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© 2019 by The Curious Uptowner

A primer on Central Harlem's avenues for visitors (and the perpetually disoriented)

April 16, 2018

 

Manhattan's amazing grid system makes navigating the city a breeze for locals and tourists alike–except when you find yourself on a part of the island where the numbers suddenly vanish (these pockets are more common than you think).

 

Take Central Harlem. The streets running east to west are all numbered (note that 125th Street is also Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). But it's the avenues here that can get a little tricky.

 

Over the years, three in its heart have been renamed (some a few times), and visitors may find the lack of numbers–and epic names–confusing. But it's not that hard. Memorize the following and you'll be able to explore Harlem and never get lost.

 

Malcolm X Boulevard = Lenox Avenue (formerly Sixth Avenue)

 

Above Central Park, don't even think about calling this major thoroughfare Sixth Avenue (although that's exactly what it once was). In 1887 it was renamed Lenox Avenue after philanthropist James Lenox, and the name has stuck. One hundred years later, it was co-named Malcolm X in honor of the civil rights leader (who was assassinated not too far away in Washington Heights). If you need a mnemonic to help you recall its position on the grid, just remember that Malcolm X and Lenox both have x's in them–just like the number six. Got it?

 

Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard = Seventh Avenue

 

This wide artery was given the name Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard in 1974 in recognition of the Harlem pastor, civil rights leader and congressman (he was the first African American to represent Harlem). But don't be surprised to hear longtime Harlemites call this avenue by its original name. Here's William Hamer, director of senior services with the Abyssinian Development Corporation, in an article about the boulevard's safety. “A lot of people remember what Seventh Ave used to look like," he says. "It was a place where you strolled down the avenue after church.”

 

Frederick Douglass Boulevard = Eighth Avenue

 

In 1977, the section of Eighth Avenue that runs from Central Park North to right past 155th Street was renamed Frederick Douglass Boulevard after the famous abolitionist and writer who died in 1895. There's even an inspirational statue dedicated to him at its start. Interestingly, although the name has been around for forty years, many Africans in the community still say Eighth Avenue: "[Ninetly] percent of them don’t know the real name,” says Senegalese immigrant Mandoye Ndiaye, who works in South Harlem.

 

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