"Know York" – Week Two: Washington Heights

Did you really think I would flake out on the second edition?  After rave reviews from my Dad, well, I decided I should continue.  (I’m just kidding around – my Mom loved it too.)  After much consideration, and I mean about… two seconds, I decided to move these adventures to Saturdays.  I now continue my journey into the exploration of this beautiful city and its five (oh, and sometimes, New Jersey factors as a sixth) boroughs.  A limit of only ten dollars per weekend, and another successful expedition has been accomplished… so here we go… this time with my good friend and fellow UCSB/Kappa Alpha Theta alum, Maureen!

Week Two: Washington Heights, Manhattan

Where is that exactly?
Washington Heights is the northernmost section of the borough of Manhattan.  West is the Hudson River, and East is the Harlem River and Bronx Valley… quite a view!  The area was named for Fort Washington, constructed during the Revolutionary War.  During the battle of Fort Washington in 1776, the fort was captured by the British troops, which resulted in the deaths of over 100 American soldiers.  Technically, “WaHi” runs from the border of Harlem at 155th Street to Inwood, topping out at Dyckman Street.  (I know, cool abbreviation right?)  One of Washington Height’s bragging rights is the highest natural elevation in Manhattan – 265 feet above sea level, in J. Hood Wright Park, the location of Fort Washington.  To get there, Maureen and I walked across Central Park around 100th Street and the Harlem Meer; hopped on the B/C line at 110th Street/Cathedral Parkway; transferred to the A train at 125 Street; then rode the A train up to Dyckman Street, putting us just South of Inwood.  Washington Heights!

As I previously mentioned, Washington Heights served as a fortification for the Continental Army troops during the Revolutionary War.  In fact, the Morris-Jumel Mansion (the oldest house in Manhattan) is the base from which George Washington commanded the engagement now known as the Battle of Washington Heights.  Though the Mansion was built in 1765, development of the Heights did not occur until the early 19th century, when wealthy New Yorkers began to dot the country with their large homes.  Now, as a Harrell, I have a strong obligation to fill you in on some baseball history… and I should let you know that New York City professional baseball really had its roots in Washington Heights.  Not only does WaHi currently boast home-towners such as Alexander Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez… but NYC’s first American League team, the New York “Highlanders,” made their home at Hilltop Stadium from 1903-1913, the current site of the Colombia Medical Center.  You may now know this team better as the “Yankees.”  After World War II, multitudes of Latin immigrants flocked to Washington Heights, including Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Mexicans.  (In fact, the numbers are so large, that candidates for office in the Dominican Republic now push to make large campaign efforts up Broadway in the 150’s and 160’s.)  But things took a turn for the worst in the 1980’s, when a cocaine epidemic and gang activity ruled the streets.  Homelessness, drugs, and despair presided.  After a tragic police shooting in 1988, New York City Police cracked down to turn the neighborhood back around.  Today, the crime rate is significantly lower, and the large community of diverse inhabitants flavor this hilly landscape with a Latin touch.
So what did you do way the #$%& up there?

Well to start off, as I mentioned, Maureen and I arrived at the subway just below Dyckman Street.  This is the northernmost edge of Fort Tyron Park, so we braved the- get this -TERRAIN and headed through a forest-like landscape toward the Cloisters Museum.  The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to Medieval art and culture, located in a building which actually contains pieces of original European Medieval architecture.  It also offers spectacular views of the Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades.  When the two of us skeptically stepped through a gothic doorway this morning, we were slightly deterred by a sign artistically lettered with “$20 suggested donation adults, $10 students.”  I gave my best Upper East Side “I didn’t see that sign” smile, and asked for 2 student tickets, each of us offering a dollar bill as our “donation.”  Now- I would like to add here that I AM ON A BUDGET, OKAY – DON’T JUDGE.  $1.00 spent.  The museum was gorgeous.  I’m not exactly a medieval art buff, but I really enjoyed the original pieces of architecture – it reminded me of my choir tour in the Loire Valley of France four years ago (we spent two weeks rehearsing and performing in a countryside abbey.)  After our adventure through the 11th and 12th centuries, we headed back outside towards the George Washington Bridge.  We walked down through Bennett Park, and viewed the highest point of Manhattan (check out my picture further up).  We headed back down Broadway and found ourselves at a lunch venue on the corner of 175th Street, a Dominican restaurant called “El Malecon.”  Weenie and I settled into the cozy booth with an adorable waitress who served us up the BEST chicken/chorizo/pepper/onion combo (see picture at right), with rice, beans, and sweet yellow plantains.  Um…. yum.  The restaurant was packed with locals of all different ethnicities – everyone was enjoying the food, the company, and the atmosphere.  What more could you ask for?  Now- I must add that this was my first time eating plantains (pictured at left), and…. WOW.  If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to indulge in this delectable delicacy, I suggest you find yourself an authentic joint to fulfill your destiny of fried bananas.  Yummmmm.  After we had packed as much South American flavor into our bellies as possible, we settled the bill and headed out.  $8.00 spent. ($16 total, split between us.)  
As per Maureen’s request, we then moseyed over to the Columbia Medical School/Hospital facilities (formerly the site of the New York Highlander’s Hilltop Stadium).  We thought we might be able to spot a McDreamy or a McSteamy… and though we weren’t so lucky, we did find a coffee joint, “Jou Jou,” which offered small coffees for a buck each.  $1.00 spent.  ($10 budget spent.)  Maureen and I cut back East to view the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which was a beautiful setting, and also offered beautiful views of the Harlem River, Bronx Valley, and- of course- Yankee Stadium (below).  
We pranced around the grounds for awhile, then decided that our budget wasn’t the only thing that was completely spent for the day.  Our story concludes with two very tired UES ladies hopping back onto the train and returned to the homeland.  I highly recommend checking out this under-appreciated neighborhood.  I will certainly be giving their Craigslist apartment listings a little more consideration in the future!  Thanks for checking in with this week’s edition of “Know York” – any suggestions for next week’s adventure?

5 thoughts on “"Know York" – Week Two: Washington Heights

  1. Linda January 13, 2008 / 1:42 am

    AWESOME! sounds like a great day. my adventure northeast to Walnut creek for a swim really pales in comparision. and leftovers from the fridge seem even worse when i consider what your tummy got to experience! can’t wait to hear where you go next weekend. xxoo Mom

  2. Anonymous January 13, 2008 / 2:31 pm

    Hi Ash! Sounds like you are having a blast!!! I am so envious and also glad that I can learn about your weekly adventures! Miss you tons… Katie

  3. Lore January 13, 2008 / 10:05 pm

    What makes you ask for suggestions. You are doing so great and that should not be spoiled by anyone else’s view’s. Yes, I know, someone else’s experience could give you food for thought but keep going as you have. Also, I hope you print all of this out for future reading and use. Yes maybe a book. You got what it takes. Your loving Oma

  4. Lore January 13, 2008 / 10:13 pm

    Ahley, I just mailed your link to my good friend Hlen. I know she would enjoy it. Hope you don’t mind. Oma

  5. Randy January 13, 2008 / 11:08 pm

    I love reading about your adventures. Every week sounds like an interesting jouney for you. Keep it up. Thanks for sharing. Love Dad

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