Harlem was founded by the dutch (who also founded New York as New Amsterdam) in 1658 and named after the dutch city Haarlem. Harlem, known as a jewish and italian district in the 19th century, became an african-american district during the great migration of the 20th century. Today Harlem is a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan. Here we see a street block of Manhattan Avenue between 117th (left) and 116th street (right) in typical 19th century buildings style.
Fire Escapes of New York
A distinct feature of many historic New York buildings are its fire escapes – often depicted in scenes of New York movies or TV series. However, fire escapes were really only built in New York City for a hundred years between 1867 and 1968. Discussions of fire safety for New York’s escalating buildings structures started after the 1835 fire in the Financial District. This led to the Croton Dam and Aqueduct being built for a reliable water source and switching to stone and brick buildings instead of wood. Still the city gre rapidly and buildings tended to become higher. Several more fires proved that especially people in the top floors were difficult to be rescued during a fire and in 1867 the Tenement House act was inacted – which required a fire escape. Since then for a hundred years a lot of buildings in New York were built including these exterior iron clad fire escapes and several older buildings got the added during renovations. There even was a law about regularly painting a fire escape in contrasting colours to improve its duration and safety.
However over time it turned out that other solutions for fire safety were better, like interior fire walls or sprinklers, and it became obvious that fire escapes weren’t perfect, especially during panic moments in actual fires when the ladders collapsed under high temperature and the weight of too many people. So in 1968 a new code said “Fire escapes shall not be permitted on new construction” which means all those nostalgic fire escapes you still see today are a relic of a time more than 50 years ago.
Still, with fire escapes being very common, people have always seen them as extra space. They’re used for bikes and gardening and barbecues and cat runs, despite of all of this being illegal in terms of fire safety since 1871. If you like to know more you can find a great summary on the fire escapes by Tanya Reilly.