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the web site of the

West 104th Street Block Association

Block and neighborhood history
by Gilbert Tauber

1900 to 1949 | 1950 to 1979 | 1980 to Present

1800 to 1899
West 104th Street appears on the 1811 Commissioner's Plan that established Manhattan's present street grid. But more than 70 years passed before our block -- Brownstones on north side of 104th St.between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive -- existed as anything more than lines on a map. In the 1860s there was only a single frame house, which was entered from West End Avenue. On the south side of the future street, closer to Riverside Drive, was a pond from which a stream ran down to the Hudson.

Brownstones on north side of 104th St. looking west around 1894.
The crenellated building at the corner and the adjacent brownstone
were replaced in 1929 by the present 16-story 320 Riverside Dr.

The street was legally opened in 1884. By 1890 it had been graded; water and sewer lines were installed; and the first house had been built. This was a three-story stone dwelling at the northeast corner of Riverside Drive. In 1892-93 rows of brownstones were built along both sides of the street. The row on the north side was designed by Martin V.B. Ferdon and built by Welcker & Fisher; those on the south side by Clarence True, who was also the developer.

In the next few years the adjacent blockfronts of West End Avenue Side view of former 905 WEAwere filled with rowhouses. The present sites of 315 and 320 Riverside Drive were built out with individually designed town houses.

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1900 to 1949
The opening of the subway on Broadway in 1904 set off an apartment building boom all along its route. Our block was unaffected at first, but during the First World War the brownstones at the West End Avenue corners were torn down for the construction of 895 and 905 West End Avenue. Both were designed for the Paterno family by Gaetan Ajello, a prolific architect whose apartments are prized for their roomy layouts and handsome detail.

Pictured above is one of the buildings on the present site of 905 West End Ave.
Below is another view of it; the brownstones on the right were also replaced by the present building.

Front view of former 905 WEA

Subway exit, SE corner Broadway and 104th St.103rd St. subway station exit in 1912; southeast corner of 104th St. and Broadway;
photo courtesy of Judy Williams

The Regent Resident at the northeast corner of 104th St. and Broadway;
it replaced the church which is visible in the photo above this one. Note the covered subway exit in the lower right corner.

Front view of former 320 RSDThere was another wave of building in the late 1920s and early '30s. About a dozen brownstones and townhouses, including the old Bacon house at the northeast corner of Riverside Drive (pictured at left), were torn down and replaced by 315 and 320 Riverside Drive and 308 and 309 West 104th St. The Art Deco 315 Riverside Drive, completed in 1931, was designed by Boak & Paris, who were also the architects of the landmark Metro Theater on Broadway at 100th St.

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1908 Photo; read caption underneath picture

Riverside Park north from 100th St. in 1908

View looking north from 100th St. and Riverside Drive in 1908. Notice the Ignacy Paderewski billboard in the lower right. The tall building right center is 305 Riverside Dr. at 103rd St. The ships on the Hudson may be related to an Admiral Dewey celebration that day. Photo courtesy Katheen Hulser.

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1950 to 1979
The 1950s through the 1970s were a period of decline in New York City as people and jobs migrated to the new suburbs. In addition, rent control, although it protected tenants, often made it more profitable to neglect buildings rather than maintain them. Petty crime became more frequent. Our block was not as severely affected as most others on the Upper West Side, but some of the brownstones were turned into rooming houses.

The 1970s, when the city itself nearly went bankrupt, was the low point. It was in 1970, in response to the crime problem, that a group of block residents formed the West 104th Street Block Association.

But the 1970s were also a period of renewed interest in city living. By the end of the decade several brownstones had been bought and renovated by owner occupants. Co-op conversions, which became widespread in the late '70s, led to more investments in renovation, both by co-op corporations and individual shareholders.

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1980 to Present
Supported by member dues, the association currently contracts for security guard service; plants and maintains trees and flower beds; publishes a newsletter; and sponsors block fairs and other events.

The services and amenities provided by the association have helped to make this one of the most desirable blocks on the Upper West Side.

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About Gilbert Tauber
Gil Tauber, an urban planner and historian, is co-author of The New York City Handbook and a contributor to the Encyclopedia of New York City. He has conducted walking tours for the West 104th St. Block Association, the Columbus-Amsterdam BID, and other groups.


Photo shows 109th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway in 1895. Courtesy New-York Historical Society.

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Updated 7 December 2004

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Copyright 2007-2011 by West 104th Street Block Association, Inc. and Gilbert Tauber All rights reserved.