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What Harlem looked like in the 1990s through these Stunning Photos

The 1990s were a transformative decade for Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City known for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant community. This period was marked by significant events, developments, and changes that shaped the neighborhood in various ways.

Harlem’s streets in the 1990s were alive with activity. Street vendors lined the sidewalks, selling a variety of goods from food to clothing. The air was filled with the sounds of jazz, hip-hop, and gospel music.  In the early 1990s, Harlem faced challenges such as crime and poverty. However, community leaders and residents worked hard to address these issues. There were numerous grassroots efforts to improve the neighborhood. Local organizations played a crucial role in providing support and resources to the community.

Significant Developments

One of the major developments in Harlem during the 1990s was the opening of the Harlem USA retail complex on 125th Street in 1996. This new shopping center brought major retail stores like Old Navy and Disney Store to the area. Harlem USA became a central hub for shopping and entertainment, boosting the local economy and providing new opportunities for residents..

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The Harlem Children’s Zone, founded by Geoffrey Canada, expanded its efforts throughout the 1990s. This organization aimed to improve the quality of education and support for children and families in Harlem.

Cultural and Artistic Renaissance

The Apollo Theater, a historic venue in Harlem, continued to be a cultural cornerstone in the 1990s. Amateur Night at the Apollo remained a significant event, drawing large crowds eager to see new talent. Many aspiring artists saw the Apollo as a place to launch their careers, and the theater maintained its reputation as a showcase for African American performers.

Art and culture thrived in Harlem during the 1990s. The Studio Museum in Harlem was a key institution promoting contemporary African American art. It hosted numerous exhibitions and programs that celebrated the work of both established and emerging artists.

Harlem was also known for its vibrant music scene. Jazz, hip-hop, and gospel music were integral parts of the neighborhood’s identity. Clubs and venues such as the Lenox Lounge and St. Nick’s Pub were popular spots for live music.

Education and Youth Programs

Education was a critical focus in Harlem throughout the 1990s. Schools and educational programs aimed to provide better opportunities for young people. The Harlem Children’s Zone, as mentioned earlier, was a major initiative that expanded its services during this decade

The 1990s also saw the establishment of various youth programs designed to engage and empower Harlem’s young residents. Sports leagues, arts programs, and mentorship initiatives provided positive outlets for youth.

Food and Dining

Harlem’s culinary scene was a highlight of the 1990s. Soul food restaurants like Sylvia’s and Amy Ruth’s were popular destinations. These establishments served traditional dishes such as fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. Dining at these restaurants was about more than just food; it was an experience that brought people together.

Sylvia’s Restaurant, founded by Sylvia Woods, was particularly famous. It attracted both locals and tourists, becoming a staple of Harlem’s dining culture. The warm, welcoming atmosphere and delicious food made Sylvia’s a beloved spot in the neighborhood.

Festivals and Events

Harlem was home to many festivals and events that celebrated its rich culture and history. The African American Day Parade was an annual highlight. This parade showcased vibrant floats, marching bands, and dancers, drawing participants and spectators from across the city.

The Harlem Week festival was another significant event in the 1990s. Originally a one-week celebration, it expanded into a month-long series of events. Harlem Week featured music, dance, food, and cultural activities. It brought together residents and visitors to celebrate the neighborhood’s diversity and achievements.

Preservation and Restoration

Preservation efforts were important in Harlem during the 1990s. The neighborhood’s rich history was reflected in its architecture, with many historic buildings and landmarks. Organizations like the Harlem Preservation Foundation worked to protect these structures and promote awareness of Harlem’s cultural heritage.

One notable preservation project was the restoration of the Harlem Meer in Central Park, completed in 1993. This project involved cleaning the lake and improving the surrounding park area. The Harlem Meer became a popular spot for families and nature lovers, offering a peaceful retreat within the bustling city.

Social and Political Activism

Harlem was a center of social and political activism in the 1990s. Community leaders and residents were actively involved in addressing issues such as housing, education, and crime. Local organizations advocated for better resources and support for the neighborhood.

