Movin’ on up…to Uptown’s Morningside Heights

BY MARTHA WILKIE | Downtowners might not consider Uptown neighborhoods such as Inwood, Washington Heights, Manhattan Valley and Morningside Heights. These are vibrant neighborhoods that, yes, have been or are being gentrified, with its inherent problems, but still offer (relative) bargains.

Morningside Heights is dominated by Columbia University and the relationship between town and gown is fraught. An infamous 1960s plan to build a gym in Morningside Park featured separate entrances for students (largely white and all male, the school didn’t go co-ed until 1983) on the Columbia side, and the Harlem community (almost all African-American) on the Harlem side. There were huge protests.

Today, Columbia is still struggling to make everyone happy. A brand-new Manhattanville campus has just been opened on the far West Side around 125th St. We’ll see how that changes the area. President Obama lived nearby during his time at Columbia.

Morningside Heights feels like a college town, with bookstores, street booksellers and thousands of college students. The
venerable Hungarian Coffee Shop is always packed, even without WiFi — so all those people tapping away are actually writing, not Facebooking.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book covers are framed on the wall along with those of fellow local authors. Eateries line Broadway, including Tom’s Restaurant, the diner that “Seinfeld” and Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” made famous.

Stroll the grounds of the venerable yet eternally unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine and meet the prosaically named
peacocks who wander freely: Jim, Harry and Phil. Phil has his own Twitter account @CathedralPhil.

Get your piece of the rock — in Morningside Heights. Photo by Martha Wilkie

On W. 114th St., you’ll find a natural curiosity: a gigantic boulder jammed between two buildings. Which reminds me of my favorite New York City geology joke: “The Bronx is gneiss, but Manhattan’s full of schist.”

The building stock is mostly pre-war on the smaller side. The low scale makes the area feel sunny and uncrowded. A few new developments include a hotly disputed one right smack up against the cathedral; preservationists objected, but to no avail. Much of the neighborhood is now protected by a new historic district.

On Broadway, near 123rd St. there’s an attractive one-bedroom in a pre-war elevator building with high ceilings, hardwood floors and a windowed kitchen (listing says “eat-in” but seems slim to me). It’s a relative bargain at $349,000.

A two-bedroom, one-bath on Tiemann Place has a newly renovated kitchen and bath. It’s on the fifth floor with an elevator, so gets lovely light. It’s just three blocks to the giant Fairway near 125th St. It’s on the market for $542,000.

For rentals, a no-fee pre-war two-bedroom, one-bath with shining floors and a gorgeous wood-paneled living/dining room is available for $2,950.

Enclave, a new residential building next to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, was not welcomed by local residents.

In new construction, Enclave at the Cathedral offers a one-bedroom, one-bath rental for $3,895 a month. The view of the Gothic edifice is striking. It looks as though you could reach out and touch it! Fabulous amenities include a gym, roof deck, art gallery and a game room with the chicest ping-pong table ever.

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