Uptown

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Each part of town has several neighborhoods. Our residential-real-estate survey condenses its developmental highlights through Manhattan’s boom-and-bust economic cycles.

In no way is its intention a complete history: rather, the survey reflects the overriding characteristics that remain (through its rise, fall, and then {often} subsequent gentrification).

Furthermore, the seven additional elements–our highlights, photographs, maps, and suchlike–aim to create a mosaic of the lifestyle and housing types throughout Manhattan.

Related Links:

Time lines and Sidebars, Historic Maps, Neighborhoods, Upper East Side, Midtown East, Downtown East, Lower Manhattan, Downtown West, Midtown West, Upper West Side, Uptown, Upper Manhattan

 


Uptown

Harlem, inclusive of everything between the Hudson and East Rivers, stretches to West 155th Street, the Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill Historic District northern edge—thereafter Upper Manhattan begins. The southern boundary is ragged, however, as:

1. Morningside Heights, Cathedral Parkway (West 110th) to 124th Streets, spreading from Amsterdam Avenue west to the Hudson River, and sitting upon a bluff overlooking the Harlem Plains, is the southwest quarter. Its elevation over Harlem, the continuous north-and-south arteries, an intellectual religious and educational tenor, and proximity to the Upper West Side, leave the enclave best explained in Chapter Seven.

2. South Harlem, Harlem’s “Magic Triangle,” Central Park North to West 124th Street, spanning Manhattan to Madison Avenues, and encompassing on the west, along Morningside Avenue, at the east, from Sixth Avenue or Malcomb X Boulevard to Marcus Garvey Memorial Park. The triangle includes the West 121st to 123rd Street park-facing row houses; and north, along Fifth and Madison Avenues to West 129th Street. (Of particular note is Washington Apartments, at West 122nd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard: one of four early 1880s multiple-family dwellings, which is strikingly similar to Windermere, on West 57th Street, at Ninth Avenue; and built on a like-scale as the demolished Stuyvesant Flats, at 142 East 18th Street, off Union Square—the city’s first apartment house, designed by Richard Morris Hunt and completed in the early 1870s.)

3. Central Harlem, Manhattanville, Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (West 125th Street), bridging Amsterdam to Fifth Avenue, continues to West 154th Street. The quarter includes several row house clusters, with stoops intact, interspersed recent row-house restorations, as well as several modern, low-rise, housing developments (some excellently executed, others not).

4. Hamilton Heights, above West 140th Street, which surrounds the City College of New York campus, from West 141st to 147th Streets, and comprising Edgecombe Avenue, Hamilton Terrace and Convent to Amsterdam Avenue. The Sugar Hill section, above West 149th to 155th Street, encompassing west of Amsterdam and east of Edgecombe Avenues, was once Harlem’s premier neighborhood. Audubon Park’s southern sector which straddles West 155th to 159th Street and at Broadway’s west: the northern Harlem limit.

5. East Harlem, referred to as El Barrio, encompassing Fifth Avenue to the East River, spreading from East 96th to 143rd Streets, was all but decimated (between 1930 and 1936), to carve out plaza ingresses and egresses for the Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge. Moreover, as the island narrows westerly, one easternmost Avenue after another terminates, either as a planted plaza or as a Harlem River Bridge, from east to west, at:

    • First Avenue, at East 125th Street, and the RFK (Triborough) Bridge;
    • Second and Third Avenues, at East 128th Street, and the Willis Avenue Bridge;
    • Park Avenue, at East 132nd Street;
    • Lexington Avenue, at East 131th Street, and the Third Avenue Bridge;
    • Madison, at East 138th Street, and the Madison Avenue Bridge
    • Fifth Avenue, at East 143rd Street,
    • Sixth Avenue, at 145th Street, and the 145th Street Bridge;
    • Seventh Avenue, at West 155th Street, the Macombs Dam Bridge.

