During the mid to late 1800’s, Inwood was a quiet, pastoral environ with cows crossing dirt roads–in fact there were very few roads to speak of. Perhaps the old neighborhood might be best summed up in the words of Robert Perkins, who, during the retirement ceremony for the Reverend George Shipman Payson, pastor of the Mount Washington Presbyterian Church, described Inwood just prior to the turn of the 20th century as “a veritable wilderness, isolated from the rest of our city. There were no means of communication with the exception of a dilapidated branch of the New York Central, which ran an occasional train between Spuyten Duyvil and West 30th Street, provided the fireman or conductor were not otherwise engaged. There was no post office, no telegraph station, no telephone, no electric light—absolutely none of the modern conveniences enjoyed by a rural town. The nearest drugstore, the nearest market and the nearest doctor was two or three miles away.”
And while Inwood, then often called “Inwood-on-the-Hudson” or simply the “Dyckman tract,”remained a veritable wilderness, the development of the area had been under consideration for decades. In fact, as evidenced in an 1879 map (seen below), the entire area had already been carved up into streets, blocks and lots. Of course the streets existed only on paper. In reality, Inwood remained much as it had for centuries. There were wild meadows east of Broadway, which, at the time, was still unpaved and little more than an impassable muddy rut when it rained.
Still, very early on, downtown real estate speculators realized the eventual potential of the area as downtown began its northern ascent.
Beginning in the late 1860’s the Dyckman family began auctioning off lots of land which were quickly gobbled up by speculators in a series of booms, downturns and false starts; many doubting the true value of a nearly inaccessible region so far north.
But by the turn of the century development was virtually guaranteed with the announcement that an elevated subway line (today’s One train) would soon pass through the region. Once again a flurry of real estate transactions began, but again the boom petered out, mainly because the newly developed Washington Heights had yet to be fully populated. Were downtown tenants willing to relocate this far north? Many in the real estate field doubted it; at least for the moment.
Numerous investors knew that the area had potential, but developers were simply not willing to take the expensive and risky undertaking of building a proper apartment house in such an undeveloped area. There were no shops, no restaurants, in fact residents would have to slog though streets of mud when the subway did finally arrive. If the modern development of the area was to take place, Inwood would need a pioneering developer to take the lead, and, despite the naysayers, developer Michael McCormick did just that.
In 1904 McCormick began construction of the Solano and Monida apartments. The large columned buildings were constructed on the northeast corner of Broadway and Dyckman Street and can still be seen today. Advertising “Country Quiet and Clean Air in the City,” McCormick had no trouble filling his buildings. Early news clipping and obituaries show that the early residents were mostly middle class professionals; doctors, lawyers and the like. What more, the rent was much cheaper than downtown and before long a fully operational subway station opened just blocks away.
With undeveloped land becoming scarce and rents increasing in Washington Heights, other developers followed McCormick’s lead. Soon the entire Dyckman tract was a flurry of construction activity. New buildings began sprouting up all over the neighborhood. By 1906 New York newspapers began advertising the Hanover Court Apartments located on Sherman Avenue. Soon thereafter the Hazel Court Apartments, the first building in Inwood to install elevators, was constructed on 207th and Post Avenue.
McCormick’s visionary experiment had been an absolute success. The development of modern Inwood had begun. The frenzy would prove so great that many developers had long waiting lists for apartments that had yet to be built. From there on out, the neighborhood would never be the same.
Author’s note: The below two articles, one from 1912 and the other from 1915, trace the first real estate building boom in modern Inwood. I found both incredibly helpful in attempting understand how and why modern Inwood came into being seemingly overnight. Where ever possible I have attempted to add photos of the still standing buildings mentioned in the articles.
