Manhattan Valley is a neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, bounded by West 110th Streetto the north, Central Park West to the east, West 96th Street to the south, and Broadway to the west. It was formerly known as the Bloomingdale District, a name still in occasional use.
Manhattan Valley was part of the Bloomingdale District, the name given to the farms and houses along the Bloomingdale Road alongManhattan’s Upper West Side. The Dutch applied the name Bloemendaal, Anglicized to “Bloomingdale” or “the Bloomingdale District”, to the west side of Manhattan from about 23rd Street up to the Hollow Way (modern 125th Street). It consisted of farms and villages along a road (regularized in 1703) known as the Bloomingdale Road. Bloomingdale Road was renamed The Boulevard in 1868, as the farms and villages were divided into building lots and absorbed into the city.
By the 18th century it contained numerous farms and country residences of many of the city’s well-off, a major parcel of which was theApthorp Farm. The main artery of this area was the Bloomingdale Road, which began north of where Broadway and the Bowery Lane (now Fourth Avenue) join (at modern Union Square) and wended its way northward up to about modern 116th Street in Morningside Heights, where the road further north was known as the Kingsbridge Road. Within the confines of the modern-day Upper West Side, the road passed through areas known as Harsenville, Strycker’s Bay, and Bloomingdale Village.
In the early 1800s, John Clendening owned a farm covering much of the valley, roughly from the Bloomingdale Road to Eighth Avenue between 99th and 105th Streets, with a large mansion near Amsterdam and 104th Streets. Although the Clendening estate was divided and sold in 1845, the area continued to be known as the “Clendening Valley” through the late 1800s.
The construction of an elevated aqueduct to carry the Croton Aqueduct over the valley in 1838-42 separated the eastern side of the valley from the village of Bloomingdale which had emerged around the Bloomingdale Road, until the 1870s when it was replaced with an underground inverted siphon, and the old aqueduct was torn down. Early development in the 1870s and 1880s focused on institutional care for the ill or aged, and included the Hebrew Home for the Aged, the Catholic Old Age Home, the Home for Respectable Aged Indigent Females, and the Towers Nursing Home constructed as a cancer ward by John Jacob Astor III in 1884. Also located in Manhattan Valley at the time was the New York Cancer Hospital, built in 1887 at 455 Central Park West. These, together with the Lion Brewery, gave the area its earliest landmarks. The neighborhood began to fill out residentially at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, when the New York City Subway’s IRT Ninth Avenue Line in 1870 and the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line in 1904 allowed the public ready access to uptown Manhattan. Columbia’s purchase of the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum at around the same time as the Broadway subway’s arrival naturally made the neighborhood more attractive as well.
The area was populated mostly by Irish and German immigrants in the 1930s through the 1950s. Young boys and girls took advantage of Central Park and Riverside Drive or played stick ball and roller hockey in the streets. The 1950s saw many immigrants from Puerto Rico take up residence in the Upper West Side and a proposed project to eliminate the older brownstone apartments began to drive earlier residents to the suburbs.
However, by the 1950s and 1960s, the area went into decline, mirroring a general urban deterioration in Manhattan. The acute problems in Manhattan Valley began then as well, when several city blocks were demolished under Robert Moses’s urban renewal programs to construct the Frederick Douglass Houses in the superblock where they stand today. Rampant graft and corruption associated with the project, however, blighted their opening and brought ill repute on the neighborhood, and the debacle contributed strongly to Moses’s fall from power and ouster. Two decades of general malaise settled over progress in the neighborhood.
With the Wall Street boom in the early 1980s, Manhattan as a whole experienced a sharp recovery. Seventy years after the Bloomingdale Asylum’s closing, the provenance of the name was fading into obscurity, and residents and brokers alike began referring to the neighborhood by its present name. The new name and recovery were both much bolstered by the non-profit Manhattan Valley Development Corporation, founded 1968. It sought to differentiate itself from other community development organizations by opposing the demolition of pre-war buildings in favor of renovation, and seeking to promote small business and “prevent harassment by out-side management companies prevalent in low income ‘minority’ neighborhoods.” Soon, however, new investment was brought to a halt by wavering property prices in the late 1980s and early 1990s, combined with the rise of crack use and dealers in the area, which gave Manhattan Valley the reputation as one of the easiest places in the city to score a hit.
Manhattan Valley has gentrified significantly since the 1980s, along with the rest of the Upper West Side and Harlem, under steady encroachment north from the “traditional” Upper West Side and south from Morningside Heights. Coinciding with this transition, the Columbus Amsterdam business improvement district organized in the late 1990s to develop stronger business presence along the main thoroughfares of Columbus and Amsterdam, and to provide entrepreneurial opportunities to locals.
While Broadway still provides most retail shopping opportunities, Amsterdam Avenue has emerged as a major contender in local nightlife with a glut of six bars in the two blocks from West 110th Street to 108th Street. These join the Ding-Dong Lounge on Columbus. The renaissance has much to do with increased migration of Columbia and Barnard College students south as Morningside Heights venues become increasingly expensive.
Brokers report that the properties in the area remain up to 30% less expensive than comparable Upper West Side neighborhoods.The neighborhood’s proximity to the much-valued Central Park as well as to three separate subway lines make it attractive to young commuters, and as of 2006 prices were rising dramatically as New Yorkers were “tipped off” by their brokers. Many historical brownstones and townhouses were saved by the Manhattan Valley Development Corporation (MVDC) from demolition, particularly east of Columbus Avenue, where the property values are the highest. Yet the area remains heavily diverse, representing a microcosm of the larger city in terms of the different ethnicities, ages and socioeconomic groups living within the same community.
According to the 2000 census (in which Manhattan Valley’s census tracts are 187, 189, 191, 193, and 195), 48,983 people live in the community, of which 44% are of Hispanic origin, 32% African Americans, and 24% Asians, Whites and others. Fifty-five percent of the residents are of very low income (below 50% of the area’s median family income, which is $13,854). The more affluent families reside West of Broadway (which is not Manhattan Valley) and East of Manhattan Avenue. Of the Manhattan Valley population 20.76% are on social security and 23% on public assistance.