The National Action Network, founded by Reverend Al Sharpton in 1991, was one of the key organizations based in Harlem. It focused on civil rights and social justice issues, working to improve conditions for African Americans and other marginalized communities.

Notable Figures and Celebrities

Harlem was home to many notable figures in the 1990s. Prominent individuals from various fields contributed to the neighborhood’s vibrant culture. Musicians, artists, activists, and entrepreneurs all played a role in shaping Harlem’s identity.

In the music world, artists like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. had ties to Harlem. Their work and influence were felt throughout the neighborhood and beyond. These artists were part of a broader hip-hop movement that emerged from New York City in the 1990s.

Harlem was also the home of poet and writer Maya Angelou. She was an influential figure whose work inspired many. Her presence in the neighborhood was a testament to Harlem’s rich literary and artistic tradition.

Housing and Development

Housing was a major issue in Harlem during the 1990s. The neighborhood experienced both positive developments and challenges. Efforts to improve housing conditions included renovation projects and new construction. Affordable housing initiatives aimed to provide better living conditions for residents.

Gentrification was a topic of concern in Harlem. As the neighborhood began to attract more investment, property values increased. This led to changes in the demographic makeup of the community. Long-time residents faced rising rents and potential displacement, prompting discussions about how to balance development with the preservation of Harlem’s character.

Health and Community Services

Health and community services were important aspects of life in Harlem. Organizations like Harlem Hospital Center provided essential medical care to residents. The hospital played a crucial role in addressing health disparities and offering comprehensive services to the community.

The Harlem Health Promotion Center, established in the early 1990s, focused on public health initiatives. It worked to improve health outcomes through education, research, and community engagement. Programs targeted issues such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which disproportionately affected the African American population.

Crime and Safety

Crime was a significant issue in Harlem during the early 1990s. However, efforts to improve safety and reduce crime rates were underway. Community policing initiatives aimed to build trust between residents and law enforcement. These efforts included increased patrols and community engagement activities.

The mid-to-late 1990s saw a decline in crime rates in Harlem. This improvement was attributed to a combination of community efforts, policing strategies, and social programs. Residents felt safer, and the neighborhood became more attractive to new businesses and visitors.

#1 NW corner of W. 116th St. at St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, 1990

#6 Condemned buildings with squatters living inside, view SW along 5th Ave. from E. 119th St., Harlem, 1990

#7 Alhambra, 2116 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. at SW corner of W. 126th St., Harlem, New York City, 1990

#11 View east along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 122st. St., Harlem, 1990

#12 Lincolnton Post Office, NW corner of 5th Ave. at 138th St., Harlem, 1990

#13 View SW from Park Ave. along E. 132nd St., Harlem, 1990

#14 View SW corner of W. 141st St. at Edgecombe Ave., Harlem, 1990

#15 View SW along W. 125th St. from Lexington Ave., Harlem, 1990

#16 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 135th St., Harlem, 1990

#17 View NW along Madison Ave. toward E. 118th St., Harlem, 1990

#18 View SW along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 133rd St., Harlem, 1990

#19 View SW along Lexington Ave. from E. 125th St., Harlem, 1990

#20 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 151st St., Harlem, 1990

#22 E. side of Malcolm X Blvd., between W. 112th St. and W. 113th St., Harlem, 1991

#25 Hotel Theresa, detail, NW corner of W. 124th St. at Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Harlem, 1991

#27 W. side of Malcolm X Blvd. between W. 128th St. and W. 129th St., Harlem, 1991

#28 View NW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 114th St., Harlem, 1991

#29 View SW corner of W. 141st St. at Edgecombe Ave., Harlem, 1992

#30 View SE along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 114th St., Harlem, 1991

#31 View SW along Bradhurst Ave. from W. 144th St., Harlem, 1991

#32 View SE of Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 112th St., Harlem, 1991

#33 View NW along W. 125th St. from 251 W. 125th, Harlem, 1991

#34 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1991

#35 View SW along Frederick Douglass from W. 149th St., Harlem, 1991

#36 View NW along Madison Ave. toward E. 118th St., Harlem, 1991

#37 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from roof of St. Nicholas Houses, W. 127th St., Harlem, 1992

