Washington Heights is a New York City neighborhood in the northern reaches of the borough of Manhattan. It is named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed at the highest point on Manhattan island by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, to defend the area from the British forces. Washington Heights borders Harlem to the South, along 155th street, Inwood to the North along Dyckman Street, the Hudson River to the West and Harlem River to the East.
Washington Heights is on the high ridge in Upper Manhattan that rises steeply north of the narrow valley that carries 125th Street to the former ferry landing on the Hudson River that served the village of Manhattanville. Though the neighborhood was once considered to run as far south as 125th Street, modern usage defines the neighborhood as running north from Hamilton Heights at 155th Street to Inwood, topping out just below Dyckman Street.
The wooded slopes of Washington Heights seen from a sandy cove on the Hudson as they were about 1845 are illustrated in a canvas by John James Audubon‘s son, Victor Clifford Audubon, conserved by the Museum of the City of New York.
Ten blocks from the northern end of Washington Heights, in its Hudson Heights neighborhood near Pinehurst Avenue and 183rd Street in Bennett Park, is a plaque marking Manhattan’s highest natural elevation, 265 ft (80.8 m) above sea level, at what was the location of Fort Washington, the Revolutionary War camp of General George Washington and his troops, from whom Washington Heights takes its name.
The Battle of Fort Washington, which occurred on November 16, 1776, saw Fort Washington fall to the British at great cost to the American forces; 130 soldiers were killed or wounded, and an additional 2,700 captured and held as prisoners, many of whom died on prison ships anchored in New York Harbor. The British renamed it “Fort Knyphausen” to honor the German general who had led the successful attack, and held it for the remainder of the war. The progress of the battle is marked by a series of bronze plaques along Broadway.
The series of ridges overlooking the Hudson were sites of villas in the 19th century, including the extensive property of John James Audubon.
In the early 1900s, Irish immigrants moved to Washington Heights. European Jews went to Washington Heights to escape Nazism during the 1930s and the 1940s. During the 1950s and 1960s, many Greeks moved to Washington Heights; the community was referred to as the “Astoria of Manhattan.” By the 1980/90s, the neighborhood became mostly Dominican.
By the 2000s, after years when gangsters ruled a thriving illegal drug trade, urban renewal began. Many Dominicans moved to Morris Heights, University Heights, and other west Bronx neighborhoods. While gentrification is often blamed for rapid changes in the neighborhood, the changes in population also reflect the departure of the dominant nationality. Even though Dominicans still make up 73 percent of the neighborhood, their moves to the Bronx have made room for Mexicans and Ecuadorians, according to The Latino Data Project of the City University of New York. The proportion of whites in Washington Heights has declined from 18 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2005.
Washington Heights is connected to Fort Lee, New Jersey across the Hudson River via the Othmar Ammann-designed George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge. The Pier Luigi Nervi-designed George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is located at the Manhattan end of the bridge. The Trans-Manhattan Expressway, a portion of Interstate 95, proceeds from the George Washington Bridge in a trench between 178th and 179th Streets. To the east, the Highway leads to the Alexander Hamilton Bridge across the Harlem River to the Bronx and the Cross-Bronx Expressway. The Washington Bridge crosses the Harlem River just north of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge. High Bridge is the oldest Harlem River span still in existence, crossing the river just south of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge. Originally it carried the Croton Aqueduct as part of the New York City water system and later functioned as a pedestrian bridge that has been closed since 1970. It has been recently announced High Bridge will reopen after a 20 million dollar renovation project.
Because of their abrupt, hilly topography, pedestrian navigation, particularly in Upper Manhattan and the West Bronx, is facilitated by many step streets. The longest of these in Washington Heights, at approximately 130 stairs, connects Fort Washington Ave and Overlook Terrace at 187th St. Those averse to climbing stairs can alternatively traverse the elevation change by using the three massive elevators within the 181st Street Subway Station, with entrances on Overlook and Fort Washington.
