Alphabet City, Manhattan

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File:Lower Manhattan Map Alphabet City.GIF
The dark blue area denotes the neighborhood's location in Lower Manhattan.

Alphabet City is a neighborhood located within the Lower East Side and East Village in the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is also known as Loisaida, a Spanglish adaptation of 'Lower East Side'. Its name comes from Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only avenues in Manhattan to have single-letter names. It is bordered by Houston Street to the south and by 14th Street to the north, along the traditional northern border of the East Village and south of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.[1][2][3] Some famous landmarks include Tompkins Square Park and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The neighborhood has a long history, serving as a cultural center and ethnic enclave for Manhattan's German, Hispanic, and Jewish populations.

Alphabet City is located in New York's 12th and 14th congressional districts, the New York State Assembly's 64th and 74th districts, the New York State Senate's 25th district, and New York City Council's 2nd district. It is represented by Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velázquez, State Senator Dan Squadron, Assemblymen Sheldon Silver and Brian Kavanagh, and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez. The neighborhood is regulated by Manhattan Community Board 3. It lies within the New York Police Department's 9th precinct, and its schools fall within Manhattan's 1st school district. If the neighborhood is considered to extend to 23rd Street as its northern boundary, as according to some definitions, it also encompasses parts of the New York State Senate's 29th district (represented by State Senator Thomas Duane), New York City Council's 4th district (represented by Daniel Garodnick) and Manhattan Community Board 6.

File:July25th 008.jpg
Avenue C was designated Loisaida Avenue in recognition of the neighborhood's Puerto Rican heritage.


Early history

Like many other neighborhoods on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Alphabet City has been home to a succession of immigrant groups over the years. By the 1840s and 1850s, much of present-day Alphabet City had become known as "Kleindeutschland" or "Little Germany"; in the mid-19th century, many[who?] claimed New York to be the third-largest German-speaking city in the world, after Berlin and Vienna, with most of those German speakers residing in and around Alphabet City. In fact, Kleindeutschland is considered to have been the second substantial non-Anglophone urban ethnic enclave in United States history, after Germantown in Philadelphia.

By the 1880s, most Germans were moving out of Kleindeutschland and relocating uptown to the Yorkville section of the Upper East Side. Eastern Europeans replaced Germans as the dominant ethnic group in Alphabet City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time the area was considered part of the Lower East Side and became home to Eastern European Jews, Irish, and Italian immigrants. It consisted of tenement housing with no running water, and the primary bathing location for residents in the northern half of the area was the Asser Levy bath house on 23rd Street and Avenue C, north of today's Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town. During this time it was also the red light district of Manhattan and one of the worst slums in the city.

Tompkins Square branch of New York Public Library on East 10th Street

The 20th century

By the turn of the 20th century, Alphabet City was among the most densely populated parts of New York City. This density was partially a result of the area's proximity to the city's garment factories, which were the major source of employment for newly arrived immigrants. After the construction of the subway system, workers were able to relocate to other parts of the city that were previously too remote, even the Bronx, and Alphabet City's population decreased dramatically.

By the middle of the 20th century, Alphabet City was again in transition, as thousands of Puerto Ricans began to settle in the neighborhood. By the 1960s and 70s, what was once Kleindeutschland and the red light district had evolved into "Loisaida" (Spanglish for "Lower East Side"). Alphabet City became an important site for the development and strengthening of Puerto Rican cultural identity in New York (see the Nuyorican Movement). A number of important Nuyorican intellectuals, poets and artists called Loisaida home during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, including Miguel Algarín and Miguel Piñero.

During the 1980s, Alphabet City was home to a mix of Puerto Rican and African American families, living alongside struggling artists and musicians (who were mostly young and white). Attracted by the Nuyorican movement, low rents, and creative atmosphere, Alphabet City attracted a growing bohemian population. At one time it was home to many of the first graffiti writers, b-boys, rappers, and DJs. The area also had high levels of illegal drug activity and violent crime. The Broadway musical Rent portrays some of the positive and negative aspects of this time and place.

