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Hell's Kitchen, also known as Clinton and Midtown West by real estate brokers, is a neighborhood of Manhattanmarker in New York Citymarker that covers roughly the area between 34th Street and 57th Street, from 8th Avenuemarker to the Hudson River.

The neighborhood provides transportation, hospital, and warehouse infrastructure support to the Midtown Manhattan business district. Its gritty reputation—which led to its portentous name—gave it depressed real estate prices relative to much of the rest of Manhattan until the early 1990s.

Throughout its history, Hell's Kitchen has figured prominently in the New York Citymarker underworld, especially in the Irish American Mob. Gangsters like Owney Madden, bootleggers like Bill Dwyer, and Westies leaders James Coonan and Mickey Featherstone were Hell's Kitchen natives. The rough and tumble days on the West Side figure prominently in Damon Runyon's stories. Various Manhattan ethnic conflicts formed the basis of the musical and film West Side Story.

Once a bastion of poor and working-class Irish Americans, over the last three decades of the 20th century and into the new century, Hell's Kitchen has undergone tremendous gentrification as a result of its proximity to Midtown. The 1969 edition of the Plan for New York City book authored by the City Planning Commission stated that people of modest means were being driven from the area by development pressures due to the Midtown location. Today, a great number of actors reside in the neighborhood due to its proximity to the Broadway theaters and Actors Studiomarker training school.


While there are no hard and fast rules for defining a neighborhood since neighborhoods have neither formal legal standing nor do they constitute a census-designated place, "Hell's Kitchen" generally refers to the area from 34th to 59th street, starting west of 8th Avenue because city zoning regulations limit buildings to 6 stories high (although exceptions are often made). As a result, most of the buildings are older, often walk-ups. For the most part the neighborhood encompasses the ZIP codes 10019 and 10036. The post office for 10019 is called Radio City Station, the original name for Rockefeller Centermarker on Sixth Avenuemarker.


Hell's Kitchen gear for sale in the Video Cafe on Ninth Avenue

Alternative names

Hell's Kitchen has stuck as the name of the neighborhood even though real estate developers have offered alternatives of Clinton and Midtown West or even "the Mid-West". The Clinton name originated in 1959 in an attempt to link the area to DeWitt Clinton Parkmarker at 52nd and 11th Avenue, named for the 19th century New York governor.

Hell's Kitchen

Several different explanations exist for the original name. An early use of the phrase appears in a comment Davy Crockett made about another notorious Irish slum in Manhattan, Five Pointsmarker. According to the Irish Cultural Society of the Garden City Area:
When, in 1835, Davy Crockett said, '"In my part of the country, when you meet an Irishman, you find a first-rate gentleman; but these are worse than savages; they are too mean to swab hell's kitchen," he was referring to the Five Points.

According to an article by Kirkley Greenwell, published online by the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association:
No one can pin down the exact origin of the label, but some refer to a tenement on 54th Street as the first "Hell's Kitchen." Another explanation points to an infamous building at 39th as the true original. A gang and a local dive took the name as well.... a similar slum also existed in London and was known as Hell's Kitchen. Whatever the origin of the name, it fit.

Local historian Mary Clark adds a probably apocryphal anecdote when she states the name:
...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," and said that the entire section was "probably the lowest and filthiest in the city." 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, after its proprietors. 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."

Public housing
Today, most residents of the area, and most New Yorkers in general, refer to the area as "Hell's Kitchen", with "Clinton" being the name favored by the municipality, "gentrifiers", and eager real estate agents.


Irish tenements

The beginnings of the neighborhood that would become known as Hell's Kitchen start in the mid 19th century, when immigrants from Irelandmarker, most of whom were refugees from the Great Famine, began settling on the west side of Manhattanmarker in shantytown along the Hudson River. Many of these immigrants found work on the docks nearby, or along the railroad which carried freight into the city along 11th Avenue.

