City Living: Central Harlem
Since its revolution of African American art and culture in the Harlem Renaissance, Central Harlem is abuzz with art and history.
But the beloved uptown nabe is once again being redefined with a new vibrancy.
Often referred to simply as Harlem, a real estate renaissance occurred in recent years, luring a more diverse crowd of residents and businesses.
Now, corridors like 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard have an uptick in corporate businesses. But even with big names like H&M, Starbuck's and Foot Locker, the area retains some of its community establishments like the Apollo Theater on 125th Street, Grandma's Place on 120th Street, the Maysles Documentary Center and the famed Red Rooster restaurant, both on Lenox Avenue.
On 125th Street, the young and stylish trot past old-timers, and street vendors selling incense, aromatherapy, African-inspired clothing, and "I Love Harlem" hoodies and T-shirts add to the mix.
Connie Lee, secretary of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, calls the neighborhood a gem.
"Someone actually said that to me recently and it has always been and will always be," she said. "It's a very community-oriented neighborhood."
She moved to Harlem from SoHo three years ago and said her biggest attraction was its sophisticated cultural diversity.
"Neighborhoods disappear often in New York City but pockets of neighborhoods where everyone knows each other still exist, and Harlem is just like that," she said.
Chet Whye, executive director of the Harlem4 Center for Change advocacy group, agreed.
"We're like a small town," he said. "We sit in each others’ homes."
He described the area as dynamic but noted that it is also effective.
"Meaning people here get together and forge alliances and relationships," he said.
Harlem was originally named Nieuw Haarlem and remained rural until the late 1880s when the elevated railroads and subway lines were extended up to Sixth and Eighth avenues. African Americans began to populate the area during the great migration and in the 1920s dominated the neighborhood. They fostered the heightened outpouring of literary and artistic expression otherwise known as the Harlem Renaissance.
The area is known for its roster of famous residents from Duke Ellington and Lena Horne to Marcus Garvey and W.E.B DuBois. And it continues to attract its fair share of notable names, including most recently, Neil Patrick Harris, Maya Angelou and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who was born there.
Residents also include students and couples moving to Central Harlem to start families.
"They say the beauty and the pricing attracted them to make it on their own here," Whye said. "And they aren't shy about coming to community meetings."
Brownstones, row houses and single-family townhouses, many with Neo-Italian, Georgian and Romanesque architectural styles, grace the neighborhood, juxtaposed with new mid- and high-rise condos.
One concern Lee has amid the new development is that the area's architecture could be in danger.
"The historic district in Central Harlem is very small," she said. "There are many buildings here that should be landmarked that are not."
The neighborhood currently has two historic districts, the Mount Morris Historic Park District which stretches from W. 118th Street to W. 124th Street between Fifth Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr.Boulevard and Strivers' Row, a group of historic townhouses on 138th and 139th Streets between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Boulevards.
Community board 10 approved a preservation plan for nine more historical districts in 2012 but the Landmarks Preservation Commission has not approved any yet.
As Central Harlem continues to change some express concerns over gentrification but both Lee and Whye believe the neighborhood's heritage will always be retained.
"There are some people moving in who don't know the dynamics of this area," Lee said.
"But there are also people who move here who embrace it for what it is, its culture and its sense of community and they're not here to change it, they're here to build on it."
The Marcus Garvey Park Alliance is currently undertaking a plan to restore the historical landmarked Harlem Fire Watchtower structure, which stands 47 feet tall atop Mount Morris in the park. More »
2915 Frederick Douglass Blvd. One bed, one bath; 675 square feet: $1,300 per month. More »
100 W. 141st St. #44. Four beds, one bath in a co-op; 1,200 square feet: $175,000. More »
Central Harlem extends from 120th Street all the way north to 155th Street. Depending on whom you talk to some consider below 120th Street as part of Central Harlem, while others consider it South Harlem. Central Harlem's eastern boundary is Fifth Avenue and it stretches west to St. Nicholas and Edgecombe avenues. More »
Trains: A 145th and 125th streets; B, D to 155th, 145th, 135th and 125th streets; C to 155th, 135th and 125th streets; 2 to 135th and 125th streets; 3 to Harlem 148th Street, and 145th, 135th and 125th streets; 1 to 145th, 127th City College, and 125th streets; 4, 5, 6 to 125th Street More »
NYPL Harlem branch, 9 W. 124th St. More »
USPS, 365 W. 125th St. #2A More »
Central Harlem is covered by two precincts: the 28th Precinct at 2271 Frederick Douglass Blvd. and the 32nd Precinct at 250 W. 135th St. At the 28th Precinct, for the week of March 24-30 grand larcenies, or major thefts, doubled to six from three in the same week the year before. Felony assaults also declined from four during that week last year to one this year. At the 32nd Precinct, during the week of March 10-16, felony assaults went up 75% to seven from four during that week last year. Grand larcenies had a 50% increase with six for that week versus three during the same week last year. More »
Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken
From southern-style barbeque chicken and pork ribs to fried chicken and juicy oxtail, Charles’ is another neighborhood soul food staple with an affordable $14 lunch and $16 dinner buffet price.
This neighborhood favorite brings an even more palpable community feel to patrons as they dine on grilled burgers and hand-spun milkshakes in a retro atmosphere.
The acclaimed soul food restaurant, founded in 1962, serves up dishes like fried chicken and waffles and corn meal dusted fried catfish. The Gospel Sunday brunch features live music and a classic fun-loving Harlem vibe.
The Brownstone Woman
Find hats, statement jewelry and clothing for women of all sizes at this chic boutique.
Dollhouses, toys, wooden puzzles, books and many more objects that are sure to dazzle a child can be found in this well-loved boutique.
This quaint boutique, owned by Guy Wood, stylist to stars like Queen Latifah and Lil’ Wayne, draws inspiration from surrounding Harlem and aims to outfit men in classic, dapper and laid-back looks.
The big after-work happy hour spot goes way into the early morning hours as uptown and downtown folk mingle in this inviting and energetic establishment.
Showmans Jazz Club
Sip on drinks and take in jazz at this cultural landmark. Since 1942 Showman’s has showcased greats from Duke Ellington to Cynthia Holiday in a warm and cozy setting.
Shrine World Music Venue
Calling themselves a world music venue, live blues, bossa nova, funk rhythms and afro beats coincide with smooth cocktails and a vibrant atmosphere at this Harlem hotspot.
The Apollo Theater
Known all over the world for its Amateur Night performances, The Apollo Theater also features the Apollo Music Café showcasing notable and emerging talent. Future performances include Lakecia Benjamin & Soul Squad on May 9 and Cody Chestnutt on June 14.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
This research library, part of the New York Public Library, offers exhibitions throughout the year. Current exhibitions include “Motown: The Truth Is A Hit” ongoing through July 26 and “The Deep South: Then and Now” ongoing through May 31.
The Studio Museum Harlem
Since 1968 The Studio Museum has promoted the works of African American artists and artists of African descent while also offering lectures and programs for kids and seniors. Current exhibitions include “When the Stars Begin to Fall” and “Glenn Kaino: 19.83” ongoing through June 29.
Chet Whye moved to Central Harlem nearly 17 years ago after moving from here Denver. But he wasn’t politically active in the area until 2008 when President Barack Obama ran for office. During the campaign, he worked as executive director of the Harlem4Obama campaign, and then founded the nonprofit Harlem4 Center for Change which focuses on reducing youth violence, and improving healthcare, food and elder issues, among others. More »