PLEASANT AVENUE, East Harlem

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Originally a northern section of Avenue A between East 114th and East 120th Streets –cut off from York Avenue, which was also originally Avenue A, by a bend in the Harlem River — Pleasant Avenue has been anything but, during its checkered history. A day-old newborn was found here in 1884; its throat had been cut. In 1935, Thomas D’Auria was stabbed to death witha bread knife — by his own father. In 1949, a saloonkeeper reduced the price of a glass of beer to a nickel. He was soon rubbed out by a competitor. Pleasant Avenue was the bailiwick of “Fat Tony” Salerno, the capo of the Genovese crime family. In 1971, Francis Ford Coppola filmed James Caan as Sonny Corleone beating up his brother-in-law in a fitting setting.

1867 Dripps atlas section showing Avenue A, which became Pleasant Avenue in the 1880s. This cutoff section was far removed from the more continuous Avenue A downtown, and it was renamed for its pleasant location in a then-rural enclave near the bucolic Harlem River.

Over the decades East Harlem became a mostly Italian neighborhood and later, mostly Latino. I recently walked the length of 116th Street from Broadway to the Harlem River, and wound up on this Pleasant enclave that, at least on this sunny day in August, revealed little of its violent past.

There are traces of an Italian past in East Harlem – I found several on 116th Street — but the most obvious one on Pleasant Avenue is Rao’s, the Italian restaurant at the south end of Pleasant and East 114th, one of the most difficult restaurants in NYC at which to get a table. The restaurant has only ten tables, and one seating per night. Bwanas with connections, like movie stars, mobsters, and politicians can, of course, get in more easily than the hoi polloi. The NY Times’ Mimi Sheraton gave Rao’s a 3-star review in 1977, and there has been an aura of exclusivity at the place after that. It was founded by Italian immigrant Charles Rao in 1896, and has remained in the family since. Rao’s sells a line of Italian specialties in supermarkets and groceries for those who can’t get in, and that’s mostly everyone.

The Corinthian-columned Manhattan Center For Science and Mathematics makes an impressive sight from East 115th Street, in the building formerly occupied by Benjamin Franklin High School. It is one of Manhattan’s most academically accomplished high schools, graduating 97% of its senior class in 2009.

Hydrant in USA or Puerto Rico colors.

The ground floor space on the SE corner of East 117th and Pleasant has been converted to a new restaurant. When the Google Camera Car went by several months ago [in 2009] the space’s old use as an insurance business was still apparent.

Looking at the well-built apartment houses on Pleasant Avenue at East 117th (left) and East 118th built by architects with a clue you’d never believe this used to be a very dangerous area. But appearances can be deceiving of course.

The east ends of both East 117th and East 118th are much busier now that they provide access to the new Target department store complex along the FDR Drive between 116th and 118th. On East 117th, though, I preferred to concentrate on a building largely unchanged since the Depression — the original fance and door are likely the ones seen here. I liked this handmade George Frank Woodworking sign next door.

The dead end of East 118th east of Pleasant Avenue is one of the few uptown Manhattan blocks still paved with Belgian blocks. I liked the small mansard-roof building with the dormers. The new Target Center can be seen at the end of the street.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Rosary can be seen looking west on E. 119th from Pleasant Avenue. The parish was established in 1884 and the church was constructed between 1898-1900.

Photographed August 2010, page completed October 5, 2010





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51 Responses to PLEASANT AVENUE, East Harlem

  1. Bob Oppedisano says:

    You just missed Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church around the corner on 115th St, scene of an historic religious feast to the Madonna in July that used to draw 10s of thousands of Italians each day from all over (including us from Brooklyn). A much smaller feast, with its own giglio, is still held. The neighborhood was once the largest Italian community in the city, a place where many moved to after first settling downtown, and 1st Ave was lined cheek by jowl with pushcarts and food stores of all kinds from 96th to 116th and above. . Lexington Ave was a dividing line between Italian and Latino Harlems, and one crossed with some danger you were Latino.

