Hell's Kitchen Park
Hell’s Kitchen Park
The name Hell’s Kitchen is taken either from a notorious 1860s gang of that name or from a nickname given to the area by local police in the 1870s. 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 that earned the area its nickname.
In the late 19th Century, the extension of the Ninth Avenue Elevated Train encouraged new groups to move into this densely populated area, including Greeks and Eastern European immigrants. Large numbers of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans from the South moved into the area in the 1940s. It was this neighborhood that served as the setting for Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story.
By the late 1950s, many neighborhood residents began to feel that the name had become synonymous with crime and decided to change the name of the neighborhood to Clinton, after the famous New York family that had owned the area in the 1840s. To this day, however, many residents of the neighborhood and many New Yorkers refer to the area as Hell’s Kitchen.
When local residents complained that there were few neighborhood playgrounds for their children in the 1960s, Parks began to study the possibility of constructing a park in a parking lot on 10th Avenue, between 47th and 48th Streets. On June 23, 1966, the City Board of Estimate approved the acquisition through condemnation of the land where Hell’s Kitchen Park now sits. 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 Street Block Association and other residents hosted Halloween parties, barbecues and pot luck luncheons in Hell’s Kitchen Park, and worked to keep the park a safe environment by installing lights on buildings nearby. In the late 1980s, Parks built a fence around the lot, and the community’s activism continues to ensure that Hell’s Kitchen Park will remain, as its creators intended, a safe space for the people to enjoy.