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Upper West Side is bounded on the south by 59th Street, Central Park to the east, the Hudson River to the west, and 110th Street to the north. The area north of West 96th Street and east of Broadway is also identified as Manhattan Valley. The overlapping area west of Amsterdam Avenue to Riverside Park was once known as the Bloomingdale District.
From west to east, the avenues of the Upper West Side are Riverside Drive, West End Avenue (11th Avenue), Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue (10th Avenue), Columbus Avenue (9th Avenue), and Central Park West (8th Avenue). The 66-block stretch of Broadway forms the spine of the neighborhood and runs diagonally north/south across the other avenues at the south end of the neighborhood; above 78th Street Broadway runs north parallel to the other avenues. Broadway enters the neighborhood at its juncture with Central Park West at Columbus Circle (59th Street), crosses Columbus Avenue at Lincoln Square (65th Street), Amsterdam Avenue at Verdi Square (71st Street), and then merges with West End Avenue at Straus Park (aka Bloomingdale Square, at 107th Street).
Traditionally the neighborhood ranged from the former village of Harsenville, centered on the old Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and 65th Street, west to the railroad yards along the Hudson, then north to 110th Street, where the ground rises to Morningside Heights. With the construction of Lincoln Center, its name, though perhaps not the reality, was stretched south to 58th Street. With the arrival of the corporate headquarters and expensive condos of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, and the Riverside South apartment complex built by Donald Trump, the area from 58th Street to 65th Street is increasingly referred to as Lincoln Square by realtors who acknowledge a different tone and ambiance than that typically associated with the Upper West Side. This is a reversion to the neighborhood's historical name.
Native American and colonial use
A typical midblock view on the Upper West Side consisting of 4- and 5-story brownstones
The long high bluff above useful sandy coves along the North River was little used or traversed by the Lenape people. A combination of the stream valleys, such as that in which 96th Street runs, and wetlands to the northeast and east, may have protected a portion of the Upper West Side from the Lenape's controlled burns; lack of periodic ground fires results in a denser understory and more fire-intolerant trees, such as American Beech.
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the Upper West Side-to-be contained some of colonial New York's most ambitious houses, spaced along Bloomingdale Road. It became increasingly infilled with smaller, more suburban villas in the first half of the nineteenth century, and in the middle of the century, parts had become decidedly lower class.
Its name was a derivation of the description given to the area by Dutch settlers to New Netherland, likely from Bloemendaal, a town in the tulip region. The Dutch Anglicized the name to "Bloomingdale" or "the Bloomingdale District", to the west side of Manhattan from about 23rd Street up to the Hollow Way (modern 125th Street). It consisted of farms and villages along a road (regularized in 1703) known as the Bloomingdale Road. Bloomingdale Road was renamed The Boulevard in 1868, as the farms and villages were divided into building lots and absorbed into the city. By the 18th century it contained numerous farms and country residences of many of the city's well-off, a major parcel of which was the Apthorp Farm. The main artery of this area was the Bloomingdale Road, which began north of where Broadway and the Bowery Lane (now Fourth Avenue) join (at modern Union Square) and wended its way northward up to about modern 116th Street in Morningside Heights, where the road further north was known as the Kingsbridge Road. Within the confines of the modern-day Upper West Side, the road passed through areas known as Harsenville, Strycker's Bay, and Bloomingdale Village.
With the building of the Croton Aqueduct passing down the area between present day Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue in 1838-42, the northern reaches of the district became divided into Manhattan Valley to the east of the aqueduct and Bloomingdale to the west. Bloomingdale, in the latter half of the 19th century, was the name of a village that occupied the area just south of 110th street.
Late 19th century development
Bloomingdale Playground, which retains the old name of Bloomingdale Road
Much of the riverfront of the Upper West Side was a shipping, transportation, and manufacturing corridor. The Hudson River Railroad line right-of-way was granted in the late 1830s to connect New York City to Albany, and soon ran along the riverbank. One major non-industrial development, the creation of Central Park in the 1850s and '60s, caused many squatters to move their shacks into the Upper West Side. Parts of the neighborhood became a ragtag collection of squatters' housing, boarding houses, and rowdy taverns.
As this development occurred, the old name of Bloomingdale Road was being chopped away and the name Broadway was progressively applied further northward to include what had been lower Bloomingdale Road. In 1868, the city began straightening and grading the section of the Bloomingdale Road from Harsenville north, and it became known as "Western Boulevard" or "The Boulevard". It retained that name until the end of the century, when the name Broadway finally supplanted it.
