Sunday, May 31, 2009

☞ DWELL: The Langston Hughes House

Harlem Bespoke was able to get some interior shots of the Langston Hughes House today during the first open house for this historic estate. The well worn door with the gold number 20 greeted visitors in the foyer and the carved stairwell that followed intimated the details to be discovered inside. All the original plaster moulding on the walls and ceilings are intact along with several marble fireplaces. There are many water closets, one master bath with the original clawfoot tub and not much of any kitchen since the house was converted into an SRO in the past but the layouts seems intact as originally planned. At 1.2 million, it seem like a great opportunity for the right buyer especially since there's probably room to negotiate. The brownstone is located on a tree-lined block on 127th Street, right off of 5th Avenue and a short distance from the 2,3 train on 125th Street and 135th Street. Click on images to enlarge. Read more about the Langston Hughes House in our previous post. LINK

Friday, May 29, 2009

☞ SEE: Harlem in Flux

Once more, Camilo Jose Vergara's brilliant documentary work on Harlem from 1970 to 2009. Straightforward and with a neutral eye, we once more see how far Harlem has come and how things are still the same. The above piano shop on West 125th Street is now a Radio Shack. Maybe some things are better old school after all. See more about the artist in the NY Times: LINK or go to the New York Historical Society for his current exhibit Harlem in Flux. 170 Central Park West between 76th and 77th Street. Tel. (212) 873-3400‎. Take the B,C train to 81st Street.

☞ ARCHITECTURE: Graham Court

New Yorkers have heard of the many block-long luxury apartments built at the turn of the 20th century by the Astors, but few know that one exists in prime Harlem. The upper West Side's Apthorp apartments, is a quintessential New York building by William Waldorf Astor, about whom there is still much talk today. The Apthorp, built in 1908, was actually modeled after Graham Court, which was built in Harlem in 1898 on 116th Street and Seventh Avenue. This idea of super-block building is very different than what is seen today since there is a massive central court with an elaborate garden and walkways that provides light and an open, natural sanctuary within the buildings themselves. Today's New York Times covers the elusive Astor heir who would flee to Europe to escape the press but provided grand living for those who remained in his hometown. Read more in today's NY Times Article: LINK. Take the 2,3 or B,C train to 116th Street and walk over to Adam Clayton P. /7th Avenue. Top photo by Andrew Alpern.

☞ LISTEN: Otis at Shrine

Shrine, tomorrow night, Saturday, May 30th performing at 10:00. Brooklyn band and New York City music scene veterans, Otis will be performing at shrine with their blend of soul, rock and groove. Shrine website: LINK. 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), between 133rd and 134th Street. Tel.(212) 690-7807. Take the 2,3 train to 135th Street.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

☞ INSPIRATION: Wainscot Panels

The late 19th century documentary photographer Joseph Byron provided the black and white shot of a fashionable 5th Avenue home boldly transformed with wallpaper and wainscoting. The repetitive, rectangular wood panels are often in polished wood or lighter painted finishes in many Harlem brownstones, but most of the walls today have long been stripped of their colorful adornment. Especially since the natural wood finish is dark and neutral in most cases, the walls had the addition of color and pattern to brighten an otherwise stark interior. The second photo shows a high Victorian interior using paper even within paneling, and one can see how even the colors of the paper complements the vibrant hues of the curtains. From the original black and white photos of the time, it is difficult for the modern viewer to understand the dramatic colors used in the time period to help brighten and otherwise dark interior. Lower photo courtesy of Bradbury & Bradbury: LINK or see our other post on the green wallpaper we discovered in our building earlier this month: LINK

☞ BESPOKE: Mondel Chocolates

The very unassuming Mondel Chocolates storefront in Morningside Heights looks old, but not in a good way. Seemingly stuck in the 1970's with a drop ceiling and outdated florescent light fixtures along with a stuff animal window display that looks frozen in time, this place is easy to pass by. It turns out that the small chocolatier has been around since the 1940's and has really amazing chocolates. So much in fact that the late Katharine Hepburn used to personally visit the store to pick up boxes of her favorite bespoke chocolates back in the day. The air is filled with the sweet smell of chocolate as you enter, for all the confections are made on site. Best bets include the almond bark and the dark chocolate selection. 2913 Broadway between 112th Street and 113th Street. Take the 1 train to 110th or 116th Street.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

