Melds a mixture of families, single professionals, even seniors together into one desirable neighborhood. One can go out to eat in some of the city’s finest restaurants, sip coffee in the trendiest cafes, browse the fashionable stores, or venture to Central Park West to enjoy an afternoon of activity or peoplewatching. Locals genuinely care about the condition of their watching. community and are vocal about it, and with the proximity to Harlem and Columbia University, it’s not surprising that many former student and activist types tend to find their way here. A reassuring blend of old and new, and a bit more settled than TriBeCa or the East Village, the Upper West Side is a great alternative to other popular Manhattan neighborhoods, with train and bus transportation readily available to all areas. Much of the housing is pre-war, most buildings featuring doormen. Few of the apartments are condos. There are many skyscraper apartment buildings, but they intermingle with the good old-fashioned walkups that can be found throughout the neighborhood.
Just north and west of Central Park is Morningside Heights, where a cultural outpost grew at the end of the 19th century, thanks to the emergence of the relocated Columbia University, St. Luke’s Hospital and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The cluster of academic and religious institutions that developed here somehow kept these blocks stable during years when the surrounding neighborhoods were collapsing. More recently, West Side gentrification has reclaimed the section to the South, while areas north and east have not changed much. This is an uptown student neighborhood mainly; while less trendy than the Village, it remains fun, friendly and intellectual.
The Upper West Side was settled by Dutch immigrants in the early and mid- 17th century, though not without resistance from the Munsee Indians livingon the north end of Manhattan Island. Warfare temporarily ended northward expansion by the Dutch in the 1650s, leaving them with a stretch of land north of the city called Bloemendal (valley of flowers). Mainly farms and countryside, Bloomingdale was a large producer of tobacco at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1703, Bloomingdale Road, later to become the Boulevard, then Broadway, was built to handle the traffic required by increasing commerce. The road originated at what is now 23rd Street and stretched to 114th Street. By the late 18th century, many wealthy merchants had country estates in the isolated Bloomingdale, and fine homes were scattered about the area. In the fall of 1776, the War of Independence made its mark on this suburb in the Battle of Harlem Heights. The West End of the early 19th century consisted of small, distinct and independent villages. The wealthy estates continued to multiply, bringing elegant mansions that competed with the landscape. Despite the gridding and numbering of the streets in 1811, landholdings and natural obstructions prevented implementation until the end of the century. The 1850s creation of Central Park displaced the lower-income residents of the site, forcing them west. Each year, the growing population brought the suburb closer to the big city, and by the end of the Civil War, Bloemendal was assimilated. Though its metropolitan feel had increased, the West End remained largely underdeveloped throughout the 19th century. Projects such as the improvement and widening of Bloomingdale Road and its rebirth as the Boulevard, the laying of new sewage systems, and the extension of the elevated railroad up the West Side by way of Ninth Avenue were the fore-visions of land buyers and developers. Apartment buildings, which shot up throughout the late 19th century, were in many ways the key to the gentrification of the area. Real estate developers invested in such grand projects as the Dakota and the San Remo, and the avenues began to develop distinct characters: Columbus offered commerce; Amsterdam featured low-rent housing and small shops; Riverside Drive (opened in 1880) was alternately an elegant and seedy residential park-fronted strip; and West End was a quiet residential street. The Boulevard housed an odd collection of hotels and vacant lots belonging to developers who were just waiting for the economic boom that would hoist property values and merit grandscale construction. Apartment housing pushed out the homeowner-oriented row houses, which dominated the building trends of the West End for half a century, and began forming the Upper West Side landscape we know today. In addition, the subway system – the first in the country – which opened in 1904, revolutionized public transportation. Improved access bolstered the appeal of the once rural Upper West Side and furthered its complete “citification” by the 19th century’s close. In the 1890s, Columbia University relocated from the East Side to Morningside Heights. Columbia’s presence contributed to the already active cultural life and the rising intellectual/artistic trend on the Upper West Side. Artists and academics shared their community with the equally lively mob through the early decades of the 20th century. The roaring 20s found Riverside Drive and West End Avenue still wealthy, but lower-middle-class families remained on Broadway and in other areas living in neglected old buildings. From the early 1930s through the early 80s, development and construction stopped, and the Upper West Side’s popularity and social appeal dissipated. The Upper West Side saw an influx of many nationalities from the 40s to the 60s, and the area has remained diversified. Likewise, the Upper West Side has retained a liberal constituency and bohemian attitude. Major urban renewal, starting in the mid-50s under Robert Moses, was the first step in its revival. Furious debate centered on the slum clearance undertaken to make way for Lincoln Center in 1959. Despite its relative unpopularity throughout the 1970s, the Upper West Side maintained a sense of community, attracting creative types and young families with its relatively low rents. The wealth of the 80s renewed the area, raising rents and drawing young professionals with high incomes, also prompting renovation of the grand old buildings of the earlier era. Still viewed as more intellectual and less well-to-do than the East Side, the Upper West Side is again experiencing an inundation of young, affluent 30-somethings, as available apartments disappear faster than they appear on the market.