Riverside Park was conceived in 1866 and formally approved by the state legislature through the efforts of city parks commissioner Andrew Haswell Green. The first segment of park was acquired through condemnation in 1872, and construction soon began following a design created by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the adjacent, gracefully curving Riverside Drive. In 1937, under the administration of commissioner Robert Moses, 132 acres (0.53 km2) of land were added to the park, primarily by creating a promenade that covered the tracks of the Hudson River Railroad. Moses, working with landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke also added playgrounds, and distinctive stonework and the 79th Street Boat Basin, but also cut pedestrians off from direct access to most of the riverfront by building the Henry Hudson Parkway by the river's edge. According to Robert Caro's book on Moses, The Power Broker, Riverside Park was designed with most of the amenities located in predominantly white neighborhoods, with the neighborhoods closer to Harlem getting shorter shrift. Riverside Park, like Central Park, has undergone a revival late in the 20th century, largely through the efforts of the Riverside Park Fund, a citizen's group. Largely through their efforts and the support of the city, much of the park has been improved. The Hudson River Greenway along the river-edge of the park is a popular route for pedestrians and bicycle commuters, and offers spectacular vistas. A dramatic improvement is the $15.7 million "Riverwalk" extension to the park's greenway constructed between 83rd and 91st Streets on a promenade in the river itself, completed in May 2010.
This further stimulated residential development of the area. The stately tall apartment blocks on West End Avenue and the townhouses on the streets between Amsterdam Avenue and Riverside Drive, which contribute to the character of the area, were all constructed during the pre-depression years of the twentieth century. A revolution in building techniques, the low cost of land relative to lower Manhattan, the arrival of the subway, and the democratization of the formerly expensive elevator made it possible to construct large apartment buildings for the middle classes. The large scale and style of these buildings is one reason why the neighborhood has remained largely unchanged into the twenty-first century.
The Upper West Side is a significant Jewish neighborhood, populated with both German Jews who moved in at the turn of last century, and Jewish refugees escaping Hitler's Europe in the 1930s. Today the area between 85th Street and 100th Street is home to the largest community of young Modern Orthodox singles outside of Israel. However, the Upper West Side also features a substantial number of non-Orthodox Jews. A number of major synagogues are located in the neighborhood, including the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, Shearith Israel; New York's second-oldest and the third-oldest Ashkenazi synagogue, B'nai Jeshurun; Rodeph Sholom; the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue; and numerous others.
Late 20th century urban renewal
From the post-WWII years until the AIDS epidemic, the neighborhood, especially below 86th Street, had a substantial gay population. As the neighborhood had deteriorated, it was affordable to working class gay men, and those just arriving in the city and looking for their first white collar jobs. Its ethnically mixed gay population, mostly Hispanic and white, with a mixture of income levels and occupations patronized the same gay bars in the neighborhood, making it markedly different from most gay enclaves elsewhere in the city. The influx of white gay men in the Fifties and Sixties is often credited with accelerating the gentrification of the Upper West Side.
In a subsequent phase of urban renewal, the rail yards which had formed the Upper West Side's southwest corner were replaced by the Riverside South residential project, which included a southward extension of Riverside Park. The evolution of Riverside South had a 40-year history, often extremely bitter, beginning in 1962 when the New York Central Railroad, in partnership with the Amalgamated Lithographers Union, proposed a mixed-use development with 12,000 apartments, Litho City, to be built on platforms over the tracks. The subsequent bankruptcy of the enlarged, but short-lived Penn Central Railroad brought other proposals and prospective developers. The one generating the most opposition was Donald Trump's "Television City" concept of 1985, which would have included a 152-story office tower and six 75-story residential buildings. In 1991, a coalition of prominent civic organizations proposed a purely residential development of about half that size, and then reached a deal with Trump.
The name Bloomingdale is still used in reference to a part of the Upper West Side, essentially the location of old Bloomingdale Village, the area from about 96th Street up to 110th Street and from Riverside Park east to Amsterdam Avenue. The triangular block bound by Broadway, West End Avenue, 106th Street and 107th Street, although generally known as Straus Park (named for Isidor Straus and his wife Ida), was officially designated Bloomingdale Square in 1907. The neighborhood also includes the Bloomingdale School of Music and Bloomingdale neighborhood branch of the New York Public Library. Adjacent to the Bloomingdale neighborhood is a more diverse and less affluent subsection of the Upper West Side called Manhattan Valley, focused on the downslope of Columbus Avenue and Manhattan Avenue from about 96th Street up to 110th Street.
Community Board 7 (CB7) deals with land use and zoning matters, the City budget, municipal service delivery, and multiple community concerns of the Upper West Side. CB7 covers the Upper West Side from 59th/60th Streets to 110th Street. NYPD Precincts 20 and 24 are in CB7's area.
