Nestled beneath the Riverside Drive Viaduct, the once-forgotten neighborhood Manhattanville is getting revamped.
Also known as West Harlem, the area is gradually gaining popularity and making a name for itself as a center for dining, nightlife, and innovation. In recent years an influx of new establishments gave the area a fresh vibrancy -- from restaurants to theater groups, and a biotech incubator, Harlem Biospace, which opened in November 2013.
A major project, the West Harlem Piers Waterfront Park -- which stretches from 125th to 132nd streets and includes a kayak launch, sculptures and a fishing pier -- transformed the Manhattanville waterfront.
Since its beginnings, Manhattanville attracted residents of various ethnicities from Quakers to Jews, and from Germans to the Irish and Puerto Ricans. This diversity still exists today, though the area is predominantly African American.
Nearby schools like Columbia University and City University of New York’s City College (CCNY) also bring international students to the area. “Most people associate the neighborhood with Columbia University’s campus and its expansion which is now underway. But the area is also home to other institutions of higher learning,” said Herve Jean-Baptiste, a blogger at HarlemCondoLife.com, noting The Manhattan School of Music, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, part of CCNY. “I refer to this [area] as ‘Harlem’s Educational Hub.’”
According to the book, “Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem,” by Eric K. Washington, it was designated as a village in 1806 and was recognized as a “resort and suburb and as a prominent residential, manufacturing, and transportation hub.”
However the neighborhood soon became further obscured as mass transit took over and New York City expanded.
Manhattanville suffered as issues of drugs and homelessness took over in the 1980s.
But from the early 2000s onward, new projects like the revitalization of The Gatehouse Theater at 150 Convent Ave. along with the West Harlem Piers Park created an opening for an improved area.
Manhattanville still reflects its history. Many churches and monuments in the area have been standing for nearly a century or longer. Some of these include St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church at 521 W. 126th St., built in 1824, the Riverside Church at 490 Riverside Drive where Martin Luther King Jr. gave several sermons, and General Grant National Memorial, colloquially known as Grant’s Tomb at West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, which opened in 1897.
Some streets hold an industrial feel as auto shops, factories and warehouses dominate. But walk down 125th Street, 12th Avenue near Amsterdam or St. Nicholas avenues and you will find new restaurants blending in next to mom-and-pop pharmacies, hair salons and clothing boutiques.
As the neighborhood emerges into a hotspot, Jean-Baptiste said housing prices are rising.
“It is starting to see signs of higher real estate prices, in part due to the real estate explosion occurring south,” he said, referring to what the blog calls “the gateway to Harlem,” which begins at 110th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard and which runs to 125th Street.
One-bedrooms in Manhattanville are seeing a surge in price, some as high as $2,038 a month.
A studio apartment now sees prices like $1,395 per month.
“The reaction runs the spectrum,” Jean-Baptiste said of the increases. “Common themes we hear from readers/followers include keeping the neighborhood affordable and afro-centric while embracing the inevitable changes that are occurring.”
Manhattanville is tucked in among Morningside Heights, The Hudson River, Hamilton Heights and Central Harlem. It is a small sliver of a neighborhood extending from 122nd or 125th Street, depending on who you talk to, up to 135th Street. To its west is the Hudson River and to its east is St. Nicholas Park and Avenue.
1 train to 125th Street
B, C trains to 135th Street
A, C, B, D trains to 125th Street station
M3, M4, M5, M11, M60, M100, M101, M104, BX15 buses
The New York Public Library Harlem branch is a short walk from Manhattanville to East Harlem at 9 W. 124th St.
United States Post Office, 365 W. 125th St.
The 26th Precinct, at 520 W. 126th St. covers the Manhattanville/West Harlem neighborhood. According to the NYPD’s CompStat statistics, for the week of Dec. 23 through Dec. 29, 2013 grand larceny was up 75% compared to the same week in 2012, with eight complaints in 2012 and two in 2013. Historically burglaries and grand larceny auto crimes have dropped significantly from 1990 to 2012 with a 93% and 96% decrease, respectively. There were zero murders and rapes reported by the precinct in both 2012 and 2012.
Celebrities from West Harlem:
Hector Elizondo, actor (born)
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 700 W. 125th St.
This popular spot is known for its BBQ pork ribs and jumbo BBQ chicken wings with wango tango or jerk glaze sauce. 212-694-1777
Harlem’s Original Floridita Bar & Restaurant, 2276 12th Ave.
A long-time West Harlem haunt, this spot dishes out classic Cuban cuisine and drinks. 212-662-0090
Maison Harlem, 341 St. Nicholas Ave.
