A photo from the 1930s of a street scene in Harlem with a pawnbroker’s, a fruit and vegetable stand, and a grocery store.
The pawnbroker promotes that his business is “moth-free” and thus a safe location to pawn an article of clothing.
The grocery store has a number of brands that we would recognize today, even if the prices are quite different.
The fruit and vegetable stand has at least one customer peering in to look at what’s on offer – under the canvas shades (and burlap bags) to shield against the sun:
This otherwise quotidian scene has another component, a protest on the sidewalk against the fruit and vegetable stand:
The three men shown in the detail above look challengingly towards the photographer – perhaps wondering what is the purpose of the photographer as at least one of them protests the unfair labor practices of the fruit and vegetable stand’s owner.
Below is the street scene today. The Salvation Army dominates the block north of Harlem Hospital, with a speed camera and bus stop, and none of the vibrant street life depicted in the photo from the 1930s.
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It’s that time of year where we celebrate family, friends and holiday spirit. After years of social distancing, we are finally coming back together to celebrate the season with our Annual Holiday Concert.
Join us at East River Plaza on Saturday, December 17 at 11 am and 1 pm as we welcome the Sing Harlem Choir to fill the air with the sounds of the season. Please share this invitation with your family, friends and neighbors. The more the merrier!
Ascendant is announcing that they have won a grant to survey lower East Harlem for buildings that should be considered for landmarking:
About Ascendant Neighborhood Development Corporation: Ascendant Neighborhood Development (AND) builds homes, engages community members, and partners with allies to raise up neighborhoods that provide stability and access to opportunity for all. Since its founding in 1988, AND has supported the stabilization and growth of East and Central Harlem communities, advocated for preservation of affordable housing, and helped thousands of New Yorkers live with dignity and respect. Learn more: https://ascendant.nyc/
The El Barrio/Southern East Harlem survey area is a diverse mixed-use enclave within the larger Harlem community of Northern Manhattan. In addition to a variety of vernacular residential buildings dating from the late-1800s through the early-1900s, the area features several large-scale mid-20th century residential complexes including multiple public housing campuses.
The survey area boasts many outstanding civic, institutional, and religious structures of various architectural styles. Within the proposed study area are multiple individually designated landmarks, including Public School 109, 28th Police Precinct & Fire Engine Co. #53 Houses, St. Cecilia’s Church Complex, Public School 72/Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, and the Museum of the City of New York.
The area developed over many decades as a predominantly working-class neighborhood, and it has been home to a succession of immigrant groups. The new survey will focus specific attention on the history of El Barrio’s Puerto Rican community and its impact on the (re)development of the neighborhood. Ascendant, and our partners in the Landmark East Harlem (LEH) alliance, successfully worked to list the East Harlem Historic District on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2019. We successfully secured a determination of eligibility for the proposed East-Central Harlem Historic District in 2020, and we are working on a nomination to list that historic district in 2021. Ascendant and LEH, along with other local stakeholders, will use our new $12,000 Preserve New York grant to hire Marissa Marvelli to conduct the El Barrio/Southern East Harlem Cultural Resource Survey. The survey will help to identify potential individual State and National Register listings and the boundaries of potential new historic districts.
On 110th Street
The intersection of 110th Street and 3rd Avenue was ground zero for activism by The Young Lords.
In 1969, a group of New York City youth known as the Young Lords demanded change in the way the largest city in the United States handled sanitation. The initiative, known as the Garbage Offensive, wasn’t the group’s original plan of action, but it proved highly effective in calling out the needs and rights of the city’s Latinx community
The Young Lords were an activist group of poor and working-class Puerto Rican youth who modeled themselves after the Black Panthers, donned their signature purple berets, called for Puerto Rico’s independence, and hit the streets in search of a lofty organizing agenda in their home of East Harlem. But as the organization’s chairman, Felipe Luciano, humorously remembers, they found trash talk instead.
“So we’re on 110th Street and we actually asked the people, ‘What do you think you need? Is it housing? Is it police brutality?’” Luciano says. “And they said, ‘Muchacho, déjate de todo eso—LA BASURA!” [Listen kid, fuggedaboutit! It’s THE GARBAGE!] And I thought, my God, all this romance, all this ideology, to pick up the garbage?”
Join the Parks Service on a virtual tour of the Battle of Harlem Heights. Details in the link, above.
The Wiz, Tonight
Just a friendly reminder . . . tomorrow, Friday, September 24th is our final night of Movies @ ERP Summer 2021. East River Plaza and ImageNation Outdoors Movie Festival welcome you to join us for The Wiz. The event starts at 6:30 pm.
Tunnel Vision by Logan Hicks – the largest stenciled mural in the world.
