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Hell's Kitchen Park

Hell's Kitchen Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The name Hell’s Kitchen was apparently first given to the block on West 39th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues by local police in the 1870s, and it later was expanded to include much of the West Side. Legend has it that one rookie cop commented to his more seasoned partner, “This place is hell itself.” “Hell’s a mild climate,” his partner replied. “This is hell’s kitchen.”

In the mid-1800s, this West Side neighborhood was home to many industries that served the Hudson River piers, including slaughterhouses, lumberyards, warehouses, and other factories. Impoverished groups of Irish, African Americans, Scots, and Germans moved to shacks and tenements in the area to work at the nearby factories.  Many formed gangs and fought to assert themselves in the growing neighborhood, making for frequent violent clashes. 

In the late 19th century, the extension of the Ninth Avenue elevated train encouraged new groups to move into this densely-populated area, including Greek and Eastern European immigrants. Large numbers of Puerto Ricans and African Americans from the South moved into the area in the 1940s. By the 1960s, civic leaders seeking to improve the area’s image began referring to it as “Clinton” after the famous New York family that had owned property here in the 1800s. To this day, however, many neighborhood residents and New Yorkers still favor “Hell’s Kitchen.”

In the 1960s, the City, responding to the community’s request for more recreation spaces, began to study the possibility of constructing this park on what was then a parking lot at Tenth Avenue between West 47th and 48th Streets. On June 23, 1966, the Board of Estimate approved the acquisition through condemnation of the land, and in September of that year, $400,000 in New York State grant-in-aid was approved to acquire the lot. Land studies delayed the project for several years, and the playground opened on December 4, 1979.

Throughout the 1980s, members of the 47th/48th Street Block Association and other residents hosted many gatherings here and worked to keep the park a safe environment by getting lights installed on adjoining buildings.In 2005, the park was reconstructed in a project that included new play equipment, swings, safety surfacing, lighting, and decorative paving. Continued improvements to the park and the community’s continued activism on its behalf ensure that Hell’s Kitchen Park will remain a safe, enjoyable space for all.

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