  2. David Peters says:

    A little history on the George Frank Cabinet Shop pictured. it’s just off Pleasant on E. 1117th. As far as I know it has always been a commercial cabinet shop but Mr. Frank is a much interesting story, I met him a few times before he passed away in the 1990′s or maybe a little later(I’m in the same trade as him Antique Restoration). In his day he was the top antique restorers,refinisher, a pioneer in new techniques and teacher, he was Hungarian by birth but relocated to Paris where he set up shop, among his clients where the Louvre, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the Art Deco designer Jean Pascaud. At some point he moved to NYC where he lectured and worked until his death. A shop on E.117th still bears his name

  3. Mtk says:

    Pleasant Avenue was the major conduit for heroin in the United States during the late 1960s. See David Durk’s (former NYC cop) book The Pleasant Avenue Connection.

  4. Bill Caravetta says:

    I grew up at 445 E 120st went to PS78 Scott’ies candy store on 118 st.went to Holy Rosery. 1959 to 67 hung out had friends and everything on Pleasant ave

    • frank budano says:

      I also went to ps78 .I’m 60 year old and sure that I know many people and friends you do. I hung more by roses candy store 116 between pleasant and first and walked what I call the big square from first 114 to 120 down to pleasant and back that was my workout many times a day. played baseball with the kids at 117 stickball with kids from 118&119 and basketball with kids on 120 and our football games from 114 to 116.

    • lyons says:

      I WENT TO PS78 ALSO AND I REMEMBERS SCOTTIES CANDY STORE AND ALSO MARYS CANDY STORE ON 118TH STREET My address was in the block of 117th street near Washburn wire Factory.

  5. Nancy says:

    East Harlem was the greatest place to grow up in back in the 1940′s & 1950′s.
    A wonderful sense of community, not like today when you really do not know who your neighbor is.
    I grew up on 117th St Bet. 1st & Pleasant Avenues, went to PS 78, was married in Holy Rosary Church. Stickball games every sunday, Jefferson Park (Pool) the plots where we planted vegetables, Rao’s Bar (wasn’t a famous restaurant back then) just a local bar with dogs lying out front basking in the sun. Greek the hotdog guy, all the local candystores where we hung out and were safe. No school shootings in those days. There were gangs back then and they did not carry guns. They were our protection. We didn’t need security. Had to have my say.

    • bill caravetta says:

      Hi Nancy,I have done the same thing as you but in the 50s and 60s wow

      • Dan Buonagurio says:

        Hi Nancy I too was born and raised at 117 St. between 1st Ave & Pleasant Ave. I went to PS 78 then onto Ben Franklin.Use to hang out in Eleane;s candy store.
        Dan

        • Nancy says:

          Hi Danny,
          I’m a little older than you. I believe you had a brother, Corky Joe. Right? You also had a sister, Angie. What ever happened to Joey? My husband and I went to his wedding.
          I lived at 441 across the street from your building. Yes, the ARROWS…..my husband Manny was on the older ARROWS.

          • Dan says:

            Hi Nancy You sure do know my family. Joey is still living in the Bronx.
            Angie is down the shore AC.
            Manny Had brother named Benjamin.
            Did you live on the 1st floor at 441?
            Dan

          • Kenneth Lake says:

            Hi Nancy I don’t think I know you and I don’t think you know me BUT I did know Benjamin, Manny’s younger brother Benjamin Bayron or Byron (not too sure on the spelling) is that his name. Benny and I were best friends when we were about 14, 15. I sure would like to get in touch with him again. I’ve been trying to find him for years. My name is KEN LAKE and I lived at 442 East 117TH street. Please if you know him have him call me at 1-863-967-0147. I live in Florida now. Please have him call. OR he can email me at kenlake7x7@gmail.com Thank You

          • Nancy says:

            Hi Danny,
            I did live on the first floor of 441. We have been trying to reach Joey without any luck. Manny & I used to get Christmas cards from him.
            Marco has also been trying to find Joey. Sorry to say,Manny passed
            away in 1994. His brother Benny also past away.

            Take care.

