celebrating the George Washington presidency’s centennial was erected when a temporary wood-and-plaster arch garnered immense popular approval: the permanent 77-foot arch, designed by prominent New York architect Stanford White, was commission for just inside the park. Throughout the late 19th century, Washington Square’s north side continued to attract the city’s leading citizens, and a wide variety of elegant multi-family dwellings were constructed to meet the mounting demand from the upper-middle class.

(1920-32)
The apartment house-building boom culminated with two Washington Square West apartment houses, and the 27-story, limestone-and-brick façade, Art Deco One Fifth Avenue, which then on defined lower Fifth Avenue. And, it remains a broad pre- and post-war apartment house strip, stretching between Eighth and 13th Streets. In addition, both the Fifth-to-Sixth Avenue and Fifth-Avenue-to-Broadway blocks are home to a wide assortment of small, elegant, innovative single- and multiple-family-dwellings, plus a veritable array of converted loft-to-residential-usage buildings.

Each block immediately surrounding Washington Square and north to 13th Street contain excellent examples of Greenwich Village’s housing diversity and range. Including novel juxtapositions—a Federal style 1829 brick house, on MacDougal Street, built for Aaron Burr, nearby a West 11th Street 1845 Greek Revival town house, with stoop intact, abutting the 1978 gut-renovated row house, which reemerged as an International-Style, brick home—with angular, bay protrusions. What’s more, it neighbors are 1870s brownstone row houses, with polished details, such as brass saddles, doorplates, and knobs, with finials topping wrought-iron banisters along the stoop. On West 12th Street, off Fifth Avenue, furthermore, is the 1895,nine-story, Beaux-Arts apartment house abutting the 1962 Contextual-Modern Butterfield apartment house.

To the square’s south, always in sharp contrast to the elite north, shabbily constructed tenement-apartment-house blocks were erected for immigrants, resulting in single-family home conversions to single-occupancy hotels, and countless modest-scale, multiple-family dwellings were leveled to make way for high-density housing. All for the immigrant waves arriving to work in nearby waterfront warehouses and slaughter houses, coal and lumber yards, or the sweatshops close to Broadway, including the Ashe Building on Green Street, at Waverly Place, the infamous, 1911 Shirtwaist Factory Fire site.

(20th-century)
Early on, Greenwich Village attracted a bohemian crowd, and then post-World War Two Washington Square Park became a perennial Sunday event: the beatniks’ beat, hippies’ love-ins, already renowned as a Depression-era, semi-annual contemporary-art forum and open-air art exhibition, the expanded venue was open for poetry readings and speechifying too. The square progressed as a year round fairground, with weekly afternoon folk-music sing-a-longs and street performances, which included dancers and comedians, acrobats and jugglers. Students, too, were seen carving out memories of their youth, expressing their new-found freedoms, or simply enjoying an afternoon in the nearby MacDougal Street coffee houses.

Village

The first Dutch settlement (prior to Niew Amsterdam, when they thought they bought the island) was the flatland along the riverbank, let’s say, between Christopher and Little West 12th Streets. Before the Dutch arrived this was Sapokanikan (“tobacco plant”) village, because the fields at the edges were cultivated for just that purpose. The nearby waterfront trading outpost, perhaps at Gansevoort Street, was where Henry Hudson stopped in to trade with the Munsee-dialect, Delaware speaking Wappinger confederacy tribesmen. The surrounding tribes frequented this village for their ritual “smoke;” and to Sapokanikan’s east, a marshland trout stream, later known as Minetta Brook, ran north-and-south at its east.

The Native people welcomed the new comers wanting to trade, and they helped the settlers through the initial acclamation to their new home. That harmony didn’t last long; the Dutch retreated from their Northland, Noortwyck, to the island’s southern tip, seeking the protection the new fort offered, shortly, security behind the stockade, called The Wall. The Out Ward to the British was these pastures and planted fields, interlaced by extensive footpaths, creating a crisscrossing mosaic. The English tenant farmers built their cottages in the northwestern sector, at the crux of the trails (approximating contemporary West Fourth and Tenth to Gansevoort Streets), and tilled cleared fields running to their drinking water source, Minetta Brook. When the Lenape farmed the land, then the Dutch, even throughout the British-era access was via the northwest-and-southwest trail, Bedford Street, and the British coach roadway, the Greenwich Route following the Hudson River, a direct, two-mile journey to the city: the Native people traveled this portion exclusively by river. Moreover, the east-and-west established trails, included:

  • Greenwich Lane (Greenwich Avenue), running east-northeast, (but not to be confused with Greenwich Street, which was expanded by the grid plan from the old Greenwich Route);
  • Christopher Street crossing northwest-and-southeast;
  • Bleecker Street, the longest trail, wound its way east-southeast toward Bowery Road.