#38 View NE along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 131st. St., Harlem, 1992

#40 United States Post Office, Hell Gate Station, 153 E. 110th St., Harlem, 1992

#43 View SE along St. Nicholas Ave. from W. 117th St., Harlem, 1992

#49 Hotel Theresa, SE corner of Adam Clayton Powell at W. 125th St., Harlem, 1992

#52 View NE along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1992

#53 View north along St. Nicholas Ave. from W. 117th St., Harlem, 1992

#54 View NW from W. 131st St. along Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1992

#55 View NW of Frederick Douglass at W. 131st St., Harlem, 1992

#56 View SE along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 129th St., Harlem, 1992

#57 View west from 2nd Ave. between E. 123rd St. and E. 124th St., Harlem, 1992

#58 View west along W. 119th St. from St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, 1992

#59 View east from W. 130th St. at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., Harlem, 1992

#60 View SW from 132nd St. along 5th Ave. Harlem, 1992

#61 View west of 2nd Ave. between E. 121st and 122nd St., Harlem, 1992

#62 View SE fron the roof of the St. Nicholas Houses, W. 127th St. at Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Harlem, 1992

#63 E. side of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. between W. 128th St. and W. 129th St., Harlem, 1992

#64 View east along E. 125th St. from Park Ave., Manhattan, 1992

#65 View NE along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 122nd St., Harlem, 1992

#66 View south along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 117th St., Harlem, 1992

#67 Apollo Theater, W. 125th St. from #243, Harlem, 1992

#68 View west from 127th St. and Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1992

#69 View SW along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 146th St., Harlem, 1992

#70 View SW along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 122nd St., Harlem, 1992

#71 View NE along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 118th St., Harlem, 1992

#72 Former Corn Exchange Bank, NW corner of E. 125th St. at Park Ave., Harlem, 1992

#73 695 Malcolm X Ave. at W. 145th St., former Hotel Dash, Harlem, 1992 June.

#74 View NW along E. 125th St. from Lexington Ave., Harlem, 1993

#75 Former Corn Exchange Bank, Park Ave. at E. 125th St., Harlem, 1993

#76 View NW along E. 125th St. from Park Ave., Harlem, 1993

#77 Former Corn Exchange Bank, Park Ave. at E. 125th St., Harlem, 1993

#78 Former Brooks Bakery, 113 E. 125th St., Harlem, 1993

#85 View SW along 3rd Ave. from E. 111th St., Harlem, 1993

#86 View SW along 5th Ave. from E. 119th St., Harlem, 1993

#87 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 111th St., Harlem, 1993

#89 Eisleben Building, SW corner of Malcolm X Blvd. and W. 125th St., Harlem, 1993

#94 NW corner of Madison Ave. at E. 116th St., Harlem, 1993

#95 NW corner of E. 125th St. at Madison Ave., Harlem , 1993

#96 The Triangle building, 2230 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1993

#97 NW corner of E. 116th St. at 3rd Ave., Harlem, 1993

#98 SE corner of E. 125th St. at 5th Ave., Harlem, 1993

#99 View NW along 3rd Ave. from E. 117th St., Harlem, 1993

#100 View east along E. 125th St. from Park Ave., Harlem, 1993

#101 View west along W. 139th St. from Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1993

#102 SW corner of W. 145th St. at Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1993

#103 View west along W. 142nd St. from Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1993

#104 View SW along Adam Clayton Powell from W. 116th St., Harlem, 1993

#105 View SE along W. 116th St. from Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Harlem, 1993

#106 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 135th St., Harlem, 1993

#107 View SE along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 124th St., Harlem, 1993

#108 View SE along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 123rd St., Harlem, 1993

#109 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 115th St., Harlem, 1993

#110 View NW along Madison Ave. toward E. 118th St., Harlem, 1993

#111 View NW along 3rd Ave. from E. 115th St., Harlem, 1993

#112 View SW from W. 131st St. along Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, 1993

#113 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1993

#114 View SW along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 133rd St., Harlem, 1993

