The lively arts abound outdoors in Upper Manhattan.
Shakespeare Saturdays offers readings throughout the year. One troupe, Pied Piper, focuses on children. Another, Up Theater, features Equity performers in new productions, while the People’s Theatre Project is open to aspiring actors. For a different approach, try the Bard Hall Players, who are medical students at Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons.
You don’t have to leave home, though, if you want to sample Uptown creativity. Ask Blago is an online show featuring Michael Diaz, who you may remember from the 2011 rap parody Pan Con Queso. In his web series, Diaz plays Juan Blago, dispensing advice on topics familiar to all young New Yorkers.
The music scene reflects the city’s eclectic tastes. On Broadway at 176th Street is the United Palace Theater—originally one of three Loew’s Wonder Theaters in New York—the Washington Heights venue for off-beat and popular music.
Highlights of shows in the last several years include Mumford and Sons, Iggy Pop, Lorde, Kraftwerk, Miike Snow, the String Cheese Incident, Elvis Costello, Adele, Mark Knopfler, the Allman Brothers Band, B.B. King, Vampire Weekend, Beck, the Baltimore Symphony performing Bernstein’s Mass, Sigur Rós, Ani Di Franco, Björk, The Arcade Fire, and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in The Rite of Spring.
The theater also shows movies with a New York connection once a month on Sunday afternoons. To find out what going on this week, visit this list of cultural events at museums, galleries and parks in Hudson Heights, Fort George, Sherman Creek, Inwood, and Audubon Park. It includes college sports, too. Do you have kids? Try this list of events for the younger set.
To the south, in a Washington Heights neighborhood called Audubon Park, is the American Academy of Arts and Letters, whose purpose “is to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by identifying and encouraging individual artists.” Founded in 1898, the academy has 250 members. You can visit its grand Beaux Arts buildings, on Audubon Terrace, west of Broadway between West 155th and 156th Streets, when it opens for its two annual exhibitions.
The Academy shares space on Audubon Terrace with the Hispanic Society of America. Its museum and research library, which include treasures from Spain and Portugal, are usually free and open to the public but are closed until 2020 for an extensive renovation. “The collections of the Hispanic Society are unparalleled in their scope and quality outside the Iberian Peninsula,” the Society says. Underscoring that point is the 2017 Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation, awarded by Spain.
Trinity Cemetery lies one block south of Audubon Terrace at Broadway between West 154th and 155th Streets. In 1824 Trinity Parish bought the land from John James Audubon, the naturalist. He is buried here, along with Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of Classics at Union Theological Seminary who is best known for writing A Visit From Saint Nicholas (1822). Most people recognize the poem as ’Twas The Night Before Christmas. The tomb of Charles Dickens's son, Alfred Tennyson Dickens, is here, and many members of the Astor family, including John Jacob Astor, lie here as well. The cemetery was declared a historic landmark in 1969.
Residents fill the neighborhood’s green spaces. The closest is Bennett Park (pictured at the top of this page with the autumn leaves), with a children’s playground and the distinction of being the highest natural point in Manhattan, at 265’ 5” above sea level (left). The park is the locus for children’s events, including the Fall Harvest Festival and the Hudson Heights Halloween parade.
The city completed a $2 million renovation to the park in June 2012, improving its sidewalks, lawn, and creating a ball field.
Historically, it was the location of Fort Washington when the British attacked Manhattan in 1776. It is from this spot that the Continental Army retreated north after the Battle of Fort Washington in November 1776. The borders of the soldiers’ star-shaped fort are outlined in the center pf the park by bricks.
Fort Washington Park begins where Riverside Park ends, with a bike trail from Hudson Heights to the Battery. Like Bennett Park, it has a connection to the Revolutionary War. These days, the park is home to peregrine falcons, the monarch butterfly, tennis courts, basketball courts, and the Little Red Lighthouse of storybook fame. The lighthouse is the focal point of an annual children’s festival. It's also opened occasionally on summer weekends; check our Kids’ Events page for the next chance to climb to the top.
Fort Tryon Park’s commanding views were key to both sides during the Revolutionary War, with cannons placed along its promontories. When you visit today, you’ll be in the happiest spot in Manhattan, researchers in New England say. Village Voice named Fort Tryon the best park in the city in 2013.
A century ago the millionaire Cornelius Billings kept a Victorian pastry of a country estate in the park, which had its own 1,600-foot driveway. These days, the spot provides unmatched views of the Hudson River and the Palisades on the New Jersey shore. The park is also the site of the annual historical re-enactment of the Battle of Fort Washington (which actually occurred on the present-day Bennett Park, above).
There’s plenty more there today than a battle site. The New York City Parks Department ranks it as a Flagship Park, entitling it to greater resources. Among the benefits is the Heather Garden, where amateur botanists join park professionals in keeping the plantings resplendent year-round. Nestled inside a Depression-era home is the New Leaf Restaurant and Bar, a non-profit operated by the New York Restoration Project, which was founded by Bette Midler in 1995. There’s even a ping pong table, with free paddles and balls, for anyone’s use in the spot called Fort Washington Terrace (it’s just east of the upper entrance to the 190th Street “A” Train Station).
