I love Harlem and I love living in Harlem. Having lived here for more than ten years, there are quite a few things I love doing. It was a little difficult to limit myself to ten.
- Studio Museum in Harlem– The premier venue for viewing the works of artists of African descent.
Included in its collection are works by Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Julie Mehretu, Jacob Lawrence, Chris Ofili and Lois Maillou Jones. Studio Museum is open Thursday to Sunday and is located at 144 W 125th Street. My go-to place when I need inspiration.
- The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture – Named after the distinguished scholar, Arturo Schomburg, whose personal collection was added to the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library in 1926. Schomburg was born in Puerto Rico and was curator from 1932-8. The center was renamed in his honor in 1940 and designated a research facility in 1972. Today, the collection contains over 10,000,000 items. The Schomburg Center is located at 515 Malcolm X Blvd at 135th Street. I’ve been to several events at the Schomburg, look forward to many more.
- Strivers Row – Located on West 138th and West 139th Streets between Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd and Frederick Douglass Blvd are rows of townhouses that were constructed between 1891 and 1893 for upper middle class whites. Originally called the “King Model Houses” they were sold to blacks after white owners moved away from Harlem. The houses stood empty before being sold to “strivers,” hard-working black professionals, for $8,000. Each house has landmark designation. Every block in Harlem has its own distinct character, Strivers Row is no different. Sometimes when I’m there, I feel as if I’m not in Harlem.
- Astor Row– The 28 red-brick houses that line the south side of 130th Street known as Astor Row
stand out because of their design. They are attached in pairs and have porches that run the width of each building. Built by William Astor in the 1880s, they are now landmark buildings. Whenever I walk by, I always imagine myself sitting on the porch drinking lemonade and entertaining friends.
- Lenox Lounge – Most people come uptown to listen to jazz. I go there to soak up the atmosphere. You can almost feel the weight of history there. Sit at one of the booths long enough and you can probably hear Billie or Miles or Coltrane performing. There used to be a bartender, Aretha, that made the meanest drinks, including her signature, Silky Smooth. Located on Lenox Avenue near 125th Street, the Lenox Lounge has been around since 1939.
- Morningside Park – Located on West 110th to West 123rd Streets between Manhattan Avenue, Morningside Avenue and Morningside Drive, the 30-acre Morningside Park is one of four Historic Harlem Parks. It was designated a NYC Scenic Landmark in 2008. With its serene lake, it is one of the more picturesque parks in Harlem.
- West Harlem Piers Park – This two acre waterfront park on the Hudson River has bicycle and pedestrian paths and can accommodate boats and water taxis. It offers spectacular views of New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge. Manhattan is probably the original “concrete jungle.” With so many buildings around, we sometimes tend to forget Manhattan is an island. Going to this park is a sweet reminder.
- Marcus Garvey Park – One of the oldest public squares in Manhattan, Marcus Garvey Park has been a part of Central Harlem for more than 150 years. The 20-acre park was renamed in honor of Garvey in 1973. I usually go to Marcus Garvey to exercise or for walking meditations.
- Riverside Church– More than a church, Riverside is an interdenominational, interracial and
international community of activists. Riverside’s ministries have taken on a range of issues including homosexuality and global peace and justice, and created programs that address and support the unique issues faced by asylum seekers. The tallest church in the U.S., it is over 80 years old. I’ve been to Riverside several times, love just being there. It inspires reverence. Not sure why I haven’t joined.
- Abyssinian Baptist Church – Taking its name from the historic name of Ethiopia, Abyssinian was formed in 1808 when visiting free Ethiopian seamen and African-American parishioners left the First Baptist Church of New York City in protest over segregated seating. Abyssinian has had a long history of involvement in Harlem. Its Abyssinian Development Corporation is behind several major construction projects and its international non-profit, Balm in Gilead, spearheads HIV/AIDS education and prevention and other health initiatives in the U.S., Caribbean and Africa. I knew about Abyssinian before I moved to Harlem, it’s that well known.
As I said, it was hard to narrow the list to only ten. I’ll be back soon with another list of my Harlem favorites.