Saturday, January 2, 2016

Minuit Place at 187th and 189th Street

No one really knows where Peter Minuit “purchased” the island of Manhattan from the people who already lived here in 1626. Some claim it happened near the northern tip of the island and others say the very bottom. You can’t find the spot on the map. 

There’s another Minuit place in Manhattan you can’t find either, unless you know where to look.

I haven’t quite figured out who or why, but sometime between 1916 and 1923, a piece of land 320x50 feet was “ceded to the city without compensation.” It was a street bed in Washington Heights, with one end on 187th Street between Bennett Avenue and Overlook Terrace and the other end at 189th Street and Bennett. It doesn’t show up on the 1916 map:

187th Street between Bennett Avenue and Overlook Terrace, 1916.
From The New York Public Library Digital Collection.

But here it is, named Minuit Place, on the 1923 map:

187th Street between Bennett Avenue and Overlook Terrace, 1923.
From The New York Public Library Digital Collection.

Before the development boom of the 1920s in Washington Heights, the land in the neighborhood belonged to large landholders, and when estates were sold, they were often sold in big lots. The block bounded by 187th, 189th, Bennett, and Overlook was purchased by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the fall of 1926 to build a new hospital on the site.

Minuit Place ran right through the proposed site of the hospital, but it was “released for the nominal sum of $100 plus $12.50 expenses, by the City of New York to the Lutheran Hospital of Manhattan.”

Once the land, including the little parcel of Minuit Place, was acquired, the hospital set out to raise $750,000 to build the facility.

Soon after the hospital bought its block of land, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement bought the lot just north of Minuit Place to build a new church for its congregation.

With all the plans for development, the street was discontinued from the city grid, though you can see faint street marks for Minuit Place included on the 1927 map:

187th Street between Bennett Avenue and Overlook Terrace, 1927.
From The New York Public Library Digital Collection.

The big plans that started with the 1926 land purchases didn’t quite turn out as intended. The Church of the Atonement was able to build the parish hall and parsonage in 1928, but the stock market crash hit hard, and the nave of the church was never built. In its place, where the original sanctuary would have been, is now a garden, at the intersection of 189th and Bennett. The original parish hall continues to serve as the worship space for the church. (The congregation later merged with another and the church is now called Our Saviour’s Atonement.)

The hospital was never built either, and the 1930 map shows the empty lot where the hospital was planned to be by that time. And, you can see a remnant of Minuit Place, the portion at 189th Street:

Part of Minuit Place remains on the map, at 189th and Bennett Avenue, 1930.
From The New York Public Library Collection.

The hospital sold the land in 1940 and apartment buildings soon covered the block. But, you can still see evidence, decades after it was discontinued on a city map, of where Minuit Place once was. In between the buildings, there is an open space of land that corresponds to where Minuit ran:

Where Minuit Place would've been, 187th Street between Bennett Avenue and Overlook Terrace, looking north.
The original Minuit Place made a 90-degree turn to meet 189th Street, and that short stretch remained undeveloped until 1969 when a multi-family triplex was built on the site, just next to the church garden.

Here is Minuit Place looking south toward 187th Street from the church garden. You can see the right-angle turn it makes in the foreground as it continues off to the left of the photo:

Looking toward Bennett Avenue from 189th Street, as in the view below, with the triplex on the left behind the trees (circled in red) next to the church garden to the right, you can see where Minuit Place once was:

Sources found here.

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