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The Prison on Central Park North

November 5, 2006

During a break from the relentless non-stop torrent of work that was my recent NYC business trip, I decided to walk up to Harlem from the hotel I was staying at.  Never having been there, and having an aforementioned dearth of black friends, I would have been at a total loss as to how to find Harlem’s location (a notoriously closely guarded secret from Whitey), had it not been for the Shaft-era classic “Across 110th Street.”  Ah, crossover hits, you teach me everything I know about the urban experience.

So, it was with a spring in my step that I headed out of the W Hotel on 39th and walked a mere 74 blocks North until I got to 112th Street, the two extra blocks being about as far into Harlem as I could get before someone asked me if I had a light and I panicked and ran South.  Sadly, my plan to walk a very long distance and then catch a cab at the end of my walk was thwarted by the fact that my walk ended in Harlem, an area not traditionally drowning in cabs.  Eventually, I found one, some twenty blocks south again (just above the Guggenheim on 90th), and made my way safely to the country club, where I met with my plutocrat cronies & plotted the continuing oppression of the downtrodden.

On the way into Harlem, I noticed that there’s a prison (not just a holding cell or police station, but a full prison, with over four hundred cells) on Central Park North.  It’s in fact the tallest building on the street.  The prison would have some of the nicest views in the city, if the windows weren’t completely boarded up.  It’s a surreal place called the Lincoln Correctional Facility, and it’s been there for nearly 100 years; first as a women’s shelter for single Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, then later as a school, and eventually it transitioned into government use, first as an army barracks for black soldiers (it IS on the Harlem border) and then just as a full time prison.

I don’t understand how you can afford to have a prison on some of the most expensive urban real estate in America, nor why you’d take a building with some of the greatest views in Manhattan and populate it with folks who aren’t allowed to look at the outside world, but what do I know?  I’m the guy who thought it would be a good idea to walk to Harlem from 39th St.

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9 comments

  1. There’s a lot stranger things than having a prison have such great views of the park. Until the 1970’s, there was no commitment to keep the park pristine. At various times from the 20’s to the 50’s there was serious discussion of putting a stadium in the park, an airport at the north end of the park and other such nonsense.

    Robert Moses wanted to build a highway across Manhattan that would have but a trench 30′ below grade running through the middle of Greenwich Village. For an example of how great that would have been, look at the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) on GoogleEarth.

    Until very recently (1990’s) some of the best real estate was considered the East Side of Manhattan with views of Queens for Chissakes! I mean, who the hell wants to look at Queens? And the lower east side was projects on the waterfront.

    Now, they’re finally building luxury hi-rises on the Queens waterfront (where it was industrial) and those Manhattan views will go for a fortune.

    BTW, next time do yourself a favor and take the subway. You’ll find yourself in the center of Harlem (125th St. west of 5th Ave.), in about 10 minutes.
    Then you can make your feet sore once you’re there.


  2. Thanks, Nathan! Although taking the subway up to the center of Harlem may be JUST outside my realm of adventure, since I’ve yet to actually get on a subway in NYC even after 20+ visits to the place. There’s something so chaotic & frenetic about them that I can never bring myself to do it, shameful as that sounds. I’ve taken the metro in San Francisco, Paris, London, Chicago & D.C., but NYC just seems daunting. Also, “who the hell wants to look at Queens” is my new favorite comment for the month.


  3. Interesting commentary. Not sure when this “trip” took place but actually finding a yellow cab is easier than finding a needle in a haystack as you are insinuating. Want evidence? Visit sites like curbed.com and harlemfur.com that have proof of a multitude of cabs above 110th Street. Next time you decide to do something as ‘adventurous’ as wandering into Harlem, leave the stereotypes downtown. Glad you didn’t get mugged. Oh yeah, you might also look into 111 Central Park North which you totally overlooked while harping about the jail.


  4. Man, Berry I genuinely wish I’d seen the link to your site prior to my trip. I was exaggerating the “adventure” of my journey to 112th street, certainly, but I totally didn’t know about all the cool little places up there that I found on your site. Thanks!


  5. Too short attenti…ZZZZZ…ZZZZ


  6. 74 blocks… Outside?! Weren’t you afraid of bears?


  7. JK, you couldn’t make it through 11 sentences? Man, that new baby must be running you ragged. And Mr Kinsley, Manhattan bears rarely stray far North of Wall St (get it? I’m a genius!).


  8. I’d say that’s a load of bull, but I don’t want to sink to your comedic depths.

    Oh… damn. I just did.


  9. hey what about the buildings around it?



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