Eartha Kitt

Austin Hansen photographed Kitt leading a dance group at the Harlem YMCA in the early 1950’s.

Eartha had been a professional dancer, dancing and touring with the Katherine Dunham Company between 1943 and 1948 before she became more widely known as a singer.

Note the photo below, and the vents under the windows as the space appears today (not to mention the basketball and other line markings):

This photograph is part of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s collection and is held just down the block from the site of the photograph itself.

There Go The Porches

There are not a lot of homes with front porches in Harlem. Some, but not many. Obviously, the most well-known example is Astor Row, but until recently, there was a small group of row houses on East 129th Street near Park. Obviously the row was a bit forlorn and had been an auxiliary space for the the Storefront Academy, across the street:

Nevertheless, it was sad to see them shaved off, unlikely to return:

Vote Today!

Make sure to head to the polls today to vote for Governor and State Assembly (among others).

Church > Synagogue > Shake Shack

On the north-west corner of 5th and 125th Street, the lot occupied by Shake Shack and the check cashing business was, at one point the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Harlem.

In the photo (above – Robert Bracklow, photographer) from 1905, you can see the church building, and (further west and next door) the tall Flemish style (white) YMCA on 125th Street.

Looking carefully at the church, however, you may notice an absence. There are no crosses on the pinnacles, nor at the top of the pediment.

The reason? At this point, in 1905, the building had been purchased by one of Harem’s Jewish congregations – Temple Israel – and now was their home of worship.

Eventually this synagogue was demolished and now, Shake Shack occupies this corner of 125/5th.


Gotham To Go has a great article on East Harlem’s African Burial Ground. Make sure to check it out:

Harlem Creek

Before the building boom in the 2nd half of the 19th century, what we call Central Harlem was farmland where people raised cash crops to sell 7 miles south in New York City. It was sleepy, undeveloped and could easily pass for rural New England today:

This 1870 photo is looking northwest from what’s left of the Haerlem Creek around 121st or 122nd Street towards Manhattanville

West 125th Street in the background (the buildings you see are fronting West 125th Street).

The small church on the left is St. Joseph of the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church and still stands at Morningside and West 125th Street.

The handful of buildings on the right are where 43 years later the Apollo Theater would be built.

Harlem Creek originated at a spring on West 120th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. From there, it flowed downhill, south and eastward, from Morningside Heights onto the Harlem plain.

At 117th Street, Harlem Creek (dark green on the image, above) turned sharply to the south, merging with Montayne’s Rivulet at 109th Street and then turning east, widening into a salt marsh that empties into the Harlem River (more or less at 107th Street).

On the map below, the dark, wiggly line in the bottom left corner is the Harlem Creek just before it was directed into the sewer system, paved over, and forgotten.

A Vintage Button

A vintage button seen on Ebay:

Community Board 11

Meeting Schedule: Week of April 11, 2022
Human Services Committee MeetingMonday • April 11th • 6:00pm
In order to attend this meeting, please register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Monthly COVID -19 virus updates/testing NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH)NYC Health +Hospitals (Metropolitan)Informational discussion re: the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget for FY23 Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala – NYC CouncilInformational update re: Exodus Transitional Community relocation from 2271 3rd Avenue to 2277 3rd Avenue
Youth & Education Committee MeetingTuesday • April 12th • 6:30pm
In order to attend this meeting, please register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Information presentation: East Harlem Task Force on Racial Inclusion & EquityTiffany McFadden, Human Services Consortium of East HarlemInformational presentation re: iMentoriMentor is an education non-profit and youth mentoring program working to empower first-generation college students to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions through one-on-one mentorships.Request for letter of support for request for federal earmark to support a learning and creative hubSofia Rosario, Centro (The Center for Puerto Rican Studies) at Hunter CollegeMunicipal Budget Process Timeline Update
Land Use, Landmarks & Planning Committee MeetingWednesday • April 13th • 6:00pm
In order to attend this meeting, please register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Update on planned 125th Street Bus Depot/Harlem Burial Ground Memorial project Fernando Ortiz, NYC EDC Report Card on impact of Mayor DeBlasio’s Housing New York plan in East HarlemGeorge Janes. CB11 Land Use ConsultantCommittee discussion on the 421a Property Tax Exemption
Economic Development & Culture Committee MeetingThursday • April 14th • 6:30pm
In order to attend this meeting, please register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Update re: Open Restaurants Program judgment George Janes, CB11 Land Use Consultant Update from Assembly Member Inez Dickens’ office re: bill to limit the number of social services in one areaJuneteenth Freedom Fest NYC Partnership RequestStreet Cleaning Funding Request, City Cleanup CorpsCarey King, Uptown Grand CentralCommittee discussion on Mayor’s Blueprint for New York City’s Economic RecoveryQuality of life concerns related to economic development
Executive Committee MeetingThursday • April 15th • 6:30pm
In order to attend this meeting, please register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Ratification of Street Co-Naming Request for “Hiram Maristany Way”. Southeast corner of 111th Street and Madison Avenue
Presentation of Street Co-Naming Request in honor of Carmen Maristany Ward. Southwest corner of 111th Street and Park Avenue
Committee discussion on changes made to NYS Open Meetings Law as part of the FY23 NYS Budget
Committee discussion on process to onboard new members
Committee discussion on board member attendance

