Chelsea is a neighborhood on the West Side of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The district’s boundaries are roughly 14th Street to the south and the Hudson River and West Street to the west, with the northern boundary variously described as 30th Street or 34th Street, and the eastern boundary as either Sixth Avenue or Fifth Avenue. To the north of Chelsea is the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, also known as “Clinton”, as well as the Hudson Yards; to the northeast is the Garment District; to the east are NoMad and the Flatiron District; to the southwest is the Meatpacking District; and to the southeast is Greenwich Village and the West Village.
Chelsea is divided between Manhattan Community Board 4 and Manhattan Community Board 5. It contains the Chelsea Historic District and its extension, which were designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1970 and 1981. respectively, The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and expanded in 1982 to include contiguous blocks containing particularly significant examples of period architecture.
The neighborhood is primarily residential, with a mix of tenements, apartment blocks, city housing projects, townhouses, and renovated rowhouses, but its many retail businesses reflect the ethnic and social diversity of the population. The area has a large gay population. Chelsea is also known as one of the centers of the city’s art world, with over 200 galleries in the neighborhood. A 2015 article in The New York Times cited the widening income gap between the wealthy living in luxury buildings and the poor living in housing projects, at times across the street from each other.
The retail stores of Chelsea reflect the ethnic and social diversity of the area’s population. Ethnic restaurants, delis and clothing boutiques are plentiful. Tekserve, a vast Apple computer repair shop, serves nearby Silicon Alley and the area’s large creative community. The Chelsea Lofts district – the former fur and flower district – is located roughly between Sixth and Seventh Avenues from 23rd to 30th streets. Chelsea has a large LGBT population, and is known for its social diversity and inclusion. The McBurney YMCA on West 23rd Street, commemorated in the hit Village People song Y.M.C.A., sold its home and relocated in 2002 to a new facility on 14th Street, the neighborhood’s southern border.
Most recently, Chelsea has become an alternative shopping destination with Barneys CO-OP – which replaced the much larger original Barneys flagship store – Comme des Garçons, and Balenciaga boutiques, as well as being near Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Christian Louboutin. Chelsea Market, on the ground floor of the former Nabisco Building, is a destination for food lovers.
In the late 1990s, New York’s visual arts community began a gradual transition away from SoHo, due to increasing rents and competition from upscale retailers for the large and airy spaces that galleries require, and the area of West Chelsea between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues and 18th and 28th Streets has become a new global centers of contemporary art, home to hundreds of art galleries and many artist studios.
Chelsea takes its name from the estate and Georgian-style house of retired British Major Thomas Clarke, who obtained the property when he bought the farm of Jacob Somerindyck on August 16, 1750. The land was bounded by what would become 21st and 24th Streets, from the Hudson River to Eighth Avenue. Clarke chose the name “Chelsea” after the manor of Chelsea, London, home to Sir Thomas More. Clarke passed the estate on to his daughter, Charity, who, with her husband Benjamin Moore, added land on the south of the estate, extending it to 19th Street. The house was the birthplace of their son, Clement Clarke Moore, who in turn inherited the property. Moore is generally credited with writing “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and was the author of the first Greek and Hebrew lexicons printed in the United States.
In 1827, Moore gave the land of his apple orchard to the Episcopal Diocese of New York for the General Theological Seminary, which built its brownstone Gothic, tree-shaded campus south of the manor house. Despite his objections to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, which ran the new Ninth Avenue through the middle of his estate, Moore began the development of Chelsea with the help of James N. Wells, dividing it up into lots along Ninth Avenue and selling them to well-heeled New Yorkers. Covenants in the deeds of sale specified what could be built on the land – stables, manufacturing and commercial uses were forbidden – as well as architectural details of the buildings.
The new neighborhood thrived for three decades, with many single family homes and rowhouses, in the process expanding past the original boundaries of Clarke’s estate, but an industrial zone also began to develop along the Hudson. In 1847 the Hudson River Railroad laid its freight tracks up a right-of-way between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, separating Chelsea from the Hudson River waterfront. By the time of the Civil War, the area west of Ninth Avenue and below 20th Street was the location of numerous distilleries making turpentine and camphene, a lamp fuel. In addition, the huge Manhattan Gas Works complex, which converted bituminous coal into gas, was located at Ninth and 18th Street.
