Developers Honor History of Renaissance Ballroom With New Design

Reniassance BuildingHARLEM — The developers who say they must demolish the Renaissance Ballroom because it’s too dilapidated and unsafe to restore will honor the historic structure with a new design.

BRP Development, which bought the building on West 138th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard from the Abyssinian Development Corp. for $10 million, met with local preservationists to redesign their 8-story, 134-unit development.

“We are excited about the project, the community came to us and we listened,” said Geoff Flournoy, a managing partner at BRP. “We are at a place now where we think this is a great win-win for all parties concerned.”

The new design was unveiled Thursday evening at a Community Board 10 meeting.

BRP’s original design was sleek and modern with metal panels on the facade. The new design will incorporate architectural elements from the Renaissance Ballroom, Flournoy said.

Although none of the ballroom’s original material will be used, the building’s facade will now include bricks that are the same sizes and colors of the original, diamond mosaics at the top of the second floor and a brick band crowning the building, he added.

When the demolition plans were filed in November, preservationists spoke out against the development. They criticized the previous owners, Abyssinian Development Corporation and local politicians for preventing the building from being landmarked and allowing the building to fall into disrepair.

But the developers stalled the tear-down to work with preservationists. Over the last two months BRP has met with them to come up with the redesign and both parties seem to have come to an amicable compromise.

“At no time was BRP not receptive to the community’s concerns,” said Chet Whye, a community activist. “We have something that when you walk past that it is better integrated with this community. It says Renny, Renny, Renny. It says that in a bold statement.”

The community should view this as a wake up call of what can happen to Harlem’s historic buildings when they are not protected, said Connie Lee of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance.

“I think in the end we are going to have a reasonably happy group of people and a reasonably unhappy group of people,” Lee told the Community Board. “This is not a win-win situation for everyone but we have I think the best possible outcome considering what’s happened in the past.”

A member of the “reasonably unhappy group” was Michael Henry Adams, a historian who has been protesting the demolition of the Renaissance Ballroom every Sunday since demolition plans were filed.

“It just seems absolutely tragic to me,” he said at the meeting. “We are going to be gone soon and we won’t have any buildings that represent that we were ever here.”

The Community Board’s Land Use committee chair Brian Benjamin praised the developers for coming to the table. The building is not landmarked and they do not need approval to build their development.

“I believe BRP has acted in good faith,” he said. “They did not have to come. They could’ve ignored all of this and gone on their merry way and I think they should be commended for that.”

By Gustavo Solis on March 20, 2015 1:45pm



Sen. Adriano Espaillat rips bid to sell lot by Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce

Asks Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to oppose the $1.2 million deal, which Chamber says it needs to raise money to fix up 11 dilapidated apartment buildings.

Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation owns this slice on W.135th St.

Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation owns this slice on W.135th St.

A historic Harlem nonprofit is raising political hackles with its controversial sale of a vacant lot to deep-pocketed developers.

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat fired off a letter to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer Thursday asking her to oppose the sale of a narrow weeded lot on the corner of W. 135th St. and St. Nicholas Ave. by the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corp.

Espaillat, a Washington Heights pol who is challenging Rep. Charles Rangel in the upcoming Democratic primary, told Brewer the $1.2 million transaction “would undermine efforts to secure safe and affordable housing in Upper Manhattan.”

Brewer has until Tuesday to bestow her blessing for the pending deal — although her opinion is merely advisory. She can’t block the developer, F-lot Development — which plans to build a dozen condos worth $600,000 to $900,000 — from buying the property.

The Greater Harlem Housing Development Corp., an arm of Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, owns 11 decaying apartment buildings near the lot — a portfolio that is plagued with scores of housing code violations.

“The 11 buildings have been reported to have 650 active HPD violations including mold and other safety hazards, unpaid city taxes, and unmet payments to other lenders,” Espaillat wrote.

Chamber chief Lloyd Williams, a Harlem fixture who is a longtime Rangel ally, did not return a call seeking comment. The group has said it needs the money to fix the aging buildings, according to a summary of the plan filed with Community Board 10.

A spokesman from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said the agency will require the nonprofit to use the proceeds from the sale to pay off its debt and begin repairing its buildings.

The New York Times reported that housing officials gave the Harlem organization $2.5 million to repair the homes in 2010, in the form of a forgivable loan.

At least five tenants living in the nonprofits’ apartments are suing the organization in Manhattan Housing Court, records showed.

Brewer’s office said she was still considering whether to support Greater Harlem Housing Development Corp. in its attempt to sell off its seven-figure asset.

Beautifying a Harlem avenue, and remembering a political icon

Garbage bags and seedlings in hand, schoolchildren and good Samaritans gathered on Saturday morning along the medians of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard in Central Harlem. Their goal: to make the green spaces in the middle of the street as beautiful as those on Park Avenue.

HISTORY IS BEAUTIFUL  | Harlemite Marie Littlejohn has dedicated herself to beautifying the medians of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard.

HISTORY IS BEAUTIFUL | Harlemite Marie Littlejohn has dedicated herself to beautifying the medians of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard.

The event was the work of Marie Littlejohn, the president of the Friends of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard Malls, who led the assembled planters with a bright smile and a passion for the local community.

Littlejohn, who has dedicated herself to the avenue, its history, and the people who live around it, has watched her neighborhood change since she moved here in 1983.