#115 View SW along 3rd Ave. from E. 117th St., Harlem, 1993

#116 View SW along 3rd Ave. from E. 112th St., Harlem, 1993

#117 View NE along Manhattan Ave. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1993

#118 View NE along 5th Ave. from 115th St., Harlem, 1993

#119 View NW along 2nd Ave. from E. 117th St., Harlem, 1993

#120 The Triangle building, 2230 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1993

#121 View NW along E. 125th St. at Lexington Ave., Harlem, 1994

#124 E. side of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. between W. 128th St. and W. 129th St., Harlem, 1994

#125 Pentecostal Faith Church under construction, NE corner Malcolm X Blvd. at W. 129th St., Harlem, 1994

#130 View SW along 1st Ave. from E. 116th St., Harlem, 1994

#131 View SE along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 135th St., Harlem, 1994

#137 NE corner of E. 131st St. at Madison Ave., Harlem, 1994

#138 NE corner of Morningside Ave. at 383 W. 125th St., Harlem, 1994

#139 NE corner of Madison Ave at W. 116th St., Harlem, 1994

#140 NW corner of St. Nicholas Ave. at W. 119th St., Harlem, 1994

#141 SW corner of St. Nicholas Ave. at W. 125th St., Harlem, 1994

#142 View NE along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1994

#145 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 124th St., Harlem, 1994

#146 View SE along Frederick Douglass from W. 134th St., Harlem, 1994

#147 View SW from W. 117th St., along Malcolm X. Blvd., Harlem, 1994

#148 View west along W. 122nd St. from Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., Harlem, 1994

#149 View SW along Park Ave. from E. 116th St., Harlem, 1994

#150 Former Small’s Paradise, Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. at 135th St., Harlem, 1994

#151 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 115th St., Harlem, 1994

#152 View NE along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 122nd St., Harlem, 1994

#153 View SW of Frederick Douglass Blvd. between W. 148th and W. 147th St., Harlem, 1994

#154 View NW from W. 122nd St. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., Harlem, 1994

#155 View NE along W. 125th St. from #243, Harlem, 1994

#156 New York City Marathon, view NW along Mt. Morris Park East from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1994

#157 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1994

#158 View SW along 3rd Ave. from E. 117th St., Harlem, 1955

#159 View SE along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 126th St., Harlem, 1994

#160 View SW along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 122nd St., Harlem, 1994

#161 View NE along Manhattan Ave. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1994

#162 View NW along Lexington Ave. from E. 116th St., Harlem, 1994

#163 NYC Marathon, view north from W. 131st St. along 5th Ave., Harlem, 1994

#164 View north along 2nd Ave. from E. 125th St., Harlem, 1994

#165 View north from W. 144th St. along Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1994

#166 View SW from 5th Ave and 117th St., Harlem, 1994

#167 View NE from Amsterdam Ave. along W. 125th St., Harlem, 1994

#168 SE corner of W. 116th St. and Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1994

#169 65 East 125th St., Harlem, March 1994, March 1994.

#172 Graham Court, NE corner of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. at W. 116th St., Harlem, 1995

#174 Malcolm X. Blvd. between 115th St. and 116th St., Harlem, 1995

#175 NW corner of E. 125th St. at Madison Ave., Harlem, 1995

#176 E. side of Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. between W. 130th St. and W. 131st St., Harlem, 1995

#180 The Washington Irving, 205 W. 112th St., Harlem, 1995

#184 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. between W. 118th and W. 119th St., Harlem, 1995

#185 SW corner of 5th Ave. and W. 125th St., Harlem, 1995

#187 View NE along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 126th St., Harlem, 1995

#188 View SW along Malcolm X. Blvd. from W. 124th St., Harlem, 1996

#189 W. side of Frederick Douglass between W. 151st St. and W. 152nd St., Harlem, 1995

#190 View west along W. 119th St. from St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, 1995

#191 View west along W. 119th St. from Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1995

#192 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 114th St., Harlem, 1995

