In 2003, East Harlem received a boost when the Bloomberg administration pushed through a plan to rezone a whopping 57 blocks of the neighborhood. The initiative (the first of its kind in 40 years) allowed for increased density along First, Second, and Third avenues, while preserving the lower slung mid-blocks in between. Following the change, the area saw more than a dozen buildings of 8-12 stories sprout up along its busiest stretches. Now, the de Blasio administration is looking to build even bigger, and on Tuesday officials presented their latest upzoning proposal (pdf), a plan that would allow towers up to 30 stories tall to be constructed in the area.
East Harlem: From Manhattan’s First Little Italy to El Barrio to a Neighborhood on the Cusp of Gentrification, Thu, April 9, 2015
A lot of attention is paid to West Harlem, or what many people traditionally consider THE Harlem, thanks to its rich history rooted in places like the Apollo and up-and-coming hot spots like the Studio Museum in Harlem and Marcus Samuelson’s renowned restaurant, the Red Rooster. But east of Fifth Avenue, there’s a history just as deep, and the neighborhood is at that fragile stage where it could easily be thrust into a wave of gentrification at any time.
Defined as the area bound by Fifth Avenue and First Avenue from 96th to 125th Streets, East Harlem is commonly known as Spanish Harlem, or El Barrio by locals. What many people unfamiliar with the neighborhood don’t know, though, is that this area got its start as Manhattan’s first Little Italy. And if you’re the type of New Yorker who doesn’t venture above 86th Street, you’re likely unaware of the slew of new developments sprouting up in East Harlem thanks to a 2003 57-block rezoning.
Our new series “My sqft” checks out the homes of 6sqft’s friends, family and fellow New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to Spanish Harlem. Want your home to be featured here? Get in touch!
Located in an unassuming low-rise walk-up in Spanish Harlem is a tiny apartment with no views, a small living room, and thousands of pieces of one-of-a-kind art from around the world. Its owner, Hector Castaneda, is a world traveller who’s visited more than 50 countries over the last 15 years. While most folks are happy simply snapping a few photos and heading home after a week or two, Hector is all about immersion and spends months at a time in some of the world’s most exotic and extreme locales. As Hector travels the world he picks up art, tapestry, sculptures, furniture, and musical instruments from every country, which today magically fill every nook and cranny of his 500-square-foot apartment.
“He is the only person I know who can turn a dingy walk-up building apartment into a work of art—it’s really a private New York Museum and Hector is the curator,” his friend Lisa Monroig told us. Once we heard that, we knew we had to pay him a visit.