Tag Archives: East Harlem

Day Seventy-Five: Walking the Avenues in Lower Spanish Harlem from 110th to 96th Streets between Fifth Avenue and FDR Drive May 10th-May 15th, 2017

Whew! This was a two day affair. I had already walked 5th and 1st Avenues and then all of FDR Drive and the Esplanade on other days. This left for me to walk the length of Madison, Park, Lexington, 3rd and 2nd Avenues from 96th Street to 110th Street. This meant 14 blocks back and forth, up and down the streets of the neighborhood. It was a long day of walking. I never realized how long it would take.

This part of Manhattan is a real mish-mush of everything. It transitions from East Harlem into the Upper-Upper East Side into Yorkville. Some others call it Carnegie Hill. It has it all. Housing projects, schools, a business district on Lexington, expensive brownstones, luxury apartments and hospitals that create the border between the two very different neighborhoods.

96th Street is the true border between the two areas but even that transitions as you get closer to the East River. A you get closer to 98th Street, you will see luxury housing complexes right across the street from some sketchy housing complexes right across the street (some people want the authenticity of the city). This changes from block to block and if you follow the grid pattern, be prepared to walk through some housing complexes. I would only recommend that while the kids are exiting from after-school. Then the neighborhood is teeming with kids with their parents picking them up. Public or Private, adults are all over the place at the schools and it makes any neighborhood safe to walk around in as the police are out in many of these neighborhoods watching everyone.

Where you really see the difference in the neighborhood is between 97th Street and 99th Street on the East Side of Central Park. Some of the blocks are lined with beautiful and graceful brownstones and apartment buildings and then right across the street you can see where they leveled the neighborhood to building the housing projects that line long avenues and streets.

You start to see the changes as you walk down 97 Street and you reach the end of the Park Avenue Mall, a grassy knoll between the uptown and downtown grid which in the lower part of Park Avenue is planted with flowers and trees during the year. This gives way to the elevated railroad tracks after 97th Street and Park Avenue. As you get further up into the 100’s streets, Park Avenue is lined with housing projects. This is the failure of city planning where whole blocks in this neighborhood were leveled for public housing that never worked. This ‘slum clearance’ of the 1960’s would now be a fully gentrified neighborhood by now.

George Washington Carver Houses

George Washington Carver Houses

Walking  the Avenues , one sees how the neighbor changes. Every block is so different in this neighborhood. You can go from luxury housing to a public housing project just by walking the street. Also, if you walk while school is in session and when it gets out for the day, you should have no problem walking around the housing projects. Pretty much everyone ignored me or just looked at me in the corner of their eyes and then put their heads down. It was such a strange attitude. In my opinion, people are people but the site of 6:4 preppie white guy walking around in a blue polo must have panicked people.

Along the way, there is so much so see and experience in this neighborhood. Small hole in the wall restaurants at very reasonable prices, great street art, small community gardens tucked between buildings, beautiful brownstones in a row and interesting views of Central Park and the East River as way of sidewalks. It is a diverse neighborhood that is getting harder to define as the whole island changes. Even in the short time I walked around Spanish Harlem, things were being knocked down and rebuilt.

It seems that every block had something to offer in some small way. Since I had done the borders of the neighborhood already and wanting to avoid First Avenue again (scary) with all the public housing, I started my trip up and down Second Avenue.

Hospitals seem to dominate in this section of the city with Mt. Sinai dominating the borders of Fifth to Madison from 96th to 101st and Metropolitan Hospital from 97th to 100th Street along Second Avenue. These large facilities create a wall on the neighborhood borders almost sheltering the Upper Upper East Side from Spanish Harlem. The neighborhood around them reflects the role the hospital plays around it with ever expanding buildings in the neighborhood and housing for the residents. I saw this up in Washington Heights with Columbia as they expand in the neighborhood.

Located off Second Avenue, the Marx Brothers have a small park named after them and it was busy after school with kids playing tag. The Marx Brothers were a famous team of brothers, Harpo, Groucho,  Chico, Zeppo and Gummo, who were raised at 179 East 93rd Street. The brothers had many hits in the 1930’s and 40’s. The park has been recently part of a debate in the City on what connotates a park as a developer wants to build a tower here.

As you walk up Second Avenue, the area is dominated by a mix of brownstones and public housing. This is dominated by the huge Washington Housing complex that stretches from 97th Street to 104th from Second Avenue to Third Avenue. After school, this are was very lively with kids but boy did they give me looks when I walked through later in the week when I was doing the streets. Because of the way the grid works, you have to walk through the same paths. So the same people kept seeing me walk through the complex.