Origin of the term

The name 'Alphabet City' is thought to be of rather recent vintage, as the neighborhood was considered to be simply a part of the Lower East Side for much of its history. Urban historian Peter G. Rowe posits that the name only began to become used in the 1980s, when gentrification spread east from the Village.[4] The term's first appearance in the New York Times is in a 1984 editorial penned by then mayor Ed Koch, appealing to the federal government to aid in fighting crime on the neighborhood's beleaguered streets:

The neighborhood, known as Alphabet City because of its lettered avenues that run north-south from First Avenue to the East River, has been occupied for years by a stubbornly persistent plague of street dealers in narcotics whose flagrantly open drug dealing has destroyed the community life of the neighborhood.[5]

A later 1984 Times article describes it with a number of names: "Younger artists... are moving downtown to an area variously referred to as Alphabetland, Alphabetville, or Alphabet City (Avenues A, B, C and so forth on the Lower East Side of Manhattan)."[6]</blockquote>

Tompkins Square Park Riots

In August 1988 a riot erupted in Tompkins Square Park when anarchists and homeless activists from outside the neighborhood began throwing M-80s and rocks at police who had arrived to evict a large encampment of homeless people from the park. The police had been sent there to enforce a curfew enacted in response to over a decade of complaints from residents about the round-the-clock lawlessness and noise emanating from the park. The police showed little restraint, with several demonstrators injured and much ensuing public disapproval. The rioters and their sympathizers refer to it as the Tompkins Square Park Police Riot while the police have mostly referred to it as the Tompkins Square Park Riot.

Recent history

Alphabet City was one of many neighborhoods in New York to experience gentrification in the 1990s and early 21st century. Multiple factors resulted in lower crime rates and higher rents in Manhattan in general and in Alphabet City in particular. Avenues A through D became distinctly less bohemian in the 21st century than they were in earlier decades.[7] Apartments have been renovated, and formerly abandoned storefronts are bustling with new restaurants, nightclubs and retail establishments.

Cultural references

In print

  • In Marvel Comics, Alphabet City is home to District X, also known as Mutant Town, a ghetto primarily populated by mutants. The ghetto was identified as being inside Alphabet City in New X-Men #127. It was described in District X as having the 'highest unemployment rate in the USA, the highest rate of illiteracy and the highest severe overcrowding outside of Los Angeles'. (These figures would suggest a large population.) It was destroyed in X-Factor #34.
  • The photo and text book "Alphabet City" by Geoffrey Biddle [1] chronicles life in Alphabet City over the years 1977 to 1989.
  • The photo book "Street Play" by Martha Cooper [2]
  • The protagonist of the novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart lives in Alphabet City in the mid 1990s.
  • In the book Hellboy: Odd Jobs, Alphabet City is home to a giant rat named Mick that collects arcane artifacts and a "fairy" that eats children.
  • A fictional version of NYC's Alphabet City is explored in the Fallen Angels supplement to Kult.
  • Allen Ginsberg wrote many poems relating to the streets of his neighborhood in Alphabet City.
  • Henry Roth's novel Call It Sleep took place in Alphabet City, with the novel's main character, David and his family, living there.
  • Jerome Charyn's novel War Cries Over Avenue C takes place in Alphabet City.
  • In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain says "Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Cannabis, methaqualone, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, secobarbital, tuinal, amphetamine, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we'd send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get."
  • Mike Codella's autobiographical novel, Alphaville, describes his time as a Sergeant in the NYPD, working in Alphabet City.

In television programs

  • The fictional 15th Precinct in the police drama NYPD Blue appears to cover Alphabet City, at least in part.
  • In an appearance on The Tonight Show, writer P. J. O'Rourke said that when he lived in the neighborhood in the late 1960s, it was dangerous enough that he and his friends referred to Avenue A, Avenue B, and Avenue C as "Firebase Alpha," "Firebase Bravo," and "Firebase Charlie," respectively.
  • In the episode "My First Kill" in Season 4 of Scrubs, J.D. (Zach Braff) wears a T-shirt with "Alphabet City, NYC" on it.
  • The series Law and Order: SVU frequently makes reference to the dangers of living in that area of the city.
  • In unaired episode 16 of the animated series Mission Hill it is revealed during a table read by the cast accompanied by the animatics of the unproduced episode that Gwen's basement apartment is set in a neighborhood loosely modeled after Alphabet City.

