206 west 103rd
The block where Norman Rockwell was born. The brownstone where his family lived appears to have been torn down.

Norman Rockwell may be known for his paintings of small-town America, but he’s got urban roots.

Rockwell’s birthplace and first home was in a brownstone at 206 West 103rd street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. He was born there on February 3, 1894 (back when the doctor rushed to the pregnant wife’s side instead of the other way around).

Norman’s father Waring Rockwell was a clerk at a textile company and the neighborhood was on the upswing at the time “In spite of the troubled economy of the early 1890’s, considered by some experts to have encompassed the second worst depression in American history, the fin de siecle beckoned from the horizon of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, with its promise of a fully functioning I.R.T. subway, a completed world class cathedral and further blossoming of academic institutions and residential expansions along Riverside and Morningside parks,” wrote Laura Claridge in her book Norman Rockwell.

The family moved to 789 St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem when Norman was 2, and he lived in various other spots until the family moved to New Rochelle when he was 17.

Now the Edward J. Reynolds School — a high school that serves students who “have been pushed out of, or become disenchanted with their previous schools” — is asking the Community Board for permission to name the Southeast corner of 103rd and Broadway “Norman Rockwell Place.” Rockwell, like the students at Edward J. Reynolds, often felt disenchanted with the art world. He wrote about his motivation in a memoir:

“I believe strongly that a painting should communicate something to large numbers of people. So, according to some critics, my work is old-fashioned, trite, banal. This criticism worries me now and then, especially when a picture I’m trying to finish is going badly, but I’ve learned that I can’t change. I’m not a modern artist and never will be. I don’t see things the way modernists do, even though I enjoy studying their work. I’ve been an illustrator since I was 16 years old. I’m not particularly satisfied with my work — at least I’m always trying to improve it — but I believe in it.”

A community board committee will hold a meeting on the proposal on Tuesday, April 14 at 7 p.m. at 250 West 87th street, just West of Broadway.

Rockwell explained in his memoir why he chose to paint country themes and not city ones: “This view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly. I paint life as I would like it to be…The summers I spent in the country as a child became part of this idealized view of life. Of course, country people fit into my kind of picture better than city people. Their faces are more open and expressive, lacking the coldness of city faces. I guess I had a bad case of the American nostalgia for the clean, simple country life, as opposed to the complicated world of a city.”

Here’s one of Rockwell’s relatively rare paintings of cities, entitled “Walking to Church on a City Street” (1954):


ART, HISTORY, NEWS | 12 comments | permalink
    1. Paul RL says:

      I vote yes! And if you like Norman Rockwell’s work, or if you’re even just a fan of Americana in general, it’s worth your while to make a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. It’s truly outstanding.

    2. Kristy says:

      I love the idea, but pretty sure there’s a Starbucks on the SE corner of 103rd & Broadway. Not *exactly* Rockwellian. Oh well!

    3. Lucien Desar says:

      Interesting trivia – The “Walking to Church on a City Street” (1954) painting sold 2 years ago by Sotheby’s for $3,245,000 . More information about the painting here:

    4. K. Lamagna says:

      You might want to check the address of that meeting on April 14. Don’t see how 25 West 87th can be west of Broadway.

      • West Sider says:

        Thanks for pointing that out. It was a typo and it’s been fixed now. It’s at 250 West 87th street. WSR

    5. manhattan mark says:

      103rd Street…impressive, Humphry Bogart, Norman Rockwell
      Jose Feliciano, The Gershwin Family (although not their
      original address). East to Manhattan Avenue, Kid Gavillon,Johnny Hartman and who else?

    6. Cyrus Pavel says:

      I love how Norman Rockwell makes 103rd street the “Upper West Side”..

      Any other time UWSiders disowns the area.

    7. StevenCinNYC says:

      Interesting story. Thanks for all the background. I never would have guessed that he grew up here.

      It’s a great idea to name the street after him.

      Looking up this city image, I was disappointed to see that it and others of his city images are from the city of Troy, NY, not NYC.

    8. linda says:

      I think Norman Rockwell’s work is highly underrated
      and so I think this would be an excellent form
      of recognition.

    9. 92nd Street says:

      I doubt one of the most famous American Painters of the last Century is underrated by anyone. He also had a work Studio for a time in Bryant Park Studios, 80 West 40th Street with a slew of famous Artists, many of which were his close friends.