Spanish harlem

"Spanish Harlem" redirects here. For the song, see Spanish Harlem (song).
East Harlem
Neighborhoods of New York City
Country United States
State New York
County New York
Population (2000)
 • Total 117,743
 • White 7.3%
 • African 35.7%
 • Hispanic 52.1%
 • Asian 2.7%
 • Median income $21,480
ZIP code 10029, 10035
Area code(s) 212, 917, 646

East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem and El Barrio, is the eastern section of Harlem located in the northeastern extremity of the borough of Manhattan in New York City, USA.[1] East Harlem is one of the largest predominantly Latino communities in New York City, mostly made up of Puerto Ricans, as well as a rising number of Dominican, Salvadoran and Mexican immigrants.[2] It includes the area formerly known as Italian Harlem, in which the remnants of a once predominantly Italian community remain. The Chinese population has increased dramatically in East Harlem since 2000.[3][4][5]

East Harlem has the highest violent crime rate in Manhattan.[6] The area is patrolled by both the 23rd Precinct and the 25th Precinct of New York City.[7] The neighborhood suffers from many social issues, such as the highest jobless rate in New York City, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, drug abuse, homelessness, and an asthma rate 5 times the national average.[8] It has the second highest concentration of public housing in the United States, closely following Brownsville, Brooklyn.[9]

The neighborhood, all of which lies within Manhattan Community District 11, is bounded by East 96th Street to the south, Fifth Avenue to the west, the East River to the east, and East 142nd Street along the Harlem River to the north.[8]

El Barrio is notable for its contributions to Salsa music. East Harlem is also the founding location of the Genovese crime family, one of the Five Families that dominate Italian-American organized crime in New York City as part of the Mafia (or Cosa Nostra).[10]


Manhattan Community District 11, which covers East Harlem in its entirety, is a mostly low and moderate income area. It is made up of first and second generation Puerto Ricans, African-Americans and a growing population of Mexicans, West Indians, Dominicans, Asians, Salvadorans and other Central American immigrants.

It has one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in all of New York City. In the 2000 Census, 52.1% District describe themselves as of Hispanic origin, 35.7 as non-Hispanic black, 7.3 as non-Hispanic white, 2.7 Asian and Pacific Islander Nonhispanic, 1.7% as Two or more Races non-Hispanic, and 0.5% as other. By New York City averages, the youth makes up a larger than normal percentage of the East Harlem population with 30.6% of residents age 18 or younger.[8]

93.6% of all housing units are renter occupied, and over 25% of the population resides in public housing units managed by the NYCHA. 46.5 percent of the population receive a form of income support by the government.[8]

According to a 2010 study, the number of Asians in East Harlem nearly tripled between 2000 and 2010, largely due to Chinese people moving to East Harlem. Increasing rents in Lower Manhattan's Chinatown (紐約華埠) have driven many into public and subsidized housing developments in the neighborhood. Advocates have been calling for Chinese language services to be available in the community centers to accommodate the growing number of Chinese residents in the area. In 2000, the Chinese population in the northern portion was less than one percent, but by 2010, it has gone up to being three percent in the area. In the southern part, it rose from 4.6% to 8.4%.[11][12][13]

As of 2010, the Puerto Rican population was 27.7% in zip code 10029,[14] and 23.4% in 10035. 10035 also has a large Mexican population, at 10.7%.[15]


The construction of the elevated transit line 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 Eastern European 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. In 1895, Union Settlement Association, one of the oldest settlement houses in New York City, began providing services in the neighborhood, offering the immigrant and low-income residents a range of community-based programs, including boys and girls clubs, a sewing school and adult education classes.

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 during 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. In certain areas, particularly around Pleasant Avenue, Italian Harlem lasted through the 1970s. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the first Italian feast in New York City, is still celebrated every year in East Harlem. Italian establishments still exist, such as Rao's restaurant, started in 1896, and the original Patsy's Pizzeria which opened in the 1933.

