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Locals want a part of Hell’s Kitchen lodged in the National Register of Historic Places as Paddy’s Market. The proposed historic district runs from W35th to W40th Street on both sides of Ninth Avenue.
The designation is in honor of the original Paddy’s Market, which dominated much of 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen from the late 1870s through to 1938. It will also help to showcase buildings that date back to the 1850s and 1860s.
Joe Restuccia, Executive Director of Clinton Housing Development Company, is leading the initiative and has support from Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) and the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance (HYHK). “We can create an identity for this area that will encourage economic development and tourism, as well as helping the recovery of retail businesses impacted by COVID-19,” he said.
“We have a unique situation here. Normally owners would be nervous about historic status, but in this Special Hudson Yards District, residential buildings already cannot be demolished. This could give the owners in this corridor access to city, state and federal grants for structural improvements.”
The area is still well known for great food, with Sea Breeze Fish Market, International Grocery and Esposito’s renowned for their offerings throughout New York.
And it is undoubtedly historically significant. When the 9th Ave EL (elevated railroad) was extended above W30th Street in 1879, Paddy’s Market boomed — particularly on Saturdays, when shoppers came out in their droves.
The market stretched underneath the rail tracks and the air was filled with the calls of the vendors — two or three to each wagon. When the sun went down, Saturday night was party night, and it’s said the din of voices drowned out the rattle of the EL trains rumbling overhead.
During Prohibition, the street was filled with grapes for home wine making, which was still legal. People came over from New Jersey, down from the Bronx, and up from downtown to buy vegetables, fruits, olive oil, pasta, bread, meat, fish, flowers and poultry, as well as spices, herbs, coffee and tea.
Although Hell’s Kitchen was predominantly Irish — hence the name of the market — many of the stallholders were Italians, along with Poles, Germans, and Jews, and the market flourished alongside traditional Italian and Greek grocery stores.
The most famous merchant was Henry, the Frankfurter Man. His cart was on the corner of W40th Street – 9th Avenue and it was said his sauerkraut could be smelled three blocks away — four on a hot New York summer’s day!
The city decided to get rid of the peddlers in 1937 to make way for the construction of the Lincoln Tunnel. The evictees took their case to New York’s Court of Appeal in Albany before finally admitting defeat.
Several cities around the world with large Irish immigrant populations, such as Sydney, Liverpool and Glasgow, also had “Paddy’s Markets”.
The market’s final day of trading was July 16, 1938. However, it lived on for a while and there was a controversy about the name. In September 1938, the New York Times reported that: “Some of the old Paddy’s Market, housed in new quarters in a lot on W39th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, already faces a factional dispute. A rival group of the former Ninth Avenue pushcart peddlers is trying to use the historic name. The Thirty-ninth Street merchants yesterday were working on a huge sign labeled The New Paddy’s Market. Just west of the avenue on Forty-first Street the other faction was preparing an even larger sign reading The Original Paddy’s Market!”
Eighty-three years on, the name is still contentious. When Joe Restuccia pitched the idea to the HYHK Board, the question was raised: “Is Paddy’s a derogatory term?”
Jean-Daniel Noland from MCB4 replied: “My name is Noland. I am not offended by this term. We had a great deal of discussion about it at the board level that is in our letter supporting this. This celebration of immigrant history is very important for the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. This could be a real positive development for that whole area, especially around Port Authority. It’s important to celebrate our evergreen history.”
“I think it’s a terrific. You’re creating an historical district and you’re calling it the name that it was. So I don’t see any problem,” said Christine Berthet.
“You have to remember, we live in the era of the perpetually offended. As long as we all know that, I just think you should be prepared,” said HYHK Board member, Angela Howard.
We asked for the opinion of former Hell’s Kitchen resident, Irishman and brand specialist John Lynch of 3Monkeys Zeno agency. He told us: “It’s got positive merchant, fresh food associations. What I have a problem with is Paddy wagon, as it associates the Irish with crime and drunkenness.”