Discover more from Harlem Diary
August 8th, 2002
Over the weekend, Peni and I were walking to the Strand, one of the oldest bookstores in the city. It is located east of Greenwich Village, in what is now called Noho. It is an area full of tourists visiting "cool" places like art galleries and exotic restaurants. On 12th Street, we glimpsed the Police Athletic League building. It is an imposing construction, seriously deteriorated. It was constructed in 1855 as Grammar School for girls' education, built with brownstone. The porch has paired Corinthian piers.
The construction is currently undergoing repairs. It can go unnoticed among the skyscrapers and ornate buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Walking by, I thought it was one of the oldest buildings in the city. Manhattan still has the 18th-century St. Paul's Chapel, but not much else. In 1835 and 1845, the fire swept through the town. Most of the buildings were destroyed.
The houses were made of wood in the poor neighborhoods. The Five Points were among the first to be engulfed in flames. Rich people's houses were brownstone, like the 12th Street Schoolhouse, but most have not arrived until today.
John Pintard's house is no more. It was several blocks south, in Crosby. On that same street, between Broome and Grand streets, a School was converted into a Hospital to receive cholera patients. Pintard was very uncomfortable with that.
Some drawings and lithographs of the city at the beginning of the 19th century show a place full of beautiful and spacious houses, almost like country houses. Those drawings show only one part. Some reports describe the city as dirty. Northeast of Wall Street, Irish migrants crammed into wooden buildings. There, cholera hit harder in 1832, like the fire of 1835.
For me, it is easier to imagine Mexico City at the time of cholera, not only because the beautiful palaces still stand. These palaces often give us a partial idea of how people lived at the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the people at that time lived in vecindades and shacks. Overcrowding was also noticeable.
In any case, for my research, I must make a description of those cities so that the readers can imagine them, their buildings, and their people.