Italian Harlem on Pleasant Avenue
Yeah. “Italian Harlem”. I didn’t know it existed until recently and found a very small article on it. I knew I was headed to Spanish Harlem and thought I’d stop by. The article had mentioned the area was very small and confined to just a single street (Pleasant Avenue) from 114th Street to 119th. I had to check it out. If nothing else, I figured I could get some good Italian food.
I also wanted to see a better Manhattan home for the Italians than the rapidly vanishing Little Italy. (It turned out that the next day I went to Brooklyn and saw a thriving Italian area where the Giglio festival was held. But that’s not Manhattan.)
Folks, just from my eyeballing, there’s very, very little left of Italian Harlem.
And I couldn’t find any restaurants. There were a couple of little foodstores like everyplace in Manhattan. I saw a number of people who could have been Italian (they didn’t look particularly Spanish/Hispanic to me, at least; and I heard a few talking in idiomatic American accents). But the place is just…zip.
It has a couple of impressive areas. The first was the “Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics“. It’s a magnet high school for science and has a long history in the area.
So I wandered through the area. It was really, really empty. It had some nice buildings and the like, but nothing that made you want to move there or to renovate. If you go a little further to the north and west, in regular Harlem you’ll find lots of magnificent buildings (although many in sore need of some really heavy duty maintenance). Here, just okay stuff.
At the north end of Pleasant Avenue, there’s a huge expanse of an exercise area. Really, really big. And by big, I mean huge. All cemented flat and designed as a sports area. There was a cement baseball/softball area, there were a number of basketball hoops (I saw three or so just near the fence). But not a single person. The place, like most of Italian Harlem, just seemed to be…empty and locked up.
There are two major Churches in the area: Holy Rosary Church and Mt. Carmel. There’s even a small school in the area. Not unexpected and it was empty, too. Of course, I went on a Saturday and didn’t expect the kids to be hanging around there. But to have a huge exercise area just empty? I dunno. (It wasn’t in good repair, but seemed servicable for softball/kickball/whatever. The hoops were all bent out of shape, though.)
Pleasant Avenue is bounded by a park to the south (I’ll post on that separately) and what look like projects to the north. In between, it’s mostly just quiet. Now, in Manhattan that’s a good thing, but I had hoped for a little more.
For full disclosure, it did have one really nice feature. There were a number of community gardens scattered in the area. Regular readers know I love those community gardens and I did find one very unusual one (well, at least different) and I’ll post on those separately.