MANHATTAN

Harlem Neighborhood Guide

Few neighborhoods balance charm and artistic expression better than Manhattan’s Harlem. The tree-lined streets abound with renovated brownstones, iconic restaurants, and popular music venues. Harlem residents are proud of their history, and they stay true to their roots by hosting frequent cultural events that attract large crowds from all over the city.

Harlem has four different communities that each boasts a unique vibe. Central Harlem, the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, offers a lively arts and music scene. South Harlem exhibits robust culture, inclusive of the Apollo Theater and renowned restaurants, Clay and Vinateria. East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem, is rich with Puerto Rican history and popular eateries. West Harlem offers quiet, tree-lined streets and picturesque parks. 

Harlem is known for its groundbreaking cultural renaissance. During the 1920s and 1930s, residents like the poet Langston Hughes, musician Louis Armstrong, and author Zora Neale Hurston used artistic expression to proclaim and celebrate their Black identities. The rich culture that flowed from the neighborhood during that era challenged the world’s views on the Black experience and cemented Harlem as a mecca for Black entrepreneurs and artists. 

Today, this in-demand neighborhood is a lifestyle destination for all races. Residents love that Harlem feels like a tight-knit community in the middle of busy NYC. The neighborhood of Harlem also offers a lower price tag than surrounding areas while boasting a booming real estate market and a swoon-worthy array of activities and amenities. 

Harlem Real Estate Stats

MEDIAN SALE PRICE

$875,000

MEDIAN RENTAL PRICE

$3,255

An Abbreviated History of Harlem

Harlem, once called Quinnahung, was originally home to the Wecksquaesgeek Indians, who harvested corn and tobacco on the land. By 1658, the Dutch claimed Quinnahung as Nieuw Haarlem, named after the Dutch city of Haarlem, and constructed a meager downtown. Six years later, the British invaded and took control of the town. The British did not like the Dutch-sounding name of Nieuw Haarlem, so initially they tried to christen the town as Lancaster. However, Lancaster never stuck, and they settled for anglicizing the name to Harlem.

Harlem was mainly composed of German and Irish farmers until 1880 when the New York Elevated Railroad extended into the neighborhood. The railroad provided easy transportation to this area of the city that had until then, been difficult to access. The addition of the railroad brought in an influx of Jewish and Italian immigrants who were seeking reprieve from the overcrowded streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

In the early 1900s, a large number of Black Americans took part in the Great Migration by moving from the rural South to northern cities, including NYC. Landlords saw this as an opportunity to accelerate Harlem’s slow rental market, which was failing to compete with the booming and newly accessible neighborhoods of Washington Heights and the Bronx.  As a result, Black Americans would transform Harlem into a creative, cultural mecca during a period known as the Harlem Renaissance. 

The Harlem Renaissance began after World War I and ended around 1935. During this time, Black Americans experienced a cultural and emotional reckoning that affirmed pride in their identity, brought inequality into plain sight, and called for change. 

Black artists and scholars expressed their views through art, writing, and music, resulting in some of the most influential works in modern history. Residents like poet Countee Cullen, best known for his book Color, and Aaron Douglas, known as the “Father of African Art,” helped challenge racial stereotypes to people around the world. Jazz musicians like Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington brought Black and White audiences together.

Unfortunately, the Great Depression tore down much of the economic progress made during the Harlem Renaissance. Neighborhood Black-owned businesses shuttered, and artists could not find buyers for their work, but the ideas that sprang forth during the era lived on. 

During the 1950s, federal immigration laws relaxed, resulting in a large number of Puerto Ricans migrating to New York. Many of them settled in East Harlem for the same reasons as their Black predecessors – lower rents and less discrimination. Today, East Harlem, known as Spanish Harlem, is the largest predominantly Latino community in NYC.

Around this same time, Harlem played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King Jr. used the neighborhood as a stage to promote equality. Civil rights leaders frequently met at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, giving rise to the National Urban League.

