No man’s land to NoMad: The invention of a neighborhood

By Ron Cohen
NYREJ, Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Having worked at The Besen Group in the area for nearly a decade and watching it quietly emerge as a destination, I was intrigued to have a firmer grasp on a few details worth knowing. Starting with: what are the exact neighborhood boundaries? What’s backstory to this area? The buzz surrounding the neighborhood now known as NoMad (North of Madison Square Park) has been growing ever louder in recent times, and was officially sealed in our nomenclature with the opening of The NoMad Hotel in March 2012.

Where is it?
I had a conversation years ago with a commercial landlord who has significant holdings in the area, which he himself referred to derisively as “the valley of low rents.” I referred to as “the armpit of Manhattan.” The “Brown Zone,” or, as it’s often called, the wholesale district – has been resistant to transformation in part because it’s not a blank slate like Dumbo once was. NoMad has arrived however, and is continuing to evolve. If inclusion on Wikipedia is the present indication of being on the map, it is officially on the map. Speaking of map, there still isn’t one that appears to be an official demarcation of the area. Existing information indicates that it is bound by 23rd to 30th St., and then Madison through to Sixth Ave. The area is bordered by the Flatiron District and Gramercy Park to the South, Chelsea to the West, and Midtown/Times Square to the North. The Nomad Hotel is located at 1170 Broadway and 28th St., where doormen in black skinny suits gaze across the street to see the wholesale perfumeries still run by immigrant hustlers.

Brief History of The Hood
The area has an interesting, if not sordid past. By the late nineteenth century, business activity began to percolate around the park, and the area along Broadway above the park began to be subsumed into the Tenderloin, an entertainment and quasi red-light district replete with nightclubs, saloons and bordellos. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the area around 28th St. between Fifth and Ave. and Sixth Aves. was dubbed Tin Pan Alley due to the prominent group of music publishers and songwriters who convened there. Around the same time, the 1913 Armory Show took place at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Ave. between 25th & 26th Sts. and was a landmark event in Modern Art history. The neighborhood deteriorated somewhat during the mid- and late-twentieth century. Tee-shirt, luggage, perfume and jewelry wholesalers began lining the storefronts along Broadway from Madison Square to Herald Square, and wholesalers continue to dominate that stretch.

Madison Square Park: Where It Begins
Created in 1847 and having fallen into disrepair, the 6.2 acre Madison Square Park underwent a total renovation which was completed in June 2001. The City Parks Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to restoring parks, spearheaded the project and the Madison Square North Historic District was subsequently created on June 26, 2001 by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. A 15-year, $35 million restoration scheme led by the Madison Square Park Conservancy injected new life into the park and surrounding area. Shake Shack opened within the park in July 2004, drawing hoards hungry for their sumptuous burgers.

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