Manhattan Valley (the Bloomingdale District) is the imagine of what people would think the Upper West Side is like in the 1970’s. It reminded me of an old Woody Allen film. It still has that old New York feel to it before gentrification rolled over the lower part of this side of the island. I think what keeps the neighborhood grounded is the Douglass Housing Complex in the middle of the neighborhood which runs from 104th Street to 100th Street from Amsterdam Avenue to Manhattan Avenue. The Park West Apartment Condo Complex anchors the southern part of the neighborhood.
The fringes of this neighborhood on all sides are quickly gentrifying from the sandblasting of buildings and new businesses along Broadway to almost everything north of 104th Street to 110th Street from Riverside Drive to Central Park West. Everything seems to have scaffolding in front of it, already is being cleaned and buffed or in the process of it. It is a mixture of old and new and it seems that the population likes it this way. The one thing I have to say it feels like a real neighborhood.
The Dutch called the area, “Bloemendaal”, which translates to “Valley of Flowers” as the area was once home to many farms and forests. The whole area was once the summer home to the wealthy residents from downtown and as the city grew, the area was dissected by the street system. There are still many pocket parks, community gardens and playgrounds plus it is bounded by Riverside Drive and Central Park.
My day began with another busy day at the Soup Kitchen. I admit I don’t think that in this economy I don’t think it is going to be getting slower. We’re consistent every time I am there. Not the 1500 meal days we used to have but it still gets busy. I work the busy extra Bread station and they love their raisin bagels when we have them. I did not get of there until 12:30pm.
I started the walk at 110th Street with lunch at my new favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Chen’s Kitchen at 1003 A Columbus Avenue (See TripAdvisor review and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). I had an order of their Orange Chicken and it was out of this world. The food there is excellent and for the size of the portion and the quality of the dishes, this place should be on everyone’s map. The orange chicken was perfectly cooked, crisp from the deep fry and the fried rice is good for a lunch portion. Their egg rolls are quite good as well.
Hunan Chen’s Chinese Restaurant
(Note to all readers: I have added a new blog site along with ‘VisitingaMuseum’ to accompany ‘MywalkinManhattan’. The new site is called ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’, where I will be featuring restaurants I find on my travels around the island and beyond for under $10.00. There have to be more people like myself who are on a budget).
I had my lunch on the benches by the entrance of Morningside Park and on a sunny day, there is nothing like it. It must be a favorite of the neighborhood because I found myself with a crowd around the benches. I guess the park’s lurid past is behind it now as I watched a soccer game from the bench as I was eating. It is a nice place to relax and gather your thoughts.
After lunch, I started walking the Avenues that go up and down the neighborhood. This side of the island is a little smaller than the East Side of the park, six streets as opposed to eight. It was still quite the walk.
My first street was Manhattan Avenue and this street is just as juxtaposed as the other neighborhoods uptown. You can go from luxury brownstones to the projects in just one block. Lining Manhattan Avenue from 106th to 105th Streets are some of the most picturesque brownstones with front gardens and potted plants that you will see in the city. Each one is nicer than the other and seem unique in their own way because of their design and their plantings. I can imagine how they must decorate around the holidays.
Once you pass 104th Street, the large Fredrick Douglass Houses start to dominate the neighborhood. I think that the project has kept this part of Manhattan from fully gentrifying as it dominates the whole core of the neighborhood from 104th to 100th Streets from Manhattan Avenue to Amsterdam Avenue. Like most of the housing complexes I have walked through, everyone pretty much ignored me. Tables of older Dominican men played cards and dominoes on a nice day, young mothers were in the playgrounds, which were nicer then most of the complexes I have seen and one family even had a lemonade/snack stand near the Youth Hostel on Amsterdam Avenue between 104th and 103rd Streets.
Fredrick Douglass Houses
Manhattan Avenue stops at 100th Street in front the big Central Park West Condo complex which looks like middle-class housing to me. All I know is that they want you to stay out of the complex. There are signs all over the place that the through ways are for residents only and there is security all over the place. I won’t be able to walk through that too quickly.
Columbus Avenue below 100th Street joins the rest of the Upper West Side with shops and restaurants and a large Whole Foods which is a nice place to go to the bathroom if you need it and to fill up water bottles. Above 100th Street, it is dominated by the housing complex and then it changes back to small stores and prewar apartments.
A nice stop is the ‘Mobilization for Change Community Garden’ at Columbus Avenue at 107th Street. What a beautiful pocket park. It has colorful flower beds to walk through and there are elevated vegetable gardens that residents plant in and all the plants are in the stage of maturity that herbs are standing tall and vegetables are ready to ripen. It is a nice place to sit and relax.
The people there are very nice and talk about their role in helping make the garden what it is today. Take time to walk the path through the garden. This garden was created in the late 1980’s, when the neighborhood was not so nice and it was a dumping ground. The community really transformed this lot into something special.
Mobilization for Change Community Garden
Columbus Avenue dissects the Park West Village Apartment complex, so you get to see the planted gardens and paths that lead through the complex. Behind that, starts the modern shopping district. This area is totally being rebuilt and there are new buildings all over this section of the neighborhood. I was not able to walk through the complex as security is all over the place. There are also cameras all over the place. So I just walked around it.
