Looking north from 2nd Avenue and 96th Street (2019)
Location in New York City
|City||New York City|
|Community District||Manhattan 11|
|• White (non-Hispanic)||7.3%|
|• Median income||$21,480|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
|Area code||212, 332, 646, and 917|
East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, 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 roughly East 142nd Street east of Fifth Avenue to the East and Harlem Rivers. 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. The community is notable for its contributions to Latin freestyle and salsa music. East Harlem also 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.
East Harlem has historically suffered from many social issues, such as a high crime rate, the highest jobless rate in New York City, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, drug abuse, homelessness, and an asthma rate five times the national average. It has the second-highest concentration of public housing in the United States, behind Brownsville, Brooklyn. However, East Harlem is undergoing some gentrification. In February 2016, East Harlem was one of four neighborhoods featured in an article in The New York Times about "New Hot Neighborhoods", and the city was considering re-zoning the area.
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 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.
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. It was the founding location of the Genovese crime family, one of the Five Families that dominated organized crime in New York City. This includes the current 116th Street Crew of the Genovese family. During the 1970s, Italian East Harlem was also home to the Italian-American drug gang and murder-for-hire crew known as the East Harlem Purple Gang.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, Italian Harlem was represented in Congress by future Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, and later, in the 1940s, by Italian-American civil rights lawyer, activist, and socialist Vito Marcantonio. The Italian neighborhood approached its peak in the 1930s, with over 110,000 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.
Puerto Rican and Latin American migration 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, drug abuse, crime and poverty. Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained, and frequent targets for arson. In 1969 and 1970, a regional chapter of the Young Lords which were reorganized from a neighborhood street gang in Chicago by Jose (Cha-Cha) Jimenez, ran several programs including a Free Breakfast for Children and a Free Health Clinic to help Latino and poor families. The Young Lords came together with the Black Panthers and called for Puerto Rican independence and neighborhood empowerment. Still, as of the early 2000s, the Latin Kings gang was still prevalent in East Harlem.
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 changes to area demographics.
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.
East Harlem has begun to feel the effects of gentrification. In February 2016, an article in The New York Times about "New York's Next Hot Neighborhoods" featured East Harlem as one of four such areas. A real-estate broker described it as "one of the few remaining areas in New York City where you can secure a good deal". The article mentioned new luxury developments, access to transportation, the opening of new retail stores, bars and restaurants, and national-brand stores beginning to appear on the outskirts of the neighborhood. Primarily, though, it was the cost of housing in comparison to the rest of Manhattan, which the article noted as the major factor. Beginning in 2016, the New York City government was seeking to rezone East Harlem "to facilitate new residential, commercial, community facility, and manufacturing development". The residents of the neighborhood generated a suggested zoning plan, the "East Harlem Neighborhood Plan", which was offered to the city in February 2017, but in August 2017 residents and the Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, complained that the city had ignored their plan almost entirely.
In 2019, the oldest portion of the neighborhood, the blocks of East 111th through 120th Streets between Park and Pleasant Avenues, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the East Harlem Historic District.
For census purposes, the New York City government classifies East Harlem into two neighborhood tabulation areas: East Harlem North and East Harlem South.
The New York City Department of City Planning calculated data for East Harlem North and East Harlem South from the 2010 Census. The two sub-neighborhoods had a combined population of 115,921, an increase of 1,874 (1.4%) from the combined 114,047 in the 2000 Census.
Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of East Harlem North was 58,019, an increase of 871 (1.5%) from the 57,148 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 573.94 acres (232.27 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 101.1 inhabitants per acre (64,700/sq mi; 25,000/km2). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 6.8% (3,936) White, 35.5% (20,625) African American, 0.2% (128) Native American, 3.0% (1,766) Asian, 0.0% (9) Pacific Islander, 0.3% (185) from other races, and 1.3% (769) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 52.7% (30,601) of the population.
