Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio and East Harlem, is a predominantly low income neighborhood in Harlem, a neighborhood of New York City, New York, United States, 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 includes the area 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. 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. The neighborhood is part of Manhattan Community Board 11. The primary business hub of Spanish Harlem has historically been East 116th Street from 5th Avenue headed east to its termination at the FDR Drive. The area is patrolled by both the 23rd Precinct located at 162 East 102nd Street and the 25th Precinct located at 120 East 119th Street.
Manhattan Community District 11, which covers Spanish Harlem and a part of the Upper East Side, has a population of 117,743 as of the 2000 US census. Over 25% of the population resides in units managed by the NYCHA. It also has one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in all of New York City. The vast majority of units in Spanish Harlem are renter occupied.
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, Lebanese and Russian Jewish immigrants began settling in 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 Hispanics. 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 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 1933, 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. In 1969 and 1970, a regional chapter of the Young Lords which were reorganized from a neighborhood street gang in Chicago by Jose(Cha-Cha)Jimenez,ran several programs including a Free Breakfast for Children and a Free Health Clinic to help Latino and poor families. The Young Lords coalesced with the Black Panthers and called for Puerto Rican self-determination and neighborhood empowerment. Today the Latin Kings are prevalent in Spanish Harlem.
With the growth of the Hispanic population, the neighborhood is expanding. It 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. Major medical care providers include Metropolitan Hospital Center, North General Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital, which serves residents of East Harlem and the Upper East Side. Many of the graduates of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have pursued careers in public health initiatives critical to East Harlem, including the battle against asthma, diabetes, unsafe drinking water, lead paint and infectious diseases.
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. Also the contemporary artist Soraida Martinez, the painter and creator of "Verdadism," was born in Spanish Harlem in 1956. Most recently, Assemblyman Nelson Antonio Denis wrote and directed Vote For Me!, a feature film about Spanish Harlem politics.
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, as well as its hosting the annual competition to award the Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship, a scholarship established in Palmieri's memory by Tito Puente for the benefit of intermediate and advanced young (12-25) pianists' study of Latin-style piano.
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. The Museum of the City of New York is immediately south, followed by the New York Academy of Medicine. The Conservatory Garden is just across Fifth Avenue from the museums. The Museum for African Art will join these to the north at Duke Ellington Circle. There is a diverse collection of religious institutions in East Harlem: from mosques, a Greek Orthodox monastery, several Roman Catholic churches, including Holy Rosary Parish-East Harlem, and a traditional Russian Orthodox church. A former church was transformed into the home of the National Museum of Catholic Art and History.
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 local convenience stores alongside immigrants from the Dominican Republic. 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 rents, relative to the adjacent neighborhoods of Yorkville and Carnegie Hill.
Despite attempts by some businesses and residents to use trendy and gentrification-safe marks such as “SpaHa,” or “Upper Yorkville,” a growing Mexican and Spanish population (in addition to Central and South Americans and Caribbeans) are ensuring the continued use of the “Spanish Harlem,” or “El Barrio” designation to this community. Many non-Hispanics new to the neighborhood also respect the traditional names.
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