Time Out ranked Fort Tryon Park as the city’s most under-rated park (it calls the High Line the most over-rated), thanks in part to The Cloisters Museum, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. A Pulitzer Prize-winning Inwood resident wrote this appreciation. Fans of medieval and Renaissance music enjoy the concerts, and parents take their children to the weekend events geared to the young.
The Dolphin Park is a children’s park two short blocks from our front door. Properly called the George Washington Bridge Park, its familiar name comes from the life-size dolphin sprinkler inside. This sliver of a park is limited to young children and their care-givers, and also offers a sandbox and swing set.
It is open from mid-spring through mid-autumn and is always staffed by volunteers from the West 181 Street Beautification Project. You will find the entrance on Cabrini Boulevard at 180th Street. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey owns the park and upgraded it in late 2014 to improve safety and accessibility.
The nearest dog run is in J. Hood Wright Park, on Fort Washington Avenue between West 176th and 174th Streets. Located at the west end of the park, the run allows dogs to spend some time off the leash. A group of dog owners runs the J. Hood Wright Canine Club, which sponsors events and promotes the improvement of the park.
The area of the Wright Park for humans includes handball, volleyball, and basketball courts, restrooms, a children’s playground with a giant model of the George Washington Bridge, and a “tot lot” playground just for toddlers.
Find out more about neighborhood dogs at Inwoof, covering Inwood. In Fort Tryon Park, Sir William’s Dog Run is maintained by FtDOG.
Perhaps you’re more into bicycling than pets, and mountain biking in particular. Highbridge Park is where bikers go for a vigorous ride. Here’s a map and elevation chart of the course, Upper Rough Ryder, which is for advanced riders. You can find updates on competitions, training events and more from the New York City Mountain Bike Association.
The park’s hills also offer spectacular views of the Harlem River Valley. And since the High Bridge reopened in 2015, you can retrace the steps of generations of New Yorkers: it’s the borough’s oldest bridge. The old water tower can be seen for mile from the park, located east of Academy Street between Trinity Cemetery and Sherman Creek.
Not far from the park is Jumel Terrace, a narrow street of historic homes that leads to Manhattan’s oldest house. The Morris-Jumel Mansion was built in 1755. George Washington stayed here after the war. Today you can tour it, listen to concerts there and take a yoga class indoors and out.
To the north of Hudson Heights is Inwood Hill Park, the only natural forest left on Manhattan. It's an excellent spot for birding and hikes, and for the sports-minded offers tennis courts. The park is also the location, according to legend, of the purchase of Manhattan. In 1626, the story goes, Peter Minuit, a Dutchman, visited the principal Indian village on the island and bought Manhattan for goods worth about 60 guilders.
If you like the a quiet spot on the water, Swindler Cove provides peaceful walks, gardens and views of the Harlem River. Rowers know it for the Peter J. Sharp Boathouse, and preservationists know it for the New York Resto-ration Project, the group founded by Bette Midler to clean up overlooked public spaces in the city. The cove is located in Sherman Creek Park, just north of Fort George.
Row New York holds classes in the boathouse and on the Harlem in the spring and summer (photo, below). All ages and skill levels are welcome, from kids to experienced competitors, as well as those who use para-rowing techniques to navigate the waters. It’s all part of what you can do in the waters off the island where we live.
Take rowing lessons from the Peter J. Sharp Boathouse, off Swindler Cove in the Harlem River.
More and more options for spending time, and money, in the neighborhood keep opening. As recently as 2007, when Gourmet magazine profiled the area, the dining scene was known for its Dominican roots. More recent immigrants from other parts of Manhattan bring their fare with them, with the result of recommendations from the Michelin Guide for Saggio, here in Hudson Heights, and Marcha Cocina, on 171st in Lower WaHi. The Times reviewed Rusty Mackerel positively, a restaurant on Pinehust Avenue, while The New Yorker called the Monkey Room, a Hudson Heights bar, where the scent of apple hookah fills the air for a clientele that includes “police and hustlers to men and their mistreses.”
Here’s The Times’ list of top-notch restaurants. Earlier, the Michelin Guide noted the “creative instincts” of the New Leaf Restaurant and Bar, calling it a “cozy getaway” in 2006. You can get a peak at New Leaf's patio in a Matt Damon and Emily Blunt film, The Adjustment Bureau.
Lively retail activity on 181st and 187th Streets includes several restaurants (northern Italian, sushi, and Irish, among others), a wine bar, and a Pilates studio. A specialty skateboard shop in Fort George is open by appointment only, in its owners’ apartment. Even more stores line Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue, retail activity that is supplemented by the overhaul of shops at the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal. The renovation cost around $200 million and created 120,000 square feet of retail space.