Just beyond the brow of Fort George Hill, in the hollow between historic old Inwood Hill and the Harlem River, a colony of new homes is being erected for the tenancy of those who find rents in the middle West Side beyond their purses. For two years the upbuilding has been in progress, and now it looks as if the predictions of real estate men made for the Dyckman Valley ten years ago are in a fair way of being realized. In any direction one may cast his eyes will be seen the shells of apartment houses being rushed to completion to meet applications for accommodations in that section. When not seen one may hear the chut of the hoisting engine or the steady rap of the carpenter’s hammers on new structures. Everywhere can be seen and felt signs of steady development. From Fort George Hill one may get an idea of the extent of the operations in this valley in the last few years. Dotting the undulating surface, which only three years back was corn-fields and cabbage patches are today apartment houses.
Even in among the trees are to be seen bright red colored roofs of new apartments. Perhaps half a hundred structures have been erected there in the last two years. One firm of builders erected in that time twenty-four houses accommodating from sixty to 160 families each. The situation is the healthiest the Dyckman tract has ever experienced and there is every reason to believe that the development of the tract is now to be carried to a successful end.
In no other section of Manhattan can builders get lots near the subway as cheaply as in the Dyckman district. That is the chief reason advanced for the attention now being given to that territory. It was only logical that Washington Heights and the vacant property below that would become developed before anything in the way of consistent building operations would be seen in the Dyckman. Now the West Side is developed and the Heights have got to the point where values will not permit anything but the highest type of structure, so builders have moved along to the next section, which is the Dyckman, the only virgin country on Manhattan Island.
Builders express the opinion that in three years this virgin land will be as well covered with buildings as the other extremity of the island. There is not much area to the Dyckman tract, and when reasoned it is the only section in the thirteen miles of Manhattan where lots suitable for apartment construction can be had for $6,000 to $10,000, the predictions for the Dyckman cannot be very much astray. The development of the valley is different to that of any other region in this big city. Before a district gets to the stage warranting apartment houses it passes through half a dozen degrees of development covering many years. First come the small house, then the dwellings and then the apartment house. The Dyckman, which up to the building of the subway was no better for traveling facilities than many of our suburbs, has not followed this slow line of development, but has stepped from pasture and farm lands into a locality of fine apartment houses.
All this has come about in the last half dozen years. That it did not come sooner is not because of inattention or lack of booms; for the property has been kept before the real estate public for nearly half a century by a dozen booms started to force development. But the result shows that development cannot be forced: It must come as a natural course of events. In 1868 the first attempt to exploit the Dyckman was made. The Dyckman family, which with the Ishams, owned the pleasant little valley, thought they would sell part of their farm. Taxes had been raised and like now, with extravagant officials in power, there was every reason to expect taxes would continue to climb skyward. So on October 14, 1868, the first parcel of the valley to be offered for sale since it was secured from the Indians was put up at auction in the auction rooms, which at the time were in the basement of 111 Broadway. The offering comprised about fifteen-hundred lots lying between what is now 139th street and Dyckman street.
Although most inaccessible and far from the built up section of the city, good prices were received. They ranged from $1,000 to $925 a lot. For eleven lots at the southeast corner Broadway and Dyckman street, recently bought by the Bernheim Construction Company for improvement with a big apartment house, the sum of $10,200 was paid, and the property adjoining, four lots at the southwest corner of Dyckman street and Sherman avenue, sold for $2,800. Inside lots 25 by 150 on Broadway brought $1,500, and inside lots 25 by 200 on Dyckman Street brought $800 to $925.
Two years later, in June of 1870, the Dyckmans, so pleased with the success of the first sale, put 900 more lots up at auction. These lots stretched from Dyckman street north to 211th street, east of Broadway. Again thee were plenty of buyers, and the bidding was satisfactory. A third sale was held that November, and the next June another part of the farm was put under the auction hammer. In this last sale nearly a thousand lots west of Broadway and between Academy and Isham streets were offered. At this sale the northwest corner of Broadway and Emerson street, a plot 100 by 100, sold for $6,900.
Four years ago the Alliance Realty Company, William H. Chesebrough’s company, paid $40,000 for this same property. Two thousand five hundred dollars bought the lot, 25 by 130, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Isham street, and inside lots on Broadway brought $1,550 to $1,850. With all this buying the biggest kind of a boom was expected to follow. But it dropped flat as soon as the Dyckman’s stopped cutting up their farm. It could not have come to a more sudden stop if it had struck a stone wall. Some attributed the short life of this boom and booms in other sections that were then in progress to the action of the railroads, which had just begun a campaign for the development of the suburbs along their respective lines.