Differentiating east from west side is unnecessary from 143rd Street north. The additional Central Harlem avenues carry both a number, such as Sixth, Seventh, or Eighth Avenues, respectively, are broader than below Central Park, and then renamed, as follows:

    • Malcom X Boulevard to West 147th Street;
    • Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to West 154th Street;
    • And, Frederick Douglass Boulevard to West 157th Street.
    • Ninth (Columbus) Avenue terminates at Central Park North, West 110th Street, and thereafter divides as Manhattan and Morningside Avenues;
    • Running continuously throughout Harlem, from east to west, ars:

1. Amsterdam Avenue

2. Broadway

3. Riverside Drive

Hamilton Heights

                Alexander Hamilton’s estate, present-day Hamilton Heights

 

Uptown

Harlem, inclusive of everything between the Hudson and East Rivers, stretches to West 155th Street, the Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill Historic District northern edge—thereafter Upper Manhattan begins. The southern boundary is ragged, however, as:

      • Morningside Heights, Cathedral Parkway (West 110th) to 124th Streets, spreading from Amsterdam Avenue west to the Hudson River, and sitting upon a bluff overlooking the Harlem Plains, is the southwest quarter. Its elevation over Harlem, the continuous north-and-south arteries, an intellectual religious and educational tenor, and proximity to the Upper West Side, leave the enclave best explained in Chapter Seven.
      • South Harlem, Harlem’s “Magic Triangle,” Central Park North to West 124th Street, spanning Manhattan to Madison Avenues, and encompassing on the west, along Morningside Avenue, at the east, from Sixth Avenue or Malcomb X Boulevard to Marcus Garvey Memorial Park. The triangle includes the West 121st to 123rd Street park-facing row houses; and north, along Fifth and Madison Avenues to West 129th Street. (Of particular note is Washington Apartments, at West 122nd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard: one of four early 1880s multiple-family dwellings, which is strikingly similar to Windermere, on West 57th Street, at Ninth Avenue; and built on a like-scale as the demolished Stuyvesant Flats, at 142 East 18th Street, off Union Square—the city’s first apartment house, designed by Richard Morris Hunt and completed in the early 1870s.)
      • Central Harlem, Manhattanville, Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (West 125th Street), bridging Amsterdam to Fifth Avenue, continues to West 154th Street. The quarter includes several row house clusters, with stoops intact, interspersed recent row-house restorations, as well as several modern, low-rise, housing developments (some excellently executed, others not).
      • Hamilton Heights, above West 140th Street, which surrounds the City College of New York campus, from West 141st to 147th Streets, and comprising Edgecombe Avenue, Hamilton Terrace and Convent to Amsterdam Avenue. The Sugar Hill section, above West 149th to 155th Street, encompassing west of Amsterdam and east of Edgecombe Avenues, was once Harlem’s premier neighborhood. Audubon Park’s southern sector which straddles West 155th to 159th Street and at Broadway’s west: the northern Harlem limit.
      • East Harlem, referred to as El Barrio, encompassing Fifth Avenue to the East River, spreading from East 96th to 143rd Streets, was all but decimated (between 1930 and 1936), to carve out plaza ingresses and egresses for the Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge. Moreover, as the island narrows westerly, one easternmost Avenue after another terminates, either as a planted plaza or as a Harlem River Bridge, from east to west, at:

First Avenue, at East 125th Street, and the RFK (Triborough) Bridge;

  • Second and Third Avenues, at East 128th Street, and the Willis Avenue Bridge;
  • Park Avenue, at East 132nd Street;
  • Lexington Avenue, at East 131th Street, and the Third Avenue Bridge;
  • Madison, at East 138th Street, and the Madison Avenue Bridge
  • Fifth Avenue, at East 143rd Street,
  • Sixth Avenue, at 145th Street, and the 145th Street Bridge;
  • Seventh Avenue, at West 155th Street, the Macombs Dam Bridge.