Based on data from the 2010 Census, the population of East Harlem South was 57,902, an increase of 1,003 (1.8%) from the 56,899 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 389.41 acres (157.59 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 148.7 inhabitants per acre (95,200/sq mi; 36,700/km2). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 17.4% (10,072) White, 24.6% (14,227) African American, 0.2% (96) Native American, 8.3% (4,802) Asian, 0.1% (55) Pacific Islander, 0.4% (218) from other races, and 1.6% (933) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 47.5% (27,499) of the population
The entirety of Community District 11, which comprises East Harlem, had 124,323 inhabitants as of NYC Health's 2018 Community Health Profile, with an average life expectancy of 77.3 years.:2, 20 This is 3.9 years lower than the median life expectancy of 81.2 for all New York City neighborhoods.:53 (PDF p. 84) Most inhabitants are children and middle-aged adults: 21% are between the ages of 0–17, while 33% are between 25–44, and 23% are between 45–64. The ratio of college-aged and elderly residents was lower, at 10% and 13% respectively.:2
As of 2017, the median household income in Community District 11 was $36,770. In 2018, an estimated 23% of East Harlem residents lived in poverty, compared to 14% in all of Manhattan and 20% in all of New York City. One in nine residents (11%) were unemployed, compared to 7% in Manhattan and 9% in New York City. Rent burden, or the percentage of residents who have difficulty paying their rent, is 48% in East Harlem, compared to the boroughwide and citywide rates of 45% and 51% respectively. Based on this calculation, as of 2018[update], East Harlem is gentrifying.:7
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, Italian-Americans, Asian-Americans, West Indian Americans (especially Dominican Americans and Cuban Americans), and a growing population of Mexican Americans and Salvadoran Americans and other Central American immigrants. It has one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in all of New York City.
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. 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%.
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%.
Social problems, including poverty, crime, and drug addiction, have long plagued the area. Although crime rates have dropped from the historically high numbers of the past, East Harlem suffers from one of Manhattan's highest violent crime rates, with 7 murders in 2018.
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.
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 second-highest concentration of public housing in the United States, behind Brownsville, Brooklyn. 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. As of 2013, 93.6% of all housing units were renter-occupied, and over 25% of the population resided in public housing units managed by the NYCHA.
- 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 residential developments
Other subsidized housing includes:
- Taino Towers – East 122nd Street and Third Avenue. Four 35-story towers, 656 apartments. Opened 1979.
- A new 68-story rental tower at 321 East 96th Street was approved in August 2017. 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.
The neighborhood is home to one of the few major television studios north of midtown, Metropolis at 106th Street and Park Avenue, where shows such as BET's 106 & Park and Chappelle's Show have been produced. PRdream.com, a web site on the history and culture of Puerto Ricans, founded a media gallery and digital film studio called MediaNoche in 2003. It presents technology-based art on Park Avenue and 102nd Street, providing exhibition space and residencies for artists and filmmakers, and webcasting events.
Police and crime
East Harlem is patrolled by two precincts of the NYPD. The area north of 116th Street is covered by the 25th Precinct, located at 120 East 119th Street, while the area south of 116th Street is patrolled by the 23rd Precinct, located at 164 East 102nd Street. The 25th and 23rd Precincts ranked 44th safest out of 69 patrol areas for per-capita crime in 2010. With a non-fatal assault rate of 130 per 100,000 people, East Harlem's rate of violent crimes per capita is more than that of the city as a whole. The incarceration rate of 1,294 per 100,000 people is higher than that of the city as a whole.:8
The 25th Precinct has a lower crime rate than in the 1990s, with crimes across all categories having decreased by 62.4% between 1990 and 2018. The precinct saw 3 murders, 43 rapes, 191 robberies, 357 felony assaults, 115 burglaries, 478 grand larcenies, and 32 grand larcenies auto in 2018. The 23rd Precinct also has a lower crime rate than in the 1990s, with crimes across all categories having decreased by 76.9% between 1990 and 2018. The precinct saw 4 murders, 9 rapes, 145 robberies, 316 felony assaults, 72 burglaries, 296 grand larcenies, and 21 grand larcenies auto in 2018.
