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What Harlem looked like in the 1980s: A photographic Tour of Streets, Landmark, and Life

Harlem in the 1980s was a complex and multifaceted neighborhood in New York City. Stepping onto 125th Street, the heart of the neighborhood, was like stepping into a world pulsating with life. Music spilled out of record shops, the scent of soul food hung heavy in the air, and colorful murals adorned brick buildings, telling stories of the community’s past and present.

It’s impossible to talk about Harlem in the 1980s without addressing the hardships it faced. The crack cocaine epidemic ravaged the neighborhood, fueling a surge in violent crime and addiction. Poverty and unemployment rates were high, and many of Harlem’s once-grand buildings crumbled into disrepair.

Harlem’s cultural scene was a force to be reckoned with. The Apollo Theater, a legendary landmark, continued to showcase incredible talent, from established stars like James Brown to up-and-coming artists trying to make their mark. The Studio Museum in Harlem provided a platform for Black artists, while the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture served as a vital repository of history and knowledge.

Food was, and still is, an essential part of the Harlem experience. Sylvia’s Restaurant, a soul food institution, served up heaping plates of fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread, drawing locals and tourists alike. Red Rooster, another popular spot, offered a modern take on Southern cuisine. Street vendors, a ubiquitous presence, tempted passersby with the sweet smell of fresh pretzels and the savory allure of hot dogs.

The 1980s saw the construction of several important landmarks in Harlem. The Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, a striking high-rise, became a symbol of progress and Black political power. The Harlem Hospital Center, a vital healthcare institution for the community, underwent significant renovations.

The iconic “Harlem Week” continued to be a highlight of the summer, with parades, concerts, and cultural events celebrating the neighborhood’s unique heritage. The vendors along 125th Street hawked everything from African fabrics and jewelry to bootleg cassette tapes, creating a vibrant open-air marketplace.

Fashion in 80s Harlem was a statement of identity and self-expression. Bold colors, chunky jewelry, and Kangol hats were staples. Sneakers were more than just footwear; they were a status symbol, with brands like Adidas and Nike reigning supreme. Hip-hop culture, with its distinctive style, was taking root, influencing fashion trends across the city and beyond.

#6 View SW along Park Ave. from E. 116th St., Harlem, 1980.

#8 View NE along W. 126th St. from Morningside Ave., Harlem, 1980.

#9 View north along Frederick Douglass from W. 110th St., Harlem, 1980.

#15 Thomas Memorial Wesleyan Methodist Church, 270 W. 126th St., Harlem, 1981.

#17 695 Malcolm X Ave. at W. 145th St., former Hotel Dash, Harlem, 1981 Oct.

#19 View NW along E. 125th St. from Park Ave., Harlem, 1982.

#20 View SW along Madison Ave. toward E. 127th St., Harlem, 1982.

#21 Former Corn Exchange Bank, NW corner of Park Ave. at E. 125th St., Harlem, 1982.

#23 SW corner of W. 116th St. at Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, 1983.

#25 Former synagogue, NW corner of W. 120th St. at Malcolm X Blvd. Harlem, 1987.

#26 Rodney Dade Funeral Home, 2332 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. Harlem, 1987.

#29 Close up, ground floor of 545-549 Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, 1987.

#32 Cross Road Baptist Church, 335 Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, [1987]

#33 Future Home of the Cross Road Baptist Church, 335, 333 Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, 1987.

#34 View SW along 5th Ave. from E. 119th St., Harlem, 1987.

#35 695 Malcolm X Ave. at W. 145th St., former Hotel Dash, Harlem, 1987 March.

#36 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from roof of St. Nicholas Houses, W. 127th St., Harlem, 1988.

#37 Former Lafayette Theater, View NE along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 131st St., Harlem, 1988.

#40 View SW along 5th Ave. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1988.

#41 View NW along E. 125th St. from Park Ave., Manhattan, 1988.

#43 NW corner of W. 116th St. at St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#47 SE corner of W. 125th St. at Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, 1988.

#48 View NW from W. 143rd St. and Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1988.

#49 View east from Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. between W. 127th and W. 128th St., Harlem, 1988.

#50 View north from W. 120th St. at St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#51 View north along St. Nicholas Ave. from W. 117th St., Harlem, 1988.

