It took a couple of days to give the neighborhood a long walk, but I covered all the space in three days. This is such an interesting neighborhood and so many people took an interest in what I was doing over in the time I spent here.
It was hot and humid my first day in Manhattan Valley at 81 degrees. I got up to neighborhood in the later afternoon after a long day wrapping spoons at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. It may not sound that exciting but it is one of the most important stations at the kitchen. You need a constant supply of silverware to help feed everyone.
I started the walk at the E subway station on the edge of Central Park. On a hot day, the park was packed with people getting a tan, fishing in the Meer, walking their dogs or just hanging out. This part of the summer is nice because the tourists are walking around and it is fun to watch them make a fuss at everything.
The first couple of blocks along 109th and 108th Streets are filled with prewar apartment buildings, schools and small playgrounds and many small brownstones. A lot of the buildings in this area are being sandblasted back to their former glory. Closer to the parks, the buildings have an elegant feel with their carved marble fronts and small gardens and potted plants decorated them. The sign of a doorman says that this area is getting more expensive.
On 107th Street, I saw many beautiful buildings in various stages of renovation on all the blocks as this are is beginning to become part of the Upper West Side fabric. Many of the small brownstones along Manhattan Avenue had been swept in their fronts and their plants were in full bloom. Again, I love the block between 106th and 107th Streets.
When you reach Riverside Drive, there is a beautiful line of old marble mansions that line the drive from 106th to 105th Streets. These were built at a time when money was no object and living along the park was a sophisticated choice. These homes are all being renovated and one wonders if they are going to become private homes again. When rounding 107th Street along Riverside Park, take time to look at these homes from the park side and you can imagine the view they have from the front of these homes.
I walked all around Riverside Park in this part of the neighborhood and it is just beautiful when the trees are in full form. The shade trees and paths offer refuge from the hot sun and it is fun to watch the neighborhood kids play in the playgrounds with their parents and nannies. It is nice to see a group of kids enjoying nature and not glued to a cell phone. From the park, these are the most gorgeous views of the Hudson River with the cliffs in New Jersey in the background and a constant stream of boats in the river passing you by.
I made a lunch stop at SheShe Pizzeria at 961 Columbus Avenue at 107th Street (See TripAdvisor review and my blog ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’ on WordPress.com). This small pizzeria has delicious food with the most reasonable lunch specials. Their lunch menu has ten lunch specials for $5.00 including a personal pizza with pepperoni that I had with a Coke for lunch.
This small ten inch pizza was freshly cooked for me by the owner of the restaurant. It was loaded with pepperoni and cheese and when it came out of the oven was cut into four generous slices. The sauce is flavorful and the slices are all stringy and gooey with the melted cheese. It is the perfect lunch/dinner if you have a good appetite. Their spaghetti and meatballs was terrific too that I had another day I was in the neighborhood for lunch. The service is very warm and welcoming and he remembered me from a few days earlier.
To work off all this good food, stop back at the ‘Mobilize for Change’ Community Garden across the street at the corner of 107th Street and Columbus Avenue and stroll through the gardens again. The gardens are in full bloom and it is a nice place to just walk around the paths and look at the progress of the individual vegetable gardens. The tomatoes are really coming in.
One the most beautiful buildings in the neighborhood along Central Park West and 106th Street is 455 Central Park West, the old New York Cancer Hospital. Years ago when I was walking around the neighborhood, this was an abandoned building that was all boarded up and graffiti ladened. Now it is park of an exclusive apartment complex. To live in the Victorian section of the building must cost now millions of dollars. The whole building was renovated back to life and is one of the most unusual pieces of architecture in the neighborhood. It is also rumored to be haunted.
In between Columbus and Manhattan Avenues on 105th Street is the La Perla Community Garden. The garden was created around 1992 when a group of neighborhood citizens got together to clean out a garbage dump of a lot and turned it into a vibrant garden with paths leading through trees, flower and vegetable beds. There is even original graffiti art from one of the local artists all along the walls of the building that surround it.
I talked with one of the creators of the garden, Carmen Ortiz, talked with me that afternoon. “It took about ten years to clean the lot out and that was constantly throwing out the garbage to the curb just to get all the debris out. We have worked so hard to create and maintain the garden and now a piece of it is being sold off.” Currently the middle part of the garden was owned by two couples but the taxes are getting too high and the neighborhood is changing so fast, that it was cost effective to sell it. Now the left side of the garden will be a new townhouse while the rest of the garden will remain.
“It’s sad because we do so much for the community here,” Ms. Ortiz added. “We will be having a flea market this weekend and have Jazz Concerts here. During the holidays, we have events for the neighborhood children. You can see by the plantings, everyone has a plot here.” Several raised beds contain various vegetable plantings. I just hope that building this new townhouse does not affect the garden to the point where nothing can grow there. Its a sad commentary to the city when something that New Yorkers spent their time on to make better improved the neighborhood to the point that it was its own demise in the end.
Along West 104th Street between Central Park West and Manhattan Avenue, you will see another set of Community Gardens which is interesting because the plot has a prewar apartment building right smack in the middle of it. The center piece of this garden is the Jesus Crawford Rose Garden which was just losing the last of its blooms when I visited it. This was named after the creator of the garden.
