Uptown developer steps in to save endangered pieces by Harlem’s Picasso Franco (The Great) Gaskin

These endangered Harlem masterpieces may have a new home.

Legendary Harlem artist Franco "The Great" Gaskin painted famous murals on roll-down security gates on 125th Street.

Legendary Harlem artist Franco “The Great” Gaskin painted famous murals on roll-down security gates on 125th Street.

Forest City Ratner plans to showcase several murals painted by Franco (The Great) Gaskin at East River Plaza or somewhere nearby, a rep for the developer told the Daily News.

“Franco and his gates have a huge place in the culture of Harlem,” said Elizabeth Canela, project manager for Forest City Ratner, one of the developers seeking permission to build three residential towers atop the mall. “As the neighborhood is shifting, we want to pay homage to what came before.”

Gaskin came to the Big Apple in 1958. Decades later, the Panama-born artist started painting eye-popping murals on the dark-colored steel gates along Harlem’s 125th St. Most of the works featured African-American themes and helped make the bustling strip into an international tourist destination.

The renowned murals disappeared as the neighborhood evolved and corporate retailers moved in. Gaskin managed to save a about two dozen of the gates, which once numbered in the hundreds.

Gaskin came to the Big Apple in 1958. Decades later, the Panama-born artist started painting eye-popping murals on the dark-colored steel gates along Harlem’s 125th St. Most of the works featured African-American themes and helped make the bustling strip into an international tourist destination.

The renowned murals disappeared as the neighborhood evolved and corporate retailers moved in. Gaskin managed to save a about two dozen of the gates, which once numbered in the hundreds.

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NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Thursday, December 11, 2014, 6:01 PM

Harlem Landmark Is Reborn From the Base of the Old Corn Exchange Bank

Harlem Landmark Is Reborn From the Base of the Old Corn Exchange Bank

Harlem Landmark Is Reborn From the Base of the Old Corn Exchange Bank

Another 80-story building here or there? Yawn.

A seven-story building at Park Avenue and 125th Street? Now, that’s astonishing.

What makes it astonishing is that a productive end seems near for a dispiriting tale that goes back to the 1970s, when the ruddy former Corn Exchange Bank at 81 East 125th Street — “one of the most impressive buildings in Harlem,” in the words of the Landmarks Preservation Commission — was taken over by the city and largely vacated.

By mid-2015, the reborn Corn Exchange, developed by Artimus Construction at a cost of $14 million, will be open to retail and office tenants. The building is an entirely new steel-frame structure set within and rising over the 19th-century masonry base, which is all that remains of the original after years of troubles, fire, decay and gravity.

The depredation of the old Corn Exchange Bank has not only been an assault on Harlem’s well-being. It has also sent a powerful message of despair to the thousands who pass by the site every day on the Metro-North Railroad.

Among the distinctive features of the new office building will be projecting window bays, echoing those of the original. “The work, while not an exact replica of the historic building, will evoke the character and level of detailing of the historic facades,” the landmarks commission said in 2013, when it granted approval to the Artimus project, designed by Danois Architects. (The permit can be read on the CityAdmin website.)

An 1893 photo of the former Mount Morris Bank Building, later known as the Corn Exchange Bank Building, at 81 East 125th Street in Harlem.

An 1893 photo of the former Mount Morris Bank Building, later known as the Corn Exchange Bank Building, at 81 East 125th Street in Harlem.

“It provides something the Harlem business community has been asking for,” said Kyle Kimball, president of the city Economic Development Corporation, who is among the higher ranking holdovers from the Bloomberg administration. The corporation is overseeing the Corn Exchange project, having sold the property to Artimus for $500,000.

Constructed in 1883 as headquarters of the Mount Morris Bank, the Queen Anne-style building symbolized the growing importance of Harlem. But Mount Morris was taken over in 1913 by the Corn Exchange Bank, founded by former members of the Corn Exchange. After 30 years as a bank headquarters, the structure was demoted to a branch.

Chemical Bank swallowed up Corn Exchange in 1954. The new company was briefly called the Chemical Corn Exchange Bank and referred to by The New York Times as “Chemical Corn,” which sounds like something made by Monsanto. Or Brach’s.

After Chemical closed the branch around 1965, tenants included the Samuel Temple Church of God in Christ. The city acquired the property in 1972 for nonpayment of taxes.

