Day Seventy-Three April 27, 2017 Walking the rim of lower Spanish Harlem from 110th-96th Streets from 5th Avenue to FDR Drive

The weather finally broke today and I got a chance to get some more walking time in. It has been gloomy for the better part of a week and it was nice to see the sun finally peaking out. It didn’t last all day but at least it was not that cold out.

After another day in the Soup Kitchen (they had me working the door today so you get to talk to all the characters outside and hear their stories), I took the 6 subway train to 110th Street and walked to find a place to eat lunch. I was going to go back for another ‘chopped cheese sandwich’ but I walked in the wrong direction and ended up at 5th Avenue.

Wanting to start my ring walk of the area (walking all of the outside streets of the neighborhood, I decided to find a place around here. I ate Empire Corner II at 1415 5th Avenue at 116th Street, a restaurant I had passed many times when walking this area (see review on TripAdvisor). It was good but not great. I had a sweet & sour chicken with a generous portion of roast pork rice that had no roast pork in it. Just some onions. For $6.00 with a Pepsi included it was not a bad lunch. They gave me a large amount of chicken so I could not complain. The takeout place is a dump but being across the street from the housing projects, I did not see anyone who came in for their orders complain. If you are in the area, it is a nice place to stop for a reasonable meal.

I started my walk down 5th Avenue past all the projects first, Taft Houses on one side and the Martin Luther King Jr. Houses to the other which gives way to 112th Street and the renovating of the brownstones and prewar apartment buildings that run from 112th Street to other parts of the neighborhood all around 110th and below as the Upper East Side is beginning to creep up into this area. Within a few years, you will see an extension of luxury high rises start to be built in this area due to the proximity of Central Park. You are seeing this at 116th Street up to Mount Morris Park (Marcus Garvey Park).

Once you pass the circle where The Heritage 5th Avenue a Schomberg Plaza Circle is currently undergoing a renovation to mixed housing, you walk past buildings that you would imagine belong on 5th Avenue with the traditional doormen apartments that face Central Park (for many who remember the ‘Central Park Jogger’ case back in the 80’s, these apartments are where the supposed ‘Central Park Eight’ came from and started their rampage. That seems like a million years ago now).

The walk down 5th Avenue took me past Central Park on one side and the start of the ‘Museum Mile’ on the other. What was nice is that the trees are in the beginning stages of budding and spring is here finally. Fifth Avenue along the park is quite a site especially when the tulips and daffodils are out in full bloom. What is unusual about Fifth Avenue residences is that one block from Fifth Avenue from 110th to 96th Streets leads into public housing complexes sometimes one or two blocks away. Almost everything below 96th Street on the East Side has been gentrified.

I passed the Q subway line on the way to FDR Drive (see previous discussion on the new Q line in an earlier blog) and will have to use this on future trips uptown. It is such a pleasure to travel on the Q line instead of the over-crowded 6 line.

My first part of the travels took me down Fifth Avenue to 96th Street and crossing 96th Street to FDR Drive. Watching the students leave school that afternoon was like a microcosm of the city. The closer you are to the park, you see all the preppie kids who go to the local private schools and are being picked up by the equally preppie nannies and moms. The closer you get to FDR Drive, you see the public schools and the kids who live above 100th Street closer to the housing complexes.

This part of Manhattan is very diverse but is ever changing. Kids are kids though and they all make a lot of noise as they run out of their schools to meet their friends, play in the local parks and run to the local pizzerias.

There is a very diverse crowd of kids at the Samuel Seabury Playground at Lexington and 96th Street, with kids, parents and babysitters running all over the place. I have never seen a park with so much energy. Kids were all over the place, chasing one another and on the play equipment. When I reached the end of 96th Street, another group of kids were playing at the Stanley Isaacs Playground at the corner of 96th and 1st Avenue. It was a slightly seedier bunch.

The Isaacs Playground though is a good place to stop to go to the bathroom as it is very clean and the tulips were up in full force both along the rim of the park, on the street leading into FDR Drive and at the entrance of the East River Esplanade on the corner of FDR Drive and 96th Street. Watch both ways when crossing the street as there is serious traffic here and the people drive like maniacs.

Walk along the corridor that is the Esplanade. Since I did not know this existed and that your could walk FDR Drive in this section of the island, I walked along the East River from 96th Street to 124th Street where is abruptly stops as they are renovating that whole park area. You will find that the first thing you are hit by is the smell of salt air. It smells like you are at the shore. It was such a rich salty smell and is a nice change from all the fumes of the cars.

Walking the Esplanade is such a beautiful walk on a sunny day but you will notice one thing, the further you get from 96th Street the less the Esplanade is taken care of by the city. Either a private group planted by 96th Street or there is a group of gardeners who took it amongst themselves to clean up the Isaacs Park, the Esplanade and that part of the pathway to about 100th Street. After that, the Esplanade is somewhat over-grown by weeds and the beds are not that well maintained.

The views are spectacular though. It is such an amazing walk on this side of the river. At around 102nd Street is the walkway to Wards Island off the coast of Manhattan with ball fields and recreation facilities. All sorts of kids were running over the walkway to go to lacrosse and soccer practice dragging their equipment with them. Ward-Randall’s Island Park stretches from about 101st Street all the way up to about 128th along the river so I got to see the island come into bloom.

At about 116th Street exit, stop and admire the colorful totem pole someone created out of an old stone pillar. The faces painted on in colorful colors is quite amusing and very creative. I am not sure if it means anything but who ever painted it did a good job. It is an unusual piece of art.

The Esplanade ends abruptly at 124th Street as they are renovating the whole park area around the Wagner Houses. The area was fenced off and a very scary looking homeless guy was playing with his pants so I turned around and went back down the path.

I crossed over the 120th Street walkway and doubled backed to the Pleasant Finest Deli at the corner of 120th and Pleasant Avenue. I love the owners. They always give me such a strange look. The best part of this deli is that the prices are so reasonable that it makes it a pleasure to stop for a snack.

From here I walked FDR Drive the rest of the way down from 121st Street to 96th Street. Not the most exciting walk and a little dangerous with people speedy by and racing to get off the various exits. Its not a place I recommend walking down.

I had to pass the East River Houses again, this time on the FDR Drive side where thank God they are building a park so the whole area is fenced off from the rest of the complex. When they finish, hopefully it will be a very active park and keep the problems away. Even when I was crossing the street at 102nd, I caught a glimpse of someone watching me hidden in one of the doorways of the complex. I just kept walking.

I finished the side streets between 1st Avenue and FDR Drive from 102nd to 96th. The whole area is dominated by the local schools and playgrounds and the kids were out in full force, playing basketball and gossiping with their friends. The Metropolitan Hospital is the border of the neighborhood from Spanish Harlem to the Upper East Side/Yorkville. This is the way it is by 5th Avenue with Mt. Sinai Hospital dominating the area between 5th Avenue and 103rd Street.

I ended the day relaxing in the Central Park Conservatory Garden, which was in full bloom ablaze with daffodils and tulips and the fountains going in full force. The lawns and trees were all green with the early spring budding in full form. Spring is here and the warm weather is coming. Don’t miss the Conservatory Garden now as its beautiful this time of year. It was just such a nice place to sit back and relax after along day.

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