Hell's Kitchen is a Manhattan neighborhood roughly bounded by 34th Street on the south, 57th Street on the north, 8th Avenue on the east and the Hudson River on the west. This area was initially settled as a shantytown by poor Irish immigrants in the mid 19th century who found work on the nearby docks and railroad. After the American Civil War, tenements were constructed, although the neighborhood remained impoverished well into the 20th century and was a haven for gang violence.
The exact origin of the name is lost in time and subject to numerous apocryphal stories. However, the name first appears in print in the September 22, 1881 New York Times and it's meaning is summed up by a quip attributed to a 19th century policeman describing the dangerous area, "Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen." Developers began floating the name "Clinton" in 1959 to associate the area with DeWitt Clinton Park (52nd St at 11th Avenue, named after a 19th century NY governor). However, the Hell's Kitchen moniker and its gritty implications remained even as the area gentrified well beyond it's humble and difficult origins.
Plans for extensive demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s were squelched by the implementation in 1968 of the Special Clinton District, which created zoning restrictions that (along with the economic decline of the city) limited redevelopment of the area for the next 20 years. When I first moved to NYC in the early 1990s, it was still a comparatively affordable neighborhood and was home to many actors, artists and immigrants. However, the improving economic fortunes of the city and the close proximity of the neighborhood to the midtown office district business district ultimately resulted in a weakening of the zoning restrictions and extensive redevelopment in the early 21st century.
This batch of photos was largely taken in the fall of 2007, when I set out to document what was left of the "old" Hell's Kitchen and the extensive (and often absurd) architecture that was taking the place of the venerable old 19th-century tenement buildings.