Astor Row is the name given to 130th Street between Fifth Avenue and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, in the New York City borough of Manhattan. More specifically, it refers to the semi-attached row houses on the south side of the street. These were among the first speculative townhouses built in Harlem, and their design is very unusual. The houses are set back from the street and all have front yards, an oddity in Manhattan, and all have wooden porches. The effect is southern, and has been compared to the appearance of parts of Savannah, Georgia. The houses were built on land that had been purchased by John Jacob Astor in 1844 for $10,000, but the development was driven by his grandson, William Backhouse Astor, who hired architect and builder Charles Buek to oversee the project. The houses were all built between 1880 and 1883.
Ownership stayed in the Astor family until 1911, when the westernmost ten of the houses were sold to real estate investor Max Marx, who traded them in part for an apartment building in Washington Heights. The new owners, the Brown Realty Company, defaulted on their mortgage and the houses passed to the New York Savings Bank.
The Astor Row townhouses rented originally for $1,100 per year, and were so popular that there was for years a waiting list to live there. The Astor Row townhouses were occupied originally by whites, but in 1920, 20 of the 28 Buek houses (the ten owned by New York Savings Bank, plus ten still owned by the Astors) were purchased by a real estate operator named James Cruikshank and leased to black tenants.
The houses were not maintained as Harlem decayed from 1930 – 1990, and the porches were gradually lost. In 1978, the second edition of the AIA Guide to New York City described the row as having “restrained beauty which has been tarnished by years of economic distress.” In 1981, New York City declared the entire row to be landmarks and raised funds to restore their facades, and improve their plumbing, heating systems, and electrical lines where needed. The group overseeing and financing the work included the New York Landmarks Conservancy, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Vincent Astor Foundation, Manhattan Community Board 10, Abyssian Development Corporation, the Commonwealth Fund, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and several local banks. In 1992, Ella Fitzgerald performed at a benefit at Radio City Music Hall to raise money for the restoration. By the end of the 1990s, the porches and other decorative elements had been restored to almost all the buildings on the block. In August 2009, the New York Times would write “the block is at the center of an intense but, as yet, unfinished revival of the surrounding streets in Central Harlem.”
The houses on the north side of the street are large, attractive brownstones of a more common design. In 1932, Father Divine, leader of Father Divine’s International Peace Mission Movement, lived on the north side of Astor Row.
Today, Astor Row is racially integrated, and is one of the stellar architectural landmarks in Harlem. It is located near Sylvia’s Restaurant of Harlem, the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, the former home of Langston Hughes, and other Harlem landmarks.
Strivers’ Row is three rows of townhouses in western Harlem, in the New York City borough of Manhattan on West 138th and West 139th between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Originally called the “King Model Houses” after developer David King, they were designed for upper middle class whites and constructed between 1891 and 1893. Different architects worked on each of the three rows, and they are collectively recognized as a gem of New York City architecture.
The northern part of the 139th street group was completed by McKim, Mead and White in neo-Italian style. Designers who contributed to the complex on 138th street include James Lord Brown, Bruce Price, and Clarence S. Luce.
The houses sit back-to-back with each other, which allowed King to specify that they would share rear courtyards. The alleyways between them are gated off (some entrance gates still have signs that read “Walk Your Horses”). At one time, these alleys allowed discreet stabling of horses and delivery of supplies without disrupting the goings-on in the main houses. Today, the back areas are used almost exclusively for the parking of cars. Strivers’ Row houses are among the few private homes in Manhattan with space for parking, but also among the few townhouses that do not have gardens in the rear.
David King’s speculative development failed, and most of the houses were soon owned by the Equitable Life Assurance Society, which had financed the project. By this time, Harlem was being abandoned by white New Yorkers, and the company would not sell the King houses to blacks. As a result, they sat empty. When they were finally made available to black residents, for US$8000 each, they attracted hard-working professionals, or “strivers,” who gave the houses their current name.
“Between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, is 139th Street, known among Harlemites as “strivers’ row.” It is the most aristocratic street in Harlem. Stanford White designed the houses for a wealthy white clientèle. Moneyed African-Americans now own and inhabit them. When one lives on “strivers’ row” one has supposedly arrived. Harry Rills resides there, as do a number of the leading Babbitts and professional folk of Harlem.”
Among those who lived in Strivers’ Row were Eubie Blake, Fletcher Henderson, Vertner Tandy, W. C. Handy, Dr. Louis T. Wright, Henry Pace, heavyweight boxer Harry Wills, comedian Stepin Fetchit, actor/singer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and preacher/congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
By the 1940s, many of the houses had decayed and were converted to single room occupancies (SROs). Much of the original decorative detail inside the houses was lost at this time, though the exteriors generally remained unaltered. With the post-1995 real estate boom in Harlem, many of these buildings are being restored to something resembling their original condition.
Time Out New York, a New York publication, ran a cover story where they ranked “The 50 Best Blocks in New York City.” All 5 boroughs were included in the ranking that was based on seven criteria: aesthetics, amenities, “green factor,” noise and traffic, public transit, “New York-ocity,” and affordability. Strivers’ Row ranked 16th on this list.
Every one of the Strivers’ Row houses is a designated landmark. The buildings afford a view of the City College of New York, atop the hill to the west.
Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins, a Harlem native, named a contrafact of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” after Striver’s Row. This performance is available on the 1958 Album “A Night At The Village Vanguard”.
Abram Hill’s 1940 satirical comedy of manners, “On Strivers Row”, produced with the American Negro Theatre (ANT), concerns “the follies of both social climbing and subtle racism among African Americans during Harlem’s Renaissance”.
Mount Morris Park Historic District was designated to be a historic district by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1971. It is a large 16-block area in east central Harlem. The boundaries are North from West 118th to West 124th Streets and West from Fifth Avenue to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (Seventh Avenue). “Doctor’s Row” is West 122nd Street, Mount Morris Park West and Malcolm X Boulevard. The name Mount Morris remains a mystery to some despite the 18th century local prominence of the Gouverneur Morris family.
The houses that cover Mount Morris Park Historic District are designed in the late 19th and early 20th century residential row houses and church architecture. There are several unaltered streetscapes. Romanesque Revival, neo-Grec, Queen Anne, and 1893′s World Columbian Exposition in Chicago were among the influences that created the eclectic style from the Gilded Age.
Before the European settlements the rocky hill of Manhattan mica-schist was used by the Native Americans as a lookout station to see over the entire island. In 1658, Dutch colonists established Nieuw Haarlem and named the hill Slang Berg (which translates to “snake hill”). The nearness of the Harlem River made Slang Berg a militarily strategic location.
On September 4, 1839, Mount Morris Square became a 20-acre (81,000 m2) residential square which was formerly a race track for horses, out of 173 acres (0.70 km2) owned by the Benson family land grant farm.
In 1973, the name of the land was changed to Marcus Garvey Park. This was in honor of the international Pan-African movement leader. In 1973, a part of the current district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1981, the Mount Morris Park Community Association (MMPCIA) was created. They wanted to make a 21st century Renaissance. They promoted buildings such as: Apollo Theatre, National Black Theatre, Schomburg Library, the Studio of Harlem, and many African and Caribbean restaurants that serve soul food in Central Harlem. They sponsored annual Historic Neighborhood House Tours, held on the second week of June. The association features historic brownstones and landmark buildings open for the public to view.
In 1996, the boundaries of Mount Morris Park District were expanded. They were pushed west to include blocks between Lenox Avenue and Seventh Avenue, and south to include some of West 118th Street. An extension is contemplated to reflect the area on National Register of Historic Places.