 

Differentiating east from west side is unnecessary from 143rd Street north. The additional Central Harlem avenues carry both a number, such as Sixth, Seventh, or Eighth Avenues, respectively, are broader than below Central Park, and then renamed, as follows:

      • Malcomb X Boulevard to West 147th Street;
      • Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to West 154th Street;
      • And, Frederick Douglass Boulevard to West 157th Street.
      • Ninth (Columbus) Avenue terminates at Central Park North, West 110th Street, and thereafter divides asManhattan and Morningside Avenues;
      • Running continuously throughout Harlem, from east to west, ars:

1. Amsterdam Avenue

2. Broadway

3. Riverside Drive

The broad cross streets, from south to north, are:

1. West 110th Street, Central Park North, between Fifth Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, and Cathedral Parkway between Morningside Drive to Broadway;

2. West 116th Street, briefly interrupted by Morningside Park, at Manhattan Avenue to Broadway;

3. West 125th Street, Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which veers northwest, from Morningside Avenue to the Hudson River;

4. West 135th Street, interrupted by St. Nicholas Park, at Frederick Douglass Boulevard to Broadway;

5. West 145th Street, which crosses six avenues;

6. And, West 155th Street, which crosses five avenues.

Addressing Neighborhood Accessibility

The express subway commute may be an inconvenient stop, so it is important to calculate which of the five subway line stations suit—for example, the ones to travel to and from familiar destinations. To correlate a neighborhood with a subway line, from west to east, the choices are:

1. The IRT-Lexington Avenue subway line express trains (Numbers 4 and 5) run from Lower Manhattan, straight through the East Side, making eight stops to East One-Hundred-Twenty-Fifth Street, and then enter the Bronx. The nearby neighborhood is Mount Morris-Marcus Garvey Park, and within a short walk to West 130th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Malcomb X Boulevard, where there are several, fine and intact, row-house strips as well as Astor Row.

2. The IRT Broadway express trains (Numbers 2 and 3) run from Lower Manhattan, making seven stops along Broadway to West Ninety-Sixth Street, and then six Central Harlem local stops along Malcomb X Boulevard (Avenue of the Americas) at: West One-Hundred-Tenth, One-Hundred-Sixteenth, One-Hundred-Twenty-Fifth, 135th and 145th Streets. The line terminates at West 148th Street, on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (Seventh Avenue). There are several stretches of row houses, with stoops, lining the side streets: Each a short walk to and from a subway stop.

3. The IRT Broadway local (Number 1) then continues north, making five local stops at: West 103rd, One-Hundred-Tenth, One-Hundred-Sixteenth, One-Hundred-Twenty-Fifth, 137th and 145th Streets. These local stops are within walking distance to Riverside Drive, and the West 137th and 145th Street stops are nearby the City College of City University campus as well as the expanded Hamilton Heights Historic District.

4. The IND Eighth Avenue express train (A) makes seven stops between Lower Manhattan and West 145th Street, less than a 15-minute ride to and from Columbus Circle, at West 59th Street. The A train then runs along St. Nicholas Avenue, immediately west of Eighth Avenue, stopping at West One-Hundred-Twenty-Fifth and 145th Streets.

5. The IND Sixth Avenue (of the Americas) express train (D) runs from West Canal Street, though Midtown Manhattan, making seven stops to West 145th Street. At West One-Hundred-Twenty-Fifth Street, the final Manhattan stop is the West 155th Street Station.

(1619-1812)

Before 1609, in fact for time immemorial, along the Hudson River and above the easterly 98th to 111th Streets salt marshes, to the semi-nomadic Lenape, Muscoota, “the flatlands,” was cultivated for vegetables, harvested for the natural seasonal bounty as well as hunted for forest game and freshwater fish. At the Hudson riverfront was the river traffic and a trading post; throughout the Harlem Plains were clan camps; and in the Harlem River, on East 118th Street, were oyster beds. The Native people’s important trails evolved into Bloomingdale and Kingsbridge Roads. Notwithstanding the British “Argall” claim of 1613, Holland granted control to West India Company—the corporation, recently formed—as the New Netherland territory, whose boundaries were not (accurately) defined. West India Company continuously exploited the colony and promoted settling Harlem. The Native people’s interpretation of the 1619 agreement differed significantly regarding their Muscoota, of course. Without a written document there was an unsteady truce—at best.