(1664-1774)
Throughout the British colonial-era Greenwich hamlet fields encompassed West Houston Street and beyond Greenwich Lane to West 21st Street, and spanned from the Hudson River to Sixth Avenue. The hamlet became a village: its cottages rapidly overlapping narrow paths widened as ways—a labyrinthine maze, for the most part, zigzagging at odd angles. Every modest expansion southeast encroached upon a field or pasture. Broadening the crisscrossing, rugged, dirt country lanes and meandering, modestly wider, north-and-south cobblestone half-mile route to the city-limit, farmers’ markets, at Broadway or the Greenwich Lane, created intersections—for instance, Bleecker, Carmine, Downing, and Minetta Lane, in the southeast—soon, the farmlands, pastures and streams, too, were soon gone.

North of the Trinity Church farmlands and to the Greenwich village west began the estate of British Naval hero, Sir Peter Warren and his wife, Susannah (nee van Cortlandt De Lancey), daughter of the Americas’ most mercurial mercantile master. It spread to the very northeastern-most Greenwich “vicinity” boundary. Warren House, built with the vice-admiral’s prize money taken from the French, overlooked the Hudson River (at West Fourth, Charles, Perry, and Bleecker Streets). The Warrens had six children—one died in childbirth—and when their only son and one daughter died in the 1744 smallpox epidemic, two years later with the first signs of a second episode, Sir Peter, his wife and three surviving daughters relocated to London. (Certainly, an indication how virulent, even early on, the city’s episodic diseases were if London was considered a refuge.) The modest-dwelling hodgepodge name-change to Greenwich Village came about in the 1670s; the Warrens recycled it for their amalgamated tracts, as the Greenwich Farms.

(1785-1825)
In any event, the quaint village survived the Revolutionary War intact, unblemished actually. It remained much the same during the city’s short spell as the nation’s capital, and, though begrudgingly, by the New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan which did spare its character and integrity. The bucolic aura vanished with the early century dangerous fires and ongoing, killer epidemics throughout Lower Manhattan. On the other hand and meanwhile, the Downtown East Side the loyalist-leaning landholders’ estates and farms were seized, surveyed, subdivided, and sold conforming to the standard grid, including Oliver De Lancey, a loyalist and refugee brigadier commander. On the other hand, in deference to Sir Peter Warren who argued the last five years of his life, as an-ambassador-at-large in Parliament for the colonists’ rights and against British Colonial policy, his Greenwich estate place-names and Anglo-associated twisting, cobblestone streets—Manhattan’s only consecutively named street designations—remained unbothered. An important further inclusion was the Warren House gardens, a wedding gift to their daughter, Charlotte, who married Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon. The parcel when granted to the city by the heir (Montagu Bertie 5th Earl of Abingdon), likewise—acknowledging Lady Charlotte’s outward patriot sympathies and her efforts to gain support at Court—through her brother-in-law, General Charles FitzRoy, the 1st Baron of Southampton—it was to be Abingdon Square.

(1830s)
Sheridan Square, dedicated to a Civil War general, Philip H. Sheridan, is two separate, unequal, triangular, cast-iron-gated portions: Christopher Park and Sheridan Square Viewing Park. The northerly triangle includes Northern Dispensary, an unassuming, light-color brick health-services building (to treat the city’s epidemic sufferers). Oddly, two sides are on Waverly Place, the third side is on Christopher as well as Grove Streets.

These six streets entering, crossing, and ending there or exiting the square best demonstrates the serendipitous nature, in other words—what even the colonial hamlet may have been. First, though, a momentary diversion: Bleecker Street, the important indigenous “people’s” trail crosses Seventh Avenue South half-block south while wending its way southeast. From Hudson Street to Seventh Avenue South, additionally, Bleecker traverses Barrow, Christopher, and Grove Streets going in to or coming out of the Sheridan Square.

      It is true that no two Village streets are the same length nor remain parallel for too long—for instance:

      • Barrow Street, at the square’s west, works its way southwest for little more than two blocks, then hooks and heads due west, heading to West Street, at the river;
      • Grove Street, running parallel to Barrow Street, abruptly curves west, and at Hudson Street, three avenues before the river, dead ends;
      • Christopher Street, to the square’s immediate west, cuts Seventh Avenue South, continues west southwest, and then ends at the river;
      • West Fourth Street, on the east-and-west street grid, bisects the square, exiting on a north-northwest projectile, then cuts nine streets before ending at West 13th Street;
      • Waverly and Washington Places running due west and parallel come into the square together, but Washington Place ends there. Waverly Place, though, exits sharply to northwest, now parallel to West Fourth Street, and after five blocks dead ends at Bank Street, west of northerly Greenwich Avenue.