            Nancy

    • Dan Buonagurio says:

      Hi All I too was born n raised in East Harlem.. I lived at 446 which was at 117 St. between 1st Ave an pleaseant Ave.
      Used to spend my week ends playing soft ball in the little park by the High School for $
      Also played alot of stoop ball for $ on the corner of 117st. I was a member of the Arrows are colors were black n red. Should bring back some memmeroies.
      Now I’m living in burbs of NJ but only 7 miles for GW Bridge. Haven’t been back in quite awhile. Going to go back with a camera one of these days and see the changes

      Dan # 99

    • Michelle Cruz says:

      My family I also grew up there, My mom who’s name is Nancy as well and her brothers & sisters went to P.S 78 and my cousins and I went to P.S.112 & P.S. 206. My mother also grew up on 117 Pleasant building #429, it no longer exist its now a garden. Yeah I have the great memories growing up in El Barrio!

      • Philip Ocasio says:

        Michelle
        In what year did you live at 429 East 117th Street? We lived on the third Floor, Nancy, Angie, and Molly and their brother Kike lived on the other side. We moved out in 1978 a year or two before it was brought down. I also had an apartment on the first floor. We practiced karate on the Roof, wish I can post pictures of those classes. Hi Nancy… see you knew a few others that I did not know from our block…LOL.

      • Philo says:

        Michelle
        In what year(s) did your mother live at 429 East 117th Street?
        We lived on the third Floor, and Nancy, Angie, and Molly and their brother Kike lived on the other side. We moved out in 1978 a year or two before it was brought down.
        I also had an apartment on the first floor. We practiced karate on the Roof, wish I can post pictures of those classes. Hi Nancy… see you knew a few others that I did not know from our block…LOL.

  6. Frank Concerto says:

    I lived at 502 E 119th St between Pleasant Avenue and the East River Drive(FDR) in late 50s early 60s. I loved it tere. Played a lot of stoopball and stickball and 2 hand touch football. Each Street from 117th to 120th had its own stoopball fields and we would play each other for “a dollar a man”. If you played on your turf you had home advantage, knowing how to play the Spalding bll off the various surfaces(buildings, etc.).
    I went to PS78 and Junior High School James Otis which was in the Benjamin Franklin HS on 115 and Pleasant Ave. At PS78 I liked 2 girls both named MaryAnn.
    I went to Holy Rosary Church on Sundays and came out and and coffee and buns at a place on Pleasant Ave near 118th St. At night we played kick the can , catch one catch all, 4 corners at corner of 119th and Pleasant Ave.
    The Feast of Mt. Carmel was fantastic with the food and entertainment on the temporarily built stage on Pleasant near Ben Franklin HS. There are so many great memories

    • Tom Saltarelli says:

      Frank Concerto..
      My Name is Tom. I grew up in 512 East 119th.
      maybe we knew each other or you might have known my older brother Joe ??

      • mary ann says:

        I lived on Pleasant Avenue from 1950-1963, it was wonderful. We had the basement apt in one of the small brownstones and we had a yard, connected to two other yards, we were all friends. Had a wonderful group of friends that I went to OUr Lady of Mt. Carmel school with for 8 years, we are still all friends. The feast was the highlight of our year, when everyone came out and came back to celebrate. I would not exhcange that childhood for any other.

      • Frank Concerto says:

        Hi Tom
        I remember your brother Joe and possibly you also. Did you also have a younger sister. I am 66 now and moved there from Brooklyn in ’57 or ’57. Went to PS78 Remember Danny Legs at end of blck who had an older sister. Alex was her boyfriend. I remember Lenny Sacatelli( not sure about spelling), Pasquale brothers in my building Vito and Patty who had an older sister whose name i can’t think of , Charlie Simmons went with my landlords daughter . Fred Nasta, Tony Aiella and sister Virginia, Forcerelli Brother, Joe Rizzo and brothers , Phil + John ,red-headed brothers in my building (502) on 2nd flr., the Madonnas from 118th st, Frank + Larry Salerno
        There were the older guys that played ball and hung out at Nighthawk Club. Mike Lentini,Skutch, Gary (the mouth) last names escapes me, older Rizzo Brothers from 118th st.
        Did you have the nickname stretch or was that a neighbor of yours? There are a lot of great memories. My mother was constantly moving and we moved to projects on 124th st + 2nd in ’61 or ’62 which drove me nuts. Frank