New York City's Community Boards review data collected by the 311 Customer Service Center. 3-1-1 (3-1-1) is a non-emergency telephone number, and New York City releases monthly reports on the number of requests for services to 311.
In CB7, 80% of the calls to 311 are either building complaints, noise complaints, city property damage/complaints, and lost and found property. The composition of the calls to 311 vary on a monthly basis due to weather. For instance, there were 79 total calls to 311 in October 2012 regarding damaged or dead trees in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which reached New York City at the end of that month. In the next month, daily calls regarding trees dropped 25%, while daily calls regarding heating increased 58%. The largest number of calls to 311 in the most recent reporting month of November 2012 were referenced to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development regarding heating. The next highest was for residential noise complaints.
The 20th Precinct covers the Upper West Side from 59th Street to 86th Street. This precinct area also includes Neighborhood Tabulation Areas (NTAs) for the Upper West Side (mn12) and Lincoln Square (mn14).
Recent data indicates that crime, after declining steadily for many years, bottomed in 2011. Information from the NYPD indicates total crime complaints have increased approximately 15% in the last year. Citywide crime complaints have increased 4%. This tabulation includes all types of crime complaints, from murders to petit larceny. Crime complaints increased this year in Precinct 20 for almost all of the CompStat categories, except for misdemeanor assaults. There were 2,058 crime complaints year-to-date as of November 25, 2012, up from 1,789 crime complaints in the same time period a year ago.
From 2000 to 2010 the population in precinct 20 increased by 1,674 people, up 1% annually. In comparison, but not in exactly the same time period, crime complaints decreased by 2% annually from 2001 to 2011.
The 24th Precinct covers the west side from 86th Street to 110th Street.
The College Board, a national non-profit examination body launched in 1900, has its headquarters on Columbus Avenue, across from Fordham University.
The Jewish Guild for the Blind - This non-sectarian, non-profit organization serving the visually impaired, blind and those with multiple disabilities, has its national headquarters on West 65th Street just off Central Park West.
The Church of St. Paul the Apostle - Late Gothic Revival-Style Building at the corner of West 60th Street and Columbus Avenue that is the mother church of the Paulist Fathers. The sanctuary houses a large organ of 4,965 pipes, built by M. P. Moller in 1965.
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine - in Morningside Heights, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, or at least it will be, when it's finished. Suffered significant fire damage to the South transept in December 2001. The church was originally to follow a Byzantine-Romanesque design, but the builders switched to a Gothic design along the way. The church plans to replace the great dome with a massive Gothic tower, but this major construction project is likely to take decades, if it is ever completed.
B'nai Jeshurun - In 1825, Ashkenazi members left the city's first Jewish house of worship, the Sephardic Congregation Shearith Israel, beginning a trek up Manhattan that would land them on West 88th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway. The 1919 building designed by Broadway theater architect Henry B. Herts with fellow congregant Walter S. Schneider, became a must see for boards of other synagogues then seeking to build new homes. A spiritual and demographic renaissance began in 1985, with the arrival of Rabbi Marshall Meyer.
Congregation Habonim - founded by refugees on the first anniversary of the Kristallnacht, this congregation occupies a classic post-World War II suburban style synagogue at 44 West 66th Street just off of Central Park West.
Apple Bank - formerly Central Savings Bank, a Florentine palazzo at Broadway and 73rd, with a magnificent Roman banking hall, one of New York's classic interior spaces, York & Sawyer, architects, ironwork by Samuel Yellin, 1928. Upper floors converted to luxury condominium apartments.
Claremont Riding Academy - In 2007, after 115 years of use, the last public stables in Manhattan, this National Register building on 89th Street, just east of Amsterdam, closed its doors for good. The subsequent interior gutting for conversion to residential use has halted.
The former East River Savings Bank at Amsterdam and 96th Street (Walker & Gillette, 1927) is a classical temple now housing a drugstore, locally termed "The Aspirineum" and "The First National Bank of CVS"
Joan of Arc Monument - a monument to the 15th-century French heroine bestrides a horse on a crest of Riverside Drive at 93rd Street.
St Agnes Branch Library - this Carnegie Endowment-financed New York Public Library branch on Amsterdam Avenue, just north of 81st St - which completed a restoration and modernization - housed the system's original Library for the Blind.
Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial - honors Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy's, and his wife, who lived in a mansion on West End Avenue and 105th Street, and died on the RMS Titanic, in triangular Straus Park at Broadway, West End Avenue and West 106th Street. The model for the sculpture was also the muse for the Maine Monument, 57 blocks south on Broadway, at the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park.
