The historic Astor Row in Harlem dates back to land purchased by John Jacob Astor in 1844 for the sum of $10,000 on what is now 130th Street between Lenox Avenue and Fifth Avenue in Harlem. It wasn’t until 1880 though, through the efforts of his grandson William, that 28 semi-attached row houses began construction.
Astor Row was completed in 1883, but William died in 1882 of an aneurysm while in Paris. After his death, the houses were divided among his three grandchildren. They stayed in the family until 1911. In the 1920s the row houses were originally rented for $1,100 per year, with a waiting list. Each row house had a wooden porch and gated front yard. Gradually, though, the houses slipped into decay and by the 1970s, many of the porches were lost to rot.
The Astor Row Houses were designated a New York City Landmark in 1981 despite their decaying condition. The community came together to raise money and restore their facade, improve the plumbing, heating and the electrical. Together, several preservation groups, banks, foundations and the Abyssinian Development Corporation–along with a $1.7 million dollar donation by Brook Astor to the New York Landmark Conservancy–moved forward with this restoration. Even Ella Fitzgerald performed a benefit in 1992 at Radio City Music Hall to help raise money for the restoration.
Today, most of the houses have been restored but a few still remain unoccupied and boarded up.Many of the owners and renters take great pride in their summer gardens. They are as different as the people who tend them and range from traditional annuals and perennials to heavily manicured–or very much overgrown. Even an occasional vegetable garden.
Today, while Astor Row looks very much the same as it did when they were built, the surrounding area– particularly on Lenox Avenue–have sprouted coffee houses, a condominium, a new supermarket and even a gourmet mini-donut shop. Nonetheless, you can still find some rentals among them. There are one and two bedrooms, some modernized, some with original details like marble fireplace mantles. A few of them have been sold with prices going as high as over $2 million dollars.
The 28 Astor Row Houses occupy the south side of the street between Lenox Avenue and Fifth Avenue, while the north side of the street has the traditional townhouses pictured below. You can visit Astor Row easily by taking the #2/3 to Lenox Avenue and 125th Street, and taking a pleasant five block walk North, past Red Rooster, Sylvia’s and Maysles Cinema.
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For more in the area Summer Sizzles on Lenox Avenue