The release of the film version of the award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda Broadway musical In the Heights is generating interest in Washington Heights, both by NYC residents and especially by visitors.
NYCOTC Publisher/Editor Evelyn Kanter grew up here, around the time Miranda’s parents immigrated from Puerto Rico along with immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
They added one more cultural influence to Washington Heights and Inwood, where there was already a vibrant multi-cultural community of Irish and Italian Catholics who fled poverty back home, and the German and Austrian Jews who found sanctuary here from Nazi death camps, as my own parents did.
In those days, Washington Heights and Inwood – the area just north of what’s now known just as The Heights – were considered one giant neighborhood, described as Washington Heights/Inwood.
Wherever the immigrants and refugees to Washington Heights and Inwood came from, all were seeking a better life for themselves and their children – including my own parents.
Since everybody who arrived in the Heights and Inwood between the 1890s and 1970s was fleeing poverty or religious discrimination – sometimes both – there was a shared focus on hard work and education to achieve the promise of the American dream.
Here is my list of what any NYC resident or visitor should see and do in the Heights, which is the new shorthand for Washington Heights
Where is The Heights
Washington Heights is in between Harlem to the South and Inwood to the north.
That’s a pretty big area, roughly between 125th Street. and 190th Street on the West Side of Manhattan (Spanish Harlem is on the East Side).
The area around 181st Street is now marketing itself as Hudson Heights, but it’s still Washington Heights.
Inwood begins at 190th St. or Dyckman St. – depending on who you talk to.
My mother, who owned a store at 134 Dyckman St., considered 181st St. to be the main shopping street of Washington Heights, and Dyckman St. to be the main shopping street of Inwood. And I would never disagree with my mother.
What to See and Do in The Heights
This is a historic area, dating back to the Revolutionary Era.
Let’s start with Alexander Hamilton’s country home, since Lin-Manuel Miranda also wrote a Broadway musical about Hamilton.
Alexander Hamilton built this home in 1801 as a country retreat, when anything north of Lower Manhattan was still farmland.
Hamilton owned much of the land around the house.
Now part of the National Park Service, there are Ranger-guided tours, and wonderful views from its hilltop location.
Built in 1765, also as a country getaway, this house played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War and afterwards.
George Washington used it as his headquarters in 1776, and later held the very first Cabinet meeting here, which included both Hamilton and his arch-rival Aaron Burr, Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury (Hamilton) and Vice President (Burr).
It’s said to be haunted by Eliza Bowen, widow of wealthy merchant Stephen Jumel, who bought the house from the Morris family.
Bowen married Burr here. It didn’t work out – she kicked him out after a year, and soon after that he killed Hamilton in a duel.
But I digress.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote much of his blockbuster musical Hamilton here, inspired by the historic vibes in the house. He wrote the memorable song “In the Room Where it Happens” in Burr’s bedroom.
Miranda also is the voice of the video on the Morris-Jumel Mansion website.
The Little Red Lighthouse
What? You never heard of the Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse.
Not many of us have, but many more of us know its more popular name, The Little Red Lighthouse, and its location under the great grey George Washington Bridge, from the popular children’s book.
It’s one of the last surviving lighthouses along the Hudson River – and the only one in NYC, which makes it worth the trip.
And it’s FREE to visit, since it’s now part of the NYC Dept. of Parks, including for FREE tours by the Urban Park Rangers.
Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library
This is one of the absolute best secrets of NYC, because it has –
- One of the world’s largest collections of El Greco, Goya and Velasquez paintings outside of the Prada in Madrid
- One of the world’s largest collections of fabrics and photos from all the peoples of the Spanish-speaking world, including the Phillipines
- An extensive collection of Bronze Age artifacts from Europe and South America
And also because it has FREE admission, although donations are welcomed.
The Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library is housed in a dramatic building – inside and out – on Audubon Terrace, just off Broadway and 155th St.
Unfortunately, it’s closed for renovation, with no opening date announced. Fingers cross that will be soon.
In the meantime, there are two FREE exhibits steps away, in honor of the Latin Diaspora and In the Heights.
Currently, in honor of In the Heights, there are two exhibits, one indoors, the other outdoors, through mid-August.
Temporary Exhibition: Latinx Diaspora: Stories from Upper Manhattan
In the Heights: From University to Silver Screen
In the Heights: From University to Silver Screen feature more than fifty images tracing the development of the award-winning musical from its first showing at Wesleyan University through the Broadway productions and the Warner Brothers major motion picture.
It’s open daily, 10am to 4pm, although these days a reservation is required for admission. That’s free, too.
Ever heard of John J. Audubon? How about C. Clement Moore, who wrote the famous poem that begins with “Twas the night Before Christmas, and all through the house….”. Of course you have.
They are both buried in this quiet, picturesque and historic cemetery steps from bustling Broadway and 155th St., just down the hill toward the West Side Highway from the Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library.
In pre-Pandemic days, there was an annual Christmas Eve reading of Moore’s point at his grave. I’m hoping it will be back for the post-Pandemic 2021 holiday season.
This graveyard is the uptown branch of the Trinity Church graveyard near the World Trade Center, where Alexander Hamilton and his wife are buried. That’s also on Broadway, so if you visit that one, you can actually say you saw Hamilton on Broadway.
Audubon Theater and Ballroom
This is the original name of what is now known as the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center, at 165th St. and Broadway.
It was built in 1912 by film producer William Fox, who later founded 20th Century Fox.
In addition to screening films here, its ballroom was often used by unions and other groups for large meetings. One of those groups was the one founded by Malcolm X when he left the Nation of Islam, founded by the anti-White firebrand Elijah Muhammed, and now led by the equally anti-White and anti-Semitic firebrand Louis Farrakhan.
Malcolm X was assassinated here on Feb. 21, 1965, as he was giving a speech.
Who murdered him and why has been the subject of books, a TV documentary and more, including this article in Time Magazine.
The interior is now closed, but you can use the ATM at the Chase bank location in the building.
This is the oldest bridge in New York City – older even than the Brooklyn Bridge. Originally, it carried water, not people or horses – across the Harlem River, when this part of New York City was still mostly farmland.
When it opened in 1848 as Aqueduct Bridge, it was part of the Croton Aqueduct system, which carried water to the Bronx from the Croton Reservoir – which was later filled in and became Bryant Park.
The western end is at 170th Street in Washington Heights, and the eastern end is at Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx. The Washington heights end also has a park, brilliantly named Highbridge Park.
It was closed to traffic in the 1970s, because it had deteriorated and NYC was too broke to fix it. High Bridge finally was restored in the early 2000s, and reopened in 2015 as a car-free bridge, open to pedestrians and bicycles.
It’s the Heights version of the High Line, which was converted from an abandoned railroad spur into a popular pedestrian-only park, along the Hudson.
High Bridge is operated and maintained by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.
This Wikipedia page has some wonderful historic images of the High Bridge, from the 1800s and early 1900s.
Where to Eat in The Heights
Anywhere along Broadway or St. Nicholas Ave.
Except for the national corporate chains, all the restaurants here are family owned and serve home-made food and drinks at affordable prices.
Our two top recommendations include
- Cuban and Dominican food, like mofongo and asopaos
- Caribbean and South American specialties