Posts Tagged ‘Harlem neighborhoods’

Sugar Hill: once Harlem’s most glamorous enclave

January 28, 2013

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.


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.


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).

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.