Whether or not this was the cause for the puncture of the Dyckman boom it was some time before interest was again revived in the sunny valley lying along the west bank of the Harlem. For many years it remained in its primitive state. Travelers coming into the city on New York Central trains looked out and admired the little hollow nestled behind Inwood hill, which protected it from the cold winter blasts that sweep across the river from the north and west and contrasted it to the other end of the city. Nothing interrupted its peace except the horse car lines, later displaced by trolley, which ran up to the jumbled mass of roofs and frame structures that went to make Fort George, then a popular resort.
The houses in the valley at that time could have been counted on one’s fingers. They were chiefly farmhouses and cottages outdating by many years the civil war. They were pretty houses and their setting made ideal country places.
Nothing much was heard from the Dyckman tract up to ten years ago, when the boom started on the Heights. The subway had been built and was going to go clear through to Van Cortlandt Park. Seeing what was taking place on the Heights, only a mile from the Dyckman tract, a boom was set on foot. The section was on the same subway that was making the West Side the finest apartment house section in the world, and it was this line that was rapidly making the Heights a close rival of the West Side. The boom on the Heights and in the Dyckman tract was based on logical reasons, but in the latter case they were premature. At the time the evolution of the West Side from a section of private dwellings to an apartment house territory had just begun, and no substantial building could be expected in the northern sections until the supply of lots to the south had been consumed.
So the boom petered out, and again the Dyckman tract lapsed into a state of quietness. Since then several attempts have been made to force a market for Dyckman lots, but they were all failures. The boom now on in the Dyckman is not one of speculators, but of builders, who are improving everything they hold. As soon as one house is finished another is begun, and in this manner block after block has been improved with good apartment houses.
The Charles Hensle Construction Company was the first to see that the time had come for the Dyckman, and about three years ago startled realty men by announcing it had decided to erect a six story elevator apartment in the tract.
The reputation of these builders for their shrewdness in selecting this section for their operation was the only thing that saved them from ridicule. In fact this did not save them some comment by those who thought the firm was taking a daring venture in trying an operation of this sort in the Dyckman.
They bought the block on the south side of 207th street, from Sherman to Post avenue, and planned to erect on the site fifty foot apartments, which were to represent an outlay of more than $750,000. They were the first elevator structures planned for the valley. To the surprise of even the best wishers for the Dyckman, many of the apartments were rented from the plans. There are sixty apartments of from two to five rooms in this house and all but six are tenanted.
The Hensle Company gave no less attention to these than to houses they had built on the Heights. They installed kitchenettes, electric lights, gas, telephones and all the other comforts to be found in the best of houses. They rented from $8 to $10 a room without much trouble or without concessions, so it is said. When these houses were built the population of the Dyckman was not more than 500, or not much less than the tenancy of the Hazel Court. Now the population is between 3,500 and 4,000.
Shortly after four fifty foot apartments were erected on Post avenue by the Post Avenue Realty Company. Each of these houses had accommodations for sixty families. T.G. Galardi bought a plot on the east side of Vermilyea avenue just north of Dyckman street and erected the Academy Hall and the Marie Antoinette apartments. They are now elevator apartment houses, built in tapestry brick with sandstone trimming and are among the most attractive houses in the section. The apartments are laid out in three, four and five room suites, renting at the lowest for $6.50 a room. The smaller apartments are the most popular and bring not less than $8 a room.
Then directly opposite is Vermilyea Hall, an apartment similar to Academy Hall, and the Marie Antoinette. Here will be found everything that makes housekeeping a comfort. There are telephones, gas, electric lights, baths and hot and cold water. All this is given for less than is demanded for equal facilities ten or fifteen minutes further south on the subway. This is explained because of the still low price of lots. An apartment house can still be built there on a plot costing the price of a single lot in almost any part of the Heights, not to speak of the territory west of Central Park. Since this start there have been any number of apartments erected. The novelty of tall buildings has worn off and they are now taken as the most natural things.