In the 1980s, a day-care center was in the banking hall. John Reddick, an architect newly graduated from Yale, thought about living upstairs. “It was derelict, but looked habitable,” he said. The superintendent led him to the top floor — step by step. “The elevator had just crashed to the basement, literally,” Mr. Reddick recalled. “He said, ‘We’ll fix that.’ The upper floor was loft space. The view was just spectacular.”

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Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 127: Hotel History: Hotel Theresa: the “Waldorf of Harlem”

1. Hotel History: Hotel Theresa

The Hotel Theresa opened in 1913 on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem and closed its doors as a hotel in 1970. It was built by German-born stockbroker Gustavus Sidenberg to the designs of architects George and Edward Blum. The Blum brothers were trained at the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and they designed a full-blockfront all-white apartment hotel 13 stories high with 300 rooms. Like its façade, the newly-opened Theresa had an all-white clientele and staff for its first twenty-eight years. In 1940, reflecting the changing population of Harlem, the hotel accepted all races, hired a black staff and management and became known as the “Waldorf of Harlem.” The Hotel Theresa was integrated when most mid-Manhattan hotels wouldn’t accept blacks. They could perform at the clubs, hotels and theaters but couldn’t sleep in the hotel rooms or eat in the hotel’s restaurant.

Black Americas most famous stars- Josephine Baker, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Dorothy Dandridge, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Count Basie- had to go to Harlem for a night’s sleep. For many blacks the existence of the Hotel Theresa’s rooms, bars and swank shops was regarded as a sign that they had finally arrived, at least in Harlem.

Seventh Avenue and 125th Street was called the Great Black Way. The neighborhood contained the Salem Methodist Church; the studio of James Van Der Zee, Harlem’s most famous photographer; the African Memorial National Bookstore; the mafia-owned Diamond Jewelry Store; the M. Smith Photo Studio; the Apollo Theater; Blumstein’s Department Store; Frank’s Restaurant; Harlem Opera House; Oscar Hammerstein’s Play House; Hartz and Seamon’s Music Hall; the Cotton Club; Mike’s Place; Savoy Ballroom; Nest Club; Smalls Paradise; The Club Baron.

In 1940, the following announcement appeared in the New York Age:

Harlem Hotel Seeks Negro Trade; Picks Manager: The Hotel Theresa at Seventh Avenue and 125th Street, which catered to white patronage for several years, has changed its policy as of March 20 and will cater to both races, under Negro management with a Negro staff, according to an announcement by Richard Thomas, publicity manager of the hotel. In carrying out its new policy for the accommodation of Negroes and whites, the Gresham Management Company, operators of the Theresa, appointed Walter Scott as the hotel’s manager. Extensive renovations and improvements of the service and facilities of the hotel have been undertaken. A staff of 80 persons has been employed.

The African American General Manager Walter Scott had been the business manager at the Harlem YMCA on 135th Street. A graduate of New York University and a World War I veteran, Scott had worked as a bellhop, partner and waiter on the Hudson River Dayline boats. Early in April 1940, Scott and his wife Gertrude and their sixteen year-old daughter, Gladys moved into a six-room suite on the tenth floor.

In 1941, heavyweight champion Joe Louis attracted 10,000 fans when he stayed at the Theresa after a victory at the Polo Grounds. Soon thereafter, entrepreneur John H. Johnson was a guest at the Theresa when he started a new pocket-size magazine called Negro Digest and, in 1945, Ebony which was followed by Jet in 1951. After splitting with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X rented offices at the hotel for his Organization of Afro-American Unity.

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By Stanley Turkel

Harlem’s decades-old Mart 125 building on road to rebirth

Mart 125 will soon experience a rebirth.

Mart 125,on West 125th Street.

Mart 125,on West 125th Street.

The 67,000-square-foot eyesore on 125th St. near Frederick Douglass Blvd., which has been vacant for more than a decade, will soon house three journalism and documentary filmmaking media-related organizations, a Harlem visitors center run by NYC & Co. and ground floor retail that could include a restaurant, according to officials at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

The latest proposal for the single-story building was made public by the 125th St. Business Improvement District this week.

“The site is the last city site on that corridor,” said Hope Knight, chief operating officer for the empowerment zone. “It’s creating a home for an emerging creative sector in Upper Manhattan.”