After the American Civil War the population increased dramatically, as tenements were erected and increased immigration added to the neighborhood's congestion. Many in this poverty stricken area turned to gang life and the neighborhood soon became known as the "most dangerous area on the American Continent". At the turn of the century, the neighborhood was controlled by gangs, including the violent Gopher Gang led by the notorious Owney Madden.

The violence escalated during the 1920s, as Prohibition was implemented. The many warehouses in the district served as ideal breweries for the rumrunners who controlled the illicit liquor. Gradually the earlier gangs such as the Hell's Kitchen Gang were transformed into organized crime entities around the same time that Owney Madden became one of the most powerful mobsters in New Yorkmarker.

After the Repeal of Prohibition, many of the organized crime elements moved into other rackets, such as illegal gambling and union shakedowns. The postwar era was characterized by a flourishing waterfront, and work as a longshoreman was plentiful. By the end of the 1950s, however, the implementation of containerized shipping led to the decline of the West Side piers and many longshoremen found themselves out of work. In addition, the construction of the Lincoln Tunnel had devastated much of Hell's Kitchen to the south of 39th Street.

West Side Story

During the 1950s, immigrants, notably Puerto Ricans, moved into the neighborhood. The conflict between the Irish, Italians, and the Puerto Ricans is highlighted in West Side Story. The movie was filmed from 65th Street and 69th Street between Amsterdam and West End Avenue. Part of the sites seen are old P. S. 94 on the corner of 68th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and St. Michael's Church. The movie was filmed during the demolition of this area that was to become Lincoln Centermarker. In 1959, an aborted rumble between rival Irish and Puerto Rican gangs led to the notorious "Capeman" murders in which two innocent teenagers were killed.

By 1965, Hell's Kitchen was the home base of the Westies, a deeply violent Irish American crew aligned with the Gambino crime family. It was not until the early 1980s that widespread gentrification began to alter the demographics of the longtime working-class Irish American neighborhood. The 1980s also saw an end to the Westies' reign of terror, when the gang lost most of its power after the RICO convictions of most of its principals in 1986. Yet, even though their level of violence and influence has been lowered significantly, the Irish Westies remain the most active criminal organization operating in the area.

Today Hell's Kitchen is an increasingly upscale neighborhood of actors and affluent young professionals, as well as residents from the 'old days'. It has also acquired a large diverse community as residents have moved north from Chelseamarker.

Special Clinton district

Although the neighborhood is immediately west of New York's main business district, development lagged for more than 30 years because of strict zoning rules called the Special Clinton District designed to protect the neighborhood's low-rise character.

When the third incarnation of Madison Square Gardenmarker at 50th and Eighth Avenue was torn down in 1968, New York developed a master plan calling for two to three thousand hotel rooms, 25,000 apartments, of office space, and a new super liner terminal in the neighborhood which it described as "blocks of antiquated and deteriorating structures of every sort." During this time a proposal was made to build the world's tallest building on the Madison Square Garden site and a massive convention center at 44th Street and the Hudson River.

Residents organized to fight the developments. In October, 1974 the Planning Commission approved the establishment of the Special Clinton District and Mayor Ed Koch moved the Jacob K.marker Javits Convention Centermarker to 33rd and the Hudson River.

The District severely restricted development in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. The world's tallest building was not to rise and its Madison Square site was to remain a parking lot until 1989.

Provisions of the District:

The SCD was originally split into four areas:

  • Preservation Area: 43rd to 56th Streets between 8th and 10th Avenues. R-7 density, 6-story height limit on new buildings, suggested average apartment size of two bedrooms (this was a response to the fact that between 1960 and 1970 developers had torn down 2,300 family-sized units and replaced them with 1,500 smaller units).

  • Perimeter Area: 8th Avenue, 42nd and 57th Streets. Bulkier development permitted to counterbalance the downzoning in the preservation area.

  • Mixed Use Area: 10th and 11th Avenues between 43rd and 50th Streets. Mixed residential and manufacturing. New residential development only permitted in conjunction with manufacturing areas.

  • Other Areas: West of 11th Avenue. Industrial and waterfront uses.

The mixed use area and other area are now combined into "Other areas."

