lee sievan

It was possibly the most heavily populated African-American neighborhood in Manhattan in the early 20th century. Apparently even Thelonious Monk once lived there. But, it was not to last for long. It was not a perfect neighborhood, though no neighborhood is. In 1940, the New York City Housing Authority characterized the area as “the worst slum section in the City of New York,” allegedly at the behest of one Robert Moses, and made plans to renew the area by demolishing the old tenements and building in its place the Amsterdam Housing Projects and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Residents protested and took their cause all the way to the Supreme Court, but the judges ruled against them, and the over 40,000 people of San Juan Hill found themselves essentially homeless. Most moved to Harlem and the Bronx. One interesting factoid, gang fights in the neighborhood were so common that the play West Side Story was set in the neighborhood, and some of the introductory shots to the film were shot there. Like Lincoln Square, nobody’s 100% sure how San Juan Hill got its name beyond the reference to the Cuban battle site. But whether the reference honored the black soldiers who fought there, or simply the battle itself is anyone’s guess. 

© Estate of Lee Sievan
Lee Sievan (1907-1990)
San Juan Hill
These buildings in the San Juan Hill area of the Upper West Side were torn down in 1946 to build Lincoln Center.