While all this mayhem went undisturbed, by necessity to better service the port district, the grid plan broadened the north to south cobblestone avenues. Though no colonial hamlet structure exists, along these six winding streets (not to mention, the dozens intersecting Bank, Charles, and Perry, to name a few), share the Village housing diversities—for example,

      • Federal style row houses, with small-paned windows, many with dormer-roof third floors;
      • One free-standing, Federal style, wood frame farmhouse, with a backyard, the oldest dwelling in the Village, on Bedford, off Barrow Streets;
      • Early 19th-century town houses, with steep, slate roofs;
      • Second Empire row houses, including extensive exterior detailing—for instance, mansard roofs, stone-frame arch windows and stoops, and ironwork banisters leading to carved teak doors;
      • 1870-90s brownstone row houses, with brass gas lamps and wrought-iron entry detailing and balconies;
      • An 1878 brick house—the narrowest in Manhattan, at 9.5-feet wide—also on Bedford Street;
      • Turn-of-the-century apartment houses, with intricate detailing and soaring-ceilings;
      • Late 19th- and early 20th-century tenement apartment houses—many with an intact high stoop, others underwent façade renovations;
      • A moderate sprinkling of pre- and post-war apartment houses on wider streets and broad avenues.
        Tucked away in every direction, the picturesque, residential alleyways and enclaves are:
      • Milligan, Patchin and Pamela Places;
      • Charles and Minetta Lanes;
      • Gay and Weehawken Streets—among Manhattan’s shortest;
      • Grove Court.

West Village

This enclave, carved from the slaughterhouse district, Pig Alley, did not escape the grid plan, that is, entirely. Overall rectilinear, the east-and-west running streets are somewhat parallel, the north-by-south avenue arteries are perpendicular, yet not perfectly so: while conforming to the concept, the whole is set at a rakish angle. (As within the South Street Seaport, these few avenues are contrarily designated by a prominent surname and so are the streets.) The boundary is equally decided by the Ninth Avenue El-casted shadow, bearing in mind that because the span from Greenwich to Hudson Street is both an insignificant distant as well as paralleling one another on a north-by northeast trajectory, rather than due north: either avenue made no never mind.

From the widened Hudson Street, West Village spreads to the Hudson River, and encompasses the narrower, tree-lined Greenwich, Washington and West Streets. The inclusive short, east-to-west streets are: Tenth, Charles, Perry, West 11th, Bank, Bethune, West 12th, Jane, Horatio, Gansevoort, and Little West 12th to West 13th Streets. At the southernmost point and radiating west-by-southwest, were the concentrated port activity mechanical works, support toolsheds, and ironworks—along Christopher, Barrow, Morton, Leroy and Clarkson to West Street.

(1827-87)
Where the crisscrossing trails and paths touched, Lady Warren planted a sprawling formal garden embellishing upon the intertwining public paths—West Fourth, Bleecker, Charles and Perry Streets. Five years passed before the common council determined the land, donated by Charlotte Abingdon’s heir would be enclosed (by the prerequisite wrought-iron gates) as a Common. Subsequently, the city acquired a northwest Hudson Street parcel between West Tenth and 11th Streets—as Bleecker Street first veers southeast, thereby cutting Bethune, Bank and West 11th Streets. The entire quarter-acre plot remained enclosed. Then 50 years later, during a city-wide effort encouraging public access to green spaces, renowned Central Park landscape architect, Calvert Vaux, collaborated on the winding, tree-lined walks, ending in a petite plaza as well as the planting designs.

To the north-northwest is Pig Alley’s last bastion, the Gansevoort Meatpacking District, which includes Horatio, Gansevoort, Little West 12th and 13th to 14th Streets, along Hudson, Greenwich, Washington and West Streets. This was the minute, northern tip within a vast wholesale food district—as a northern extension to the bustling wharf district below West Canal Street—providing meat, poultry, vegetables, flour, sugar for the shipping lines, and meats to butchers and greengrocers city-wide.

(1900)
As additional port sites were required for heavy industrial and durable goods, their warehousing and mechanical shop needs squeezed perishable produce purveyors, as the trans-Atlantic liner piers moved off Manhattan entirely. (Bugling in its final retreat, nearing the 21st-century mark, was meant for the East Side Fulton Fish Market.) Better than 250 meatpacking firms occupied the already shrunken district: as it came about 75 years later, the majority of the skeletal remnant packed up—lock, stock, and barrel, as the saying is—and left. This foisted urban neglect: decrepit West Side Highway steel platforms; abandoned freight trestles, overgrown by weed-and-thistles; shuttered, corrugated steel, Pig Alley (known as the Gansevoort and Chelsea) piers across West Street, fashioned a heavenly decadent backdrop for an ongoing, underground, gay-dominated, -owned and -operated nightlife scene. These closed down, unsupervised, unmaintained therefore unsafe, cavernous spaces were manmade, heavily trafficked routes leading to indiscriminant sexual encounters.