East Harlem was one of the hardest hit areas in the 1960s and 1970s as New York City struggled with deficits, race riots, urban flight, gang warfare, 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. In the 21st century the Latin Kings are prevalent in East 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., a web site on the history and culture of Puerto Ricans, founded a media gallery and digital film studio called MediaNoche in 2003. MediaNoche ( presents technology-based art on Park Avenue and 102nd Street, providing exhibition space and residencies for artists and filmmakers, and webcasting events, and collect orals histories and conducts screenings.

Major medical care providers in the East Harlem area include Metropolitan Hospital Center, North General Hospital (Closed) 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 do local public health work, including work on asthma, diabetes, unsafe drinking water, lead paint and infectious diseases.

In popular culture


  • Louie Ramirez's song "Lucy's Spanish Harlem" from his album In the Heart of Spanish Harlem
  • Ben E. King's song, "Spanish Harlem" (1961)
  • Bob Dylan's song "Spanish Harlem Incident" from his album Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
  • Phil Ochs' song "Lou Marsh" from his album All the News That's Fit to Sing (1964)
  • The Mamas & the Papas cover of the Ben E. King song, "Spanish Harlem" (1966)
  • "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" is a 1972 song from the Elton John album Honky Château
  • Frankie Cutlass's "Puerto Rico" music video was shot in Spanish Harlem (1994)
  • Paul Simon's song "Adios Hermanos" from his album Songs from the Capeman (1997)
  • Carlos Santana's songs "Maria Maria" and "Smooth" from his album Supernatural (1999)
  • Jay-Z's "Death of Autotune" music video was shot inside Rao's Italian restaurant (2009)
  • ASAP Rocky's "Peso" music video features footage of East Harlem (2011)
  • Beirut's song, "East Harlem" (2011)


  • Patricia Cayo Sexton's book Spanish Harlem: Anatomy of Poverty (1965)
  • Piri Thomas's memoir Down These Mean Streets (1967)
  • Salvatore Mondello's novel A Sicilian in East Harlem (2005)
  • Nora Roberts's novel Salvation in Death (2008)
  • Ernesto Quiñonez's novels, "Bodega Dreams", "Chango's Fire" (Vintage 2000), (HarperCollins, 2005)
  • Isabel Lopez's memoir, "Isabel's Hand-Me-Down Dreams" (2011)


Notable people


The education system in East Harlem is defined by low test scores and high drop-out and truancy rates.[16] Students must pass through metal detectors and swipe ID cards to enter the buildings.[17] Nevertheless, since 1982 the community has been home to the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.[18] It replaced Benjamin Franklin High School, which had the smallest graduating class in the city at the time of its closing.[19]

Among the public charter schools in East Harlem are Success Academy Harlem 2 (of Success Academy Charter Schools), the Harlem Village Academy, East Harlem Scholars Academies, and the DREAM Charter School.

Social issues

Social problems from poverty, crime to drug addiction have plagued the area for some time. Although crime rates have dropped from the historically epic numbers of the past, East Harlem suffers from Manhattan's highest violent crime rate with 15 murders in 2011.[20][21]

East Harlem has the highest concentration of shelters and facilities in Manhattan, with 8 homeless shelters, 36 drug and alcohol treatment facilities and 37 mental health treatment facilities. It also has the highest jobless rate in the entire city, as well as the city's second highest cumulative AIDS rate. The Asthma rate is also 5 times larger than national levels.[8] The neighborhood also suffers from a high poverty rate.[22] Union Settlement Association is one of the neighborhood's largest social service agencies, reaching more than 13,000 people annually at 17 locations throughout East Harlem, through a range of programs, including early childhood education, youth development, senior services, job training, the arts, adult education, nutrition, counseling, a farmers' market, community development, and neighborhood cultural events.

