East Harlem – Harlem Travel Guide – iPhone, iPad, iPod

Sizzling hot Latino people, music, culture and cuisine

The East Harlem community stretches for 2.2 square miles from FDR Drive to Fifth Avenue between East 96th to East 142nd Streets. Also included in East Harlem are Randall’s and Ward’s Islands in the East River, opposite the stretch from 103rd to 125th Streets that is accessible by the RFK Bridge (Triborough Bridge) and a foot bridge at 103rd Street. Known as El Barrio (“the neighborhood”) or Spanish Harlem, this historically working-class area is home to one of the largest predominantly Latino communities in New York City. The area was formerly known as Italian Harlem and still harbors a small Italian American population along Pleasant Avenue. However, since the 1950s it has been dominated by residents of Puerto Rican descent, sometimes called Nuyoricans. Puerto Rican immigration after the First World War established an enclave at the western portion of Italian Harlem (around 110th Street and Lexington Avenue). The area slowly grew to encompass all of Italian Harlem as they moved out and Hispanics moved in during another wave of immigration after the Second World War. Many more African Americans also moved to East Harlem after World War II, and have remained. Other area residents are made up of a diverse tapestry of ethnic groups including Latinos from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Central and South America, Blacks and Africans from the Caribbean and West Africa, Turks from Eastern Europe, and Chinese.

As early as 1938 and then after World War II, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) razed buildings in neighborhoods, block by block, to make way for twenty-four high-rise public housing projects. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low-income public housing projects in the United States, approximately 1.5 square miles. Many residents felt that whatever the inadequacy of their housing, they could not stand by and watch the wholesale demolition of homes and neighborhoods. They were joined by others who, ineligible for public housing, were faced with the threat of homelessness. Together, they organized protests and blocked additional destruction of property. The last large-scale housing project in East Harlem was completed in 1965. Such activism gave rise to political groups like the Young Lords, which came to prominence in 1969 when they used confrontational tactics to bring services and attention to the residents of East Harlem. Some of the Young Lords alumni include journalists Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano, Geraldo Rivera, and Pablo Guzmán.

Historically, 116th Street (Luis Muñoz Marín Blvd., named for the first elected governor of Puerto Rico, who lived in East Harlem before returning to Puerto Rico in 1940 and ushered in Commonwealth status to the island) has been the primary business hub of Spanish Harlem. From Lexington to First Avenues the street is lined with businesses selling food, clothing, and other specialty and ethnically specific goods. East 116th Street terminates at FDR Drive, East River Plaza, a retail mall that opened in 2009 with large commercial tenants—Costco, Target, Best Buy, and Marshalls. Along Park Avenue between East 111th and 116th Streets is the famous La Marqueta, an enclosed market that once housed 500 mostly Puerto Rican merchants who presided over stalls in five buildings under the elevated Metro-North tracks selling fresh tropical produce, meats, fish, and dairy products. Once the spiritual heart of East Harlem, La Marqueta was a vibrant regional center for Spanish food and groceries during the 1950s and 1960s. But a long decline began in the 1970s, and today, despite repeated efforts at revitalization, the old atmosphere has all but disappeared. East Harlem’s commercial and business district has expanded to encompass Third Avenue between 112th and 124th Streets.

The cultural crossroads of East Harlem is located from 104th to 108th Streets between Fifth and Madison Avenues. In addition to El Museo del Barrio and the Museum of the City of New York, other organizations that strengthen East Harlem’s cultural identity include the artist collective Taller Boricua, the Afro-Dominican folklore group Palo Monte, Los Pleneros de la 21 (a performing ensemble which preserves the Afro-Puerto Rican traditions of the Bomba and Plena), and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (which presents and produces bilingual professional theater and offers artistic development through its Raúl Juliá Training Unit to emerging and established artists). The Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, home to the Raices Latin Music Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, serves as a focus for theatre, dance, and musical performance in the neighborhood; it also hosts the annual competition to award the Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship, which was established in Palmieri’s memory by Tito Puente for the benefit of intermediate and advanced young (aged twelve to twenty-five) pianists’ study of Latin-style piano.

Of the three Harlem areas, Spanish Harlem is recognized most in popular songs, including Ben E. King’s R&B song “Spanish Harlem,” The Mamas & the Papas’ song “Spanish Harlem,” Louie Ramirez’s Latin soul song “Lucy’s Spanish Harlem,” and Bob Dylan’s song “Spanish Harlem Incident.” It was also mentioned in Elton John’s song “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and Carlos Santana’s song “Maria Maria.” Spanish Harlem has given birth to everything from sixties-era boogaloo to mind-bending salsa and many grooves in between. It inspired the formation of Oscar Hernandez’s Grammy Award–winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra. The feature film Vote For Me! takes place in current-day Spanish Harlem, and was written and directed by former New York State Assemblyman Nelson Antonio Denis. The area is also the setting for the J. D. Robb book Salvation in Death, the twenty-seventh book in the popular “in Death” crime series.

East Harlem is also home to one of the few major television studios north of midtown, Metropolis (106th St. and Park Ave.), where shows like BET’s 106 & Park and Chappelle’s Show have been produced. Many famous artists have lived and worked in Spanish Harlem, including the renowned timbalero Tito Puente (110th Street was renamed “Tito Puente Way”), musicians Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Mario Bauza, Johnny Colon, Machito, and Father of Boogaloo Joe Cuba, among others. Actors who at one time called East Harlem home include Al Pacino, Rita Moreno, Burt Lancaster, and Esther Rolle. Miguel Algarin, co-founder of the Lower East Side Nuyorican Poets Café, also was raised in East Harlem. Probably the most famous author from East Harlem was Henry Roth, whose family moved uptown from the Lower East Side. Piri Thomas wrote a bestselling autobiography titled Down These Mean Streets in 1967. Also, the contemporary artist Soraida Martinez, the painter and creator of “Verdadism,” was born in Spanish Harlem. Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gerhig was raised in East Harlem.

Transportation: Bus—M1, M2, M3, M4, M15, M35, M96, M101, M102, M103, M106. Subway—4, 5, 6 and Metro North to 125th St.

Enjoy the show


  • More than 360 entries with over 2000 photographs
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What’s inside

  • Nightlife and entertainment from jazz, Latin salsa, opera to classical music;
  • Theatre, dance, spoken word and more;
  • Restaurants featuring soul food to French cuisine and everything in between;
  • Unique ethnic retail shops;
  • Museums that celebrate various cultures;
  • Fine art galleries;
  • Majestic churches and gospel music;
  • Amazing landmarks;
  • Parks and free recreational activities;
  • Guest accommodations;
  • Free internet access and Wi-fi locations;
  • Authentic tours of Harlem;
  • Annual events and festivals;
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   Literally a guide in my pocket

Posted by Max on 13th Jan 2012

I can only subscribe to what other people already have told about the guide. It’s just great that I can read a place description, actually give a call its manager, find it on a map and even hook up on its Twitter channel to keep my eye on it. Very smart!

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