The English, for 50 years, ignored the Uptown homesteaders concerns. Finally, fifty years after confiscating New Amsterdam, a British governor settled the disputed lands surrounding Haerlem Village and the Haerlem Common. In due time, the three-mile upriver natural salt marsh and the northern sluice—Spuyten, to the Wiechquaesgeck, Shorakapok, “place between the ridges,” and the shoreline hill fortress “Nipinichsen”—was settled, too. (Spuyten Duivil, often translated as “despite the devil,” accurately was “vicious sluice.” The popular usage is a play on words, penned by Washington Irving, which pegged a peninsular ostensibly, as an island forevermore.)

According to Irving’s humorous pseudo-history, but surprisingly accurate account, A History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, he condenses the Dutch policy confabulation toward Native people, spoofed “thusly:

      • …as the original inhabitants of America, they did not know European procedure to improve ground;
      • Therefore they did not use the talents that Providence had bestowed upon them;
      • Therefore they had proved careless stewards;
      • Therefore they had no right to the soil.
      • Therefore there was Biblical authority for their extermination.”

Though socially repugnant, Irving caught the West Indies Company’s “Manna-hata” Manifest Destiny belief, in turn, the pillars that would increase the colony timber and fur output, the wheat and tobacco productivity for shipment to Holland.

The hostilities went like this: Surrounding the riverbank trading post between West 126th and 129th Streets—the Native people’s flatlands, Dutch New Haerlem, Anglicized to Harlem Village, currently Manhattanville—was established by Peter Stuyvesant in 1658. It evolved as a northwest settlement. The 1637 pioneering family to Harlem, Hendrick, Isaac and Rachel de Forest, were French-Dutch Protestants. Two years later, a second French-Huguenot migrant group settled the near northeast (presently Central Harlem), and they included Jochem Kuyter, a sea captain, Dr. Johannes de la Montagne, and Jonas Bronck. The northwest flatland, in 1640, was granted to a Dane, Jochem Pietersen. His 400-acre farm ended at Harlem Heights, which were called Pietersen’s Hills—now St. Nicholas Park.

Pietersen and his wife were killed during the ongoing skirmishes between the settlers and Wappinger confederacy, which culminated in the bloody, 1655 Peach Tree War. Additionally, there was a 55 year standoff—with little village growth and no new settlements. Seemingly, the British chose to leave the matter as is until 1715, when the villagers and homesteaders were taxed to settle the claim. The Native Delaware-speaking Nation’s villages on Manhattan, their seasonal camps and trading posts too, vanished.

(1696)

Prior to an established peace, Captain Johannes Benson settled the mammoth Harlem Common southeast plain—due east of West 129th Street (now Mount Morris) beyond the village southern bluff (now Morningside Heights), a small portion along the Harlem River, extending through Haerlem Marsh, between 96th and 111th Streets, to the East River, and spreading south as far as Konaande Kongh, the Lenape hilltop village (now Carnegie Hill). One-hundred-Fifty-Five years later, the sixth-generation Benson’s sold a 450-acre mosaic of rocky fields and goat pastures, craggy protrusions and swamps, as standard building lots.

(War of Independence)

Harlem Village and Plains were strategically important, alternatively, the adversaries headquartered in Roger Morris’ 1765 mansion, which dominated the northeast bluffs (now Fort George Hill). Overlooking Harlem Village, in the Federal era, Alexander Hamilton built his estate main house, Grange, on West 141st Street (since moved), which comprised the west 32-acres of the (Samuel, the elder and junior) Bradhurst estate, Pinehurst. The entire Uptown population, in 1820, was barely 400 strong, predominately working on the rural estates—owned, for the most part, by wealthy Dutch Quaker “patrons” and merchants, with not one loyalist confiscation among them: Harlem remained rural until the 1840s, when the New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan’s day arrived.

