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East Harlem
Second Avenue at 97th Street
Second Avenue at 97th Street
Country  United States
State  New York
City New York City
Borough Manhattan
 • Total 116,000 (est.)
 • Hispanic 52.1%
 • Black 35.7%
 • White (non-Hispanic) 7.3%
 • Asian 2.7%
 • Other 0.2%
 • Median income $21,480
ZIP code
10029, 10035
Area code(s) 212, 917, 646

East Harlem, also colloquially known as El Barrio and previously as Spanish Harlem, is a neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, New York City roughly encompassing the area north of the Upper East Side and East 96th Street up to about the 140s, east of Fifth Avenue to the East and Harlem Rivers. It lies within Manhattan Community District 11. Despite its name, it is generally not considered to be a part of Harlem.

The neighborhood is one of the largest predominantly Latino communities in New York City, mostly made up of Puerto Ricans, as well as sizeable numbers of Dominican, Cuban and Mexican immigrants. It includes the area formerly known as Italian Harlem, in which the remnants of a once predominantly Italian community remain. The Chinese population has increased dramatically in East Harlem since 2000.

However, East Harlem is now undergoing some gentrification. In February 2016, East Harlem was one of four neighborhoods featured in an article in The New York Times about "New York’s Next Hot Neighborhoods". Beginning in 2016, the New York City government was seeking to rezone East Harlem "to facilitate new residential, commercial, community facility, and manufacturing development."


Early history

The area which became East Harlem was rural for most of the 19th century, but residential settlements northeast of Third Avenue and East 110th Street had developed by the 1860s. The construction of the elevated transit line to Harlem in 1879 and 1880, and the building of the Lexington Avenue subway in 1919, urbanized the area, precipitating the construction of apartment buildings and brownstones. The extension of cable cars up Lexington Avenue into East Harlem was stymied by the incline created by Duffy's Hill at 103rd Street, one of the steepest grades in Manhattan. East Harlem was first populated by poor German, Irish, Scandinavian, and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, with the Jewish population standing at 90,000 around 1917. In the 1870s, Italian immigrants joined the mix after a contractor building trolley tracks on First Avenue imported Italian laborers as strikebreakers. The workers' shantytown along the East River at 106th Street was the beginning of an Italian neighborhood, with 4,000 having arrived by the mid 1880s. As more immigrants arrived, it expanded north to East 115th Street and west to Third Avenue.

East Harlem now consisted of pockets of ethnically-sorted settlements – Italian, German, Irish, and Jewish – which were beginning to press up against each other, with the spaces still between them occupied by "gasworks, stockyards and tar and garbage dumps". In 1895, Union Settlement Association, one of the oldest settlement houses in New York City, began providing services in the area, offering the immigrant and low-income residents a range of community-based programs, including boys and girls clubs, a sewing school and adult education classes.

Vestiges of Italian Harlem
Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Patsy's Pizzeria

Italian Harlem

Southern Italians and Sicilians, with a moderate number of Northern Italians, soon predominated, especially in the area east of Lexington Avenue between 96th and 116th Streets and east of Madison Avenue between 116th and 125th Streets, with each street featuring people from different regions of Italy. The neighborhood became known as "Italian Harlem", the Italian American hub of Manhattan; it was the first part of Manhattan to be referred to as "Little Italy". The first Italians arrived in East Harlem in 1878, from Polla in the province of Salerno, and settled in the vicinity of 115th Street.

There were many crime syndicates in Italian Harlem from the early Black Hand to the bigger and more organized Italian gangs that formed the Italian-American Mafia.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, Italian Harlem was represented in Congress by future Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and later, in the 1950s and 1960s, by Italian-American civil rights lawyer, activist, and socialist Vito Marcantonio. The Italian neighborhood approached its peak in the 1930s, with over 100,000 Italian-Americans living in its crowded, run-down apartment buildings. The 1930 census showed that 81 percent of the population of Italian Harlem consisted of first- or second-generation Italian Americans. (Somewhat less than the concentration of Italian Americans in the Lower East Side’s Little Italy with 88 percent; Italian Harlem’s total population, however, was three times that of Little Italy.)

The Italian community in East Harlem remained strong into the 1980s, but it has slowly diminished since then. However, Italian inhabitants and vestiges of the old Italian neighborhood remain. The annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the "Dancing of the Giglio", the first Italian feast in New York City, is still celebrated there every year on the second weekend of August by the Giglio Society of East Harlem. Italian retail establishments still exist, such as Rao's restaurant, started in 1896, and the original Patsy's Pizzeria which opened in the 1933. In May 2011, one of the last remaining Italian retail businesses in the neighborhood, a barbershop owned by Claudio Caponigro on 116th Street, was threatened with closure by a rent increase.