- Engine Co. 35/Ladder Co. 14/Battalion 12 – 2282 Third Avenue
- Engine Co. 53/Ladder Co. 43 – 1836 Third Avenue
- Engine Co. 58/Ladder Co. 26 – 1367 Fifth Avenue
- Engine Co. 91 – 242 East 111th Street
Preterm and teenage births in East Harlem are higher than the city average. In East Harlem, there were 108 preterm births per 1,000 live births (compared to 87 per 1,000 citywide), and 10.8 teenage births per 1,000 live births (compared to 19.3 per 1,000 citywide), though the teenage birth rate was based on a small sample size.:11 East Harlem has a low population of residents who are uninsured. In 2018, this population of uninsured residents was estimated to be 3%, slightly less than the citywide rate of 12%, though this was based on a small sample size.:14
The concentration of fine particulate matter, the deadliest type of air pollutant, in East Harlem is 0.0082 milligrams per cubic metre (8.2×10−9 oz/cu ft), more than the city average.:9 Eighteen percent of East Harlem residents are smokers, which is more than the city average of 14% of residents being smokers.:13 In East Harlem, 28% of residents are obese, 17% are diabetic, and 34% have high blood pressure—compared to the citywide averages of 24%, 11%, and 28% respectively.:16 In addition, 23% of children are obese, compared to the citywide average of 20%.:12
Eighty-four percent of residents eat some fruits and vegetables every day, which is lower than the city's average of 87%. In 2018, 76% of residents described their health as "good," "very good," or "excellent," less than the city's average of 78%.:13 For every supermarket in East Harlem, there are 17 bodegas.:10
Metropolitan Hospital Center and Mount Sinai Hospital are both located in southern East Harlem. North General Hospital, which formerly served the area as well, is now closed. In addition, FDNY EMS Station 10 is located close to Metropolitan Hospital Center.
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.
Post offices and ZIP codes
East Harlem is located in two primary ZIP Codes. The area south of 116th Street is part of 10029 and the area north of 116th Street is part of 10035. The extreme northwestern portion of East Harlem is also located in 10037. The United States Postal Service operates two post offices near East Harlem:
- Hellgate Station – 153 East 110th Street
- Triborough Finance New Station – 118 East 124th Street
East Harlem generally has a lower rate of college-educated residents than the rest of the city. While 38% have a college education or higher, 25% have less than a high school education and 37% are high school graduates or have some college education. By contrast, 64% of Manhattan residents and 43% of city residents have a college education or higher.:6 The percentage of East Harlem students excelling in math rose from 25% in 2000 to 51% in 2011, and reading achievement increased from 33% to 39% during the same time period.
East Harlem's rate of elementary school student absenteeism is higher than the rest of New York City. In East Harlem, 30% of elementary school students missed twenty or more days per school year, more than the citywide average of 20%.:24 (PDF p. 55):6 Additionally, 67% of high school students in East Harlem graduate on time, less than the citywide average of 75%.:6
The schools in East Harlem are generally characterized by low test scores and high drop-out and truancy rates. As in other parts of the city, some schools require students pass through metal detectors and swipe ID cards to enter school buildings.
- Central Park East I (grades PK–5)
- Central Park East II (grades PK–8)
- James Weldon Johnson School (grades PK–8)
- Mosaic Preparatory Academy (grades PK–5)
- PS 7 Samuel Stern (grades PK–8)
- PS 30 Hernandez Hughes (grades PK–5)
- PS 38 Roberto Clemente (grades PK–5)
- PS 83 Luis Munoz Rivera (grades PK–5)
- PS 96 Joseph Lanzetta (grades PK–8)
- PS 102 Jacques Cartier (grades PK–5)
- PS 108 Assemblyman Angelo Del Toro Educational Com (grades PK–8)
- PS 112 Jose Celso Barbosa (grades PK–2)
- PS 133 Fred R Moore (grades PK–5)
- PS 138 (grades K-12)
- PS 155 William Paca (grades PK–5)
- PS 171 Patrick Henry (grades PK–8)
- PS/MS 206 Jose Celso Barbosa (grades 3–8)
- River East Elementary School (grades PK–5)
- Tag Young Scholars (grades K–8)
- The Bilingual Bicultural School (grades PK–5)
- The Lexington Academy (grades PK–8)
The following public middle schools are located in East Harlem, serving grades 6–8 unless otherwise indicated:
- Esperanza Preparatory Academy (grades 6–12)
- Isaac Newton MS For Math And Science
- MS 224 Manhattan East School For Arts And Academy
- Renaissance School of the Arts
- Young Women's Leadership School, East Harlem (grades 6–12)
The following public high schools are located in East Harlem, serving grades 9–12 unless otherwise indicated:
- Harlem Renaissance High School
- Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics – replaced Benjamin Franklin High School, a school which had the smallest graduating class in the city at the time of its closing.