Building height in the Preservation Area cannot exceed or seven stories, whichever is less.

Special permits are required for all demolition and construction in the SCD, including demolition of "any sound housing in the District" and any rehabilitation that increases the number of dwellings in a structure. New developments, conversions, or alterations which create new units or zero bedroom units are required to contain at least 20% two bedroom apartments with a minimum room size of . Alterations which reduce the percentage of two bedroom units are not permitted unless the resulting building meets the 20% two bedroom requirement.

In the original provisions no building could be demolished unless it was found to be unsound.


Windermere Apartment at 57th and Ninth
As the gentrification pace increased, there were numerous reports of problems between landlords and tenants. The most extreme example was the eight story Windermere complex at the southwest corner of Ninth Avenue and 57th Street—two blocks from Central Park.

Built in 1881, it is the second-oldest large apartment house in Manhattanmarker. All the major New York newspapers covered the trials that sent the Windermere's managers to jail. According to former tenants and court papers, rooms were ransacked, doors were ripped out, prostitutes were moved in, and tenants received death threats in the campaign to empty the building. Its landlord Alan B. Weissman made top billing in the 1985 edition of The Village Voice annual list, "The Dirty Dozen: New York's Worst Landlords, surpassed only by Traill." He too was never convicted of anything.

Most of the tenants eventually settled and moved out of the building. As of May 2006, seven tenants remained and court orders protecting the tenants and the building allowed it to remain in derelict condition even as the surrounding neighborhood was experiencing a dramatic burst of demolition and redevelopment. Finally, in September 2007, the fire department evacuated those remaining seven residents from the building citing dangerous conditions and padlocked the front door. In 2008 the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the owners of the building, who include the Toa Construction Company of Japan, must repair it.

September 11th

While almost all fire stations in Manhattan lost firefighters in the September 11 attacks, the hardest hit station was Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue which lost 15 firefighters. Given its proximity to Midtown, the station had specialized in skyscraper fires and rescues and in 2007 was the second busiest firehouse in New York City, with 9,685 runs between the two companies.

Memorial to 15 firefighters from West 48th Street station who perished on September 11, 2001

Its patch reads "Pride of Midtown" and "Never Missed a Performance". Memorials dot the station's exterior walls and a granite memorial is in a park to its north.

Also Ladder 21, the "Pride of Hell's Kitchen", located on 38th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, and stationed with Engine 34, lost 7 firefighters on September 11. In addition, on September 11, Engine 26 was temporarily stationed with Engine 34/Ladder 21 and lost many firefighters themselves.

Developer Larry Silverstein made part of his fortune that eventually earned him the lease for the World Trade Centermarker by building and managing buildings in the neighborhood. Silverstein's architect David Childs who is designing the Freedom Towermarker designed the Time Warner Centermarker and Worldwide Plazamarker buildings in the neighborhood. Signature features of those towers are slated for the Freedom Tower.

Boom times

Developers have constantly attempted to chip away at the zoning rules.

The David Childs designed Worldwide Plazamarker established a beach head when it was built in 1989 at the Madison Square site between 49th and 50th Streets and between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

The city under Michael Bloomberg relaxed zoning rules all over the city in the wake of the September 11 attacks. This led to a real estate building boom with Hell's Kitchen getting some of the biggest projects in the city including the Hearst Towermarker at 56th Street at Eighth Avenue.

An indication of how fast the neighborhood became hot was a 2004 transaction involving the Howard Johnson's Motel at 52nd and Eighth Avenue. In June, Vikram Chatwal's Hampshire Hotel Group bought the motel and adjoining SIR (Studio Instrument Rental) building for $9 million. In August, they sold the property to ElAd Properties for about $43 million. Elad, which owns Plaza Hotelmarker, is in the process of building The Link, a luxury 44-story building.

Actors' neighborhood

Manhattan Plaza performing artist residence and Film Center Cafe on Ninth Avenue, looking south.
Hell's Kitchen's gritty reputation has meant that housing prices there tended to be cheaper than elsewhere in Manhattan.

