In Harlem, just 3.7% of buildings are city-recognized landmarks, as compared with two-thirds of the buildings in Greenwich Village.
Is Manhattan’s most prominent Haitian-American Catholic Church worth preserving? Do the Harlem homes of comedian Bert Williams or ragtime composer Scott Joplin matter? Can Madam C.J. Walker’s “Villa Lewaro” at Irvington, N.Y., become a viable museum like the Jay Gould “Lyndhurst” estate nearby?
These are the issues I engage every day. The question most often put to me is, why do I care? “Why would you protest and get arrested four times in 14 years, over an old building?” I’ve been asked about solo and nearly solo demonstrations. My answer is that landmarks reflecting the contributions of African-Americans to an often seemingly indifferent nation matter as much as those made by whites.
Of thousands of historic structures designated as landmarks, only 3% commemorate black history or cultural excellence nationwide. In Harlem, a mere 3.7% of buildings are city-recognized landmarks. By contrast, in Greenwich Village, two thirds of the buildings are.
Yet in 2007, the Abyssinian Baptist Church took a high-powered delegation — including former Mayor Dinkins — to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. They called for removal of the 1920s block-long Casino Renaissance from the agency’s list for Landmarks protection.