Neigborhoods

Manhattanville

Manhattanville is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan bordered on the south by Morningside Heights on the west by the Hudson River, on the east by Harlem and on the north by Hamilton Heights. Its borders straddle West 125th Street, roughly from 122nd Street to 135th Street and from the Hudson River to St. Nicholas Park.

Throughout the 19th century, Manhattanville was a town that bustled around a wharf active with ferry and daily river conveyances. It was the first principal terminus on the northbound Hudson River Railroad, and the hub of daily stage coach, omnibus and streetcar lines. Situated near the famous Bloomingdale Road, its hotels, houses of entertainment and post office made it an alluring destination of suburban retreat from the city, yet its direct proximity to the Hudson River also made it an invaluable industrial entry point for construction materials and other freight bound for upper Manhattan. With the construction of road and railway viaducts over the valley in which the town sat, Manhattanville, increasingly absorbed into the growing city, became a marginalized industrial area.

The neighborhood is now the site of a major planned expansion of Columbia University, which has campuses in Morningside Heights to the south and Washington Heights to the north.

History

Colonial period

Manhattanville sits in a valley formerly called “Moertje David’s Vly” (Dutch term meaning ‘Mother David’s Valley’) during the Dutch Colonial period, and as “Harlem Cove” during the English Colonial period. During the American Revolutionary War, the valley was also known as the Hollow Way, where the main action of the Battle of Harlem Heights began under the command of General George Washington.

In 1806, the village of Manhattanville was established in this valley around the crossroads of Bloomingdale Road and Manhattan Street, now roughly Broadway and 125th Street. The village’s original streets were laid out by Jacob Schieffelin and other wealthy merchants, mostly Quakers, who had country seats in the area.

The town thrived as a result of the development of Manhattan Street from the Hudson River, whose convenient access also became a crucial catalyst in the growth of the older village of Harlem to the southeast on the Harlem River. Situated at approximately the same latitude, Harlem and Manhattanville flourished together throughout the 19th century as the two most prominent villages in upper Manhattan.

Manhattanville’s early population was a diverse and eclectic mix of intermarried American patriots and British loyalists; at least one prominent former African slave trader; slave owners and enslaved African-Americans; Quaker anti-slavery activists and free black abolitionists; tradesmen, poor laborers and wealthy industrialists. Many were affiliated with the same institutions, principally the historic New York City landmarked St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church, organized in 1823, which was the first Episcopal church to dissolve pew rentals in 1831, and the Manhattanville Free School (established in 1827, later Public School No. 43) still at their original sites.

Manhattanville’s most prominent resident was industrialist Daniel F. Tiemann (1805-1899), owner of the D.F. Tiemann & Company Color Works, who was also Mayor of New York City from 1858 to 1859. The Tiemann laboratory and factory which was originally located on 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue in New York City, near Madison Square Park, relocated uptown to Manhattanville in 1832, in part due to an underground spring of running water at the new uptown location.[2]

Recent Developments & University Influencers

Manhattanville is the site of a planned major expansion of Columbia University. The university has begun to purchase several square blocks of the neighborhood between 125th [3] and 133rd Streets on the south and north and between Broadway and 12th Avenue on the East and West. The current physical plant of those blocks will be partly demolished to construct a new campus, secondary school and park land, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.

Local residents fear the impact of the further gentrification from this expansion in addition to the possible, and controversial, use of eminent domain. In June 2007, the New York City Department of City Planning certified that Columbia’s application for the rezoning is complete. This action launched the public review and comment period under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which lasted until the end of 2007. [4]

In November 2007, the New York Daily News summarized the plan as follows: “Columbia owns 65% [of the tract]. The state and Con Ed have 23%. That gives the university access to 88% of the tract. Most of the remaining 12% consists of two gas stations and a half-dozen commercial properties. The school is trying to negotiate purchases. In the entire 17 acres, there are only 132 apartments with fewer than 300 tenants, and all have been offered equivalent or better housing, with a guarantee that eminent domain will not be used to acquire homes. None of the apartments are in the first phase of the project; none will be touched until at least 2015.[5] On December 19, 2007, the New York City Council voted to approve the University’s proposed rezoning of the site.[6]