(1975-99)
Stepping back for a moment: by 1818, the former Lenape village and trading post had only a few, at most a baker’s dozen structures, between West 12th and 13th Streets, and they were owned (almost entirely) by George Washington Clinton when he died. Near to the riverbank round West 14th Street, an additional half-dozen lots were owned by widows and orphans—Maria Beekman, Elizabeth Tallmadge, Cornelia Genet’s children, as well as Abraham Varick, and John Jacob Astor. After 1840, as John Jacob Astor’s heir William was purchasing properties in the Gansevoort Market area, real estate’s illustrious landholders, such as John G. Wendel, the Goelet brothers, and the Roosevelt interests, came, saw, and bought. Moreover, for the most part, properties did not trade often, that is, until the 1930s, specifically in 1935. As the real estate values plummeted again in the 1970s, a quack, William Gottlieb, went on a whole buying spry of West Village properties, and at foreclosure prices. His empire, totaling over 100 structures of all kinds, run out of a makeshift office on Hudson Street, was in reused envelopes or on scraps of paper with all his keys in his pockets. Gottlieb, who never married and had no children, suffered a stroke and died within days at age 64.

A modern and ongoing Manhattan real-estate development tale ensued. It seems, for some time Gottlieb operated under one overriding principle (taken from the well-worn route to success forged by the Astors and Wendels and Goelets), minimalize the cost (Gottlieb did his own repairs), hold on to “good” tenants (which Gottlieb did as long as there were no complaints and demands for repairs). Where Gottlieb differed was his incredible accounting system. Over time, his methods amounted to a subsidy—cheap rent. The paring down of the remaining wholesalers’ was unexpected; it came about when the senile landlord died intestate (without a Will). This put his estate—constituting a major portion of the present Gansevoort Meatpacking District commercial sites, and a variety of row houses, warehouses, and hotels stretching south to Christopher Street—into the hands of one elderly sister (Mollie Bender). She had been working part-time in the offices. Allegedly Mollie found a four page 1972 Last Will and Testimony tucked among her brother’s massive, dusty book collection. It named her beneficiary. At that time, Mollie and their mother nurtured Gottlieb’s ownership passion. Now, named the court-ordered overseer, the Bender family instituted rental adjustments, that and a standardized rent collection altered the status quo, drastically.

The plotline thickened. Empty properties was nothing new, the Gottlieb portfolio was packed with them, for instance an entire block-long meat locker in the meatpacking district, with development restrictions that Gottlieb acquired in 1986. With fewer butcher shops stuffed like so many sausages between the shoreline elevated West Side Highway—the disassembling process begun uptown was proceeding, though, at a snail’s pace—and with defunct, forlorn West Side Elevated Freight Line roadways decaying overhead on block east on Washington Street, the Gansevoort Piers destine for demolishment, the meatpacking district parcel was prime for “improvement.” Of course that wasn’t going to be easy. Four years later, after extensive wrangling between civic groups, developers, the bereaved sister, her nephews and the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, the procedures produced a reduced (size-wise), yet, loftier historic district and a restoration plan for the cobblestone commerce Streets. The Gansevoort Market Historic District plan emerged as a mixed-usage zone, comprising office space, ground-level retailing, restaurants and bars—only a few possible, modest, tower sites were unprotected.

The Gottlieb family saga continued. Shortly after, Mollie Bender was dead, and her 2005 Last Will and Testament required years to settle through the courts. Accordingly, the intact Gansevoort Meatpacking District exploded as a robust, urban cultural phenomenon within the entire West Village. Howbeit the quiet and quaint, subdued not always tony southward enclave (though no longer under the Greenwich Street El shadows), received an equal jolt, which became a decidedly dramatic surge in demand to acquire and restore residential properties, engulfing every modest 1840-50 row house tucked here and there; each scattered, small-scale, warehouse space, between Greenwich and Washington Streets, and all low-rise loft buildings—in fact, any structure at Abingdon Square’s west. Plus, there were parking lots, empty lots overgrown with weeds, run-down tenement apartment houses, dilapidated hotels, and a block fronting Tenth Avenue, at West 14th Street. Suddenly there rose as well a condominium tower and warehouse loft residence medley along West Street.

No doubt that the migratory, international fashionista (noun: a very fashionable person, especially one who works in the fashion industry) infusion—many 2002-07 Upper East Side expatriates—who would unite in a high-performance, full-spectrum, civic-minded and spirited way with the longtime successful gay residents: their camaraderie catapulted what was to what is West Village, TriBeCa’s rival as the premier Downtown West neighborhood. Consequently, it is true that the same cache spilled over at Abingdon Square, and then east onto Bleecker Street, where a ribbon of elite fashion boutiques ties Hudson Street to Seventh Avenue South. True, too, that a highly exceptional feature above was transformed; and it became the neighborhood’s crowning touch: High Line, an exhumed park space. Landscaped as a casual, meandering promenade atop trestles built in 1929, which replaced the street-level Tenth (aka Death) Avenue tracks stretching south and connecting with the St. John’s freight and Hudson River ferry terminals (now the Holland Tunnel rotary). To high praise in 2008, High Line opened a first leg above Gansevoort to West 20th Streets. Subsequent legs opened to like kudos; West 35th Street will be the final leg, fittingly, to terminate at railroad yards.

