The History of Hell's Kitchen
One of New York City's Most Unique Neighborhoods
Hell’s Kitchen… more than a neighborhood… it’s a state of mind.
The story of Hell’s Kitchen can be told in many ways, and must be told in many ways; in poetry and fiction, in art and film, biographics, histories and photographs. It’s not one block, and it is. It’s not one area, because the sum total is greater than what can be seen in a certain space of any lifetime. For all of us who live here, it’s more than a narrative history, but the history is essential to knowing it.
Spanning the area from 34th Street to 59th Street and Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, and bordering our Theater District hotel, Hell’s Kitchen boasts a lurid and engaging history befitting its name. As is the case with many of New York City’s iconic neighborhoods, the history of Hell’s Kitchen covers centuries and is formed by the stories of those who helped mold the city into the bustling metropolis we enjoy today.
Largely settled by the Dutch in the 17th Century, what we now know has Hell’s Kitchen was originally a pastoral area marked by freshwater streams and grassy meadows. Decades later, in 1851, the Hudson River Railroad established a station at what is now 39th Street and 10th Avenue, bringing with it an influx of Irish and German immigrants moving into the area to work in the rail yards. As industry throughout the city thrived, Hell’s Kitchen became a hub for breweries, factories, slaughterhouses, brickyards, warehouses and docks.
The Tenement Era
By the start of the Civil War, more than 350,000 people inhabited the neighborhood, largely housed in poorly built tenement houses. Riots overtook the neighborhood in 1863, as residents took to the streets in protests of the Conscription Act. Chaos ensued, as the people of the neighborhood, as well as the infrastructure of the neighborhood itself, were assaulted at large. Estimates of those who died during the riots vary widely, from 2,000 up to 20,000, as countless others were injured and an estimated $5 million in property damage was done.
Homeless children were abundant in the years after the Civil War, forming the origins of what would become the notorious gangs of the Tenderloin District. From the infamous 19th Street Gang to the Gophers and the Dead Rabbits, gang activity contributed to the neighborhood’s gritty reputation.
The Decline of Industry
By the 1950s, the once flourishing industry on the waterfront began to decline, and many longshoremen in the neighborhood were out of work.
However, continued interest from the city and changing demographics during this time marked a changing of the tide for the neighborhood. With projects like the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and the curbing of organized crime by the 1980s, Hell’s Kitchen began to see an improvement in living conditions, combined with a growth of hotels, restaurants and arts hubs.
Today, the neighborhood is home to corporate headquarters for the likes of Kenneth Cole, Prada and more. Adjacency to the renowned theaters of Broadway and the Theater District made the area a hub for entertainers and artists of all kinds, and Hell’s Kitchen is now home a number of broadcast and music recording studios, as well as TV shows such as The Daily Show and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.Hell’s Kitchen is rich with history and now thriving entertainment community makes it one of New York City’s most unique and engaging neighborhoods. Experience it when you stay at our Midtown Manhattan hotel or schedule a walking tour to find out more.