Things I Love About Harlem, Pt I

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.
    Morningside Park
    Morningside Park, image from the Internet

    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
    Astor Row Houses
    Astor Rown Houses, image from the Internet

    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
    Riverside Church
    Riverside Church, image from the Internet

    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.



12 comments on “Things I Love About Harlem, Pt I

  1. You’re full of information and places to visit. I’d like to sit in Riverside Church and feel its grandness. Seems like a safe haven with all the involvement of activism there. Is that your church of faith?

    I suppose the transit system runs through Harlem. How much does it cost to ride? I don’t know what it is here anymore. No system runs in my area. Used to be that I lived where I could just hop on a bus to get me places but not anymore.

    Is there a strong sense of community there, in Harlem? I know when New Yorkers feel strongly enough, they take their anger to the streets for an injustice. Not so much as what Londoners have done but you guys will speak up and out. In the states, that kind of passion is only in NY, actually.

  2. Unfortunately, it isn’t. I’ve been a couple of times and I should join, not sure why I haven’t. It’s just the kind of church I’d feel at home at. Social justice and political activism are more than buzz words and I like that. They also have a Million Man program and just returned from Cuba.
    Yes, several trains – 10 different subway lines, a commuter train and several bus lines run through Harlem. Except for the commuter train which connects us to Connecticut, fares are $2.50. One thing that’s on my I Love New York list — I can go from Harlem to Queens, to Brooklyn to the Bronx for $2.50. When I lived in DC, similar rides would cost a vital body part!
    Harlem does have a sense of community but it can get a little fractious at times. The ‘old timers” look askance at the ‘new comers’ especially where the power lies, business, politics, even. I guess I understand. I’d probably feel a bit slighted – heck, I do sometimes – if I stuck through the bad times only to have new people, like me with a little more cash in my pocket, move in and take over the nicer places. Median income for Harlem was about 35K, Manhattan’s about 110K+
    Yes, people in Harlem tend to be pretty vocal. Guess it’s a by product of its history and history of activism.

  3. Yeah, I think I would join that one or at least, be a frequent visitor there. You know about the mega pastor in Atlanta, who had that sex lawsuit against him? Then again, I know this is off topic so you don’t post it, that’s fine. But I used to go there. Was a member even but not a faithful churchgoer. You can probably tell. 🙂

  4. You did an awesome job documenting some of the finest things my old neighborhood has to offer. There used to be a lovely restaurant on Strivers Row that served the best grits… way back when. I wonder if they are still there. Like you, I sometimes imagined living in one of those wonderful brownstones or red bricks on Astor Row.. Thanks for sharing… Sorry, I’ve been a bit slow with comments, I’m fighting pneumonia now and dealing with the process of many changes in my household. All is well. 🙂

  5. Sorry to hear that, Elizabeth. Hope you feel better soon.
    I was wondering about you but I realize summers can be very busy with family and friends visiting, etc.
    Glad you’re back. Look forward to your comments and posts.

  6. I love big cities, but I’ve still never visited New York! I’ve just always wanted to give myself enough time to explore all the boroughs and not just see Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. I can’t wait to visit Harlem and see all these things you mention. 🙂

  7. Great article topic! I wish I had gotten to spend more time in Harlem when I lived briefly in NYC but it was my first time in a big city and I was scared off by whispers of danger and crime. I did hang out a bit in Morningside Park but I’d love to see the rest of Harlem.

  8. You must come to NYC. Harlem’s changing so much, even for me, I feel like I need a scorecard just to keep up.
    I’ll be posting another 10 things later.

  9. Thanks, Scott. Yea, Harlem has a rep — but it’s really cleaning up its act.
    You should definitely add it to your list and come see the rest of Harlem.

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