The yarn has no end in sight. Inadvertently, most likely, William Gottlieb single-handedly conserved a major portion of the area from development, which 300 years ago was the Lenape village, Sapokanikan; which 250 years before was the Warren’s Greenwich farms; which 150 years earlier was a dozen structures; and, which 50 years prior was a dying wholesale perishable market. Only time will tell whether the second-generation Gottlieb’s portfolio will be managed as the preceding Manhattan landholders did once upon a time.

West 14th to 23rd Streets
Chelsea

Its entirety boundary is Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River, which continues as the three Downtown West north-and-south corridors, as: near to the port activity; central Chelsea Square, Tenth to Seventh Avenues, comprising the respectable, all-residential, row-house zone; and Ladies Mile, the easterly, cosmopolitan residential enclave—the present-day Flatiron District—as Sixth Avenue (of the America) to Fifth and taking in Broadway to Union Square West as well.

It’s important to note northeast Chelsea’s pivotal importance in regard to Manhattan’s Manifest Destiny. The northward thrust upon reaching 23rd Street after the Civil War paused for 25 years, then it required a milestone (which turned out to be the advent of the 20th century), before regaining its 100 year ongoing strength that would be required to bridge the downtown-to-midtown divide, and then to follow either Broadway west or to continue on the East Side axis: along Fifth Avenue, persisting due north from on Madison Avenue. All roads led north.

Certainly the Fifth Avenue Hotel, since 1859, and Vanderbilt’s sports venue, Madison Square Garden 20 years later, foretold Broadway’s crossing to the West Side was to be contested. The commercialization forced the emporiums north along Madison Avenue. Yet, there was a new usurper desiring the exclusively Fifth Avenue lots and its shopping-provider artery Broadway, especially each corner’s lots. The Lower Manhattan central business hub leapt Canal and Houston Streets, Houston and 14th Streets, and then simultaneously, office buildings, too, confronted being at 23rd Street: the ground-breaking Flatiron (Fuller) Building, 20 years later, merely re-enforced, cemented if you like, the reality that commercial enterprise’s office-building-usage demand was a societal force to reckon with—from there north. So, by 1860, hopefully The Avenue along the new Central Park would provide a refuge. To the moneyed, where money materially mattered most, enterprise’s determination with ability to overpower by tempted one resident after another resident’s resolve; they gave in, moved farther north, seemingly leapfrogging north along The Avenue throughout the 20th century.

In any event, the ongoing neglect during Chelsea’s lean, 20th-century decades, beginning with the tumultuous 1907 financial panic, exacerbated by the devastating 1929 stock-market crash was re-enforced by mid-century encroaching commercialization on the concentrated residential neighborhood’s edges—from the west, east, and north—presented an on-going, unrelenting predicament.

It is also true that the seven avenue-to-avenue blocks spanning West 15th to 24th Streets are long and flat—with no mid-avenue incursion or a single planned common public space to alleviate the monotony—a well-documented New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan oversight ignored despite arguments proffered, between the grid plan’s 1807-11 versions, pinpointing the failing. It is also true, though, that several considerations mitigated the effect:

      • The beneficial side (and there was!) is a less-than desirable neighborhood during the 1948-75, city-wide housing bonanza, development along Chelsea’s avenues came through with limited—in size and scale—corner, white- or red-colored brick, pre-war apartment houses, and few “gut-renovated” tenement apartment houses between Eighth and Tenth Avenues.
      • One-hundred-fifty year mid-block Covenants by Deed in place, consistent within Chelsea’s initial development intent (fostering a respectable neighborhood), obliged single-family, row-house façade renovations to be constrained.
      • Civic pride and sense of place since the 1970s, overall, compelled the evident care taken by Chelsea residents regarding the streetscapes: in particular the abundant trees yield discernible results.

While the above does alleviate the tedium somewhat, now Chelsea’s strong origins, especially demonstrated in the West 18th to 24th Streets, on the Eighth-to-Tenth- Avenues mid-blocks, are abundant, intermingled, dwelling types, developed over 175 years as a calming, mishmash, ranging from quaint Federal style to high-ceiling Anglo Italianate row houses, and intact or restored and (occasionally) gut-renovated six-story tenement apartment house façades. While the streetscape character is its variety and odd juxtapositions, which create the respectable aura, the initial continuity was due to Clement Clarke Moore, a savvy landowner and manager, in collaboration with his shrewd real estate broker, James Wells.

Chelsea Farm to Chelsea Square

(Pre-Revolutionary War)
Chelsea’s nucleus, flanked by West 19th and 24th Streets and stretching from the Hudson River to (Eighth Avenue) Fitz Roy Road, had been a 100 year, 30-acre farm tract owned by the Somerindyke family. Yellis de Mandeville’s descendants (with an inexpiable name-change), sold the parcel late in the 1760s to highly decorated, French and Indian War commander, retired British Major, Thomas Clarke. The new manor house—named after London’s Chelsea Manor, which stood directly behind Old Town Hall in the King’s Road (coincidentally, the home of Sir Thomas More), was surrounded by a full-block garden between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, and an apple orchard at West 21st Street. The Clarke’s acquired the adjoining larger northern Fitz Roy Road tract, encompassing West 24th to 28th Streets, significantly enhancing their Chelsea estates. Suspiciously, the Clarke manor house burned to the ground in the battle for Manhattan; immediately thereafter Major Clarke died suddenly.