#193 View NE along Adam Clayton Powell from W. 128th St., Harlem, 1995

#194 View NW along Madison Ave. toward E. 118th St., Harlem, 1995

#195 View SE along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 127th St., Harlem, 1995

#196 View west along W. 117th St. from St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, 1995

#197 View NE along Manhattan Ave. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1995

#198 View NE along 3rd Ave. toward E. 125th St., Manhattan, 1995

#199 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 151st St., Harlem, 1995

#200 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 151st St., Harlem, 1995

#201 NW corner of E. 116th St. at Park Ave., Harlem, 1995

#204 NW corner of Malcolm X Blvd. at W. 138th St. Harlem, 1996

#211 NE Corner of Madison Ave. at E. 125th St., Harlem, 1996

#218 View NE along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. from W. 120th St.,Harlem, 1996

#219 View SW on St. Nicholas Ave. from W. 112th St., Harlem, 1996

#220 View NE from W. 123rd St. along Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1996

#221 View NE along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. from W. 122nd St., Harlem, 1996

#222 The Triangle building, detail, 2230 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1996

#223 Former Corn Exchange Bank, NW corner of Park Ave. at E. 125th St., Harlem, 1996

#226 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from roof of St. Nicholas Houses, W. 127th St., Harlem, 1997

#228 Former Brooks Bakery, 113 E. 125th St., Harlem, 1997

#229 Former Corn Exchange Bank, detail, E. 125th St. at Park Ave., Harlem, 1997

#230 Former Corn Exchange Bank after a fire, detail, Park Ave. at E. 125th St., Harlem, 1997

#233 The Triangle building, 2230 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1997

#234 View SW along E. 112th St. from 1st Ave., Harlem, 1997

#239 NE corner of Morningside Ave. at W. 125th St., Manhattan, 1997

#240 View north from W. 125th St. at Morningside Ave., Harlem, 1997

#241 Former Brooks Bakery, 113 E. 125th St., Harlem, 1997

#242 View north along St. Nicholas Ave. from W. 117th St., Harlem, 1997

#243 View west from the roof of the St. Nicholas Houses along W. 127th St. from Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1997

#244 View SW along W. 125th St. from Lexington Ave., Harlem, 1997

#245 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 114th St., Harlem, 1997

#246 View NW from the roof of the Taft houses, 5th Ave. and W. 115th St., Harlem, 1997

#247 View west from 2nd Ave. between 116th St. and 117th St., Harlem, 1997

#248 View SW along Lexington Ave. from E. 125th St., Harlem, 1997

#249 View north from W. 144th St., along Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1997

#250 View SW along Frederick Douglass Blvd. from W. 151st St., Harlem, 1997

#251 The Triangle building, detail, 2230 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 1997

#252 View north from the roof of the MLK Jr. Houses, W. 115th St. at 5th Ave., Harlem, 1997

#253 View NW from the roof of the MLK Jr. Houses, W. 115th St. at Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem. 1997

#254 Former Corn Exchange Bank, NW corner of Park Ave. at E. 125th St., Harlem, 1997

#259 Former Brooks Bakery, 113 E. 125th St., Harlem, 1998

#261 Former Corn Exchange Bank, E. 125th St. at Park Ave., Harlem, 1998

#266 View SW along 5th Ave. from E. 119th St., Harlem, 1998

#267 SW corner of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. at 149th St., Harlem, 1998

#268 NW corner of W. 138th St. at Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, 1998

#270 Good News Evangelical Church, 81 W. 118th St., Harlem, 1998

#272 NW corner of Frederick Douglass and W. 145th St., Harlem, 1998

#273 View NE along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 120th St., Harlem, 1998

#274 View SW along Malcolm X Blvd. from W. 114th St., Harlem, 1999

#275 View NW along Madison Ave. toward E. 118th St., Harlem, 1998

#276 View north toward W. 142nd St. along Bradhurst Ave., Harlem, 1998

#281 Former Corn Exchange Bank, E. 125th St. at Park Ave. Harlem, 1999

Written by Wendy Robert

Brand journalist, Ghostwriter and Proud New Yorker. New York is not a city โ€“ itโ€™s a world.

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