Jazz music and Afro beats adds a warm ambiance in addition to the French bistro dishes served up here. 212-222-9224
Covo Lounge, 703 12th Ave.
Situated next to the West Harlem Park, Covo is aimed at those looking for something laid back. 212-234-9573
Phuket Lounge, 701 W. 135th St.
This trendy spot has two floors flaunting elegant decor. 212-234-2288
Hudson River Café, 697 W. 133rd St.
This restaurant and bar offers a dimly lit, cozy ambiance that blends the indoors with the outdoors. 212-491-9111
Fairway Harlem, 2328 12th Ave.
In addition to your typical groceries, customers can grab prepared foods, baked goods, artisanal cheeses and olives at the olive bar in this supermarket. 212-234-3883
Surroundings Flowers, 1351 Amsterdam Ave.
This flower studio offers customized creations. 212-580-8982
Gemini II Specialty Boutique 354 St. Nicholas Ave.
Located on the border of West Harlem and Hamilton Heights, this boutique specializes in intimates from hosiery and corsets, slips, bodyshapers and bras for all sizes. 212-866-7980
The Harlem Repertory Theatre, the 133rd Street Arts Center, 308 W. 133rd St.
The current 2013-2014 season for this group includes “Finian's Rainbow,” “Flahooley,” and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” running through February. 917-697-3555
West Harlem Piers Park between 125th and 135th streets at the Hudson River
Go fishing, kayaking or jog and ride a bike at the West Harlem Piers Park. The $20 million space, an extension of Riverside Park, opened in 2009 and has two acres of green space on the Hudson River Waterfront. 212-496-2006
Harlem Stage at The Gatehouse Theater, 150 Convent Ave.
This 200-seat venue seeks to showcase the creations of performing artists of color from dance and music to theater, film and education. Upcoming shows include poetry open mics in partnership with Urban Word NYC. 212-281-9240
As Manhattanville continues to experience a metamorphosis, a new biotech incubator named Harlem Biospace (Hb) opened in November 2013 at 423 W. 127th St., housing 16 healthcare-focused startups. According to HarlemCondoLife.com it is the first of its kind in New York City and is housed in the Sweets Building, a former laboratory for confectionery research.
The space is part of the Manhattanville Factory District, which stretches from West 125th Street up to West 128th Street between Amsterdam and Morningside avenues.
The Manhattanville Factory District is a project The Janus Property Company, a West Harlem-based development company. The plan is to transform obsolete industrial buildings into new state-of-the-art mixed-use commercial buildings. According to the Janus Property Company, it will create thousands of new jobs and bring much-needed new services to West Harlem.
537 W. 133rd St. Two-bedroom, one-bath apartment; 575 square feet: $1, 675 per month.
351 St. Nicholas Ave. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment; 800 square feet: $2, 100 per month.
575 Riverside Drive #5. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment; 840 square feet: $2, 400 per month.
504 W. 135th St. #2B. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom condo; 680-square-foot lot: $249,000.
501 W. 123rd St. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom condo; 950 square feet: $460,000.
448 St. Nicholas Ave. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op; 700 square feet: $220,000.
Looking for a home in Manhattanville?
Harlem Properties, harlemproperties.com
A.N. Shell Realty of Manhattanville, anshell.com
Q&A with Samuel Thiam: Owner of Maison Harlem
Samuel Thiam is originally from Paris, France. When he moved to West Harlem, a lack of dining choices led him to open up the Maison Harlem restaurant at 341 St. Nicholas Ave. with business partner, Romain Bonnans. The restaurant attracts patrons from across the city and offers a wide selection of beer and wine in addition to classic New York dishes like steak, mussels and oysters.
What is the best thing about coming to Manhattanville?
I like that it’s still untouched territory. People are coming to our spot because it’s kind of like a hidden gem. It’s not a Williamsburg crowd, it’s not a Midtown crowd; it’s a new blend. New Yorkers love new things, new energy and that’s what they get when they come to the area and to the restaurant.
If you could change something about the area what would it be?
I would like to see more businesses, more things happening. I really want landlords to make the right choices as to what they put in the area in the next 10 to 15 years. If I could see one change it would be making the right choices to enhance the neighborhood.
Where do you see the neighborhood in the next 10 years?
I think it will be put on a map where it belongs. Harlem has been dissed for many, many years; it’s been under-looked, underdeveloped, it’s frowned upon and that came from the ’70s and ’80s when things went down south.
If we carefully set it up, meaning if we put the right businesses and the right architectural choices and living spaces, I think it could definitely be another great neighborhood of Manhattan with all potentials to make money and hold on to its history and heritage.