The neighborhood at the north end of the HYHK district is Hell's Kitchen. Loosely defined as the area west of 8th Avenue between 34th and 59th Streets, Hell's Kitchen has a history as colorful as its name. Though the neighborhood now has a reputation for restaurants rather than riots, many of the locals can recall the darker past of Hell's Kitchen history. For many years, Hell's Kitchen was famous for its fights. From ax-handle arguments over clotheslines to race riots, violence was a way of life. No one can pin down the exact origin of the neighborhood's name, but some refer to a tenement on 54th as the first "Hell's Kitchen." Others point to an infamous building at 39th Street, and it was also the name of a neighborhood gang. The West Side was peppered with menacing nicknames like Battle Row and the House of Blazes (where arson was rampant). The name may have also been taken from a similar slum that existed in London.
Whatever the origin of the name, it fit. Hell's Kitchen was troubled by violence and general disorder. In 1851 the Hudson River Railroad opened a station at West 30th Street, and the development of the railway brought factories, lumberyards, slaughterhouses and tenements to house the numerous immigrant workers. Poverty and close quarters bred ill will between neighbors, and riots erupted between the residents. Eventually, gangs such as the Gophers, and later the Westies, ruled the streets. Hell’s Kitchen also served as an appropriate setting for one of the most famous gang rivalries of all: the Sharks and the Jets in Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.
The 1930s brought the destruction of some of the worst tenements, and the surface railroad tracks that had given 11th its reputation as Death Avenue were moved to a safer location. The Ninth Avenue elevated train, which had blocked out the sunshine for generations, was also dismantled. Attracted by its easy access to the Theater District, actors moved into Hell's Kitchen. Off-Broadway theaters flourished, and the Actors Studio on West 44th Street fostered stars like Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. Residents took control of their blocks, transforming vacant lots into parks and driving out hoodlums. By the end of the 1950s developers wanted a more respectable identity for the neighborhood. The city planning committee finally rejected the infamous Hell's Kitchen designation in favor of a name resurrected from the past: Clinton, after former Mayor and Governor DeWitt Clinton.
Over the years the Irish and German population has welcomed Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, Puerto Ricans, Peruvians and Ecuadorians, among others. This diversity is reflected in the local businesses, particularly in the numerous restaurants. A century ago vendors sold food from pushcarts along the streets and today the tradition continues by the abundance and variety of food offered in the neighborhood. The area is known for its ethnic cuisine and attracts hungry theater-goers and tourists. In fact, Hell's Kitchen is getting hotter all the time because of its lively character and old neighborhood feel. Some New Yorkers may call the area Clinton and see it as an up-and-coming neighborhood, safer and more attractive than ever. But, many locals take pride in the rough-and-tumble past, remaining loyal to the neighborhood and the name Hell's Kitchen.
History excerpt taken from the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association. You can read more on their website.