The Upper West Side has been a setting for many films and television shows because of its pre-War architecture, colorful community and rich cultural life. Ever since Edward R. Murrow went "Person-to-Person" live, the length of Central Park West in the 1950s, West Siders scarcely pause to gape at on-site trailers, and jump their skateboards over coaxial cables. At one time it seemed that one or another of the various Law & Order shows took up all the available parking spaces in the neighborhood. Woody Allen's film Hannah and Her Sisters captures that quintessential Upper West Side flavor of rambling high-ceilinged apartments, bursting at the seams with books and other cultural artifacts.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) Hannah's parents' apartment is shown on Riverside and 86th Street, and near the end of the film Woody Allen's character is seen walking along Broadway between 92nd and 93rd Streets and then entering the Metro Theatre at Broadway between 99th and 100th Streets.
Heartburn (1986), finds Meryl Streep's character taking refuge in her father's spacious apartment at the Apthorp on 79th Street and Broadway after her marriage fails; author Nora Ephron, on whose novel the film was based, was an Apthorp resident at the time.
Hitch (film) (2005), starts with Will Smith's character Hitch, exiting 865 West End Avenue, 102nd Street, apartment building.
The House on 92nd Street (1945), though set on the Upper East Side at 92nd/Madison, the film is based on the true story of Nazi spies operating out of an Upper West Side boarding house on 90th Street between Amsterdam/Columbus.
Little Manhattan (2005) – includes scenes from the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West, Broadway at 72nd Street, and Septuagesimo Uno - the city's smallest public park, located on W. 71st Street between Amsterdam and West End Avenues.
I Am Legend (2007) – featuring Will Smith, the now demolished Red Cross building on 66th and Amsterdam was used for many indoor "zombie" scenes.
Margaret (2011) – featuring Matt Damon, in the opening scene 17-year-old Manhattan student Lisa Cohen, shopping on the Upper West Side, interacts with bus driver Gerald Maretti as she runs alongside his moving bus.
Music and Lyrics (2007) – featuring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. The area around 72nd Street which forms the backdrop for Grant's apartment. The restaurant scene was shot at La Fenice at 69th and Broadway.
The Warriors (1979) – The Warriors emerge from the 72nd street subway station (Baseball Furie's Turf) and run to Riverside Park, where they easily defeat The Baseball Furies. The meeting at the beginning of the film is also conducted in Riverside Park, though it is mislabeled as Van Cortlandt Park.
West Side Story (1961) – takes place in tenements where Lincoln Center is today, around 66th Street
Lynn Oliver had his recording studio sandwiched next to the New Yorker Bookshop and Benny's on 89th Street and Broadway. Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, and Stan Getz, among others, could be seen ducking into his alley-like studio to practice and hangout. Oliver's credits are found on a few classic cuts from the '60s.
^"Upper West Side", nymag.com. Accessed May 10, 2009. "Boundaries: Extends north from Columbus Circle at 59th Street up to 110th Street, and is bordered by Central Park West and Riverside Park."
^Eric W. Sanderson, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City, 2009, map "Habitat Suitability for People" p. 111.
^Sanderson 2009, map "Native American Fires" p. 127.
^A colonial brick house with a hipped roof, above a lawn neatly enclosed by a white picket fence sloping down to the Bloomingdale Road appears in a daguerreotype of c. 1848 that was sold at Sotheby's New York, 30 March 2009.
^Waxman, Sarah. "The History of the Upper West Side", NY.com. Accessed July 7, 2007. "Home to such venerable New York landmarks as Lincoln Center, Columbia University, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Dakota Apartments, and Zabar's food emporium, the Upper West Side stretches from 59th Street to 125th Street, including Morningside Heights. It is bounded by Central Park on the east and the Hudson River on the west."
^"Summer Reading Chronicle", The New York Times, August 13, 2009. Accessed July 8, 2018. "In this era of supersize children's books, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me looks positively svelte.... It is 1979 on the Upper West Side of New York City, and Miranda, a sixth grader, is telling us, or rather someone in particular, about the events of the previous few months -- 'trying to map out the story you asked me to tell.'"
^Salikof, Ken. "When New York was bad, the writing was good", New York Daily News, January 27, 2012. Accessed July 8, 2018. "Looking back, though, the one author who seems to have been plugged directly into the zeitgeist was James Mills. Originally a writer for Life magazine, his groundbreaking non-fiction account of the junkie hangout at 72nd St. and Broadway, The Panic in Needle Park, put a human face to the urban drug epidemic and was made into a movie directed by former fashion photographer Jerry Schatzberg (and gave a young New York actor named Al Pacino his first starring role)."