In the 1980s, the popularity of Manhattan was booming while affordability was declining. New Yorkers, desperate to find housing, began to take a second look at Harlem. As landlords sought to profit from this surge of interest, community leaders stepped in to ensure Harlem residents were given an opportunity to purchase available housing. From that time on until today, Harlem has experienced gentrification and rising property values while it works to preserve its historical roots and space for its citizens.

NEIGHBORHOOD BOUNDARIES

  • Henry Hudson Parkway to the West
  • 155th Street to the North 
  • Harlem River Drive to the East
  • Central Park North to the South
IRT Lenox Avenue Line 2 3
IND Eighth Avenue Line A C B D
IND Concourse Line at 155th Street B D

Residents Love This Neighborhood Because

  • Acclaimed restaurants
  • A rich culture
  • Unique, world famous music scene
  • Community-oriented
  • Local festivals 
  • The merging of old and new
  • More affordable rent relative to Manhattan overall
  • Abundance of green spaces

What to expect

Cafés

+140

Colleges / Universities

27

Community Gardens

68

Hospitals

8

Libraries

16

Parks

78

Playgrounds

75

Restaurants

+200

Yoga Studios

14

Harlem Landmarks and Cultural Institutions

A NEIGHBORHOOD TOUR

Get to know the neighborhood by visiting its most notable landmarks and sites. From museums and sculptures, to parks, markets, and hidden neighborhood gems, you’ll find everything you need to know about the neighborhood’s most unique and historical attractions.

Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater is a world-famous music hall and cultural institution that helped musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder rise to stardom. Though known as a Black cultural icon, the Apollo had a surprising start. In 1914, it opened as a burlesque theater, and Black Americans could not attend. However, by the 1930s, political and religious activists were claiming burlesque shows were perverse, resulting in the theater’s shuttering. In 1934, Sidney Cohen, the theater owner, decided to reverse course. He reopened the theater as the Apollo and marketed it toward the increasing Black population in Harlem. Today, the Apollo is run as a nonprofit and governed by a Board of Directors. The Apollo prides itself on providing entertainment and programs that educate visitors on Harlem’s cultural success.

Swing Low: Harriet Tubman Memorial

During approximately 13 trips back to the South, Harriet Tubman escorted more than 70 enslaved people to freedom. In her own words, Tubman proclaimed, “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.” After the Civil War, Tubman settled in Auburn, New York, and continued to be a voice for equality. Swing Low, a larger-than-life bronze memorial sculpture of Harriet Tubman, was erected in 2008. The statue reminds residents that with courage, change is possible. 

The Studio Museum

In 1968, a group of artists, philanthropists, and community members had an unprecedented idea to create a museum that showcased global works from Black artists and championed artists from within the community. The museum first opened in a loft at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street. At a time when New York’s leading galleries excluded the works of most Black artists, the Studio Museum created a space for them to showcase their art. The museum continues to publicize the work of Black artists through its collection of over 2,000 works and its educational programs.

Alexander Hamilton Grange National Memorial

You may know Alexander Hamilton as the subject of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, but you may not know  that his home was in Harlem. U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton selected architect John McComb Jr. to design a country home for him and his wife, Elizabeth. The Federal-style manor was completed in 1802 and christened The Grange after his father’s home in Scotland. Unfortunately, a mere two years later, Hamilton was killed during a duel with Aaron Burr. Elizabeth continued to live at the estate for the next thirty years. The Grange has been preserved and is now open to the public where visitors can explore the home that helped shape one of our most well known and prominent founding fathers. 

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling

Opened in 2015, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling encourages the youngest community members to expand their imaginations and learn new skills. The museum was developed by The Broadway Housing Communities, an organization which works  to bring new life to underrepresented areas. This neighborhood favorite offers rotating art exhibitions, storytelling programs, and exciting workshops for children ages three to eight. 