Washington Heights is served by the New York City Subway. On the Eighth Avenue Line (A and C) service is available at the 155th Street, 163rd Street–Amsterdam Avenue, 168th Street station. The C line ends at 168th St. The A train continues and stops at 175th Street–George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, 181st Street, 190th Street, Dyckman Street and 207th Street, with Dyckman named for a family that once owned property in the area. Along the Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line, the 1 train has stations at 157th Street, 168th Street, 181st Street, 191st Street, Dyckman Street and 207th Street.
Among the Heights’ now-vanished riverfront estates was “Minnie’s Land”, the home of ornithological artist John James Audubon, who is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery churchyard of the neighborhood’s Church of the Intercession (1915), a masterpiece by architect Bertram Goodhue. Also buried there is poet Clement Clark Moore, who wrote “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.
Columbia University Medical Center and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, the medical campus and school, respectively, of Columbia University, lie in the area of 168th Street and Broadway, occupying the former site of Hilltop Park, the home of the New York Highlanders; now known as the New York Yankees – from 1903 to 1912. Across the street is the New Balance Track and Field center, an indoor track and home to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.
The best known cultural site and tourist attraction in Washington Heights is The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park at the northern end of the neighborhood, with spectacular views across the Hudson to the New Jersey Palisades. This branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is devoted to Medieval art and culture, and is located in a medieval-style building, portions of which were purchased in Europe, brought to the United States, and reassembled.
Audubon Terrace, a cluster of five distinguished Beaux Arts institutional buildings, is home to another major, though little-visited museum, The Hispanic Society of America. The Society has the largest collection of works by El Greco and Goya outside of the Museo del Prado, including one of Goya’s famous paintings of Cayetana, Duchess of Alba. In September 2007, it commenced a three-year collaboration with the Dia Art Foundation. The campus on Broadway at West 156th Street also houses The American Academy of Arts and Letters, which holds twice yearly, month-long public exhibitions, and Boricua College.
Manhattan’s oldest remaining house, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, is located in the landmarked Jumel Terrace Historic District, between West 160th and West 162nd Street, just east of St. Nicholas Avenue. An AAM-accredited historic house museum, the Mansion interprets the colonial era, the period when General George Washington occupied it during the American Revolutionary War, and the early 19th century in New York.
The Paul Robeson Home, located at 555 Edgecombe Avenue on the corner of Edgecombe Avenue and 160th Street, is a National Historic Landmark building. The building is now known for its famous African American residents including actor Paul Robeson, musician Count Basie, and boxer Joe Louis.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated during a speech at the Audubon Ballroom, on Broadway at West 165th Street. The interior of the building was demolished, but the Broadway facade remains, incorporated into one of Columbia’s Audubon Center buildings. It is now the home of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. Several shops, restaurants and a bookstore occupy the first floor.
At the Hudson’s shore, in Fort Washington Park stands the Little Red Lighthouse, a small lighthouse located at the tip of Jeffrey’s Hook at the base of the eastern pier of the George Washington Bridge. It was made famous by a 1942 children’s book and is the site of a namesake festival in the late summer. A 5.85-mile recreational swim finishes there in early autumn. It’s also a popular place to watch for peregrine falcons.
Today the majority of the neighborhood’s population is still of Dominican birth or descent (the area is sometimes referred to as “Quisqueya Heights”), and Spanish is frequently heard being spoken on the streets. Washington Heights has been the most important base for Dominican accomplishment in political, non-profit, cultural, and athletic arenas in the United States since the 1960s. Most of the neighborhood businesses are Dominican owned, driving the local economy. Many Dominican immigrants come to network and live with family members. Bishop Gerard Walsh, former long-time pastor of St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church, located in Washington Heights, said that many residents go to the neighborhood for “cheap housing,” obtain jobs “downtown,” receive a “good education,” and “hopefully” leave the neighborhood.