While New Yorkers from outside Upper Manhattan rarely
think of WaHi as a place worth their visit, royalty doesn’t seem to mind.
Queen Litizia of Spain visited Dos Puentes Elementary School in Fort George in 2014. She was there to announce that the dual-language school had received membership in the International Spanish Academies.
Years earlier, during the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip made a trip to Jumel Terrace to visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest house in Manhattan and the temporary quarters of George Washington.
And you don’t have to be a historian to recall that the George in Fort George is King George II, the British monarch in whose territory the Colonists lived (and against whom they rebelled).
Upper Manhattan’s residents create one of the most vibrant—some would say soulful—streets in the city, inspiring writers and other stort-tellers.
For one photographer, who's lived here for more than two decades, the people are his inspiration. Northern Manhattan as Muse is Mike Fitelson’s tribute to the the old-timers, newcomers, visitors and everyone else who makes Inwood and the neighborhoods of Washington Heights so fascin-ating. It was published in 2011 by Blurb.
The busiest bridge in the world crosses the Hudson River. In 2017, about 43 million vehicles crossed the steel structure. Built in 1931, it even has a minor role in Citizen Kane. Le Corbusier called it “the only seat of grace in the disordered city.” But remarkably little has been written about until now, with The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel. Michael Aaron Rockland traces its history from the planning stage (when it was “The Bridge from Fort Washington to Fort Lee,” reflecting an earlier name for our neighborhood and no name for the GWB) to the post-9/11 mentality. It was published in 2008 by Rutgers University Press.
A look at how WaHi became Quisqueya Heights is examined in Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City, which traces the neighbohood’s history since the Great Depression. Written by Robert W. Snyder, who grew up in WaHi in the 1980’s, the book tells how “disparate groups overcame their mutual suspicions to rehabilitate house, build new schools, restore parts, and work with the police to bring safety to streets racked by crime and fear.” Snyder is now a professor of American studies at Rutgers. Cornell University Press published the book in 2014.
An exhaustive collection of photographs of upper Manhattan has been put together in Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill, a pictorial history edited by James Renner. Images of architectural sites, parks, historical markers, and aerial views are described by Renner, a member of the Washington Heights-Inwood Historical Society who lives in the area. (He also wrote the entry about Trinity Cemetery that's linked to above.) Published in 2007, you can order it from Arcadia Publishing.
For a scholarly study on the demographics of Washington Heights, read Frankfurt on the Hudson: The German Jewish Community of Washington Heights, 1933–82, Its Structure and Culture, above right. The author, Prof. Stephen M. Lowenstein, grew up in Hudson Heights when it was known as Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson. His book traces the area’s changes, from the time it was known as Fort Tryon through the twilight of German influence. It was published in 1989 by Wayne State University Press.
The neighborhood also attracts novelists and storytellers. One is Linda Fairstein, who in her seventeenth Alexandra Cooper thriller takes readers to Manhattan’s waterfront and magnificent vistas of the Statue of Liberty and the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest span for motor vehicles. In Devil’s Bridge, Detective Mike Chapman will discover the peril that lurks along this seemingly benign expanse. Published in 2015 by Dutton.
Junot Díaz wrote a novel about an overweight computer nerd who lives in New Jersey, Washington Heights, and the Dominican Republic. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of a young Dominicano who is an aspiring science fiction writer, which garnered a Pulitzer Price for Fiction in 2008. It was published in 2007 by Riverhead Books.
A children’s classic, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge tells the story of an important little guy whose purpose is eliminated when a massive steel structure, festooned with lights, is built above it. Jeffrey’s Hook is the setting, and (spoiler alert!) the George Washington Bridge becomes the lighthouse’s friend. By Hildegarde H. Swift with the memorable illustrations of Lynd Ward. It is published by Harcourt Children’s Books.
A new children’s book tells how a girl in Upper Manhattan, with the help of her aunt and some new friends, finds a place where she can tell her story. Produced entirely by a volunteer collective in Lower WaHi, Home at Word Up: A Story of a Bookshop in Washington Heights is a tale of finding and building community anywhere you live. You can even visit the bookstore where the story began. Published in 2016.
One of the nation’s most respected teaching hospitals is down Fort Washington Avenue at 168th Street. The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons is among the medical faculties at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center. Columbia’s School of Dentristry runs clinics in the neighborhood for its residents.
Find out current information from The Pinehurst’s Events page, and our neighborhood weekly newspaper, The Manhattan Times, which is published in English and Spanish. Its reporting on neighborhood restaurants is essential for the curious gourmet.
Teach your children pedestrian safety and bike safety at Safety City, a program sponsored by the New York City Department of Transportation. Free classes are available for children aged 5 through 14 at 672 W. 158 Street in Lower WaHi.
And once they have learned to ride a bike, you can store it safely in our basement, where the tires won’t track on your floors.
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