Marx Brothers Park.jpg

Marx Brothers Park

Between Third Avenue and Lexington, there is a nice place to sit and relax at the Marketplace Plaza. This small pocket plaza was created between to newish buildings and provides a comfortable place amongst the flower beds to sit and relax and people watch. There are benches and rows of flower beds to admire and rest your legs on the long walks up the Avenues.

Third Avenue is the most commercial section of the neighborhood dominated by stores and restaurants along the way. It is again a street of extremes as new buildings dominate until you reach the Lexington Houses at 98th Street and then the street is juxtaposed again with a series of public housing, luxury buildings tucked away and commercial buildings that are in the process of renovation.

I reached the Poor Richards Playground outside the Tag Young Scholar School and Junior High 117 by mid-afternoon and the kids were letting out for the day. The place was mobbed with children and parents from the neighborhood. Poor Richard’s Playground was named after Benjamin Franklin as this was one of his alias’s, Poor Richard Saunders of which ‘Poor Richard’s Almanac’ was named. He has so many accomplishments to his name it is hard to pin-point one (NYCParks.org).

Kids were playing basketball and tag on the school’s playground and I got quite the looks from the teachers as I watched the kids play basketball especially when I had to throw the ball over the fence when it flew over to me. I just smiled and continued the walk.

Poor Richards Playground.jpg

Poor Richard’s Playground

Across the street from the school and the surrounding blocks there are some really nice reasonable restaurants for lunch. These are places that the kids and their parents were eating at after school. Make & Bake Pizza at 1976 Third Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor) has terrific pizza at $1.00 a slice and it is so fresh because the place is so busy. Another great place to eat is Mr. Moe’s Deli at 2001 Third Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor). They make a terrific chopped cheese sandwich that competes with Blue Sky Deli up on 110th Street. The nice part about Mr. Moe’s is that their chopped cheese sandwich comes with a Coke for $3.50. It is a great bargain and it is delicious.

Make & Bake Pizza.jpg

Make & Bake Pizza

The best part is on a nice day take your lunch to the White Playground on 106th between Third and Lexington Avenues and relax on the benches. It is such a nice playground and is beautifully landscaped and I thought very safe with all the parents and grandparents around watching the kids play.

Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue are also the land of extremes as well.  Walking up Lexington Avenue to about 98th Street is an extension of the Upper East Side until you hit the Lexington Houses at 98th Street and those go on for a block until you reach between 101st and 102nd Streets, where you will see the most beautiful set of brownstones with art work from local Harlem artists on the west side of the road across from the gas station. The is also a few outdoor cafes that are very nice in the area so you can see the area is getting gentrified.

Spiritual Art in East Harlem

Lexington Avenue at 104th Street

The street art in this neighborhood is varied and very unique. On 106th Street off Lexington Avenue, there is a painting dedicated to Puerto Rican Poet Julia de Burgos entitled ‘Remembering Julia de Burgos’ that has excellent detail and you should take the time to see. Also along 110th Street and Lexington Avenue on the wall of the Success Academy, there is another interesting mural that is very colorful. The art work featured on this blog was my favorite piece of street was the man dressed in animal costumes that I saw on 106th Street. I was not too sure if it was a Central American theme to it or just tagged. Whatever the story to this artwork, who ever did it I thought was extremely talented.

Julia de Burgos Painting.jpg

Julia de Burgos Painting in East Harlem

Travelling back down Lexington Avenue, there is all sorts of architecture to admire. There is a beautiful row of brownstones between 106th and 107th Streets. A small private gated park by Bean Y Vino is at Lexington Avenue and 104th Street that I could only see from the outside is nicely landscaped.

Between 100th and 101st Streets on Lexington Avenue, there is Maggie’s Magic Garden, which is a whimsical little oasis of trees, flowers and plants with imaginative statuary all over this little space tucked between two buildings. I was lucky that the garden was open that day and met Maria ‘Maggie’ Amurrio herself who created the garden over a decade ago from a weed ridden lot to this little piece of paradise that is perfect for kids to visit.

Maggie's Garden.jpg

Maggie’s Garden

She and I talked for about a half hour and she explained that she was sick and tired of this lot looking like this and wanted to do something about it. Like many of the Community Gardens and their creators whom I have met along my travels, she took matters into her own hands and with the help of other volunteers started to clean the lot up and plant it. She told me that later the Parks Department recognized this effort and now she has the seal from the city. Not only does she grow flowers here but is also growing fruits and vegetables and took me on a tour to show me where birds live in the trees. It is amazing how the determination of one New Yorker and a group of volunteers shows in creating this creative piece of landscape. Try not to miss  this little oasis on your travels up and down Lexington.

