I finally completed my walk of the entire Harlem neighborhood from 155th to 145th Street. I was lucky that it was a nice day with not much humidity. It has been pretty bad with the weather lately. This part of my walk took me to the area east of Jackie Robinson Park from Bradhurst Avenue to the East River. It was one of the harder sections of the city. I always felt that I was being watched by someone.
As I walked along the side street between 145th Street and 155th Streets the residents reacted to me differently. Some were smoking pot on the street and when I came back walking on the other side of the street they disappeared. One woman was having a very heated argument with a man on Frederick Douglas Boulevard that was getting pretty heavy and when she saw me immediately shut up. When I walked down the other side of the street, she and the man had also disappeared. The police in the area kept driving around looking me over and when I was walking on 147th Street, someone threw a bottle from the building that hit the other side of the street I was walking on. I never thought I ever screamed ‘cop’ before but I got a pretty good idea that that’s what the local residents thought I was that afternoon. Things really quieted down as I walked around this area.
Like all other areas of Harlem, the area is quickly gentrifying. I have never seen so many young perky white kids running around the area. All the buildings lining Bradhurst Avenue by Jackie Robinson Park especially closer to 145th Street are all brand new and there is even a Starbucks on the corner of 145th and Bradhurst Avenue which means that the neighborhood is past the ‘transition’ stage. Most of the area around 145th Street to Frederick Douglas Boulevard are new housing a lot of it catering to the CUNY students who are boldly pushing the boundaries of the campus into all parts of Harlem. They walk all over the neighborhood, sometimes much to the surprise of the local merchants.
Entering Jackie Robinson Park at 145th Street is very pleasant. There are basketball courts, a public pool, picnic and barbecuing areas that are very popular with the local residents and walking trails. The rock formations in the middle of the park not too different to the ones in High Bridge Park tell the story of how the Ice Age molded these parks for the future. The large formations are mostly covered with vegetation but still make quite an impression. The park was very busy that afternoon with kids crowding into the pool and many pick up basketball games going on. On the upper reaches of the park, there must have been four barbecues going on at once, many were having birthday parties and many of the area seniors were sitting around talking and watching what I was doing. I didn’t know that me walking around was such a topic of discussion.
It must have spread around the neighborhood because a bottle came flying down from one of the apartment buildings on 147th Street. That surprised some of the people walking around the neighborhood. Between that and the police vans trolling the neighborhood, I felt like I was being followed.
Walking down Bradhurst Avenue, the street is lined with new buildings facing the park and many new shops that have opened between the park and Fredrick Douglas Boulevard along 145th Street like Starbucks and Popeye’s that cater to the students and residents alike. As you move further into the neighborhood, local businesses line the avenues along Fredrick Douglas and Marcombs with interesting local stores and restaurants. The chain stores have found themselves up here so the services are changing in the shopping area.
At 146th Street is the Robert Clinkscales Playground and Community Park (234 West 146 Street) that was founded in the neighborhood in 1983. This small park has an active playground on one side with a cooling area in the middle and raised vegetable garden on the right side of the park with sitting areas throughout. Even on a Sunday, the playground was very active with lots of kids being looked upon by their grandparents. The vegetable garden was in full form with lots of tomato and herb plants all around the gardens. It is a nice refuge from the hot streets and a good portion of the brownstones and apartment houses that surround the park have been renovated.
I have noticed a trend in all the neighborhoods I have walked so far in Upper Manhattan. If a neighborhood puts the time and effort into Community Garden or triangle park, all the real estate around it improves. Time and time again I have seen homes renovated around these small parks and that the owners enjoy having a view of something.
As I worked my way up the side streets, the area of renovation depends on how close you are to Jackie Robinson Park. The closer you are to the park, the newer the buildings and more construction is going on. The further you get away from the park towards Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, you move towards the projects. Even the projects are going through a renovation in the neighborhood as most are under scaffolding and look like they are getting a sandblast and new windows.
