I walked a tremendous amount of miles today. I had wanted to see three cultural sites before I left the Harlem area. I wanted to visit the Museum of Arts & Letters, The Studio Art Museum of Harlem and Grant’s Tomb. So my trip on this hot Sunday started at the 157th Street One Subway station. I had wanted to start at the Museum of Arts & Letters.
The whole campus that the museum shares with the Hispanic Society was closed for renovation, so I walked from 155th Street to 122nd Street to tour the Grants Tomb National Memorial. The tomb is open only at certain times so I wanted to get to the park early.
It has only been three months since I left this part of Harlem and a lot has changed. Even I can’t keep up with all the changes as I was walking down Broadway. Many of the businesses that I passed have since closed. Many of the storefronts as you get closer to the SUNY campus around 140th Street to about 132nd Street have converted to small trendy restaurants and clothing stores. Many of the older businesses that had catered to the neighborhood Hispanic customer now have ‘For Rent’ signs or are being updated for a more diverse customer. I had seen this happen in the short time I was walking Inwood in upper Manhattan.
When I got to Grant’s Tomb at 122nd Street (See TripAdvisor review and story on my blog ‘VisitingaMuseum’), there were already a couple parties going on around the park area. On a nice day, there are always birthday parties for kids in the park around the tomb. People in the neighborhood love to spend time with their families here and in the other parts that surround the area.
There were not that many people touring the tomb and the building itself so it was nice to take my time. Designed by architect John Hemenway Duncan in 1883 and the tomb was dedicated on April, 1897 on the 75th Anniversary of President Grant’s birth. The President’s remains were placed here right before the dedication and his wife was buried here in 1902 (Wiki/NYC Parks).
The vaults are amazing with paintings on the ceiling of scenes of his life that were put up in recent years. The crypts of him and his wife, Julia, are on the bottom level of the tomb surrounded by the busts of generals that fought in the Civil War with him. It does not take that long to tour the tomb or the gift shop. I learned a lot about our 18th President Grant by watching a film on him. I never knew at the end that he died broke and what saved the family were his memoirs. Amazing the things that happen in peoples lives in the end.
After the tour of the tomb, I walked down to the Studio Art Museum of Harlem and toured several of the exhibitions. The museum is located at 144 West 125th Street (See review on TripAdvisor and on my blog “Visitingamuseum”) and is open for viewing for free on Sundays with the support of Target Stores. The museum is small and only take about an hour to two hours to see all the exhibitions which is nice. Some museums the exhibitions are endless and it takes hours to see and absorb everything. The Studio Art Museum exhibitions are detailed but on a smaller scale.
I was able to see artist Rico Gatson’s exhibition on 70’s influenced art, Jamel Shabazz’s exhibition of photo’s around 125th Street, which I don’t know if you could do today without releases and the “Regard the Figure” exhibition, which is in the front of the gallery on figures that influenced the curator. All were very interesting and had their own unique perspective of the culture. I was able to get through all three exhibitions in less than two hours. After viewing the exhibits, I sat on their outside patio to relax for awhile. It was a hot day and I just needed to cool off in the shade. There had been a nice crowd in the museum that afternoon.
After the Art Studio of Harlem, I walked down to the business district of 116th Street and went for some lunch. Like the rest of Harlem, things are opening and closing so fast you can’t keep up with them. Half the customers on 116th Street are White and Asian. A lot of people from Columbia University and the Upper West Side who are starting to come to this area to eat. There are many innovative restaurants opening up on the 116th Street row.
I had lunch at Harlem Pizza Company, 135th West 116th Street, a restaurant that I had passed and had read online that was very good (See review on TripAdvisor). The pizza was wonderful and the service was very friendly and welcoming. I sat in the outdoor seating area and it had cooled down a bit since it was later in the afternoon.
The restaurant is excellent and I highly recommend it. I had a personal 12 inch pizza with sausage and soppressata that was perfectly cooked, the meats and sauce were highly spiced and was gooey and delicious. It was nice to just eat and watch the world walk by. It is a very relaxing that afternoon.
My next stage of the walk included walking Manhattan Valley, another name for the Upper Upper West Side. This area includes from West 110th Street from Riverside Drive to the West and Central Park North to the East and West 96th Street to the South. I was able to ring the neighborhood and work off breakfast and lunch at the same time.
I started the later part of the afternoon walking from Morningside Park to Central Park West. God, was the park busy. There must have been four birthday parties, two barbecues, five basketball games, a soccer game and a softball league playing in various areas of the park.
