West Side Urban Renewal

Dense development of the Upper West Side largely occurred in the last two decades of the 19th century. The arrival of the Ninth Avenue elevated rail line in 1879 opened the neighborhood to upwardly mobile middle class families. By the end of the 1920s building boom, Central Park West, West End Avenue and Riverside Drive were lined with fashionable high-rise apartment houses, while the cross streets were dominated by low-rise brownstones. The economic travails of the 1930s lead to subdivision of many of the rooms in the area as well as poor maintenance for buildings overall. After World War II, African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants replaced middle-class Irish and Jewish residents as the housing stock and quality of life in the community continued to deteriorate (Gratz, 2010, pp 199)

The West Side Urban Renewal began in 1955 when Mayor Robert F. Wagner directed James Felt of the City Planning Commission to study housing deterioration and social unrest on the West Side (NHCPC, 1979, pp 1-3). The commission issued its study in April of 1958 and released a preliminary plan for the West Side Renewal Area in May of 1959. The area covered 20 blocks bounded by 87th Street on the South, 97th Street on the North, Amsterdam Avenue on the West and Central Park West on the East.

The Upper West Side
1959
The Upper West Side
The West Side Urban Renewal Area
1959
The West Side Urban Renewal Area

In contrast to the wholesale clearance and rebuild approach of Robert Moses that was used for Lincoln Center to the south and Park West Village to the North, Felt's approach was to selectively demolish targeted structures for private redevelopment (largely along the avenues) while retaining and renovating many of the area's attractive but poorly maintained brownstone structures. The process ended up taking over 15 years longer than planned, with at least two brownstones lingering in dereliction as late as 1995 (Rozhon, 1995).

The project can, in some respects, be regarded as a success, with the area becoming one of the city's most desirable (and expensive) by the dawn of the 21st century, although giving the West Side Urban Renewal project sole credit for the revitalization may be a bit of an oversimplification. Wilson (1979) makes a detailed analysis of the transformation by considering the physical, economic, social and institutional environment as well as issues of power and class. Gratz (2010) argues that the neighborhood was saved by its own virtues (parks, transportation, shopping) IN SPITE of the highly disruptive urban renewal projects foisted upon it. And if Jacobs (1964, pp 244-260) is to be believed, escalating rents as well as homogenious age and architecture may have planted the seeds of the neighborhood's cyclical destruction.

The preliminary plan (linked below) is a fascinating read. Colorful, attractive and full of certitude, it in may ways reads like a contemporary piece of urban planning rhetoric. It's not difficult to imagine the book's outlandish promises coming out of the mouth of Michael Bloomberg, albeit from a firmly privatized rather than public context.

Preliminary Plan
1959
Preliminary Plan

This photo tour roughly follows a loop up Columbus Avenue and back down Amsterdam Avenue

