The Evolution of the Upper West Side

Upper West Side Street

The Upper West Side is one of New York City’s oldest and most iconic neighborhoods. Its history is as unique as its architecture. In its early days, the Upper West Side was largely rural. Manufacturing moved into the area in the 1850’s, and by the end of the Nineteenth Century the Upper West Side was made up largely of crumbling factories, homeless shacks, saloons, and brothels. In 1890, Columbia University moved from Morningside Heights to the Upper West Side. The first subway was built in 1904; this brought the area an enormous amount of much needed business. Impressive homes and row houses began to emerge at the end of the Nineteenth Century, and this residential trend continued into 1900’s.

The Upper West Side was a desirable place to live through the 1920’s. Residents were attracted to its impressive architecture and quiet, tree-lined streets. A large influx of Jewish immigrants came to the neighborhood in the 1930's; the area’s many synagogues are a cultural footprint that remains to this day. During the Great Depression, development waned and the Upper West Side entered a period of stagnation. This economic slump persisted in some form or another until the 1980’s, although the area’s cultural prowess remained steadfast. Artists, writers, and minorities infiltrated the neighborhood in the 60’s and 70’s and made it their own. Unique shops, theaters, restaurants and bars sprouted up, creating a vibrant and affordable cultural landscape. In the 1980’s, the Upper West Side began a process of gentrification, which has continued to this day.

Today, the Upper West Side is a largely upper class residential neighborhood. Residents appreciate the proximity to Central Park, pre-war brownstones, luxury townhouses, and tranquil, tree-lined streets. Home prices and rents are relatively high; the area tends to attract well-off families and successful young professionals. Although its eclectic glory days are arguably over, the Upper West Side’s cultural contributions are (quite literally) etched in stone. The area is home to numerous museums, theaters, concert halls, landmarks, and educational institutions, which include: Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History, Beacon Theater, The Juilliard School, The Manhattan School of Music, Columbus Circle, Merkin Concert Hall, the New York Historical Society, and Columbia University. Many celebrities also call the Upper West Side their home. The neighborhood hosts several luxury apartment buildings, including a 20 story limestone located at 15 Central Park West and Trump International (1 Central Park West), a 52 story high-rise. Given its convenient location, stunning architecture, and cultural heritage, the Upper West Side continues to be one of New York City’s most desirable neighborhoods.

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