Traveling up Park and Madison is interesting because when you get past 98th Street, it is pretty much public housing complexes from 98th to 110th Streets, stretching from Park Avenue to Madison Avenue. This is dominated by the Washington Carver Houses from 99th Street to 106th Street, the Lehman Houses from 107th Street to 110th Street, the Governor DeWitt Houses on the Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue from 110th to 108th and then to 106th to 104th Streets and  the Lexington Houses from 98th to 99th Streets. So walking through this area of Park and Madison Avenues make sure to go through while school is out and people are outside. I never felt unsafe but there will moms and kids all over the playgrounds in the projects and everyone ignored me.

Dewitt Clinton Houses.jpg

Dewitt Houses

The projects also cut the neighborhood into sections as you have to keep walking through them to get to the extension of the street. So as I was finishing the Avenues on my way to starting the streets, you have to make several trips especially on 107th Street through the projects to complete the grid.

Martha Stewart has been involved in helping Mt. Sinai Hospital and built a beautiful garden across the street between 99th and 100th Streets that was locked both times I tried to visit it. Her and her staff did a nice job landscaping and planting this part of the Washington Carver Houses gardens and the playground. Many of the staff from the hospital use this area to relax on their lunch breaks and the kids are very active here.

Martha Stewart Garden.jpg

Martha Stewart Garden

Mt. Sinai creates the border between the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem on this side of the neighborhood and the campus spreads two blocks over. Between this and the Park Avenue train creates the border on this side of the neighborhood. The between the west side of Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue are the most expensive housing in the neighborhood that faces Central Park. Even here the housing is being updated and renovated. You have also some of your nicest stone buildings with elegant carved entrances. Businesses also dominate this side of Madison Avenue.

There are some good options to eat at in the neighborhood. On the corner of 97th and Madison Avenue at 1398 Madison Avenue there is Famiglia Pizza. This has some of the best pizza by the slice in the city and their prices are fair. Their plain and sausage pizzas are really good. For a quick snack, I also like Tu Casa Grocery at 29 East 104th Street right next to the Museum of the City of New York. For a dollar, they have excellent chicken and beef pastilitos and they sell soda and candy for a reasonable price. I took a couple of pastilitos and a Coke and went into Central Park to relax after finishing the Avenues.

Familigia Pizza in East Harlem

Famiglia Pizza on the border of the Upper East Side and East Harlem

I finished the Avenues on May 15th by relaxing at the Conservatory Garden at 104th and Fifth Avenue. It was an interesting and tiring day and it was just nice to relax.

Places to Eat:

Mr. Moe’s Deli

2001 Third Avenue

New York, NY

(917) 388-2379

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12437268-Reviews-Mr_Moe_s_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/324

 

Make & Bake Pizza

1976 Third Avenue

New York, NY

(646) 490-8355

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12437257-Reviews-Make_Bake_Pizza-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/661

 

Tu Casa Grocery

29 East 104th Street

New York, NY

(212) 360-7372

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12437256-Reviews-Tu_Casa_Deli_Grocery-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Famous Famiglia Pizzeria

1398 Madison Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(212) 996-9797

http://famousfamiglia.com/

Open: Sunday-Thursday 10:00am-11:30am/Friday & Saturday 10:00am-2:30am

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d3699329-Reviews-Famous_Famiglia-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Places to Visit:

 

Maggie’s  Magic Garden

1576 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY  10029

https://www.nyrp.org/green-spaces/garden-details/maggies-garden/

Open: Varies by season

 

White Playground

170 East 106th Street

New York, NY  10029

(212) 639-9675

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/white-playground

Open: Sunday-Saturday 6:00am-9:00pm

 

Poor Richard’s Playground

240 East 109th Street

New York, NY  10029

(212) 639-9675

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/poor-richards-playground

Open: Check Website, depending on the season

 

Marx Brothers Playground

East 96th Street

New York, NY  10029

(212) 639-9675

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/marx-brothers-playground

Open: Sunday-Saturday 7:00am-9:00pm

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

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.

Empire Corner II

Empire Corner II at 1415 Fifth Avenue

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.

Sweet and Sour Pork

The Sweet & Sour Chicken was okay

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).

Taft Houses

The Taft Houses

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).

Schomberg Plaza

Schomberg Plaza is on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 110th Street across from Central Park

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.

Stanley Isaacs Playground III

The Stanley Isaacs Playground has nice bathrooms to stop at while walking around

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.

Esplande Upper East Side

The Esplanade during the Summer

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.