- PS 79 Horan School (grades 10, 12)
- The Heritage School
Among the public charter schools in East Harlem are Success Academy Harlem 2 of Success Academy Charter Schools, the Harlem Village Academy, East Harlem Scholars Academies, and the DREAM Charter School.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) operates two branches in East Harlem:
- The Aguilar branch is located at 174 East 110th Street. The three-story Carnegie library branch opened in 1903 and was renovated in 1996. It is named for the author Grace Aguilar.
- The 125th Street branch is located at 224 East 125th Street. The two-story Carnegie library opened in 1901 and was renovated in 2001.
Two additional NYPL branches are located nearby. The 96th Street branch is located at 112 East 96th Street, at the border with the Upper East Side, while the Harlem branch is located at 9 West 124th Street, near the border with Harlem.
The Harlem River separates the Bronx and Manhattan, necessitating several spans between the two New York City boroughs. Three free bridges connect East Harlem and the Bronx: the Willis Avenue Bridge (for northbound traffic only), Third Avenue Bridge (for southbound traffic only), and Madison Avenue Bridge. In East Harlem, the Wards Island Bridge, also known as the 103rd Street Footbridge, connects Manhattan with Wards Island. The Triborough Bridge (officially the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge) is a complex of three separate bridges that offers connections between Queens, East Harlem, and the Bronx.
Public transportation service is provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The New York City Subway's IRT Lexington Avenue Line runs through East Harlem, with an express station at 125th Street (served by the 4, 5, 6, and <6> routes) as well as local stations at the 116th Street, 110th Street, 103rd Street, and 96th Street (served by the 6 and <6> routes). There is also a Second Avenue Subway station at 96th Street on the Q route. MTA Regional Bus Operations' M15, M15 SBS, M35, M60 SBS, M96, M98, M100, M101, M102, M103, M116 and Bx15 bus routes serve East Harlem as well. Metro-North Railroad has a commuter rail station at Harlem–125th Street, serving trains to the Lower Hudson Valley and Connecticut.
- Jack Agüeros (1934–2014), community activist, poet, writer, and translator and the former director of El Museo del Barrio.
- Marc Anthony (born 1968), singer
- ASAP Rocky (born 1988), rapper
- Ray Barretto (1929–2006), musician
- Joe Bataan (born 1942), singer
- Walter Berry (born 1964), former professional basketball player who spent three seasons in the NBA.
- Frank Bonilla (1925–2010), academic of Puerto Rican descent who became a leading figure in Puerto Rican studies.
- Joe Budden (born 1980), rapper and member of hip hop group Slaughterhouse.
- Cam'ron (born 1976), rapper
- Duke Carmel (born 1937), former professional baseball player who played all or part of four seasons in Major League Baseball.
- Daniel Celentano (1902–1980), artist
- Paquito Cordero (1932–2009), pioneer of Puerto Rican television
- Leonard Covello (1887–1982), educator, founder and first principal of Benjamin Franklin High School
- Frankie Cutlass (born 1971), musician
- Bobby Darin (1936–1973), singer
- Julia de Burgos (1914–1953), poet
- James De La Vega (c. 1974), visual artist best known for his street aphorisms and muralist art.
- Angelo Del Toro (1947–1994), politician
- Nelson Antonio Denis, New York State Assemblyman
- G. Dep (born 1973), rapper
- Dave East (born 1988), rapper
- Destiny Frasqueri (born 1992), rapper who performs under the stage name "Princess Nokia"
- Giosue Gallucci (1865–1915), gangster
- Joan Hackett (1934–1983), actress who appeared on television, film and stage.
