Midtown West Overview
Midtown West is everything "big" about New York City. The home to Times Square, Broadway, and Rockefeller center, Midtown West is always buzzing with tourists and commuters. Take a few steps west and you leave the bright lights and enter Hell's Kitchen. No longer the gritty neighborhood the name suggests, Hell's Kitchen is now a popular neighborhood for New Yorkers looking for a short commute.
In the the sections below, you'll get a glimpse into life in Midtown West. But before you go anywhere, make sure you scroll through the photos in the gallery below. Nothing can tell the story of a neighborhood as well as a few good photos.
MIDTOWN West History
The question of where the Midtown West neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen got its name is difficult to answer with certainty. Explaining why the name stuck is much easier: living there was awful.
After the Hudson River Railroad opened a station in the neighborhood in 1851, factories, lumberyards, slaughterhouses and tenements were built. The docks bustled with commercial activity, and German and Irish immigrants arrived in search of employment.
Hell's Kitchen was crowded, loud, dangerous, and dirty. Violent gangs roamed the streets, and rioting was common.
By the 1930s, some of the worst tenements were torn down, but gang violence persisted. After World War II, low rents attracted many Puerto Rican immigrants to Hell's Kitchen. The tension between Puerto Ricans and working class whites from Hell's Kitchen and the Upper West Side was fictionalized in Broadway's West Side Story.
Organized crime was rampant in Hell's Kitchen and spiked during the Prohibition years (1920 to 1933). The Mafia ruled the neighborhood until a government crackdown in the late 1970s. Today's Hell's Kitchen bears almost no resemblance to its infamous past.
While tensions ran high in Hell's Kitchen, things were a bit calmer in the rest of Midtown West. Many aristocratic families established residences there during the late 1860s. It was largely residential until the beginning of the 1900s. B. Altman and Company opened its flagship department store at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, and businesses began to flock to Fifth Avenue. The street was established as a high-end shopping district, and it remains that way today.
In 1904, the New York Times moved its headquarters to an area of Midtown West known as Longacre Square-now known as Times Square. Times Square had a reputation for crime and prostitution for many years, and it had one of the highest crime rates in the city from the 1960s through the 1980s. It wasn't until the city made a concerted effort to clean up the area that it became the tourist mecca that it is today.
The garment district began to establish itself in Midtown West in the late 19th century after laws forced manufacturers to move their businesses out of tenement buildings. Many moved into lofts in Midtown West, and over time, the area became the world's center for all things fashion. Despite the enormous impact of foreign competition, the garment district remains a presence in Midtown West.
MIDTOWN West Vibe
Midtown West is home to several of the most famous tourist hotspots in the world: Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Macy's, and Madison Square Garden. And while these areas are certainly teeming with out-of-towners year-round, there are many different slices of New York to be found in the rest of the neighborhood.
Business is at the heart of Midtown West, which is dominated by office buildings and commercial spaces. One of the most prominent industries is media - NBC, the New York Times, and Condé Nast are all headquartered here. Another well-known specialty is live entertainment, including Broadway and off-Broadway theater, comedy, dance, and music (Carnegie Hall and Radio City are among the countless venues).
Plus, just about every major retail chain in the world has at least one location within Midtown West, so it's a strong magnet for shoppers-both the tourist variety and the after-work crowds. Most of the large stores are concentrated around Broadway, 5th Avenue, and 34th Street.
But aside from all the commuter and tourist traffic, people do actually live in Midtown West. Most apartments are in high-rise buildings with doormen, and range from tiny kitchenette studios for single, hard-working professionals, to swanky multi-million-dollar penthouses for executive types.
To the west of 8th Avenue lies Hell's Kitchen, a relatively calm section of the neighborhood-but it's all relative, of course. Hell's Kitchen has recently become studded with stylish restaurants and bars all up and down 8th and 9th Avenues. It is also one of the city's newer hotspots for gay nightlife, offering a more laid-back version of Chelsea's club scene.
With its wide streets and proximity to Times Square and Port Authority, Hell's Kitchen could never be considered quaint or quiet, but it does have its own charm. Most businesses are quite small, and historic buildings are less than six stories tall and house walk-up apartments. It's a popular home for actors and artists, as well as plenty of other people who want to live within walking distance of their jobs.