        • Pam Esposito says:

          Hi Tommy I lived at 500 E 119 between Pleasant Ave and The Drive Hi Frank I knew all the guys you mentioned Danny Legs moved into 500 E 119 when the colucci’s moved out His sister was Joannie. She was with Mario. Younger brother Gary was my age. Great memories growing up in East Harlem Still visit there often

        • Gary lombino says:

          Pam this Gary Danny’s brother hope you’re well thanks for all the nice things you said about him

  7. jimmy paolino says:

    i lived at 362 ahun21st. i’m 68 years old and i went to Holy Rosary. i made my 1st communion and confirmation on saturday and sunday in 1952. the principal was mother francis. i had sister yolanda in 1st grade and i remember mrs kevin in 5th grade. my brother dec 2011 was tommy. my cousin mikey frogs longobardi lived in the same building. my cousin arthur lived at 263 pleasant ave on top of Rao’s we were forced to move in 1955 and i came back every week and hung out on ahun19 between 1st &pleasant at benny’s paddy bones and the cyo. later i hung around eddie grieco’s on 1st ave &ahun18 st, and at patsy’s. i come back for O’Giglio and the fathert/son stickball game a/la mikey lentini hope to see you then my heart&soul will 4ever be east harlem

    • Dan Buonagurio says:

      Hi All I too was born n raised in East Harlem.. I lived at 446 which was at 117 St. between 1st Ave an pleaseant Ave.
      Used to spend my week ends playing soft ball in the little park by the High School for $
      Also played alot of stoop ball for $ on the corner of 117st. I was a member of the Arrows are colors were black n red. Should bring back some memmeroies.
      Now I’m living in burbs of NJ but only 7 miles for GW Bridge. Haven’t been back in quite awhile. Going to go back with a camera one of these days and see the changes

      Dan # 99

  8. My name is Daniel V. Buonagurio I lived at 442 East 117 Street. We moved to L.I. in 1953. Myself, My brother Anthony and my sister Rose.I missed all my friends and family . I missed all the street games that we use to play in Harlem.On L.I. my nearest friend lived a mile away at that time and 7 miles by bus to school.I found a whole different world and it was very hard to adjust.After all these years ( around 50) I finally became in touch with my cousin Dan Buonagurio.Harlam was a good place to grow up. I missed all my friends. Harlem will always be in my heart.I often wonder what happened to all my old friends. If any of them see this, please contact me.

    • Nancy says:

      Hi Danny V. Do you remember any of your old friends names? I may know them. Living at 442 I remember the superintendant, his name was Tony the Wig (white hair guy) and he would always be chasing the kids off the stoop.
      The Marinelli family lived in the building. I lived in 441.
      Take care.

      Nancy

    • Kenneth Lake says:

      Danny Buonagurio, my God I have wondered about your family for years. My name is KEN LAKE. I lived in apartment 9 and you lived in apartment 12 your mother’s name was Tessie your father’s name was Tony I think. You had an aunt named Mary in apartment 13. Your grandmother lived in apartment 7 every one called her Momma Monona (everybody loved that woman and Papa to) and she would feed everybody in the building, she always had a big pot of tomato souse on for spaghetti and lots of meatballs (my God they were so good). When your family moved out to Long Island we moved into your apartment (12). My mom and I came out to your house in L.I. and stayed with you for I think it was 2 weeks. Your house was in the middle and your aunt Mary was on one side and I think her name was Rosy was on the other side. If I remember the story right your grandfather Papa Monona bought 3 archers and gave one to each of his daughters. Your mother (Tessie) and my mother (Ann) were good friends. See if you can remember this (try): One time you and I and I think it was Anthony, we went to a pet store, not sure but I think it was on 116th street and I stole a hamster. I put it in my coat pocket and we (I) sneaked it home and we ran up the stairs and into my apt. It just so happened that your mother and mine were in the kitchen talking, and your mother knew just knew something was up. So she followed us to the back bedroom and walked in just as I was taking it out of my pocket. Wanted to know just where we got it. I don’t remember what I said but she wasn’t buying any of it. Finally I said that I stole it and they (your mom and mine) made me take it back and give it back to the man in the pet shop. It was a lesson that I never forgot.
      Danny I could go on and on with this but I’m not sure how much I can put on here. I’m now 72 and live in Florida. My home phone no. is 1-863-967-0147. PLEASE if you get this give me a call I would love to hear from you.

