leisure 01.16.04

Harlem

A smattering of Harlem highlights.

The Theresa Hotel, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. [125th], is the work of George and Edward Blum from 1910. It's now an office building, but became known as a place where jazz musicians stayed. Castro also stayed in 1960 when he spoke at the U.N. Most people tell you he chose to stay here rather than in the more capitalist hotels in midtown, but apparently he turned up first at the Waldorf with a retinue that included a flock of chickens for dinner. The Waldorf couldn't guarantee the safety of Castro or his chickens, so he left for the Theresa.

The Studio Museum, 144 W. 125th [Lenox/AC Powell] 212.864.4500, showcases black artists past and present. Beginning January 28, an exhibition called "Harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor" will open, featuring a multimedia response from over a dozen black architects for site proposals throughout Harlem.

The United House of Prayer, 124th and F. Douglass Blvd., was evangelist Daddy Grace's church. He and Father Divine, you may remember, offered salvation (and food) to attract many thousands of believers. Father Divine claimed to be a God, a claim that got a PR boost when he was in jail on a minor charge and the judge on the case died suddenly of a heart attack. Father Divine's famous comment: "I hated to do it." The church also has a cafeteria within, serving heavenly soul food.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Lenox [135th] 212.491.2200, is the place to research Harlem's history or black culture in general. While at the Schomburg, go to the atrium just beyond the main entrance. The terrazzo and brass cosmogram on the floor, "Rivers" by Houston Conwill, Estella Conwill Majozo, and Joseph DePace, is built over a tributary of the Harlem river. Quotes from Rivers by Langston Hughes are used in the piece. Mr. Hughes remains are buried under the words "My soul has grown deep like the rivers."

Both Mother A.M.E. Zion, 140 W. 137th St. [Lenox/AC Powell, Jr.] and the Abyssinian Baptist Church, 132 W. 138th [Lenox/AC Powell, Jr.], have distinguished histories in the community and both are well worth visiting. Abyssinian is perhaps Harlem's best known church because of its ministers past (Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. and Jr.) and present (the Rev. Calvin Butts).

Strivers' Row, 138th to 139th [AC Powell, Jr. to 8th], was home to many Harlem notables (W.C. Handy, Eubie Blake, Vertner Tandy) and is made up of houses designed by James Brown Lord, Bruce Price, and McKim, Mead & White. You can't miss the fact that these houses have back alleys (in Manhattan!); that the streets are cut through mid-block, north to south, with ways for horses (Walk Your Horses is still painted on some of the gates); and that these are among the prettiest streets on the island.

After all the touring, stop in at the tiny and unprepossessing Charles' Southern-Style Kitchen, 2839 8th [151st] 212.926.4313, for some of the nabe's best fried chicken, collards, and other classic southern fare.

The image shown is Gregorio Prestopino's watercolor "Family" ca.1930s, from the Schomburg's online exhibition "The Schomburg Legacy: Documenting the Global Black Experience for the 21st Century."

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