On December 17, 1909, the triangular parcel bounded by Convent Avenue, West 151st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue was designated a public park by the Board of Estimate. While researching the 1985 reconstruction of Convent Avenue, the consulting engineer discovered that the site was never formally acquired by Parks. On November 22, 1985, the lot was transferred to Parks for development as a landscaped sitting area. The garden is named for Convent Avenue, where the Convent of the Sacred Heart was located until a fire destroyed it on August 13, 1888.
In 1985 a gas station occupying the site was demolished. The empty lot was an eyesore to the community until local activist Luana Robinson and a small group of female volunteers from the Coalition of Hamilton Heights Tenants Associations helped to establish the Convent Garden to Women. In 1989 Convent Garden was the pilot location for the new GreenStreets program, which was launched by Parks and the Department of Transportation to transform traffic triangles and other paved areas into green spaces. When the site was heavily disturbed by the removal of underground gas tanks in 1998, Juliette Davis and other local residents began to rebuild the garden. The gazebo, donated by the Marriott Corporation, was installed in November 1998. In the spring of 1999 the Convent Garden Community Association added three wooden benches and a new lawn.
Convent Garden lies in the heart of the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, so named because of the “sweet life” of its residents during the first half of the 20th century. Many notable African-Americans have lived in the area stretching from 145th to 155th streets between Amsterdam and Edgecombe Avenues. Writer and scholar W.E.B. DuBois lived at 409 Edgecombe as did poet William Stanley Braithewaite. Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, who formed one of the most important collaborations in jazz history, both lived in the neighborhood, as did Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
To this day, the neighborhood remains a center for cultural and artistic excellence. Located just south of Convent Garden is St. Nick’s Pub, a well-known venue for jazz music. The Dance Theater of Harlem, at 152nd street between St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Avenues, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1999. The Convent Garden Community Association continues to work with its neighbors to maintain and to beautify this unique green space.