Stanley Isaacs Playground II.jpg

Stanley Isaacs Playground

Stanley Myer Isaacs

Stanley Isaacs was a former Borough President and advocate of the people of New York City

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.

Ward-Randall Island II.jpg

Ward-Randall Island

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.

Esplande Harlem.jpg

Esplanade in East Harlem

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.

East River Houses.jpg

East River Houses on East 105th Street (AVOID)

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.

Central Park Conservatory Garden II

Central Park Conservatory

 

Places to Visit:

 

Central Park Conservatory

1233 5th Avenue & 105th Street

New York, NY  10029

(212) 310-6600

http://www.centralparknyc.org/things-to-see-and-do/attractions/conservatory-garden.html

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60763-d272517-Reviews-Conservatory_Garden-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on VisitingaMuseum.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/visitingamuseum.com/831

 

Ward-Randalls Island

Just off the Island of Manhattan in the East River

New York, NY

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/wards-island-park/history

 

The East River Esplanade

Along the Harlem Waterfront from 125th Street to 145th Street

 

Samuel Seabury Playground

Lexington Avenue & East 96th Street

New York, NY  10128

(212) 639-9675

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/samuel-seabury-playground

Open: 6:00am-9:00pm

 

Stanley Isaacs Playground

East 95th to East 97th Streets

New York, NY  10128

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/stanley-isaacs-playground

Open:  7:00am-9:00pm

 

Places to Eat:

 

Empire Corner II

1415 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10029

(212) 410-5756

Open: Sunday 11:30am-11:00pm/Monday-Thursday 11:00am-11:00pm/Friday-Saturday 11:00am-12:00am

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d4480058-Reviews-Empire_Corner_II-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Pleasant Finest Deli

375 Pleasant Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 348-6666

Open: 24 Hours

My Review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12379766-Reviews-Pleasant_Finest_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

Day Seventy-One Walking: Walking SoHA in East Harlem (Upper Spanish Harlem) from 125th Street to 110th Street from Park Avenue to FDR Drive & the River April 7th-13th, 2017

I finished walking East Harlem and it was an interesting experience. It took two weeks to crisscross the whole neighborhood and I was lucky that I double-backed on several streets so I got a more detailed experience. There was a lot of interesting architecture and some wonderful restaurants, bodegas and bakeries along the way to experience. I got to walk the parks at different times of the day and I finished the walk when the schools were closed for Spring Break, so I got to see the neighborhood come to life with families out and about.

My first day of the walk, I could not have asked for beautiful weather. It was clear, sunny and in the 60’s. It was perfect outside weather. After a busy morning at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen (they had me working the hurried bread station and you would think that the homeless were at Starbucks with all of their requests), I took the number 6 subway to 110th Street to start the walk of East Harlem, now known as ‘Upper Spanish Harlem’. I have never seen so much renovation and building going on in one area which is changing the face of the neighborhood.

I started my walk up the Avenues and traveled on the north to south part of the neighborhood the first afternoon. I walked 3rd Avenue, 2nd Avenue and 1st Avenue and revisited Pleasant Avenue and the surrounding streets. It’s an interesting mix of commercial and housing space that houses a diversity of businesses.

Before the area was known as ‘El Barrio’, a Spanish neighborhood of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Dominicans, it had the city’s first ‘Little Italy’ from the turn of the last century to about the late 1950’s to early 60’s when people moved out to the suburbs. There are still traces of the neighborhood left with some churches, businesses like Rao’s and Patsy’s still going strong and the streets named after famous Italians.

East Harlem III Pleasant Avenue

Pleasant Avenue off 120th Street in East Harlem

The area around Pleasant Avenue is going through a tremendous renovation as all the brownstones look like they are getting snatched up and being updated and a much younger crowd is beginning to move in. The biggest change that I saw that was attracting this crowd is the new Target Mall that was refitted into an old factory space between 118th-116th Streets. This mall has attracted everyone from the housing projects to the college students from the other side of the island. On a late Friday afternoon the place was mobbed.

In 2019, the area gained designation as a National Historic Landmark district. The new district is centered between East 114th and East 120th Streets near First and Pleasant Avenues, covers roughly two dozen blocks. The area contains some of the oldest buildings in the district includes churches such as Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on East 115th Street. This district has some of the most important designs of tenement housing in New York City.

The area is concerned with the coming of the extension of the Q subway line to 125th Street of losing these sights. This area has seen its share of immigration from being an Italian to a Puerto Rican community and wanted to preserved this culture. This area has been designed as the “East Harlem Historic District and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places (The Spirit Westsider 2019).

