Manhattan’s two worst blocks in the 1960s

Over the years, I’m sure countless New York streets have been worthy of this title.

But in the 1960s, two stretches of Manhattan held the crown.

In 1962, journalists gave it to East 100th Street, between First and Second Avenues.

Called “absolutely rock-bottom” by a city official in The New York Times that year, East 100th Street was further summed up as “overcrowded, notably unsanitary, ridden with crime and narcotics addiction, it is a microcosm of the worst conditions and worst elements of the city.”

A 1968 New York feature reported that residents held a funeral march for the tenements on the block, “so neglected they were virtually uninhabitable.”

Photographer Bruce Davidson shot a series of black and white photos on East 100th Street chronicling the stark poverty (at right, from 1966).

Today, some tenements appear to have been razed, but a row remains, as you can see on Google.

West 84th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam may be a little bit shabby by current standards—but it’s a pretty decent Upper West Side block.

Not so in 1961, when the Times awarded it “worst block” status after a 400-resident riot one summer grabbed the city’s attention.

The Times described West 84th as “the gathering place of drunks, narcotics addicts, and sexual perverts.”

The city’s solution: raze tenements and move residents to new housing projects.

John Podhoretz, who grew up on the Upper West Side in the 1960s, remembers West 84th and recounts the city’s efforts to clean it up here.

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4 Responses to “Manhattan’s two worst blocks in the 1960s”

  1. Tom B Says:

    John Pohoretz remembers W84th is so sad to read. But the new crime statistics over 4 decades show great improvement of the neighborhood. Was “the City’s solution: to raze tenements” correct? Would that be considered a kind of gentrification? Does the NY Times have a new place in the City for “the gathering of drunks, narcotics addicts, and sexual perverts”?

  2. mathhattan Says:

    I grow up on 97 st between west end and riverside i was born in the 80’s i remember late 80′ early 90’s crack dens were still around even on that block the trash filled streets i never new west 84 st had such history. One day i purchased this book called Never Die Alone By Donald Goines he mentions a character living on 87st between Broadway and Amsterdam and how seedy it was now reading this i guess it was true about the area.

  3. Jim Haggerty Says:

    I lived on the southeast corner of 84th and Amsterdam from 1958 until 1983 then moved to 82nd and Amsterdam and lived there until 1994. I vaguely recall the old tenements before they were torn down to make way for P.S. 9 and Brandeis High School. The neighborhood especially on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues was like a northward extension of Hell’s Kitchen and the tenements were mostly inhabited by Hispanics and African-Americans. The streets were tough and hard and there was a definite difference west of Broadway and east of Coumbus. No one could have predicted 50 years ago that the neighborhood would become gentrified the way it did over the ensuing 20 years after Lincoln Center was built. Overall the neighborhood changed for the better but the residential and commercial rents are way too high like much of the rest of Manhattan.

  4. Steve Yaros Says:

    I lived at 104 W. 84th Street from 1944 to 1951, when we moved out to suburban NJ. I was 9 years old when we moved out. The area was not at all bad then. My cousin and I walked the five blocks to and from the old PS 9 on West End Avenue for years without incident. We are Caucasian and almost all of our neighbors were also: Polish, Irish, Russian, etc. I went to the Museum of Natural History almost every day to spend a couple of hours waiting until my parents came home from work. I was never bothered by anyone, and I guess I picked up a lot of knowledge just looking at the exhibits. My parents were very sensitive about the influx of Puerto Ricans in the late ’40s, and that is why we moved away. I never saw “the worst street in NYC” the way it became and was described in the Times.

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