- Langston Hughes (1901–1967), writer and social activist
- Jose Cha Cha Jimenez (born 1948), founder of the Young Lords
- Jim Jones (born 1976), rapper
- Roger Katan, architect, planner, sculptor and activist.
- DJ Kay Slay (born 1966), hip hop disc jockey
- Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882–1947), Congressman and mayor of New York City
- Burt Lancaster (1913–1994), actor and film producer
- Lillian López (1925–2005), activist and librarian
- Vito Marcantonio (1902–1954), lawyer and politician
- Alpo Martinez (born 1966), former drug dealer who rose to prominence alongside Azie Faison and Rich Porter in the mid 1980s in Harlem during the War on Drugs.
- Soraida Martinez (born 1956), artist and designer
- Vince McMahon Sr. (1914–1984), professional wrestling promoter and former owner of WWE
- Thomas Minter (1924–2009), education official who served in the United States government and the government of New York City.
- Monifah (born 1972), R&B singer-songwriter
- Giuseppe Morello (1867–1930), gangster
- Alice Neel (1900–1984), painter
- Dael Orlandersmith, actress, poet and playwright known for her Obie Award-winning Beauty's Daughter and the 2002 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Drama, Yellowman.
- Al Pacino (born 1940), actor
- Tito Puente (1923–2000), musician
- Ernesto Quiñonez (born 1969), writer
- Ray Santos (1928-2019), Grammy Award-winning Latin musician.
- Tupac Shakur (1971–1996), rapper and actor
- Ronnie Spector (born 1943) and the Ronettes, singers
- Piri Thomas (1928–2011), writer
- Joseph Valachi (1904–1971), gangster, notable as the first member of the Italian-American Mafia to publicly acknowledge its existence, and credited with popularization of the term Cosa Nostra.
- Samuel E. Vázquez (born 1970), abstract expressionist painter
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)
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- Ray Barretto, Smithsonian Latino Center. Accessed February 2, 2017. "He was raised in the Latin ghettos of East Harlem and the Bronx, in an environment filled with music of Puerto Rico but with a love for the swing bands of Ellington, Basie and Goodman."
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- Conte, Michaelangelo. "Jersey City rap star Joe Budden is on the Hudson County sheriff's chart as a deadbeat dad owing nearly $13,000 in child support", The Jersey Journal, October 19, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2016. "Born in Spanish Harlem, Budden moved to Jersey City with his family when he was 11 and grew up on the West Side. He now has addresses on Bentley Avenue in Jersey City and River Road in North Bergen."
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- Urbina, Ian. "Metro Briefing; New York: Bronx: No Jail Time For Graffiti Painter", The New York Times, October 26, 2004. Accessed September 20, 2018. "James De La Vega, left, a street muralist from East Harlem who is also campaigning as a write-in candidate for the 28th District of the State Senate, was sentenced yesterday to 50 hours of community service for spray-painting the side of a Bronx building, according to the Bronx district attorney's office."
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- Hicks, Jonathan P. "In East Harlem, 2 Candidates Try to End a Dynasty as a 3d Tries to Uphold It", The New York Times, March 13, 1995. Accessed February 2, 2017. "Mr. Denis, a 40-year-old lawyer in East Harlem, also said that his goal has been to increase voter awareness so that people turn out at the polls even though it is a special election."
- Robertson, Darryl. "Dave East Rides Through East Harlem With '30 N*ggaz' In New Video", Vibe, January 11, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017. "Dave East is winning at life. Last night (Jan. 10), the East Harlem rapper made his acting debut on BET's hit television series Mary Jane."
- Richards, Hunter. "Princes Nokia on the Throne", The Harvard Independent, June 30, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017. "The queer artist and proud Nuyorican (portmanteau of the terms ‘New York’ and ‘Puerto Rican’) grew up in Spanish Harlem, drawing from her Afro-Latinx identity and city for her work."
