Hell’s Kitchen

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Hell’s Kitchen was once a neighborhood of poor and working-class Irish Americans. The neighborhood generally refers to the area from W. 34th to W. 57th Streets, west of 8th Avenue in Manhattan.

“No one can pin down the exact origin of the label, but some refer to a tenement on 54th Street as the first “Hell’s Kitchen.” Another explanation points to an infamous building at 39th as the true original. A gang and a local dive took the name as well…. a similar slum also existed in London and was known as Hell’s Kitchen.”

—Kirkley Greenwell

“…first appeared in print on September 22, 1881 when a New York Times reporter went to the West 30s with a police guide to get details of a multiple murder there. He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and Tenth Avenue as “Hell’s Kitchen,” and said that the entire section was “probably the lowest and filthiest in the city.” According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell’s Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets. Another version ascribes the name’s origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil’s Kitchen, after its proprietors. But the most common version traces it to the story of “Dutch Fred the Cop,” a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near Tenth Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, “This place is hell itself,” to which Fred replied, “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.”

—Mary Clark

Home to many gangs, by 1965, Hell’s Kitchen was the home base of the Westies, a deeply violent Irish American crew aligned with the Gambino crime family. It was not until the early 1980s that widespread gentrification began to alter the demographics of the longtime working-class Irish American neighborhood. The 1980s also saw an end to the Westies’ reign of terror, when the gang lost all of its power after the RICO convictions of most of its principals in 1986.

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