Just like ‘Le Perla’ and ‘Mobilization for Change’ gardens, this garden has added much needed green space to the neighborhood with trees and raised vegetable gardens that add that sense of neighborhood to the street. At the height of the summer, it is nice to see all of these gardens in full bloom and the fresh vegetables on their way.
Walking through the Douglass Houses and the projects in general are always amusing to me. I never know the reception I will get. For the most part, I crisscrossed through the walkways of the projects from 104th to 100th Street. I visited all the playgrounds and community areas to sit and people just ignored me but looked out of the corner of their eyes to see what I was doing.
I watched some kids playing on the swings and some people attending the community gardens that they had planted but for the most part I saw a lot of socialization along Columbus Avenue. Many groups of men set up tables and while blasting Spanish music played cards and dominos and watched the neighborhood go by. I am sure that for all the game playing these guys know perfectly well what is going on around them and the surrounding buildings. That struck me as watching everything.
Its at 100th Street where Manhattan Valley joins the rest of the Upper West Side as new office and apartment buildings have been built along Columbus, Amsterdam and Broadway. This area is guarded by a police and fire station around the corner so there is action here all day long.
You can go to the bathroom either in Fredrick Douglass Park near 104th Street or at the Whole Foods at 100th Street. Stick with Whole Foods as it is cleaner and cooler plus you can use the water fountain.
When I was walking in between Riverside and West End Avenues, I came across a community bench designed by artist Linus Coraggio who lives on the block (website: LinusCoraggio@verison.net). It just so happened the artist was outside fixing his motorcycle and we got to talking about his work. He showed me the bench and all its detail work. He had lived in the area for many years and had watched it change from bad to better.
His current specialty is welded, crafted figurative and abstract sculpture and furniture. I even read online that Ringo Starr is one of his clients. He was showing the work he was doing on the brownstone he was living in, doing work around the railing and in the foyer of the building all the ceiling work. His attention to detail and to how the work flows is a sign that he takes his time with each piece. It is an interesting set of artwork with all sorts of bends and twists to the metal work.
He even has a chair he created right in front of the building. It twists and turns and the metal work is extremely creative in that you can tell the detail and the amount of time to get the metal to work in this fashion. You almost don’t want to sit in it. He told me he currently has a show going on in the East Village and a studio up in Ellenville, NY. Just stop on this block alone to see his craftsmanship. It is beautiful.
On 99th Street just off Amsterdam Avenue, there is St. Michael’s Parish, which has the nicest garden to sit in. It is a nice place to relax and just think. Tranquil is the word for it. It is beautifully planted and everything was in full bloom. It was nice to just stop and take a break here. Take a look at their postings as they have a lot of activities going on.
A couple of mornings later, I came back to finish the bottom part of the neighborhood and walked 96th Street again to see how the neighborhood transitions. The streets between 96th and 98th Streets are filled with smaller marble brownstones and many attractive prewar apartments. There are a lot of businesses transitioning along these streets as I see many of the older businesses now sitting empty with ‘For Rent’ signs telling the rents are changing in this part of the neighborhood as well. Soon they will be filled with the next wave of chain stores and glitzy restaurants.
This part of the neighborhood was easy to walk because the Central Park West Apartments and their playground stop the side streets between 98th to 99th Streets and the rest of the complex is gated off. My suggestion is do not try to walk through the complex because the signs are very blatant that they are watching you. You can see from the streets though there is a large parking lot and several well landscaped paths surrounding the buildings. I was just surprised they built these and the projects right next to one another.
I stopped at Telo Deli at 23 West 100th Street for some of their homemade empanadas ($1.25). They were so good I had to go back a second time for another which made the man behind the counter pretty happy. Try the pizza and chicken ones. They are generously filled and cooked perfectly. It is a good place to stop for a reasonable snack.
My last part of the day before I walked across Central Park to start my trip to Coney Island for my ‘Q to Q subway trip’ from 96th Street on the East Side to Coney Island on Stillwell Avenue, I stopped back at SheShe Pizzeria at 961 Columbus Avenue, to try one more thing on the lunch special menu. This was one of the inspirations for my new blog “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’. For $5.00, these lunches are exceptional.
I tried the side order of ziti with meatballs and it was more than a side order. You got a very generous portion of perfectly cooked ziti with about three fresh meatballs that were sliced on top and then put under the broiler. I could just about finish it. The meatballs had a nice garlicky taste to them and the sauce was well spiced. It looked like the owner was happy to see me again. I will be back again for another personal pizza.
As I finished my walk of Manhattan Valley, I really felt that neighborhood aspect of this community. For a section of a major city, this had a small town friendly feel about it. The people here, no matter where they live want this to be the best community it can be and I was impressed by all the free time the residents donate to make it that way. Whether it was Carmen Ortiz and her partner in the garden, Bob, spending their time weeding beds to Linus Coraggio donating his creativity to building a bench for people to relax in to the guys playing dominos watching what everyone was doing, I could feel the sense of neighborhood here. The residents here really care.
Places to Eat:
23 West 100 Street
New York, NY 10025
961 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10025
Places to visit:
Linus Coraggio Bench
West 100th Street Between Riverside Drive and West Side Drive
St. Michael’s Parish Church Garden
225 West 99th Street
New York, NY 10025
Jesus Crawford Rose Garden
West 104th Street
New York, NY 10025
Le Perla Community Garden
76 West 105th Street
New York, NY 10025
Mobilization of Change Community Garden
955 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10025