To the east, for example, the stony, old Storm family farm, encompassing East 107th to 120th Streets, from Third Avenue to the riverbank, was subdivided in 1755. Jacobus Roosevelt, a third-generation, Dutch dynastic scion, purchased one tract encompassing East 111th to 115th Streets, east of First Avenue. In 1840, William Backhouse Astor Sr., John Jacob Astor’s second son, bought the farm from James Roosevelt (for the bargain price of…$25,000). Twenty-three years passed, the surrounding landholdings had been auctioned off as lots, according to grid plan. Forty-three years later, the Roosevelt-owned gentleman’s farm was slum, and then vast, low-income, housing projects.

Haerlem Plains estates were large—many vast—and always closely-held. In addition to Sampson and Lawrence Benson, the major landholdings that were passed down generation-to-generation, from southeast-to-northwest, are:

      • West 155th to 148th Streets, river-to-river, the Beekman family;
      • West 148th to 138th Streets, Kingsbridge Road and east, Aaron Bufsing;
      • West 148th to 134th Streets, Bloomingdale Road and west, Samuel Bradhurst;
      • West 149th to 140th Streets, Bloomingdale Road and west, Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton;
      • West 146th to 129th Streets, irregularly river-to-river, Meyer;
      • As well as Jacob Lorillard, Jacob Scheiffelin, John Delancy and their friends and friend’s friends.

Lay of the Land

Why was the rigorously adhered to New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan abandoned beginning at West 110th Street, extending to West 155th Street, and spanning Frederick Douglas Boulevard to Amsterdam Avenue?

Firstly, the commissioners did not consider “a single house would be built [that far north] for centuries.” Secondly, the Eighth to Tenth Avenue ribbon is quite singular within Manhattan, and since the city engineers could not grade solid schist cliff bands with sheer drops, a one solution fits all approach was devised eventually—three noncontiguous ribbon parks. Moreover, the irregularities that the avenue paths created alongside the parks, from south to north, are:

Morningside Park, spanning Cathedral Parkway to West 123rd Street, designed by renowned Central and Riverside Park collaborators, Olmstead and Vaux, (after a long delay) was completed in 1885, with tree-lined, bordering Morningside Avenue and Drive.

  • At West 111th to 122nd Streets, Morningside Drive meanders northwest where it fishhooks due west, ending shortly at Amsterdam Avenue.
  • At West 113th Street, Manhattan Avenue (the mid-Eighth-to-Ninth-Avenue block, north of West 100th Street), forms a diminutive triangle, Lafayette Square, whereas Morningside Avenue hugs its namesake park’s eastern edge, moving north-northwest, while Manhattan Avenue continues north.
  • At West 125th Street, St. Nicholas Avenue, forged from the colonial Harlem Lane (winding its way through Harlem Common) to be the Kingsbridge Road (above West 147th Street)—was, at first, threatened but employed to excellent purpose as a diagonal thoroughfare to Central Park.

St. Nicholas Park, spanning West 128th to 141st Streets, formerly the Croton Aqueduct system (the 1890 Gatehouse still stands near to Convent Avenue), was acquired in 1895, begun in 1906 and expanded prior to opening in 1909. Since 1910, City College University of New York campus occupies the bluff’s west, off curving St. Nicholas Terrace, between West 131st and 141st Streets (using subway tunnel burrowing for its schist façade).

  • At West 127th Street, Morningside becomes Convent Avenue, which terminates at West 152nd Street, east of Amsterdam Avenue.
  • At West 137th Street, St. Nicholas becomes Edgecombe Avenue (“combe” as in crest to a Saxon), which continues north northwest and crosses West 155th Street.
  • At West 142nd Street, off Edgecombe Avenue, Bradhurst Avenue veers north-northeast, and terminates at West 155th Street. (Of particular note: At the Edgecombe and Bradhurst Avenue axis, is the 1888 Victorian single-family row of houses.)