      • Nancy says:

        Hi Kenny,

        This is Nancy, I’m a little older than you but did you have a brother “Charlie”? If so, my sister Pat was a friend of his. They were both seven years older than me. I do remember Charloe. he was a nice guy. You were a little kid back then. I also remember your mom. My parents owned the laundry business across the street at 441. I will give you a call some time.
        Take care and be well.

        Nancy

        • Charlie Lake says:

          Hi Nancy. I don’t remember you but my brother does. I do remember Pat (I think we used to call her Patsy). I used to hang out with Lenny Camodeo, Phil Nuzzo, Al Belluccio, Joey Mongelli and a few others. I went to PS 78 , James Otis JHS and then Benjamin Franklin HS. That was back in the late 40′s early 50′s. I got married in ’57 and moved to the Bronx. I worked in NY at a publishing company for over 50 years. I had an older brother named Dave and he hung out with Johnny “Red” and Johnny “Shadow”. “Shadow” married a girl named Joanie (I think) she was short and hung out with Pat. I’m now 81 and live in Florida. I got involved with the local politics and I am the Vice Mayor of Lake Alfred and I serve on a number of County Committees. I recently got in touch with Lenny, who also lives in Florida, and we will be getting together next month. I haven’t seen him in over 40 years. Give me a shout back if any of these names ring a bell with you. You can check my facebook page and see if you recognize me. Hope to hear from you.
          https://www.facebook.com/charles.lake.3958

          • Nancy says:

            Hi Charles,
            Nice to hear from you. Yes, back then my sister was called “Patsy” Unfortunately, she passed in 1986.
            I do recall a few of the names, Joey Mongelli and of course Lenny Commodeo.
            When you see Lenny give him my regards (Ibelieve he will remember me).
            It’s great that you will be getting together with him
            Johnny Red was Lenny’s brother. I don’t recall a Johnny Shadow or Joanie.
            My sister had a friend “Marie Cugini” who was blond and short and lived in
            446. Now you have me thinking…..do you mean Johnny Staino and Josephine?
            I live in Queens, NY. I checked your FB page and I would not have recognized you.
            It’s been many many years. Many good memories from East Harlem.

            Be well.
            Regards,

            Nancy

  9. Lenny Montilli says:

    I grew up on Pleasant Ave. between 114th and 115th streets, and left the neighborhood in 1972. Rao’s was my neighbor before the place became famous. Unbelievable experience! We knew all the adults by their first names and they knew us as well. Harry the Greek was a fixture with his hotdog stand at the entrance to Jefferson Park; stickball on weekends, stoopball just about every night at the fire alarm box at Benjamin Franklin H.S. There were some serious gangs as well, and every now and then some real violence would occur, but by 1960 they had pretty much disappeared. You can still google the “RedWings” and read some interesting stuff.

    • frank budano says:

      Harry the Greek would try three times to hit your loose change in your pocket if he couldn’t he give you a free hotdog and what ever that drink was.

      • Philip Ocasio says:

        He called it… Peringa Water, or at least he started calling it that when we started to buy franks and that mysterious aid he used to sell. Circa… 1960…

  10. DashingDesignDiva says:

    I used to live in Wagner Houses, where Pleasant Ave sits behind and just south of. Wagner Houses themselves were awful, however I used to get just a little bit of a reprieve by strolling down to Pleasant Ave and then walking along the FDR walkway.

