Harlem Geography and History
Harlem is a neighborhood in northern Manhattan, bounded by Harlem River to the north, Central Park to the South, Fifth Avenue to the East and Morningside and St. Nicholas Avenues to the West. Known across the world for its jazz clubs and gospel churches, Harlem was originally a Dutch settlement, although Scandinavian, German, Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants all had periods of strong immigration here. African-American immigrants began to arrive in 1905, as part of the “great migration” of six million of them from the South to the rest of the United States during the 20th century. Banned from buying or renting property elsewhere in the city, a large number of blacks settled in Harlem. By the 1920s, Harlem was largely a black community, considered a major center of African-American commerce and cultural life. The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing at this point, resulting in a creative outpouring of music, literature and art without precedent in Black America.
The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance lasted until the Great Depression, and since then Harlem has experienced alternating periods of boom and bust. The past couple decades have seen gentrification on a large scale. Signs of this include the new condos popping up, the restored brownstones and stylish restaurants and bars opening around the neighborhood. This is happening more slowly than in other parts of the city, and Harlem still suffers from many social problems including poverty, crime, and drugs – but don’t let this stop you, the neighborhood has so much to offer, you just have to know where you are going.
As for what it has to offer,specifically, Harlem is the site of several top-notch live music venues, including the Apollo Theater, Ginny’s Supper Club, Showman’s and The Shrine. There are also more than 400 churches in Harlem, some offering tourists the opportunity to attend services and enjoy the gospel music that has influenced so much of what we now listen to on the radio (or internet). Also Harlem has a number of soul food restaurants that draw in locals and tourists alike. Sylvia’s, for example, is a neighborhood institution that has expanded into its own line of grocery products.Charles’ Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is another respected soul food restaurant, though much more recent than some others – and another example of gentrification. For more about where to go and what to do in Harlem, check out our top 10 list!