Given the lower costs and its proximity to Broadway theaters, the neighborhood is a haven for aspiring actors. Many famous actors and entertainers have resided there, including Bob Hope, James Dean, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Alicia Keys, Madonna, John Michael Bolger, and Sylvester Stallone. This is due in large part to the Actors Studiomarker on West 44th, which rose to prominence under Lee Strasberg and is famed for its method acting style.

Manhattan Plazamarker at 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues was built in the 1970s to house artists. It consists of two 46-story towers with 70 percent of the apartments set aside for performing artists. The Actors Templemarker and Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Churchmarker with its Actors' Chapel also testify to the long-time presence of show business people.

The neighborhood is also home to a number of broadcast and music-recording studios, including the CBS Broadcast Centermarker at 524 West 57th Street (also the home of Black Entertainment Television's 106 & Park show), Sony Music Studios at 460 West 54th Street, Manhattan Center Studiosmarker at 311 West 34th Street, and Right Track Recording's Studio A509 orchestral recording facility at West 38th Street and 10th Avenue. The syndicated Montel Williams Show is also taped locally at the Unitel Studios, 433 W. 53rd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Comedy Central's satirical program The Daily Show is also taped in Hell's Kitchen. In the summer of 2005, it moved from its quarters at 54th Street and 10th Avenue to a new studio in the neighborhood, at 733 11th Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets. The old location at 54th and 10th is now home to The Colbert Report.

The headquarters of Troma studios is located in Hell's Kitchen.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opened at 55th Street and Ninth Avenue in 2006.

The Clinton Community Garden is a result of the actors living in the area. Since they mostly work at night in the local theaters, they took time to create a garden in a rubble-strewn lot. Eventually it became a selling point for gentrification, providing real estate agents with another selling point.

Transportation center

Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd and Eighth Avenue
About every conceivable form of transportation, including horses, ocean going ships, and airplanes, has some form of infrastructure in the neighborhood.

Amtrak train in trench
  • Trains - Hell's Kitchen begins northwest of Penn Stationmarker. Amtrak trains going into the station run along a sunken corridor west of 10th Avenue. It is not uncommon to hear their train whistles in the neighborhood. During the post-9/11 building boom, apartment houses have been built over sections of the train tracks. Hell's Kitchen is bounded on the east by the Eighth Avenue subway line, the westernmost NYC subway line in Midtown. The MTA is extending the Flushing Line west from its current terminus at Times Square to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center at 34th and 11th.

Food diversity

Restaurant Row on West 46th Street
Ninth Avenue is noted for its many ethnic restaurants. The Ninth Avenue Association's International Food Festival, stretches through the Kitchen from 37th to 57th Streets every May, usually on the third weekend of the month. It has been going on since 1974 and is one of the oldest street fairs in the city. In addition to the usual American , Caribbean, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Irish, Mexican and Thai restaurants, there are multiple Afghan, Argentine, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Turkish, and Vietnamese restaurants.Restaurant Row is located on West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

Novels based in Hell's Kitchen

Novels based in Hell's Kitchen include:
  • Family Matters (2006) by Ira BerkowitzBerkowitz, Ira. "Ira Berkowtiz." Ira Berkowitz. Random House, Web. 13 Oct 2009. .
  • Old Flame (2008) by Ira BerkowitzBerkowitz, Ira. "Ira Berkowtiz." Ira Berkowitz. Random House, Web. 13 Oct 2009. .
  • Sinners' Ball (2009) by Ira BerkowitzBerkowitz, Ira. "Ira Berkowtiz." Ira Berkowitz. Random House, Web. 13 Oct 2009. .

Notable residents

Notable current and former residents of Hell's Kitchen include:

Hell's Kitchen mobsters

Childhood friend of Jimmy Coonan and member of "The Westies." Coonan and Mickey Featherstone used Schultz to help spread the Westies reign of terror throughout Manhattan during the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Coonan used to boast that Schultz could "rip someone's eyeball out before they knew they were missing it." Schultz was shot to death March 27, 1980 coming out of a Westies hangout, the Blarney Stone Bar on 8th. avenue, by another childhood friend and Westie, Richie Ryan.