East Harlem II.jpg

The Historic district of East Harlem

I started the afternoon at the Blue Sky Deli (See review on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) on the corner of 1st Avenue and 110th Street (2135 1st Avenue), home of the now cult-like ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich’, which has become the rave of the internet as the hipsters enter Harlem. I have never seen such a debate over a sandwich so I saved my appetite from my morning at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen (another busy day)and dove into the experience.

Blue Sky Deli

Blue Sky Deli (Haijj’s) at 110th Street and First Avenue; ‘Home of the Chopped Cheese’

The ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich’ is basically a double cheeseburger that is chopped up. It is two hamburger patties cooked on a flat grill with two slices of American cheese on top, cooked with onions and peppers and topped with chopped lettuce and tomato. It is then tucked into a hoagie roll and then pressed. With ketchup and mayo to finish the sandwich, it is heaven on earth. I took my sandwich and a Coke into Jefferson Park on 111th Street and watched the neighborhood kids play soccer and do track.

Chopped Cheese

The famous ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich”

The sandwich is a great blend of flavors and for $4.25 is a great deal. I know that comment gets a debate and rebuttal on the internet but when you are on a budget it is well worth it. Blue Sky Deli, also known in the neighborhood as ‘Hajji’s’, is known as the ‘home of the chopped cheese sandwich’ and is well worth the trip to this part of Harlem.

On the first day in the neighborhood, kids were just getting out of school and the streets were mobbed with children and parents or grandparents picking up their kids. After a relaxing lunch, I walked through the commercial district of 1st Avenue ending up back at the Wagner Houses at the edge of the neighborhood between 120th and 124th Streets.

The one thing I can tell you about walking around the Wagner Houses is that there are police there all the time. In the courtyards, by the schools and in the commercial district. I don’t know who was watching me more, the guys that looked like gang-bangers or the police trying to figure me out. Between them and the bodega owners with the wondering looks on their faces, it seemed to me that people were just trying to ‘figure me out’. I just keep quiet and smile a lot.

Wagner Houses.jpg

Wagner Houses at 120th Street

Talking about commercial real estate, I have discovered that developers will build anywhere to make money. One developer is in the middle of construction of a luxury building on the corner of 1st Avenue and 120th Street right on the edge of Wagner House complex. Its almost as if they are mocking the residents that live in the projects. That and who would want to buy these things. As I walked by the construction site, one senior resident said to me “They are not even that well built.” I commented that living in the Wagner Complex was safer than these homes that are put up quickly and that it will last longer. She just smiled and gave me a funny look.

I even went back to visit the Pleasant Finest Deli at the corner of Pleasant Avenue and 120th Street (see review on TripAdvisor) as the kids were getting out from school again across the street. I guess the tinted glasses through them off as they gave me strange looks as well like ‘what was I doing back?”. They were polite but in a formal way as I was buying a bag of chips. Maybe I was just picking up on it.

Walking on 1st Avenue has its advantages as you start to pass the last of the Italian businesses in the neighborhood. Pasty’s Pizzeria at 2287 1st Avenue (See Review on TripAdvisor) being the most famous. This is worth the stop. The pizza is excellent and at $1.75 a slice is a great deal. I haven’t tasted that fresh of a tomato sauce in a long time. There is a sit down place but stop in for a slice and just walk with it. On sunny day there is nothing better. Everyone else must have thought the same thing as I saw slices walking down the street.

Patsy's Pizza Harlem.jpg

Patsy’s East Harlem

I took a break and relaxed again in Thomas Jefferson Park on 114th Street and watched the soccer teams play. This is a nice park that I misjudged the first time I walked through it. Yes, the park does need some work but it is used by the whole neighborhood. From the hoopsters to the hipsters, I saw all types in the park playing sports, working with team competitions and parents of all sorts just relaxing with their kids. Over the three day period that I walked the neighborhood, residents just spread out, brought their lunches and snacks and relaxed.

Thomas Jefferson Park.jpg

Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem

To save some time and the fact that the kids were out, I walked the length of 1st Avenue down to 96th Street to the new Q subway line and doubled back and walked 102nd, 105th, 106th and 110th again to the Harlem River. This is scary stuff and a word of advice to readers, please avoid this section of the city. All along 1st Avenue in this section by the river are all housing projects especially the very dangerous East River Projects.

