Manhattan Valley is an architectural smorgasbord. One can choose from five stories townhomes, early 20th- Century elevator buildings, historic and preserved buildings, as well as new luxury high-rises. The vicinity to parks makes very family friendly and its proximity to Columbia University and Barnard create an interesting dynamic in demographics. The neighborhood is a blend of young students and blue collar families. It’s a neighborhood where you can still feel the “grit” of the city though in recent years crimes rates have decreased greatly (as they have throughout New York).
After years of mediocre food, Manhattan Valley has undergone a kind of food renaissance in the last few years. There are many great restaurants with wide ranging cuisines: From Thai Market to Vietnamese Saiguette and from Lido’s Italian fare to Smoke Jazz Club and its soul food, to the incredible Silver Moon bakery, the neighborhood is eclectic. For one of the best slices in the city, try Sal and Carmines, a pizza joint that has been open since 1959. The old and the new mix well in this neighborhood and there is a sense that all kinds of things are welcome; partially due to the constant flux of Columbia associated students or faculty, new restaurants, new buildings, and newcomers, all feel welcome and appreciated in this up and coming true New York neighborhood.
Manhattan Valley was formerly known as the Bloomingdale District, a name which is still in occasional use. It took its name from Bloomingdale Road (which is now Broadway) which ran North-South from 23rd Street to what is now known as 125th Street. The name Bloomingdale comes from the dutch Bloemendaal which means valley of flowers.
In the 18th Century, Manhattan Valley was strewn with farms and country residences. It was a wealthy area of the island of Manhattan. As the farms were divided up, multi-family buildings were built and the land was absorbed into the city.
John Clendening owned a farm covering most of the valley (from about 99th Street to 105th) and held a large mansion on 104th and Amsterdam Avenue. At that time, the area was known as Clendening Valley. Though the estate was divided up by 1845, the name persisted until the 1880s.
An elevated aqueduct was built to carry the Croton Aqueduct over the valley which separated the eastern side of the valley from the village of Bloomingdale. The aqueduct was torn down in the 1870s and replaced with an underground siphon. From that point on the area began to focus on care for the elderly and mentally ill. The Hebrew Home for the Aged, the Catholic Old Age Home, the Home for Respectable Aged Indigent Females as well as the Towers Nursing Home were all constructed. Along with the New York Cancer Hospital and the Lion Brewery, this period gave the area its earliest architectural landmarks.
Towards the end of the 19th Century, once the Ninth Avenue subway Line and the Broadway line were built, the area filled out residentially. Around the same time, Columbia purchased the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum which made the neighborhood significantly more attractive.
Irish and German immigrants started flocking to the area in the 1900s, followed by Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and South Americans in the late 1940s. The Frederick Douglass housing project was built in the ’50s. In the next few decades, the area, like much of New York City, was plagued by crime, but by the ’80s development was booming.
The parks offer loads of activities for those that appreciate being outdoors. Riverside Park has some beautiful walks as well as soccer fields and a skate park all in Manhattan Valley. Central Park, the most eastern border of the neighborhood is one of the city’s most popular destinations. In the winter, enjoy easy access to Lasker Skating Rink and in summer enjoy its transformation into a beautiful public (and not well trafficked) swimming pool.
The part of Central Park that borders Manhattan Valley contains one of its hidden gems: the Conservatory Garden, which features immaculate Italian, French, and English gardens. Visit Smoke for jazz, or Symphony Space for literary events, comedy, and theater.
Make sure to stop by Silver Moon Bakery, Church of the Ascension, Straus Park, and St. John the Divine (just north of Manhattan Valley on 112th and Amsterdam).