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The History of the Upper West Side

by | Sep 22, 2014

The Upper West Side is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan, New York City, that lies between Central Park and the Hudson River and between West 59th Street and West 110th Street. The area is a primarily residential neighborhood filled with brownstone and luxury apartment buildings. The Upper West Side is home to New York landmarks such as Lincoln Center, Columbia University, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Dakota Apartments, and Zabar’s food emporium.
NYC Real EstateDutch immigrants settled the Upper West Side in the early and mid-seventeenth century with resistance from the then-residents of the north end of the island, the Munsee Indians. Expansion of the Dutch settlers temporarily ended in the 1650s due to warfare and raids by the Munsees, leaving the Dutch (Bloomingdale).
Bloomingdale, being mainly farmland and countryside, was a large producer of tobacco at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1703, Bloomingdale Road -which would eventually become Broadway- was built built to handle the increase in commerce. The road ran from 23rd Street to 114th Street.

Bloomingdale’s relative isolation became desired for country estates for wealthy merchants, and by the late eighteenth century, fine homes and farms accented the once isolated area. In the fall of 1776, Harlem Heights hosted a battle in the War of Independence, notable only for its strategic unimportance.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Bloomingdale Road hosted New York’s most ambitious homes. By the the middle of the nineteenth century, parts of the Upper West Side had become lower class. The Hudson River Railroad soon ran along the riverbank and with the creation of Central park, many squatters moved their shack westward to the UWS. Parts of the area gave way to squatters’ housing, boarding houses, and taverns.

Still being considered the country, the “West End” remained largely undeveloped throughout the nineteenth century, even with its increased metropolitan feel.  Broadway, bit-by-bit, began to replace the once “Bloomingdale Road”.

Gentrification of the Upper West Side began in the late nineteenth century with Columbia University’s relocation to Morningside Heights, using land once held by the Bloomingdale Asylum. By 1910, high-rises began their transition to the area with grand projects such as The Dakota and The San Remo. Columbus Avenue became known for commerce, Amsterdam known for low rent housing, Riverside Drive for its elegant residences, and West End for its quiet neighborhood feel. Broadway hosted an odd collection of hotels and vacant lots owned by developers waiting for an economic boom.

The completion of the subway in 1904 citified the West End landscape and pushed out the homeowner-oriented rural building trends which dominated the area for half a century and made way for apartment housing.

NYC Real EstateThe building of Lincoln Center stretched the neighborhood boundaries from 65th Street down to 59th Street and the old rail yards were replaced by the Riverside South residential project and a southward extension of Riverside Park. The Bloomingdale district is now the site for Columbia University and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. It once hosted the most ambitious free-standing home ever built in Manhattan, the Schwav Mansion, which has since vanished. “Bloomingdale” is still used to reference the area from 96th Street to 110th Street from Riverside Park to Amsterdam Avenue. Before Columbia relocated from the Upper East Side, the area was also referred to as Asylum Hill after the Bloomingdale Asylum which used to be housed there.

The influx of cultural diversity in the fifties and sixties has kept the area demographically diverse. BecauseNYC Real Estate of the diversity, the Upper West Side has retained a liberal constituency and a mostly bohemian attitude. Urban renewal, started by Robert Moses in the mid-fifties, began the UWS revival. Through mass unpopularity in the 1970s, the neighborhood retained a community and neighborhood feel, which attracted artists, writers, and young families who were also attracted to relatively low rents. The wealth of the eighties renewed the area, raising rents and drawing yuppies and their accompanying incomes; this influx prompted renovation of the grand old buildings of the earlier era.

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