East River Houses

Avoid walking around the East River Houses on First Avenue

As I walked down both 105th and 106th Streets (the side streets on either side), I did notice that Citybike was located on both sides as well as luxury condos were across the street and next door to the projects. That’s well and good but when you glance into the parking lots at 106th, you see what is happening and I swear that I may have stopped a drive-by shooting from a guy who was watching the basketball players a little too closely. Either during the day or night, avoid these two side streets as they are considered two of the most dangerous blocks in the city (along with Lexington Avenue from 123rd to 124th Streets). Please stay away!

As I walked back up First Avenue, I noticed that surrounding these projects are many luxury condos and new stores. It is a strange mix in the same neighborhood as you can see that the neighborhood is transitioning. Still it is not the safest part of the city.

Needing to walk off a sandwich, a slice of pizza and two bags of chips, I crossed 110th on the way to 2nd Avenue. As you walk up 2nd Avenue, you pass the rows of brownstones and prewar housing that in some cases is falling apart mixed in with sliver luxury homes and new restaurants. The lower part of 2nd Avenue is quirky until you hit 112th Street and then you are back in the Jefferson projects. To cover 113th Street, which is two small cul-de-sacs, you have to walk through the projects.

This is when I really discovered how short-changed people in the housing projects are by living here. Talk about being treated like caged animals. All the lawns are fenced in, the parks are sterile with little life due to the equipment in them, garbage that is piling up in dumpsters or in the grassy area flying around in the wind and sitting areas that are damaged.

Because 114th Street stops at Lenox Avenue by the Martin Luther King Houses and does not start again until you exit from the Thomas Jefferson Houses by the Jefferson Park, you have to walk through the heart of the housing projects and you begin to see a lot. Maybe it is home to a large portion of the population up here but by the designs, they are almost warehousing people in this section of the city.

Thomas Jefferson Projects.jpg

Thomas Jefferson Projects in East Harlem

There is some light to this with pocket parks off to the side of 112th Street and the Robert Wagner Playground at 120th Street. There was some life from the kids in the community as well as you see it in droves in Thomas Jefferson Park. There was some sunshine in that when you walk through the housing projects in that some residents have set up raised vegetable gardens and have planted flowers along the borders of some of the playgrounds. Kudos to these residents for bringing a personal touch to a sterile environment.

Walking both 2nd and 3rd Avenues you may have to really look but community pride does exist in these small gardens and in the community gardens on the side streets all over the area.

Between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, as you walk to the 120’s, this area is also in a state of transition with a branch of the SUNY campus and housing, most of East 125th Street being knocked down and eco-friendly housing between 124th and 125th Streets across from the Wagner Houses. As you get closer to 125th Street, the whole area is being knocked down and rebuilt as is the whole shopping corridor of 125th Street. If it has not already been knocked down or renovated, it is about to be or planned to be. In about five years the whole block will look like Times Square.

The biggest renovation that I saw was the Taino Towers around 122nd Street. The whole place is being ripped apartment and renovated. It is considered Section 8 housing but after the renovation I can see it will go mixed-use and change the neighborhood again. It is a nice complex and will interesting to see one they renovate the theaters and add a health club.

Tiano Towers

The Taino Towers under renovation

Like most of this section of the neighborhood above 120th Street, the area is mostly commercial and from previous walks in the neighborhood above 125th Street is where the bus stations are, dealerships are located and more City buildings are rising.

My second and third day in the neighborhood, I walked the side streets. Since I had already covered 125th, 124th, 120th,116th, 114th and 110th at length, I walked the rest of the blocks in one afternoon. Who knew it was take six hours and all the interesting things I saw along the way. I started the afternoon rounding 110th Street and stopping once again at the El Chevere Cuchfrito at 2000 3rd Avenue this time visiting the bakery (See review on TripAdvisor).

El Cheve Cuchifrios

El Chevere Cuchfrito at 2000 3rd Avenue

Unlike some of their counterparts around the neighborhood, El Cheveres bakery is really good and very reasonable. I had a glazed filled doughnut for $1.00 and it really hit the spot. The glaze was so thick you could cut it with a knife and there was a large selection of baked goods. A definite spot to stop when visiting the neighborhood just for the pastilitos alone. The food here is really good and cheap. Just come knowing a little Spanish. They appreciate it even if its bad.

I walked the side streets this afternoon to finish the neighborhood. There are a lot of interesting sites along the way in East Harlem. I started on 115th Street and I seemed to hit every bakery in the area. My first stop on the journey was the market under the Park Avenue underpass, La Marqueta, at Park Avenue and 115th Street to try Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery (See review on TripAdvisor-Now Closed for Business), which had been written up many times but was never open when I visited the market.

