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Hostelling International New York

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New York City's first official youth hostel, and former Association Residence for Respectable Aged Indigent Females

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Manhattan Valley
Institution, Gathering Place

Place Matters Profile

Hostelling International New York, the largest youth hostel in the United States, occupies one of the last historic institutional structures in Manhattan Valley. In the late nineteenth century, Manhattan Valley, which extends roughly from W. 100th to W. 110th Streets, and from Central Park West to Broadway, became a desirable middle-class residential district. The neighborhood also hosted a number of charitable organizations, including the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females. The Association’s Residence, located at 891 Amsterdam Avenue, was commissioned by prominent society women and designed by the preeminent American architect, Richard Morris Hunt, in 1881-83. The Victorian Gothic structure housed poor, elderly women until 1974, when, like many of its former residents, the building fell on hard times. Abandoned, neglected and at the mercy of the city, the Residence was slated for demolition in 1978. However, the local community, elected officials and preservation specialists rallied to...

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Hostelling International New York


Pam Tice

The first official youth hostel in New York City was twenty years old in 2010. The New York Hostel is one of 65 in the United States, part of the Hostelling USA network. In turn, HI-UAS is a part of the International Youth Hostelling Federation.

The New York Hostel is in a 19th century Victorian Gothic building designed by pre-eminent American architect, Richard Morris Hunt. It is one of a few Hunt structures remaining in New York City today. The others include the base of the Statue of Liberty, the front facade of the Metropolitan Museum, the cast iron Roosevelt building at 478 Broadway, a building on West 13th Street and the Vanderbilt Masoleum on Staten Island.

The hostel was formerly a home for elderly women built in 1880-1883 by the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females. The Association was chartered in 1813 by a group of New York women, wives of merchants, to help elderly women "avoid the degradation of the poorhouse." The Association built their first residence in 1839 on East 20th Street and decided to expand in the late 1870's, purchasing this property at West 103-104 Streets and Tenth Avenue (now Amsterdam). The Ninth Avenue Elevated railroad had recently opened. The Association Residence became a fixture in the neighborhood. After World War II, however, the longer life expectancy of the women residents began to cause financial problems for the Residence managers, as the fees paid could not support the operating costs. Robert Moses wanted to take the building down during the Upper West Side "slum clearance" in the late 1940's but they fought him off. The Association kept going, taking up fundraising events for the socially connected board, and making structural improvements to the building when they could. Finally, in the early 1970's federal Medicaid funds became available for nursing homes. The Board decided to take down the building and replace it with a new home that would meet the new code requirements.

The plans of the Association soon ran up against the vision of a group of historic preservation students from Columbia University who saw the building as an important structure to be preserved. A dramatic period of fours years ensued, with the Association moving the elderly residents out, the building falling into disrepair, and even the City of New York threatening to destroy the building as an "eyesore" in the neighborhood. The Hunt building became a neighborhood "cause" that even a destructive fire during the 1977 blackout could not diminish. Finally, by the late 1970's, the historic preservationists prevailed, and sought a new use for the building which had become City-owned property. The City landmarked the building in 1983.

American Youth Hostels appeared on the scene, looking for a place to establish a youth hostel in one of the most visited cities in the world. It took most of the 1980's to arrange the financing for the rehabilitation of the building, to gain the support of multiple levels of government for funding the project, to get the neighborhood organizations behind the project. The Hostel opened in January 1990.

In the past twenty years over a million young people have stayed at Hostelling International New York. It has become the largest hostel in North America with 670 beds. A wide variety of programs, many staffed by volunteers, help young visitors discover the City. Some say they have experienced the ghosts of the elderly women who once made it their home.

The Association Residence was built in two stages. The C-shaped 1883 building was faced in red brick and rises above a rock-faced brownstone ashlar basement. A wide areaway bordered by an ornamental railing extends along the street elevation of the building. There is a mansard roof with brick and stone dormers. In 1907 Mrs. Russell Sage gave the Association funds to expand the building southward to West 103rd Street, an addition designed by Charles Rich. The addition included a Chapel with Tiffany windows. When the building was emptied, the windows were purchased by an interested donor, and sent to the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida, where they are taken out of storage and displayed at Christmas each year.
(January 2011)

Bruce Rosen

The turn around required a significant injection of federal community development block grant dollars from the city's annual allocation, then controlled by the Department of Planning. It required a leap of faith that investment in this site, then in a rough community, would pay off. Being one short block from the #1 train's 103rd Street station on Broadway was pivotal. That effort also included reconstruction and restoration of the Broadway malls, as well as later housing rehabilitation funds. The city was fairly creative at that moment. The public made a lot of necessary noise. The Upper West Side was awash in real Upper West Side activists, and the Department hadn't been rendered a total slave to the big real estate interests which had, in any case, written off this part of town. The sustained presence and persistence of such community-based organizations as the Manhattan Valley Development Corporation and the West Side Crime Prevention Program were critical to this renaissance.

(June 2011)

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