Before the Lincoln Center was built, was a neighborhood called San Juan Hill. The name was derived from an all-black cavalry unit that fought in the Spanish-American War at the battle of San Juan Hill. It was one of the most heavily populated African American neighborhoods and a home to the working-class and poor New Yorkers during the late 19th and early 20th century.
At the time, the streets of the neighborhood was mainly filled with tenements (as shown above) with a vibrant jazz scene. However, there was racial tension in this neighborhood because of the division of whites and blacks along Amsterdam Avenue. During the 1940s, it was deemed “the worst slum section in the city of New York” and partially demolished for the Amsterdam Housing Projects. By the 1950s, the area was demolished in order to make room for the construction of the Lincoln center.
If the area were still called San Juan Hill, this is what it would look like on a map:
African Americans were not the only ones who were pushed out as a result of the urban renewal. Upper West Side had a strong Puerto Rican population prior to the construction of the Lincoln Center, as well. Around 1960, there were approximately 41,000 Puerto Ricans (14% of the neighborhood’s population) occupying the area between 58th Street to 110th Street. However, due to the “slum clearance,” now the Puerto Rican population only makes up 3% of the neighborhood’s total population. West Side Story (1961) illustrates the tension between the Puerto Ricans and the Irish, Polish, and Italians immigrants during the 1950s.