Hot Bread Kitchen.jpg

Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery

I tried two of their Mexican Chonco’s, which is a buttery-brioche type of muffin with either a vanilla or chocolate topping. Needing my carbs for the long walk I brought one of each ($2.00 each). Well worth it. The best part is your helping the bakery train people for a new profession and they do an excellent job.

I left the market to explore the rest of 115th Street and there are some interesting sites along the way. You have the Rodale Pleasant Community Garden at 437 114th Street that stretches to 115th by the church is an active community garden with flowers and vegetable beds. I could only see it from a distance at a distance as the gate was locked but great care I could tell went into maintaining it.

Rondale Pleasant Community Garden

The Rodale Pleasant Community Garden at 437 114th Street in the Summer months

Across the street, the famous Italian church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is located. This church is noted for the famous dance each August when the Giglio Society does their famous “Dancing Giglio” dance carrying a giant statue of the Virgin Mary on their shoulders (along with a band). That is enough for another trip up to the neighborhood in the summer.

Dancing of the Giglio East Harlem II

Dancing of the “Giglio” in East Harlem every August

I had also wanted to visit the National Museum for Catholic Art History which was on 115th Street in part of the church complex but it had closed a few years earlier for lack of attendance and funding. So I criss-crossed back to Park Avenue making various stops to look at churches and note menu’s on restaurants I wanted to try in the future.

I revisited 116th Street to look over restaurants I had seen on previous days. The street is the main shopping and restaurant drag for this part of SoHA and runs pretty much the whole length of the island. It has an interesting places to eat so if you have the time take the time to walk around.

I spent most of the afternoon snacking around the neighborhood wanting to try many of the bakeries and small restaurants I came across. There are loads of reasonable places to eat for under $10.00 and if you are visiting remember to have about $10-$20.00 in ones as most of the these places do not take credit cards.

One of my stops lead me to Bermudez Bakery at 1875 Lexington Avenue right off 116th Street (See review on TripAdvisor). I don’t know what I do that freaks people out so much but one of the guys who was inside called his friend from around the counter who was speaking jovial Spanish to everyone else took one look at me and spoke in more formal English. He could not have been nicer but when I turned around, all the other men inside had left the bakery. I thought that was weird.

Bermudez Bakery.jpg

Bermudez Bakery at 1875 Lexington Avenue

The baked goods are excellent though. I has a flaky pastry with a mango jelly but the best was their apple turnovers. They are so good and they melt in your mouth. This bakery is a must go to. It may look dumpy on the outside but the product speaks for itself.

Bermudez Bakery II.jpg

The pastries here are really good!

I crossed over to 117th Street and walked from Park Avenue to the river. Outside St. Paul’s Roman Church just off Park Avenue you will find an Altar to the Virgin Mary that is very interesting. Take some time to read the plaque and look over the building. It is such a beautiful church.

St. Paul's Church II

St. Paul’s Church in East Harlem

Walking further down the street at the corner of 117th Street and the corner of 3rd Avenue there is an interesting mural on the side wall of a Payless Shoes store dedicated to the Island of Puerto Rico. This colorful artwork shows the strong roots of the neighborhood in the island as well as the pride these residents feel. Really look at the detail work.

Look for the Street art in the neighborhood

The neighborhood around Pleasant Avenue, which was the former Italian enclave is changing again as all the brownstones and apartment buildings are being sandblasted and renovated back into shape. Home to Rao’s Italian restaurant and Patsy’s original pizzeria, these blocks are still visited by tourists and residents looking for authentic Italian food. Pretty much outside these two business and the relationship to the churches most of the Italian heritage of the neighborhood is gone.

Between 118th and 119th Streets along Pleasant Avenue the neighborhood has created the Pleasant Valley Community Garden with a large flower garden and raised vegetable gardens in this full block garden. Many people were out that afternoon working in the garden and waved over when I was looking it over. The residents take immense pride in the garden and it will be interesting to see what it looks like in the middle of the summer.

Pleasant Valley Community Garden.jpg

Pleasant Valley Community Garden

As you turn the corner on 119th Street, on the wall of River East Elementary School, the kids have painted the most interesting mural that lines the wall of the back of the school. Look over the colorful interpretation of robots. The kids painted a very whimsical mural as only kids can do.

The kids were out in full force that afternoon playing games and doing sports as they off for the spring break and I guess the parents needed to keep them occupied. All sorts of activities were keeping the kids busy and I noticed a large police presence in the neighborhood while all of this was going on. I made another pit stop for a Coke at the Pleasant Finest Deli on the corner of Pleasant Avenue. I swear those owners are always giving me funny looks when I walked in like I am going to bust them or something.