Additionally, two short avenues run north and south and two northwest and southeast, from south to north, they are:

Hamilton Place, on the diagonal between West 136th to 142nd Streets, links Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville, spanning Amsterdam to Broadway. This wide exclusively residential boulevard, with broad plazas at both ends, is lined with low-rise apartment houses, row houses smatterings, and an array of flats buildings, including the Leonora, Noralea, and Talladega, at West 140th Street, and Hamilton Court, at West 144th Street.

Hamilton Terrace, between West 141st to 144th Streets, at Convent Avenue, a harmonious, subdued row-house enclave, which dead ends with a quite exuberate yet well-in-hand, built in 1898.

Jackie Robinson Park, encasing West 145th Street to 155th Streets, rises dramatically between Bradhurst and Edgecombe Avenues—its east and west borders. As Colonial Park from 1894 to 19oo, the parkland reopened with a playground, in 1911, was extensively expanded as a sports center, in 1936, with the city’s largest outdoor swimming pool, and after further mid-1970s renovations, the park was renamed in 1978.The Eighth to Tenth Avenue ribbon is quite singular within Manhattan—Columbus Avenue, as noted, does not cross Cathedral Parkway, east to west from there, rather:

At West 149th Street, St. Nicholas shoots north-northwest, and then crosses Amsterdam Avenue a mile north. (A St. Nicholas Place Historic District Extension continues north and terminates shortly as a Harlem River Drive access.)

Here, too, two short avenues run southeast-to-northwest, or and north-to-northwest, and they are:

1. Malcombs Place, West 150th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard terminus, Harlem River, is dominated between West 151st and 153rd Streets by Harlem River Houses, running southwest to Frederick Douglas Boulevard. This sprawling complex of lavish plantings and comprising four-story, red-brick, walkup wings is masterfully sited to create series of wide courts and open spaces.

2. St. Nicholas Place, at West 149th to 154th Street and between St. Nicholas and Edgecombe Avenues, included in the Sugar Hill Historic District Northeast Extension, runs to Convent Avenue. It consists of 15 row houses and flats buildings, built between 1885 and 1909.

St. Nicholas Avenue’s Path

Central Parks’ northwestern-most portion (above West 105th Street especially), was purposefully designed to accommodate, with meadows, roadways, and paths, the topography. Starting at Sixth Avenue, Malcomb X Boulevard, and on Central Park North, as a broad thoroughfare St. Nicholas takes a north-northwest diagonal track—defining the open parkland spaces’ southern border, which, too, are natural, rugged terrain examples. In addition, like Broadway running athwart below West 72nd Street—creating three-roadway intersections—St. Nicholas Avenue creates several generous plazas, which are:

        • At Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and West 116th Street, the intersection forms a grand plaza, graced with monumental turn-of-the-century, apartment houses, designed by two notable 1900 duos: Graham Court, commissioned by William Waldorf Astor, and designed by Clinton & Russell; and El Nido Apartments, designed by Neville & Bagge.
        • At Frederick Douglass Boulevard and West 120th Street, a smaller square is created.
        • At Manhattan Avenue and West 124th Street, across Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, at West 126th Street, St. Nicholas picks up again as Manhattan Avenue, and continues northward to West 148th Street.
        • At the Morningside Avenue incursion, St. Nicholas’ sharp northwest trajectory is taken up as Convent Avenue, which runs to West 153rd Street, where it hooks east and ends at St. Nicholas Avenue.
        • St. Nicholas veers (slightly) northwest, at West 135th Street, where Edgecombe Avenue begins on a north northeast path to West One-Hundred-Fifty-Fourth Street, and when jagging due west, Edgecombe crosses St. Nicholas Avenue. Moreover, both cross West 155th Street into Upper Manhattan.Uptown Historic Districts

