Uptown Treasures: Sugar and Hill & Hamilton Heights
Living in Harlem's Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill: Magnificent architecture and fascinating history abound, along with street art, good food and easy access to midtown. From Columbus Circle - 59th Street, it's just two express stops on the A or D train to 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue which gets you the heart of the area.
409 Edgecombe Avenue, a 13-story cooperative located just south of 155th Street in Manhattan, is ideally situated for exploring the unique history and distinctive architecture of the Harlem’s Sugar Hill and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods. The building itself is historic having just celebrated its 100th anniversary and has been the home of numerous luminaries including Thurgood Marshall, etc.Across from the building is Jackie Robinson Park, part of a network of parks running along the spine of midtown Manhattan which includes St. Nicholas and Morningside Parks to the South and Highbridge Park to the North.
At West 160th Street you encounter the quaint Jumel Terrace Historic District famed for the mansion which pre-dates the American Revolution and served as General George Washington’s headquarters during the fall of 1776 before the Americans were eventually driven from the City by the British. The mansion hosted Washington’s first cabinet meeting so you can certainly follow in the footsteps of the founders here. Aaron Burr later owned the home after marrying the widow Eliza Jumel, and Lin Manuel Miranda spent a good deal of his writing the Hamilton musical sitting in Burr’s bedroom.Across from the Jumel Mansion is another noteworthy apartment house at 555 Edgecombe Avenue, also known as the “triple nickel”. This is where jazz greats once lived including Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, and Lena Horne. Every Sunday afternoon starting around 4:00pm at there’s a legendary jazz jam )Parlor Jazz), at apartment 3F, open to the public. 212-781-6595 phone.
Across from the mansion you can stroll in between the wood-frame houses on Sylvan Terrace to reach St. Nicholas Avenue. This quaint street of Belgian blocks was originally the carriage path leading up to the mansion. A few blocks down to 925 St. Nicholas Avenue will bring you in front of the building just below 157th Street where Duke Ellington called home. The famous song co-authored by Billy Strayhorn, “Take the A Train,” was inspired by the train ride home to Sugar Hill from midtown after the jazz gigs there. Further down St. Nicholas is the lovely Convent Garden, one of many community gardens in the area. This one was once a gas station and a sadly neglected vacant lot before local residents got organized to transform the space into an oasis of beauty.
At 150th lies one of NYC’s most spectacular free-standing mansions. Built in 1887 it was the home of James Bailey, the finance man for the Barnum & Bailey Circus. In recent years it served as a funeral home and is now once again a single-family residence. Along St. Nicholas is one of my favorite local restaurants, the Tsion Café, which features Ethiopian and Mediterranean food. It is owned and operated by Jewish Africans from Ethiopia who have settled in Manhattan via Israel. On West 152nd Street between St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Avenues, it is the renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem which was founded by Arthur Mitchell and in 1969 as a response to the tragedy of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Along Broadway from 157th Street down to the 130’s on storefront security gates and building facades you will find dozens of murals of colorful birds. What’s going on here? The Audubon Mural Project is a joint venture between the National Audubon Society and a local gallery Gitler & Co___ to have murals of all the species of birds whose existence is threatened by climate change. The artist John James Audubon lived in a house on the mid-1800’s that was situated at approximately 155th Street and Riverside Drive.
One of New York City’s cultural treasures can be visited on the West Side of Broadway just north of 155th Street. Currently under renovation, the Hispanic Society of America contains a spectacular array of painting, sculptures and artifacts from Spain and the Iberian Peninsula. Next door is the prestigious headquarters of the American Academy of Arts and Letters which has several annual exhibitions each Spring open to the general public.
Calling all food lovers! In between or after your strolling you have many options for eating out. On Broadway and 151st Street you’ll encounter Bono Trattoria; between 149th and 148th on Broadway there’s the quartet trio of Harlem Public, At the Wallace, The Honeywell and Hand Pulled Noodle. On the same blocked there’s the Chipped Cup, a cozy spot for coffee. For Latin-Japanese fusion there’s Mama Sushi between 147th and 146th. Not to be ignored is Amsterdam Avenue where you’ll find excellent and tasty Indian food at Mumbai Masala between 147th and 148th and Barepas (Venezuelan) at 149th Street. For brunch or a hearty meal check out Il Caffe Latte at 458 West 145th. Located in a townhouse be sure to venture upstairs for a homey retreat!
At 145th and Convent Avenue stands the Convcnt Avenue Baptist Church, which was the last place that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited in New York prior to his assassination. Venture south on Convent Avenue from 145th Street and you'll encounter grand townhouses in eclectic styles. At 144th Street you can stroll the delightful Hamilton Terrace which ends at 141st Street and "The Grange", the historic house owned by Alexander Hamilton, open to the public. If you have never visited the magnificent campus of the City College of New York, it is easily reached from Convent Avenue south of West 140th Street. Grab a bite at The Grange restaurant at 141st and Amsterdam which has both a rustic and hip vibe.