"We’ve lived in this neighborhood for 17 years," says Bob Berkow, a Clinton resident and co-op owner at the 48-unit Piano Factory at 454 West 46th Street. The Piano Factory was originally built as Wessell, Nickel & Gross Company in 1888, a manufacturing site for the interior components of pianos. Construction was in the style of a New England mill building with an inner courtyard accessed through a Romanesque revival arch. Converted to co-ops in 1980, the courtyard is now used for barbeques and parties by residents and children play outside during the warm months. "It’s the kind of place," says Berkow, "where I can attach a hose to our building and wash the car in shorts or jeans without feeling out of place."
This cozy ambience is described over and over by various residents and real estate brokers in the area. "It’s a great neighborhood," says Robert Clepper, an associate broker with William B. May, who has sold apartments in Hell’s Kitchen for ten years. "People used to choose Clinton for its value," he says. "Now, it’s become a primary choice for people."
Berkow would agree. "We moved here because it was convenient to get to Midtown, had great transportation, was relatively inexpensive, culturally and economically diverse and had an informal feel. The neighborhood has not changed so much that it has lost its original attraction to us, yet is a more interesting place to live. Hell’s Kitchen still has the sense of the old neighborhood in terms of houses, stores and a wonderful street life."
The Evolution of a Name
Life on the streets of Clinton, or Hell’s Kitchen as it was known until 1959–and is the preferred name of the residents–has always been colorful. The boundaries of the area are roughly 30th to 59th Streets west of Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River. The early settlers to the area farmed the land until the construction of a railroad station at 30th Street and Eleventh Avenue in 1851. Soon afterwards, factories, warehouses, lumberyards and tenements sprinkled the area. The population was largely immigrant; people looking for and able to find work nearby. In 1876, an elevated railroad was built along Ninth Avenue and the neighborhood, nicknamed "Hell’s Kitchen" became known for its rough and tough gangs. Rumors about the name run from two policemen during the Civil War naming the district Hell’s Kitchen after a particularly gruesome day dealing with hoodlums, to taking the name from a gang called "The Hell’s Kitchen Gang," to the gritty community being named after a similarly course area in London. The Italian Mafia had a presence on the streets during the Prohibition Era. Both the ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and the musical play and movie West Side Story are situated in Hell’s Kitchen.