(Federal Era)
Now, owning roughly 90 acres, the widow Molly Clarke was among the Greenwich region’s select patriot landowners. Revolutionary War, notwithstanding, unstoppable Mrs. Clarke rebuilt a massive, white-clapboard farmhouse sitting upon the same knoll. A somewhat enlarged private reserve was inherited by the Clarke’s daughter, Chastity and her husband, Benjamin Moore (the Episcopal bishop of New York, rector of Trinity Church {of England}). Clement Clarke Moore their only child, born at Chelsea Manor House, died there too. As her mother before her, Chastity Clarke Moore consistently and methodically added more surrounding tracts and lots onto the estate; and then in 1813, the couple deeded all the acreage to their son.

Clement Moore, Columbia-University educated, still a young man throughout the 1807 to 1811 common council’s urban planning debates, penned “Proprietors of Real Estate,” a pamphlet setting out his ardent property rights principles: to the best of his abilities, up-righteously (as a preacher’s son), Moore took up—until 1863 that is—a lifetime battle for control over his fiefdom’s mandated “improvements.” He wrote, “The commissioners are men who would have cut down the Seven Hills of Rome.” With that said, Moore planned how to best adjust his reserve.

  • First, on religious grounds and as the founding parishioner of St. Luke’s in the Field, a Greenwich Village Episcopal church on Hudson Street, Moore donated the apple orchard (66 lots between West 20th and 21st Streets, from Ninth to Tenth Avenues), to the General Theological Seminary.
  • Next, he granted to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church the lots due east of Ninth Avenue for their sanctuary and rectory. Though these land-grants were occupied by 1827, the Gothic-inspired complex was completed when Chapel of the Good Shepherd opened in 1888, which was immediately hailed the Chelsea Square “jewel”.
  • Next, when he could no longer stave off a city eminent domain edict, paving the way for Ninth Avenue, destined to destroy his treasured rural charm, Moore systematically subdivided his lots—initially opposite the seminary. Always particular about high-quality construction, he sold these lots individually to the well-heeled to be built as fine residences, with Covenants in the deed of sale restricting improvement which could not be built—manufacturing and commercial uses, in particular, stables. Therefore, there are virtually no curb-cut sidewalks.
  • Next, in the early 1830s, Moore developed the West 23rd and 24th Streets block fronts between Ninth and Tenth Avenues himself, with Well’s sagacity. On West 24th Street, he built-out modest two-story, wood frame homes, which he called Chelsea Cottages; on West 23rd Street, soon after, Moore established London Terrace. These 36 far grander, brownstone row houses, uniformly built in the Greek-Revival style, were setback and separated from the sidewalk by trees and privets.
  • Next, the proposed Tenth Avenue street-level freight tracks confirmed his hunch: the inevitability the industrial port continues north. The westernmost tracts, purchased 40 years before, because he could no longer curtail the commercial usage encroachment were sold. The Hudson River Railroad, in 1847, exercised its Tenth Avenue right of way.
  • Next, though Moore vehemently fought the Ninth Avenue IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit ) Elevated Railroad, always a realist but sensing the legal battle could not go well, ten years before his death—at his Newport cottage, in the summer of 1863—the last Downtown West Side manor house, Chelsea, was demolished.
  • Subsequently, the substantial remaining gardens were sold off as individual building lots, with his Covenants specifying architectural details (Anglo-Italianate, with second floor balconies), and site requirements (setback with wrought-iron gates). Of these, 428-50 West 23rd Street, on its south side, remain.

(1869-1963)
Construction commenced on Ninth Avenue, with the final test-runs completed six years after Moore’s death. While the freight train tracks had radically altered Chelsea, as Manhattan’s West Side Elevated mass transportation line proposals were conceived, presciently, Clement Clarke Moore correctly put together the puzzle pieces, and as foreseen: endless blue-collar workers marching west (literally, traipsing across “his” Chelsea Manor gardens) to waterfront rail yards, their mechanical and metalwork shops, the warehouses and trucking terminals servicing the nation’s largest and still growing port. Even Moore could not possibly have envisioned the industrial-oriented New York Harbor was to expand for a 99 additional years.

Moore’s corner of Greater Chelsea evolved as a neighborhood of contrasts, with his religious-oriented anchor, Chelsea Square, and the well-thought-out initial housing advances intact. Compromised, however, because his southwestern tracts had been sold off (by lots) to meet tax obligations. (What, in fact, had riled Moore most was his own money provided the proceeds for the city to implement the very intrusive “improvements,” paved streets and avenues he fought to avert.) Subsequently, Chelsea Manor House’s substantial remaining gardens were subdivided as individual building lots, and sold with his Covenants specifying architectural details (Anglo-Italianate, such as second floor balconies), with site requirements (setback with wrought-iron gates). Of these, 428-50 West 23rd Street, on its south side, remain.