Another unique section of Midtown is Koreatown, a concentrated collection of Korean American businesses around 32nd Street. Much, much smaller than Chinatown and more of a commercial than a residential neighborhood, this ethnic hub is a popular spot for Asian food and karaoke bars, and draws a diverse crowd of young professionals at night.
MIDTOWN West Transportation
As a business center in New York, Midtown is a popular destination for commuters. It's no coincidence then that it also contains one of the greatest concentrations of subway options in the city. Midtown West also contains one of the few subways (the E train) that allows you to move east-to-west in the City. Be careful though, the further west you move, the harder it is to get around.
Midtown West Subway & Walking Times
Depending on how close to the southern border of Midtown you are, you will be a short walk to Penn Station, which is the primary NJ Transit and Amtrak hub in the City. Amtrak offers easy access to Boston, Washington DC, and all other major cities in the Northeast.
MIDTOWN West Guidebook Landmarks
The idea for the Museum of Modern Art was conceived in 1929 by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, one of the most promiment women in the Rockefeller family. The museum opened right at the start of the Great Depression and featured works by the likes of Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Gaugin. The building has been moved, expanded, and renovated several times since, but still shows off paintings by those artists as well as Dalí, Warhol, Monet, Picasso, and more of the biggest names in art history—as well as much newer exhibits.
Radio City Music Hall
Part of the Rockefeller Center complex, Radio City Music Hall opened its doors to the public in 1932, and mainly showed feature films accompanied by on-stage entertainment until 1979. Now it's mostly known for its live concerts, TV appearances, and stage shows such as the annual Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes. Designed in the Art Deco style, the building's interior is a New York City landmark. Its name derives from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), one of the first tenants of the entertainment complex.
Times Square is at the top of the NYC tourist checklist for most out-of-town visitors. Featuring hundreds of billboards and a wide array of shops, theaters, and restaurants that are nearly always packed, Times Square captures the "bustle" of New York City. It is known across the world as being the site of the famous New Year's Eve balldrop. The area gets it name from the New York Times, which opened its office in the area in 1904. In fact, the New Year's festivities in the square were first started by the newspaper to celebrate its new home.
MIDTOWN West Insider LANDMARKS
The Hammerstein Ballroom is located inside the Manhattan Center Studios, which was built in 1906 by composer and producer Oscar Hammerstein as an opera house. After a few years, the Metropolitan Opera paid Hammerstein a hefty sum to thwart the competition, so Hammerstein Ballroom became a venue for a variety of other events instead of opera. Now its excellent acoustics make it a premier concert destination and the site for many recorded live albums, DVDs, and TV shows.
The flagship Macy's at Herald Square was the world's largest department store from 1924 until 2009, when a South Korean chain finally topped it. The building takes up the entire block and provides 2.2 million square feet of floor space. You can still ride some of the old wooden escalators as you troop through the multiple floors in search of shoes, fine china, or lingerie. During the holidays, Macy's is a hub of activity—good old fashioned cheer or crazy crowds, depending on your outlook.
MIDTOWN West Parks & Recreation
De Witt Clinton Park (5.8 acres)
Since its inception, De Witt Clinton Park has been focused on the family. When it was originally constructed a century ago, it featured a "family farm garden" and one of the city's first playgrounds. Today, the farm is missing but the playground is surrounded by scores of ball fields and it still a popular place for families.
Hudson River Park (550 acres)
The Hudson River Park, one of the City's most popular lesisure destinations, came into being following an aboveground road collapse and a failed highway project that left a large portion of the west side of the City unused. After years of political battling over how to handle the space, Hudson River Park was approved in 1998. The Park's first section was opened in the West Village in 2003. Today, the Park stretches along the river from Battery Park City up to 58th Street. The Park is extremely popular for runners and cyclists who provide a steady stream of traffic for the bikeway, but is equally popular among the multitudes of sunbathers who take up camp on the Park's green banks. One of the Park's most interesting features is its incorporation of old piers, which have been converted into public park space.