History of Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood:
By: Kirkley Greenwell
Times Square and West 42nd Street have gotten recent face-lifts, but there is one neighboring area that still enjoys being rough around the edges: Hell's Kitchen. Loosely defined as the district west of 8th Avenue between 34th and 59th Streets, Hell's Kitchen has a history as colorful as its name. Though the neighborhood now has a reputation for restaurants rather than riots, many of the locals can recall the darker past of Hell's Kitchen history.
For many years, Hell's Kitchen was famous for its fights. From ax-handle arguments over clotheslines to race riots, violence was a way of life.The area's name itself speaks volumes. No one can pin down the exact origin of the label, but some refer to a tenement on 54th 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. The truth is difficult to uncover, since the West Side was peppered with menacing nicknames like Battle Row and the House of Blazes (where arson was a favorite form of entertainment), so Hell's Kitchen was just another way of describing a place that was hotter than hell. The expression was possibly an import: a similar slum also existed in London and was known as Hell's Kitchen. Whatever the origin of the name, it fit. Hell's Kitchen was troubled by violence and general disorder from an early point in its history. In 1851 the Hudson River Railroad opened a station at West 30th Street, and the development of the railway brought factories, lumberyards, slaughterhouses and tenements to house the numerous immigrant workers. Poverty and close quarters bred ill will between neighbors, and riots erupted between the Irish Catholics and Protestants as well as between the Irish and African-Americans. Eventually, gangs such as the Gophers and later the Westies ruled the streets. Hell’s Kitchen also served as an appropriate setting for one of the most famous gang rivalries of all: the Sharks and the Jets in Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.