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Razing Harlem's Renaissance Ballroom Is 'Cultural Genocide'

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A preservation battle is brewing over Harlem's historic Renaissance Ballroom & Casino, whose stage used to host acts like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. In October, BRP Development Corporation acquired the site for $15 million and shortly after filed permits to raze the building in its entirety. Now, the site's former owners Abyssinian Development Group are the main supporters of lobbying for the building's preservation. Abyssinian had planned to restore the building in part, integrating its facade into the base of the structure that would house a ballroom, restaurant, and 500-seat theater, with a new addition of condos on top, but fell short of moving forward due to financial constraints. Now, BRP plans to to raze the building that's been abandoned for three decades to create room for "The Renny," a 134-apartment building with 17,500-square-feet of retail space, an education center, and a performance space. The the Times elaborates that for many, BRP's insistence on demolishing the structure represents another of the city's failures to preserve Harlem's disappearing culture. "You can name streets after dead black leaders all you want, but what's left for people to see? It's cultural genocide," preservationist Michael Henry Adams said of the neighborhood's disappearing institutions.

"It should have been landmarked," president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy Peg Breen told the New York Times. The building was proposed as a landmark in front of the LPC in 1991. In 2007, an affiliate of Abyssinian lobbied the landmarks commission to have the item removed from consideration so the development group's plans could move forward. Both the LPC and New York Landmarks Conservancy assuaged. "Maybe it's a lesson," Breen said of the building, which to this day sits languishing. The Times notes the building's preservation, and now it's failure to be preserved, comes down to economics. "And is someone willing to invest to put it all together, and to what use?" asked Breen. Meanwhile, a small group of protestors led by Abyssinian still organize outside the ballroom that once hosted acts like Cab Calloway and acted as home court of the Black Fives, hoping to see at least one piece of the neighborhood's history preserved.
· In Harlem, Renaissance Theater Is at the Crossroads of Demolition and Preservation [NYT]
· With Renaissance Ballroom Conversion, Harlem Loses an Icon [Curbed]
· All Renaissance Ballroom & Casino coverage [Curbed]