215th Street Stairs

by Cole Thompson

Generations of Inwood residents have trudged up and down the familiar stairs which connect Broadway with Park Terrace East. The steps themselves have stood frozen in time as the surrounding neighborhood reached maturity.

The stairs are a familiar sight to anyone who has ever passed through Inwood. The ancient passageway was built in an era when the automobile was still a relatively new contraption and getting up or down a hill required nothing more than a decent pair of shoes. There are a total of 94 step-streets in the City of New York.

215th Street Stairs in 2010.

Below are several photos of the 215th Street stairs, as they would have been seen during the Inwood’s modern infancy.

These photos provide a remarkable glimpse back in time to an era when Broadway was covered in cobblestones and white picket fences, like the one seen topping the stairs in the first photo, still dotted the neighborhood.

I hope you enjoy these early photos of Inwood’s beloved, and sometimes reviled, step-street. What the future holds for the 215th Street stairs seems to be anyone’s guess.

If you have any stories you’d like to share about the stairs, I encourage you to write in and share your memories.

215th Street Stairs August 29.1915

215th Street Steps in 1916.

215th Street Steps in 1916.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Susi December 20, 2010 at 4:46 pm

That’s great! I’ve never seen old photos of the steps before and always wondered what they originally looked like!

Pat Courtney January 6, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Hi Cole:
Susan De Vries of Dyckman House sent me a link when we were applying to the HDC about the lamp posts on the 215th Street steps:
http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/lampposts.pdf
There are supposed to be three historic lamp posts from the time of the Edison lighting in July 1914. Gail Addiss checked and only located two of them. The bases are as they appear in the photos from 1915 and 1916. The last page of the pdf shows one of them in place.

Pat Courtney January 6, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Quoting the pdf described above:
“Lampposts 86, 87, and 88 located on the West 215th Street step street from Broadway to Park Terrace west of Broadway, Borough of Manhattan.
Landmark Site: Consisting of the property on which the described lampposts are situated.”

Carol Lynch Hordof February 10, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I remember climbing these stairs everyday when I attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart of Mary High School from 1963 to 1967. Once when there was a blizzard, some of us who had made thee trip on the subway to school were met by the sight of one of our nuns waving to us from the top of the stairs to go home as there was no school after all that day. With much appreciation that we hadn’t climbed the stairs for no reason, we went out to a local diner for breakfast.

Jena February 20, 2012 at 11:02 pm

I live at the top of these stairs, and my friends and I affectionately (or not so affectionately, depending on the day) refer to them as the Stairs of Death. (On the other hand, they make for great jogging!) Thank you for sharing their history!

Bennett Katz May 4, 2012 at 4:46 pm

When I lived on Park Terrace East in the 70s, we called these the “City Steps” . Not sure where that name came from….

Bryan Connor May 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Yes.I always remember them being called the ”City Steps”.I can’t remember them by any other name.

Bob McCarthy May 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

Climbed those buggers twice a day from 1960 to 1966 on my way to the IRT
to get to 242nd Street and HS and College. Not my favorite memory of living
in INWOOD.
Love the website. Have lived in Los Angeles since 1976 and my sister found it.
Brings back wonderful memories (other than the stairs) of growing up in
INWOOD.
Keep up the good work and THANKS!

Robert Mulero May 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Can any one tell me who designed this lamppost and the year this lamppost were installed. I went to the Landmark Hearing to testify so these lampposts can be designate as Historic Landmarks. All I can say is that these on the steps of W. 215th St. were once served by The United Electric Light and Power Company and the name of this lamppost: Special Standard on stairway from Park Terrace to Broadway. 3 of these post were designated as landmarks. One have been replaced by a modern post.

John L Dooley June 9, 2012 at 12:58 am

I lived at 5025 Broadway, Apt 1A, from 1943, when we moved from Isham Street, til 1962. We used the “city steps” which led right to our floor. My mother and father would take pictures of my sister and myself in our Easter outfits each year in the 40′s. in front of the benches at the base of the steps on Broadway. My sister would use the steps to go to school each day at SHM.

Linda Brooks Burke June 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I grew up in 5009 B’way beginning in 1961 and played on those stairs pretty much every day as a child and took them to school up to SHM. I also had my first kiss on those stairs and I’m pretty sure, my first cigarette :o There’s a side entry door into 5025 midway up the stairs that leads to a small hallway with steps. Back when I was a kid, it was a black, tin door. We called it “the black door” When the weather was bad, we’d meet there to get out of the rain. I can still hear us saying “meetcha at the black door!” Haha — those were the days!

Janice December 17, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I climbed up and down those steps for four years, Sept. 1961 through June,1965, while attending The Academy of the Sacred Heart of Mary. I lived in Long Island City, and had to take a bus to Queens Plaza, then the “E” train, followed by the “D” train, and finally the “A” train to 207 th Street, the last stop. From there, I would climb the steps to reach the school, and repeat the jaunt each day after school. At 13, it was quite a journey, traveling in all weather, but when you’re young, everything is possible! Wish I could go back and do it all again!

gregory woods February 21, 2013 at 10:21 am

I went to grammar school with Esther Quevedo on the UWS.
Her father was an Argentine journalist in exile.
Esther went to Academy of the Sacred heart of Mary, Park Terrace for high school.
and was a student there when I took her to the Senior Prom
at Fordham Prep in 1965.

Virginia Martin April 8, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Wow, these steps certainly bring back memories. Up and down every day, but we were young and all was grand. Loved my years at SHM, graduated in ’65 and still keep in close touch with Chrysanthe George, Miriam Irrizary and Carmen Fabian. :)

Grace Kehoe July 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I lived at 50 Park Terrace East at the top of the steps and my Mom lived at 5025 at the bottom. Loved the side doors to both buildings as it saved me a lot of steps when I had to carry my baby to her to babysit. Worked for a while across from the steps at the New York Telephone Co. This was in mid sixties.

Susan Lennon August 24, 2013 at 12:01 am

Spent from 1957 to 1982 living at 5008 Broadway! ’71 Good Shepherd grad and ’75 Cabrini grad.

I traveled those steps often as my friend Mary (still a friend today) lived on Park Terrace. When she would go home at night, I would wait at the bottom until she reached the top and we would yell to each other to know it was safe!

Great memories of those stairs!

Natalie January 17, 2014 at 10:46 am

Starting at 171st Broadway, using a school bus pass to ride the #100 bus to 215th str.
Racing up the stairs ( wish I had bottled that energy…..) to the Academy of Sacred Heart of Mary 1970-1974,( “Snob Hill” girls by other schools) so as not to be late to meet with friends in the bathroom, getting the latest gossip, and finishing homework. We had one or two classes, then were expected to go to study hall and work on homework, or just study. Myself and a few friends usually would sneak out thru the back of the school and go thru the park along the river, and just to be girls having fun.
The steps leading to school led me to meet great people, great times, wonderful memories. Thanks Cole for the pictures and history.

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