Before the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001, according to an article in The Guardian, the flight had “something of a cult status in Washington Heights.” A woman quoted in the newspaper said “Every Dominican in New York has either taken that flight or knows someone who has. It gets you there early. At home there are songs about it.” After the crash occurred, makeshift memorials appeared in Washington Heights.
Heralding the arts scene north of Central Park is the annual Uptown Arts Stroll. Artists from Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill are featured in public locations throughout upper Manhattan each summer for several weeks. As of 2008, the Uptown Art Stroll is run by Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance.
The Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA), led by Executive Director Sandra A. García Betancourt, was founded in 2007 to support artists and arts organizations in Washington Heights and Inwood. Their stated mission is to cultivate, support and promote the work of artists and arts organizations in Northern Manhattan. In 2008, NoMAA awarded $50,000 in grants to seven arts organizations and 33 artists in the Washington Heights/Inwood art community. NoMAA sponsors community arts events and publishes an email newsletter of all art events in Washington Heights and Inwood.
In the years after World War I Fort Tryon was the name of the area between Broadway and the Hudson River, and south of the park to W. 179th Street. References to the old name survive in the Fort Tryon Jewish Center (on Fort Washington Avenue between W. 183rd and W. 185th Streets, the Fort Tryon Deli and Grocery (also on Fort Washington Avenue, at W. 187th Street), and in the pages of the Not for Tourists Guide to New York City.
The neighborhood’s name had changed by the late 1940s. Jews from Germany and Austria were leaving home as the Nazi party came to power. A disproportionately large number of Germans who settled in the area had come from Frankfurt am Main, giving rise to Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson. So many Jewish immigrants lived in Washington Heights after World War II that the neighborhood around Broadway and W. 160th Street was jokingly referred to as the Fourth Reich.There remains a significant Jewish population, particularly on the west side of Broadway, descended from the previous wave of immigration, as well as students (and recent graduates) of the neighborhood’s Yeshiva University.
Currently some refer to the area as “Hudson Heights”. Hudson Heights is generally considered to extend as far east as Broadway, although others shrink it to the blocks between Fort Washington Avenue and the Hudson River.The name seems to have stuck starting in the 1990s, when neighborhood real estate brokers and activists started using it.
As Soviet (and, later, Russian) immigrants filled the area, Russian became far more common than German. Once Spanish become prevalent, and English was the lingua franca, the German nickname fell by the wayside.
Hudson Heights isn’t the only Washington Heights neighborhood with a distinct name. Historically, Fort George runs from Broadway east to the Harlem River, and from West 181st Street north to Dyckman Street and Sherman Creek. The largest institution in Fort George is Yeshiva University, whose main campus sits east of Amsterdam Avenue in Highbridge Park. A branch of the Young Men’s & Women’s Hebrew Association is in the neighborhood, and George Washington High School sits on the site of the original Fort George.
One of Manhattan’s rare semi-private streets is there. Washington Terrace runs south of West 186th Street for a half-block between Audubon and Amsterdam Avenues. The single-family homes there were built for middle-class families but some have been unoccupied for years.
Younger people and new arrivals don’t use the old Fort George name, preferring to refer to the neighborhood simply as Washington Heights
Sherman Creek is a small inlet of the Harlem River located south of West 201st Street, north of the Harlem River Drive, and east of Tenth Avenue. As a name for the several blocks around it, Sherman Creek is something of a historical relic, as many people don’t care to distinguish it from the surrounding parts of Washington Heights. The name “Sherman Creek” in reference to a residential neighborhood, may make a re-appearance if a much-discussed huge condo complex one day gets off the ground there.
Municipal planners haven’t stopped using the name, however. The Manhattan Institute held a forum, “Saving Sherman Creek,” in January 2006 at the Harvard Club of New York. The New York City Economic Development Corporation is studying a $9.1 billion plan to reinvigorate the area. The Daily News (New York) has written about the project.
Interestingly, new names for neighborhoods are generally considered to be ersatz creations of real estate agents and, therefore, emblematic of gentrification. However, the newest name for Washington Heights – an alternative, really – comes not from people with dollar signs in their eyes. The Spanish-speaking Caribbean immigrants who have flocked here for decades call Washington Heights a name worthy of its elevation: El Alto.
