Business Group Looks to Revive ‘Bloomingdale’

On a hot summer day in June, local historian Jim Mackin stood up in front of a collection of business owners, local politicians, and residents who had gathered for the annual meeting of the Columbus Amsterdam Business Improvement District. Mackin gave a presentation on the history of their neighborhood’s original name, Bloomingdale, and how that name could be brought back.

Many in the audience nodded as he spoke, and by the time Mackin stopped they decided they liked the name.

The Bloomingdale library retains the neighborhood’s old name. Devin Miller | The Bridge

Spurred by the positive response, Peter Arndsten, president of the Columbus Amsterdam BID, began working with local businesses, Mackin’s history group, and the local community board to come up with a plan to rename their neighborhood, bordered by West 96th Street, West 110th Street, Central Park West and Riverside Drive, Bloomingdale.

Sandwiched between the Upper West Side to the south and Morningside Heights to the north, the area lacks a name to distinguish it from the other two neighborhoods it is often lumped in to.

“The neighborhood lacks an identity in terms of a name,” said Craig Skiptunis, owner of the restaurant Bistro Ten 18. “It has a great cultural identity, great architecture, great restaurants, but it doesn’t have a name to identify the area.”

Part of the identity problem is that the Upper West Side is too big of an area, said Mackin, also a resident of the neighborhood. This leads to the area being swallowed up.

“The objective is to get a little more distinction from the Upper West Side,” Mackin said. “We need the same kind of distinction Morningside Heights has.”

Along with giving the neighborhood an identity, there is the hope that attaching a new name will create a brand for the area, making it easier to promote local business.

“I think it will have the same effect as the other neighborhood who made names, like NoHo, SoHo, etc.,” said Mark Glaser, vice chair of Community Board 7 and one of the advocates for the new name.

Dutch settlers who came to the area now known as the Upper West Side called the area Bloemendaal, which means valley of flowers. In 1664 the British took over Manhattan island and Anglicized the name, turning it into Bloomingdale.

During the Revolutionary War, the battle of Harlem Heights occurred in Bloomingdale as General George Washington’s army retreated north. Washington later considered the area perfect for building the capital of the new United States, with the government buildings overlooking the Hudson River.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as the southern part of Manhattan Island began to be built up, many large estates were built in Bloomingdale, at that time far away from the densely populated areas.

The Bloomingdale name endured for many years as Manhattan industrialized in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was only after World War 1 that the name faded, and the Upper West Side became more commonly used.

Despite the history behind the name Bloomingdale, many residents don’t know much about it.

“I always considered this area part of the Upper West Side,” said Maxine Krasnow, who lives on West 105th Street.

“I like the idea of a name change for the neighborhood,” said Krasnow, “but I don’t like the name Bloomingdale. I keep associating the name with Bloomingdale the store. Every time I think of it that comes to mind.”

Ann Puddu, 72, who lives on West 107th Street, said the name “just sounds weird to me,” adding, “I always say I live near Columbia University, and everybody knows where I live when I say that.”

As a neighborhood historian, Mackin understands the resistance of some longtime residents.

“I think residents will get behind it big time. But they’ll need to get a bit more educated on the history,” he said. “They know the more recent history, but we need to teach the old romantic history of the neighborhood.”

Mackin and the other leaders behind the name push are using community outreach to educate residents, and to build support for the new name. So far, the community has responded well to these efforts, said Arndsten, although he also said they need to talk to more residents.

“If it stays going in a positive direction, then we’re going to start a full campaign in the new year,” Arndsten said.

The plan is to go to the community board once they feel they have enough support from residents and businesses. With the community board’s support, those pushing for the name change will approach the real estate businesses that operate in the area. It is the real estate agents that can really push the name change forward, according to Arndsten. If the real estate agents get behind the name, Arndsten thinks it could stick.

Despite the uncertainty, some of the name’s proponents see great success in the future.

“There’s no downside to this. It can’t fail. It may take a few years to catch on, but other neighborhoods like DUMBO have done it,” Glaser said.

“Once we get the real estate firms behind it, it will go. They’ll change the nomenclature and give it a sexier image.”

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