West Chelsea: A ‘Vibrant’ Area Full of Art and Architecture

The Four Percent


In the early days of the pandemic, a group of West Chelsea residents raised funds to buy meals from local restaurants for workers at the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services Station 7, at West 23rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues.

“What else can I tell you about this fabulous neighborhood?” asked Susan Numeroff, a member of the group who organized the effort to make life easier for their emergency medical workers (and help out local restaurants, too). Ms. Numeroff, 63, who has lived on West 23rd Street since 2010 and is president of the West 400 Block Association, touts the beauty and diversity of her rapidly growing neighborhood, which includes upscale homes, middle-class apartments and two public housing projects.

Stretching from West 14th Street to West 30th Street, and from Ninth Avenue to the Hudson River, the former industrial area has steadily added amenities over the past few decades, including the 28-acre Chelsea Piers sports and entertainment complex, dozens of art galleries and the High Line, the elevated park filled with plantings and artwork. Now, sleek new buildings, many designed by prominent architects, are going up in the neighborhood.

“It’s a very exciting place to live right now,” said Steve Gold, a Corcoran broker who lives and works there. “There’s more and more life, more and more services.” People are taking advantage of pandemic-related discounts to upgrade, he said, and young families are moving in.

Ms. Numeroff welcomes new families and loves being near the galleries and the parks, but doesn’t care for the “jumble” of brash new buildings. She and her husband, Marvin, who died in 2015, bought their 19th-century brownstone, then divided into nine residences, in 2006, for close to $5 million. They spent four years restoring it, using the lower level as a space for art shows, nonprofit events and other activities, and the upper floors as their home. Mr. Numeroff owned a diagnostic laboratory, and both were partners in restaurants and a cheese shop.

When their daughter, Olive, now 24, was younger, she took ice-skating lessons at Chelsea Piers and went bowling there with her friends, Ms. Numeroff said, “and I didn’t have to go with them.”

Ms. Numeroff bicycles in Hudson River Park and occasionally walks with friends on the High Line. But because many neighbors have fled Manhattan amid the pandemic, she said, it feels as if “half our community is not here.”

Massimo and Fatiya Mazza and their 4-year-old son, Matteo, are among those who have moved to a larger space, although they would have done so even without the discounted price (which they declined to disclose), said Mr. Mazza, 42, a management consultant. Their new three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom condo overlooking the High Line is a block from their old apartment, and a block closer to the private school that Matteo has attended since he was 2, Avenues: The World School. The school, which enrolls more than 1,750 students, was one reason the couple chose the neighborhood.

“Among people who travel a lot, it is well known,” said Mr. Mazza, who grew up in Italy. “We have many friends who send their kids there.” The school has branches in São Paulo, Shanghai and other cities around the world, so Matteo could easily transfer if they travel again, he said.

“We enjoy going through the High Line with Matteo, so he can see all the pieces of art,” said Ms. Mazza, 37, an architect who grew up in Senegal. “It stimulates him and creates conversations, something that matters a lot to us. And there are so many architects’ works that he can experience.”

Both like to run in Hudson River Park and sometimes use their three-wheeled stroller to take their son along. “It’s a vibrant neighborhood,” Ms. Mazza said. “It allows me to blossom, because there are a lot of artists. It has a special feeling, a special environment.”

Mr. Mazza added: “To be in the center of that makes the area a very good investment. There will be a lot of positive changes happening in the next years.”

Another full-block project, the 19-story Starrett-Lehigh office building on West 26th Street, was completed in 1931 and is home to companies like Ralph Lauren and the influential design firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. A food hall and marketplace is slated to open on the ground floor this year.

The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, another large complex, has its roots in the 19th century. And handsome brownstones line several quiet blocks in the West 20s.

Art galleries brought artistic cachet to the area beginning in the 1990s, but “once the High Line came, it changed everything,” said Bonnie Lindenbaum, an agent with Warburg Realty. Shiny new developments sprouted near the elevated park, which started opening in 2009. “People like that new, crisp look,” Ms. Lindenbaum said.

A trend toward glass, curved walls and unusual shapes was already there, in the Frank Gehry-designed IAC Building, which opened in 2007 on West 18th Street as the headquarters for the media and internet company. Across the street is a curvaceous condominium tower, 100 West 11th Avenue, designed by Jean Nouvel and completed in 2010.

The median price for the 136 properties that closed in 2020 was $1,593,750, a 9 percent drop from the 2019 median of $1.75 million for 199 units, said Mary Ellen Cashman, an associate broker at Compass. Sales transactions in the neighborhood fell 31 percent during the year.

“We are living in challenging times,” Ms. Cashman said, though she noted that sales may be improving. In November and December, 30 units closed, up from 20 during the same period in 2019. And “the median prices were only down 3.5 percent, versus 9 percent for the year, an indicator that the market was improving.”

People are starting to sell for reasons like getting a new job, she said: “It’s more of a return to normalcy, though we’re still climbing out of the pandemic.”

On Feb. 1, 184 West Chelsea homes were listed for sale on StreetEasy. The highest price was $49.995 million, for a penthouse at 551 West 21st Street, a condo with two terraces and a rooftop; the least expensive were a studio and a one-bedroom at 408 West 25th Street, a prewar walk-up co-op with H.D.F.C. income restrictions, each listed for $375,000.

Of the 232 rentals available, the most expensive was a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom apartment at 551 West 21st Street, listed for $45,000 a month; the least expensive was a studio at 409 West 24th Street, listed for $1,600, with two months free.

Chelsea Market is a festive home for food purveyors and retail shops in a former National Biscuit Company factory. Outdoor restaurant seating stretches along its West 15th and 16th Street sides. These days, without tourists, it’s not as busy as usual. (The same is true of the High Line.) Cookshop, a restaurant on 10th Avenue, is another local favorite.

Chelsea Piers, the sports complex, provided activities “for each stage of my kids’ development,” said Mark Shulman, 57, a children’s book author and New York City tour guide who has lived in London Terrace since 1986 and whose sons are now 15 and 18. Gymnastics, rock climbing and bowling were among their favorite sports.

Other piers in Hudson River Park offer lawns, gardens and a carousel. Waterside Park, a 2.5-acre triangle between West 22nd and 24th Streets, has a playground, a ball field, basketball courts and a dog run. There is also a New York City recreation center and pool on West 25th Street, closed during the pandemic.

Clement Clarke Moore Park, on West 22nd Street, is named for the poet who wrote “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (which begins “’Twas the night before Christmas”). Moore lived on an estate called Chelsea that covered much of what is now West Chelsea.

Schools include P.S. 33 Chelsea Prep, at 281 Ninth Avenue, which has 555 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. According to the 2018-2019 School Quality Snapshot, the most recent available because of Covid-19, 64 percent of students met state standards on the state English test, compared with 48 percent citywide, and 62 percent met state standards in math, versus 50 percent citywide.

P.S. 11: The William T. Harris School, at 320 West 21st Street, is technically just east of the neighborhood, though some area students are zoned for it. It has about 800 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. On 2018-2019 tests, 76 percent met state standards in English and 75 percent met standards in math.

Nearby subway lines include the A, C and E along Eighth Avenue, the L Train at 14th Street and the 7 at 34th Street Hudson Yards.

In the 19th century, West Chelsea was home to Otis Elevator Company, Reynolds Metals and other industrial firms, according to the West Chelsea Historic District Designation Report. By the early 1900s, book publishers began to open there, and by the 1990s, dozens of art galleries, priced out of SoHo, began moving into former garages, factories and warehouses.

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