Central Harlem History
Central Harlem History

 - Central Harlem is the heart and soul of Harlem, where the past coexists with the present. Historic buildings and landmarks still stand, re-purposed into modern entertainment venues, educational institutions, restaurants, and galleries. Central Harlem is where you'll find the famous Apollo Theater and former President Bill Clinton's office, as well as blocks of turn-of-the-century townhomes along Astor's Row and Strivers' Row, and churches like the Church of the Intercession and Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Many great minds once lived here or currently call this neighborhood home, including James Van Der Zee, Father Divine, leader of Father Divine's International Peace Mission Movement, and Maya Angelou.  A Revolutionary War battle was even fought in Trinity Cemetery, which surrounds the Church of the Intercession.

Home to History

Central Harlem's main areas include the St. Nicholas Historical District (or Striver's Row), Astor's Row, and Mount Morris Park.

Strivers' Row/St. Nicholas Historical District

Officially named the St. Nicholas Historic District, the area between 7th and 8th Avenues on 138th and 139th Streets earned the name Strivers' Row because of its upwardly-mobile residents. The houses here were designed by some of America's best-known architects, including Stanford White, who designed the neo-Italian Renaissance houses on the north side of W. 139th Street.

Ironically, the homes were slated for middle class black families; however, only the wealthy could afford to live in this neighborhood. Doctors, lawyers and popular musicians like Eubie Blake and Fletcher Henderson lived in Strivers' Row. Today, renovated Georgian-style homes sell for $1.5-2 million. Strivers' Row is also widely known because one of the first African American architects, David H. King (who built Madison Square Garden and the base of the Statue of Liberty) built several row houses in the area. Before the term Strivers' Row was coined, the row houses were called "King Model Houses" after the developer. Other designers that contributed to Strivers' Row townhomes include James Brown, Bruce Price, and Clarence S. Luce.

Today, the area is a gateway to the past. Signs affixed to alleyway entrance gates still read "Walk Your Horses." What once were used to stable horses, now are used as parking spaces-an oddity in New York real estate.

Astor's Row

Is the name given to the 28 semi-attached row houses built on the south side of 130th Street between Fifth Avenue and Lenox in Harlem. The houses are set back from the street and all have front yards-which is not common for homes in Manhattan-and all have wooden porches. If you'd been parachuted in and had no idea where you were, you would probably guess Savannah, Georgia or other city in the South. The homes were built on land purchased for $10,000 in 1844 by John Jacob Astor. Astor's grandson, William Backhouse Astor, hired architect and builder Charles Buek to complete the project. The homes in Astor's Row were completed between 1880-1883.

Originally these townhomes were occupied by white New Yorkers but in 1920, most of the homes were sold to a real estate operator, who sold the homes to black buyers. Unfortunately, these historic houses were not maintained as from 1930 - 1990, as Harlem experienced economic hardship. As a result, the magnificent wooden porches decayed. In 1981, New York City declared the entire row historic landmarks and raised funds to restore the facades, plumbing, heating systems, and electrical lines, making the area one of New York's brightest gems, once again.

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