As you're surely well aware, Alexander Hamilton has enjoyed a meteoric resurgence in celebrity status thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s astronomical Broadway hit of the same name.
Of course, he was always pretty famous anyway, what with having his handsome face on the $10 bill and being famously killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. His house, Hamilton Grange in the Hamilton Heights section of Harlem was one of the things that charmed us into buying our co-op apartment just a stone’s throw from it. But today it's practically a rock star.
The result: throngs of tourists that pack our street every single weekend.
I love living here, I truly do. I'm next to City College, which provides lovely, grassy picnic areas against the backdrop of stunning old buildings. The students give the whole neighborhood a college town vibe, so that it's quiet, safe, but also full of life. We have a ton of great bars, restaurants, and cafes, too. My favorite part is that I live on a peaceful street lined with huge, mature trees and the most beautiful townhouses in NYC. But I hate when my weekend sleep in is shattered by "The Buses." These huge Greyhound-type vehicles arrive early in the morning, sometimes as early as 7:30 am, to unleash usually one large group from one country at a time, and they stay parked (sometimes double-parked) right by my building with the motor running so that you don’t only hear them, you can also smell them. I guess if you’re going to promise tourist from all over the world a taste of historic Harlem, you start here. Not only is Hamilton Grange here, there are also gorgeous townhouses in his historic district. (Which is why we so often get film crews shutting down our streets for weeks on end, but that’s a story for another day).
The Hamilton tourists block the sidewalks as they gape at the guides giving them the history of the place, completely indifferent to the neighborhood residents trying to pass. They take pictures of our buildings as if we live in a museum. One day I had to play bad cop and tell a rude tourist that they can't just open somebody's front gate to take a pic on the stoop of their townhouse. Doesn't matter if it was in some TV show you saw, it's still trespassing. On Sundays, they take pictures of the churchgoers in their Sunday best like they are animals in a zoo. And they ask me to take their pictures as they stand by the Hamilton Grange. (What, has nobody heard of a selfie stick?)
Then there’s the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get a table at my favorite neighborhood spot, The Grange, when the weekend crowds hit. I understand the food there is the best around (according to me, the other regulars, and Yelp, anyway), but it’s extra popular because it’s named after Hamilton Grange, which I guess makes for a great closing activity for massive tour groups.
Sitting at the Grange one day, my neighborhood friends and I got to talking to a tourist who had just seen the show and so wanted to see Hamilton’s house. She and her husband had paid over $800 (!) for two tickets. It was worth every penny, she said. I looked at my friend, the bartender, incredulously. Turns out, she had seen Hamilton when it first opened. “I feel blessed to have seen it,” she said. Not just happy, or inspired. #blessed.
Well, I don’t feel #blessed. I feel left out! I would give anything (okay, not $800) to see this show about that man who lived in the house that I walk past almost daily; the man who gives this neighborhood a certain cachet, and who we here have come to regard as our patron saint.
Yes, this is the best neighborhood in Harlem most days of the week, when it isn’t overrun with herds of “walkers” a la The Walking Dead. People who aren't that familiar with Harlem are always pleasantly surprised when they come up to Hamilton Heights. They can't believe this is in the same Manhattan as Times Square or SoHo or even the Upper West Side: There are none of the popular retail stores and chain restaurants you find on 125th Street, nor many high-rises. It's just old houses and apartment buildings, churches, and great people (and the aforementioned awesome eateries). But between the the large tour groups on the weekends, and the tourists (ahem, Hamilton fans) during the week, that atmosphere of being in a tucked away corner of Manhattan has been eroded a bit.
My neighbors and I have a dream. We dream that Hamilton will start giving discount tickets to anybody who lives in the 10031 neighborhood. Too much? How about a #Ham4Ham right here, right in the neighborhood? A #Ham4Ham4Harlem! There’s St. Nicholas Park, home of the Hamilton Grange (classified as a National Park, by the way). There’s Jackie Robinson Park where there’s a bandshell and stage. And there’s Morris Jumel Mansion not far off in Washington Heights, where Miranda wrote parts of the musical (and for which the cast and crew generously staged a benefit performance at the Public Theater last year).
Consider this an open plea, Mr. Miranda. Seems like it could be the least you could do to make up for these tourists everywhere.
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