Knight would not say which organizations are moving into the space.

The empowerment zone has teamed with local architect Roberta Washington Jonathan Rose Companies, a real estate policy, planning, development and investment firm, to help with the plan.

Why is the Harlem Apollo Theater so important?

The Apollo began life as a venue for burlesque shows

The Apollo began life as a venue for burlesque shows

It launched the careers of James Brown and the Jacksons, and now the Apollo Theatre is celebrating its 80th birthday. A star-studded gala including appearances by Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole and Doug E Fresh took place at the venue earlier this week – but how did the venue become so important to soul music?

The shining lights of the Apollo sign are a beacon for tourists rushing through 125th street in central Harlem.

But to understand the Apollo’s past is to understand the struggles of Harlem itself.

Designed by New York architect George Keister, it began life in 1913 as a burlesque theatre, restricted solely to white patrons.

Stevie Wonder was a young teenager when he first performed at the legendary venue

Stevie Wonder was a young teenager when he first performed at the legendary venue

In 1932, though, burlesque was banned by New York’s mayor. The venue languished for two years, during which time it fell into disrepair, before theatre impresario Sidney S Cohen took on the lease, renaming it The Apollo, after the Greek God of music.

This was at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance – a cultural, social, and artistic explosion amongst the African-American middle class, which had strong links to the civil rights movement.

Cohen decided the Apollo would be the first theatre to allow black people to perform, at a time when African-Americans were forbidden from entering most theatres in the US.

Billy Mitchell has worked at the theatre for nearly 50 years and is now the in-house historian

Billy Mitchell has worked at the theatre for nearly 50 years and is now the in-house historian

Billy Mitchell, affectionately known as “Mr Apollo” has been here on and off for 49 years. He started running errands for the Apollo back in 1965, when he was 15 years old. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Now he’s the in-house historian and tour director.

“I started meeting all the stars that were performing here,” he says.

“Imagine, I saw Stevie Wonder when he was 15. Eventually, I saw Michael Jackson and his brothers. Michael was nine years old when they first came and performed on the Amateur Night.

“And there was James Brown, who I met and who convinced me the importance of getting a good education.

“He kept asking how my grades were going. He would give me money if the grades were taking off. He convinced me to raise my hand in class if there was a time the teacher was teaching something I didn’t understand.”

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Select Bus Service to Launch on 125th Street in May

larger trafficHARLEM — The harsh winter delayed the launch of Select Bus Service on 125th Street but the controversial service is slated to run from May 25, according to the Department of Transportation.

The service was supposed to launch in April but was delayed because of bad weather, according to DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera.

“[T]he very harsh winter had an impact on DOT scheduling, as it did on many city agencies, and we proceeded with the project as soon as resources and materials allowed,” said Mosquera.

The paint used for the red bus lane and other markings can only be applied when temperatures are consistently warm. Work on the striping is now underway.

The M60 bus to LaGuardia Airport will be the only one of the four bus lines along 125th Street to make a reduced number of stops — six along 125th Street. Passengers pay at a terminal before boarding the bus to help speed the trip.

Under the setup, there will be dedicated bus lanes from Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue. The bus lanes will be camera-enforced and left turns will be restricted at Lexington Avenue and Fifth Avenue to improve traffic flow.

The DOT and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority spent a year gathering feedback from residents and riders along 125th Street, including conducting walking tours.

But when the agencies unveiled their plan, Community Boards 10 and 11 and State Sen. Bill Perkins criticized it, saying that the concerns of residents about parking and making other 125th Street bus lines part of the Select Bus Service were ignored.

Saying they couldn’t come to an agreement with residents, DOT canceled the plans in July. In October, the agency announced that the proposal, largely unchanged from initial DOT and MTA concessions, would once again move forward.

The M60 is the most-used bus line on 125th Street. More than 9,600 of the 32,000 passengers who use the four bus lines on 125th Street use the M60, according to MTA data.

The majority of riders use the bus for cross-town travel, and just 10 percent use it to get to LaGuardia. The changes could reduce bus travel times on 125th Street by 18 percent, according to the MTA.

