It has been a year since I started the blog site and the project has now taken me on an extensive trip to Los Angeles, a tour of the State of New Jersey and the Anniversary Day of the project to the much changing and gentrifying Newark, NJ. You heard correctly, Newark like all major cities is going through a revival and I had two afternoons and evenings at the Newark Conservatory located on Prince Street.
I have been a member of the Newark Conservatory for years but never really got involved in their events until recently. The organization is small but is currently looking at way to ‘Green’ Newark. Yes, Newark still does have its share of problems but like any other city has small groups of people trying to deal with them. I have seen so many changes in the downtown area alone.
The Conservatory has sponsored many interesting events and is doing their best to promote urban farming. On June 4th, they sponsored a ‘Strawberry Jam’, promoting their strawberry crops at the Court Street Farm. It was an interesting event with strawberry tea infusions, strawberry jam tastings and tours of the farm and the Kruger mansion, which sits on the back part of the farm.
The Newark Conservatory Gardens
The farm has some interesting crops being grown and the strawberry crop was pretty extension. We were able to take the tour around the farm, have tastings of the various fruits being grown and see how the local kids were getting involved on the farm.
The Kruger Mansion sits at the edge of the farm like a sad remnant of a bygone era. The poor mansion, which once stood in one of the most fashionable areas of the city, is falling apart and it is such a beautiful home. It has been partially renovated but the rest of the house is falling apart. It is so overgrown that it sits like a haunted house on the edge of optimism. There are plans to fix it but like they said to me it takes money.
The Newark Conservatory Farm with the Kruger Mansion right behind it.
The other event they ran was a ‘Wine & Cheese in the Garden’ event to raise money for the main farm on Prince Street. It was a really beautiful night of tour of the main gardens, tasting local vineyards in New Jersey and a lecture on the future efforts of the gardens. The event attracted a large number of supporters and members and the gardens were in beautiful shape with long flowering beds and natural art work.
The Conservatory has big plans with the renovation of a church into an experimental kitchen and classrooms and expanding the gardens further. These grass roots efforts are really improving this area of the city.
So on this very special One Year Anniversary of the ‘Walk in Manhattan and traveling Beyond’, I wish my best to all the readers and a very Happy Father’s Day to everyone. A big Happy Father’s Day to my dad, Warren, who could not be with me in Los Angeles or Newark on this special day but is always with me in spirit on these walks.
My father and I at the Junior Friends of the Library First Annual Grandparent’s Day lunch
Its amazing how many wonderful things there are to see in your own backyard! I’ll keep on walking!
I finally crossed the border of Washington Heights into Harlem and I can tell you that border does make a difference in the neighborhoods. Not in a bad way it just seemed to me that there is a different personality to the neighborhood.
I started my walk at the 168th Street subway station and walked down to Amsterdam and 155th Street. In a period of barely a year (six months for that matter), I have seen a whole bunch of businesses close their doors, scaffolding all over buildings both in Washington Heights and Harlem and a rebirth to the area around the CUNY campus. I had even taken walking tours of Harlem as little as eight years ago and have seen a huge change in the area since Mayor Bloomberg rezoned the city. 125th Street is going through a big makeover as the chain stores seem to be taking over the street.
I started my walk in the Trinity Church Cemetery with a visit to my favorite New York Mayor, Ed Koch. He brought so much positive change to New York and was New York in the late 70’s and 80’s. Mayor Koch was still mayor when I came back to work in the city in the 80’s. New York was going through its first wave of gentrification at the time. I had even sent him a copy of my book, ‘Firehouse 101’ of which his office sent a nice not too generic form letter to me thanking me for the book. As far as I know I do not know if he ever read the copy I sent him.
Trinity Cemetery at 770 Riverside Drive
Still there I was sitting on a bench on a small hill over-looking Amsterdam Avenue paying my respects. It was a quiet moment until school let and then there were kids yelling and screaming all over the place. I then decided to start the rest of the walk. I said my goodbyes to the Mayor, placed a rock on the tombstone and started out of the cemetery and down Amsterdam Avenue.
Ed Koch grave site at Trinity Cemetery
My travels today took me down Amsterdam Avenue from 155th Street to 125th Street as my border and then I walked the entire length of 125th Street from the Hudson River to the East River. Then it was back up Amsterdam Avenue to 155th Street and then the walk down Broadway. Needless to say, the journey was long but full of surprises.