Marcus Garvey Memorial Park, a commons really, spanning West 124th to 120th Street, at Fifth Avenue, is an isolated protrusion, too pronounced to level, and alongside the dramatic schist outcropping is an amphitheater, sports facility, and landmark fire station, a warning tower bell is notable, and deserves special consideration as well. To take in the sheer variety of the dwellings may require a stroll along the adjacent side-street blocks, within:

        • Mount Morris Historic District lies between West 119th and 124th Streets, and along Malcomb X Boulevard (including the row of houses, between West 121st and 122nd Streets, and on the avenue’s west side), and east to Madison Avenue, with grand town houses and one-time luxurious, flats buildings across from Marcus Garvey Memorial Park; architecturally-significant row houses can be found on the truncated side-street blocks.

At the western base of St. Nicholas Park, on the Harlem Plains, is:

    1. King Model Houses, aka Striver’s Row, comprises two contiguous block fronts, West 138th and 139th Streets, between Fredrick Douglass to Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard as well as their adjoining rear gardens; officially this is the St. Nicholas Historic District.

Atop northern St. Nicholas Park plateau, is:

  • Hamilton Heights Historic Distric (irregularly) spans West 140th to 145th Streets, comprising Amsterdam and Convent Avenues, Hamilton Terrace, and the 141st Street northwest corner of St. Nicholas and Edgecombe Avenue; each avenue and side-street holds a wealth of single-family town houses.

Along Jackie Robinson Park, is:

  • Sugar Hill and extensions (as a patchwork) run from West 145th to 154th Streets, comprising the avenues east of Amsterdam, inclusive of Convent and St. Nicholas Avenues, as well as St. Nicholas Place to Edgecombe Avenue; an additional residential street, the St. Nicholas Place Extension, abuts the larger historic district.

Riverside Park’s tiered lawns, groves, and esplanades continue from West 110th Street to Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and then as a narrower planted strip, from West 136th to 153rd Streets, with the fabled Hudson River view continuing throughout West Harlem. In the northernmost quarter is:

Audubon Terrace, in the West 155th-to-156th- Streets mid-block, facing east to Broadway, and is comprised of four society buildings in a limestone-front Beaux-Arts grouping in two rows. A museum and church share the brick-paved court as well. Still within Harlem, Trinity Cemetery occupies between West 153th-154th Streets block fronts from Riverside Drive to Broadway, sitting on a hillside and appearing very rural in a very urban setting. The adjoining Audubon Park neighborhood, with 1915-25 flats buildings and apartment houses designed by the era’s eminent architects and developers, which line up side by side along Riverside Drive, Fort Washington Avenue, and Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue, and running between West 154th-to-160th Street.

Uptown Development

West Harlem, anchored by Manhattanville, was Manhattan’s second substantial community, and it remained prosperous by dint of the Hudson River dock activity. Likewise the 1704 Bloomingdale Road, serving as the primary north-to-south roadway, ran through the village: it too brought commerce. Steamboat technological revolution changed New York Harbor’s shipping patterns gradually: 20 years before Harlem’s 1873 incorporation into New York City, western Harlem was amid a fearsome economic decline.

Crosstown, meanwhile, the population sudden exploded in the 1850s, as a result of the Hudson River Railroad opening. That growth had redoubled by 1880 with the Third and Second Avenue El completion. The growth continued through the 1904 IRT subway system arrival. East Harlem’s transformation, from an exurb to a neighborhood within Manhattan, seemed set in cement.

(1905-39)
Although initially southern uptown developed rapidly—for example, better than 100 luxury apartment houses were built quickly along the broad tree-lined avenues (of which many are still standing). However, with mass transit in place and large factories providing work opportunities in place, the African-American community, (concentrated primarily in Hell’s Kitchen), began moving to Harlem. Immigrant waves by-passing the Lower East Side for Harlem set the scene. A nascent neighborhood’s character changed drastically: Well-heeled swells fled south onto the flourishing, nearby Upper West Side avenues. Instantaneously, housing construction ceased, luxurious (with up-to-the-minute conveniences), multiple-family dwellings went unattended.