Spanish Harlem

Puerto Rican and Latin American immigration after the First World War established an enclave at the western portion of East Harlem – around 110th Street and Lexington Avenue – which became known as "Spanish Harlem". The area slowly grew to encompass all of East Harlem, including Italian Harlem, as Italians moved out – to the Bronx, Brooklyn, upstate New York and New Jersey – and Hispanics moved in during another wave of immigration in the 1940s and 1950s. Although in certain areas, particularly around Pleasant Avenue, Italian Harlem lasted through the 1970s, today most of the former Italian population is gone. Most of these predominantly older residents are clustered around Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, mainly from 114th to 118th Streets. According to the 2000 Census, there were only 1,130 Italian-Americans still living in this area.

The newly dominant Puerto Rican population, which reached 63,000 in 1950, continued to define the neighborhood according to its needs, establishing bodegas and botánicas as it expanded; by the 1930s there was already an enclosed street market underneath the Park Avenue railroad viaduct between 111th and 116th Streets, called "La Marqueta" ("The Market"). Catholic and evangelistic Protestant churches appeared in storefronts. Although "Spanish Harlem" had been in use since at least the 1930s to describe the Hispanic enclave – along with "Italian Harlem" and "Negro Harlem" – the name began to be used to describe the entire East Harlem neighborhood by the 1950s. Later, the name "El Barrio" ("The Neighborhood") began to be used, especially by inhabitants of the area.


In the 1950s and 1960s, large sections of East Harlem were leveled for urban renewal projects, and the neighborhood was one of the hardest hit areas in the 1960s and 1970s as New York City struggled with deficits, race riots, urban flight, gang warfare, crime and poverty. Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained, and frequent targets for arson.

Recent history

By the beginning of the 21st century, East Harlem was a racially diverse neighborhood, with about a third of the population being Puerto Rican. As it has been throughout its history, it is predominantly a working-class neighborhood.

Until 2006, property values in East Harlem climbed along with those in the rest of New York City. With increased market-rate housing, including luxury condos and co-ops - most built on formerly vacant lots - there has been some decline of affordable housing in the community. A number of young professionals have settled into these recently constructed buildings. This influx of "yuppies" has caused rents to rise, more buildings in the area to get gut renovations and is changing area demographics.

On March 12, 2014 at 9:00 EDT, a large explosion and fire at 1644–1646 Park Avenue killed eight people and injured more than 70.

The New York Post listed one part of the neighborhood – the block of Lexington Avenue between East 123rd and 124th Streets – as one of "the most dangerous blocks in the city" because police crime statistics for 2015 showed that 19 assaults had taken place there, more than for any other city block. The Post also reported that there were, according to the Harlem Neighborhood Block Association, "22 drug-treatment programs, four homeless-services providers and four transitional-living facilities" in East Harlem.


Storefronts at Lexington Avenue and 116th Street

Manhattan Community District 11, which covers East Harlem in its entirety, is a mostly low and moderate income area. It is made up of first and second generation Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, Asians, West Indians (Especially Dominicans and Cubans), and a growing population of Mexicans, Salvadorans, and other Central American immigrants.

It has one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in all of New York City. In the 2000 Census, 52.1% of residents described themselves as of Hispanic origin, 35.7 as non-Hispanic black, 7.3 as non-Hispanic white, 2.7 Asian and Pacific Islander Nonhispanic, 1.7% as two or more non-Hispanic races, and 0.5% as another race. By New York City averages, the youth makes up a larger than normal percentage of the East Harlem population with 30.6% of residents age 18 or younger.

93.6% of all housing units were renter-occupied, and over 25% of the population resided in public housing units managed by the NYCHA. 46.5 percent of the population receive a form of income support by the government.

According to a 2010 study, the number of Asians in East Harlem nearly tripled between 2000 and 2010, largely due to Chinese people moving to East Harlem. Increasing rents in Lower Manhattan's Chinatown have driven many into public and subsidized housing developments in the neighborhood. Advocates have been calling for Chinese language services to be available in the community centers to accommodate the growing number of Chinese residents in the area. In 2000, the Chinese population in the northern portion was less than one percent, but by 2010, it has gone up to being three percent in the area. In the southern part, it rose from 4.6% to 8.4%.

