The UWS Before Jacobs
Manhattan's Upper West Side is generally considered as bounded by 59th street on the south, 110th street on the north, the Hudson River on the west and Central Park on the east, although some authors (such as Wilson 1987) move the southern boundary as far north as 72nd Street and the northern boundary down as far as 96th street or as far north as 125th Street.
Dutch farmers were the first European settlers of the area in the early 17th century (GSAPP 2007). The area between present-day West 23rd Street and West 125th Street came to be known as Bloomingdale and main road through the area (currently Broadway) was called Bloomingdale Road. The 1830s brought both development of summer residences for the wealthy toward the center of the island as well as a railroad line along the Hudson river.
The construction of Central Park in the 1860s elevated the value of the surrounding land and The Dakota on 72nd Street opened in 1884 as the first of many luxury apartment buildings in the neighborhood. The coming of the Ninth Avenue (Columbus Ave) elevated railroad in 1890 and the IRT subway line in 1904, along with further commercial development along the riverfront brought working-class Irish and African-American residents to the area and Russian, Polish and German Jewish immigrants soon followed. Nazi persecution in the 1930s resulted in a dramatic influx of Jews to the area and they displaced the Irish as the area's dominant ethnic group (Pileggi 1969).
Although the area weathered the Depression fairly well and actually experienced a modest construction boom, a citywide housing shortage spurred a 1939 change in housing law that promoted the division of large apartments and brownstones into smaller furnished rooms. The subsequent influx of new (and often low-income) residents resulted in severe overcrowding and an increase in social ills. The housing shortage worsened following World War II, with disinvestment and suburban flight leaving behind large pockets of desperation and danger. The overcrowding, crime and deterioration of the housing stock led to calls for public intervention.
The first major post-WWII "urban renewal" effort in the southern part of the UWS was the Amsterdam Houses, a 13-building 1,080-apartment project between 61st and 64th streets that opened in 1948 and emptied the predominantly African-American neighborhood of San Juan Hill.
Title I of the National Housing Act of 1949 encouraged large scale neighborhood clearance projects and spawned the "Lincoln Square Urban Renewal Area" in 1956, resulting in eradication over the next ten years of most of the poor neighborhoods south of 72nd street for Lincoln Center, Lincoln Towers, the New York Coliseum and a new campus for Fordham University. (GSAPP 2007).
In the northern part of the UWS, the predominantly African-American and Puerto Rican neighborhood of Manhattantown was obliterated by Park West, a massive 38-acre Title I project between 97th and 100th streets off Central Park West that was conceived in 1950 but delayed in completion until 1967 due to corruption and mismanagement (Tattenbaum 1997). The West Side Renewal Project had a similar effect on large parts of the area between 87th Street and 96th Street.
Next: Jane Jacobs and the Upper West Side