  11. J.R. says:

    I lived at 426 E.118 st. Hung out at the Nighthawks club on pleasant ave on the corner of 119 st. I had a sister named Larraine who just passed 2yrs ago. We just finished a movie about pleasant ave, called “Pleasant Days” you can see a trailer on U Tube, Type in “Pleasant Days”. The real movie runs about 1:30 minutes. We are trying to get it on HBO or PBS. East Harlem Forever

  12. frank budano says:

    I had a lot of good friends that I grew up with from 120 to114 between first & pleasant went to ps78,love playing hard ball against the kids from 117 street between first and plseant,We had a good team joe savio,vinny buff,george dirt bomb,rickey jimmy dots our catcher,as kids playing football against the kids from 109 street,in 114 first ave park i still remember the fights and fun we had.I did something crazy one day as a kid and the girls gave me the nickname Frankie nuthouse and that was that, hanging out at night by roses candy store,eating at john delightfuls after week ends of fun.Who could forget my good friends I played with from mt carmel football teams,so many great games, playoffs and championship games ,it made me love and never forget east harlem & my childhood and old friends.Now 60 and looking back great times.

  13. M says:

    Did anyone know the Genualdo family from 417 E 119th?

  14. lyons says:

    Did any one live near or in 519 east 117th street and remembers the grocery store that was first Ralphs and then became Petes.

    • Philip Ocasio says:

      Lyons

      I lived at 519 East 117th Street, 2nd floor, Mrs Green lived next door and would beg me to play the saxophone in the evening. She was such a sweet lady. The other people next door, never saw them or knew who they were, would hear the door slam, but never saw them…LOL. That was the best apartment I had as I used to work at Wash Burn Wire for a few years making some good money as a class ten machinist. But, really learned to play my sax there. I was very angry when I had seen the building had been demolished. Many of those buildings dated back to the civil war, as you can see the gas pipes in the long corridor before coming into the kitchen, and had those hand chains to pull on in the bathroom, to make the toilet flush… There was a beautiful Jamaican girl on the 5th floor, forgot her name, used to hang with her sometimes. Ah, the wonder years of living in East Harlem, none can compare. I also lived at 429 East 177th street when we moved there in summer of 1960, where I met Angie from next door.

    • Philip Ocasio says:

      As far as the Grocery Store, we used to buy our lunch there… Roast Beef, Frank Hero, Meatball…mmmm. Remember an old man with the dogs who lived next door to Pete’s. I asked him what was his dogs name, and he’d say… Dog…

    • Philo says:

      I had a posted a reply here, and it posted, then gone???
      I lived at 519 East 117th street from 1967-1971. I played sax there and one one ever gave me a problem. Mrs Green next door used to ask me to play at night, she couldn’t sleep much. How I miss that little pad of mine and was very angry when these post Civil War houses were brought down… ;((

    • Philo says:

      I meant to say that no one ever complained of my playing. I studied music at Ben. Franklin and even played in the Senior Band and Talent shows. As far as Pete’s, I remember it. I used to buy my lunch when I worked for Wash Burn as a class 10 machinist with Cosmo and the crew. How I miss those days, but they live in my heart…

  15. Suzanne says:

    Does anyone know of the Marrazzo’s or D’anna’s in this neighborhood? The Marrazzo’s owned an apartment building maybe on 115th or 116th from around 1885-1930′s and Paul and Mary D’anna lived on 118th St and owned a butcher shop about 1902. Rose Marrazzo was very kind and helped many in the neighborhood. They went to Our Lady of Mt Carmel. Tobia, Tony, Harry, Margie, Nellie, Julia, and little Elena, Rose, Michael, Amedeus and Louise were some of the family names. Tony was a pharmacist in the neighborhood who family legend has it that he used to have to tend to injured gangsters.

  16. Ralph Mancuso says:

    Hello, I went to Benjamin Franklin H.S. , graduated 1952 played for the Franklin H.S. baseball we were the N.Y. City champions that year I Played 2nd base Would like to knopw if anyone knows where Iliie Annunizata lives my team-mate TY 561 498 3112

  17. Tonys says:

    Hello does anyone remember the Chiocchi family from 118 st Antoinette Dominic Ralph torti Louise kitty Louis Celia

  18. Tony says:

    Hello does anyone remember the Chiocchi family Antoinette Dominic Ralph Celia Louise torti kitty Louis

  19. Joyce says:

    My mother’s family belonged to a Hungarian Presbyterian Church on or near Pleasant Avenue. Where exactly was it? What is in it s place now? Thank you.

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