Just now thirty apartment houses are under construction or about to be started. At the northwest corner of Nagle avenue and Ogden street, facing the Dyckman street subway station, the finest elevator house yet planned for the Dyckman district is being erected by the Hensle Company. It will be of six stories and will cover a plot 100 feet on Nagle avenue and 134 feet on Arden. Every room in this house will have outside light. From it can be seen University Heights and the Hall of Fame across the Harlem, and the other side is Inwood Hill.
Besides this house, which is about 50 percent finished, the company is erecting on adjoining property on Arden street seven 50 foot apartments being erected. On the block to the north, that bounded by Dyckman and Thayer streets, Sherman and Nagle avenues, the Bernheim Construction Company is getting ready to erect ten fifty foot houses. In a few weeks it is expected that the property will be ready for the beginning of the foundation.
At the corner of Isham Street the Sherman Avenue Construction Company is building a house, which will have accommodations for forty-five families. It will be a non-elevator house and will be arranged in suites of two, three, four and five rooms. Within a few rods of this house and apartment, which is planned to give accommodation to eighty-five families, is being rushed to completion by the Dyckman Construction Company. This house is at the corner of Sherman avenue and Isham street. Two blocks below, at the corner of Sherman avenue and Academy street, this company is erecting another house. Up at Broadway and 214th street an elevator apartment is under construction by the Hazel Realty Company, builders of Hazel Realty Company, builders of Hazel Court at Sherman avenue and 207th street. It will be six stories high and will cover an area of more than six lots. This house is the furthest north of the elevator apartments so far planned of the Dyckman.
Almost every street in the lower end of the tract has received attention from builders. Most of the attention has been given to the principle streets, such as Nagle, Sherman, Post and Vermilyea avenues, Dyckman street and Broadway, which are 100 foot thoroughfares. The narrowest street in the Dyckman is no less than eighty feet in width. The valley was laid out by the city only a few years ago, and the mistakes made in street planning in the older section have been avoided here. Every street is roomy and some of them are curved.
Curved streets have been used in European cities for years and have the approval of the most eminent experts on street planning. Most of the people who are taking up residences in the Dyckman are coming from Greenwich Village and other sections of the West Side south of Fifty-ninth street. Quite a few Tenants have come from cities far distant from New York. Newlyweds favor the Dyckman, and for this reason the demand for small suites of two or three rooms is larger than for the four, five and six room apartments.
Since the first of the year M, Just & Co. have received 100 more applications for two room apartments than they could fill. Mr. Just also reports that of the 700 apartments in the Dyckman, which he has on his books, only twenty-two are for rent. These are all five room suites.
NOW WE SKIP AHEAD THREE YEARS AS THE INWOOD BUILDING BOOM IS IN FULL SWING:
Old Apartment Buildings
The Evening Post
Saturday, June 12, 1915
$2,000,000 IN NEW APARTMENTS FOR THE DYCKMAN
Never before in the history of the Dyckman, as the full end of Manhattan Island bisecting the Ship Canal, Harlem and Hudson Rivers is known has there been so much musterization in the direction of building construction as is under way at the present moment. Almost from the point where the subway trains come out of the ground of Dyckman Street up to the big power house of the Third Avenue Railroad at 218th Street there is hardly an interesting street but which has its sign that the that the station is advancing and reaching rapidly an important center of population.
A casual survey of the building activity reveals the fact that there are upwards of thirty apartment structures in various stages of progress within a radius of a few blocks from the three stations of the subway at the Dyckman, 207th and 215th Streets which will represent in the aggregate an outlay of approximately $2,000,000 not counting the expenditures their builders made in acquiring the sites.
All this is doubly significant in view of the fact that it was a few brief years ago that the mere mention of the Dyckman to a real estate expert as being a good prospect for investment or speculation gave rise to a smile. The skepticism, it might be added, was not without reason, for in those days the Dyckman was a “wild” section of daisy fields, trees and some marshy ground; so rural was it in fact that on afield there soon lost the sense that he was standing on Manhattan Island.