In the middle of 2020, during the height of the pandemic in New York City, Logan Hicks was commissioned to creatively re-imagine a massive breezeway at the East River Plaza in Harlem. Nearly a year later, Hicks completes his largest work to date – a 19,000 sq. ft installation entitled “Tunnel Vision”. This work consists of a continuous stenciled mural that wraps the inside the towering breezeway, paired with a custom designed sound installation. The mural is set to be certified by Guinness World Records on July 29th, 2021.
Behold layers of stenciled aerosol transforming gray concrete into lush greenery, climbing up each of the thirty-foot walls and pillars, meeting at the ceiling painted in a vibrant, sky-blue gradient. Looking closely, tucked in the green thicket covering the walls are dozens of stenciled birds that live within New York State, while the four-hour looping soundtrack brings them to life – featuring the calls of every bird indigenous to New York.
This experiential piece was inspired by Christian Cooper, the Central Park birdwatcher who was thrust into the spotlight in May of 2020. Cooper shed light on a part of New York that Hicks was unaware of – the birdwatching community. Until that story unfolded across media outlets everywhere, the artist never knew of the Ramble – the birdwatching section of Central Park.
During the pandemic, Hicks visited the area many times and was taken by the symphony of bird chirps and songs that echoed through the treetops. The idyllic utopia of wildlife sits right in the middle of this bustling city.
Recognizing that there is a segment of the population that would not go to Central Park with a pair of binoculars to watch birds, Tunnel Vision is Hicks’ attempt to recreate the feeling of the Central Park Ramble in the language that he understands best – murals.
To grasp the scale of such an endeavor, it’s noteworthy that the artist’s estimate to complete the mural would be one, maybe two months on-site. Braving the unpredictable weather of every season, Hicks has now used over 100 gallons of paint, 500 cans of spray paint, hundreds of stencils, dozens of rolls of Gorilla Tape, and an uncounted number of hours painting – defying expectations – and tedious limitations of the stencil medium – to complete Tunnel Vision.
Tonight is a very rare opportunity to talk to top NYPD brass about policing in East Harlem.
Tonight at 6:00 PM, at the Church of the Apostolic Faith – 1421 5th Avenue (5th Avenue and 116th Street) – you are invited to speak about community policing with our elected representatives and with top members of the NYPD.
Density of Bars and Restaurants Serving Alcohol (by population density)
How Calculated: Number of alcohol outlets with licenses allowing any alcohol to be purchased for on-premise consumption divided by the population, using NYC DOHMH intercensal estimates; expressed as service outlets per 100,000 residents
Source: New York State Liquor Authority
Catch The Wiz on Saturday, August 28th at East River Plaza, 517 E. 117th Street, NYC
Kids Night Out! featuring The Wiz!, directed by Sidney Lumet, 134 min., 1978, USA
“Adventures of Booga and Mommy”, Episode 1, directed by Jermaine Smith, 3 min, USA
Starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor and many others The Wiz is a musical retelling of L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) in the context of contemporary African-American culture. The Wiz will be preceded by the short film “Adventures of Booga and Mommy.”
This Kids’ Night Out program will also offer fun and giveaways provided by East River Plaza.
I was recently able to get data on the homeless shelter populations by community board. Looking at the big picture (at the borough level) it is clear that one borough is not pulling its fair share:
As many political observers have noted, Staten Island scares the bejeezus out of elected officials who are loathe to rile them up. (Recall that during the discussion regarding De Blasio’s plan to replace Rikers Jail with smaller, borough-based jails, Staten Island was somehow allowed to be the only borough that would not get a new jail.)
The powerful, conservative voting block/s on Staten Island, and the politicians on the Island and at City Hall who cater to them, shield that borough from pulling its fair share.
Even when you account for borough population, the per capita percentage of people in homeless shelters displays Staten Island’s unfair participation in addressing the homeless crisis.
Washburn Wire Factory
After last week’s post on the East River Plaza and the Washburn Wire Factory that it replaced, a reader forwarded this great look at the postindustrial ruin that was the Wire Factory. It’s well worth a read:
Most Harlem residents have visited East River Plaza (Target, Costco, Aldi, etc.) at 117th street and Harlem River Drive at least once over the years.
The site – owned by Brookfield Properties – was once a wire factory that made springs, musical wires (think pianos), and industrial and commercial wires of every sort.
I recently came across an item for sale, clipped from a vintage newspaper, that not only showed the huge number of wire products produced, but also the factory itself.
Note that the factory was directly on the water, and a sailing ship was docked at the factory (no Harlem River Drive), showing that the factory was located there precisely for water transportation of supplies and the finished wire products.
For many drivers on the Harlem River Drive, the factory was a landmark until it was razed for the shopping complex.