Washington Heights was severely affected by the crack cocaine epidemic of the early/mid-1980s. This was due, in part, to the neighborhood crack gang, known as the Wild Cowboys or the Red Top Gang, who were associated with Yayo. The Wild Cowboys were responsible for the higher number of crimes, especially murders, during the late 80s and early 90s. Robert Jackall wrote a book, Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders and the Forces of Order, describing the events that took place during that period of lawlessness. Homelessness was rampant. Washington Heights had become the largest drug distribution center in the Northeastern United States during that time. A housing project in the neighborhood was nicknamed “Crack City,” an epithet commonly bestowed upon rough areas at the time.
On October 18, 1988, 24-year-old Police Officer Michael Buczek was murdered by Dominican drug dealers in Washington Heights. The killers fled to the Dominican Republic where one later died in police custody and a second was apprehended by U.S. Marshals in 2000. The third suspect was apprehended in the Dominican Republic in May 2002. Fifteen years after the shooting, Pablo Almonte, 51, and Jose Fernandez, 52, received the maximum sentence, 25 years to life, for their roles in the murder of Officer Buczek. Daniel Mirambeaux, the alleged shooter, died in June 1989, plunging to his death under mysterious circumstances after he was ordered turned over to the United States.
In the ensuing years, the Buczek family founded the Michael John Buczek Foundation. There is a street, an elementary school, and a little league baseball field named in honor of Michael John Buczek. The Michael Buczek Little League hosts 30 teams with over 350 boys and girls, and is coached by officers from the 34th precinct.
Crime subsequently fell due to aggressive police tactics. Police presence increased, and building landlords allowed police to patrol in apartment buildings, which led to the arrests of thousands of drug dealers a year in Washington Heights. The arrest of police officers involved in drug dealing changed the neighborhood dramatically. People were also being stopped for quality of life crimes. A new police precinct was also added in the area. Today, its crime rate, along with that of neighboring Harlem, is much lower.
Even though crime complaints were down 5.88% in 2007 over 2001 (and down 65.47% from 1993), there were five murders in lower Washington Heights (that is, below W. 178th St.) in 2007. By comparison, in the upper portion of Washington Heights, where the 34th Precinct includes Fort George, Hudson Heights and Sherman Creek (as well as Inwood), there was only one murder in 2007; likewise, above W. 179th Street, crime complaints were down 21.05% in 2007 over 2001 (and down 83.15% from 1993).
That puts lower Washington Heights on par with Harlem, where the 30th Precinct also recorded five murders in 2007. By comparison, the 13th Precinct (Flatiron, Stuyvesant Town and Union Square) recorded three murders in 2007 and the 20th Precinct (the Upper West Side) recorded none.
Five clubs in American professional sports played in the Washington Heights area: the New York Giants, who are now the San Francisco Giants, the New York Mets, the New York Yankees, the Football New York Giants and the New York Jets. The baseball Giants played at the Polo Grounds at West 155th Street and Eighth Avenue from 1911–1957, the Yankees played there from 1913–1922, and the New York Mets played their first two seasons (1962 and 1963) there.
Before the Yankees played at the Polo Grounds, they played in Hilltop Park on Broadway between 165th and 168th from 1903–1912; at the time they were known as the New York Highlanders. On May 15, 1912, after being heckled for several innings, the great Ty Cobb leaped the fence and attacked his tormentor. He was suspended indefinitely by league president Ban Johnson, but his suspension was eventually reduced to 10 days and $50. One of the most amazing pitching performances of all time took place at Hilltop Park; on September 4, 1908, 20 year-old Walter Johnson shut out New York 3-0 with a five-hitter. The park is now the Columbia University Medical Center, a major hospital complex, which opened on that location in 1928. Washington Heights was the birth place of Yankee star Alex Rodriguez. Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramírez grew up in the neighborhood, moving there from the Dominican Republic when he was thirteen years old and attending George Washington High School, where he was one of the nation’s top prospects. Hall-of-Fame infielder Rod Carew, a perennial batting champion in the 1970s, also grew up in Washington Heights, having emigrated with his family from Panama at the age of fourteen.