A decade after his death, south of West 18th Street and west of Ninth Avenue was exactly what he labored against: distilleries, initially for camphene turpentine lamp fuel, quickly advancing to gas works converting bituminous coal into gas. A few years passed; the first mid-block, commercial enterprise intruder, Thomas’ Muffins, established a bakery (by outfoxing Moore’s Covenant), at 377 West 20th Street. Overall, Moore sold off what he could not control, fended off the industrialization at the west and the upcoming commercialization to the east, by cordoning off what could not be protect.
Though, with that said, his urban vision for Chelsea is now enhanced at the north and east by an important urban edifice.

  • Built-full on the West 23rd-and-24th-Street blocks, his setback row houses became the 1930s, 18-story mega-massive, brick and terra-cotta, Italianate-inspired London Terrace apartment house complex.
  • Due east, in the mid-Eighth-to-Seventh-Avenue block, a neighborhood fixture, the seminal Chelsea Hotel: a 12-story, Queen Anne style brick, with brownstone trimmings, is truly unique, and was referred to in the Real Estate Record and Guide, January 20, 1893, as, “a flats building, designed for 40 families, comprising a 175 x 86 building lot, with a new patent, brick mansard roof, at a considerable cost to its owner, George M. Smith.” Chelsea Hotel, still, has one equal in all Manhattan—15 years its junior and three miles northwest—the Ansonia Hotel.

Since 1868, in fact, Seventh Avenue to the Hudson River docks was spiraling into a predominantly Irish-American, blue-collar workers, living in tenement apartments or rooming houses converted from the single-family homes, built on the lots Clement Clarke Moore sold. Moore’s proto-suburbia experiment seemed all but obliterated. Yet, his sound deed Covenants—included by the score— served as a modicum of protection: a firm, salvageable foundation, despite poorly managed for 135 years, for a revival.

(1950-90)
Starker contrasts, moreover, are post-World War Two, city-sponsored, low-income housing projects, with multiple apartment houses in a park-like setting, sprawling between West 16th and 19th Streets and the Ninth-to-Tenth-Avenues blocks. Further contrasted by a displaced SoHo gallery district, beginning at West 18th Street and running north alongside Tenth Avenue, and straddling High Line. This rejuvenated industrial zone includes the half-block Clement Clarke Park, at West 22nd Street, and General Theological Seminary, in West 20th and 21st Streets. The elite art gallery district (with the requisite restaurants and retailing), initially confined below West 22nd Street, and has inched steadily northward—with limited available housing choices. It now spans to West 26th Street, as a Chelsea North, forming a Midtown West gateway.

The Ladies’ Mile

Due east Chastity Moore acquired a substantial tract and several contiguous lots above West 18th to 26th Streets, present-day Flatiron and No-Mad districts. If Moore’s quaint Chelsea domain was to be bounded by the Eighth-to-Seventh-Avenue limit, the holdings reaching Sixth Avenue were sold. These abutted the (not-yet but would-be) Ladies Mile at its nascent stage of taking on the city’s fashionable shopping district mantle. Ladies Mile would envelop every Sixth Avenue block front, from West Eighth even beyond 23rd Street, and this retail phenomenon would meld the easterly Downtown portions, making Clement Moore’s Chelsea reserve a fragile, potentially full-fledged suburb. All because the lower Fifth Avenue mansion-and-town-house building marched northward, had extended across 14th Street, and like wildfire landed as far as 21st Street, where it paused as the Fifth Avenue Hotel was built in 1859. Additionally, the residential streets at The Avenue’s immediate west progressed in lock-step as elite movement foraged north.

With the advent of Civil War strife still far off, the carriage-trade clientele settled into their new brownstone row houses, which dotted the neighboring streets off Fifth Avenue. They would be seen driving by Sixth Avenue in horse-drawn carriages, complete with all the caparison and trappings. When the Civil War ended, shops opened. What was to become Ladies Mile mirrored those roots put down on Fifth Avenue’s immediate easterly thoroughfare, Broadway: targeting fashionable Greenwich Village denizens’ trade. Meanwhile, for 50 years, the Houston to Bond Street swank household and dry goods shopkeepers and furniture store, gold- and silversmith, boot- and dressmaker, milliner and furrier proprietors, collectively and gingerly nurtured their domain. Then Alexander T. Stewart—the city’s most prominent and revered department store proprietor—announcing his intention to reestablish himself at East Ninth Street and Broadway, and that and that alone, was the impetuous elegant specialty shop owner’s needed to bypass Cooper and Union Square stretch for Madison Square.