The industrialization of western Chelsea brought immigrant populations from many countries to work in the factories, including a large number of Irish immigrants, who dominated work on the Hudson River piers that lined the nearby waterfront and the truck terminals integrated with the freight railroad spur. As well as the piers, warehouses and factories, the industrial area west of Tenth Avenue also included lumberyards and breweries, and tenements built to house the workers. With the immigrant population came the political domination of the neighborhood by the Tammany Hall machine, as well as festering ethnic tensions: around 67 people died in a riot between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants on July 12, 1871, which took place around 24th Street and Eighth Avenue. The social problems of the area’s workers provoked John Lovejoy Elliot to form the Hudson Guild in 1897, one of the first settlement houses – private organizations designed to provide social services.
A theater district had formed in the area by 1869, and soon West 23rd Street was the center of American theater, led by Pike’s Opera House (1868, demolished 1960), on the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue. Chelsea was an early center for the motion picture industry before World War I. Some of Mary Pickford’s first pictures were made on the top floors of an armory building at 221 West 26th Street, while other studios were located on 23rd and 21st Streets.
London Terrace was one of the world’s largest apartment blocks when it opened in 1930, with a swimming pool, solarium, gymnasium, and doormen dressed as London bobbies. Other major housing complexes in the Chelsea area are Penn South, a 1962 cooperative housing development sponsored by the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, and the New York City Housing Authority-built and -operated Fulton Houses and Chelsea-Elliot Houses.
The massive 23-story Art Deco Walker Building, which spans the block between 17th and 18th Streets just off of Seventh Avenue, was built in the early 1930s. It typifies the real estate activity of the district, as it has been converted in 2012 to residential apartments on the top 16 floors, with Verizon retaining the lower seven floors.
In the early 1940s, tons of uranium for the Manhattan Project were stored in the Baker & Williams Warehouse at 513-519 West 20th Street. The uranium was removed and a decontamination project at the site was completed early 1990s.
People of many different cultures live in Chelsea. Above 23rd Street, by the Hudson River, the neighborhood is post-industrial, featuring the High Line that follows the river all through Chelsea. Eighth Avenue is a center for LGBT-oriented shopping and dining, and from 16th to 22nd Streets between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, mid-nineteenth-century brick and brownstone townhouses are still occupied, a few even restored to single family use.
Since the mid-1990s, Chelsea has become a center of the New York art world, as art galleries moved there from SoHo. From 16th Street to 27th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, there are more than 350 art galleries that are home to modern art from upcoming artists and respected artists as well. Along with the art galleries, Chelsea is home to the Rubin Museum of Art, with a focus on Himalayan art; the Graffiti Research Lab and New York Live Arts, a producing and presenting organization of dance and other movement-based arts. The community, in fact, is home to many highly regarded performance venues, among them the Joyce Theater, one of the city’s premier modern dance emporiums, and The Kitchen, a center for cutting-edge theatrical and visual arts.
With a change in zoning resolution in conjunction with the development of the High Line, Chelsea has experienced a new construction boom, with projects by notable architects such as Shigeru Ban, Neil Denari, Jean Nouvel, and Frank Gehry.
The Chelsea neighborhood is served by two weekly newspapers, the Chelsea-Clinton News and Chelsea Now.
Chelsea Piers – The Chelsea Piers were the city’s primary luxury ocean liner terminal from 1910 until 1935. The RMS Titanic was headed to Pier 60 at the piers and the RMS Carpathia brought survivors to Pier 54 in the complex. The northern piers are now part of an entertainment and sports complex operated by Roland W. Betts, and the southern piers are part of Hudson River Park.
Chelsea Market – In a restored historic factory, this festival marketplace hosts a variety of shopping and dining options, including bakeries, a fish market, wine store, and many others.
Chelsea Studios – Sound stage on 26th Street since 1914 where numerous movies and television shows have been produced.
Church of the Holy Apostles – Built in 1845–1848 to a design by Minard Lefever, with additions by Lefever in 1853–1854, and transepts by Charles Babcock added in 1858, this Italianate church was designated a New York City landmark in 1966 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is Lefever’s only surviving building in Manhattan. The building, which featured an octagonal spire, was burned in a serious fire in 1990, but stained glass windows by William Jay Bolton survived, and the church reopened in April 1994 after a major restoration. The Episcopal parish is notable for hosting the city’s largest program to feed the poor, and is the second and larger home of the LGBT-oriented synagogue, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah.
Empire Diner – An art moderne diner designed by Fodero Dining Car Company and built in 1946, altered in 1979 by Carl Laanes. Located at 210 Tenth Avenue at 22nd Street, it has been seen in several movies and mentioned in Billy Joel’s song “Great Wall of China”. The diner closed its doors for good on May 15, 2010, had a brief stint as “The Highliner”, and most recently re-opened under its original name in January 2014.
The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church – Its college-like close is sometimes called “Chelsea Square”, a city block of tree-shaded lawns between Ninth and Tenth Avenues and West 20th and 21st Streets. The campus is ringed by more than a dozen brick and brownstone buildings in Gothic Revival style. The oldest building on the campus dates from 1836. Most of the rest were designed as a group by architect Charles Coolidge Haight, under the guidance of the Dean, Augustus Hoffman.
Google Office, New York – Occupying the full city block between 15th & 16th Streets, and from Eighth to Ninth Avenues, at 111 Eighth Avenue, the building was once Inland Terminal 1 of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
High Line – The High Line is an elevated rail line, the successor to the street-level freight line original built through Chelsea in 1847, which was the cause of numerous fatal accidents. It was elevated in the early 1930s by the New York Central Railroad, but fell out of use. Originally slated to be torn down, it has now been converted into an elevated urban park.
Hotel Chelsea – Built 1883–1885 and designed by Hubert, Pirsson & Co., it was New York’s first cooperative apartment complex and was the tallest building in the city until 1902. After the theater district migrated uptown and the neighborhood became commercialized, the residential building folded and in 1905 it was turned into a hotel. The hotel attracted attention as the place where Dylan Thomas had been staying when he died in 1953 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, and for the 1978 slaying of Nancy Spungen for which Sid Vicious was accused. The Hotel has been the home of numerous celebrities, including Brendan Behan, Thomas Wolfe, Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams and Virgil Thomson, and the subject of books, films (Chelsea Girls, 1966) and music.
Hudson River Park – The entire Hudson River waterfront from 59th Street to the Battery including most of associated piers is being transformed into a joint city/state park with non-traditional uses.
Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project – Located at the northern edge of Chelsea, the project’s centerpiece is a mixed-use real estate development by Related Companies. According to its master plan, created by master planner Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, Hudson Yards is expected to consist of 16 skyscrapers containing more than 12,700,000 square feet (1,180,000 m2) of new office, residential, and retail space. Among its components will be six million square feet (560,000 m2) of commercial office space, a 750,000-square-foot (70,000 m2) retail center with two levels of restaurants, cafes, markets and bars, a hotel, a cultural space, about 5,000 residences, a 750-seat school, and 14 acres (5.7 ha) of public open space. The development, located mainly above and around the West Side Yard, will create a new neighborhood that overlaps with Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.
Irish Repertory Theatre – An Off-Broadway theatrical company on West 22nd St producing plays by Irish and Irish-American writers.
Joyce Theater – Located in the former Elgin Theater at 175 Eighth Avenue, it is in a 1941 revival movie house that was closed by the community after it became a porno theatre. The Elgin was completely renovated to create in the Joyce a venue suitable for dance, and was reopened two years later.
London Terrace – The apartment complex on West 23rd was one of the world’s largest apartment blocks when it opened in 1930, with a swimming pool, solarium, gymnasium, and doormen dressed as London bobbies. It was designed by Farrar and Watmough. It takes its name from the fashionable mid-19th century cottages which were once located there.
New York Live Arts – A dance organization located at 219 West 19th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.
Penn South – A large limited-equity housing cooperative built by the United Housing Foundation and financed by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union covering six city blocks, between 8th and 9th Avenue and 23rd and 29th Street.
Peter McManus Cafe – This bar and restaurant on Seventh Avenue at 19th Street is among the oldest family-owned and -operated bars in the city.
Pike’s Opera House – Built in 1868, and bought the next year by James Fisk and Jay Gould, who renamed it the Grand Opera House. Located on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street, it survived until 1960 as an RKO movie theater.
Rubin Museum of Art – is a museum dedicated to the collection, display, and preservation of the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions, especially that of Tibet. It is located at 150 West 17th Street between the Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) and Seventh Avenue.
Starrett-Lehigh Building – This huge full-block freight terminal and warehouse on West 26th Street between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues was built in 1930-1931 as a joint venture of the Starett real estate firm and the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and was engineered so that trains could pull directly into the ground floor of the building. Designed by Cory & Cory, the industrial behemoth was so architecturally notable that it was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1932 “International Style” exhibition, one of only a few American buildings to be so honored. It was designated a New York City landmark in 1966.
The Kitchen – A performance space at 512 West 19th Street; it was founded in Greenwich Village in 1971 by Steina and Woody Vasulka, taking its name from the original location, the kitchen of the Mercer Arts Center.