Amsterdam Avenue is a street in major transition. It also depends on what part you walk. As you get closer to the CUNY campus around 138th Street the are starts to get even better with small, trendy restaurants and pre-war buildings with sandblasted fronts and new windows. The crowd is certainly getting younger with a lot of students and their parents milling around the street.
One little gem to walk around if it is open is the Hope Stevens Garden at 505 West 142nd Street. The garden was in full bloom but unfortunately the gates were locked at the time.
In 1986, the Hope Steven Community Garden (then known as the West Harlem Group Assistance Garden) was selected to participate in Artists in the Gardens, a project of Green Thumb, the community gardening program sponsored by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. From a roster of artists chosen by a panel of art professionals, the gardeners selected Eva Cockcroft to paint a mural on the building facing their garden. In 1998, the garden was sold by the City of New York to the Trust for Public Land for eventual transfer to the newly formed Manhattan Land Trust, thus ensuring its preservation. (Harlem One Stop)
Hope Stevens Garden at 505 West 142nd Street near Amsterdam Avenue
If you get a chance to walk into the garden when it is open it looks like a real treat. The flowers are all in bloom and the bed showcases a colorful assortment of plants.
I stopped a little snack shop, The One Stop Patty Shop at 1708 Amsterdam Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor). This delightful little shop has the best Jamaican meat patties. The spicy beef patty that I munched on as I walked down the road had just come out of the oven. It was flaky, filled with a generous portion of spicy beef and was a nice size patty. It more than filled me up for a quick lunch. The service was really friendly and the staff there takes a lot of pride in their food. The guy was encouraging me to buy more for my trip home. (see my review on TripAdvisor)
One Stop Patty Shop at 1708 Amsterdam Avenue
My trip took me past of the campus of CUNY where a very active student body was milling around the campus, in the park across the street and eating in the new outdoor cafes that are now dotting Amsterdam Avenue by the campus at 138th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The campus was a buzz with students socializing and just enjoying a sunny day. There are some interesting restaurants to investigate in the future.
Before I continued down the street, I took a turn on 145th Street to Broadway to try my dining destination for the evening, Handpulled Noodles. It was further up the street but I discovered Grullon II Bakery at 3522 Broadway (see review on TripAdvisor). A nice selection of baked goods and traditional Dominican snacks like Pastilitos and croquets. Most of the items had been sitting most of the day. The vanilla iced doughnut I had looked really good but was hard and the hot snacks looked dried out. It was obvious that the store had not seen too much action that day. It warrants another try though as the service was attentive and friendly and the selection of baked goods looks good.
Grullon II at 3522 Broadway
The lower part of Amsterdam Avenue was a collection of public housing and a warehouse district that was transformed into lofts, studios and a few art galleries. What was interesting was that in the middle of a housing project was that a developer was building a mixed use building with luxury apartments. That is going to be an interesting mix of people.
From Amsterdam Avenue, I walked the entire length of 125th Street, considered the heart of Harlem, that since the Bloomberg zoning changes is under the biggest transformation since Times Square was completely knocked down. By the time the transformation is complete, it will more chain stores, hotels, office buildings and the northern branch of Columbia University.
When I walked to the right down 125th Street, most of the former cheaper stores were in the process of closing down and being replaced by new businesses. The controversial new section of Columbia University is being built, replacing some old buildings with sleek new towers. Once done it will be a very impressive campus of glass, steel and new gardens. It will bring a whole new resident to this part of Harlem.
What I thought was progressive was that the campus was surrounding the famous Cotton Club nightclub that sat there in the middle of all this change. It looked totally out of place with a modern campus being built around it and a Dinosaur Barbecue restaurant catering to the college students a block down. Surreal was not the word for it as if anyone from the 20’s walked down this block now would not know where there were in Manhattan. The club was preparing for a show and I saw the performers passing by groups of college students on their way to Riverside Park and the surrounding restaurants.
The Cotton Club has a very interesting past as this is the third Cotton Club in the history of the club. It open in 1920 by Jack Jones, the heavyweight boxing champion as the Club Deluxe. In 1923, bootlegger, Owney Madden bought the club and renamed it the Cotton Club, with a ‘whites only’ policy that lasted until the club closed in 1936. The club has had two other locations and the current club in the present location opened in 1977 (Wiki).
Cotton Club in Harlem
I passed the projects on the way back down 125th Street where a woman passed me and made a comment under her breathe with a few four letter words enough where she knew I could hear her on her thoughts about policemen. I guess more and more I am realizing that everyone in this part of Manhattan thinks I am a cop or DEA. I remember how fast the drug dealers in the Dykman House projects ran when they saw me coming.