As of 2010, the Puerto Rican population was 27.7% in zip code 10029, and 23.4% in 10035. 10035 also has a large Mexican population, at 10.7%.


Bridges spanning the Harlem River between Harlem to the left and the Bronx to the right
MNRR NH-Line-Train 125th-St
Harlem – 125th Street on the Metro-North Railroad

The Harlem River separates the Bronx and Manhattan, necessitating several spans between the two New York City boroughs. In East Harlem, the Wards Island Bridge, also known as the 103rd Street Footbridge, connects Manhattan with Wards Island. The Triboro Bridge is a complex of three separate bridges that offers connections between Queens, Manhattan (Harlem), and the Bronx.

Public transportation service is provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This includes the New York City Subway—the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 <6> trains) at 125th Street—and MTA Regional Bus Operations, as well as the Metro-North Harlem – 125th Street commuter rail station, connecting to Westchester County and Connecticut. Some local bus Bronx routes also serve Manhattan, to provide customers with access to both boroughs.

Social issues

Social problems, including poverty, crime, and drug addiction, have plagued the area since the 1970s. Although crime rates have dropped from the historically high numbers of the past, East Harlem suffers from Manhattan's highest violent crime rate, with 15 murders in 2011.

East Harlem has the highest concentration of shelters and facilities in Manhattan, with eight homeless shelters, 36 drug and alcohol treatment facilities and 37 mental health treatment facilities. It also has the highest jobless rate in the entire city, as well as the city's second highest cumulative AIDS rate. The asthma rate is also 5 times larger than national levels. The neighborhood also suffers from a high poverty rate. Union Settlement Association is one of the neighborhood's largest social service agencies, reaching more than 13,000 people annually at 17 locations throughout East Harlem, through a range of programs, including early childhood education, youth development, senior services, job training, the arts, adult education, nutrition, counseling, a farmers' market, community development, and neighborhood cultural events.

Super Associated East Harlem 1968 2nd Av 101 St jeh
Associated Supermarkets grocery on East 101st Street

Fresh food

A lack of access to healthy food causes serious hardships to citizens of East Harlem, a neighborhood which is considered to be a food desert. According to an April 2008 report prepared by the New York City Department of City Planning, East Harlem is an area of the city with the highest levels of diet-related diseases due to limited opportunities for citizens to purchase fresh foods.

With a high population density and a lack of nearby supermarkets, the neighborhood has little access to fresh fruit and vegetables and a low consumption of fresh foods. Citizens of East Harlem are likely to buy food from grocery stores that have a limited supply of fruits and vegetables, which are often of poor quality and generally more expensive than the same products sold at supermarkets. Compared to the Upper East Side, supermarkets in Harlem are 30% less common. Without access to affordable produce and meats, East Harlem residents have difficulty eating a healthy diet, which contributes to high rates of obesity and diabetes.

In 2011, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer announced a program which would send Veggie Vans to East Harlem senior centers and housing projects. In 2012, Whole Foods announced two uptown locations, one being on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, the other in the Upper East Side. In 2010, Aldi's Grocery opened at the East River Plaza located at E. 117th St. and FDR Drive, providing access to affordable food for East Harlem's residents. In 2013, a new Super FI Emperior Grocery store opened up in East Harlem on 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue.

Metro North Plaza Houses jeh
Metro North Plaza Houses
Thos Jefferson NYCHA 1st Av 111 St jeh
Jefferson Houses
Wagner Houses
Wagner Houses
2d Av 103 St Washington NYCHA jeh
Washington Houses
Tito Puente PS117 2095 2nd Av 240 E109 St jeh
A school named after musician Tito Puente
SinaiMed crop
Mount Sinai Medical Center, as seen from Central Park


East Harlem is dominated by public housing complexes of various types, with a high concentration of older tenement buildings between these developments. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low income public housing projects in the United States. The total land area is 1.54 square miles (4.0 km2).

After a wave of arson ravaged the low income communities of New York City throughout the 1970s, many of the residential structures in East Harlem were left seriously damaged or destroyed. By the late 1970s, the city began to rehabilitate many abandoned tenement style buildings and designate them as low income housing.

Despite recent gentrification of the neighborhood, large numbers of apartment buildings have been deliberately kept vacant by their owners. Although the businesses on the ground floor are retained, landlords do not want to have the trouble involved in residential tenants. In some cases, landlords are waiting for a revived economy, warehousing the apartments so that they can rent them later at a higher rent.

