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Renaissance of the Upper West Side

Michael O'Neal, the owner of The Ginger Man near Lincoln Center, claims his restaurant and bar business has quadrupled in the last few years, and he does not attribute the entire increase to his white marble neighbor. "Lincoln Center used to be all there was on the West Side, but now the whole area has come to life. We plan to open a new place at Columbus Avenue and West 73rd Street this fall."

Business on the West Side is increasing at such a rate that Stanley Zabar, of Zabar's Gourmet Foods, long a West Side landmark at Broadway and 80th Street, plans to triple his store's size in September when he moves the entire operation to new quarters two blocks north. "Just five years ago it was considered an adventure, a trek, even dangerous, to come to the West Side and shop in our store," he recalled. "Shopping guides, newspaper stories and magazine articles were always knocking the neighborhood when they wrote about the store. That doesn't happen anymore." Theatrical producers Joseph Beruh and Edgar Lansbury felt so confident about the area that last month they opened the Promenade Theatre, an off-Broadway theatre, on Broadway at 76th Street. Their first production, Promenade, a musical by A1 Carmines and Maria Irene Fornés, was admired by New York Times critic Clive Barnes, who strolled over from his own West 72nd Street apartment to review it.

Perhaps the most significant announcement concerning business on the West Side came on March 18, when Alexander's Inc., one of the city's largest retail chains, revealed plans to build a $10-million, six-level, 230,000-square-foot department store and a 1,000-seat movie theatre at the corner of Broadway and 96th Street. A two-year study of the area, commissioned by Alexander's, substantiated in statistics what many of the area's merchants had begun to suspect. The West Side, the study pointed out, was in a state of transition in which more and more high-income people were moving into the neighborhood all the time, reversing the trend of the '50s, when the same kind of people were being drawn out of the center city. The survey also showed that Alexander's would have access to a total West Side population of 800,000, including 360,000 Upper West Side residents, with a surprisingly high average disposable income of $3,970 when compared to the East Side average of $4,410.

Jason R. Nathan, the city's Housing and Development Administrator, who recently led some municipal bond investors through the West Side renewal area, said even they were amazed.

"These men are really very important, very conservative cats," Nathan said, seated in his office facing a Mobil Corporation street map of New York City taped to the wall.

"The truss and traction stores have been replaced by boutiques, theatres, antique shops and a proliferation of restaurants."

"They were stunned by what's happening on the West Side. They felt it was the most striking piece of city revival they had seen. I can tell you they were impressed.

"The success of the West Side's renewal was always in question until about a year ago. In concept the area has a fantastic economic mix, ethnic mix, architectural mix. It has mass and scale. It was always worth preserving. There was simply too much there worth saving to subject the whole of it to the bulldozer approach."

Businessmen and apartment-starved New Yorkers were not the only people showing confidence in the West Side boom, however. The board of trustees of the Calhoun School, a private elementary and preparatory institution founded in 1896, announced they were rejecting, after two years of consideration, a proposal to leave the West Side and merge with a private school in Riverdale. Irving Stimmler, a school trustee, said on May 18 when the announcement was made, "We believe in the West Side. We feel that once more this is the coming place. This is where the future is.

"It would have been so easy to move to the suburbs, a marriage of convenience with instant expansion. But the question really was, 'Do we want to give up the ghost and become just another exclusive school catering to the upper classes?' Most of our students are going to end up in the city, and how are they going to cope if they've been educated in the suburbs? We're a city school. A West Side school. We decided to stay and fight it out here."

The residents of Manhattan's Upper West Side make a yeasty polyglot society that is as ethnically diverse and economically varied as any area in the United States, with the possible exception of Honolulu. It is a neighborhood, or series of neighborhoods, where certain recently renovated brownstone blocks have already taken on the hushed tone of affluence, while around the corner young Puerto Rican men, wearing sleeveless underwear and religious medals, spend most of their Saturdays rubbing Simoniz wax into six-year-old automobiles. It is an area in which Mrs. Jacqueline Onassis sends her son to a school that is within a block and a half of a Japanese supermarket, an Israeli coffee house with a floor show, a gypsy palmist, a hardware store specializing in "Bueno Bargains," an excellent Jewish delicatessen (Gitlitz), a pizzeria, a Lebanese restaurant (Uncle Tonoose) and a religious-articles store that sells evil-eye repellents, love potions and numerology books. (The window of the tiny shop holds a life-size statue of a saint, some votive candles and a Mastercharge credit plan decal.) It is an area that houses, besides many Russian, German, Polish, black and Puerto Rican residents, substantial numbers of Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, Haitians, Irish, English, Dominicans, Norwegians, Swedes, Czechoslovaks, Austrians, Italians, Canadians and Midwestern Americans.


  • Archive: “Real Estate
  • From the Jun 30, 1969 issue of New York
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