Chelsea is a neighborhood on the West Side of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The district’s boundaries are roughly 14th Street to the south, 30th Street to the north, the western boundary of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District – which lies between the Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) and Seventh Avenue – to the east, and the Hudson River and West Street to the west. To the north of Chelsea is the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen (also known as “Clinton”), as well as theHudson Yards; to the northeast is the Garment District; to the east are NoMad and the Flatiron District; to the southwest is theMeatpacking District; and to the southeast is Greenwich Village and the West Village.
Chelsea is divided between Manhattan Community Board 4 and Manhattan Community Board 5. It contains the Chelsea Historic District and its extension, which were designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1970 and 1981, respectively, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, expanded in 1982 to include contiguous blocks containing particularly significant examples of period architecture. The neighborhood is primarily residential, with a mix of tenements, apartment blocks, city housing projects, townhouses, and renovated rowhouses, but its many retail businesses reflect the ethnic and social diversity of the population. The western part of Chelsea has become a center of the New York art world, with many art galleries located in both new buildings and rehabilitated warehouses.
Chelsea takes its name from the estate and Georgian-style house of retired British Major Thomas Clarke, who obtained the property when he bought the farm of Jacob Somerindyck on August 16, 1750. The land was bounded by what would become 21st and 24th Streets, from the Hudson River to Eighth Avenue. Clarke chose the name “Chelsea” after the manor ofChelsea, London, home to Sir Thomas More. Clarke passed the estate on to his daughter, Charity, who, with her husbandBenjamin Moore, added land on the south of the estate, extending it to 19th Street. The house was the birthplace of their son, Clement Clarke Moore, who in turn inherited the property. Moore is generally credited with writing “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and was the author of the first Greek and Hebrew lexicons printed in the United States.
In 1827, Moore gave the land of his apple orchard to the Episcopal Diocese of New Yorkfor the General Theological Seminary, which built its brownstone Gothic, tree-shaded campus south of the manor house. Despite his objections to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, which ran the new Ninth Avenue through the middle of his estate, Moore began the development of Chelsea with the help of James N. Wells, dividing it up into lots along Ninth Avenue and selling them to well-heeled New Yorkers. Covenants in the deeds of sale specified what could be built on the land – stables, manufacturing and commercial uses were forbidden – as well as architectural details of the buildings.
The new neighborhood thrived for three decades, with many single family homes and rowhouses, in the process expanding past the original boundaries of Clarke’s estate, but an industrial zone also began to develop along the Hudson. In 1847 the Hudson River Railroad laid its freight tracks up a right-of-way between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, separating Chelsea from the Hudson Riverwaterfront. By the time of the Civil War, the area west of Ninth Avenue and below 20th Street was the location of numerous distilleries making turpentine and camphene, a lamp fuel. In addition, the huge Manhattan Gas Works complex, which convertedbituminous coal into gas, was located at Ninth and 18th Street.
The industrialization of western Chelsea brought immigrant populations from many countries to work in the factories, including a large number of Irish immigrants, who dominated work on the Hudson River piers that lined the nearby waterfront and the truck terminals integrated with the freight railroad spur. As well as the piers, warehouses and factories, the industrial area west of Tenth Avenue also included lumberyards and breweries, and tenements built to house the workers. With the immigrant population came the political domination of the neighborhood by the Tammany Hall machine, as well as festering ethnic tensions: around 67 people died in a riot between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants on July 12, 1871, which took place around 24th Street and Eighth Avenue. The social problems of the area’s workers provoked John Lovejoy Elliot to form the Hudson Guild in 1897, one of the first settlement houses – private organizations designed to provide social services.
A theater district had formed in the area by 1869, and soon West 23rd Street was the center of American theater, led by Pike’s Opera House (1868, demolished 1960), on the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue. Chelsea was an early center for the motion picture industry before World War I. Some of Mary Pickford’s first pictures were made on the top floors of an armory building at 221 West 26th Street, while other studios were located on 23rd and 21st Streets.
London Terrace was one of the world’s largest apartment blocks when it opened in 1930, with a swimming pool, solarium, gymnasium, and doormen dressed as London bobbies. Other major housing complexes in the Chelsea area are Penn South, a 1962 cooperative housing development sponsored by the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, and the New York City Housing Authority-built and -operated Fulton Houses and Chelsea-Elliot Houses.
The massive 19-story Art Deco Verizon Building, which spans the block between 17th and 18th Streets just off of Seventh Avenue, was built in the early 1930s. It typifies the real estate activity of the district, as it has been converted to residential apartments.
In the early 1940s, tons of uranium for the Manhattan Project were stored in the Baker & Williams Warehouse at 513-519 West 20th St. The uranium was removed and decontaminated only in the late 1980s or early 1990s.