In 2007, a survey of Manhattan’s buildings found that 1,723 were significantly vacant, three-quarters of them north of 96th Street. A 1998 survey found that one-quarter of low-rise residential buildings on avenues or major cross streets in East Harlem had sealed-up residential floors, despite having commercial businesses on the ground floor.

Public housing projects

There are twenty-four New York City Housing Authority developments located in East Harlem.

  • 335 East 111th Street; one, 6-story building.
  • East 120th Street Rehab; one, 6-story rehabilitated tenement building.
  • East River Houses; ten buildings, 6, 10 and 11-stories tall.
  • Edward Corsi Houses; one, 16-story building.
  • Gaylord White Houses; one, 20-story building.
  • George Washington Carver Houses; 13 buildings, 6 and 15-stories tall.
  • Governor Dewitt Clinton Houses; six buildings, 9 and 18-stories tall.
  • Jackie Robinson Houses; one, 8-story building.
  • James Weldon Johnson Houses; ten, 14-story buildings.
  • Lehman Village; four, 20-story buildings.
  • Lexington Houses; four, 14-story buildings.
  • Metro North Plaza; three buildings, 7, 8, and 11-stories tall.
  • Metro North Rehab; seventeen, 6-story rehabilitated tenement buildings.
  • Milbank-Frawley; two rehabilitated tenement buildings 5 and 6-stories tall.
  • Morris Park Senior Citizens Home; one, 9-story rehabilitated building.
  • Park Avenue-East 122nd, 123rd Streets; two, 6-story buildings.
  • President Abraham Lincoln; fourteen buildings, 6 and 14-stories tall.
  • President George Washington Houses; fourteen buildings, 12 and 14-stories tall.
  • President Thomas Jefferson Houses; eighteen buildings, 7, 13 and 14-stories tall.
  • President Woodrow Wilson Houses; three, 20-story buildings.
  • Senator Robert A. Taft; nine, 19-story buildings.
  • Robert F. Wagner Houses; twenty-two buildings, 7 and 16-stories tall.
  • U.P.A.C.A. (Upper Park Avenue Community Association) Site 6; one, 12-story building.
  • U.P.A.C.A. (Upper Park Avenue Community Association) U.R.A. Site 5; one, 11-story building.

Other subsidized housing include:

  • Taino Towers – East 122nd Street and Third Avenue. Four 35-story towers, 656 apartments. Opened 1979.
  • A new 68-story rental tower has been proposed to be built in East Harlem, but is still in the process of gaining approval. The 1,300,000-square-foot (120,000 m2) building, which is currently the site of the School of Cooperative Technical Education, would house three schools and retail space along with a mix of 1,100 affordable and market-rate apartments.

In popular culture


  • Ben E. King's song, "Spanish Harlem" (1961) and the 1966 cover of it by The Mamas & the Papas
  • Bob Dylan's song "Spanish Harlem Incident" from his album Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
  • Phil Ochs' song "Lou Marsh" from his album All the News That's Fit to Sing (1964)
  • Louie Ramirez's song "Lucy's Spanish Harlem" from his album In the Heart of Spanish Harlem (1967)
  • Elton John's "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" from Honky Château (1972)
  • Paul Simon's song "Adios Hermanos" from his album Songs from The Capeman (1997)
  • Van Morrison's song "Contemplation Rose" from his anthology album "Philosopher's Stone" (1998)
  • Carlos Santana's songs "Maria Maria" and "Smooth" from his album Supernatural (1999)
  • Beirut's song, "East Harlem" (2011)
  • Cocoa Brovaz, Tony Touch & Hurricane G's song, "Spanish Harlem" (1997)


  • Piri Thomas's memoir Down These Mean Streets (1967)
  • Ernesto Quiñonez's novels, Bodega Dreams (2000) and Chango's Fire (2005)
  • Salvatore Mondello's novel A Sicilian in East Harlem (2005)
  • Nora Roberts's novel Salvation in Death (2008)


  • The film Popi (1969), written by Tina Pine and Lester Pine and directed by Arthur Hiller
  • Nelson Denis's film Vote For Me! (2003)

Music videos

  • Frankie Cutlass's "Puerto Rico" music video was shot in Spanish Harlem (1994)
  • Jay-Z's "Death of Autotune" music video was shot inside Rao's Italian restaurant (2009)
  • ASAP Rocky's "Peso" music video features footage of East Harlem (2011)


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