Tag Archives: Hell’s Kitchen

The back yard is gentrifying

11th Avenue is no longer cheap rent

11th Avenue is no longer cheap rent

A routine Sunday errand in our Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City–to purchase a few indoor plants at the local nursery–became a lesson in the fast-moving gentrification of all parts of Manhattan. The nursery, Chelsea Garden Center (at 11th Avenue and West 44th Street looking north, above) got its start in 1984 about 20 blocks south of the current location; it has moved numerous times as rising rents and development pressure became too much for this type of small business. It had been located in Chelsea, East Village/Bowery, and the Meatpacking District; all of these had been bywords for affordable or even cheap living, but are now filled with luxury condos and boutique hotels. The far west side of Hell’s Kitchen would have seemed even 10 years ago to be fairly immune to the extreme gentrification seen in other neighborhoods, but no more. The nursery is finally giving up on Manhattan and is moving to Brooklyn; the landlord will not renew the lease and is instead selling to a developer which will result in another high-rise similar to the recently built one seen in the background of the above photo.

A new west side

A new west side

A lot of the development pressure is coming from the nearby, massive Hudson Yards project, where multiple towers, thousands of housing units, a park, and millions of square feet of office and retail are displacing rail yards, warehouses and old tenement apartments. The picture above shows the first pieces of Hudson Yards under construction in the background, with the MTA‘s new transit stop–the terminus of the 7 line–to the right in the foreground (New Yorkers, ever- vigilant about occupying public space, are holding a protest unrelated to the development).

Rent a 1-BR for $4500/MO

Rent a 1-BR for $4500/MO

The new subway stop is the City’s gift to the developers; the far west side has long been underserved by transit which has, until recently, kept rents low and discouraged major developments: the neighborhood was just too difficult to get to. But all that has changed in the last decade or so, with people being more and more willing to live or dine further from the center of town. Above is a new 71-story luxury rental tower (the Sky) underway across the street from the nursery. Its steep rents and plush amenities are the opposite of what the gritty neighborhood was known for a few short years ago.

Sky Pool

The new Hell’s Kitchen

Above, a rendering of the pool terrace at the new rental building. In Birmingham, most (though not all: see Park Place downtown) of our new residential and mixed-use developments are displacing underused warehouses, surface parking or filling long-empty historic buildings. Rarely are local, family-owned businesses extant in these locations, and new people moving in generally add to, rather than displace, existing populations. Not so in many areas of Manhattan; the musicians, artists, and working class that populated Hell’s Kitchen are hard to find anymore. It’s like a hyper-luxury veil is being draped across the entire island. Real estate has always been vicious and kinetic in this town, but the current pace feels historic as the average sales price for a Manhattan apartment has reached almost $2 million.

But how do we carry the plants from Brooklyn

But how do we carry the plants home from Brooklyn

With the nursery leaving Manhattan (above, the announcement posted at the counter), there will be no other true plant store within walking distance from our apartment. OK, not a huge deal–we can still travel another 20 blocks, but it begs the question: where are all the thousands of high-rent occupants coming to the neighborhood going to get houseplants? The employee ringing us up (also pictured above), when posed that question, smiled and said “Well, you can always go to Home Depot.” Of course he was being sarcastic, but the loss of small neighborhood businesses as bank branches and chain drug stores proliferate is causing Manhattan to be just a little duller, and a little less diverse, with each passing year.

Lesser layers

Someone held his ground

While the newest, the biggest, or the most fashionable are always interesting guideposts to urban wanderers, it can be just as satisfying to dwell on the older, the smaller, and the old-fashioned. The contrast is of course what makes urban neighborhoods interesting; too much of one or the other and that palpable tension gives way to monotony. Luckily New York City still has plenty of these lesser elements: as an example, see the small 5-story tenement building above at the corner of West 57th Street and 9th Avenue, which used to be part of a larger block of similar structures back when the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood had lots of cheap housing for new immigrants in the late 19th century. In later years, the neighbors were demolished for large, modern apartment buildings but this one clings on to the corner, a reminder of a much earlier era.

My, how you haven’t changed

On a quiet East 4th Street in the Noho neighborhood is the Merchant’s House Museum (above), a townhouse built in 1832 whose upper-middle class family occupied it continuously–with little redecoration or renovation since the 1850’s–before leaving the house and its contents as a museum in 1936. Considered one of the finest Greek Revival-style row houses extant in the US, it’s one of those places you can walk by daily and never notice amidst the busy city that grew up around it.

An upwardly mobile microcosm

A testament to the fast pace of this city, the house was built on spec in a newly desirable location; within a few decades neighbors were leaving for leafier places further north but the Tredwell family stubbornly stayed put as both neighborhood and family fortune declined. Stepping inside is like finding a time capsule filled with pier glass mirrors and Victorian Rococo furniture.

Nary a chain to be found

A similar time capsule is found in the Fort George neighborhood at the upper tip of Manhattan island, where the ubiquitous chain stores seen in trendier locales are nonexistent (above). In the commercial center, you can buy a bottle of rose at the wine shop, enjoy a tuna melt at the lunch counter across the street, and then treat yourself to a fresh cookie at the bakery. The place has a faded charm that’s blissfully remote from the faster pace of neighborhoods below it.

Northern France, meet Hudson River

Emphasizing the remoteness is the remarkable Cloisters Museum (above), administered by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Fort George landmark was designed in the 1930’s to incorporate architectural elements–including entire courtyards–from medieval European churches and abbeys. It has a breathtaking collection of medieval art as well, all surrounded by parkland facing the Hudson River.


The austere, quiet interior is punctuated by stone portals, priceless tapestries, and carved reliquaries (above). It’s an easy way to transport oneself back 800 years.

What a Bronx address used to look like

Finally, a trip to the Woodlawn neighborhood of the Bronx reveals the Van Cortlandt House (above), nestled within Van Cortlandt Park, which is part of a former colonial wheat plantation of thousands of acres. The house,constructed in 1748, is furnished with family and period pieces. You can stand in the bedroom where General Washington slept and look out over the fields where both British and American troops gathered during the Revolutionary War. You can also see how the house’s position near Broadway, the Boston and Albany Post Roads, and the Hudson River were essential to the Van Cortlandt family’s mercantile wealth. As adjacent farms were sold to developers in the 19th century following the extension of subway lines, this house and property were instead preserved. And happily so, as visiting it gives us a deeper understanding of how this great city came to prosper.



Tale of two cities

Rather a different scale

New York City and Birmingham do not, for many if not most people, share much in common. One is bursting at the seams with new arrivals and fantastic mass transit; the other struggles with slow growth and not much transit at all. But these two cities happen to be your author’s favorites in the US–and a new opportunity has arisen to take advantage of both (a little corner of a new residential development, above at 54th Street and 10th Avenue on Manhattan‘s west side, will be the new pied-a-terre). We will be looking for ways to enjoin projects and resources in the Big Apple with those we continue to work on in the ‘Ham. We will also be racking up some frequent flyer miles.

It can all fit, I promise

In the meantime, the hunt for apartments in that famously space-poor city makes the recent New York Times article about micro-units all the more relevant. The image above illustrates that City’s effort to revise the local building code–which currently stipulates a minimum of 450 SF for a studio–to allow micro-units of less than 300 SF (full disclosure: your author lived in a 3rd floor walk-up apartment in the East Village which measured a whopping 340 SF). A competition is now underway for designers to produce creative visions for a model micro-unit apartment building, which could then set the stage for more plentiful (and hopefully more affordable) housing in New York.

So, stay tuned for more regarding the new Birmingham-New York City axis. It’s bound to be exciting.

[images courtesy The New York Times]