By Jeff Mays on April 29, 2014 7:23am

Waterbridge Capital Pays $37 M. for East Harlem Development Site

Waterbridge Capital is in contract to purchase three contiguous properties located at the southeast corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem for $36.8 million – across the street from Bruce Eichner’s planned 80/20 residential project at 1800 Park Avenue.

125The properties, at 1815 Park Avenue, 1801 Park Avenue, and 110 East 125th Street, combine for a gross buildable area of approximately 210,220 square feet, and development plans call for a mega retail center with a high-rise residential condominium.

“We were very successful in assembling a five parcel mega site with measurements that are not comparable to any other site along the 125thStreet corridor, aside from Vornado’s recent sale across the street at 1800 Park Avenue,” said Lenny Sporn, who represented both sides of the transaction with Ariel Tavivian and Yair Tavivian, who make up the Tavivian Sporn Team at Douglas Elliman.

Mr. Eichner’s site, purchased for $65 million plus conditional brownfield credits, will include 70,000 square feet of retail space.

“We’re expecting a complete change in the climate along 125th Street,” Mr. Sporn said, noting the need in the area for a mega retailer in the vein of Macy’s – which is rumored to be looking along 125th Street.

“This could be an amazing space for something like that,” he added, though the site might incorporate everything from retail to office space, affordable housing to condominiums.

The portfolio is centrally located just by the 125th Street subway station for the 4, 5 and 6 trains as well as the 2 and 3 trains, providing both east and west side access. Also nearby are new neighborhood additions Red Rooster and Sylvia’s Soul Food, along with Raymour & Flanigan and The Apollo Theater.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014.

By Al Barbarino 12/19 7:30am

Harlem business owners say National Urban League will put them on the street

Civil rights group plans big building for housing, headquarters and a museum  about The Struggle. But locals are worried about their own struggle.

Massamakam Tounkara, owner of Kaarta Imports, fears he may lose the space he has rented for 20 years if the National Urban League moves forward with its development project.

Massamakam Tounkara, owner of Kaarta Imports, fears he may lose the space he has rented for 20 years if the National Urban League moves forward with its development project.

A world renowned civil rights group’s plan to turn a row of small businesses  in Harlem into a lustrous new headquarters and black history museum would  trample on the very small business owners whose life stories could themselves be  in the museum, foes say.

The plan by the National Urban League – backed by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor  Bloomberg – would replace an underutilized parking lot and a string of  businesses on 125th St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X boulevards  with a 400,000-square-foot, $225 million complex comprising a new HQ for the  progressive group, housing, the city’s first civil rights museum, and retail  space for national chain stores.

But it’s all built on the backs of some longtime businessmen and women who staked their lives on the once-seedy strip.

The National Urban League has its own vision for a new headquarters at 121 W. 125th St.

The National Urban League has its own vision for a new headquarters at 121 W. 125th St.

“These are decent hard-working entrepreneurs who have invested in this  neighborhood when no one else would … and now they’re going to be treated like  used Dixie cups?” said state Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem).

The business owners say they were offered help to relocate and were invited to apply for a $250,000 loan, but they don’t want to leave.

“It was a blessing for us thinking we made it to 125th St., our mecca,” said  Joseph “Joe Fish” Benbow, manager of the family-owned restaurant Fishers of Men  II, which opened on the Main Street of Black America six years ago. “My dream  was to be here and finish the race with my family.”

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It’s Official: Harlem Needs More Hotel Rooms

victoriatheatreharlemAfter years of red tape, a new development at the site of Harlem’s old Victoria Theater on 125th Street finally got the go-ahead earlier this year. Danforth Development Partners and Exact Capital have enlisted  Aufgang & Subotovsky architects to design a major mixed-use project that will include a cultural arts center, retail space, 229 apartment units, and a 210-room Cambria Suites hotel.

Construction was said to be starting around now, but when we stopped by the other day it was difficult to gauge what, if anything, was going on behind that facade. The complex certainly will see a lot of work before it rises to its slated 26 stories — completion date is penciled in for June 2016.

In timely news, at the Harlem Hospitality and Culinary Conference last week, DNAinfo reports, Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said a study his group paid for showed that Harlem was short by 1,500 hotel rooms, and that even future growth in the hotel industry doesn’t match demand. We’d certainly agree; Harlem is a great area but, besides the Aloft Harlem a couple of blocks from the Victoria, there’s nothing for visitors who might want to spend the night here — after an evening at, say, The Apollo Theater.

