The Gang That Couldn't Wear Its Hair Straight

The Jheri Curls of Washington Heights, and how they made everybody else's hair curl

Judge Padro took the requests for resentencing under advisement and promised a decision soon.

On West 157th Street these days, a block that was once all curls has now gone straight. Residents sit out on stoops. Kids ride by on bikes. The gaudy golden chariots favored by the Jheri Curls have yielded the streets to Volvos and minivans. New scaffolding creeps up the sides of old buildings. The corner cocaine markets have given way to a weekend farmers' market.

Stylin': Martinez brothers (clockwise, from bottom left) Lorenzo, Julian, Daniel,  and Cesar
Stylin': Martinez brothers (clockwise, from bottom left) Lorenzo, Julian, Daniel, and Cesar

Patches of the Jheri Curls' former turf have turned upscale in their absence. On the west side, where the block slopes away from Broadway, many of the lofty pre-war buildings have gone co-op. As a result, a new minority group—white people—has started to roll into the neighborhood. A two-bedroom apartment at the corner of Riverside Drive and 157th Street was recently listed at $899,000.

Vivian Ducat, a documentary filmmaker who works for Columbia University, moved in a few years ago. She said she first considered the area back in the early '90s, but her husband nixed the plan. Roughly a decade later, with the Jheri Curls nowhere to be seen, she and her husband bought an apartment with a butler's pantry and river views in a building at the intersection of 157th and Riverside Drive—a building that, unbeknownst to the Ducats, hangs directly over the Jheri Curls' former headquarters.

Despite her proximity to Jheri Curls history, Ducat said she had never heard of the gang. "I am a born-and-bred Upper West Sider," says Ducat. "The neighborhood reminds me of what the Upper West Side was like in the '60s and '70s. I love it here."

Others neighbors are still marveling at the metamorphosis. Kyle Cuordileone, a history professor at the New York City College of Technology, first moved to West 157th in 1992, when her then husband began a post-doc at nearby Columbia University Medical Center. "This area was like the Wild West back then," said Cuordileone. "There were shootings all the time. The streets were littered with crack vials. It was pretty rough. It's hard to believe that apartments are now going for a million dollars."

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