Naming a Neighborhood: MiMa Makes Three


Vassilios Plexidas works at Clinton Glass and Mirrors on Ninth Avenue, but he insists on calling the neighborhood Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Theodoric Meyer.

Residents of the fast-changing West Side neighborhood known by many as Hell’s Kitchen — and by others as Clinton — have been arguing over what to call it for years.

But it seems obvious which side Vassilios Plexidas should be on. After all, his family runs Clinton Glass and Mirrors, a tiny storefront on Ninth Avenue piled high with large panes of glass.

“I’m 20 years old,” Plexidas said. “I was born and raised in the neighborhood, and to this day I say Hell’s Kitchen.” He added, “I personally refuse to say Clinton.”

In this divided neighborhood, bounded by Eighth Avenue, 34 th Street, 59 th Street and the Hudson River, a new moniker is the last thing many residents want. But that’s what Nate Weida fears they might get, thanks to MiMa, a glassy new condominium and rental tower on 42nd Street that started leasing early this year.

The name is a run-together of Midtown Manhattan, in the manner of SoHo or TriBeCa. Weida, who has lived on 45th Street for six years, is afraid it might catch on, not that his fellow residents have taken much of a liking to it.

“The people I know who live in the neighborhood think it’s lame,” he said.

According to Mary Brendle, the neighborhood’s community historian, residents have been fighting over what to call the area for nearly two centuries. Its original name was neither Clinton nor Hell’s Kitchen, but Bloomingdale. In the years after the Revolutionary War, George Clinton, New York’s first governor, acquired a farm in the area. Many of his descendants chose to live nearby, and the young neighborhood became known as Clinton.

By the late 1800s, however, the neighborhood had acquired a rougher reputation. “The entire locality,” The New York Times reported in 1881, “is probably the lowest and filthiest in the City.” The neighborhood’s police officers, Brendle wrote in an email, gave nicknames to many of its squalid tenements: The House of Blazes, Battle Row, and Hell’s Kitchen. The last one stuck.

In the intervening decades, the neighborhood’s two names have risen and fallen in favor. In 1959, local businessmen declared Hell’s Kitchen outdated, after it appeared in a newspaper story about the deaths of two children during an outbreak of gang violence in the area. They pushed for a return to calling it Clinton.

Plexidas’s father opened Bill’s Glass and Mirrors in 1983, Plexidas said, but he changed the name to Clinton Glass and Mirrors in the late 1980s in an effort to appeal to the young professionals who were starting to move into the neighborhood. But today, Plexidas said, no one who lives in the neighborhood calls it Clinton. “I only hear natives call it Hell’s Kitchen,” he said.

Christine Berthet, who sits on the neighborhood’s Community Board 4, has lived at 38th Street and Ninth Avenue for more than three decades. Asked what she called the neighborhood, she said, “Hell’s Kitchen. Always.”

In a city where it seems like another Le Pain Quotidien appears every few blocks, Hell’s Kitchen has a kind of gritty cachet that appeals to newer arrivals, too. Simon Flamm, a Romanian immigrant with a dentistry degree from New York University, opened Hells Kitchen Dental (no apostrophe) on Tenth Avenue in 2003. He chose to use the older name after he found that most locals called the neighborhood Hell’s Kitchen.

What the residents of the MiMa condomimiums will call the neighborhood is less clear.

Related, the company that developed MiMa, coined the name after polling neighborhood residents and occupants of the developer’s other properties, said Joanna Rose, Related’s vice president of corporate communications and public affairs. But even the developer refers to the neighborhood as Hell’s Kitchen or Clinton when promoting the tower, Rose said.

Would Related ultimately like residents to refer to the whole neighborhood as MiMa, too? “If it catches on, so be it,” Rose said with a laugh.

Plexidas, who can see the new skyscraper from his shop on Ninth Avenue, said he and his family considered living in MiMa. He admires the building, he said, but not the name.

“It’s corny,” he said. “I hate that name. I couldn’t think of a better one, but that one has to go.”