- Staff. "Father And Son Shot.; Harlem's Little Italy Is Scene of Another Gun Fight.", The New York Times, May 18, 1915. Accessed September 20, 2018. "Giosue Gallucci, a money lender, proprietor of a bakery and of coffee houses and saloons in Harlem's Little Italy, where for years he has been a prominent figure, left his bakery at 318 East 109th Street shortly before 10 o'clock last night and walked to a coffee house recently opened by his 19-year-old son Luca, at 336 East 109th Street."
- Purnick, Joyce. "Joan Hackett, 49, The Actress; Won 1982 Oscar Nomination", The New York Times, October 10, 1983. Accessed September 20, 2018. "Joan Hackett, daughter of an Italian mother and an Irish-American father, was born March 1, 1934, in East Harlem. The Hacketts soon moved to Elmhurst, Queens, and that was home when the future actress with the high cheekbones and aristocratic nose dropped out of her senior year in high school to work as a model."
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- Feeney, Michael J. "Harlem rapper Jim Jones' new music video is a sign of the times", New York Daily News, April 7, 2011. Accessed February 2, 2017. "'I've personally dealt with all of these situations,' said the rapper, who grew up in East Harlem."
- Katan, Roger. "Participative Mindscapes", Arts, March 1, 2006. Accessed October 18, 2017. "At a time of great social upheaval, I decided to teach and spend more time providing free technical advice to the East Harlem community."
- Kim, Serena. "Drama King", Vibe, June 2003. Accessed June 13, 2019. "His mother Sheila, then 23, and father, Eric Grayson, an R&B DJ in Manhattan, decided to entrust him to his grandparents in Harlem's East River Houses."
- Beale, Lewis. "Burt Lancaster, a Hollywood star, dies at 80 after heart attack in 1994", New York Daily News, October 22, 1994. Accessed February 2, 2017. " But even as a star, he never forgot where he came from, donating money to East Harlem charities. He was also a steadfast believer in liberal causes and once served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union. Born Burton Stephen Lancaster on Nov. 2, 1913, at Third Ave. and 106th St., the actor was the son of an East Harlem postal clerk."
- "Guide to the Lillian López Papers 1928–2005", Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Born in Salinas, Puerto Rico in 1925, Lillian López spent her early childhood in Ponce. In 1935, she left Ponce with her widowed mother and a younger sister for New York City. There they were reunited with an older sister, Evelina, who had arrived two years earlier. Joining a growing number of Puerto Rican migrants in New York City, they settled in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem)."
- ex, Kris. "Bad Fellas", Vibe, October 2002. Accessed October 18, 2017. "Alpo, who came from East Harlem, began his life in crime sticking up Dominican drug dealers."
- Johnson, Carolyn D. Harlem Travel Guide, p. 156. Welcome to Harlem, 2010. ISBN 9781449915889. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Also, the contemporary artist Soraida Martinez, the painter and creator of 'Verdadism', was born in Spanish Harlem."
- Martin, Douglas. "Thomas Minter, 84, New York and Federal Education Official, Dies", The New York Times, May 26, 2009. Accessed September 26, 2017. "Thomas Kendall Minter was born in the Bronx on June 28, 1924, and grew up in East Harlem."
- Gipson, L. Michael. "The Gosepl According to Monifah", Swerv magazine, September–October 2016. Accessed February 2, 2017. "Born and bred in East Harlem, the big-voice girl with the West African name has been in the spotlight since she was in pigtails and Mary Janes, starring in off-Broadway shows and national commercials for such major brands as Hi-C as a child."
- "T.B. Harlem by Alice Neel", National Museum of Women in the Arts. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Like many of Alice Neel's portraits of her Spanish Harlem neighbors, T.B. Harlem calls attention to poverty as a social issue without sacrificing the subject's individuality."
- Farago, Jason. "Alice Neel’s Love of Harlem and the Neighbors She Painted There", The New York Times, February 23, 2017. Accessed February 27, 2017. "As Mr. Als points out, she considered the neighborhood 'honky-tonk' – and so with her lover, the musician José Santiago Negrón, she moved into the first of several railroad apartments in Spanish Harlem, just off Central Park."