☞ ARCHITECTURE: The Riverside Colonnade

The Colonnade lookout point by Grant's Tomb used by onlookers at the Hudson Fulton Celebration in 1909 can be seen at the top two photos but not by many today. Almost an ancient ruin for several decades, this handsome structure will soon be reborn so that the new generation of Harlemites can use it once more as a viewpoint over the mighty river. In the past year, the colonnade has bee concealed by gates, but this spring has revealed an almost restored structure. The columns are gleaming and the wood trellis replaced. Stay-tuned for updates on the grand reveal. The Colonnade is directly west of Grant's Tomb as one can see from the 2nd photo and can be reached by taking the one train to 116th or 125th Street, walking west to Riverside Drive and 122nd. See the past article on Inspiration Point at 190th Street: LINK

☞ THINK: The Municipal Arts Society

Preserving Admirals Row from MAS on Vimeo.

The above video is an example of how the Municipal Arts Society has been trying to steer government officials into incorporating the preservations of New York's past alongside with community needs. Harlem really deserves to have it both ways and with some creative thinking and management, there is no reason why we should see anymore of our historic neighborhoods disappearing. Although the video is that of the Brooklyn Naval Yard, MAS has also made recommendations for Columbia's take-over of Manhattanvile. For more information and how you can get involved with contacting the local government see the following: LINK

☞ INSPIRATION: Encaustic Tiles

We suspect that encaustic tiles existed in the more grand townhouses of Harlem but there are not many examples remaining today. The color and pattern on these hand-made ceramics are not from painted on glaze but colored clay. Therefore, instead of just the pattern existing solely on the surface, one will see color throughout the thickness of the each tile. Mostly in geometric layouts with earth tone accented with blues and reds, this type of floor can be found in a few upper west side abodes along with 19th century homes in Brooklyn. Mostly common as flooring for foyers, lobbies, restaurants and bathrooms, these tile are timeless in for any building that is over 100 years old. Since many of the houses built above 96th streets were constructed in the Edwardian early 20th Century, the less expensive, but equally beautiful mosaic tiles seem to have been more favorable for budget minded builders.

☞ LISTEN: Giovanni Almonte

Afro-Cuban beats by Domincan raised Giavanni Almonte via Cuban Miami. Thursday, May 28th at Shrine, performing at 9:00 PM. Shrine website: LINK. 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), between 133rd and 134th Street. Tel.(212) 690-7807. Take the 2,3 train to 135th Street.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

☞ DWELL: 20 East 127th Street Brownstone

The landmarked brownstone on East 127th Street between 5th Avenue and Madison might be familiar to some since it is non other than the Langston Hughes House. Even though it is technically in East Harlem, this exceptional block right off of 5th Avenue still retains the grandeur usually associated with its West Harlem neighbors. The house's location to the express train also can not be beat. The intact original interior with detailed plaster-work on the ceiling is a rare find in Harlem for most brownstone owners in these parts could not afford the upkeep of such original works. Notable on the front are the the ivy covered walls and the unique cast-iron rails with their distinctive green finials. The asking price for 1.2 million might have to go down a little in this market but the house itself is indeed the coveted 20 foot wide standard. Take the 2,3 train to 125th Street or see our previous post on more of the house's history: LINK

☞ EAT: Cafe Olin

Harlem Bespoke loves a little kitsch now and then, mix that with great food and there's something to write about. Because of its off-beat East Harlem location right across from some major housing projects, this small taqueria did not have much going for it upon arriving. The interior is covered in Mexican religions artifacts, bright primary colors and clear plastic table cloths. The food took awhile to arrive but the tacos were absolutely the best that one will have in the city. Authentic flavors with seasonal ingredients like fried zucchini flowers make this a stand out for the neighborhood. If your dinner guest does not appreciate down and dirty interiors, stay clear of this one. For those seeking a change of pace and amazing cuisine, go to 339 East 108th Street between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue. Tel. (212) 828-3644. Take the 6 train to 110th Street.

☞ LISTEN: Apollo Heights at Shrine

Performing Wednesday, May 27th at 8:00 PM. Apollo Heights was founded in New York City with the collaboration of twin brothers Danny and Daniel Chavis forming an experimental band with rock beats and falsetto notes. Shrine website: LINK. 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), between 133rd and 134th Street. Tel.(212) 690-7807. Take the 2,3 train to 135th Street.

