Sugar Hill: once Harlem’s most glamorous enclave

Harlem has lots of lovely, little-known streets and micro-neighborhoods. One of the grandest is Sugar Hill, an area rich with beautiful row houses, handsome apartment buildings, and a towering view of upper Manhattan.

846Stnicholasavehouses

Bounded roughly by 145th Street to the upper 150s and Edgecombe and Amsterdam Avenues, it was developed in the early 20th century for well-to-do white New Yorkers.

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But after a real-estate recession, the neighborhood soon become home to a black elite, a place synonymous with money and the sweet life.

409Edgecombeave“By the late 1920s, an area that had once been part of Washington Heights was gradually becoming Sugar Hill,” according to the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.

“This new upscale neighborhood would eventually become home to black celebrities such as Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson, and A’Lelia Walker and would have an influence on the Harlem Renaissance because the writers, musicians, athletes, civic and political leaders, and others who came to live on Sugar Hill sponsored and participated in talks, soirees, and literary gatherings there.”

SugarhilledgecombeaveviewA century later, the architectural treasures of Sugar Hill remain, like the neo-
renaissance houses in the top photo, built from 1896 and 1898 on St. Nicholas Avenue.

At 409 Edgecombe Avenue is a 1917 apartment residence (above). It’s the former home of W.E.B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall. The view across Jackie Robinson Park is pretty incredible (right).

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8 Responses to “Sugar Hill: once Harlem’s most glamorous enclave”

  1. Ivan Says:

    Thanks for this nice write-up! My wife and I moved to Sugar Hill a few years ago, and we love it! There are still all-ages families wandering around, the streets are so wide and there are animals beyond pigeons and rats (I’ve seen hawks several times; my wife saw a raccoon on our fire escape!), I call it “Big Sky Country” (sorry, Montana). I think that, coupled with the beautiful architecture and scenic vistas, attention will increase on Sugar Hill because we were hardly impacted by Hurricane Sandy (beyond the wind and rain): we are on very high ground, and never lost power or internet. Come and enjoy the scenery before the nabe is even further “discovered.”

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I can’t vouch for the wildlife, but I agree with you about the wide, scenic vistas. And you’re so close to the enchanting gothic-style City College campus and former country home of Alexander Hamilton. Such a nice blend of urban with rural reminders….

  3. Joe R Says:

    Sugar Hill was mentioned in the lyrics written to jazz great (and Duke Ellington associate) Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train”. Story goes that Strayhorn, fresh off the train from Pittsburgh, was given directions to reach Ellington’s home up in Sugar Hill. The instructions gave him the idea for naming a tune he had just composed. Ellington, upon hearing the melody, hired Strayhorn and played the tune as his band’s theme ever since.

  4. Ellen Levitt Says:

    And of course, the Sugar Hill Gang.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! How could I have left them out of this post?

  6. ritchey77 Says:

    Reblogged this on All Things Christopher… and commented:
    I love my neighborhood!

  7. The most elite apartment building in Harlem | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the 1940s, the building, located on 160th Street at the edge of the posh Sugar Hill neighborhood, was exclusively […]

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