Sugar Hill, Rich in Culture, and Affordable

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Harlem’s Sugar Hill neighborhood, often considered part of Hamilton Heights, is almost entirely residential, and much of it falls within the rowhouse-laden historic districts. The neighborhood is on a bluff, here seen rising over Jackie Robinson Park.

Credit…Alan Chin for The New York Times

The section of Upper Manhattan known as Sugar Hill, poised on a bluff overlooking the Harlem Plain and distinguished by graceful rowhouses and elegant apartment buildings, achieved renown in the 1930s and 1940s, when it was home to prominent African-American professionals, political leaders, artists, musicians and writers. The song “Take the ‘A’ Train,” written by Billy Strayhorn and popularized by Duke Ellington, commemorated the neighborhood, where both lived. Nowadays, though, some newcomers say they had not heard the name Sugar Hill before they arrived.

“I just thought of the area as Harlem,” said Heva Loriston, a Haitian-American resident who does administrative work at Columbia University and who recently moved to the neighborhood with her family. “We were looking for something reasonably priced, and we found it in the area — but now we plan on staying there.”

Ms. Loriston and her husband bought the three-bedroom apartment where they live with their three daughters last June for $130,000. The apartment is a Housing Development Fund Corporation co-op, which carries income restrictions, and also needed work, she said.

Some people consider Sugar Hill — likely named for the sweet life its affluent residents were thought to enjoy in its heyday — to extend from 135th to 162nd Streets and between Edgecombe and Amsterdam Avenues. The three Sugar Hill historic districts are in a smaller area, from 145th Street to 155th Street and between Edgecombe and Amsterdam.

Sugar Hill, Rich in Culture, and Affordable

416 WEST 147TH STREET A 20-foot-wide seven-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath townhouse, listed at $2.89 million. (212) 381-4214Credit…Alan Chin for The New York Times

“A lot of times Sugar Hill is more of a state of mind than a real location, so you can have a lot of different opinions,” said Don Moses, a real estate consultant with Exit Realty Landmark who specializes in the area. Most buyers, he said, “are driven by price, first and foremost.”

But what they end up discovering is an architecturally striking neighborhood with a rich culture tied to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s and “a sense of community,” Mr. Moses said.

There are still some old-timers who remember the neighborhood’s glory days, but the area is changing rapidly, Mr. Moses said. Census data show the percentage of black residents shrank from 62.5 percent of the population in 2000 to 45.7 percent in 2010, while white residents increased from 2.3 percent to 10.6 percent and Hispanics grew from 31.4 to 38.6 percent. The population of the neighborhood is around 12,000.

Real estate agents said they are working with a growing number of foreign home buyers in Sugar Hill. Two years ago Lars Nordstroem, a scientist who works in the Bronx, bought a two-and-half-bedroom apartment that needed renovation — the half-bedroom was originally a maid’s quarters — in an H.D.F.C. co-op in the neighborhood. The price was $105,000.

Originally from Scandinavia, Mr. Nordstroem said he and his wife, who is from Sri Lanka, had never heard of Sugar Hill, but have been happy to call the changing neighborhood home.

“Even just over the past three years, walking around and going to the subway, there’s much more diversity than there used to be,” he said. “There’s just been tremendous change, with new restaurants and shops popping up all over the place.”

What You’ll Find

Sugar Hill, often considered part of Hamilton Heights, is almost entirely residential. It has rows of four- and five-story townhouses, generally over 4,000 square feet, said Willie Kathryn Suggs, the owner of a brokerage by that name in Sugar Hill.

“When people think of Sugar Hill, they think of the classic townhouse, something drop-dead gorgeous and dripping with Victorian details,” said Ms. Suggs, who bought a townhouse on Hamilton Terrace in 2005.

Attractive prewar apartment buildings, now co-ops, are also common. Some examples are 409 Edgecombe Avenue, which was home to the painter Aaron Douglas, the scholar and civil rights leader W. E. B. DuBois, and Thurgood Marshall, then an N.A.A.C.P. lawyer, later a Supreme Court justice. Nearby is 555 Edgecombe, a historic landmark that was home to the actor and singer Paul Robeson, the musician Count Basie and the boxer Joe Louis.

“Some of these co-ops are spectacular, with 12- or 14- or 16-room apartments,” Ms. Suggs said. There are a few newer condominiums, such as Hamilton Park on West 152nd Street and the Capstone on West 150th. More prevalent, however, are the income-restricted Housing Development Fund Corporation co-ops, which Ms. Suggs called “some of the best buys in the neighborhood.”

What You’ll Pay

Even excluding income-restricted housing, Sugar Hill is still relatively underpriced, especially for townhouses, Ms. Suggs said. “Townhouses are in some cases less than half the price per square foot of the apartments, so they’re a bargain,” she said, pointing out that Harlem apartments are generally listed at around $800 to $900 per square foot, but may sell for as little as $600.

Mr. Moses said in Sugar Hill studio co-ops are generally $120,000 to the low $200,000s; one-bedrooms are $150,000 to $350,000; two-bedrooms are $300,000 to $425,000; and three-plus bedrooms are $450,000 to almost $800,000. Condos usually cost about 20 to 25 percent more than co-ops, he said.

Prices in Sugar Hill in general increased by about 15 percent to 18 percent from 2013 to 2014, Mr. Moses said.

Rental apartments are in multifamily buildings, small walk-ups and townhouses, said Águeda Ramírez, an agent with the Bohemia Realty Group. Typically, studios range from $1,350 to $1,700 a month; one-bedrooms from $1,500 to $2,000; two-bedrooms from $1,800 to $2,500, and three-bedrooms from the low $2,000s to $3,500, she said.

What to Do

Sugar Hill is centrally situated in Upper Manhattan with access to its parks, including the 12.8-acre Jackie Robinson Park, which has a recreation center, a swimming pool, ball fields, playgrounds and a band shell. The neighborhood is also home to the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Harlem School of the Arts, which both have classes and performances. The newly built Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling is scheduled to open this year. The Hamilton Grange Library is a state and national landmark.

Residents usually head to Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway to shop or dine. Many restaurants have opened in the last five years, including the Chipped Cup coffee shop and Unione Restaurant and Bar, serving Italian food; both are on Broadway.

The Schools

One school favored by parents, Ms. Loriston said, is Public School/Intermediate School 210, the 21st Century Academy for Community Leadership, serving about 470 students from prekindergarten to Grade 8. On state tests, 16 percent of students met standards in English, versus 28 percent citywide, according to its 2013-14 School Quality Snapshot. In math, 22 percent met standards, versus 34 percent citywide. The Sugar Hill Museum Preschool opened last fall on West 155th Street.

The Commute

The A, B, C and D subway trains stop at 145th Street and St. Nicholas (the B and C part time), and the C stops at 155th Street. The 1 train runs nearby along Broadway, stopping at 145th and 157th Streets. The trip to Midtown takes about 15 to 20 minutes on express trains. Buses serving the neighborhood include the M3, the M100, the M101, the Bx6 and the Bx19.

The History

According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the rocky plateau that later became known as Sugar Hill was the setting for grand estates in the late 1700s and 1800s. By the mid-1890s, the area was home to white middle- and upper-middle-class residents, joined by immigrants from Italy, Ireland and Germany. In the early 1920s blacks began to move in, and Sugar Hill reached its prime as an African-American neighborhood in the 1940s. It began to decline in the 1950s, and many prominent black residents began moving to places like Riverside Drive or St. Albans, Queens.

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