Residential buildings on West 116th Street opposite Columbia University
Location in New York City
|City||New York City|
|Community District||Manhattan 9|
|• Total||1.22 km2 (0.472 sq mi)|
|• Density||26,000/km2 (68,000/sq mi)|
|• Median income||$81,890|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
|Area code||212, 332, 646, and 917|
Morningside Heights is a neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan in New York City, on the border of the Upper West Side and Harlem. Morningside Heights is bounded by Morningside Park at Morningside Drive to the east, Manhattanville at 125th Street to the north, Manhattan Valley at 110th Street to the south, and Riverside Park at Riverside Drive to the west. The main thoroughfare is Broadway.
It is chiefly known as the home of educational and cultural institutions such as Columbia University, Teachers College, Barnard College, the Manhattan School of Music, Bank Street College of Education, Grant's Tomb, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Additionally, Morningside Heights contains a number of religious institutions, including the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Riverside Church, the Church of Notre Dame, Corpus Christi Church, the Broadway Presbyterian Church and Interchurch Center. The neighborhood is also home to St. Luke's Hospital.
Initially, Manhattan was settled by the Lenape Native Americans,:12 who referred to the area nearby as "Muscota" or "Muscoota", meaning "place of rushes".:2 Dutch settlers occupied Manhattan in the early 17th century and called the nearby area "Vredendal", meaning "peaceful dale". The western boundary of New Harlem was drawn through the present-day Morningside Park in 1666, running from 74th Street at the East River to 124th Street at the North River (now Hudson River).:2:153–156 The area to the west of the boundary, present-day Morningside Heights, was originally the common lands of British-occupied New York.:2:98:547 The common lands was sold to Jacob De Key in 1701.:2:175:546 Following Harman Vandewater's acquisition of part of the De Key farm by 1735,:2:98:547 it was called Vandewater Heights by 1738. Vandewater Heights would then be sold by 1785 to James W. De Peyster.:547:2
On September 16, 1776, the Battle of Harlem Heights was fought in Morningside Heights, with the most intense fighting occurring in a sloping wheat field that is now the location of Barnard College. A plaque by the Columbia University gate on 117th Street and Broadway commemorates this battle. Though a grid for Manhattan island would be laid out in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811,:2 Morningside Heights would remain sparsely developed for the next half-century with the exception of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum.:3
Late 19th and early 20th century development
Streets were laid in the area with the construction of Morningside Park.:10 Use of the name "Morningside Heights" for the neighborhood arose in the 1890s following the park's completion. The name "Bloomingdale" – which referred to part of the present-day neighborhood of Manhattan Valley, located to the south – was also used for the area around the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, which was located at the present location of the main campus of Columbia University. However, other names such as "Morningside Hill" and "Riverside Heights" were used for the area. Columbia University, Teachers College, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, and St. Luke's Hospital started construction in the mid-1890s,:10 at which point no single name was commonly used for the neighborhood
Two names eventually gained the most use; "Morningside Heights" was preferred by the two colleges, while "Cathedral Heights" was preferred by St. John's and St. Luke's. After about 1898, "Morningside Heights" became the most generally accepted, although the diocese at St. John's continued to call the neighborhood Cathedral Heights well into the 20th century. The term "Morningside" came from the park on the east flank of the plateau, which was lit up by the rising sun and which was called "Morning Side Park" in 1870 when the city parks commissioner recommended a survey of the land.
Mid-20th century to present
Many apartment buildings and rowhouses, among the first to use elevators in residential buildings, were built for New York's prosperous middle class in the first two decades of the twentieth century and most of these buildings are still extant. By the mid-20th century the increasing prevalence of Single Room Occupancy (S.R.O.) hotels led to attendant socioeconomic problems and a decline in the neighborhood. Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities presented the neighborhood as a key example of the failure of the urban planning techniques of the era. In 1947 David Rockefeller became involved in a major middle-income housing development when he was elected as chairman of Morningside Heights Inc. by fourteen major institutions that were based in the area, including Columbia University. In 1951 the organization developed Morningside Gardens, a six-building apartment complex to house middle-income families from all ethnic backgrounds. Morningside Gardens, an experimental co-op project, opened in 1957 between 123rd and LaSalle Streets, Broadway, and Amsterdam Avenue.
