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.