Park Columbus (1986) - 101 West 87th Street
7/30/2009 09:33 AM
Park Columbus (1986) - 101 West 87th Street
118 West 87th Street
7/30/2009 09:34 AM
118 West 87th Street
The Centra (1985) - 100 West 89th
7/30/2009 09:37 AM
The Centra (1985) - 100 West 89th
600 Columbus Avenue (1989)
7/30/2009 09:37 AM
600 Columbus Avenue (1989)
600 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 09:43 AM
600 Columbus Avenue
James Marquis (1986) - 101 West 90th Street
7/30/2009 09:39 AM
James Marquis (1986) - 101 West 90th Street
James Marquis
7/30/2009 09:44 AM
James Marquis
Columbus Avenue west side south of 90th Street
7/30/2009 09:44 AM
Columbus Avenue west side south of 90th Street
102 West 91st Street (1993)
7/30/2009 09:44 AM
102 West 91st Street (1993)
102 West 91st Street
7/30/2009 09:44 AM
102 West 91st Street
Wise Towers (1965) - West 90th Street
7/30/2009 09:45 AM
Wise Towers (1965) - West 90th Street
Wise Towers
7/30/2009 09:45 AM
Wise Towers
Wise Towers
8/14/2009 05:40 PM
Wise Towers
Trinity School (1969) - 100 West 91st Street
7/30/2009 09:46 AM
Trinity School (1969) - 100 West 91st Street
Trinity School
7/30/2009 09:46 AM
Trinity School
Trinity School
7/30/2009 09:47 AM
Trinity School
Trinity School
7/30/2009 09:47 AM
Trinity School
100 West 93rd Street (1973)
7/30/2009 09:48 AM
100 West 93rd Street (1973)
100 West 93rd Street
7/30/2009 09:48 AM
100 West 93rd Street
100 West 93rd Street
7/30/2009 09:49 AM
100 West 93rd Street
Columbus Ave looking south from 92nd Street
7/30/2009 09:48 AM
Columbus Ave looking south from 92nd Street
621 Columbus Avenue (1970)
7/30/2009 09:50 AM
621 Columbus Avenue (1970)
WSURA (Site B - NYCHA) - 74 West 92nd Street (1964)
7/30/2009 09:49 AM
WSURA (Site B - NYCHA) - 74 West 92nd Street (1964)
WSURA (Site B)
7/30/2009 09:51 AM
WSURA (Site B)
Sol Bloom Playground (1972)
7/30/2009 09:50 AM
Sol Bloom Playground (1972)
Sol Bloom Playground
7/30/2009 09:51 AM
Sol Bloom Playground
Sol Bloom Playground
7/30/2009 09:51 AM
Sol Bloom Playground
Sol Bloom Playground / 621 Columbus Ave
7/30/2009 09:52 AM
Sol Bloom Playground / 621 Columbus Ave
Brownstone survivors: 61-75 West 92nd Street
7/30/2009 09:52 AM
Brownstone survivors: 61-75 West 92nd Street
PS 84 Lillian Weber School (1972) - 32 West 92nd Stree
7/30/2009 09:54 AM
PS 84 Lillian Weber School (1972) - 32 West 92nd Stree
PS 84
7/30/2009 09:56 AM
PS 84
WSURA (Site B) / PS 84
7/30/2009 09:55 AM
WSURA (Site B) / PS 84
Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School - 3 West 92nd Street
7/30/2009 09:56 AM
Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School - 3 West 92nd Street
Brownstones - South side of West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:00 AM
Brownstones - South side of West 94th Street
Curb extension on West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:00 AM
Curb extension on West 94th Street
54 West 94th Street looming over West 94th Street brownstones
7/30/2009 10:01 AM
54 West 94th Street looming over West 94th Street brownstones
Brownstones - South side of West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:02 AM
Brownstones - South side of West 94th Street
Wise Rehab (NYCHA - 1985) - 54 West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:03 AM
Wise Rehab (NYCHA - 1985) - 54 West 94th Street
Looking east down West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:03 AM
Looking east down West 94th Street
66 West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:03 AM
66 West 94th Street
700 Columbus Avenue (1968)
7/30/2009 10:03 AM
700 Columbus Avenue (1968)
Columbus Park Towers (1966) - 100 West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:05 AM
Columbus Park Towers (1966) - 100 West 94th Street
100 West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:09 AM
100 West 94th Street
Art Moderne - 110 West 94th Street (1936)
7/30/2009 10:05 AM
Art Moderne - 110 West 94th Street (1936)
110 West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:06 AM
110 West 94th Street
WSURA (Site A - NYCHA) 120 West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:06 AM
WSURA (Site A - NYCHA) 120 West 94th Street
WSURA (Site A)
7/30/2009 10:07 AM
WSURA (Site A)
Curb extension on West 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:07 AM
Curb extension on West 94th Street
West side of Columbus Ave south of 94th Street
7/30/2009 10:09 AM
West side of Columbus Ave south of 94th Street
West Side Marquis (1968) - 70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:09 AM
West Side Marquis (1968) - 70 West 95th Street