Social problems in the area prompted Columbia to purchase much of the neighborhood's real estate, leading to accusations of forced eviction and gentrification. This process reached its nadir in 1968, when protests erupted in both the neighborhood and on Columbia's campus over the university's proposal to build a gym in Morningside Park. Residents alleged that the park's proposed separate entrance for Harlem residents on the lower level of the park was segregated, and that public park space was being annexed by a wealthy private institution. The university was eventually forced to abandon the plan. However, Columbia University has still expanded its presence in the neighborhood markedly over the last few decades, and gentrification and urban renewal have proceeded apace. In January 2008 the university received approval from the City Council to expand significantly in nearby Manhattanville.
Since the late 1990s, some businesses in the area started rebranding Morningside Heights and South Harlem with the name SoHa (for "South Harlem" or "South of Harlem"), as seen in the names of Max's SoHa restaurant and the former SoHa nightclub in Morningside Heights. "SoHa" has become a controversial name, since some real estate professionals and other individuals gentrifying the area between West 110th and 125th Streets are applying the label in an effort to rebrand the neighborhood. Residents and other critics seeking to prevent this renaming of the culturally rich, historic area have labelled the SoHa brand as "insulting and another sign of gentrification run amok" and have said that, "the rebranding not only places their neighborhood's rich history under erasure but also appears to be intent on attracting new tenants, including students from nearby Columbia University."
Multiple New York City politicians have initiated legislative efforts to curtail this practice of neighborhood rebranding, which when successfully introduced in other New York City neighborhoods, have led to increases in rents and real estate values, as well as "shifting demographics". In 2011, U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries attempted but failed to implement legislation "that would punish real estate agents for inventing false neighborhoods and redrawing neighborhood boundaries without city approval." By 2017, New York State Senator Brian Benjamin also worked to render illegal the practice of rebranding historically recognized neighborhoods.
Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Morningside Heights was 55,929, an increase of 1,721 (3.2%) from the 54,208 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 465.11 acres (188.22 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 120.2 inhabitants per acre (76,900/sq mi; 29,700/km2). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 46.0% (25,750) White, 13.6% (7,619) African American, 0.2% (105) Native American, 13.3% (7,462) Asian, 0.1% (30) Pacific Islander, 0.4% (203) from other races, and 2.9% (1,605) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 23.5% (13,155) of the population.
The entirety of Community District 9, which comprises Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, had 111,287 inhabitants as of NYC Health's 2018 Community Health Profile, with an average life expectancy of 81.4 years.:2, 20 This is about the same as the median life expectancy of 81.2 for all New York City neighborhoods.:53 (PDF p. 84) Most inhabitants are children and middle-aged adults: 34% are between the ages of 25–44, while 21% are between 45–64, and 17% are between 0–17. The ratio of college-aged and elderly residents was lower, at 16% and 12% respectively.:2
As of 2017, the median household income in Community District 9 was $50,048, though the median income in Morningside Heights individually was $81,890. In 2018, an estimated 24% of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville residents lived in poverty, compared to 14% in all of Manhattan and 20% in all of New York City. One in twelve residents (8%) were unemployed, compared to 7% in Manhattan and 9% in New York City. Rent burden, or the percentage of residents who have difficulty paying their rent, is 51% in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, compared to the boroughwide and citywide rates of 45% and 51% respectively. Based on this calculation, as of 2018[update], Morningside Heights and Manhattanville are considered to be gentrifying.:7
Politically, Morningside Heights is in New York's 10th congressional district, represented by Democrat Jerrold Nadler as of 2013[update]. Nadler also represented Morningside Heights as part of the 8th congressional district from 1993 to 2013. It is also part of the 30th and 31st State Senate districts, represented respectively by Democrats Brian Benjamin and Robert Jackson, and the 69th and 70th State Assembly districts, represented respectively by Democrats Daniel O'Donnell and Inez Dickens. In the City Council, the neighborhood is part of the 7th District, represented by Mark Levine.
