A painter, sculptor and page designer/art director at the Wall Street Journal, Joel Cadman arrived in the neighborhood “when Hell’s Kitchen had more of the original ‘Hell’ in it”. This is Joel’s West Side Story.

Joel first moved to New York City in 1987. Photo: Naty Caez

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I moved to New York City in May 1987, from Southern California. After a few months of bouncing around between the Vanderbilt Y on the Eastside, a month at the (then) seedy Hotel Belleclaire on W77th and Broadway and a summer sublet from a theater person’s apartment at 400 W56th and 9th Avenue, I got my first New York apartment on W48th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, in July 1987. That’s when Hell’s Kitchen had more of the original “Hell” in it. (as did the entirety of New York City, at the time). 

I had dreamt of moving to New York since I was in college studying illustration and design. My dad’s brother Robert (Uncle Bob) had moved here from SoCal in the 1950s. Our family visited him and his life partner, Monty, in the summer of 1971. They lived on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. Everything about their lives and New York City made a huge impression on my nine-year-old psyche. The contrast between the southern suburbs of Los Angeles and this amazing city could not have been more stark and thrilling. That visit and my Uncle’s hero status in my mind planted the seeds of my eventual move here.

What was your first job? What do you do now?
First job in New York was (very briefly and minimally successful) trying to sell small watercolors of the Statue of Liberty to people waiting in line for the ferry to Liberty Island. I think I sold one watercolor for something like $15 over the course of multiple visits to the site. It was pretty humbling. I had moved to New York to start a career in freelance editorial illustration, but my first regular job was waiting tables at the Greenhouse Cafe at 93rd Street and Columbus Ave, in the summer of 1987. Also happens to be where I met my future wife, Beth, who had just graduated from Juilliard’s dance program. I held that job for almost three years while I began getting freelance illustration assignments from publications such as the New York Times, The Village Voice, Wall Street Journal, etc. I got tired of the restaurant business, which I’d worked in since 1977 (starting in California), I ended up getting a job at the famed Downtown art store, Pearl Paint, on Canal Street. By that time, I’d relocated to Sunnyside Queens (for the next decade), which was more affordable on my sporadic freelance income. In the summer of 2000 (Y2K!), we moved back to Hell’s Kitchen and have been here ever since.

Joel working on a painting in 2018. Photo supplied.

Now, I am an art director/page designer at the Wall Street Journal, where I have worked for 25 years. In my spare time I also paint oil on canvas portraits, make small stone sculptures, as well as very occasionally produce new videos for my public access series, Spinning Lights.

What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Too many good ones to note here, but certainly among them are the times I’ve run the New York City Marathon. Marathoning is a relatively “new” activity for me, having started 11 years ago. I ran my first New York City marathon in 2013. I was supposed to run my first in 2012, but it was canceled due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. I’ve now completed 10 NYC marathons (including the virtual one during the pandemic).

Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
As a longtime resident, my list of the reasons I love Hell’s Kitchen is extensive, but to summarize, the huge range of people from all walks of life. Lots of creative people in our building and in the neighborhood. The proximity to the Hudson River. Good restaurants and shops. Manhattan Plaza. The convenience of the Theater District being so close, for starters. 

What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I gave up booze 26 years ago (one day at a time). It was among the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but I shudder to think how my life might have gone had I continued drinking! So, the strength learned and gained from that experience has positively colored every aspect of my life. For that, I am very grateful. 
(Oh, and I can imitate a cricket sound by making a trilled whistle.)

Joel gave up alcohol 26 years ago. Photo: Naty Caez

What else should we know about you?
I have a long-running public access show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) that has been running continuously since 1997 (or so). Spinning Lights was the product of my MFA studies at the School of Visual Arts, from which I graduated in 1996. I’ve produced about 150 half-hour shows that are mostly in reruns. It has been on the air weekly for a quarter of a century! In 2003, it was listed in Time Out New York as one of the top 10 public access shows worth watching. 

Joel’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places

Domus — 413 W44th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Warm and inspiring atmosphere. Surprising and cool gifts. It is a wonderful store with unusual, handmade gifts, curated and run by two amazing, fun people, Luisa and Nikki. (Full disclosure: they also sell my paintings and sculptures!)

Grüm’d Barber Shop — 429 W46th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Good haircuts and a comfortable atmosphere. Friendly, skilled and professional staff. 

Westway Diner — 614 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
It has an old-time New York neighborhood diner atmosphere with good food and service.
I like the buzzy vibe — and its history as the real diner where Jerry Seinfeld and friends met for food

Pier 84 at Hudson River Park — 555 12th Avenue
Great place to walk, run and relax. I enjoy seeing dogs in the dog run and generally relaxed (for Manhattan!) people. Also, I am interested in history and it is pretty amazing to have the Intrepid right there, as well!

The Salvation Army — 536 W46th Street (bw 10th/11th St)
It hasn’t changed since I originally moved to HK 36 years ago! Great for finding music, clothes, sometimes furniture and dropping off things I don’t need any longer, knowing they will be put to further use.

Joel browsing the shirt section at Salvation Army. Photo: Naty Caez

Manhattan Plaza! (also known as the “Miracle on 42nd Street”) — 400 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
It’s like living in a small town in the middle of the big city. My family and I have lived in Manhattan Plaza for almost 23 years. Our two daughters grew up here and went to preschool here (at the recently shuttered “43rd Street Kids” in-building school). We have friends here and made many new friends over the years. Lots of interesting and creative people. It really feels like home. Close to the Hudson River and Riverside parks, etc. 

Not to mention the many famous people who have lived and worked there, including Tennessee Williams, Alicia Keys, Larry David (to mention just a few) and even Samuel L Jackson, who I understand was a security guard there before his career took off!

Westside Theater — 407 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I’ve seen one or two productions there, but it is a great, intimate place to see theater! Cool and historic venue.

Mémé Restaurant — 607 10th Avenue (corner of W44th St)
Great vibes and a place to celebrate happy moments. Wonderful owners, food, atmosphere and location!

Joel having a happy moment with owner Jacob at MéMé. Photo: Naty Caez

Trek Bicycle — 653 10th Avenue (corner of W46th St) *Hell’s Kitchen location recently closed
Convenient location. Great help. They have helped me fix my bike in emergency situations and very likely saved me from serious injury several years ago when they found dangerous cracks had formed in the front fork of my bike (which I hadn’t noticed) when I took it in for some routine maintenance. They put a new fork on the bike at a very reasonable price. Phew!

Actors Studio — 432 W44th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Another famous and important landmark! Incredible history and influence in the world of drama.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?
While writing about my appreciation of wonderful things about Hell’s Kitchen, it is important to note that W42ST Magazine is also a genuine gem of Hell’s Kitchen! Phil and his team’s tireless work to disseminate Hell’s Kitchen’s news, information, treasures and glories to residents is a valuable resource that helps to really make HK even more of a great community!

Joel with his family in 2022. Photo supplied.

You can follow Joel on Instagram @citybumpkin @joel_cadman_art. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself), please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations.

You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.

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