Harlem YMCA

In the 1940s the Harlem YMCA on 135th Street was eager to produce a film that highlighted how the ‘Y’ offered job training, healthy recreation, and cultural development. With a tight budget, producing a sound film would have been costly, so the clever use of handwritten intertitles suggested a letter written home about the YMCA and the wealth of activities available.

The resulting film is very much a product of its time and can be readily categorized as an example of ‘uplift’ non-fiction. In the film, job training, for example, focuses on a narrow set of racially restricted professional roles.

For the longer outtakes version from the Harmon Foundation, see:

Harlem Renaissance Memorabilia

Bookplates for sale on Ebay from a major (white) figure in the Harlem Renaissance and the force behind the James Weldon Johnson Collection and preservation of Harlem Renaissance material at Yale Library.

The JWJ Collection, founded in 1941, is a key archive of African American history and culture. With more than 13,000 volumes and hundreds of linear feet of manuscript material, it is one of the most consulted collections in the Yale Library. Representative manuscripts suggest the richness of the collection: Richard Wright’s Native Son; Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; W.E.B. Du Bois’s Harvard thesis, “The Renaissance of Ethics” (which contains annotations by William James); James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man and God’s Trombones; and Langston Hughes’s The Weary Blues. Examples of the abundant correspondence include letters between Owen Dodson and Adam Clayton Powell; Joel Spingarn and W.E.B. Du Bois; and Georgia Douglas Johnson and William Stanley Braithewaite. The correspondence of James Weldon Johnson and Walter White documents the early history of the N.A.A.C.P. Also present are music manuscripts by W.C. Handy and Thomas “Fats” Waller, among others.

The collection was established by Carl Van Vechten to honor the remarkable life of his good friend, the author, professor, lawyer, diplomat, poet, songwriter, and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson. Van Vechten was approached by Bernhard Knollenberg, Yale’s head librarian, who told him, “We haven’t any Negro books at all.” These were, Van Vechten recalled, “precisely the right words to convince me that Yale was the place” to gift his personal archive and library, a relatively small but significant collection that reflected his abiding interest in and commitment to black people and black culture. Following Van Vechten’s gift, Johnson’s widow, Grace Nail Johnson, contributed her late husband’s papers, leading the way for gifts of papers from Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White and Poppy Cannon White, Dorothy Peterson, Harold Jackman, and Chester Himes. The collection also contains the papers of Richard Wright and Jean Toomer, as well as groups of manuscripts or correspondence of such writers as Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Wallace Thurman.

Harlem Women Strong

Tomorrow on Tuesday, February 15th at 7 pm, bring your concerns, and questions to Harlem Women Strong’s  OFFICE HOURS.  

Join Harlem Women Strong and friends from the Literacy Academy CollectiveDyslexia Alliance for Black Children, Decoding Dyslexia NYC, and a VNSNY Mobile Crisis Team Social Worker for an opportunity to get 1-on-1 referrals.  

Does your child have, or do you know someone raising kids with school anxiety, or are grade levels behind? We believe this is a systemic problem that the NYC Mayor and Chancellor of Education are looking to address. In the meantime, we would like to offer any family, in or out of Harlem, the opportunity to speak to experts about their concerns about their child’s challenges in school to gain access to possible resources and information. 