The lower part of the neighborhood is dominated by a bus depot at 145th Street and Lenox Avenue. Large apartment buildings dominate around this area of Lenox Avenue and the streets can get quite busy on the weekends. A lot of residents hang out outside their buildings gossiping with their neighbors. No one seemed to pay attention to me walking by until I made my way onto their side of the road and then everyone seemed to disappear.
As I made my way onto 152nd Street, the street was dotted with many small Community Gardens. There is a real community spirit with in the neighborhood when it comes to Community Gardening. The ‘Garden of Love’ run by the Bradhurst Garden Association at 321 West 152nd Street has beds of flowers and vegetables but locked from the outside and the 8th Avenue Garden at 301 152nd Street near Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, were small patches of green on this residential strip. The neighbors reclaimed these spots and by planting them and taking care of them really add to the fabric of the community as well as teaching the kids about gardening. Their a special touch to the neighborhood.
Walking up Maccombs Place, I saw a neighborhood that is starting a very early transition. Beautiful townhouses and apartment buildings line the street and lead into the Bronx where Yankee Stadium is located. People were smoking pot outside one of the apartment buildings when I passed and where fighting with each other and when I walked back down the street, there were long gone. This seemed to be the trend where ever I went.
The exception was Colonel Charles Young Triangle, the one big park in the neighborhood outside of Jackie Robinson Park. This large triangle is in the corner of the neighborhood at 154th Street just off the bridge and dominates a very busy traffic corner. Many of the people in the neighborhood gather here to talk or in some cases have family parties as I had seen the three times I walked in the park. It is not well taken care of as it needs a good weeding and planting. The only thing I did was turn some heads.
Much of the upper part of the neighborhood is commercial and when you walk down the steps to 155th Street, you are facing probably the most sterile and probably one of the more dangerous projects in the city at the old Polo Fields where the NY Giants used to play. As I said on a previous day, please do not linger around here. Even the police stay in their cars in this neighborhood and the site of a preppie 6:4 guy walking around the neighborhood for a third time must have had everyone wondering what I was doing there. Trust me, I walked down 155th Street to Bradhurst Avenue as fast as I could go and then crossed down Bradhurst before the other set of stairs that leads up to Harlem River Drive and Edgecomb Avenue where High Bridge Park is located. Pretty much the park separates the two areas from one another.
My last stop on the tour of this neighborhood was dinner. I stopped at Charles County Pan-fried Chicken on Fredrick Douglas Boulevard between 152nd and 153rd Streets and a neighborhood staple. While eating lunch, I talked to Charles, the owner, who was taking a quick break. He could not believe the makeup of his customers that day which were mostly white and some were out of town tourists. I told him that everyone reads about the restaurant on TripAdvisor and Yelp and that’s why he has such a hodgepodge of customers. There were some excellent reviews online. I just found the place while walking around earlier and checked TripAdvisor for what people were saying.
Thank God I ate there that day because Charles said that this was his last day at this location. He had been there for over twenty years and was moving to a bigger spot on 137th Street which is closer to CUNY. He explained that he needed more room as big groups wanted to visit and he had to keep turning them down. He only had about five tables and they were all full.
The food is excellent. He really does cook his chicken in a very large cast iron pan and chicken is constantly cooking so it is fresh. They give you a big portion for a meal so bring your appetite (See review on TripAdvisor). I had the fried chicken dinner which consisted of a freshly fried chicken breast and wing, a big portion of creamy mac & cheese and candied yams that were a syrupy candied on the yams and were sweet and moist. The chicken is crisp and flavorful on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. It was one of the best fried chickens I had in a long time.
As I was eating, I told Charles that I thought his food was excellent which he appreciated. Remember to wash it all down with their fresh lemonade. It will really cool you down on a hot day. It was nice to eat with and talk to the owner of the restaurant.
The day ended with a final walk into Jackie Robinson Park and a cool down period on this humid day. Many of the CUNY students have come to sunning themselves on the lawn on the hill off 145th Street or cooling down in the pool located in the park. After that, a quick subway ride from 145th Street back to midtown. The whole area between 155th Street to 145th Street both sides and in between had been done. It was quite a walk.