La Marqueta is an enclosed marketplace in East Harlem that has long served this neighborhood’s diverse and changing population–from the Italian immigrants of the 1930s to the primarily Latino residents of today. Over the years it has been both a much-needed inexpensive shopping spot and an important social gathering place.
Originally called the Park Avenue Market, La Marqueta was established by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1936. Created as a way to regulate and control the many pushcarts that plied the streets of East Harlem, the market was designed to give permanent homes to 450 pushcart vendors in a series of five simple glass and steel structures underneath the New York Central Railroad. Residents of East Harlem quickly adopted the market as an essential resource–just four years after it was established the market was serving 25,000 patrons a day. Its success also helped LaGuardia establish other similar enclosed markets around the city.
Soon after the creation of the market, a large number of immigrants from Puerto Rico began moving into East Harlem, which had previously been a primarily Italian-American and Jewish neighborhood. It was at this time that the market became known as La Marqueta, although it still retained many of its original Jewish and Italian vendors. These vendors adapted to changing times by learning Spanish and adding new types of produce suited to Caribbean cooking. As the years past, in addition to neighborhood residents, the market also attracted Caribbean immigrants from around the city as well as Africans, many of whom worked at the United Nations.
For many years the market was also the center of neighborhood life, a place to exchange news and gossip as well as obtain job leads. “Maybe culturally that is something we carried from the old country to the new country, ” says Felipe Colon, a longtime East Harlem resident and proprietor of La Fagon Café. “There were hardly any Puerto Rican merchants in La Marqueta,” Colon adds, “but yet that used to be a social meeting place, especially Saturdays. We used to go there, see people from the hometown and…find out who would be coming over from Puerto Rico, who got married, who gave birth, who was baptized, everything–our social life.”
La Marqueta thrived until the 1970s, when many businesses moved to Lexington or Third Avenues, the new heart of commerce in the neighborhood. A fire in 1977 destroyed one of the market’s buildings and the others began a period of deterioration, which dwindled to only 12 merchants by 1992.
REvitlization of market!!!!!!!