Fictional Characters


  1. Benson, Michael R. "CLINTON FRETS OVER THAT GLEAM IN DEVELOPERS' EYES", The New York Times, December 22, 1985. Accessed February 17, 2008. "Hell's Kitchen, which stretched from 40th to 57th Streets and from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson, is now called Clinton. The modern district reaches south to 34th Street."
  2. Bayor, Ronald H. and Meagher, Timothy J. (1997). The New York Irish, pp. 217-18. JHU Press. ISBN 0801857643.
  3. English, T.J. (2006). The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob, p. 39. Macmillan. ISBN 0312362846.
  4. NYC Landmark report
  5. NY Times Article 9/22/2007
  6. Runs and Workers - 2007
  7. Berkowitz, Ira. Family Matters. 1st. Boston: Justin, Charles & Co. Publishing, 2006. Print.
  8. Berkowitz, Ira. Old Flame. 1st. Boston: Random House, 2008. Print.
  9. Berkowitz, Ira. Sinners' Ball. 1st. Boston: Random House, 2009. Print.
  10. Jamieson, Wendell. "CITY LORE; Hard-Boiled Tales, Told by a Gentleman", The New York Times, January 1, 2006. Accessed August 11, 2009. "BENJAMIN APPEL was an author of more than 25 novels from 1934 to 1977, many of them set in New York. He was raised in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan and lived much of his life in Roosevelt, N.J., but after he moved he still came back to New York often."
  11. Staff. "Second Cup Cafe: Vanessa Carlton", CBS News, November 17, 2007. Accessed August 10, 2009. "A few years ago, this three-time Grammy nominee was living in New York's Hell's Kitchen and working as a waitress in Lower Manhattan between performances at open mic nights in the city's clubs."
  12. McShane, Larry. "The real Kramer says actor no racist: But Richards is 'paranoid,' 'very wound-up'", Chicago Sun-Times, November 26, 2006. Accessed August 11, 2009. "The real Kramer lived for 10 years in a Hell's Kitchen apartment across the hall from Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, and his life became the framework for Richards' quirky, bumbling Seinfeld sidekick."
  13. Mervis, Scott. "Music Preview: Through her first several records, Alicia Keys has a golden touch", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 17, 2008. Accessed August 10, 2009. "Keys, a classically trained pianist raised in Hell's Kitchen by her Italian-Scottish mother, spent a few years after she dropped out of Columbia University trying to launch her pop career with songs on soundtracks."
  14. Allen, Kevin. "Mullen brothers come long way from Hell's Kitchen", USA Today, February 7, 1989. Accessed August 11, 2009.
  15. Brantley, Ben; Severo, Richard. "Jerry Orbach, Stage and TV Actor, Is Dead at 69", The New York Times, December 30, 2004. Accessed August 11, 2009.
  16. Homberger, Eric. "Mario Puzo: The author of the Godfather, the book the Mafia loved", The Guardian, July 5, 1999. Accessed August 10, 2009. "Born the son of illiterate Neapolitan immigrants, and one of 12 children, Puzo grew up in Hell's Kitchen on the west side of Manhattan."
  17. via Associated Press, "'Tough guy' George raft dies of emphysema at 85", The Milwaukee Sentinel, November 25, 1980. Accessed August 10, 2009. "After growing up in New York's tough Hell's Kitchen area, Raft was a boxer, electrician and baseball player before landing a job as a dancer in nightclubs in the 1920s."
  18. Frankel, Bruce. "Rourke sits in on trial of pal Gotti", USA Today, March 17, 1992. Accessed August 10, 2009. "The bad-boy actor, who grew up in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan, spent the morning in court on a 'family - the Gotti family - pass, following transcripts of conversations between Gotti, Salvatore 'Sammy Bull' Gravano and others."
  19. # The Westies, T.J. English (1991) St. Martin's Paperbacks ISBN 0-312-92429-1.

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