I had taken a recent walking tour of Harlem with the Cornell Club and we covered the areas from 125th Street to 124th Street from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue and how some of the residents did not appreciate being treated like a curiosity by tourists. Now there are so many white residents in the area and visiting tourists eating in the restaurants that you blend right in.
Be prepared thought more culture shocks as there is a Red Lobster and a Banana Republic on either side of the Apollo Theater and there is a mall like environment between Fredrick Douglas Boulevard and 5th Avenue that will one day be a suburban strip mall environment. It reminds me of the changes going on in downtown Brooklyn as everything is being replaced by chain stores. The local businesses that give it the character of the neighborhood are being pushed out.
The Apollo Theater was built in 1913-14 by architect George Keister in a neo-classical style and opened as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater with a ‘white’s only’ policy which existed until the 1930’s when it reopened in 1934. It was then open to black patrons as well with a mixture of entertainment.
Apollo Theater 253 West 125th Street
I passed the famous Hotel Theresa which is now called Theresa Towers. When built in 1912-1913 by German-born stockbroker, Gustavus Sidenberg and it was ‘the’ hotel in Harlem and all the famous black celebrities stayed when they could not stay in the luxury hotels of midtown (Wiki).
Today it has been refitted as an office building with commercial businesses. The building has seen better days but is still impressive and maybe one day someone will get the good idea to convert it back into a hotel like the renovation and reopening of the Hotel Knickerbocker in Times Square. It is an ideal place for a good hotel in the midst of all this change. The building itself has seen better days but like the rest of Harlem it will be catching up to the rest of the city soon.
Hotel Theresa in Harlem 2600-2700 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard
As I walked towards the East River, most of 125th Street is in the process of being either knocked down and renovated. In not even two years, the whole makeup of this area will change as more chain stores and apartment buildings are added to the area. I still can’t believe how run down parts of this area are in comparison to the rest of the city.
The worst is that it is tough to find a public bathroom anywhere in the area. I stopped by a library on 125th Street and there was no public bathroom anywhere in the building. Even the libraries in Washington Heights had bathrooms. I had to hold it in until I found a McDonald’s closer to the Washington Heights border.
My last part of the walk took me back down 125th Street to the Studio Museum at 144 West 125th Street (see review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com) in Harlem where my next walk in the area will include a tour of some of the exhibitions and tours of some of the smaller museums in the area. I passed so many galleries that I wanted to stop in as well.
The Studio Museum of Harlem opened in 1968 to showcase Black artists. The museum is currently closed for construction.
Studio Museum of Harlem at 144 West 125th Street
The CUNY campus had quieted down for the day as I walked back up and the students and their friends filled the parks and restaurants in the area enjoying the warm Spring night.
I got back up to 155th Street, turned the corner and proceeded down Broadway to my dinner destination Handpulled Noodles at 3600 Broadway (see review on TripAdvisor), which bills itself as Northwestern Chinese Soul Food which attracts not only the locals but students and tourists as well. It is considered by many in the Asian community as one of the best Chinese restaurants in New York City.
It is a small hole in the wall restaurant with limited seating in a very energetic environment. The place was loaded with CUNY students who knew the menu by hard. I had the Spicy Cumin Lamb with Lagman noodles (traditional thick cut noodles that are native to Northern China) and their jumbo pork and chive dumplings that melt in your mouth and are out of this world.
Handpulled Noodle at 3600 Broadway
The lamb was very spicy and you could taste the cumin in every bite. This is not the traditional Cantonese restaurant so do not look for fried rice and egg rolls. It is more of a cross between Indian and Mongolian cooking. There menu is very unusual with more stew like dishes like the cumin lamb, ginger chicken and herbal beef. The service is friendly and very fast paced to keep up with the large dinner crowds in such a small space. (see my review on TripAdvisor)
I had a interesting talk with someone from the neighborhood who worked renovating brownstones in the area and talked about the local real estate market. He told me that if you had bought even five years ago, you could have made your money back quickly after a renovation. The whole area above 125th Street is in a major state of transformation that happens even month by month as I have seen in a six month period in Washington Heights as old family businesses and small restaurants give way to coffee bars and fancy shops and galleries. Even he said it is not the Harlem it was last year.
My walk concluded with a subway ride back down to 42nd Street with a game plan to cover the rest of the area above 125th Street as my border for this part of the project. There are so many pocket museums and parks to cover and explore.