Police and crime
Morningside Heights and Manhattanville are patrolled by the 26th Precinct of the NYPD, located at 520 West 126th Street. The 26th Precinct ranked 38th safest out of 69 patrol areas for per-capita crime in 2010. With a non-fatal assault rate of 57 per 100,000 people, Morningside Heights and Manhattanville's rate of violent crimes per capita is about the same as that of the city as a whole. The incarceration rate of 633 per 100,000 people is higher than that of the city as a whole.:8
The 26th Precinct has a lower crime rate than in the 1990s, with crimes across all categories having decreased by 79.8% between 1990 and 2018. The precinct saw 1 murder, 11 rapes, 107 robberies, 100 felony assaults, 61 burglaries, 381 grand larcenies, and 22 grand larcenies auto in 2018.
Morningside Heights is served by two New York City Fire Department (FDNY) fire stations. Engine Co. 47 is located at 502 West 113th Street while Engine Co. 37/Ladder Co. 40 is located at 415 West 125th Street.
Preterm and teenage births in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville are lower than the city average. In Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, there were 82 preterm births per 1,000 live births (compared to 87 per 1,000 citywide), and 10.9 teenage births per 1,000 live births (compared to 19.3 per 1,000 citywide).:11 Morningside Heights and Manhattanville have a low population of residents who are uninsured. In 2018, this population of uninsured residents was estimated to be 11%, slightly less than the citywide rate of 12%.:14
The concentration of fine particulate matter, the deadliest type of air pollutant, in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville is 0.008 milligrams per cubic metre (8.0×10−9 oz/cu ft), more than the city average.:9 Seventeen percent of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville residents are smokers, which is more than the city average of 14% of residents being smokers.:13 In Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, 21% of residents are obese, 10% are diabetic, and 29% have high blood pressure—compared to the citywide averages of 24%, 11%, and 28% respectively.:16 In addition, 25% of children are obese, compared to the citywide average of 20%.:12
Eighty-eight percent of residents eat some fruits and vegetables every day, which is about the same as the city's average of 87%. In 2018, 83% of residents described their health as "good," "very good," or "excellent," more than the city's average of 78%.:13 For every supermarket in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, there are 11 bodegas.:10
Post offices and ZIP codes
Morningside Heights is located in two primary ZIP Codes. The area south of 116th Street is part of 10025 and the area north of 116th Street (including Columbia University) is part of 10027. The United States Postal Service operates two post offices near Morningside Heights:
- Columbia University Station – 534 West 112th Street
- Manhattanville Station and Morningside Annex – 365 West 125th Street
Morningside Heights and Manhattanville generally have a higher rate of college-educated residents than the rest of the city. A plurality of residents age 25 and older (49%) have a college education or higher, while 21% have less than a high school education and 30% are high school graduates or have some college education. By contrast, 64% of Manhattan residents and 43% of city residents have a college education or higher.:6 The percentage of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville students excelling in math rose from 25% in 2000 to 49% in 2011, and reading achievement increased from 32% to 35% during the same time period.
Morningside Heights and Manhattanville's rate of elementary school student absenteeism is higher than the rest of New York City. In Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, 27% of elementary school students missed twenty or more days per school year, more than the citywide average of 20%.:24 (PDF p. 55):6 Additionally, 65% of high school students in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville graduate on time, less than the citywide average of 75%.:6
- Columbia Secondary School (grades 6-12)
- PS 36 Margaret Douglas (grades PK-5)
- PS 125 Ralph Bunche (grades PK-5)
- PS 180 Hugo Newman (grades PK-8)
Charter and private schools include Bank Street College's School for Children, St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's School, The Cathedral School of St. John The Divine, KIPP Star Harlem Middle School, and The School at Columbia University.
