On our Get Acquainted Tours of New York City we visit Hell’s Kitchen on our way up to Central Park.
On our tours of New York City we see how this is a metropolis of many varied, interesting neighborhoods.
Hell’s Kitchen is a large area, stretching from 34th Street up to 57th Street, and from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. It was originally populated by a diverse group of mostly impoverished Irish, Scots, Germans, African Americans, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, Puerto Ricans, and others. Supposedly it got it’s name from the cops who patroled it, according to local historian Mary Clark the name Hell’s Kitchen:
“…first appeared in print on September 22, 1881 when a New York Times reporter went to the West 30s with a police guide to get details of a multiple murder there. He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and 10th Avenue as “Hell’s Kitchen,” According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell’s Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets. Another version ascribes the name’s origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil’s Kitchen, But the most common version traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, “This place is hell itself,” to which Fred replied, “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.”
I live in Hell’s Kitchen, on the fifth floor of a five story walk-up on West 43rd Street, off of 8th Avenue. The building has stood for over a hundred years. According to neighborhood lore, Al Capone lived at XX9 in the 1920′s. He was doing business with the nastiest gang in Hell’s Kitchen, the Gophers. One Lung Curran, Happy Jack Mulraney, Stumpy Malarkey, and Goo Goo Knox were some of the fellas that Al had to sit across the table from. They controlled the West Side of Manhattan, from 4th Street up to 42nd Street from 10th Avenue to the Hudson River. Their gold mine was the New York Central rail yards, where they pilfered and extorted a fortune.
The building is also mentioned in Godfather I. For those who don’t remember the Godfather cut by cut, it was the scene after Michael kills McClusky and the Corleone’s have to go to the “mattresses.” In the car, the boys say “where we goin’ now?” Peter Clemenza, played by Richard Castellano fishes around for a piece of paper in his top pocket, pulls it out, looks at it and says, XX9 West 43rd Street. My freakin’ address! Neighborhood lore states that Richard Castellano lived in my apartment in his salad days.
When I first moved into the Kitchen it was not a very nice place, it was rough and edgy. Show World, the world’s largest peep show was right around the corner on Eighth Avenue, which was in it’s degenerate prime, Eighth was so funky that if I had to go uptown, I’d walk over to Ninth to avoid it. Coming home late at night from a gig (At the time I was a wedding videographer) was always an adventure. There would be menacing dudes hanging on the stoop, seemingly up to no good. I would exit the cab clutching a heavy monopod in my right hand, just in case. Heart pounding I’d whisper a little prayer once I’d gotten inside, thanking God for creating locks, and an outside and inside.
I lived on the first floor at the time, so I had bars on my windows and bolts on my doors. Outside my window was the view of a road that led into a parking lot. Under my bedroom window was a hidden niche off the alley. This little private space was well known to every hooker in the neighborhood, it allowed them to ply their trade right beneath my window. When my kids would come over to visit, I’d keep a real close eye on where they were in the house. Lest they should gander out the window and get an eyeful.
On summer nights, when I would lie in bed with the windows open, it seemed like the activities were going on right inside my crib. The question any sane person might ask is, why didn’t I move? And my response, as usual, would be, money! I had lucked into an impossible to find rent stabilized apartment. People would kill for what I had found, I wasn’t going anywhere, not if I wanted to live on the Rock. I hunkered down and prepared to live the best I could. Then, when I needed it the most, a miracle occurred, my landlord agreed to put in a fence across the outside niche, (if you click this link and scroll to 3:25 you will see my building and security perimeter that saved my soul. You’ll also meet my son) I was now living in a gated community. The quality of my life improved dramatically. The apartment itself was about 450 Sq Ft, which doesn’t seem like much, but as far as NYC apartments go it was big enough and cheap enough to allow me earn a modest living and enjoy the wondrous pleasures of NYC.
The neighborhood has completely changed. Now, when I give tours of New York City and the Kitchen I mention an article in the New York Times that raves about the real estate in Midtown West, of course the debate about a new name for The Kitchen goes on unabated. Should it be Clinton, or Midtown West? We grizzled veterans of the area are pretty much of one mind. We’ll keep calling it Hell’s Kitchen, you can call it what you like.