- Hampton, Wilborn. "THEATER REVIEW; Growing Up Talented In Harlem: Poet's Tour", The New York Times, February 7, 1995. Accessed September 26, 2017. "First and foremost, Ms. Orlandersmith is a poet possessed of an exciting new voice. Publicity material for the show says that among the books in the author's own room as she grew up in East Harlem were the works of Rimbaud and Baudelaire."
- Labrecque, Jeff. "Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese have never worked together. What?!", Entertainment Weekly, September 16, 2010. Accessed September 15, 2017. "Al Pacino was born in East Harlem in 1940 and grew up in the Bronx."
- Siegal, Nina. "The New York Legacy of Tito Puente", The New York Times, June 6, 2000. Accessed February 27, 2017. "He was born at Harlem Hospital, and his family moved frequently, but as a boy in the 1930s he lived at 53 East 110th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues in Spanish Harlem."
- Quiñonez, Ernesto. Bodega Dreams, Random House. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Q: So, how much of your novel is autobiographical? A: The first chapter, which explores the school years and early friendships of Chino growing up on the streets in Spanish Harlem, is very autobiographical.... Growing up in Spanish Harlem, you learn that in order to not take a beating everyday, you have to fight sometimes."
- Slotnik, Daniel E. "Ray Santos, a Pillar of Latin Jazz, Is Dead at 90", The New York Times, October 23, 2019. Accessed October 23, 2019. "Raymond Santos was born in Manhattan on Dec. 28, 1928.... He grew up, first in East Harlem and later the Bronx, immersed in Puerto Rican music and in big-band jazz, particularly as played by Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Count Basie."
- Rogovoy, Seth. "The Secret Jewish History of Tupac Shakur", The Forward, June 18, 2014. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in East Harlem on June 16, 1971, to parents who preached a violent form of black nationalism."
- Hoby, Hermione. "Ronnie Spector interview: 'The more Phil tried to destroy me, the stronger I got'; Imprisoned by her husband, Ronnie Spector has now turned her tale of survival into a stage show. Hermione Hoby meets the Sixties icon", The Daily Telegraph, March 6, 2014. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Veronica Yvette Bennett was born in Spanish Harlem in 1943 to an Irish father and half African-American, half Cherokee mother with an enormous extended family."
- Piri Thomas papers 1957–1980, New York Public Library. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Author, poet and playwright, Piri Thomas is best known for his autobiography, Down These Mean Streets (1967) which deals with his early years growing up in East Harlem, the challenges of his Afro-Puerto Rican/Cuban heritage, and his involvement with drugs and gangs."
- "Local author’s new book details Mafia connections to JFK assassination; $100 million Martin Scorsese film scheduled for 2017 ", Idaho Mountain Express, June 29, 2016. Accessed October 18, 201. "It was a Genovese made man from East Harlem, Joseph Valachi, who, betraying the deepest Mafia secrets, had just humiliated the Genovese in televised hearings."
- Grimes, William. "Ben E. King, Soulful Singer of 'Stand by Me,' Dies at 76", The New York Times, May 1, 2015. Accessed February 27, 2017. "Mr. King left the Drifters in 1960 and embarked on a successful solo career. 'Spanish Harlem,' written by Mr. Leiber with Phil Spector, reached the Top 10 that year."
- Staff. "100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs; From 'Just Like a Woman' to 'John Wesley Harding,' we count down the American icon's key masterpieces", Rolling Stone, May 24, 2016. Accessed September 15, 2017. "47. 'Spanish Harlem Incident' (1964) – Dylan performed this brief, tender slip of a song about a crush on a fortune teller exactly once."
- Eyekiller (February 25, 2019). "Music – Van Morrison – Official Website". Van Morrison.
- Rocco, Renata. "El Barrio Within New York City – Piri Thomas's Down These Mean Street – An introduction", Academia.edu. Accessed September 26, 2017. "The first important Puerto Rican memoir written in English was his Down These Mean Streets, a story of growing up among violence and decay in Spanish Harlem in the late forties and fifties."
- Araujo, Richard, (5/3/03), Comedia Politica desde El Barrio, El Nuevo Dia
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