Day Forty-Six: July 1,2016 Walking the Harlem Beat

Harlem Sugar Hill

I continued walking the Harlem neighborhood this afternoon after a very exhausting morning working in the Soup Kitchen. I am beginning to discover that I should not combine the two together as it gets to be too much to do in one day. I was a food runner by myself and we served 660 meals that morning. When you serve mac & cheese to the homeless, you had better wear comfortable shoes.

After I left, I took the Number One subway to 155th Street and ended up back at 168th Street again. I never win. I walked down to 155th Street to start the walk at my starting point at the cemetery. I walked around the local arts campus and around the cemetery again. It is a beautiful to just sit and think with a gorgeous view of the Hudson River. I walked through Audubon Place reminding myself to leave time for their museums in the future.

My walk today took me down Broadway and St. Nicolas Avenue and back. Like every other part of Manhattan that I walk, everything is in a state of flux. I have noticed one thing in the area, the closer you get to the CUNY campus, the more gentrified it becomes. It seems that the old students who may have in the past avoided the area that surrounded the college, the new students seem to embrace it and rather enjoy it.

Lets be fair in that the area is so much safer and cleaner than it was even ten years ago. I remember taking a walking tour with a professor from FIT and the area has changed so much since then. I remember her saying how fast the brownstones were changing hands and how the shell of a building was going for over a million dollars and us smirking at her. That same property is probably worth six times that now.

Most of Broadway is filled with interesting shops and restaurants catering to both students and residents or both. My first part of the walk started at Estrella Bakery, on the corner of Broadway and 161st Street. This amazing little bakery is so reasonable and the food is great. To add to the mac & cheese I indulged in at Soup Kitchen, I had the most delicious cinnamon Danish and a ‘papa’ a type of Dominican croquette that is filled with meat tucked into mashed potatoes and then deep-fried. (See my review on TripAdvisor) Everything I try there is good and fun to munch on while walking.

You start to see Broadway’s transition from a Dominican neighborhood to college town between 145th Street to about 138th. The commercial area is filled with bike shops, trendy little restaurants and clothing stores. Bars seem to be opening up all over the commercial area. Between 155th and 145th and further down, there are many a hole in the wall and good sit down Spanish restaurants offering reasonable prices on traditional meals.

On the trip back up Broadway, I walked the length back and forth of Hamilton Place, which is lined with some of the most beautiful brownstones and apartment buildings that I have seen in Harlem. So many of the stairs to these homes are lined with flowering potted plants and the whole area looks like ‘Old New York’, with their washed fronts and vine lining the home. This stretch of the neighborhood I predict will be the next ‘hot neighborhood’ with the college being so close by and two very popular subway lines.

There were some unusual and trendy little shops in the area that seemed out-of-place at this point in a neighborhood in transition. I just don’t think too many students or residents in the area is going to go for a $12.00 pie at Sweet Southern Style Bakery but that’s just me. Everything at the shop looks so good from the window. Next door is the trendy Hogshead restaurant with a delicious sounding pulled pork sandwich and sliders. I see more of these restaurants opening up in the small spaces that line the brownstones.

Hamilton Place also has its share of pocket parks. At the top of the street is Jonny Hartman Plaza originally know as Hamilton Park after the founding father’s whose home located here. Hartman was a musician who lived in the neighborhood back in the 1960’s. If this park is honoring someone it should be better weeded and taken care of by the community.

Further down the road is a very nice family park in the Alexander Hamilton Playground, a popular spot for young families trying to cool down in the hot weather. It is funny that some people say that they would never raise a child in the city but these kids looked pretty happy to me. At the end of the block that leads to Broadway is Montefiore Park, where it seems that the whole neighborhood meets. There are several food vendors here to check out, especially the lady who sells the flavored ices for a dollar.

By the number of people playing dominos and cards, it is popular meeting place for the retirees in the neighborhood. There is a lot of yelling and laughing going on most of the day. Walking back up to Amsterdam Avenue, you can walk the side streets to see the beautiful restoration of the brownstones in the area. There is so much care to this area. At 113rd Street, look down the road to see the amazing view of the Hudson River and then up the road to see the CUNY campus and you will now know why I think this is going to be a hot neighborhood. It offers parks, stunning housing close to a college campus, great views of the river and some great restaurants that cater to the whole community.

