If you open your ears and listen closely, you can hear the smooth sounds and jazz beats echoing slowly through the streets. Thunderous claps, vociferous laughter, and stomping feet, infusing together creating this new found harmony, one of noise and movement. These are sounds slowly drifting away from the Apollo Theater and making its way down the cemented streets during a cool, dark night. As it makes its way past an African merchant, and an Italian restaurant, it then comes across a fusion of smells. A smell of home cooked soul food being made at the Sylvia restaurant, and strong scented Mexican food, fulfilling the air. Can you smell it? Can you see it? Can you feel it?
These are small general glimpses of what makes West Harlem so distinctive and so unique. Along with its diversity, cultural infusion, and overall sprit comes a significant sense of history. A history that is engraved in the very murals one passes by, the very parks, and most importantly the very institutions that makes up a large part of life in West Harlem. One of the most notable and recognizable institutions in West Harlem, and even beyond that in the United States, is the famous Apollo Theater. This vivid music hall, has provide its stages to some of the greatest world-renowned artists, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson. It launched the careers of numerous musicians, actors, and comedians. Apollo has become a landmark institution, especially after its expansion during the Harlem Renaissance.
West Harlem tries to preserve it’s sense of history by placing admiration on institutions that once played a large role in its past. An example of this is the modern “Cotton Club”, which tries to imitate the spirit of the original Cotton Club that existed until 1940. This was a renowned jazz club in Harlem, its roots in history traces back to the Prohibition era, in which Jazz music bean to drive and gain national attention. This jazz club had attracted some of the greatest jazz musicians. The recreation of this institution comes to show how till this day the appreciation of music, and “soul” in West Harlem. The admiration of history is also shown by the establishment of research institution such as that of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. A research center dedicated to preserving the African- American culture and history.
What makes West Harlem so distinctive is that not only does it have numerous historical institutions, but at the same time, it has establishments that were created to specifically give back to the Harlem community, and to serve a variety of people ranging from class, religion, and cultures. Within this neighborhood, there is a bilingual speech impairment, behavioral problems and learning disabilities pre-school.
Interestingly enough, a few blocks down, there is a local Jewish synagogue, known as the “Old Broadway Synagogue”, which is a religious institution for those who are Jewish an local Harlem residents. This is one example of how there is diffusion and a degree of tolerance of different cultures, and religions than can somehow live with one another, in one community. With this in mind, there are also a variety of stores that cater to a specific niche, although it does not do so exclusively. For an instance, walking the streets of West Harlem you can find an African Hair Braiding salon, and right next to it, a South American restaurant, and next to that a church.
Giving back to the immigrant population is something Harlem prides itself on. When walking throughout West Harlem, there are countless centers for children, health centers, a few local libraries, and parks that open itself to everyone in this neighborhood. Ultimately, it is through these institutions by which Harlem can be described as one of the most vibrant and most popular neighborhoods in NYC.
If you listen carefully, you can hear West Harlem’s effervescence softly whispering in the streets.