Spanish Harlem, Manhattan, New York City
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Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio, is a neighborhood in the East Harlem area of New York City, in the north-eastern part of the borough of Manhattan. Spanish Harlem is one of the largest predominantly Latino communities in New York City. It was formerly known as Italian Harlem, and still harbors a small Italian American population. However, since the 1950s it has been dominated by residents of Puerto Rican descent, sometimes called Nuyoricans. Spanish Harlem extends from East 96th Street to East 125th Street and is bound by the Upper East Side, East River and the Metro-North Railroad tracks along Park Avenue. The general area of East Harlem stretches from the East River to Fifth Avenue and from 96th Street to 141st Street. Both Spanish Harlem and East Harlem fall within Manhattan Community Board 11. The primary business hub of Spanish Harlem has historically been 116th Street from 5th Avenue headed east to its termination at the FDR Drive.
The construction of the elevated transit to Harlem in the 1880s urbanized the area, precipitating the construction of apartment buildings and brownstones. Harlem was first populated by German immigrants, but soon after Irish, Italian and Russian Jewish immigrants began settling Harlem. In East Harlem, Southern Italians and Sicilians soon predominated and 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 Latinos moved in another wave of immigration after the Second World War.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, Italian Harlem was represented by future Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia 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, 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. Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained and frequent targets for arson. The area still has some of the worst problems with poverty, drug abuse and public health in New York City. However, like the rest of New York, it has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades.
With the growth of the Latino population, the neighborhood is expanding. It is also home to one of the few major televisions studios north of midtown, Metropolis (106th St. and Park Ave.), where shows like BET's 106 & Park and The Chappelle Show have been produced. The major medical care provider to both East Harlem and the Upper East Side is the Mount Sinai Hospital, which has long provided tertiary care to the residents of Harlem. Many of the graduates of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine make careers out of East Harlem public health initiatives including the battle against asthma, diabetes, unsafe drinking water, lead paint and infectious disease.
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.
Influential social establishments like CAMARADAS el barrio and La Fonda Boricua have become social and cultural beacons supporting the growing community and cultural preservation efforts in Spanish Harlem. El Museo del Barrio, a museum of Latin American and Caribbean art and culture is located on nearby Museum Mile and endeavors to serve some of the cultural needs of the neighboring community. There is a diverse collection of religious institutions within the confines of East Harlem: from mosques, a Greek Orthodox monastery, several Roman Catholic churches, including Holy Rosary Parish-East Harlem, and a traditional Russian Orthodox church.
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. Italians live and prosper 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 rents, relative to the adjacent neighborhoods of Yorkville and the Upper East Side.
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