In 1866, as builders, developers, and speculators were beginning to eye the West Side, local landowners and boosters formed the West Side Association to protect and promote their interests. Led by lawyer William R. Martin, the West Side Association included prominent individuals, such as Mayor Daniel F. Tiemann, banker Joseph W. Drexel, and Singer Sewing Machine tycoon Edward S. Clark. The group tackled many of the issues limiting West Side growth: difficult topography, a corrupt political system that favored the East Side, and a lack of public transportation. For one of their first efforts, they successfully lobbied the state legislature to give Andrew H. Green and the Central Park commissioners the power to redesign the area west of Eighth Avenue between 59th and 155th Streets.
In their minute book, WSA members discuss municipal corruption, street openings, sanitation, transportation, and squatter settlements, among other topics. For the most part, the Tweed government ignored their needs. West Side sewers and streets were left unfinished. “The west side has altered so little,” wrote a Harper’s Weekly writer in 1880, “that it has seemed to be lifeless.”
The West Side Association also lobbied to rename the numbered avenues with more evocative names. In 1883 the group successfully promoted renaming Eighth Avenue as Central Park West, in order to distinguish it from the poorer neighborhoods on lower stretches of Eighth Avenue, and in 1890 the WSA had Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Avenues renamed as Columbus, Amsterdam, and West End Avenues. AR