Posts Tagged ‘Finnish Workers Educational Alliance’

When Harlem was Manhattan’s “Finntown”

October 17, 2011

Harlem has been overwhelmingly African-American for much of the last century. That didn’t stop other ethnic groups from carving out neighborhoods there—such as Little Italy on First Avenue and El Barrio east of Lexington Avenue.

But Finnish immigrants in Harlem? In the 1920s to 1940s, up to 9,000 Finnish residents called it home.

“In Manhattan the Finns concentrated between 120th and 130 Streets near Madison Avenue,” states a website on Finnish migration, which feature a fascinating map pointing out where Harlem’s Finnish social halls and businesses were once located. “The Finns in Harlem were mainly house maids, carpenters, and other construction workers as well as some tailors.”

This Finntown faded away in part because many Finns relocated to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park—home to an estimated 40,000 residents of Finnish or Norwegian descent in the 1940s and 1950s.

So what’s left of Harlem’s Finntown? Very little. Of all its once-mighty Socialist clubs, labor organizations, and cooperative restaurants, at least one remnant still stands: the headquarters for the Finnish Workers Educational Alliance (above) at Fifth Avenue and 127th Street.

It’s been turned into luxury apartments.