Plaza grocery store - 705 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:10 AM
Plaza grocery store - 705 Columbus Avenue
70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:10 AM
70 West 95th Street
70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:11 AM
70 West 95th Street
70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:12 AM
70 West 95th Street
70 West 95th Street garage entrance
7/30/2009 10:13 AM
70 West 95th Street garage entrance
70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:13 AM
70 West 95th Street
70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:13 AM
70 West 95th Street
Brownstones - South side of West 95th Street east of Columbus
7/30/2009 10:14 AM
Brownstones - South side of West 95th Street east of Columbus
70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:15 AM
70 West 95th Street
70 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:15 AM
70 West 95th Street
70 West 95th Street behind 65 West 95th Street (1928)
7/30/2009 10:19 AM
70 West 95th Street behind 65 West 95th Street (1928)
Jefferson Towers (1968) - 700 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:16 AM
Jefferson Towers (1968) - 700 Columbus Avenue
700 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:10 AM
700 Columbus Avenue
95 West 95th Street / 721 Columbus (1969)
7/30/2009 10:12 AM
95 West 95th Street / 721 Columbus (1969)
95 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:17 AM
95 West 95th Street
Spalling repairs - 95 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:18 AM
Spalling repairs - 95 West 95th Street
95 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:19 AM
95 West 95th Street
95 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:19 AM
95 West 95th Street
The Westmont (1986): 720-730 Columbus Ave
7/30/2009 10:17 AM
The Westmont (1986): 720-730 Columbus Ave
Looking west down 96th Street from Columbus
7/30/2009 10:18 AM
Looking west down 96th Street from Columbus
The Westmont
7/30/2009 10:21 AM
The Westmont
R.N.A. House (1967): 150-160 West 96th Street (Mitchell-Lama)
7/30/2009 10:22 AM
R.N.A. House (1967): 150-160 West 96th Street (Mitchell-Lama)
150-160 West 96th Street
7/30/2009 10:22 AM
150-160 West 96th Street
150-160 West 96th Street
7/30/2009 10:23 AM
150-160 West 96th Street
Axton (1971): 733 Amsterdam Avenue / 169 West 95th Street
7/30/2009 10:24 AM
Axton (1971): 733 Amsterdam Avenue / 169 West 95th Street
733 Amsterdam Avenue
7/30/2009 10:25 AM
733 Amsterdam Avenue
733 Amsterdam Avenue
7/30/2009 10:25 AM
733 Amsterdam Avenue
733 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:31 PM
733 Amsterdam Avenue
808 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:30 AM
808 Columbus Avenue
808 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:30 AM
808 Columbus Avenue
808 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:34 AM
808 Columbus Avenue
Sidewalk along west side of Columbus through Columbus Square
7/30/2009 10:29 AM
Sidewalk along west side of Columbus through Columbus Square
775 Columbus Avenue under construction
7/30/2009 10:29 AM
775 Columbus Avenue under construction
Union protesting scab labor
7/30/2009 10:33 AM
Union protesting scab labor
775 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:33 AM
775 Columbus Avenue
795 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 10:36 AM
795 Columbus Avenue
Park West Village - 382 Central Park West
7/30/2009 10:28 AM
Park West Village - 382 Central Park West
Park West Village - 392 Central Park West
7/30/2009 10:36 AM
Park West Village - 392 Central Park West
Park West Village
7/30/2009 10:40 AM
Park West Village
Park West Village - 792 Columbus Avenue
8/14/2009 05:19 PM
Park West Village - 792 Columbus Avenue
Park West Village - 400 Central Park West
8/14/2009 05:14 PM
Park West Village - 400 Central Park West
Frederick Douglass Houses
7/30/2009 10:35 AM
Frederick Douglass Houses
Frederick Douglass Houses
7/30/2009 10:37 AM
Frederick Douglass Houses
2 Manhattan Avenue
8/14/2009 05:15 PM
2 Manhattan Avenue
Frederick Douglass Houses
8/14/2009 05:16 PM
Frederick Douglass Houses
Looking south Down Columbus Avenue from 100th Street
8/14/2009 05:17 PM
Looking south Down Columbus Avenue from 100th Street
Frederick Douglass Houses
8/14/2009 05:18 PM
Frederick Douglass Houses
Frederick Douglass Houses
8/14/2009 05:19 PM
Frederick Douglass Houses
Riverside Health Center (1959) - 160 West 100th Street
8/14/2009 05:22 PM
Riverside Health Center (1959) - 160 West 100th Street
Riverside Health Center
8/14/2009 05:22 PM
Riverside Health Center
Frederick Douglass Houses
8/14/2009 05:23 PM
Frederick Douglass Houses