Monday, May 25, 2009

☞ Greetings: Happy Memorial Day

Photo of Grant's Tomb this morning with bunting and flags draped appropriately on the front facade. Take the 1 train to 125th Street and walk down to 122nd and Riverside Drive.

☞ SEE: City Island Beaches

One can only take a glimpse of the beaches at City Island for they are mostly privately owned and can only be seen at the end of each street. With one last look out into the harbor, we head back to Harlem for Memorial Day.

☞ SEE: Stepping Stone Lighthouse

On the southern tip of City Island, one can peer out into the harbor and get the most remote glimpse of a 19th century New York lighthouse. Called the Stepping Stone Lighthouse, this maritime structure has been around since the 1870's. Photo by Nicole Bengiveno for the New York Times. Take the 6 train to the Pelham Bay Park Station stop, which is the last stop, and take BX29 bus to City Island to the very last bus stop on City Island Avenue and peer over towards the water's edge.

☞ SEE: City Island Museum

The current incarnation of the former P.S. 17 on City Island is that of the island's own historical museum. Recently restored after a fire had closed it down for several months, this free museum provides rooms of artifacts, photos and books to peruse through.  Located on 190 Fordham Street, the museum is a must-see for visitors. Photograph by Rick DeWitt for the City Island Museum.

☞ EAT: City Island Restaurants

Seafood is the name of the game at City Island with lobster, fish and shrimp shacks as the common attraction. Sammy's has a chain of restaurants along the southern end of the island, while, along the northern reaches, there is a giant neon lobster sign to beckon the visitors as they cross the City Island Bridge. For more rustic charm that is not seafood-specific, the Black Whale and Le Refuge Inn provide plenty of ambiance. The main Italian restaurant with a view is Portofino, located on the northern end of the avenue. City Island Avenue is the main restaurant row and the only boulevard running the length of the island

☞ ARCHITECTURE: The City Island Skyscraper

The 1898 building on City Island was once the tallest building in town until 1963 when a six story residential building took over the title. Nevertheless, this structure is undisputed in its character and stands proudly over City Island Avenue between Fordham and Hawkins Street. This Bronx Island is the perfect day trip from Harlem since it takes about one hour to get to on public transit. Take the 6 train to the Pelham Bay Park Station stop, which is the last stop, and take BX29 bus to City Island.

☞ WALK: City Island Cottages

The nice surprise about City Island is that one can imagine what rural Harlem used to look like by walking along its cottage-lined streets. The older 19th century houses still have the fretwork and the ginger bread mouldings alongside many later 20th century bungalows. See previous post for more on City Island and how to get there from Harlem: LINK

☞ SLEEP: Le Refuge Inn

Facing City Island's only main boulevard is the landmarked Samuel Pell House which is today called Le Refuge Inn. This 1876 Empire style, sea captain's house is one of the grandest building on the island with a charming French restaurant on the ground floor. Since the island is only a one hour ride on public transport, a romantic dinner on the island is a quick jaunt from Harlem. Located at 586 City Island Avenue, the inn is at the northern commercial end of the Island as you enter by bus or car. Take the 6 train to the Pelham Bay Park Station stop, which is the last stop, and take BX29 bus to City Island.

Friday, May 22, 2009

☞ LISTEN: Edwin Vasquez at Shrine

Puerto Rican born, Park Slope raised, guitar playing lyricist, Edwin Vazquez will be performing this Saturday, May 23rd at Shrine starting at 8:00. Bossonova mixed with Jazz and other Latin elements. Shrine website: LINK. 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), between 133rd and 134th Street. Tel.(212) 690-7807. Take the 2,3 train to 135th Street.

