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Chelsea

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Once a mixed, low-income neighborhood on the West Side, Chelsea in recent years has become a focal point for artists and galleries. While it was for a number of years Manhattan’s gay mecca, soaring rents led to conversions of many apartment buildings to condos and co-ops, and the result has largely been multimillion-dollar brownstones and lofts. In the ever-northward shift of Manhattan's masses, the high prices of Greenwich Village and Christopher Street area (which had a large gay and lesbian presence beginning in the 1960s) led many to head north to Chelsea in the late 1980s. Many have now further north to Hell's Kitchen and Washington Heights. While Eighth Avenue between 14th and 23rd Streets formerly had one of New York’s highest concentrations of gay-operated restaurants, stores, cafes, the population transfer changed the demographics once again.

The Chelsea art scene blossomed thanks to the conversion of garages and warehouses between Tenth and Twelfth Avenues, and likely will become a victim of its own success. What SoHo and the 57th Street area lost in stature has been Chelsea’s gain, and almost all the well-established flagship galleries made Chelsea their base. How did it all begin? In 1987, the Dia Center for the Arts—later known as Dia: Chelsea—became one of the pioneers in the area after establishing its main exhibition facility on West 22nd Street. Ironically, after opening its flagship museum Dia: Beacon upstate it was left without a Manhattan presence. Plans to move down to Greenwich Village and abut the new High Line elevated park were scuttled, and the Whitney instead grabbed the valuable tract that once appealed to Dia. Of course, the High Line further increased property values, thus begetting additional high rises between Tenth Avenue and West Street, which in turn brought in starchitects such as Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel, whose creations can be seen soaring from the earth along West Street. You can learn more about these in our new architecture of Manhattan walking tour.

While the ethnic diversity of Chelsea was once truly enviable, the neighborhood still remains one of only a few places where housing ranges from high-rise public housing projects to single-family brownstones to new glass condominiums—even on the same block! Some of Manhattan’s most affordable rent stabilized apartments can be found between Seventh and Ninth Avenues. The historic district has some fine examples of nineteenth-century New York city dwellings, and small gardens and flowering trees abound. If you think the grounds of General Theological Seminary on West 20th Street looks familiar, that's because it is frequently functions as a set for the t.v. show Law & Order! Even seminaries have to make money, and thus G.T.S. (as it's known) demolished its former entrance on Ninth Avenue to make way for (what else) luxury condominiums. At its Tenth Avenue entrance, G.T.S. created one of Manhattan's most charming niche hotels, the Desmond Tutu Center, named after the great South African archbishop of our time.

Speaking of hotels, Chelsea has no shortage of great places to stay and to eat. On Tenth Avenue you'll find the renowned tapas of Tia Pol and its offshoot El Quinto Pino just two blocks away. There's the upscale Cookshop nearby, and further south on Tenth Avenue you'll find the Iron Chef's Morimoto at the great Chelsea Market, also home to Buddakan on the Ninth Avenue side.
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