A Summertime Visit to Harlem’s Historic Astor Row

 

 

 

One of the most enchanting streets in Harlem is a row of 28 houses on the south side of West 130th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues known as Astor Row. Let’s take a stroll back in time.

The homes were built between 1880 and 1883 on land purchased by John Jacob Astor in 1844 for $10,000. But it was John Jacob’s grandson, William Backhouse Astor, Jr. who moved forward with the project, designed by Charles Buek, as speculative townhouses.

Each of the 28 row houses was designed as three-story brick single-family homes, set back from the street with large front yards and rocking chair wooden porches.

You will notice that #8 through #22 are freestanding pairs, with the remainders ~ #24 through #60, are connected. They were originally offered for rent at a fee of $1,100 per year!

Over time, the wooden porches fell into deep disrepair, having not been well maintained. But in 1981, after the 28 row houses were designated New York City Landmarks, money was raised to restore facades, improve plumbing, heating and electrical lines, all overseen by New York Landmarks Conservancy, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Vincent Astor Foundation, Manhattan CB 10, Abyssinian Development Corporation, Commonwealth Fund, NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and several local banks (it took a Village, indeed).

In 1992 Ella Fitzgerald performed at Radio City Music hall to help raise money for this restoration, and by the end of the 1990’s, the restoration project was complete.

It was written by the New York Times that in 1988, a boarded-up Astor Row house sold for $30,000. By 2004, one of the houses sold for $750,000. Today, an Astor Row house could sell for in the millions.

The neighborhood has gone through a plethora of changes, including the Harlem Renaissance with the Harlem Renaissance Ballroom and other Clubs just blocks away. The famous Collyer Brothers brownstone was located just two-blocks away, until their death in the 1940s.

Today there are plaques as reminders at these historic sites, as the neighborhood enjoys a Harlem Restaurant Row inching up Lenox Avenue, the National Jazz Museum just around the corner, along with the popular Lenox Coffee Shop, and Revolution Books.

Summer is the best time for a stroll down the block, with the front gardens in full bloom. Some of them thick with perennials, while others grow vegetables. The porches are complete with comfortable summer chairs. On the opposite side of the street, rows of brownstones.

In 2018, New York City Landmark Preservation Commission designated the neighborhood just west of Lenox, from West 130-132nd Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, a Historic District.

When you finish your stroll, take a walk five short blocks north and visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library, and enjoy the WPA Mural across the street at Harlem Hospital.

Watercolor of Astor Row, prints  sold by AFineLyne on Fine Art America

If you are headed in the opposite direction, south on Lenox Avenue, take a small side trip and visit Harlem Grown on 127th Street, featuring a two-story, vertical hydroponics green house – a living classroom for kids.

Come back. There’s a lot more to see.