Old New York’s slums had some illustrious names: Murderers’ Alley, Bandits’ Roost, and the Dead End (an Irish district off First Avenue overlooking the East River).
But one descriptive name was used for two poverty rows, one on the east side of Manhattan and one on the west: Battle Row.
The east side Battle Row marked a stretch of First Avenue around 63rd Street. The Battle Row Gang ran this neighborhood of old-law tenements and belching riverfront factories.
Lawlessness ruled even without the gang’s influence. “The destructive pastimes of the Battle Row tenants were largely informal,” according to a 1924 New York Times piece. “They were most congenial as they rifled the wagon of an unfortunate peddler who ventured into their street.”
“In the decade between 1902 and 1912, the Row obtained its peak of pugnacity,” explained a 1926 New York Times article.
“An ever-popular diversion of the Row’s tenants was cop-sniping,” stated the Times. “Men, women, and children would peep from roofs and windows and drop rocks and decrepit vegetables upon passing policemen.”
One longtime cop recalled in the Times piece a holiday tradition in Battle Row:
“Groups of [residents] would go over to First or Second Avenue and toss a rock through the window of a butcher store and in a minute or two the nice collection of turkeys, ducks, and chickens would have disappeared.”
Meanwhile, the west side Battle Row, on West 39th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, was part of Hell’s Kitchen, then known as “probably the lowest and filthiest of the city.”
This slum of “gas-works, breweries, and rum shops,” which reportedly got its name due to all the street fights among the packed-like-sardines population, was the territory of the Gophers and other gangs.
These gangs of Irish immigrants raided the train yards at 30th Street, among other criminal enterprises. Battle Row seems to have also been the name of a saloon on that block operated by Mallet Murphy, one of the “Lady Gophers” and a notorious female criminal.
Both Battle Rows disappeared in the reform-minded city after the turn of the century.
The east side’s Battle Row became the site of model tenements, then a neighborhood of luxury apartment towers with river views.
The West Side Battle Row held out as a working-class neighborhood. It’s now on prized land made trendy by the revitalized Far West Side.
[Images: headline, NYT; tenement on West 39th Street, NYPL; Hell’s Kitchen tenement similar to what Battle Row would have looked like, Wikipedia; headine, NYT; model tenement that replaced Battle Row on First Avenue, MCNY Digital Collection]