Park West Village - 788 Columbus Avenue
8/14/2009 05:25 PM
Park West Village - 788 Columbus Avenue
Park West Village
8/14/2009 05:27 PM
Park West Village
Park West Village
8/14/2009 05:27 PM
Park West Village
Park West Village
8/14/2009 05:28 PM
Park West Village
PS 163 Alfred E. Smith School: 163 West 97th Street
8/14/2009 05:29 PM
PS 163 Alfred E. Smith School: 163 West 97th Street
East River Savings Bank (1926): 743 Amsterdam
8/14/2009 05:32 PM
East River Savings Bank (1926): 743 Amsterdam
733 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:33 PM
733 Amsterdam Avenue
733 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:34 PM
733 Amsterdam Avenue
733 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:34 PM
733 Amsterdam Avenue
701 Amsterdam Avenue (1967)
8/14/2009 05:35 PM
701 Amsterdam Avenue (1967)
701 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:35 PM
701 Amsterdam Avenue
701 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:36 PM
701 Amsterdam Avenue
DeHostos Community Center - 698 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:35 PM
DeHostos Community Center - 698 Amsterdam Avenue
681 Amsterdam Avenue (1929)
8/14/2009 05:38 PM
681 Amsterdam Avenue (1929)
681 Amsterdam Avenue: Bas Relief
8/14/2009 05:36 PM
681 Amsterdam Avenue: Bas Relief
201 West 93rd
8/14/2009 05:37 PM
201 West 93rd
Central Baptist Church (1916) - 166 West 92nd Street
8/14/2009 05:39 PM
Central Baptist Church (1916) - 166 West 92nd Street
Central Baptist Church
8/14/2009 05:40 PM
Central Baptist Church
Manhattan Tower, 203 W 90th
4/15/2008 11:51 AM
Manhattan Tower, 203 W 90th
Manhattan Tower
4/15/2008 11:52 AM
Manhattan Tower
Haywood Towers (1974): 621 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:40 PM
Haywood Towers (1974): 621 Amsterdam Avenue
189 West 89th (1997)
8/14/2009 05:40 PM
189 West 89th (1997)
189 West 89th
8/14/2009 05:42 PM
189 West 89th
587 Amsterdam Avenue (NYCHA - 1965)
8/14/2009 05:42 PM
587 Amsterdam Avenue (NYCHA - 1965)
587 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:43 PM
587 Amsterdam Avenue
Glenn Gardens (1975) - 567 Amsterdam Avenue / 171-183 West 87th Street
7/30/2009 09:36 AM
Glenn Gardens (1975) - 567 Amsterdam Avenue / 171-183 West 87th Street
567 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:43 PM
567 Amsterdam Avenue
567 Amsterdam Avenue
8/14/2009 05:45 PM
567 Amsterdam Avenue
Amsterdam Avenue looking north from 86th Street
8/14/2009 05:46 PM
Amsterdam Avenue looking north from 86th Street
Columbus Avenue looking north from 75th Street
8/14/2009 03:57 PM
Columbus Avenue looking north from 75th Street
William O'Shea JHS 44 (1956)
7/30/2009 09:16 AM
William O'Shea JHS 44 (1956)
William O'Shea JHS 44
7/30/2009 09:16 AM
William O'Shea JHS 44
William O'Shea JHS 44
7/30/2009 09:18 AM
William O'Shea JHS 44
Parc Belvedere (1986) - 101 W 79th
7/30/2009 09:20 AM
Parc Belvedere (1986) - 101 W 79th
101 W 79th
7/30/2009 09:22 AM
101 W 79th
386 Columbus Avenue (1988)
7/30/2009 09:20 AM
386 Columbus Avenue (1988)
386 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 09:20 AM
386 Columbus Avenue
386 Columbus Avenue
7/30/2009 09:21 AM
386 Columbus Avenue
Patagonia, 426 Columbus Ave
7/30/2009 09:23 AM
Patagonia, 426 Columbus Ave
West side Columbus Avenue south of W 81st Street
7/30/2009 09:23 AM
West side Columbus Avenue south of W 81st Street
PS 9 - 100 West 84th
7/30/2009 09:27 AM
PS 9 - 100 West 84th
PS 9
7/30/2009 09:28 AM
PS 9
Gristede's - 500-504 Columbus Avenue (1925)
7/30/2009 09:29 AM
Gristede's - 500-504 Columbus Avenue (1925)
Louis D Brandeis High School (1965) - 145 West 84th Street
7/30/2009 09:30 AM
Louis D Brandeis High School (1965) - 145 West 84th Street
3 Star Coffee Shop - 61 West 86th St
7/30/2009 09:32 AM
3 Star Coffee Shop - 61 West 86th St
1920's era apartment buildings on South side of 86th Street west of Columbus Avenues
7/30/2009 09:32 AM
1920's era apartment buildings on South side of 86th Street west of Columbus Avenues

Bibliography

Gratz, Roberta Brandes. 2010. The Battle for Gotham. New York: Nation Books.

Jacobs, Jane. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1993 Modern Library Edition.

New York City Planning Commission (NYCPC). 1979. Report of the City Planning Commission on the Fifth Amendment to the West Side Urban Renewal Plan.

Rozhon, Tracie. 1995. For 2 Brownstones, a Long Night's Journey Into Day. New York Times, 19 February.

Wilson, David. 1987. Urban revitalization on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: An urban managerialst assessment. Economic Geography 63(1), 35-47