COVID, Coogans, Window Weddings: 2020 Wash Heights Year In Review

Gus Saltonstall

UPPER MANHATTAN, NY — It was a year that started more or less normal, with familiar topics like community board meetings, local elections, restaurants opening on Dyckman Street, and questions over why the city hadn't seen any snow yet.

This strange phenomenon called the "coronavirus" was not yet at the forefront of Inwood and Washington Height's resident's minds.

But that would change quickly.

A once-in-a-century pandemic, a reckoning over race and policing, massive economic disruptions, and a contentious presidential race all made 2020 a year Washington Heights and Inwood will not soon forget.

As 2021 begins, the Washington Heights Patch is taking a look back at the neighborhood's top stories of 2020:

New Yellow Zone Announced In Washington Heights As COVID Surges

No story can be mentioned before the effect coronavirus had in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2020. The pandemic dominated the headlines for all of New York City this year, as the city became the nation's "epicenter" of the pandemic.

The two Upper Manhattan neighborhoods were among the hardest-hit areas in New York City, which laid bare the city's inequity when it came to race and income.

In November, when coronavirus rates were surging after a summer in which the whole city saw the rate of infection drop, Washington Heights was specified as a Yellow Zone by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As we head into the new year, Inwood and Washington Heights ZIP codes have four of the five highest percent positive rates in Manhattan.

Beloved Washington Heights Station Agent Dies From Coronavirus

When Charlene Simon left her apartment in May for the first time since her husband Robert died from the coronavirus, she didn't have to share the news — the neighborhood already knew.

"I cried so hard. Robert was [a part] of Washington Heights."

Robert, a beloved station agent at the 175th Street stop, was one of the over 500 Inwood and Washington Heights residents who lost their lives to the coronavirus in 2020.

It was March 19 when Robert, despite wearing a mask he brought from home and cleaning his station with Lysol as often as he could, came down with a cough and fever.

Just a few days later, Charlene called an ambulance when Robert, short of breath and weak, couldn't stand up.

The next three weeks would unfold in what has become an all-too-familiar story in New York City hospitals overwhelmed by the coronavirus — a touch-and-go fight that changes almost hourly as loved ones wait from afar for FaceTime calls or news from dedicated nurses and doctors.

Doctors had her come to the hospital for a five-minute visit on April 14 to say goodbye. He died at 3:04 a.m. two days later after going into cardiac arrest.

Joyful Mom Joins Daughter's Vows From Behind Nursing Home Window

It doesn't need to be said that the coronavirus caused immense hardship and heartbreak for families in Washington Heights, but it also created windows of opportunity for families to come together in special ways they would have never expected.

Standing in a small garden outside a Washington Heights senior care facility in October, Robyn Roberts-Williams married Tim Williams as her mother watched inches away behind a window.

Robert-Williams' 89-year-old mom Dorothy Roberts has been a resident of the Isabella Center in Washington Heights for the past 13 years. When the coronavirus came to the city, weekly visits with her family started to get done from either side of a ground-floor window in the facility.

Robert-Williams and her husband didn't initially plan to get married in a nursing-home garden, but the bride always knew she needed her mother to be there.

NYers Say Goodbye To Coogan's, The 'Cheers' Of Washington Heights

The iconic Washington Heights bar shuttered its doors in 2020, but it made sure to go out with as big a bang as possible.

Unable to gather one last time for a true Coogan's-style farewell, owners of the iconic Uptown bar ended an announcement that they would close for good by asking the neighborhood to help them say goodbye.

"Now it is your turn to complete our story...," owners Dave Hunt, Tess O'Connor McDade and Peter Walsh wrote.

And, boy, did they.

"It's like watching a movie," Walsh said of the hundreds of staff, customers and vendors who took to social media to tell their Coogan's stories. "We're alive as the wake is taking place — and it's an amazing thing to see."

"Coogan's was a public house, a meeting place, a table to break bread and solve problems," owners of the bar wrote. "...We were people of different races, creeds and ideas, all with the same dream to be secure and love."

This article originally appeared on the Washington Heights-Inwood Patch