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Proposal to create Central Harlem historic district gains momentum

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The proposal received unanimous support from local residents at a Landmarks Commission hearing on Tuesday

A section of the proposed historic district.
Via Google Maps

A proposal to create a new historic district in Central Harlem is gaining steam; the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission fielded public testimony on the proposed district at a meeting on Tuesday, and there was unanimous support for designation.

The new district concerns a stretch between West 130th and 132nd Streets and between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. In their presentation, the Commission’s staff noted that the proposed district contains 164 buildings, a majority of which were built in the late 19th century.

Of the total buildings, only 12 are new, and have been built post 2000. The Commission’s staff pointed to several historic and cultural attributes that would make this district an important addition to the city’s historic districts.

The area is home to buildings that are predominantly brick and brownstone structures. A majority of the houses in the district were designed in the Neo-Grec style, and some others were built in the Queen Anne style, Romanesque Revival style, and Renaissance Revival style.

Despite being over one hundred years old, most of the buildings are intact and have had very few alterations or redesigns, the Commission’s staff explained. And despite exhibiting different architectural styles, there’s a high level of cohesiveness in the proposed district, according to the staff. While a majority of the buildings within the proposed district are residential, there are a few churches, and one commercial building as well.

The proposed district has a rich cultural history too. Composer Scott Joplin, who was dubbed the “King of Ragtime,” lived at 163 West 133rd Street; many actors and actresses lived in the neighborhood and performed at the Lafayette Theater (which was demolished in 2013 and replaced by an apartment building), and this district was also home to the national headquarters for the March on Washington (at 170 West 30th Street).

Many residents and elected officials spoke strongly in support of creating the historic district, and for the Commission to do so urgently.

“This district will do much to memorialize and protect the multifaceted nature of Harlem,” said a spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer.

Valerie Bradley, the president of the advocacy group Save Harlem Now, said a swift decision by the LPC would safeguard the neighborhood to a great degree against the forces of gentrification.

“Not only are the gorgeous brownstones here full of history, but even the unassuming buildings here have so much heritage,” she said.

The Landmarks Commission will vote on the designation on May 29.