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Central Harlem's soul stays alive through the city’s changing times

Residents in Central Harlem are working together to protect the neighborhood’s soul through its changing times.

The sense of community in the area is visible: Residents stop along the double-wide avenues to converse with neighbors and hang out together on their stoops.

Locals have a fondness for the nabe's mom-and-pop shops and delicious restaurants that fill their bellies, according to Connie Lee, president of Marcus Garvey Park Alliance.

“Harlem is famous for its art and culture,” she said.

Nothing is more emblematic of Central Harlem’s artistic side than the iconic Apollo Theater on West 125th Street, which first opened in 1914.

Its churches, such as the Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 138th Street and the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on West 137th Street, constructed in the 1920s, contribute to the area’s historical value.

Parents like to bring their children to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Malcolm X Boulevard for a lesson in black history — “not just in sports and music but in engineering and science and stuff like that,” said Lermond Mayes, chief of staff for local Councilwoman Inez Dickens.

And at night, Harlem changes into another character, according to 25-year-old personal trainer and Harlem native Roger Hatchet: It becomes a place where young people and celebrities alike show off flashy cars and trendy clothes.

“It’s a good place to come through; it’s exciting to be seen,” Hatchet said of 125th Street after dark. “Sometimes it’s like a stage out here.”

But if you want to move into this cultural neighborhood, look soon, as real estate prices are rising.

Waves of gentrification in Harlem since the 1990s have broken the hearts of longtime residents, like 60-year-old native Stella Davis. She described the expensive restaurants and new condos — like those going up in Frederick Douglass Circle, at 110th Street next to Central Park — as an unwanted change to the area’s distinct character.

“It ain’t Harlem. It’s Manhattan now,” Davis lamented.

Rental rates in Central, West and East Harlem combined rose an average of 90% between 2002 and 2015, according to Community Service Society, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty in New York City, which compiled census data for a real estate report released last year.

Real estate listings site StreetEasy predicts rates in Central Harlem will continue to increase in 2016 by an additional 10.6% — four times faster than the rest of the borough.

According to StreetEasy, the median sales price in the area rose 20.1% from $540,000 in 2014 to $648,294 in 2015, according to StreetEasy. The median rental price went up 8.3% from $2,100 to $2,275.

In the face of these changes however, Davis is hopeful that long-time residents can rely on their close-knit community to keep their culture alive.

“It’s a strong block,” Davis said. “We’re always trying to find something to do to keep the block together.” (WITH HEATHER SENISON)

The basics

Find it: Central Harlem stretches from 110th Street
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Find it:

Central Harlem stretches from 110th Street to 155th Street. To the west it is bound by St. Nicholas Avenue above West 123rd Street and Morningside Drive below it, and to the east it is bordered by the Harlem River above West 135th Street and Park Avenue below it.


B, C to Cathedral Park Way 110th Street, 116th Street and 135th Street

B, C, D to 155th Street

A, B, C, D to 125th Street and 145th Street

2, 3 to Central Park North 110th Street, 116th Street, 125th Street and 135th Street

3 to 145th Street and Harlem 148th Street


M1, M2, M3, M4, M7, M10, M15, M33, M60, M98, M100, M101, M102, M116


Central Harlem is policed by the 28th Precinct, at 2271-89 Eighth Ave., and the 32nd Precinct, at 250 W. 135th St. The 28th Precinct reported two robberies and four burglaries in its CompStat report for the week of Feb. 22-28. The 32nd Precinct reported one rape, four robberies and three burglaries that week.


Central Harlem has had numerous notable residents including Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B DuBois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Maya Angelou.

Movies and TV

The 2007 film "American Gangster" and the 2009 Academy Award winner "Precious" had filming locations in Central Harlem.

To eat

Amy Ruth's 113 W. 116th St. In a
Photo Credit: Red Rooster via Facebook

Amy Ruth's

113 W. 116th St.

In a neighborhood known for its soul food, Amy Ruth's has made a name for itself by specializing in one of the cuisine's best inventions: chicken and waffles.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox Ave.

This upscale comfort food joint is among the most talked-about spots in the area thanks to its delicious food and live music.


2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

Dine on authentic Ethiopian food, including various stews served with traditional injera, a sour spongey flatbread.

To shop

Atmos 203 W. 125th St. This Japanese clothing
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote


203 W. 125th St.

This Japanese clothing store is a haven for sneaker-heads, offering the newest styles.

Harlem Haberdashery

245 Lenox Ave.

For those who like to look dapper, find everything you need here to complete that polished urban look.

Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market

52 W. 116th St.

Find traditional African handiworks, including textiles and carvings.


To party

67 Orange Street 2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd. This
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

67 Orange Street

2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

This popular speakeasy is a throwback to the days of the Prohibition, when Harlem was the place New Yorkers flocked to for live music and "adult drinks."

Mess Hall

2194 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

A cozy spot with craft beer and a large selection of bourbon for reasonable prices.


2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.

The sign outside -- "Black United Fun Plaza" -- says it all. This venue offers cocktails and live music seven nights a week.

To do

The Apollo Theater 253 W. 125th St. All
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The Apollo Theater

253 W. 125th St.

All the greats, from Duke Ellington to James Brown, have performed onstage at this iconic Harlem theater. First opened in 1914, it is still going strong with shows seven nights a week.

The Studio Museum

144 W. 125th St.

Showcasing artists of African descent, including some of the most significant names from the Harlem Renaissance and beyond.

Jazz at Bill's Place

148 W. 133rd St.

Take in a night of jazz from some of the best musicians in New York City at this historic hole-in-the-wall club.

The buzz

If want to move somewhere with a little
Photo Credit: Link NY Realty

If want to move somewhere with a little bit of soul? Then look no further than Central Harlem, where the brownstone that used to belong to author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is now up for grabs.

The property at 58 W. 120th St. was one of the author's homes -- she also lived in North Carolina -- before she died in May 28, 2014. The property is listed by Link NY Realty.

For just under $4.8 million, you can get a four-story, five-bedroom brownstone with two fireplaces and central air, and the inspiration to finally finish that novel.

2015 Central Harlem real estate data

Median sales price: $648,294 Number of units on
Photo Credit: Michael Holler via Flickr

Median sales price: $648,294

Number of units on market: 724

Median rental price: $2,275

Number of rentals on market: 4,706

Q&A with Sam Hargress, owner of Paris Blues

Sam Hargress, 79, is the owner of Paris
Photo Credit: Sam Hargress

Sam Hargress, 79, is the owner of Paris Blues, a music venue on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard that's been hosting live jazz seven nights a week since it opened in 1969. The club was originally in a building formerly owned by Hargress on Columbus Avenue, but he lost it to eminent domain in 1976. Luckily, the following year he was able to use his buyout money to purchase the building that both he and his jazz club still reside in to this day.

How has gentrification affected your business?

We are the oldest remaining bar still here in Harlem, because all the rest of the old folks, they're all gone, they got priced out. We're just lucky we own the building ... and hard work kept us all here all these years. And now the neighborhood has come around, some people call it gentrification, [but] it pushed all the crime out so it just made the neighborhood better for us.

How will Central Harlem change in the next 10 years?

It'll get better and better. Probably 80 or 90% of the old buildings are gone. We have working people coming in and people from all different nationalities are moving in. And with people working [hard] the neighborhood's going to be better.

Why do your patrons love Paris Blues?

Well, we've been open since 1969. There's a thing about historic places that people like. I didn't realize people liked a place because of that, but little by little I've come to realize that it matters to them.


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