History of a Diverse Community
From West 97th to 100th Streets, Central Park West to Columbus Avenue
Park West Village (PWV) was built on an approximately twenty-acre, six-block site that includes seven apartment buildings as well as commercial properties. The three Columbus Avenue apartment buildings were completed in 1959 and the four Central Park West buildings in 1961. The commercial properties lie on both sides of Columbus Avenue from 97-100th Streets. The architects were S.J. Kessler & Sons and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The approximately 2,500 studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments that comprise PWV are home to about 5,000 residents.
PWV was one of the earlier of planner/developer Robert Moses’ often controversial housing projects. Originally named “Manhattantown,” then “West Park,” PWV was intended to provide an incentive to middle-income residents to return to the Upper West Side and be part of the multi-economic, multi-ethnic neighborhood, which included the new Douglass Public Housing development to the north.
Some planners termed the old neighborhood “blighted” and invoked the urban renewal banner to justify the proposed redevelopment. But to the thousands of Caucasian, African-American, Puerto Rican and Asian inhabitants, the neighborhood was full of life and history, with St. Jude’s Episcopal Chapel and Park West Theater on 99th Street, and the former Reconstruction Hospital at 100th Street and CPW. Despite the residents’ objections, thesubsite was cleared for redevelopment. By 1957 hundreds of brownstones and tenements were razed and over 11,000 people displaced, many without compensation .
A new community was created through the use of public monies to support private incentives. The developers obtained the PWV site at one-third of the land valuation on condition that rents be maintained at middle income levels. The intention, under the Title I Section of the post-World War II 1949 Housing Act, which provided the initial mortgage for the buildings, was to use city and federal funds to clear the land, then allow commercial developers to put up the buildings and run them on a limited profit-making basis . A forty-year covenant prohibited additional construction on the Title I site.
The first company to operate PWV was Webb & Knapp, headed by William Zeckendorf. They sold to Alcoa in 1963, which in turn sold the property to the Helmsley organization in 1972.
In 1987, 372 and 382 CPW (now called the Vaux and the Olmsted respectively) were converted to condominiums after long opposition by many tenants who feared an erosion of the community. A case against conversion brought by the PWV Tenants’ Association lost in the New York State Supreme Court, but many of the issues raised were recognized in later legal and judicial deliberations and in negotiations around the conversions of 392 and 400 to condo status in 1991.
In 2000, Stellar Management and the Chetrit Group purchased the three Columbus Avenue rental buildings, along with the remaining rentstabilized apartments in the four CPW now-condo buildings, and the commercial properties.
Each of the four condo buildings now has its own governing board with representatives elected by the individual owners of apartments, plus a representative of the Stellar/Chetrit Group. Through its subsite sidiary, PWV Acquisitions LLC, Stellar/Chetrit continues to own the remaining rent-stabilized apartments in these buildings (in 2007, roughly 20% of all apartments). The three Columbus Avenue buildings include both rent-stabilized and market rental apartments and are managed on-site by Park West Management.
PWV has been home to many creative people. Among them are: Charity Bailey, Ray Charles, Gerard Edery, Duke Ellington, Carl A. Fields, Walt Fraser, Sonny Greer, Coleman Hawkins, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Jackson, Pearl Lang, Brian Lehrer, Abbey Lincoln, Donald MacKayle, Miriam Makeba, Herman Mankiewicz, Hugh Masakela, Claudia McNeil, Butterfly McQueen, Odetta, Sy Oliver, Tito Puente, Max Roach, Elaine Stritch, Bob Teague, Cicely Tyson and Joseph Wiseman.
In his 1809 Knickerbocker’s History of New York, Washington Irving described the village of Bloomingdale in the vicinity of what would become 100th Street. Early maps circa 1827 show small farms and residences in the area. By 1860, the Bloomingdale Road (once an Indian trail, now Broadway) was in wide use, including by “summer residents” who came uptown to escape yellow fever. The Croton Aqueduct was built on what is now PWV’s Columbus Avenue property; and an underground stream still runs near 99th and 100th Streets. A new neighborhood was created in the 1880’s on what was largely vacant land. By 1890 (and ever since), a Police Station was located on 100th Street, and German immigrants had founded Trinity Lutheran Church. The Ninth Avenue El came up what is now Columbus Avenue, while horse-drawn trolleys traveled along CPW. New York’s first cancer hospital with its circular towers was being built at 106th Street and CPW (in a new location, the hospital became Sloan-Kettering after World War II; the original buildings were recently restored as condos). The Pasteur Institute was established on the northwest corner of 97th Street and CPW. The Richard Morris Huntdesigned Residence for Respectable Aged Indigent Females (now the American Youth Hostel) was in use at 104th and Amsterdam. Holy Name Catholic Church and St Michael’s Episcopal Church (1807) had both opened their doors. By the turn of the 20th century, the neighborhood included a remarkable number of pioneering medical and social institutions, as well as brownstone buildings and tenement walkups. The 1900’s brought construction workers, writers, musicians and professionals from many fields and of many backgrounds—German, Italian, Irish, African-American, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish.
The seven high-rise buildings were designed as a community with open space and light. Despite the early controversies, PWV has built its own character and history and grown into a successful community of neighbors who enjoy many events, classes, resident committees and activities together. Gardens, playgrounds, benches, parking spaces and an “urban forest” of over 300 trees place the buildings in an open park-like setting next to Central Park.
Changes are again underway on the property with the construction of new hi-rise buildings and stores. It is the hope of the Park West Neighborhood History Group that we will incorporate what we value from past and present as we plan for the future.
Prepared by the Park West Neighborhood History Group, formed to explore the history of PWV and the surrounding neighborhood through research, interviews, talks, walks and workshops, and to make this information available through materials collected for the New York Public Library and through publications. The Neighborhood History Collection may be used at Bloomingdale Library, 150 West 100th Street.
PARK WEST VILLAGE: History of a Diverse Community From West 97th to 100th Streets, Central Park West to Columbus Avenue Park West Neighborhood History Group 400 Central Park West #5P New York, NY 10025