Marcus Garvey Park

This beloved green space is named for Marcus Mosiah Garvey, an early 20th-century advocate for Black nationalism. The scenic park is bursting with history. During the Revolutionary War, the British fortified the park’s land to guard the Harlem River. A fire watchtower was constructed in 1856 to keep vigil over a city that was mostly made of wood. The park was opened for public use in 1840; since then, two playgrounds, an outdoor and indoor pool, drawbridges, and an amphitheater have been added to provide entertainment for the community.

Graffiti Hall of Fame

Over thirty years ago, Harlem community leader, Sting Ray, assigned the walls of the Jackie Robinson Educational Complex’s school yard as a safe place for graffiti artists to practice their skills. Now, the Graffiti Hall of Fame has a motto, “Strictly Kings or Better,” which attracts the most notorious street artists in the area. Besides adding color to the neighborhood, the Graffiti Wall of Fame has inspired community members to renovate and clean the school yard. Visitors can view the latest street art every weekend.

Harlem YMCA

The Harlem YMCA was constructed in 1932 on West 135th Street as a response to racial segregation. From 1841 until 1946, YMCA did not give Black Americans memberships to their facilities, and instead encouraged them to create their own community centers. After segregation ended, the Harlem YMCA boasted the most Black members in the United States. The Harlem YMCA contains 254 dormitories which have provided safe and affordable housing to community members over the years, including famous poets Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. Today, the Harlem YMCA continues to offer some of the most popular recreational activities in the neighborhood.

The National Jazz Museum

Music, especially jazz, is an essential part of Harlem’s history. In 1997, two local politicians founded this Smithsonian-affiliated museum to keep jazz alive in the community. Collections that celebrate famous musicians are publically and virtually available to visitors. The National Jazz Museum produces approximately 100 free events annually, including live shows and educational classes. People of all ages delight in the instrument workshops that teach the fundamentals of Harlem’s beloved, favorite musical genre. 

St. Nicholas Park

St. Nicholas Park, named after St. Nicholas of Myra, AKA Santa Claus, contains large, open green spaces, scenic walking trails, basketball courts, and playgrounds. Landscape architect Samuel Parsons Jr., designed the park on an uneven mass of rock and created higher elevations to even out the bumpiness. At the beginning of the 1900s, the park added additional appeal to the area and helped to increase Harlem’s population. Alexander Hamilton’s estate bordered the park, and in 2008, his home was moved to the park’s northern end.

Architecture in Harlem

Queen Anne

QUEEN ANNE

ROMANESQUE

Neo-CLASSICAL

Notable New Yorkers

Who Have Lived in Harlem

BOB DYLAN

Musician

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

Basketball Player

MAYA ANGELOU

Poet and Author

ALEXANDER HAMILTON

Politician

ANGELA BASSETT

Actor

KEITH DAVID WILLIAMS

Actor and Producer

MARCUS SAMUELSSON

Chef

ALYSIA REINER

Actor and Producer

Popular Food & Drink

clay

553 Manhattan Avenue

LEE LEE'S BAKED GOODS

283 W 118th Street 

 

Cocktail

THE CLOAKROOM

126 Hamilton Place at 143rd Street

RED ROOSTER

310 Lenox Avenue

LOLO'S SEAFOOD SHACK

303 West 116th Street

AMY RUTH'S

113 West 116th Street
Chez ma tante pancakes

MELBA'S RESTAURANT

300 W 114th Street

DOUBLE DUTCH ESPRESSO

2194 Frederick Douglass Boulevard

 All Notable New Yorker photos courtesy of Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Bob Dylan by Alberto Cabello from Vitoria Gasteiz; Photo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by Yahoo from Sunnyvale;  Photo of Angela Bassett by Gage Skidmore; Photo of Keith David Williams by ​​Mingle Media TV; Photo of Marcus Samuelsson by Vogler; Photo of Alysia Reiner by Collision Conf; Photo of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull;

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