While we’re certainly pleased to hear that the new Cambria Suites will absorb a fraction of that unmet hotel room need, we would love it if we could get a few of the hipper brands uptown too. With all of the culture and history on offer in Harlem, how about a funky boutique chain that would honor the location? A Kimpton Hotel, perhaps, even a reasonably priced Hotel Indigo; or how about Ace Hotels bringing their live music series up to Harlem?

We may be dreaming, but are seriously in agreement about the need for more Harlem hotel options. The area deserves more than just a passing visit.

Midweek November rates at the Aloft Harlem start at $239.

October 30, 2013 at 8:47 AM | by

Faster bus service coming to Harlem after all

Just three months after New York City’s transportation department nixed a plan to bring faster buses to Harlem’s 125th Street corridor, the plan has been resurrected.

In a press release to reporters sent late Friday afternoon, the D.O.T. announced that the new service will launch in April 2014, “speeding the commutes of more than 30,000 bus passengers who travel on 125th Street routes daily.”

125th Street Joseph A via Flickr

125th Street Joseph A via Flickr

“Using dedicated bus lanes, consolidated stops and allowing passengers to pay before boarding the bus, the streamlined service will improve one of the borough’s most-used local bus routes, reducing congestion and providing faster, more reliable connections throughout Harlem and with LaGuardia Airport,” says the release.

Earlier this month, I reported that local leaders were hoping the plan would be resurrected before the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure.

“We still have until late December, right?” State Senator Adriano Espaillat told me at the time. “This is just one more item. And starting it now is probably not a bad thing, particularly before the holiday season, when you have a lot of shoppers who want to buy on what is a very busy commercial artery.”

Here’s the full release:

New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast and State Sen. Bill Perkins today announced that M60 Select Bus Service (SBS) will launch in April 2014, speeding the commutes of more than 30,000 bus passengers who travel on 125th Street routes daily. Using dedicated bus lanes, consolidated stops and allowing passengers to pay before boarding the bus, the streamlined service will improve one of the borough’s most-used local bus routes, reducing congestion and providing faster, more reliable connections throughout Harlem and with LaGuardia Airport. DOT and MTA conducted more than 50 meetings with the community and elected officials over the last year, and following extensive outreach to address specific concerns with the community this summer, the project is now proceeding with support from local elected officials, including Sen. Perkins, State Sen. Adriano Espaillat and City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. DOT also announced streetscape improvements planned for 125th Street, including the planned installation of the city’s first City Lights—62 attractive and energy-efficient new LED street lights from Morningside Avenue to Fifth Avenue using $500,000 in funding from Assembly Member Keith Wright. The project will also bring the City’s new pedestrian way finding system to 125th Street, with maps at all 12 SBS stations, and equipped with real-time bus arrival information and new parking spaces will be established along parts of 124th and 126th streets. DOT and MTA will continue to advise the community and inform them of details as the project moves forward.

“With new businesses and historic destinations drawing record numbers of visitors to the heart of Harlem, 125th Street has never been more dynamic, yet congestion has kept buses at a standstill,” said Commissioner Sadik-Khan. “By bringing dedicated bus lanes and speeding up boarding times, SBS will provide a lifeline to thousands of residents and visitors and bring world-class streetscapes to one of the world’s most famous streets.”

“The 125th Street corridor is a vital thoroughfare for Harlem residents and businesses alike,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast. “I’m glad we will be able to improve service for our customers while still maintaining commercial loading zones for businesses in the area.  Select Bus Service will speed up bus service by as much as 20 percent on the M60 where half of the route’s  boardings and alightings happen right on 125th Street.”

“I am happy to announce Select Bus Service will come to the 125th Street corridor after a thorough community task force vetting which included the residents, businesses, disabled communities and the local community boards,” said Senator Perkins. “I am satisfied that this a service that will be of benefit to the community and look forward to its successful use by my constituents and the community at large. However, the task force and I will continue to monitor its progress and share input with DOT as this service moves forward.”

“I’m very pleased that the DOT has been able to bring a home a project we’ve long awaited,” said Assembly Member Wright. “The new lighting, the first of its kind in New York City, will bring much added value to the commerce along our busy corridor. The 125th Street BID, led by Barbara Askins, deserves to be commended for its perseverance.”

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