To the north, a 600-unit student dorm known as ‘The Towers’ [7] finished construction in June 2006 as an extension of the City College of New York on St. Nicholas Terrace. This is the first time that City College has housed students on the campus. Occupancy began in Fall 2006. To the south, near 122nd Street, the Manhattan School of Music also built a dormitory around 2003. Also in 2006, Jewish Theological Seminary of America opened a smaller dormitory on 122nd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The increase in student residences is one of several factors rapidly changing the character of Manhattanville, and cafes and restaurants have opened on Broadway, La Salle Street and Amsterdam Avenue to accommodate the population growth.

At 135th St. and Convent Avenue, City College is rapidly completing the construction of the new School of Architecture and Urban Design building.[8] Based on a pre-existing 1950s structure this redesign and reconstruction by Rafael Viñoly Architects is intended to add a modern aesthetic to the eclectic architectural mix in the area.

West Harlem Piers

After a groundbreaking ceremony in November 2005, construction of the West Harlem Piers Waterfront park began in April 2006.[9] The park includes a fishing pier, a kayak launch, sculptures, and water taxi landings, stretches from 125th St to 132nd Street, partly on land formerly used as a parking lot. It closed a gap in the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway that runs along the western side of Manhattan Island and will later connect up the Hudson River. The park opened in early October 2008, delayed through the summer by the discovery that fencing designed to prevent users from falling into the river did not meet specifications. [10] The area that surrounds the park and piers is at times called ViVa (Viaduct Valley).

Sites of Interest

Aside from Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Church and the Manhattan School of Music at the southwestern corner, the principal landmarks in Manhattanville are the elevated section of the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line and the elevated Riverside Drive Viaduct.

The neighborhood also contains the landmarked Claremont Theater,[12] the Manhattanville Bus Depot, St. Mary’s Church, and the Fairway Supermarket, whose broad selections attract distant customers.

In Riverside Park, north of Grant’s Tomb, is the site of the former Claremont Inn, a riverside respite and hotel for the affluent back in its heyday. It was originally built around 1775 as a private mansion and estate. By the end of the 19th century it was bought by the city of New York and leased to a hotelier. There was also a place to rent bicycles at the inn. It had a serious fire in the 1940s which caused its demise. A plan was in the making for a reuse of the inn and restaurant and grounds when yet a final fire caused its closing in 1951. A stone plaque marks where it once stood. [13][14][15]

Sources

[1] See Fort Laight and Blockhouse No. 4
[2] Baptista, Robert J., “D.F. Tiemann & Co. Color Works, Manhattanville, New York City”, Colorants Industry History, July 7, 2009
[3] Because of the dogleg shape of 125th Street on the west side, 125th Street and 129th Street merge, and so only four or five blocks are involved in the tract.
[4] From the university’s Manhattanville planning page, which includes links to news releases
[5] “Columbia Passes Big Test”, New York Daily News, November 28, 2007
[6] “City Council Announces Approval of Columbia University Expansion”, City Council press release, December 19, 2007
[7] From the CCNY website
[8] From the architects’ website
[9] From the University’s Harlem Piers page
[10] Daniel Amsallag, Construction Snag Delays Pier Opening, Columbia Daily Spectator, September 15, 2008
[11] From the Aaron Davis Hall website
[12] From the Real Estate Observer website
[13] “Remember: The Claremont Inn”, Harlem Bespoke
[14] “Remember: Claremont Bicycles”, Harlem Bespoke
[15] “Riverside Park: Claremont Inn tablet”, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Claremont Inn Tablet in Claremont Playground; Incised plaque set in pavement; Deer Isle granite; Dedicated: 1952
[16] “Studebaker Building”, Harlem Bespoke