Archive for the ‘Harlem’ category

Italian Harlem on Pleasant Avenue

July 17, 2008

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.


Pleasant Village Community Garden in Spanish Harlem

July 16, 2008

I’ve said it on this blog many times: NYC is filled with community gardens. Small and intimate, many of these are the work of a handful of volunteers and communities that want to have some small part of nature in this town. Yeah, we’ve got Central Park and a dozen other big parks; but there’s great pleasure in having a pleasant area all of your own…you and a few thousand of your neighbors.

In Spanish Harlem, on Pleasant Avenue are several of these gardens. And, of course, I went to ’em all. This first one is called Pleasant Village Community Garden. It’s somewhere around 119th Street or so. According to a nearly ruined sign on the exterior fence, it was created between 1978 and 1982 by Rose Gardella. However, it seems to have taken until 1997 to become a park.

The area of Harlem I was walking through was pretty deserted that day, but each of the gardens had people there. That’s the mark of a pretty good thing, I would say.

As I always love to point out, NYC parks (and gardens) generally have lots of places to sit.

All in all, this place really wasn’t a regimented garden. Stuff grew here and there. One thing I liked about it was the surrounding buildings. They looked pretty run down, but you don’t sneeze at a view of a garden in NYC, so I’d call the residents pretty fortunate to have one.

And speaking of the gardens, this was one that seemed to take the idea of a “garden” pretty seriously. There seemed to be a number of individual plots where residents had veggies growing. Now, that’s what makes a real garden.


Ankling Spanish Harlem

July 15, 2008

Well, I’ve pretty much done it. The one large area of Manhattan that I hadn’t explored to some degree was Spanish Harlem. I’ve been past it and I wandered through a small section right after I moved to NYC, but I hadn’t really explored. And now I have. That isn’t saying I’ve been everywhere; there are huge areas that I haven’t seen and zillions of small streets I haven’t been up and down. But, I don’t know of any “name” area I haven’t at least visited. Of course, it’s all in my own definition; some areas that I just consider parts of some neighborhood may be very distinct and reject the association.

But for my own sense of smug satisfaction; I’ve been everywhere.

But I’ll admit that I only did a tiny section of Spanish Harlem. Harlem is huge. Gigantic, even, at least by the way that NYC looks at it. Spanish Harlem, like every place else, has multiple names. Lots of folks call it East Harlem. But I like the sound of Spanish Harlem and I’ll keep calling it that.

When I wandered, my main steet of interest was 116th Street between 3rd Avenue and FDR. It’s the main business district area (at least east-west) from what I understand.

Lots of little stores, but there are quite a few chain store places coming in. But the below picture is just one of those shots that captures a lot of the flavor of the place. Perhaps a little more flattering than the rest really is, but there were parts that I liked.

But a lot of the area is just like the below. Ordinary. A bit run down, but not romantically so.

I wandered around for a while. What I was looking for was an area a bit like regular Harlem. That area, as I’ve mentioned a number of times, may be run down; but the architecture is often magnificent. The picture below doesn’t capture anything “magnificent”. Just moderate to okay.

There were two areas that did capture my attention. One of them below was pretty nice. Not perfect, but pretty nice and colorful. They lacked the stoops that would differentiate them from blah to wonderful. Stoops are good.

But mostly, it was just like the next picture. A place to live, but not really a place to visit. I had wanted much more. About the only thing that I liked about the area was the lack of traffic. The streets were nice and wide, too.

The next picture shows another of the better areas. It certainly needed fixing, but it had the makings of a nice place if you threw enough money at it. These really started to look like brownstones; but still, no stoops.

Once again, here’s a picture of wide, open, and empty streets. It was noonish on a Saturday. I know gas is expensive (I read the news and am happily car-less), but there oughta be somebody out.

Okay, below is my last picture of this part of Spanish Harlem. Taken over on 2nd Avenue near 120th Street. What’s interesting about this? Nothing for anyone else; but for me it was different. Or at least had something that I don’t often see. Take a look at the tall building in the center. About 80 percent up on the right side…is an airplane. Just heading to land at LaGuardia. But I so seldom see airplanes that I was absurdly pleased. Heck, sometimes it seems that I seldom see sky.


Christmas Eve in Harlem

December 31, 2007

I’d been away from Harlem for too long.  I knew I wanted to go back there during the cold times just to see how it was handling the change in weather.  When I realized that I was going to be off during the week of Christmas, I couldn’t resist and decided to go there on Christmas Eve, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.  And so I did.

And Harlem’s streets were nearly empty.  Here’s a shot of the heart of Harlem: Lenox and 125th.


A little further up Lenox Avenue.


I went a little bit south and found that a brownstone I posted about is still for sale.


The only public acknowledgment of the Christmas Season was at the Adam Clayton Powell Building.  They had a Christmas Tree.  (Of course, they would substitute the word “Holiday” for “Christmas” but I’m not that PC.)


Off to the right of the above picture is a nice mural.  It’s actually for a breast cancer clinic.


As I was wandering around 125th Street, one person wished me “Happy Holidays” before I could wish him a Merry Christmas.  Beaten to the punch!  It happens and I’m always happy for it.


Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2007

It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve spent the day doing my NYC tradition:  wandering around wishing people Merry Christmas!  And I did wander.

I started by going up to Harlem.  It’s been way too long and I wanted to see how Harlem’s streets are set for Christmas.  I went this morning and found that Harlem’s streets are mostly deserted at 10am on a Christmas Eve.  I’ll be posting pictures over the next few days, but it was pretty devoid of Christmas decorations.  I didn’t do any of the backstreets where a lot of the small Churches are, so there may have been more.  The most I saw was a Christmas tree outside of the Adam Clayton Powell building.  On the other hand, the stores did have a lot of Christmas stuff.  I wished a couple of people a Merry Christmas, but I was delighted when someone wished it of me first.  That seldom happens and is very welcome.

After a little over an hour, I left Harlem and went to Greenwich Village.  The Village had a bit more in terms of public decoration.  I wandered on West 10th Street and saw an interesting sight:  a lot of the townhouses have put out evergreen decorations.  A lot of them also had lights, but it was too early to have them on.  Nevertheless, the evergreen branches were a nice touch.  I did wish a number of people a Merry Christmas and had roughly half of them respond in kind.  I then went over to Union Square and looked for Schleiermacher.  The guy running the Unemployed Philosophers Guild confessed they didn’t have his fridge magnet.  Woe is me.  I looked, just in case, but they actually seemed to be light on the philosopher fridge magnets.  They had a lot of historical figures and writers, though.

This evening, I wandered around my part of town and wished the random passers-by a Merry Christmas.  Once again, about half responded.

And now I’m at home.  I’ll go out in the morning/afternoon and do the same sort of thing.  It’s nice to do and it gets me out of my place; and I really enjoy it when somebody beats me to it.

I hope to get a chance to post some of today’s photos and some pics from the weekend when I wandered in Times Square and Gramercy Park.