Fresh food

A lack of access to healthy food causes serious hardships to citizens of East Harlem, a neighborhood considered to be a food desert. According to an April 2008 report prepared by the New York City Department of City Planning, East Harlem is an area of the city with the highest levels of diet-related diseases due to limited opportunities for citizens to purchase fresh foods.[23]

With a high population density and a lack of nearby supermarkets, the neighborhood has little access to fresh fruit and vegetables and a low consumption of fresh foods. Citizens of East Harlem are likely to buy food from grocery stores that have a limited supply of fruits and vegetables, which are often of poor quality and generally more expensive than the same products sold at supermarkets. Compared to the Upper East Side, supermarkets in Harlem are 30% less common.[24] Without access to affordable produce and meats, East Harlem residents have difficulty eating a healthy diet, which contributes to high rates of obesity and diabetes.[25]

Recently, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer announced a program which would send Veggie Vans to East Harlem senior centers and housing projects.[26]

Housing and recreational facilities

After a wave of arson ravaged the low income communities of New York City throughout the 1970s and "planned shrinkage" policies, many of the residential structures in East Harlem were left seriously damaged or destroyed. By the late 1970s, the city began to rehabilitate many abandoned tenement style buildings and designate them low income housing.

Despite recent gentrification of the neighborhood, large numbers of apartment buildings have been deliberately kept vacant by their owners. Although the businesses on the ground floor are retained, landlords do not want to have the trouble involved in residential tenants. In some cases, landlords are waiting for a revived economy, warehousing the apartments so that they can hopefully rent them at a higher rent in the future.[27]

In 2007, a survey of Manhattan’s buildings that found 1,723 were significantly vacant, three-fourths of them north of 96th Street. A 1998 survey found that one-quarter of low-rise residential buildings on avenues or major cross streets in East Harlem had sealed-up residential floors, despite having commercial businesses on the ground floor.[27]


Until 2006, property values in East Harlem climbed along with those in the rest of New York City. With increased market rate housing, including luxury condos and co-ops (most built on formerly vacant lots), there has been some decline of affordable housing in the community. A number of young professionals have settled into these recently constructed buildings. However, East Harlem has yet to see any major changes to its demographic and general feel.[16]

Land use and housing

East Harlem is dominated by public housing complexes of various types. There is a high concentration of older tenement buildings between these developments. Newly constructed apartment buildings have been constructed on vacant lots in the area. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low income public housing projects in the United States. The total land area is 1.54 square miles (4.0 km2).[28][29]

Low income public housing projects

There are twenty-four NYCHA developments located in East Harlem.[30]

  1. 335 East 111th Street; one, 6-story building.
  2. East 120th Street Rehab; one, 6-story rehabilitated tenement building.
  3. East River Houses; ten buildings, 6, 10 and 11-stories tall.
  4. Edward Corsi Houses; one, 16-story building.
  5. Gaylord White Houses; one, 20-story building.
  6. George Washington Carver Houses; 13 buildings, 6 and 15-stories tall.
  7. Governor Dewitt Clinton Houses; six buildings, 9 and 18-stories tall.
  8. Jackie Robinson Houses; one, 8-story building.
  9. James Weldon Johnson Houses; ten, 14-story buildings.
  10. Lehman Village; four, 20-story buildings.
  11. Lexington Houses; four, 14-story buildings.
  12. Metro North Plaza; three buildings, 7, 8, and 11-stories tall.
  13. Metro North Rehab; seventeen, 6-story rehabilitated tenement buildings.
  14. Milbank-Frawley; two rehabilitated tenement buildings 5 and 6-stories tall.
  15. Morris Park Senior Citizens Home; one, 9-story rehabilitated building.
  16. Park Avenue-East 122nd, 123rd Streets; two, 6-story buildings.
  17. President Abraham Lincoln; fourteen buildings, 6 and 14-stories tall.
  18. President George Washington Houses; fourteen buildings, 12 and 14-stories tall.
  19. President Thomas Jefferson Houses; eighteen buildings, 7, 13 and 14-stories tall.
  20. President Woodrow Wilson Houses; three, 20-story buildings.
  21. Senator Robert A. Taft; nine, 19-story buildings.
  22. Robert F. Wagner Houses; twenty-two buildings, 7 and 16-stories tall.
  23. U.P.A.C.A. (Upper Park Avenue Community Association) Site 6; one, 12-story building.
  24. U.P.A.C.A. (Upper Park Avenue Community Association) U.R.A. Site 5; one, 11-story building.