The New York Mets and New York Jets both began play at the Polo Grounds, while Shea Stadium in Queens was under construction.
The New Balance Track and Field Center, located in the Fort Washington Avenue Armory, maintains an Olympic-caliber track that is one of the fastest in the world. High school and colleges hold meets there regularly, and it is open to the public, for a fee, for training. The auditorium seats 2,300 people.
Also at the Armory is The National Track and Field Hall of Fame, along with the Charles B. Rangel Technology & Learning Center for children and students in middle school and high school. The facility is operated by the Armory Foundation, which was created in 1993.
The Armory is the starting point for an annual road race founded by Peter M. Walsh, the Coogan’s Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K, which is run in March. The race is sanctioned by the New York Road Runners, and counts toward a guaranteed starting spot in the New York Marathon.
Mountain bike races take place in Highbridge Park in the spring and summer. Sponsored by the New York City Mountain Bike Association, the races are held on alternate Thursdays and are open to professional competitors and amateurs. Participating in these races is free, but the All-City Cross Country Classic requires a registration fee because prize money is awarded.
Extreme swimmers take part in the Little Red Lighthouse Swim, a 5.85-mile swim in the Hudson River from Clinton Cove (Pier 96) to Jeffrey’s Hook, the location of the Little Red Lighthouse. The annual race, sponsored by the Manhattan Island Foundation, attracts more than 200 competitors. The course records for men and women were both set in 1998. Jeffrey Jotz, 28, of Rahway, N.J., finished in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 36 seconds. Julie Walsh-Arlis, 31, of New York, finished in 1:12:45.
University education includes Yeshiva University and Boricua College. The programs of the medical campus of the Columbia University Medical Center.
Bronx Community College http://www.bcc.cuny.edu/ , a community college of The City University of New York, located in the Bronx, offers a wide variety of opportunities to jump-start an education, as well as programs to help you join the workforce with skills and knowledge gained from one of the many non-credit programs. These include the arts, the humanities, the sciences and technology and many professional development programs to help advance careers. A dedicated faculty, many of whom are acclaimed experts in their fields. In addition, it has a staff of professionals to assist and advise. Bronx Community College strives to make each and every student and trainee feel part of a family of learners. Our multicultural population assures you of being treated with respect and sensitivity to help students succeed and provides a multitude of support services to ensure success. These include child care, a language immersion program for those who don’t speak English well, a concerned counseling staff, tutors and tutoring labs, extensive referral services and financial aid for those who qualify. Facilities, housed on an historic campus, include the latest in technology, fully equipped exercise facilities and an olympic-size swimming pool, a television studio, major meeting and performance spaces and a newly-renovated student center with space for student organizations and a conference area. Every effort is made to cultivate physical and social health along with your mind.
Despite its name, CUNY in the Heights, the uptown campus of the City University of New York, is not in the Heights, but in Inwood. The CUNY XPress Center, however, is in the Fort George neighborhood of Washington Heights, but it is not a campus. Instead, its purpose is to assist immigrants and to help students enroll in one of the CUNY schools.
Private primary and secondary schools include Mother Cabrini High School, The School of The Incarnation, Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the City College Academy of the Arts, a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Other private schools include the Herbert G. Birch School for Exceptional Children, Medical Center Nursery School and the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy.
Public primary and secondary schools are assigned to schools in the New York City Department of Education. High Schools include: George Washington High School.
New York Public Library operates the Washington Heights Branch at 1000 St. Nicholas Avenue at West 160th Street, the Fort Washington Branch at 535 West 179th Street at Audubon Avenue, and the Inwood Branch at 200 St. Broadway Avenue and Academy.