Posts Tagged ‘Harlem Street’

A Harlem mother saves the city’s fragile babies

July 11, 2013

ClarahalephotoThe first baby came to her in 1969.

That’s when Clara Hale’s adult daughter, Lorraine, was driving down 146th Street and noticed a woman on the street nodding off with her infant slipping out of her arms.

Lorraine convinced the woman to temporarily give the baby to her mother, a 63-year-old Harlem widow who had raised her own three kids plus 40 foster children.

Word spread that “Mother” Hale was taking in babies. A stream of kids, born to addicts who could not care for them, were placed in her home, some sleeping in cribs in her bedroom.

Halehouse2013With city officials’ help, she bought a five-story brownstone on West 122nd Street (left)—and Hale House was born.

“Aided by donations, a growing staff and volunteers, Hale House took in nearly 1,000 infants, many still trembling from withdrawal pangs after becoming addicted to drugs in the womb,” stated The New York Times in her 1992 obituary.

One donor was John Lennon, according to a Daily News article; in 1979 he gave Hale a $20,000 check and sent food and gifts the Christmas before his murder.

By the 1980s, Mother Hale had gained national recognition. And as the crack epidemic took hold in Harlem, she cared for even more infants, saving them from languishing in city hospitals.

“We hold them and touch them,” she once said about her approach to handling such fragile souls. “They love you to tell them how great they are, how good they are. Somehow, even at a young age, they understand that. They’re happy, and they turn out well.”


Until her death at age 87, she was still nurturing children in need. After she died, Lorraine took over Hale House, continuing its mission before pleading guilty to stealing donations in 2002.

Under new leadership, Hale House still exists, helping children and families through a learning center and transitional housing program. A statue of Mother Hale out front reminds us of her calling.

A century before Mother Hale, New York’s foundlings were taken care of in a different setting.

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).

The bold street photography of Gordon Parks

September 24, 2012

Born in 1912, Gordon Parks excelled as a fashion photographer, composer, screenwriter, and director (he helmed the 1971 classic Shaft).

But it’s arguably his street portraits that really resonate—like the one above, “A Woman and Her Dog in Harlem New York 1943” and below, “Harlem Neighborhood, New York City” (1952).

Impressed by photos of migrant workers he saw when he was in his 20s, Parks bought a second-hand camera, taught himself to shoot, and soon set up a business doing portraits in Chicago.

He became one of the most prominent photographers of the 20th century, depicting workers and servicemen for government agencies, doing fashion spreads for Vogue, and chronicling race relations and the Civil Rights movement on staff at Life magazine.

Below: “Three Boys Who Live in the Harlem Area,” 1943

His ordinary images of the men, women, and children of Harlem and other city neighborhoods still pack an emotional punch. They freeze in time moments of triumph, uncertainty, and loneliness.

Above: Fulton Fish Market, 1943

Two current exhibits celebrate Parks: one at the International Center for Photography and the other at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The sad remains of a Harlem grammar school

June 7, 2012

Public School 186 was a gorgeous Italian Renaissance–style school on 145th Street off Broadway.

There it is, with wide windows and a courtyard, circa 1920 in the photo (courtesy of the NYPL Digital Collection) on the right, just 17 years after opening.

Here it is today, a ruin so dilapidated, trees grow out of the second floor windows and trash mars the courtyard where generations of kids used to play.

A weathered wrought-iron fence tops the original cement barrier between the school and the street.

P.S. 186 is in shocking condition—but how did it get this way?

The city closed the school in 1975; the building changed hands until it was bought (for $215,000!) by the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem in 1986.

The club did nothing with it, letting it fall into disrepair until finally signing on with a developer in 2009 to help turn it into a community center, low-cost housing, and possibly another school, according to a New York Times article from 2010.

Scaffolding on the outside hints that P.S. 186 may finally be getting its makeover.

Nathan Kensinger has incredible photos of the outside and interior of the ghostly, eerie school, taken in 2009.

A shout to Third Avenue on a Harlem facade

April 2, 2012

It’s a crucial north-south avenue that spans 120 blocks and many neighborhoods. But Third Avenue in Manhattan gets little love—except on the facade of this tenement off 104th Street.

The lettering was probably much easier to see from the Third Avenue El, which ran at least in part along the avenue from 1878 until 1955.

Curious about what it was like to ride the el? This 1950s video clip takes you along for all the noisy, rickety twists and turns. It’s great footage of a very different East Side.

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.

Where is Fourth Avenue and 128th Street?

October 3, 2011

This mysterious address, chiseled into the corner of a red-brick tenement, doesn’t sound like it’s in Manhattan.

But it is; today we know it as Park Avenue and 128th Street. So what’s with the Fourth Avenue moniker?

Fourth was the original 1811 street grid name for the avenue. In the 1860s, a section of Fourth between 32nd and 42nd Streets was renamed the more pleasant-sounding Park.

By 1888, the city demapped Fourth in favor of Park from 32nd to the Harlem River. In 1959, with Park Avenue’s cache in full swing, Fourth Avenue from 32nd to 17th Streets was renamed Park Avenue South.

Let’s hope that what remains of chopped-up Fourth Avenue, from Union Square to the Bowery, doesn’t also fall victim to the Park Avenue moniker makeover.

More out-of-date Fourth Avenue signage still exists on the street today—like these examples here.

The last of Harlem’s free-standing mansions

February 24, 2011

The Harlem enclave known as Sugar Hill was named for the wealthy African-Americans who moved into the fine row houses there during the 1920s.

But the area began attracting big money makers decades earlier, in the 1880s. All that’s left of these Gilded Age pioneers are a handful of gorgeous, free-standing mansions.

Like the James Bailey House on St. Nicholas Place at 150th Street (at right). Call it the house the circus built: it’s the castle-like residence of James Bailey, of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame.

Bailey had the 12,000-foot Romanesque Revival beauty (left, in a 1930s NYPL photo) built in 1888.

Harlem Hybrid has amazing photos of the interior here.

Recently sold (since 1951, it had been a funeral home, fittingly) and currently hidden by scaffolding, the granite house changed hands for a mere $1.4 million.

More obscure is the Nicholas and Agnes Benziger House around the corner on Edgecomb Avenue.

Constructed in 1890 by a rich publisher, it’s crowned by a clay tile roof and gabled dormers.

Who lives there now? According to this site, it serves as housing for homeless adults. But on a recent visit, no signs of life could be detected.

Both homes are landmarked, reminders of uptown Manhattan’s rich, elite past.