I’ve read some of the blogs where other agents talk about what Upper Manhattan means to them. I guess this is one of those. I find myself previewing, walking through the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods with clients and being flooded with memories. When I was 17, I’d just moved to NY to attend NYU and the first place my high school sweetheart wanted to see, obsessed as he was with architecture, was the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street and Broadway. The 2nd place was the Cloisters in Ft Tryon Park. It felt like we’d stepped into a time machine and gone back to medieval times. He marveled at the architecture and I was mesmerized by the tapestries and gardens. Probably one of the most romantic dates I’ve ever been on to this day. One of the many reasons I’m so grateful he was my first love is, he taught me to look up as I walked through the streets of New York and appreciate its history and beauty. In a five minute walk, you can see Medieval, Gothic, Art Deco, Modern, Minimalist, Contemporary, etc. It’s one of the many reasons anyone who lives here long enough can’t help but fall in love with this magically cinematic city.
Every time I get off the A train at Dyckman Street in Inwood it feels like the summer of my junior year in college all over again. The Irish Pub and bodega on the corner of Arden & Dyckman are still there! I can’t help smiling, recalling that feeling when me and my roommate for the summer walked into our sublet on Dongan Place. We’d rented it from a Purchase Alumni, sight unseen and simultaneously broke into a hysterical happy dance at the sight of our gorgeous, Art Deco, two bedroom, palace with a sunken living room we each paid $450 a month for, while our classmates were crammed into their tiny, dirty, railroad tenements in the E. Village and Brooklyn, paying so much more than us! Ha Ha!
Since I was a little girl, I always dreamed of living in New York, but especially Harlem. I’d get lost in Langston Hughes poems and James Baldwin novels and imagine myself living next door to Duke Ellington and saying “Good Day Lady Day!” to Billie Holiday as she passed by walking her huge Boxer named Mister. There were so many weekends spent just walking up and down 125th Street with my BFF’s. All the people and street vendors made it feel like a parade route. I remember the summer The Fugees had just dropped ‘The Score’ that year and it was EVERYTHING! “Ready or Not” was blasting from every window, storefront, bodega, bar, restaurant, car and boombox and absolutely everyone knew all the words.
Anyone who scrolls through to the last picture of any of my ads will usually find a piece of graffiti. I was absolutely tickled one rainy day of previewing when I got off the 1 train at 190th Street and discovered all the graffiti murals tagging the walls of that way too long tunnel from the subway to Broadway. So I went crazy taking pictures of them all! Graffiti murals are one of those quintessential New York things I used to love to see everywhere, that I miss so much. Then, emerging from the tunnel onto Broadway there’s a mixture of joy and terror at the sight of New York City School District 6 and memories of trying to wrangle dozens of 4th and 5th graders into mirror exercises and freeze tag improv for the creative arts after school program I used to facilitate as a teaching artist there.
It’s been interesting getting reacquainted with East Harlem which I’ve only ever known as “El Barrio”. One of my favorite experiences as an artist was crafting a ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration with amazing mask and stilt artists and my fave! a Mariachi band from Mexico at El Museo Del Barrio. The whole community came out to celebrate; young people, parents and grandparents. I also loved the time I spent volunteering at the Animal Care and Control shelter on East 110th Street.
Recently, I had a client searching for 2 bedroom apartments in East Harlem. On the 2nd appointment her roommate cancelled again at the last minute but we forged ahead anyway, on one of those blazing hot, unforgiving days in August. Things seemed to be going well, then I asked her about her roommate and opened a floodgate. She unloaded a tirade of frustration about how her roommate refused to come to East Harlem. It was the usual, ‘Is the neighborhood safe?’ that we often hear as agents. She told me all about her life growing up in Ecuador and how much East Harlem reminded her of home. As we walked, I realized that it felt like my hometown in Miami too. All the hustle bustle of immigrants hard at work with all the different languages swirling in the air, kids playing and getting their cups of fruity ice and mangos on a stick and always some Latin music playing from every other storefront felt so familiar in that warm fuzzies kinda way.
We had to take a break to hydrate and had some awesome street tacos listening to all the local ladies’ gossip of the day. We resumed our search and everyone we encountered was chatty & friendly, despite the blistering heat. El Barrio was bubbling with life and nothing seemed to keep its’ spirit down, especially the old man having his very own one-man salsa party with a boombox on the corner of 113th Street and 3rd Avenue. It was that really good, old fashioned salsa that our parents listened to. How could we resist? Yeah, we danced a few salsa steps with him and I wondered why the oldest men are always the best salsa dancers.
Ultimately, I think her roommate won the battle of the neighborhoods, but it didn’t take the shine off that day for me. It’s still one my favorite days that I’ve had as a Real Estate Agent. “Is the neighborhood safe?” You’ll have to decide that for yourself. For me, it’s definitely got that magic!