March 9, 2021


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Hell’s Kitchen: Where East Village Grit Meets the Artsy West Side

Tucked behind the playhouses along Broadway, Hell’s Kitchen has long attracted theater people. For Holly-Anne Devlin, a 37-year-old producer and director, the relationship began when she studied theater at the Fordham University Lincoln Center campus, one block north of the neighborhood’s West 59th Street border. Ms. Devlin lived in rented walk-ups, including a tiny, dark loft that she and her two roommates called “the bat cave.”

Now, in addition to having worked on Broadway shows, she owns production companies that have toured with entertainment like “Wine Lovers: The Musical,” where a ticket includes six glasses of wine. Two years ago, she bought a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise on West 42nd Street with views of the Statue of Liberty. She paid $770,000 for it, an estate-sale bargain, she said, that was appraised in January at $925,000.

“I was pleased, and then this happened,” she said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit this neighborhood harder than most. “I had 111 employees, and I had to lay everybody off.”

But in “show-must-go-on” spirit, Ms. Devlin created the Hell’s Kitchen Happiness Krewe, which pays performers to visit restaurants and other small businesses to help bring in customers. “My emphasis is on joy and revival,” she said. She used her savings and donations to start the program, she said, and has since brought it to other neighborhoods. Over the summer, she also organized, with Marisa Redanty, the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Action Committee, which has worked with police and other organizations to bring more safety measures to the area, where many homeless people are now housed in hotels.

Ms. Widawski, who is in her 40s and works at Transportation Alternatives in the financial district (she commutes by bicycle), said Hell’s Kitchen “still felt like an old-school neighborhood,” when she first moved there, especially along her row of tenements. “It’s a nice little community of these small apartments, where we can always borrow an egg or a tool from our neighbor.”

There were “more mom-and-pop shops, more affordable groceries, more character,” she said. “Now there are more chains, more bars and more high-rises.”

Stretching from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River (busy commercial thoroughfare to sublime park) and from West 59th to West 41st Streets (sleek Time Warner Center to scruffy Port Authority bus terminal), Hell’s Kitchen is a jumble of contrasts. In recent years, it has become “more attractive and more diverse on every level,” said Steven Gottlieb, an agent with Warburg Realty. “It has this really interesting balance between the best of East Village grit and the artsy, intellectual West Side.”

For many years, rentals in walk-up tenements dominated, and they are still there. But recently, chic new buildings have brought more upscale residents, Mr. Gottlieb said, many feeling priced out of the West Village or Chelsea. “It is cheaper,” he said, “but not as cheap as people think it is.”

The building boom is continuing, said David Chang, the sales director of Bloom on Forty Fifth, an eight-story, modernist-style condominium at the corner of 10th Avenue that curves around a courtyard. It is about to begin sales, with studios starting at $750,000.

“Two years ago or so, this was a Hess gas station,” he said. It will join other brand-new structures, including The West, a condo at West 47th Street and 11th Avenue that isn’t quite finished, and Charlie West, a condo and rental on West 43rd Street near 10th Avenue.

Like much of New York, Hell’s Kitchen saw huge spikes in inventory in July, August and September, following a lockdown period when prospective buyers were prohibited from touring apartments, said John Walkup, the chief operating officer and a founder of UrbanDigs, a real estate analytics website. Only 14 contracts, representing $14.161 million in sales, were signed in September, a big drop from the 26 contracts, representing $43.582 million in sales, signed in September 2019. Generally, Mr. Walkup said, apartments listed at “under $2 million are moving, but anything over that is dead in the water, or almost.”

At the end of October, 231 Hell’s Kitchen apartments were listed for sale on UrbanDigs. The least expensive was a studio in a 1929 co-op with a full-time doorman, at 457 West 57th Street, listed for $255,000; the costliest was a five-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bathroom penthouse in the Time Warner Center, at 25 Columbus Circle, listed for $62.5 million.

Of the 378 apartments for rent, the least expensive was a studio in a doorman building listed for $1,400 a month; the most expensive was another penthouse at the Time Warner Center, offered furnished for $59,500 (and listed for sale for $35 million).

West 42nd Street is home to many Off Broadway theaters, including Playwrights Horizons and Signature Theatre Company (in a Frank Gehry-designed building). All are temporarily closed because of the pandemic.

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