Please be sure to share this important event with those in need of support and information. Please register here.


Harlem Women Strong —
Debbie Meyer
Dyslexia Plus in Public Schools Task Force
Guest Blogger:

It’s 2021: Who Has the Money?

November 2021 will be a pivotal election year for the city. City Council candidates are busily fundraising to get their names out in races currently held by Bill Perkins and Diana Ayala.

Diana Ayala is the only candidate in her district to get matching funds. She’s received over $82,000 of these matching funds.

In Bill Perkins’ district (District 9) no one has qualified for matching funds.

The Campaign Finance Board has an $8-to-1 match from public funds for the first $175 for each for City Council and Borough President candidates.

The CFB issued a total of $17.3 million in its first payment of matching money for all candidates running for city office next year. One comptroller, two borough presidents and 56 City Council candidates also qualified for funds.

More than 96% of candidates running for office next year have opted into the matching funds program which gives a boost to candidates who may not have access to the funds needed to run for office on their own. It encourages them to seek small-dollar support from voters. But by taking public funds, participants are also agreeing to specific fundraising and expenditure rules.

On the map below, you can see the number of candidates per City Council district (darker blue means more competitors)

While fundraising is only one measure of a campaign’s effectiveness, candidates in 2021 are under added pressure to build and maintain momentum quickly with an accelerated primary calendar that moves the municipal contests to June from September, with as many open seats as the city’s seen in a generation, not to mention the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matching funds for the fundraising period, from July 11th, 2020 – January 11th, 2021, will be paid out in February.

With nearly two-thirds of the seats for City Council open with no incumbent seeking re-election, CFB payments highlighted the neighborhoods where those races are likely to be most competitive. City Council candidates needed to raise $5,000 in eligible contributions including from 75 contributors in their district in order to qualify for public matching funds.

Dead Line Block

100 years ago, the New York Times used blatantly racist language to describe a Harlem real estate transaction, conducted by a church.

Terms like “dead line block” for an imagined racial (real estate) barrier and “invaded”, are sprinkled in the copy as signifiers of white racial anxiety.

The blocks mentioned in the article deteriorated over the next half century as Harlem was redlined and denied mortgages or loans that could have been used to better maintain the housing stock, while racist housing policies forced Black New Yorkers into overcrowded blocks like this. Eventually, Robert Moses intervened and the properties mentioned in the New York Times article were razed and replaced with the Lenox Terrace development.

The image below shows the blocks mentioned in the New York Times Article, and the ones that would be knocked down to build Lenox Terrace. Note the YMCA tower to the left at the center/top, and the CCNY buildings further back to the right of the YMCA:

The “Harlem site” included tenement houses described as “gloomy” with “overcrowded buildings so poorly lighted they are unsafe after dark”. 1,683 families lived in 164 buildings, of which 89% were categorized as “run-down” according to a survey of residents. Many of the buildings were found to have “inadequate courts and air shafts”. View select pages of the plan.

The proposal for the site included razing the three blocks and incorporating the “uneconomic street areas” into the superblock that exists today. Seven 20-story towers containing 1,113 units were to be built in a park with “landscaped sitting areas and playgrounds reserved solely for the tenants and their small children”. Parking would be provided and stores –until then located in converted basements and first floors in residential tenement buildings– would be replaced with dedicated commercial spaces along Lenox Avenue, separate from the residential areas.

Reducing overcrowding was central to slum clearance. The population at the Harlem site had increased by 22.5% between 1940 and 1950, reaching 803 persons per net acre of residential use according to the plan. The new development would reduce density to 440 persons per net acre of residential use, requiring the relocation of hundreds of residents. 1,010 families (60% of those living on the site) would be eligible to relocate to some of the 50,000+ units of public housing that were planned at the time; it was hoped that the rest would “prefer to relocate themselves”, although the City would offer relocation services to help those unable to find an apartment on their own.

Today the Lenox Terrace development appears largely as Robert Moses envisioned it over 60 years ago: tall residential towers stand in the middle of a superblock while separate commercial spaces front the avenues. Parking lots and driveways, however, occupy most of what Moses envisioned as playgrounds and landscaped areas.

For the full, New York Times article, see: