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New York Cheat Sheet: Chelsea

June 30th, 2009 by admin
Chelsea
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Chelsea’s borders run approximately from W. 14th to the Mid 20′s and from the Hudson River to 6th Av.  The land was originally owned by Cpt. Thomas Clarke, who named his estate after the Chelsea Royal Hospital, a center set up for aged and infirmed British soldiers.  The area was developed as a residential zone by his grandson and prominent NY historical figure Clement Clarke Moore.  Moore summered in the quiet Chelsea, and when he saw the city would soon engulf the land he became proactive.  He gave a large plot for the General Theological Seminary, ensuring a genteel atmosphere, and sold off plots for building with design and use controls attached: No stables, alleys, manufacturing plants, and a ten-foot setback for all houses.
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From there, the neighborhood is A Tale of Two Chelsea’s: East and West.  The West was for industry due to the accessibility of the 11th Avenue rail line and the unsightliness of the 9th Avenue Elevated.  Here you could find breweries, slaughterhouses, glue factories and the job starved immigrants that made them run.
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Eastern Chelsea has a very different story.  Along 23rd street, a theatre district flourished in the 1870′s and 1880′s, and in the early 1900′s it served as the center of the silent film industry before movie production moved to Hollywood.
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The whole of Chelsea then experienced a slow decline that lasted into the 1990′s, when young professionals took advantage of the real estate values and began to restore the old, 19th century houses.  It exists today in this form, with the General Theological Seminary acting as its center and only constant.
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10 Points of Interest (in no order):
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1.  The General Theological Seminary – C. Clarke Moore, the donor of the land for the school, was also a professor of Biblical Learning at the institution.  The Campus takes up a city block, from 9th to 10th avenue and 20th to 21st streets.  So much does it look like a “traditional” college campus that the “Law and Order” series of TV shows uses it whenever it needs a college setting.  The grounds are open to the public from Mon. — Friday 12-3 PM and Sat. 11-3 PM.  Centrally placed is the Chapel of the Good Shepard, with its 161-foot bell tower and its impressive bronze doors.
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2.  The Guardian Angel Roman Catholic Church at 10th Avenue and 21st street (architect John Van Pelt, 1930).  Also known as the Shrine Church of the Sea, it harkens back to a time when the NY ports were much busier than they are today, as its congregation was and still is mostly sea workers.  It’s worth examining the facade of the building, built in an Italian Romanesque style.
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3.  The Empire Diner – located at 10th avenue and 22nd street, the building was made by the Fodero Dining Car Company in 1929, as the origin of diners actually stems from a history of converted trolley cars and railroad coaches.  The squat, black and chrome building has hosted many famous diners, including Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, FDR, Charles Lindbergh, Barbara Streisand and Madonna, to name a few.
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4.  The Chelsea Historic district, between 9th-10th avenue and 22nd to 20th streets boasts an impressive collection of Italiante, Greek Revival and Federal Buildings.  Most famous is “Cushman Row” 406-418 W. 20th St.  Named after mid-19th century businessman Don Alonzo Cushman these Greek Revival Houses rival “The Row” of Greenwich Village in quality.
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5.  Church of the Holy Apostles – (architect Minard Lafever 1848-49) Located all the way up at 9th Avenue and 28th street, its unique style and William Jay Bolten stained-glass windows make it a nice stop in the afternoon, when sunlight floods the interior.
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6.  The Kitchen – At 512 W. 19th between 10th and 11th Avenue, the Kitchen is a center for interdisciplinary and experimental art: film, dance, music, performance and video.
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7.  The Rubin Museum of Art – Located at 150 West 17th street, it is the only museum in the Western Hemisphere devoted entirely to Himalayan art.  This museum also occupies the former site of the famous Barney’s apartment store.
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8.  London Terrace apartments, taking up the 23rd-24th, 9th-10th city block stands an impressive looking apartment complex with all the amenities one could need.  But in 1845 to 1930 a row of Greek Revival buildings once stood known as “Millionaire’s Row.” Each house had a huge lawn surrounded by an iron fence, a true sign of wealth in Manhattan.  Across the street was a similar row of town houses known as “Chelsea Cottages.”
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9.  The East Chelsea Entertainment District along 23rd street exists today as little more than converted buildings and sites of buildings past.  But in its day it was the center of vaudeville and the Gaslit Era.  Famous spots include the Grand Opera House at 23rd and 8th, Proctor’s 23rd street Music Hall (135 W. 23rd) and Koster and Bial’s Conert Hall at 23rd and 6th.  Also known as “The Corner,” the venue caved under a failed business partnership with one Oscar Hammerstein.  Finally, the Edwin Booth Theatre at 23rd and 6th might sound familiar as it was owned by the brother of famed assassin John Wilkes Booth.  Edwin’s career was not affected by this however, and he enjoyed much success.

10.  The Chelsea Hotel – a literary, architectural, and national landmark, the Chelsea Hotel was built in 1884 first as an apartment building.  It was the first apartment building to reach 12 stories and the first to have a penthouse.  In 1905 it was converted into a hotel, and the guest list reads like a who’s who of the literary and artistic world.  They include Mark Twain, Eugene O’Neil, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while in residence), William Burroughs, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Patti Smith, Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead.  Famous events include Andy Warhol’s most famous movie Chelsea Girls (1966) and Sid Vicious’ alleged murder of his girlfriend with a hunting knife in 1978.

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