(1875-80)
Sixth Avenue, the immediate westerly artery had shopping-district potential, too. With merchandise displayed to please well-to-do, brownstone-dweller tastes and post-Civil War prosperity, this westerly strip took hold. The Ladies Mile moniker was soon applied. The city’s retailing household names followed, and quickly the likes of Brooks Brothers, B. Altman, Arnold Constable, Lord & Taylor’s, Gorham Silver and Tiffany and Co. were strung along both sides of Sixth Avenue, like a double strand of exquisite South Sea pearls. Moreover, the behemoth retailers were evolving there too, including Stern Brothers, at West 23rd Street, whose emporium was seven stories high; and R.H. Macy relocated on West 14th Street, in 1858, by 1877 it engulfed the 11 adjacent ground floors. By then Lord & Taylor’s was installed in its five-story cast-iron building, complete with steam elevators (enabling shoppers to add-on additional parcels), with plush carpet every step along the aisles—and nooks replete with conveniently arranged upholstered settees, intended for the ladies to sit, and have an intimate chat if they care to do so.

An abundant a stream of fashionable ladies had been stepping off the tram lines, from the onset, however, the West Side El along Ninth Avenue brought a new element. The shopping district increasingly commercialized: overcrowded by day with shoppers, by evening with restaurant-, theater-, Vaudeville-, light-opera-, and music-hall-goers. At its peak this was the fashion, music and theater epicenter. Thus, for some with its aura of exclusivity evaporating, commodious brownstone row houses were put on the market, as events unfolded, more and more residents sold a 20-year-old home to join their own, the “400 Families,” farther north on The Avenue.

(1884-92)
The Ladies Mile miracle appeared, like a mirage, and, as miraculously: vanished. The Metropolitan Opera House opening on Broadway and West 39th Street began the night-life’s five years relocation north of Ladies Mile. The 23rd-Street theater district migrated above Herald Square to the West 42nd Street, the Longacre Square area. With the Sixth Avenue El line operating, the hordes arrived at the doorstep from all over the city. This further diminished its glamour, luster, and allure—entirely altering an already shaky city-wide social-standing. Earlier dispossessions had already stripped the Mile, however, west of Seventh Avenue the elegant Chelsea Flats—bankrupt then transformed into the Chelsea Hotel—single-handedly filled the vacuum, and it brought the Ladies Mile together with the westerly Chelsea village. Thereafter these areas were Greater Chelsea.

Flatiron District

At the onset, takers would be found for the fine Fifth-to-Seventh Avenue mid-block homes, but that did not last long. The unsold brownstone parlor floors filled with lesser dry-goods merchants, then trinket shops, selling items to amuse the throngs clogging the street—that did not last long either. Yet, there are no standing brownstone row houses from that era: light-manufacturing industries, such as textile dyers, accessory assembly, jewelry bench shops, and the toy-industry manufacturers, finally, overwhelmed every Fifth-to-Seventh Avenues homes. They were razed in short order to make way for loft-style buildings better equipped for the purpose. The grand avenue retailers needed to make a move.

(1895-1907)
An elective affinity appears inevitable between retail stores and residences: whereas, there is an innate repulsion between residential neighborhoods and office buildings. The 1890s ended with most lower Fifth Avenue mansions or town houses converted to commercial usage, and with Tiffany & Co., the last fashionable shop to linger in Union Square, and the Union-to-Madison-Square premier specialty stores, including Arnold, Constable & Company, W. J. Sloane, and Gorham’s, now relocated north in the Fifth-and-Madison-Avenues corridor, and then the poured concrete “skyscraper,” Fuller Building, soon dubbed the Flatiron Building, was announced for the triangle at Broadway and Fifth Avenue, pushing the shops to East or West 34th Street. Where should the huge middle-class department stores go? Follow fashionable society, which had been the way from City Hall Park? Or, once across Broadway and Fifth Avenue above Madison Square, would a split as if two brooks develop? Would specialty stores for the elite keep on north as was? Would mass-market emporiums (for the plainer folk) opt for the theatric panache near Herald Square on Sixth Avenue?

(1900-03)
Manhattanites’ perpetual attraction for fashion is undeniable. America’s prediction for New York’s department stores is well document, too. Congress itself, after all, questioned each Mary Todd Lincoln Manhattan shopping spree at Stewart’s. Macy’s, Stewart’s heir-apparent, made the first moved from West 14th Street to Herald Square by leasing the Broadway and Sixth Avenue crossing along the 34th-to-35th Streets block front. Instantly, Saks & Company bought the block front opposite Macy’s,. Abraham & Straus, of Brooklyn no less, and many others from farther afield made their presence apparent, too; each sensing the impending changes for Herald Square, and each played its part developing the busiest, most passed dozen corners in the world. After 1902, Tiffany followed suit by joining B. Altman on Fifth Avenue, at 39th Street. The grand, cast-iron buildings—built to dazzle the glamorous and somewhat rich—were emptied, awaiting work crews to refit them for light-manufacturing or as a warehouse.

 

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