I was able to walk around the CUNY campus without the campus police bothering me and I have to say that it might be a small campus but it is a pretty one that is an oasis in a busy neighborhood. I was surprised that the neighborhood was not more tailored to the students but I could tell for a long time that the students must have felt very isolated being so far uptown. To the west of the campus is St. Nicholas Park, a very well used but overgrown park. The paths, basketball courts and bathrooms really need some capital improvement and the park needs a good weeding. The views of the neighborhood and beyond are quite spectacular. I could see why Alexander Hamilton had his home here. The Hamilton Grange as its called was closed for the day but in its day, it must have been an amazing estate. Hamilton was married into the Schuyler family and at that time they were the Gates and Buffets of their day.

After the walk up and own the commercial strip of Broadway, I walked across 155th Street again and walked down St. Nicholas Avenue. This part of the city has some of the most beautiful architecture in Upper Manhattan. This part of the walk took me down St. Nicholas Avenue from 155th to 125th and then back up. All along the way there are beautiful restored mansions, elegant brownstones, small well-landscaped pocket parks and delicious restaurants to try.

Some of the most beautiful restored mansions I saw line 150th Street off the avenue. The breathtaking mansion on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 150th Street was once owned by the Bailey family of Barnum & Bailey fame. The mansion and the surrounding four mansions have been beautifully restored to their true glory. The owners have taken a lot of pride in the exterior and tha landscaping of these homes. There are about four or five mansions to walk around in the area to view their unique beauty.

This area is known as ‘Sugar Hill’ for the sweet life that it gave its residents. The area is bounded by West 155 Street to the north, West 145th Street to the south and Edgecombe Avenue to the east and Amsterdam Avenue to the west. Sugar Hill got its name in the 1920’s when the neighborhood became a popular place for wealthy African-Americans to live during the Harlem Renaissance and people like Clayton Powell Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway resided here. (Wikipedia)

The whole area is going through a massive gentrification with scaffolding all over the place. People are snatching up these buildings and revitalizing them. I call it the ‘new windows’ effect. When you see new windows in the building, it means that it has already changed hands. There are three historic districts in the area but view the row houses between 718-730 St. Nicholas Avenue and you will respect the true beauty of the area.

The area also has a series of pocket parks. One gathering place is the Donnellan Square Park named after Timothy Donnellan, Private First Class during WWI. This attractive little park is a place for some serious sports conversation as I found out when some guy asked me about all my Michigan State gear. The way he approached me I thought he was ready to say ‘Hi Officer’. This well landscaped little park is a nice to place to just to sit and relax.

Further up on 151st Street is the Convent Garden, which is a small pocket park Community Garden off West 151 Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. The park has a unique history.

In 1985, a gas station occupying the site was demolished and the remaining empty lot was an eyesore to the community until local activist Luana Robinson and a small group of female volunteers from the Coalition of Hamilton Heights Tenants Associations established the Convent Garden to Women. In 1989, Convent Garden was the pilot location for the new Greenstreets program, which was launched by the Parks and the Department of Transportation to transform traffic triangles and other paved areas into green spaces.

After the site was heavily disturbed by the removal of underground gas tanks in 1998, Juliette Davis and other local residents began to rebuild the garden. The gazebo, donated by the Marriott Corporation, was installed in November 1998 and in the spring of 1999, the Convent Garden Community Association added three wooden benches and a new lawn. (New York Park System online)

While I was walking by this time, the park was open and I was able to walk around. I was introduced to Ms. Davis, who was working in the park with her grandchild. She said she keeps healthy by doing some of the work around the garden with her neighbors and family helping with the hard stuff. “It did not even have grass when we first started. We had to dig the whole thing out,” she said with a lot of pride. When she won a grant from the city for all of her hard work, she put the lawn in. The park is such a tranquil place with several flower beds, benches to sit, a lush lawn and flowers all over the place. The volunteers do such a nice job keeping the park up and I had just missed on of the local choir groups perform in the park that day. Maybe next time. It was just fun watching Ms. Davis’s grandchildren run around the park ‘trying to help’ as most kids do. Her pride in the park I think is what makes it so special. It’s that care in the community.

On my way back to 155th Street, I stopped at Victorio’s Pizza at 348 West 145th, right across the street from Jackie Robinson Park. OMG. This is some of the best pizza that you can get for a dollar a slice. I was completely blown away by the quality of the fresh mozzarella and the sauce had so much flavor. The service was very friendly and the woman behind the counter seemed surprised when I walked back in and said how much I enjoyed the slice. (See TripAdvisor for the full review).

I took the train back down to Times Square from 155th Street and then it would be off and running for another day. I covered the whole area from 155th Street to 125th Street both Broadway and St.Nicholas Avenue’s. It was a long day but there was so much to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s