East Harlem & Spanish Harlem

Today was the first time I felt unsafe in any neighborhood in Manhattan. I came out of the subway station at 125th street in East Harlem and immediately felt intimidated by the hoards of young men hovering around the subway entrance. Across the street a group was forming around two young men who were screaming obscenities at each other. I saw what clearly looked like a drug deal going on at the end of the block. My intuition told me to turn around and go right back into that subway station and get on the next train out. But I didn’t.

I promised myself that I would do every single neighborhood on the island so I knew I had to keep going. The negotiation in my mind started, “If I can just walk to the next subway station I can at least say I’ve done this area.” “Just take a few quick photos, Lisa, and you can prove you did it.” “Your safety is more important than this stupid project, Lisa.” Just one station was my goal. That was about six blocks.

With my shoulders back and my chin high, I tried my best to look confident. Just kept walking, and walking fast. Even the cops knew better than to hang out in this neighborhood. Didn’t see a single one in sight.

I walked 60 blocks that day. And to my surprise, I believe East Harlem and Spanish Harlem might go down as my favorite neighborhoods. The streets are rich with museum-quality artwork. The restaurants serve true cultural dishes usually only found south of the border. Music playing from open windows fills the streets. I’ll go back to this neighborhood, but next time I’ll take someone with me.

Below’s only a sampling of what I saw:

barrioart in harlemartwork in Spanish Harlemgraffiti in Sanish Harlemgraffiti in NYC

art in spanish Barrio

NYC graffitigraffiti in NYC Harlemgraffiti in Barrio NYCgraffiti in NYC graffiti in HarlemHells Gate NYCWouldn’t you hate to tell people you lived in Hells Gate? Wonder what the motivation was behind giving this community such a wretched name?

flier advertising re-entry program for prisonersThis flier gave me a taste of what type of community I was visiting. It was posted on the phone pole, inviting people to come to a neighborhood Bar-B-Q, welcoming home prisoners who had served their terms in prison. A Re-Entry BBQ.

a home with lots of flowers. . . and finally, a doorway where the local florist must live!




  • Kristi Schneider
    Posted at 13:44h, 21 July

    I love the art work! We went everywhere via cheesy tour bus. Believe it or not…it’s a great way to see New York too. We saw everything, but Brooklyn. I am glad they did not mess with you. I look forward to reading and seeing more about your adventure.

  • linda
    Posted at 12:10h, 23 July

    I’m sad it’s almost time for you to come home. I will really miss reading about all your NYC adventures. All the different neighborhood descriptions are so interesting. My youngest daughter lived in NYC one summer after freshman year in college and I’m wondering if it was in East Harlem. I have got to ask her so I can go back and read your blog description on the neighborhood.

  • linda
    Posted at 17:24h, 23 July

    I found out from Mallory…. she lived in Washington Heights. I think it is on the fringe of Harlem.

  • lisaweldon
    Posted at 00:45h, 24 July

    oh, yeah, Washington Heights is gorgeous…right next to Columbia Univ.

  • Janis Miller
    Posted at 16:07h, 01 August

    Yikes on safety – thumbs up on the art work! You must read “No Reservations” when you have the time – you’ll love it.

  • Pingback:What to do in NYC? | { lisa weldon }
    Posted at 13:13h, 02 March

    […] you like graffiti and murals, don’t miss one of my favorite neighborhoods, East Harlem and Spanish Harlem. The urban art is incredible, better than any museum in the city. And […]