At the bottom of Columbus Avenue, a new complex of buildings has been built with all new shops and a new Whole Foods are right across from the Douglass Houses. 100th Street is the obvious border of the Upper West Side to this neighborhood. This is when you see the community really mixing. I saw a lot of Whole Foods bags heading up the road. The Whole Foods is nice because it is also a place with a nice public bathroom and a place to fill your water bottle. The only other option is the Fredrick Douglass Park and their bathroom which needs a lot of work.
Amsterdam Avenue is a continuation of what it is uptown. A transformation of a neighborhood depending on the block that you live on. Everything above 104th Street and below 100th Street is quickly improving with old prewar apartments under scaffolding and new restaurants replacing old ones. Little by little the area is starting to change. Even the Amsterdam House, a public housing unit, is getting a make over right across the street from Fredrick Douglass Park.
At Amsterdam Avenue and 104th Street is the Youth Hostel that sits on the fringe of the Fredrick Douglass Houses. I was wondering why there were so many twenty year olds in this area walking around and speaking so many languages. (These kids fill all the reasonable restaurants in the area that inspired my blog “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC”. There are so many great restaurants in the area where you can eat for under $10.00 and I wanted to let everyone know that they are there). This area gets very active later in the day when everyone comes back from visiting other parts of the city.
Between 100th and 99th Streets, St. Michael’s Church dominates the street with the most beautiful stained glass windows and the architecture is amazing. Really take a good look at the detail work of the building. On the way back up, walk through the Fredrick Douglass Park and watch the neighborhood come alive. There are kids screaming in the pool, hipster types playing soccer in the field and mothers from all over the neighborhood playing in the park with their kids and socializing with one another. This is where the neighborhood really mingles and you see it come alive.
St. Michael’s Church
Rounding Broadway is where you see the real changes happening in the neighborhood. Broadway is where the neighborhood shines with its diversity of businesses and housing. Being two blocks from the Douglass Houses, it also shows how the fringes of this neighborhood are starting to change. Older businesses are next to newer hipper restaurants and it makes a nice mix. Some of the most interesting buildings are in this area and really look up as you walk around or you might miss it.
The most interesting aspect of Broadway is the landscaped ‘Mall’ that runs in the middle of the street and gives nature its due throughout the neighborhood with trees and flowers lining the middle and benches to relax and just walk the world go by.
At 107th Street and Broadway is Straus Park, dedicated to Isidor and Ida Straus who died in the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. The Straus family had ownership of Macy’s Department Store at the time and had been very prominent in the business world. I remembered when I had worked at Macy’s that there had been a park dedicated to them.
This graceful park is lined with trees, flowers and bushes and is beautifully landscaped to match the Broadway Mall across the street. There are lots of benches to relax in and the park is well maintained by the neighborhood. The four days I spent in the neighborhood there was always someone weeding, pruning or watering something. It is a nice place to take a book or get some writing done. Many of the residents socialize here and it is a nice gathering place. The memorial dedicated to the two of them is simple and graceful and fits into the park nicely.
The park also dissects the streets, where Broadway and West End Avenue fork and separate into two different streets. Walking down Broadway when you reach 103rd Street, artist Joy Brown has another one of her ‘people’ statues that I had seen further uptown. Here the adult was walking with her child. These statues are whimsical and almost like a animated character in 3D. Many of her statues line Broadway at various streets uptown.
Being so humid that day, I made a pit stop at McDonald’s. I stopped for one of their frozen strawberry lemonade’s. I swear, that drink is one of the best things to drink on a humid day. It cools you inside and out. I ordered a medium and I did not need to drink anything for the rest of the walk. I was totally refreshed.
Take a look at the Metro Theater, closed now, to see the interesting Art Deco details on the building. It would be nice if this could be opened in its original shape but for now it stands boarded up awaiting its fate. A lot of Broadway is now being lined with new apartment buildings and shops that are connecting it to the rest of the Upper West Side.
Metro Theater on Broadway
West End Avenue is onto itself as a more residential block. I get the impression by the people walking around this street that they take themselves a little too seriously. Everyone I saw had this determined look on their faces. I could not figure out why.
The buildings that line the street between 106th to 96th Street are mostly prewar apartment houses with detailed marble carvings. The side streets are lined with a combination of old brownstones and smaller apartment houses. Planters with small trees and flowers dominate the buildings and give it a more European feel to them. One of the most beautiful buildings on the block is at 925 West End Avenue. It is a marble building where you see numerous faces and animals carved into the marble. There are two similar buildings like this in the neighborhood but this one is most spectacular. Look at the grill work and the windows and it will make you fall in love again with the treasures that the city offers.
I took a detour off West End Avenue to walk down several of the side streets to see how nicely the buildings blended into Riverside Park. The block between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive are the most gentile part of the neighborhood and show off some its oldest architecture.
This is a classic New York neighborhood showing the ‘old’ New York. As I said earlier, there is something very mid-70’s to early 80’s about this part of the Upper West Side. Its changing but not like the hyper-luxury buildings further downtown. Its like walking around the city at a time when New York City was getting better for New Yorkers not a real estate investment from abroad.
Places to Visit:
West End Avenue & 107th Street
West 123rd-West 110th along Morningside Avenue
Mobilization for Change Community Garden
955 Columbus Avenue
Places to Eat:
1003 Columbus Avenue A
New York, NY 10025
My review on TripAdvisor:
My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:
My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:
Things to See:
Joy Brown Statues (now closed)