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Hell's Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space

Hell's Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Hell's Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space
    Book Description:

    Hell's Kitchen is among Manhattan's most storied and studied neighborhoods. A working-class district situated next to the West Side's middle- and upper-class residential districts, it has long attracted the focus of artists and urban planners, writers and reformers. Now, Joseph Varga takes us on a tour of Hell's Kitchen with an eye toward what we usually take for granted: space, and, particularly, how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces. Varga examines events and locations in a crucial period in the formation of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, the Progressive Era, and describes how reformers sought to shape the behavior and experiences of its inhabitants by manipulating the built environment. But those inhabitants had plans of their own, and thus ensued a struggle over the very spaces - public and private, commercial and personal - in which they lived. Varga insightfully considers the interactions between human actors, the built environment, and the natural landscape, and suggests how the production of and struggle over space influence what we think and how we live. In the process, he raises incisive questions about the meaning of community, citizenship, and democracy itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-351-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-10)
  4. INTRODUCTION: A Death in the Kitchen
    (pp. 11-18)

    On april 23, 2008, two men, David Daloia and James O’Hare, were cleared in a New York City court of all criminal charges in a case involving felony fraud, a dead body, and an obscure 1954 Department of Health law requiring burial or incineration following “a reasonable time” after death. In a case that delighted New York City’s twin tabloids, theNew York Postand theDaily News, Daloia and O’Hare had been arrested at a Pay-O-Matic check-cashing outlet for attempting to cash the Social Security check of their then-deceased friend, Virgillio Cintron. Claiming that they were unaware that Cintron...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Space as History
    (pp. 19-44)

    In his historical sketch of New York City’s Middle West Side, written in 1912, social worker Otho Cartwright describes not only the character of the district, but, as important, how the district was perceived by outsiders:

    The district of which we write has been known for many years as the scene of disorders, of disregard of property rights and public peace. Certain it is that in the minds of New Yorkers who live outside the district … as well as in the minds of the police authorities, there still lingers a tendency and doubtless a liking to think and speak...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Restructuring Progressives
    (pp. 45-86)

    The participants and the setting of this exchange, drawn from aNew York Timesfeature story of 1905, will be familiar not only to students and scholars of the Progressive Era, but also to museums dedicated to aspects of the “American experience,” and, given the proliferation of historical documentaries on television, to the casual follower and hobbyist of U.S. history. As the historian David Hammack states, “The compelling images of Fifth Avenue and the tenement house reinforced the contemporary conception and have combined with the striking language of contemporary journalists and reformers to make New York of this period one...

  7. CHAPTER THREE When Hell Froze Over
    (pp. 87-120)

    On july 4, 1911, what newspapers reported as a “race riot” took place on Eleventh Avenue and West 40th Street. Although the brawl occurred during a period of widespread racial violence in many areas of the United States, this particular fight involved not “whites” attacking African Americans, but rather what theNew York Timesdescribed as “old-time residents” attacking Austrian immigrants. The details reported by theTimesare striking for the headline that declares the brawl a race riot, yet only one ethnic group is mentioned by name in the description, a small group of “Austrians” that the report claimed...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Housing and Visible Spaces
    (pp. 121-164)

    The construction of DeWitt Clinton Park, in the northernmost reaches of Hell’s Kitchen, was intended by its supporters to provide open, visible space in a region of cramped occlusion. The original park plan called for sloping hills, rock gardens, boys’ and girls’ playgrounds, and winding footpaths on its seven acres. DeWitt Clinton was the culmination of some thirty years of effort by various concerned citizens to install open park space on the far West Side of Manhattan. Disputes over location, condemnation of existing structures, and funding had long delayed construction, which only commenced with the passage of special legislation by...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Spatial Economies
    (pp. 165-202)

    On october 8, 1900, a spokesman for the E. S. Higgins Carpet Company made public what 2,000 workers in Manhattan had feared for some time. Higgins Carpet, a fixture in Hell’s Kitchen since the 1870s, a major employer of both skilled and unskilled labor, was moving its production facilities from the current location on Eleventh Avenue and 44th Street. The stated reason for the relocation, according to the Higgins representative, was the high tax rates and water bills the company paid at its present location.234Higgins’s announcement of its intention to move brought on a slew of rumors, reported in...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Hell, Death, and Urban Politics
    (pp. 203-230)

    “There is a fine opportunity for an important public improvement in making Eleventh Avenue not only trackless, but a beautiful roadway, helpful to all residents of the nearby unattractive streets,” statesNew York Timesletter writer Anni Gould in the spring of 1911. Arguing for a change in perception of the area, she goes on, “The quarter has long been known as Hell’s Kitchen. Why not let this neglected waterfront, so full of delightful possibilities, have its share of the generous plans enjoyed, for example, in the Bronx. It certainly would make better citizens if, instead of noise and dirt...

  11. CONCLUSION: The Spatial Production of Desire
    (pp. 231-238)

    For residents of hell’s kitchen between 1894 and 1914, wants changed in part based on spatial restructuring. The spatial changes occurring at the local, city, and regional level altered the basic relationship of the horizon of futurity, the relation between the immediate and the virtual horizon of the possible. What takes place in this historical setting can neither be described as the building of community nor as the creation of place. Community, as far as it can be delineated, always existed in the residential population, and was always in the process of formation, reformation, and disintegration.352Place, as understood by...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-246)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 247-266)
  14. Index
    (pp. 267-269)