Uptown identity crisis
The Manhattanville vs. W. Harlem debate
... but so is the Heart of Harlem at Engine 37-Ladder 40.
As Columbia University seeks to expand, there is almost as much debate about what to call its target neighborhood - bounded by 125th and 135th Sts., Broadway and Riverside Drive - as there is about the project itself.
"It's an odd sort of a quibble," said Eric Washington, author of "Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem."
From the start, it was separate from Harlem. In fact, a newspaper article called the new village a "delightful spot" that would "soon rival the town of Harlem."
At the time, some Manhattanville residents, concerned that their village was being absorbed by Harlem, decided to call their neighborhood West Harlem to "give it a proper designation," the New York Times reported in January 1900.
Today, the distinction between the two neighborhoods is still as unclear as it was more than a century ago. The Manhattanville Post Office, for example, sits only five blocks away from the Cotton Club, a staple of old Harlem.
He noted that city maps show neighborhoods called East and Central Harlem, but no place called West Harlem. In its place is Manhattanville.
Under that definition, a small piece of land between Morningside and Riverside Drive falls outside the parameters of Harlem. The book is mum on what to call it.
But the university counters it is seeking to honor the historical significance of the neighborhood.
"We have always referred to the old manufacturing area of Manhattanville, where we are seeking to expand as Manhattanville in West Harlem," said La-Verna Fountain, a Columbia spokeswoman.
Whether Columbia's stance is a tribute to the neighborhood, or public relations spin move, the university seems to have struck a balance, according to historians, who noted the two names, along with the neighborhoods they represent, have mingled over time.
"You can call it both names," said Washington.
"Both names have a legitimate legacy," he said. Originally published on December 31, 2006