NFT New York Harlem (Upper)

Harlem (Upper)

At first glance, upper Harlem lacks character. Generic buffets and 99-cent stores line Lenox, one of the nabe's anchor streets. 145th Street sprawls with suburban gas stations and an entrance to the 145th Street Bridge. High rises dot the uptown skyline. But this 20-block triangle sandwiched between St. Nicholas to the west and the Harlem River to the east is the lifeline of black culture in New York. Everyone from starving artists to self-made millionaires have called upper Harlem home, and a visit to the Schomburg Center for Research reveals the neighborhood's significant impact. Not surprisingly, gentrification is a sensitive point of controversy. But for now, the culture remains intact. Old churches maintain a sense of community. Heavenly soul food attracts locals and tourists. Historic districts preserve the look and feel. Upper Harlem has it all--you just have to dig a little.

Start at 135th Street and Lenox, or "Speaker's Corner," an intersection where back in the day anyone shouted their concerns and critiques of current events. Most famously, Marcus Garvey presented his views on race at this corner. The Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black military unit that fought in World War I and World War II, housed their headquarters at the imposing See more.

>369th Regiment Armory. The building still operates as a sustainment brigade, but an obelisk outside honors the soldiers. Long before the Hellfighters, Ethiopian traders protested segregation policies by founding the Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1808. After 203 years, the congregation only moved once, in 1923, to its striking Neo-Gothic building.

The Rockefeller family built the Dunbar Houses in 1926 to provide affordable housing in Harlem. The complex attracted writers, artists, musicians and poets, including W.E.B. DuBois, the first African American to graduate from Harvard. Similarly ambitious residents moved in to the St. Nicholas Historic District. Sometimes called "Strivers' Row," Stanford White designed the houses, where many upwardly mobile residents lived. Note the original "Walk your Horses" signs (there aren't any carriage rides in the neighborhood).

Rucker Park is home to famously intense pickup games. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, and hundreds of exceedingly talented locals have dribbled on those courts. Swing by to try your hand or just enjoy the show. The Schomburg Center focuses on preserving the history of people of African descent worldwide. The center's dizzying array of artifacts, prints, images and manuscripts includes more than 100,000 items. The Countee Cullen Regional Branch Library also has an excellent African American reference section; at the turn of the century, Madame C.J. Walker lived at this same address--the "richest woman in Harlem" earned her fortune by selling hair care products specifically for African-American women.

There isn't a lot of nightlife above 135th Street but stalwart Londel's Supper Club has classic jazz on Fridays and Saturdays with no cover.

The parade of routine delis on Lenox hides some of Manhattan's tastiest eats. Miss Maude's Spoonbread dishes out calorically foolish comfort food. Do not miss Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken to chow down on mindblowing hot birds. If you want a taste of the sea, hit up the window service at O'Fishole Seafood for fried fishy take-out goodness.

Wandering Lenox and 145th Streets will unearth everything from cheap, expansive supermarkets like Pathmark to niche sneaker shops like Sneaker Q. Make My Cake has sugary cupcakes, cheesecakes and regular cakes.


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