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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thirteenth Avenue


In November 1883, a New York Times reporter took his readers on a walk along “the most peculiar of the many unique thoroughfares which lie within the limits of this City”: Thirteenth Avenue. Today, the street is even more peculiar—only one block of it remains, stranded and inaccessible on a pier in the Hudson River.

Thirteenth Avenue was created on April 12, 1837, when the New York State Legislature passed an act to “establish a permanent exterior street in the city of New-York along the easterly shore of the North, or Hudson’s River.” The act drew an imaginary line from West 11th Street to 135th Street in Harlem, and it permitted the city the rights to oversee the development of all the land that would be created by land-filling out from the city’s natural coast line.

While real estate speculators immediately began buying and selling lots in Hudson that could someday be filled to become properties that fronted Thirteenth Avenue, the new street was slow to develop. By the time the Times reporter was walking the street in 1883, only a few lots north of Thirty-Fourth Street had been acquired and the street dead-ended in a high wooden fence somewhere between Twenty-Sixth and Twenty-Seventh streets.

Despite the city having passed a measure to pave the street in Belgian block in 1874, its lower regions were still a “dreary waste” according to the Times. The street appears to have been the home mostly to lumber yards, saloons, and city dumps, where Italian women would “swoop down like a flock of vultures” when the ash cart arrived, hoping to find hot coals.

Three years later, in May 1886, the Times dispatched another reporter to write up his thoughts on Thirteenth Avenue. The article was substantially similar to the piece from 1883, though the new reporter did spend more time sampling the local saloons. He was particularly impressed with the saloon that served passengers bound to Hoboken on the ferry, which sat on the ground floor of a six-story brick warehouse.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the area was changing. The city began investing in improvements to the piers, in particular to be able to welcome the ever-growing class of luxury steamers (which would soon include the Lusitania and the Titanic). In order to build deep water piers that did not interfere with exiting navigation on the Hudson, the city began removing landfill east of Thirteenth Avenue—effectively destroying the street to make room for what today we call Chelsea Piers.

Somehow, however, one tiny block of Thirteenth Avenue never got removed from the map. If you cross the West Side Highway at Gansevoort Street, you reach a sanitation pier (and the name of the road officially changes to Bloomfield Street). If you were able to get to the sanitation parking lot along the river’s edge, you would be on the only remaining block of Thirteenth Avenue.


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Read more about New York's waterfront in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

1 comment:

Kevin Walsh said...

There was also a more northerly stretch of 13th Avenue between West 22-30streets along the West Side Highway. This was renamed 12th Avenue in 1942, according to oldstreets.com.

forgotten-ny.com

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