☞ READ: New York Times covers St. Nick

The Time's Streetscape section has been pretty faithful at covering upper New York City and today talks about the "carriage row" that was in the mid 140's and St. Nicholas Avenue. As mentioned in our previous post, St. Nicholas was initially called Harlem Lane and carriage riding was a popular sport up and down the boulevard. By the 1880's residential development would encroach on the pastoral settings and the article takes a look at what still exist of those constructions. The last photo is from the Museum of the City of New York. Read the NY Times article: LINK. See also the previous post in reference to Harlem Lane: LINK. Take the A,B,C,D train or the 1 train to 145th to see the neighborhood.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

☞ REMEMBER: The Baldwin Airship

In 1909, the nation's aviation science was just at its start, and the New York World newspaper offered $10,000 to anyone who could fly from New York City to Albany. In September of that year, an ambitious aviator by the name of Captain Thomas Scott Baldwin attempted the flight by launching his dirigible balloon with a gondola made of bamboo from West Harlem's Grant's Tomb and headed over the Hudson towards upstate New York. After much fanfare and the motto of "Albany or Bust," an anti-climactic engine problem ended the whole thing in the river. No major injuries were reported, except for the minor bruised ego. Grant's Tomb is on 122nd Street at Riverside Drive and can be reach by the 1 train to 125th or 116th Street. Photos by

☞ WALK: The 132nd Street Community Garden

Another option to fill an empty lot is a public space such as a garden. The one on 132nd street really is an example of how a townhouse-size lot can be transformed into an oasis for the block. The well-manicured garden is a mini Central Park with winding paths, secluded tree canopies, open-air bench seating and a bamboo grotto complete with goldfish. With a $100,000 grant from the Parks Department in 1997, this garden shows that the city will help local groups if the dream is well thought out. The garden is located between Malcolm X/6th Avenue and Adam P. Boulevard/7th Avenue and can be reached by the 2,3 train at 135th or 125th Street.

☞ ARCHITECTURE: New Constructions

Walking by 143rd Street and 140th Street at Riverside Drive, we notice a couple of major projects going up at the end of the block and wondered if anything was displaced. After doing some searching on google maps, it would seem that the buildings are going over old empty lots and actually filling a void on the grid. This would seem like the best solution for developers who do not want to tackle a restoration project with an old building (or deal with torch-bearing, angry villagers at the doorfront). There are still a few lots left in central Harlem, and they should be prioritized before knocking down anything historic. By the way, the small side-streets in the West 140's are quite charming since they are on a slope from Broadway to Riverside and mostly consist of well-worn, three level townhouses. Luckily, these new buildings are at the end of the block so not to interrupt the look of the block. Take the 1 Train to 145th Street to take a look.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

☞ LISTEN: Lesley Casey at Shrine

At Shrine, Thursday, May 21st performing at 8:00. New York based Lesley Casey is a Nu-Jazz singer with influences ranging from Sarah Vaughn to Sade who will be releasing a CD this August. Check her out Thursday night at Shrine. Website: LINK. 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), between 133rd and 134th Street. Tel.(212) 690-7807. Take the 2,3 train to 135th Street.

☞ WALK: West 148th Street

The above shots are of our stroll along western Hamilton Heights today around West 148th between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. There are pockets of turn of the century brownstones mixed with larger six-story prewar residential Beaux-Arts buildings anchoring the avenues. The streets are tree-lined and really quiet in this part of town that feels more like Brooklyn than Manhattan. Take the 1 train to 145th Street to discover more of Hamilton Heights. For more on the area, read the previous post: LINK

☞ REMEMBER: The 148th Street Cottage

Harlem Bespoke can not resist the charms of random lost cottages of Harlem and we just unearthed this forgotten treasure at 609 West 148th Street. The house with its wood-frame construction probably dates back to the early to mid 1800's and was surrounded by newer buildings by the time the top photo was shot in the early 19th century (circa 1930). The last photo shows the plot, which is just a half block from Riverside Drive as it looks today. The narrow and uninspired Riverside Court has erased all evidence of the small cottage with the picket fence and sloping steps. Archival photo courtesy NYPL

☞ DWELL: 470 West 148th Street Brownstone

This Hamilton Heights brownstone is a wee-bit narrow since only the left half of the building is for sale but on the positive side, the coveted original details are still intact on the inside. From the looks of the exterior, the sister townhouse is connected to a mirror image twin and seems to be south of 15 feet wide (20 feet being the gold standard). As one can see, a good majority of wood-work is intact and in beautiful condition and the bathroom still has its original clawfoot tub. Another plus is that its asking price dropped by 200K since April and is currently at 999K. The location's quiet, lush, tree-line block is also ideal. Hamilton Heights is a landmarked, residential neighborhood with not too many amenities beyond the local Dominican and Mexican businesses along the Broadway commercial strip but there is obvious potential. See previous post for more on the nabe: LINK