A lot has changed in this side of town in the last 25 years. It is a major change from the mid-80’s when most of this area was abandoned. I remember seeing pictures of this area in the late 80’s and all through the 90’s and it was not such a nice area. Most of the housing was run down, Riverside Park was over-grown and sensible people did not travel above 86th Street.
I had dinner with a vendor my last year at Macy’s in 1995 on 92nd Street and the vendors and my boss at the time said to take the subway to 86th and walk up. I took it to 96th and walked down and even then I could see what they were talking about. It was run down but didn’t seem dangerous. Two weekends later I got adventurous and walked up to Columbia University. Those were the years where fences were put on the entrances to Morningside Park. A lot of the buildings were abandoned and boarded up by 100th and the further you got from Central Park the worse it got. I had even overheard two Columbia students talking about the fires in buildings across Morningside Park the evening before. You would not see any of that today.
I was not surprised on how nice it was to walk around now. This area has improved so much in the last thirty years and keeps getting nicer and more expensive. Pretty much everything until the 130’s on this side of the island is getting a facelift. The east side of the island over 100th is more juxtaposed. All along Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, Malcolm X Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard new restaurants, cafe’s and shops have opened catering to a diverse group of New Yorkers.
I started my walk down Central Park West, walking past the apartments on the other side of the park. Everything has changed so much up here. Almost all the apartments facing the Central Park now are luxury homes and apartment buildings sandblasted back to their original elegance. Each building has its own unique style. The best part of them is there view of the park must be amazing.
I passed some unusual historical sites and art work along the way. At the entrance of the subway station at Broadway and 96th Street is a statue of a woman holding her child by the artist, Joy Brown. This very whimsical statue is part of a collection of statues that line Broadway and a map is provided at each site to find them. Some of the people thought it might be the Madonna and child. I guess everyone has their interpretation of it. There were a lot of families taking pictures by it when I was there.
At the corner of 96th Street and West End Avenue is a plaque to Teresa Carseno, a famous pianist who lived at the Delha Robbins Apartments back at the turn of the last century. I had no clue how famous she was but she had travelled over the world performing and had interesting relationships that spread to four husbands. She was quite the character at the turn of the last century.
When I made the turn around at 96th Street, there is no exit so be prepared to walk down to 95th Street and go under the tunnel by Riverside Park. Go under and around and take some time to walk through Riverside Park and take in the view. I had walked through this area last summer on my way up to 155th Street after some time at the American Museum of Natural History. It is nice to see the park in full bloom again.
I passed the Firemen’s Memorial at Riverside Drive at 100th Street and the Shiron Shonia Memorial at 105th Street. I have seen these before and the Firemen’s Memorial means a lot to me being a fireman. Its nice to see the memorial being visited and flowers being left. The Shonin memorial was dedicated to Buddhism.
Along Riverside Drive between 107th and 108th Street, there is a majestic set of mansions that line Riverside Park. These are going under renovation but still the detail work on these homes is very elegant and must have been something when they were built at the turn of the last century. They stand out amongst all the apartment buildings that line the park.
As I turned around at 110th Street and walked back around the same route on the other side of the street. One of the most beautiful spots along Riverside Avenue is between 96th and 97th Streets with a line of shade trees that must be over 100 years old. It is just so graceful and humbling to see these huge trees and the way they shade and lead the path down this part of the sidewalk. Its nature at its best.
I passed Central Park on the park side of Central Park West and when you reach around 100th Street, you see the rock formations that line the avenue. This is a result of the last Ice Age and I had seen similar formations uptown. Again this is when you realize that Manhattan is not flat. Nature takes over when you see the trees and plants growing through the cracks. This picturesque part of the park with trees, bushes and flowers sticking out here and there through the formations. Its wall is what separates the park from the street.
When reaching 110th Street at the corner of that and Central Park West, several new buildings are built around the circle of the two streets. Modern architecture dominates this part of the street and ushers in a new beginning to this once destitute section of the neighborhood as a gateway to a new beginning for the neighborhood. The lines of the Upper West Side and Harlem on this side of the island are beginning to blur.
We’ll see more as we visit more of the neighborhood on a tour of the streets and avenues. I ended the day with a trip to McDonalds just off 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor). That McDouble and fries tasted so good as they were freshly cooked for me. The best is their frozen Strawberry Lemonade which cooled me down inside and out. It is one of the best things recently added to the McDonalds menu and a perfect drink for a hot summer day.
Places to Eat:
Harlem Pizza Company
135 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10026
(212) 222-9889 http://www.harlempizzaco.com
New York, NY 10025
Places to Visit”
West 122nd Street & Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10027
Studio Art Museum of Harlem
144 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027
West 100th Street & Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10025