Other subsidized housing

  1. Taino Towers – East 122nd Street and Third Avenue. Four 35-story towers, 656 apartments. Opened 1979.[31]

Italian Harlem

Italian Harlem was the name that was given to East Harlem in the New York City borough of Manhattan, when it was largely inhabited by an Italian American population. It was also the first part of Manhattan to be called "Little Italy".[32] Today most of the former Italian population is gone, and the neighborhood has become known as Spanish Harlem because of its large Hispanic population.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a huge wave of immigrants came from Southern Italy and moved to East Harlem. Most were concentrated in the area east of Lexington Avenue between 96th and 116th Streets and east of Madison Avenue between 116th and 125th Streets. Italian Harlem approached its peak in the 1930s, with over 100,000 Italian-Americans living in its crowded, run-down apartment buildings.[33] Each street had Italians from different regions of Italy, consisting mainly of Sicilians, a broad mixture of other Southern Italians, and a moderate number of Northern Italians. There were many crime syndicates in Italian Harlem from the early Black Hand to the bigger and more organized Italian gangs that formed the Italian-American Mafia. Italian American actor Al Pacino was born in Italian Harlem, moving to the Bronx at the age of two.[34]

Among its most famous residents were Fiorello La Guardia, mayor of New York from 1934 to 1946. In the 1950s and 1960s, large sections of Italian Harlem were leveled for urban renewal projects. The neighborhood retained a large Italian presence through the 1970s. [27]


Some Italian vestiges remain in the neighborhood, including a barber shop, a bakery, Patsy's Pizzeria and Rao's restaurant. Most of the Italian American population have long since left and moved to the Bronx, Brooklyn, upstate New York and New Jersey, however, a few have remained. Most of these predominantly older residents are clustered around Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, mainly from 114th to 118th Streets. According to the 2000 Census, there were only 1,130 Italian-Americans still living in this area.[35]

In May 2011, one of the last remaining Italian retail businesses in the neighborhood, a barbershop owned by Claudio Caponigro on 116th Street, was threatened with closure by a rent increase.[27]

See also


Further reading

  • Araujo, Richard, (5/3/03), , El Nuevo Dia
  • Bell, Christopher East Harlem Remembered McFarland Publishing. 2013
  • Bell, Christopher Images of America: East Harlem . Arcadia Publishing. 2003
  • Bell, Christopher Images of America: East Harlem Revisited. Arcadia Publishing. 2010
  • Bourgois, Philippe. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1995 (2002)
  • Cayo-Sexton, Patricia. 1965. Spanish Harlem: An Anatomy of Poverty. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Davila, Arlene. Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos and the Neoliberal City. University of California Press. 2004
  • Jennings, James, and Monte Rivera (eds.) (1984). Puerto Rican Politics in Urban America (Westport: Greenwood Press).
  • Mencher, Joan. 1989. Growing Up in Eastville, a Barrio of New York. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Moreno Vega, Marta (2004). When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio (New York: Three Rivers Press).
  • Navarro, Mireya, (2003-5-6). , The New York Times
  • Padilla, Elena. 1992. Up From Puerto Rico. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Quiñonez, Ernesto. Bodega Dreams. Random House (Vintage). 2000
  • Salas, Leonardo. "From San Juan to New York: The History of the Puerto Rican". America: History and Life. 31 (1990).
  • Thomas, Piri. Down These Mean Streets. Random House (Vintage). 1967
  • Wakefield, Dan. Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem (1959)
  • Zentella, Ana Celia (1997). Growing Up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York (Blackwell Publishers).

External links

  • Association of Hispanic Arts (AHA)
  • The Booker T. Washington Learning Center, East Harlem
  • Camaradas El Barrio
  • Community Board 11
  • East Harlem Against Deportation
  • East Harlem Business Capital Corporation
  • East Harlem Preservation
  • El Museo del Barrio
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine
  • Young Lords origins

Coordinates: 40°47′52.64″N 73°56′24.17″W / 40.7979556°N 73.9400472°W / 40.7979556; -73.9400472

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