#52 View NE along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. at W. 128th St., Harlem, 1988.

#53 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 129th St., Harlem, 1988.

#54 View west from the roof of the St. Nicholas Houses along W. 127th St. from Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1988.

#55 View west along W. 119th St. from Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1988.

#56 W. side of Frederick Douglass between W. 151st St. and W. 152nd St., Harlem, 1988.

#57 View NW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 114th St., Harlem, 1988.

#58 View west along W. 125th St. from Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Harlem, 1988.

#59 View west along W. 119th St. from St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#60 View SE of Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 112th St., Harlem, 1988.

#61 View SE along E. 132nd St. from Madison Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#62 View SE along Morningside Ave. from W. 125th St., Harlem, 1988.

#63 View SE along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 124th St., Harlem, 1988.

#64 View SW on St. Nicholas Ave. from W. 112th St., Harlem, 1988.

#65 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 115th St., Harlem, 1988.

#66 View east along W. 125th St. from Morningside Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#67 View NW from the roof of the Taft houses, 5th Ave. and W. 115th St., Harlem, 1988.

#68 View west along E. 115th St. from Park Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#69 View SW along E. 132nd St. toward Madison Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#70 View SE along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. at W. 124th St., Harlem, 1988.

#71 View SE along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 127th St., Harlem, 1988.

#72 View NW along E. 115th St. from Park Ave., Harlem, 1988.

#73 View north from W. 144th St. along Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1988.

#74 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 151st St., Harlem, 1988.

#75 View NW from 153rd St. and Macombs Place, Harlem, 1988.

#77 Graham Court, NE corner of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. at W. 116th St., Harlem, 1989.

#78 SW corner of Malcolm X Blvd. at W. 125th St., Harlem, 1989.

#80 2355-2261 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#83 View NW along Adam Clayton Powell toward W. 112th St., Harlem, 1989.

#84 SW corner of W. 125th St.and Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#85 2672 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Drew Hamilton Houses, Harlem, 1989.

#86 The Dunbar Apartments, 2588 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#87 SE corner of Morningside Ave. at W. 127th St., Harlem, 1989.

#88 SE corner of Morningside Ave. at W. 123rd St., Harlem, 1989.

#89 Strivers’ Row, view NW along W. 139th St. from Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#90 SW corner of W. 125th St. at 5th Ave., Harlem, 1989.

#91 View NE along Frederick Douglass from W. 112th St., Harlem, 1989.

#92 View NE from W. 143rd St. at Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#93 View NE from W. 122nd St. along Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#94 View NE from W. 122nd St. along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#95 View NE along Frederick Douglass from W. 113th St., Harlem, 1989.

#96 View west on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. between W. 136th St. and W. 137th St., Harlem, 1989.

#97 View west along W. 139th St. from Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#98 View SE along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 114th St., Harlem, 1989.

#100 View SE along Frederick Douglass Blvd. toward W. 135th St., Harlem, 1989.

#101 View SE along Frederick Douglass Blvd. toward W. 119th St., Harlem, 1989.

#102 View west along W. 122nd St. from Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., Harlem, 1989.

#103 View SE from Morningside Ave. at W. 124th St., Harlem, 1989.

#104 View SE from W. 115th St. along Frederick Douglass, Harlem, 1989.

#105 View SW along Amsterdam Ave. from W. 126th St., Harlem, 1989.

#106 View south along Frederick Douglass from W. 155th St., Harlem, 1989.

#107 View west along E. 125th St. from Park Ave., Harlem, 1989.

#108 View SW along Madison Ave. toward E. 127th St., Harlem, 1989.

#109 View SW along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 122nd St., Harlem, 1989.

#110 View NE along Frederick Douglass toward W. 136th St., Harlem, 1989.

#111 View NW along E. 126th St. from Park Ave., Harlem, 1989.

#112 View north toward 142nd St. along Bradhurst Ave. Harlem, 1989.

#113 View NW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 154th St., Harlem, 1989.

#114 View SW from 133rd St. along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. Harlem, 1989.

#115 View west from 2nd Ave. between 116th and 117th., Harlem, 1989.

#117 View NE along Manhattan Ave. from W. 121st St., Harlem, 1989.

Written by Makayla White

An amateur content creator and dreamer. I Run, Cycle, Swim, Dance and drink a lot of Coffee.

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