The last part of the walk I covered 121st to 123rd Streets which is lined mostly with businesses, schools and many new apartment buildings that are going up around the new SUNY College. Most of 124th Street in this area has been rebuilt with a new eco friendly apartment building across from the Wagner Houses, so new businesses are opening to cater to those residents as well as the whole area from 2nd Avenue to river is being ripped up and rebuilt with a renovation of he park and the extension of the esplanade along the river (the esplanade currently stops at 124th Street and is closed off with fencing). When this park is done, it should look spectacular with new lawns and the pool opened.

Word of advice if you are going to walk near Lexington Avenue between 123rd and 124th Streets, this is considered one of the two most dangerous blocks in Manhattan with two rehab clinics and a shelter on the same block. There were three police officers hidden in a doorway in between the block and when I stopped for a Coke in a bodega on the corner of 123rd and Lexington Avenue, there were some pretty shady characters hanging out on the corner. This block is best avoided at anytime of the day.

I double backed down 123rd Street and cut down 1st Avenue and 120th Street to the Wagner House Playground and saw the impressive statue of Robert Wagner Sr., who the houses were named after. Frankly, I don’t think anyone notices it or knows how important the man was in New York politics helping with housing and social security. That and being the future Mayor of New York’s father.

The statue was created by artist Georg John Lober and dedicated in 1959. Mr. Lober was originally from Chicago and studied Beaux-Arts sculpture at The Institute of Design and the National Academy of Design (Wiki).

Georg Lober

Georg John Lober, the Executive Secretary of the New York City Municipal Arts Commission

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_J._Lober

He started working the New York City Municipal Arts Commission in 1942 until 1960 just before his death in 1961 (Wiki).

Robert Wagner Sr. Statue.jpg

Robert Wagner Sr. Statue by the Wagner Houses by Georg John Lober

My last stop was for a snack at the Jamaican restaurant, Jam Hut at 2327 1st Avenue (see review on TripAdvisor) for a beef patty. These large beef patties are freshly made and rather large. Again the owners gave me a rather odd look when I ordered my food.

You think no one had ever seen a 6:3 white male in the neighborhood before. I have now spent over a month in East Harlem. I had walked every block, park and set of Housing Projects.

You think they would be used to seeing me walking around at this point.

 

Places to Visit:

 

Thomas Jefferson Park

2180 First Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(212) 639-9675

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/thomas-jefferson-park

Open: Sunday-Saturday 6:00am-10:00pm

 

Rodale Pleasant Community Garden

437 East 114th Street

New York, NY  10029

https://www.nyrp.org/green-spaces/garden-details/rodale-pleasant-park-community-garden

https://greenthumb.nycgovparks.org/gardensearch.php

 

Pleasant Valley Community Garden

342 Pleasant Avenue

New York, NY 10035

https://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/1016220050/

 

Urban Garden Center

1640 Park Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 872-3991

Open: Sunday-Saturday 7:00am-9:00pm

https://www.urbangardennyc.com/

https://www.facebook.com/urbangardennyc/

 

La Marqueta Marketplace

1590 Park Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 534-4900

Open: Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm/Monday-Saturday 8:00am-5:00pm

https://edc.nyc/la-marqueta

https://www.facebook.com/lamarquetanyc/

 

 

Places to Eat:

 

The Blue Sky Deli (Haiji’s)

2135 1st Avenue & 110th Street

NYC, NY  10029

(646) 632-7488

Open 24 hours

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12328617-Reviews-Blue_Sky_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/74

 

El Chevere Cuchifrito

2000 Third Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(212) 427-9352

Open: Sunday-Saturday 8:00am-7:30pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12179355-Reviews-El_Chevere_Cuchifrito-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery (Now Closed)

1590 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10029

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d4921122-Reviews-Hot_Bread_Kitchen-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Bermudez Bakery

1875 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 427-2877

Open: Sunday 5:00am-5:00pm/Monday-Friday 5:00am-6:00pm/Saturday 5:00am-5:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12331283-Reviews-Bermudez_Bakery-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Pleasant Finest Deli

375 Pleasant Avenue

New York, NY 10035

(212) 348-6666

Open: Sunday-Saturday 24 hours

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12379766-Reviews-Pleasant_Finest_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Patsy’s East Harlem

2287 First Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 534-9783

https://www.thepatsyspizza.com/

Open: Sunday 11:30am-12:00pm/Monday-Thursday 11:00am-11:00pm/Friday & Saturday 11:00am-12:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d457168-Reviews-Patsy_s_Pizza-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Jam Hut

2327 First Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 860-2253

Open: Sunday-Saturday 12:00pm-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12331273-Reviews-Jam_Hut-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905