Rapidly, Harlem was becoming a vast slum. One-decade later, the process complete left West, South, Central and East Harlem as decaying flats buildings, tenement apartment houses, and converted row house, haphazardly crammed with working-class poor—Puerto Ricans (as early as 1915), Irish and Italian communities (farther east), and (200,000, in total), swarming Eastern European Jewry. (The particularly unwelcomed Jewish community was soon decimated: they migrated either to Upper Manhattan or Grand Concourse, in the Bronx.)

(1950s)
To alleviate Harlem’s still growing, impoverished population living in untenable housing conditions, the condemned dwelling swaths were replaced by (bland, often ill-conceived) city-sponsored, urban-renewal, low-income housing projects. Everywhere (well, almost!) along Amsterdam Avenue to the Hudson River, between Madison and First Avenues, from East 93rd Street, at Hells Gate, the entire Harlem River inlet north beyond West 155th Street, was continuous, hulking, red-brick apartment towers. With few exceptions, and most prominently, are:

  • Pleasant Avenue, a working-class tenement apartment and row house enclave, extending east of Second Avenue, between East 114th and 120th Streets—perhaps overlooked when power-brokered by Robert Moses. This isolated, spared avenue though, is surrounded by housing projects, an underutilized, landfill wasteland, and the FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) Drive following the East River, which thereafter is the Harlem River.

The few credible, city-sponsored housing complexes sited as park-like in addition to East Harlem’s remaining fragments, from south to north, are:

1. Drew Hamilton Houses, West 141 to 143 Streets, spreading between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Boulevards.

2. Riverbend, East 138th to 142th Streets, occupying Fifth Avenues’ terminus, at the East River.

3. Paul Lawrence Dunbar Houses, West 149 to 150 Streets, spreading between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Boulevards.

4. Harlem River Houses, West 151st to 154th Streets, on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard’s terminus at the Harlem River.

Restoring the Glamour

Finally after languishing endlessly, as the last millennium’s ended, the long-anticipated Harlem revival (trepidations aside) began within the central corridor, at Central Park North and moving to West One-Hundred-Sixteenth Street, between Fredrick Douglass Boulevard and Fifth Avenue; soon after, inclusive of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard too.

The first joint community redevelopment efforts focused on a rare speculative row of houses, on West 130th Street and Malcomb X Boulevard to Fifth Avenue, which had been purchased by John Jacob Astor—in 1844, for $10,000—commissioned by William Backhouse Astor Jr. (thereafter, dubbed Astor Row), designed and built by the esteemed builder Charles Buek. The row was completed between 1880 and 1883, as semi-attached, setback with front yards, leading to wooden porches.

However, the Astor heirs, Mary, James, and Sarah, sold their portion in 1911. Subsequently, the entirety was resold, and then foreclosed upon. In 1990, the row houses were beyond mere disrepair: they were in complete shambles. Their saviors, city preservation and Harlem development groups, banks, foundations, and entertainers, all rallied round Astor Row. It was saved from demolition; moreover, the row reemerged with restored porches, updated mechanics, and new roofs.

A second restoration project was undertaken for St. Nicholas Historic District, the King Model Houses or Striver’s Row, along West 138th and 139th Streets, occupying the entire Frederick Douglass to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard strip. Designed and executed in 1891, as high-end, Renaissance Revival town houses (anchored with avenue flats buildings), by no less than Manhattan’s finest 1890s architectural firms—including McKim, Mead, and White, in conjunction with James Lord Brown, Bruce Price, and Clarence S. Luce.

Their distinctiveness was sited back to back, with gated alleyways separating the rear stables, which allowed deliveries without disrupting the tenants. (More detailed descriptions are taken up in the Walking Tour within Afterword: Moving Forward.) Before 1940, cut-up as single-room units, left totally neglected, although each town house is a designated landmark. Their painstaking restoration took place one by one, undertaken by younger, better-heeled professional owners—before Harlem’s revival took off later in the 1990s.

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