As of 2015[update] PS 36 had a student body that is 96% black and Hispanic, with a median family income of $36,000. These demographics are less wealthy and have fewer whites compared to the overall neighborhood demographics.
The label Academic Acropolis has been used to describe the area, which sits on a high natural point in Manhattan and contains numerous academic institutions. Much of the neighborhood is the campus of Columbia University, and the university owns a large amount of non-campus real estate. Other educational institutions in the neighborhood include Barnard College, Union Theological Seminary, New York Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Manhattan School of Music, Teachers College, Bank Street College of Education, St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's School, The School at Columbia University, Bank Street School for Children, The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine, and for the younger residents, Columbia Greenhouse nursery school. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies is also located in the neighborhood, directly above Tom's Restaurant in a building owned by Columbia University.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) operates two branches in Morningside Heights:
- The Morningside Heights branch is located at 2900 Broadway. The branch originally opened in 1914 within Columbia University's Low Memorial Library, then moved to Columbia's Butler Library in 1937 upon the latter's completion. The Morningside Heights branch moved to a temporary site in 1996, while the Butler Library was being renovated, and then relocated into its current building in 2001.
- The George Bruce branch is located at 518 West 125th Street. It is named after the inventor George Bruce, whose daughter built the original George Bruce Library at 42nd Street in 1888. The current three-story structure, designed by Carrère and Hastings, was constructed in 1915 and renovated in 2001.
Points of interest
In addition to "Academic Acropolis", non-academic landmarks in Morningside Heights include the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, Grant's Tomb, Riverside Church, Interchurch Center, Corpus Christi Church and International House.
In 2017, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission created the Morningside Heights Historic District. The district includes 115 residential and institutional properties on West 109th Street west of Broadway, east and west of Broadway from Cathedral Parkway to West 113th Street, west of Broadway from West 113th Street to 118th Street, and west of Claremont Avenue from West 118th to 119th Street.
The area is served by the New York City Subway at the Cathedral Parkway – 110th Street and 116th Street – Columbia University stations of the New York City Subway's IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line (1 train). New York City Bus service includes the M4, M5, M11, M60 SBS and M100 routes.
In popular culture
Tom's Restaurant, on Broadway at 112th Street, was featured in the 1980s song "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega, an alumna of Barnard College. Later, exterior shots were used on the television sitcom Seinfeld as a stand-in for the diner hangout of the show's principal characters.
The West End Bar served especially as a meeting place for writers of the Beat Generation in the 1940s/1950s, as well as for student activists prior to, during, and after the Columbia University protests of 1968. The bar's jazz room was run by jazz historian and DJ Phil Schaap for 17 years. In the late 2000s, the establishment was absorbed into a Cuban restaurant chain, Havana Central, and became known as Havana Central at the West End, until the restaurant closed in 2015. It then became the grill restaurant, Bernheim and Schwartz, which closed in April 2017.
- Comedian George Carlin grew up on West 121st Street; the block of 121st Street where he lived was dedicated to him in October 2014. In the comedy piece "White Harlem", which appears on his Occupation: Foole album, he said that younger residents would refer to the neighborhood as "White Harlem". This term is heard in "Brooklyn Without Limits", a 2010 episode of the comedy 30 Rock.
- Film director Cecil B. DeMille lived on West 114th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald lived at 200 Claremont Ave. while working in advertising and writing This Side of Paradise.
- George Gershwin began composing his Rhapsody in Blue while living at 501 West 110th Street.
- Poet Allen Ginsberg lived at 536 West 114th Street.
- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel lived at 425 Riverside Drive for the last 27 years of his life. 
- Harry Houdini, a former Houdini home, purchased in 1908, at 278 West 113th Street that displays artifacts. It should not be confused with "The House of Houdini", a museum in Budapest.
- Novelist Jack Kerouac lived at 421 West 118th Street.
- Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, lived in Morningside Gardens.
- Harlan Fiske Stone, who later became the Chief Justice of the United States, lived at 435 Riverside Drive while serving as Dean of Columbia Law School.
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