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East Harlem, The History
Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio and East Harlem in the Harlem area of Manhattan, New York City. Spanish Harlem is one of the largest predominantly Latino communities in New York City. It includes the area formerly known as Italian Harlem, and still harbors a small Italian population along Pleasant Avenue. However, since the 1950s it has been dominated by residents of Puerto Rican descent. The neighborhood boundaries are Harlem River to the north, the East River to the east, East 96th Street to the south, and 5th Avenue to the west. Most of these Latino's do not own Harlem real estate but instead live in Harlem apartments.
The primary business hub of Spanish Harlem is East 116th Street (5th Avenue east to FDR Drive). Spanish Harlem has a population of 117,743 (2000 US census). Over 25% of the population resides in Harlem apartments managed by the NYCHA. East Harlem has one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in all of New York City. The majority of Harlem real estate in Spanish Harlem is renter occupied.
The construction of the elevated transit to Harlem in the 1880s urbanized the area and increased the value of Harlem real estate, precipitating the construction of Harlem buildings and Harlem brownstones. Harlem was first populated by German immigrants, but soon after Irish, Italian, Lebanese and Russian Jewish immigrants began settling in Harlem. In East Harlem, Southern Italians and Sicilians moved in and purchased Harlem real estate the neighborhood became known as Italian Harlem, the Italian American hub of Manhattan. Puerto Rican immigration after the First World War established an enclave at the western portion of Italian Harlem (around 110th Street and Lexington Avenue), which became known as Spanish Harlem. The area slowly grew to encompass all of Italian Harlem as Italians moved out and sold their Harlem real estate to Latinos who moved in after another wave of immigration after the Second World War.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, Italian Harlem was represented by future Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in Congress, and later by Italian-American socialist Vito Marcantonio. Italian Harlem lasted in some parts into the 1970s in the area around Pleasant Avenue. It still celebrates the first Italian feast in New York City, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Some remnants of Italian Harlem, such as Rao's restaurant, started in 1896, and the original Patsy's Pizzeria which opened in the 1930s, still remain.
Spanish Harlem was one of the hardest hit areas in the 1960s and 1970s as New York City struggled with deficits, race riots, urban flight, drug abuse, crime and poverty. Harlem Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained and frequent targets for arson.
Many famous artists have lived and worked in Spanish Harlem, including the renowned timbalero Tito Puente (110th Street was renamed "Tito Puente Way"), Jazz legend Ray Barretto and one of Puerto Rico's most famous poets, Julia de Burgos among others. Piri Thomas wrote a best-selling autobiography titled, "Down These Mean Streets" in 1967.
Despite the moniker of "Spanish Harlem" or "El Barrio," the region is now home to a new influx of immigrants from around the world. Yemeni merchants, for example, work in bodegas alongside immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Other racial groups have been buying Harlem real estate, building and opening businesses. Italians live next to the influx of Central and South American immigrant populations. Other businessmen and local neighbors can be Korean, Chinese or Haitian in origin. The rising price of living in Manhattan has also caused increasing numbers of young urban professionals, mainly Caucasians, to move in and take advantage of the inexpensive housing, relative to the adjacent neighborhoods of Yorkville and the Upper East Side.
Social problems associated with poverty from crime to drug addiction and lack of quality housing have also affected the area for some time. Violent crime remains an obstacle to community security and increasing Harlem apartments, but crime rates have dropped significantly-around 68% over the past 15 years.
The neighborhood suffers from a high poverty rate, with many persons in Spanish Harlem living below the poverty level. But since the neighborhood has such a great population density, the neighborhood as a whole possesses strong purchasing power. With a decrease in affordable Harlem apartments, homelessness has become a worsening problem. Many families double or triple up in a single apartment, relocate to other neighborhoods, or leave the city completely.
After a wave of arson ravaged the low income communities of New York City throughout the 1970's and "planned shrinkage" policies, housing in Spanish Harlem was left seriously damaged or destroyed. By the late 1970's, the city began to rehabilitate many abandoned tenement style Harlem apartments and designate them low income housing.
Spanish Harlem is dominated by Harlem apartments that are public housing complexes of various types. There is a high concentration of older tenement buildings between these developments. Newly constructed buildings have been constructed on vacant lots in the area. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low income public housing projects in the United States. The total land area is 2.2 square miles.
In recent years, Harlem real estate values in Spanish Harlem have climbed along with the rest of the Manhattan and the metro area. Many people priced out of more affluent sections of the city have begun to look at Spanish Harlem for Harlem apartments as an up and coming area due to the neighborhood's proximity to Manhattan's core and subway accessibility. With increased Harlem real estate, including luxury Harlem condos and co-ops, there has been a severe decline of affordable housing in the community. White non-Hispanic young professionals have settled in the newly constructed buildings.
There are some residents who feel the area should be labeled "SpaHa" because of similarities with SoHo and TriBeCa that are emerging in Spanish Harlem. Thus increase the value of Harlem apartments. The formal gardens in Central Park, located on 110th and Fifth Avenue, are a hidden gem within the park, as well as the less crowded uptown Ice-Skating Rink.
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