It might surprise some that the world-famous Harlem has gone through numerous incarnations since its inception in 1865. It was originally a Dutch village, named for a city in the Netherlands. Since then, Harlem has been known as a cyclical neighborhood that has experienced economic highs and lows and a wide variety of ethnic changes.
Once a Jewish enclave, then a magnet for African Americans, today Harlem is a diverse multicultural neighborhood attracting an increasing number of young professionals. In the late 19th century and early 20th, it was a place of great art and culture. In 1889, Oscar Hammerstein established the Harlem Opera House there. In the early 1900s, African American entrepreneur Philip Peyton, Jr, was one of the major influences to turn Harlem into a predominantly black neighborhood. In the 1920s, it was the nexus of the Harlem Renaissance--a blossoming of African American art and culture of all styles: music, art, poetry, and typified by jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, poets like Langston Hughes, and singers like Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald.
During the mid-to-latter twentieth century, Harlem experienced an economic bust, in which the neighborhood went downhill. In recent years, however, it has experienced a major revitalization. Indeed with Bill Clinton - the former president and spouse of our New York senator, Hillary Clinton - having recently set up shop here, Harlem may well be on the verge of a new renaissance. This dynamic, spirited area, located around the northern side of Manhattan's central park, starting at 96th Street on the Eastside and 110th Street on the west side, maintains much of its liveliness, with gospel brunches and newly opened Starbucks sitting side-by-side.
Harlem contains some magnificent buildings with fine, original architectural features, and remains one area of Manhattan where you can find working fireplaces, original moldings and even a driveway for reasonable prices. It is also home to the world-famous Columbia University, located around 125th Street, which gives the neighborhood a cutting intellectual edge. There is an excellent subway and bus transportation system, including express services to lower Manhattan.
Harlem landmarks include the legendary Apollo Theater, where Showtime at the Apollo films every Saturday night and legendary African American comedians, like Chris Rock, perform, Hotel Theresa, Langston Hughes House, James Bailey House, Lenox Lounge, La Marqueta, Morningside Park, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church (the former Trinity Church), and Sylvia’s Soul Food, a restaurant that has become a landmark in its own right.
Other restaurants of note include Bayou, Amy Ruth’s, Settepani Bakery, Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too, Blue Lagoon, and El Malecon. Some popular pubs and bars include Lenox Lounge, St. Nick’s Pub, Bonita’s, Lickety Split, Londel’s, Rebar, P.J.’s, and Mr. B’s Cocktail Lounge.
Museums in the area that celebrate Harlem’s rich history are the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the aforementioned James Bailey House and Langston Hughes House, as well as El Museo Del Barrio.
Harlem’s artistic heritage also continues to be upheld, in the form of a number of annual festivals held there every year. These include Harlem International Film Festival, Harlem Meer Performance Festival, Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, and Harlem Summerstage.
Harlem’s large number of schools includes City College of New York (CUNY), Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, Harlem School of the Arts, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Museum of the City of New York, Frederick Douglass Academy, Bread and Roses High School, Mott Hall High School, A. Philip Randolph High School, PS 161, PS 180, and IS 195.
Tourists wishing to stay in the area can choose between such hotel options as the Harlem YMCA, Highbridge House Hostel, and Bed and Bike.
Local train service includes the A, C, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 on the East, the B, and the D. In addition, there is a Metro North Railroad Station at 125th. Bus routes include the M4, as well as the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal for service to the suburbs of New York and New Jersey.
Further north, from West 154th to West 181st Streets, Washington Heights has many charming streets with beautiful, spacious art deco and Tudor style apartment buildings, available at affordable rents. To the south, the Eastern part of Harlem - often known as Spanish Harlem - traditionally home to a large Italian and Hispanic population, is also beginning to undergo a boom.