In remarkable contrast to this picture is the present development of the section with apartment buildings of the best type in the walk-up style, a few being equipped with elevators which including the ones now under construction provide modern buildings for approximately 20,000 people. It is perhaps worthy to mention that all the completed buildings are fully tenanted having been rented in most instances before their completion and this experience is being had by the builders who are now at work to advance the Dyckman towards the goal which its present condition seemingly makes certain that of being a thickly populated district before many more years elapse.
As a study of the progress of a city, the Dyckman is both interesting and quickly surveyed, as from the Dyckman Street Station, which is on high ground, after one again becomes accustomed to daylight upon leaving the tunnel; almost all of the Dyckman is in view. Looking straight ahead following the elevated continuation of the subway, a maze of attractive, clean-looking buildings greet the vision which less than five years ago resembled in appearance the district to the east of Tenth Avenue over to the Harlem River and west of Seaman Avenue, from which begins the rise of Inwood Hill.
Further, to that which is now visible, as evidence of the progress of the Dyckman, there will soon be added perhaps a half-dozen more structures to the spring and summer developments as the result of recent sales of plots. And in this connection it might be added that the incentive for the almost remarkable building activity, which is spurring the builder onward, is the fact that seemingly all the space they can produce is readily rented at a scale that averages about $8 per room.
It was while the boom on Washington Heights was beginning to give its first sign of exhausting the available supply of sites for the speculative builders that the Dyckman was “discovered” as an eligible region for future operations. The Heights was pretty liberally developed with buildings, but the “boom” died out, and there were still many lots left. However, the more daring did not wait to see the exhaustion of the supply of the Heights, and they corralled many Dyckman lots to await the coming of the builder. Subsequently a mild “boom” did his the Dyckman, followed by a more violent upheaval of buying in which participated many speculators, who invested profits taken from the Heights, but still the builders held aloof, and the speculators held on to their lots, with their confidence in them somewhat shaken.
After a year or so of the operation of the subway, and the constantly increasing traffic thereon, the Dyckman had a “boom” every little while, but invariably they did nothing more than bring new blood into the district, so to speak, of investors who felt, as did their predecessors, that some day there would be demand for the lots as sites for apartments. Seemingly the hard-headed builder, slow moving even under the most diligent prodding to convince him of his opportunities, felt that the Dyckman was not yet ripe for exploitation.
About four years ago the long-expected development of the Dyckman, which then was the largest undeveloped area on Manhattan Island, set in, and what has resulted is perhaps best reflected in the fact that the one-time daisy-covered acres now house a population larger than many important towns and some cities. The buildings of today, with those, which will be ready for occupancy by August, will accommodate approximately 20,000 persons.
The first intrusion of the peaceful quiet of the Dyckman came about ten years ago, when the residents of a few country homes saw the advent of the tenement, built by the pioneer, Michael McCormick, on the north side of Dyckman Street, west of Broadway. This venture lay for a year or two in a dubious state, and with it rested the confident expectations of the Dyckman’s future. However, history need not be retold, but the fact nevertheless remains that the Dyckman is now in the position occupied by many important towns, for it has its schools, churches, theatres, and other accessories of a populous centre.
Charles Hensle, Max Just, T.G. Galardi, G.L. Lawrence and other well-known builders began the process of standardizing the values of the section acquired as a result of the early booms and the $7,000 per lot average, now prevailing, is being supported by a new crop of builders which includes the Aldus Construction Company, Loyal Building Company, Charles Flaurn, the Henry Morgenthau Company, Menkin-Kraus Construction Company, L. Becker, James Livingston, Fred F. French, B. J. Rice, Kovacs Construction Company, Smada Construction Company and the H. Berman Construction Company.
All of these now have under various degrees of construction some thirty modern buildings of the five-story type covering sites from 50 to 100 feet frontage. Reflecting the ultimate success of these operations, from an investment viewpoint, is the renting of the accommodations they will provide, which already comprehends about 50 per cent of the whole production.