In films

On stage

  • The Broadway musical Rent takes place in Alphabet City. The characters live on East 11th Street and Avenue B. They hang out at East Village locales that include Life Cafe.
  • In Tony Kushner's play, Angels in America (and the film adaptation of the play), the character Louis makes a comment about "Alphabet Land," saying it's where the Jews lived when they first came to America, and "now, a hundred years later, the place to which their more seriously fucked-up grandchildren repair."
  • The Broadway musical Avenue Q takes place on the fictitious Avenue Q, which is, for the sake of the plot, located in Alphabet City. One of the main characters mentions he is looking for cheap accommodation in Alphabet City.

In music

  • "Venus of Avenue D" is a song by Mink DeVille.
  • Avenue D is referenced in the Steely Dan song, "Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More" off the 1975 album Katy Lied
  • Alphabet City is an album by ABC.
  • "Alphabet City" is a song on the album The Movie by New York-based band Clare & The Reasons
  • "Take A Walk With The Fleshtones" is a song by The Fleshtones on their album Beautiful Light (1994). The song devotes a verse to each Avenue.
  • The area is referenced in an Elliott Smith penned tune, "Alphabet Town," found on his 1995 self-titled LP.
  • The infamous punk house and independent gig venue C-Squat is called so because it sits on Avenue C, between East 9th and East 10th St. Bands and artists to emerge from the former squat include Leftöver Crack, Choking Victim, INDK, Morning Glory and Stza. Leftöver Crack makes several references to "9th and C," the approximate location of C-Squat in the song "Homeo Apathy" from the album Mediocre Generica.
  • Alphabet City is mentioned in the song "Poster Girl" by the Backstreet Boys.
  • In the song "New York City," written by Cub and popularized by They Might be Giants, Alphabet City is mentioned in the chorus.
  • Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams references Avenue A and Avenue B in his track "New York, New York."
  • In Bongwater's 'Folk Song' there is the repeated chorus "Hello death, goodbye Avenue A." Ann Magnuson, lead singer of Bongwater, lives on Avenue A.
  • The Clash namechecks the neighborhood in the song "Straight to Hell": "From Alphabet City all the way a to z, dead, head"
  • U2 references the neighborhood as "Alphaville" in their song "New York."
  • New York power-rock band F-Units references Alphabet City in their song "Alpha East Side."
  • In their song "Click Click Click Click" on the 2007 album The Broken String, Bishop Allen sing, "Sure I've got pictures of my own, of all the people and the places that I've known. Here's when I'm carryin' your suitcase, outside of Alphabet City."
  • On Dan the Automator's "A Better Tomorrow," rapper Kool Keith quips that he is the "King of New York, running Alphabet City."
  • Accidental CDs, Records and Tapes, the world's only 24-hour record store, was located on Avenue A from 1996-2006.
  • "Alphabet City" is the name of the fifth track on the 2004 release, The Wall Against Our Back from the Columbus, OH band Two Cow Garage.
  • Steve Earle's expressionistic "Down Here Below" (track 2 of Washington Square Serenade) cites: "And hey, whatever happened to Alphabet City? Ain’t no place left in this town that a poor boy can go."
  • The dance hit "Sugar is Sweeter (Danny Saber Mix)" by CJ Bolland references the district with the lyrics, "Down in Alphabet City . . ."
  • The Pink Martini song "Hey Eugene" takes place "at a party on Avenue A."
  • The 1978 classical salsa hit "Pedro Navaja," by Panamanian singer Rubén Blades, tells us at the end that the "lifeless bodies" of Pedro Barrios (Pedro Navaja) and Josefina Wilson were found on "lower Manhattan" "between Avenues A and B . . . ."
  • In Lou Reed's "Halloween Parade," from his highly acclaimed concept album New York, he mentions "the boys from Avenue B and the girls from Avenue D."

See also


External links

Coordinates: 40°43′34″N 73°58′43″W / 40.72606°N 73.978595°W / 40.72606; -73.978595de:Alphabet City es:Alphabet City (Manhattan) fr:Alphabet City ja:アルファベット・シティ sk:Alphabet City fi:Alphabet City

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