Posts Tagged ‘Old Harlem’

The most beautiful block of row houses in Harlem

September 10, 2018

With their wood porches, front yards, and Victorian touches, the 28 red brick houses on the south side of West 130th Street look like they belong in a Southern city like Savannah.

Instead, Astor Row, as this stretch is called, is located in uptown Manhattan between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. Though not all are in top shape, their singular loveliness arguably makes this block the most beautiful in Harlem.

Astor Row was built by an Astor, of course: William Backhouse Astor (below), who between 1880 and 1883 used land owned by his grandfather, John Jacob Astor, to build these speculative houses—among the first speculative residences in the sparsely populated village of Harlem.

“Numbers 8-22 were built in freestanding pairs, while the remaining twenty houses are linked at their rear sections,” states the Guide to New York City Landmarks.

Going for $1,100 a year, the homes were so popular, potential renters had to put their name on a waiting list. This was in an era when wealthy New Yorkers insisted on living in a single-family house, and apartment living had not caught on yet with the rich.

Astor Row was owned entirely by the Astor family (who owned huge amounts of land in the city, and many of the houses built on it) until 1911, when some parcels were sold off.

The new owners soon defaulted at about the time Harlem’s population went from white to black—and so did the tenants of Astor Row.

As the 20th century went on, the block remained one of Harlem’s elite enclaves, positioned between the new apartment houses to the north and west in Sugar Hill and the brownstone-lined streets near Marcus Garvey Park.

Over the decades, though, Astor Row slipped into disrepair. Through a combination of private and public funds, an effort (led in part by Brooke Astor) was made in the 1990s to restore them to their original beauty and rebuild many of the wood porches.

Today they’re a striking stretch of residences opposite some extraordinary row houses on the block’s northern side.

But imagine them in the 1880s when Harlem was untamed and unurbanized—and renters here could relax in their front gardens and on their porches and take in the open space!

Taking a drive on the Harlem River Speedway

July 23, 2012

Where is the quaint, summery, country-like scene depicted in this postcard, stamped 1908? Harlem, of course.

“Recognizing the long-standing popularity of horse racing among New Yorkers, the city built a ‘Harlem River Speedway’ along the west bank of the Harlem River in Manhattan,” writes NYCroads.com.

“The 95-foot-wide dirt roadway stretched two and one-half miles from West 155th Street north to West 208th Street. Presaging the automobile parkways of the 20th century, the speedway was flanked by trees and pedestrian walkways. When it was not being used as a racetrack, the Harlem River Speedway was used as an exercise track.”

Built in 1898, it was opened to automobiles in 1919 and paved a few years later. By the 1940s, it was closed off and incorporated into the Robert Moses-backed Harlem River Drive.

The lovely bridge in the background is the High Bridge. Closed for 40 years, it’s currently being restored and is set to reopen next year.