“I moved to Harlem in large part because though it is a large community, it is still a community,” she said. “Even the street people look out for you and make sure you are safe. That is one of the reasons I have become an advocate, because I would like to preserve that sense of community. If you have a community, children are safe, and there is a connectedness.”

When she first arrived in the neighborhood, she started planting with the Friends, getting more involved over the years to attain her current role as president.

[MULTIMEDIA: Watch Littlejohn and other volunteers cleaning up the boulevard.]

The work on Adam Clayton Powell, she said, is not just about making the street look nicer—it’s also a critical part of preserving history.

“Most people don’t even know who Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was,” she said. “That really disturbs me, because he was one of the greatest politicians ever.”

Powell represented Harlem in Congress between 1945 and 1971. The first African-American congressman in the state, Powell was the neighborhood’s best-recognized politician—that is, until he was defeated by a state representative named Charles Rangel.

Littlejohn said Powell’s legacy deserved recognition.

“This is a boulevard in his name that I feel should be maintained and is a way to keep a past about our history in its forefront,” she said.

The Friends have raised money to purchase plants and organize activities—including an annual Christmas tree lighting—with local sororities, fraternities, youth groups, families, and businesses.

Now, the medians along Adam Clayton Powell are among the few in the city maintained solely by community members. So are Park Avenue’s, which are supported by The Fund for Park Avenue, with an annual budget of over $1 million. Littlejohn declined to detail the budget of her group, but stressed that it was built on local fundraising.

Littlejohn also observed that the project has strengthened the community’s bond.

“I remember how, once, a bus driver stopped and yelled ‘Thank you!’ as we were planting,” she said. “At first, people were also concerned that the bulbs would be stolen. That hasn’t happened. I think that people really do appreciate what we’re doing. I hear comments all the time from people who like it and from children who can say, ‘I did that!’”

Littlejohn, though unassuming in appearance, exudes an aura of confidence that reflects her natural disposition for leadership in the community. She’s retired, but she still serves on the Harlem Hospital Advisory Board, regularly attends Community Board 10 meetings, and remains an active member in her service-oriented sorority and church community.

Littlejohn said that as Harlem continues to change, with rising rents and a higher profile in the city, the work the community is doing will become even more important in maintaining the neighborhood’s identity.

“I think the world has, all of a sudden, discovered Harlem, and so everyone is rushing to take stakes,” she said.  “Progress is not going to be stopped, so I think it is important—and I’m not sure that it is being done—that we preserve what we have as we continue to move forwards.”

“We need to know and remember our past so that we can continue to build on it,” she said.

By Emma Cheng and Josephine McGowan Spectator Staff Writers October 20, 8:56pm

Harlem – Mount Morris Park Traffic Changes Not Enough, Opponents Say

HARLEM — The Department of Transportation has agreed to tweak its controversial reworking of Mount Morris Park West between 120th and 124th streets, but some residents say the changes don’t go far enough.

“We do not want tweaks to a bad plan,” read a flier for a recent meeting of Mount Morris Takes Action, a group formed to fight the changes.

Mount Morris Park West Traffic Changes

Mount Morris Park West Traffic Changes

Some residents along the strip say turning the street to one lane from two, or three lanes in some places, has created traffic jams and noise pollution. The street remodeling also includes an extended painted sidewalk, large stones and planters.

The street configuration also slows down emergency vehicles and makes it harder for pedestrians to cross, according to members of Mount Morris Takes Action.

“We want two lanes and we’ve come up with detailed plans that we think would work,” said Janice Movson, a member of the group.

One proposal calls for making the Mt. Morris Park West side of Marcus Garvey Park resemble the Madison Avenue side, which has two lanes, rear-angle parking and an emergency lane. The group wants a light and crosswalk at every intersection and an emergency lane for Mount Morris Park West.

DOT officials have said one lane is necessary as a traffic-calming measure, especially at the dangerous turn at the intersection of Mount Morris Park West and 120th Street.

The intersections around the park averaged one serious injury per year between 2006 and 2011 and 10 motor vehicle accidents per year between 2006 and 2010, according to the DOT.

Cars have crashed into brownstones at the intersection and the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association has been calling for drastic traffic changes for 20 years. Both Community Boards 10 and 11 have written letters of support for the changes.

“The one-lane configuration…has reduced speeding, shortened crossing distances and improved park access without a negative impact on traffic flow,” said DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera. “Still, as with all projects, we continue to make minor adjustments and respond to community requests.”

After doing a walk-through with members from the two neighborhood groups, the DOT announced a number of additional changes to the configuration to address concerns.

Under the new DOT plan, the west-side parking lane will be widened to allow for easier loading, the size of a bus stop along the stretch will be increased to allow for greater maneuverability and lane markings will be enhanced.

A traffic signal will be installed at W. 124th and Fifth Avenue while W. 121st and W. 123rd streets will be considered for traffic signals.

The changes address some of the concerns being raised by Mount Morris Takes Action. The group also wants other changes such as a wider turning angle on W. 120th Street as well as metal barriers there.

“With any experiment you need to evaluate the situation and assess,” said Laurent Delly, vice president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association. “That’s it, they are not going to switch it to two lanes.”

By Jeff Mays on October 21, 2013 8:43am | Updated on October 21, 2013 8:43am


Artifacts – spanning the first 50 years of the Manhattan-based Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society – will star in exhibit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

The free “Lighthouse in New York” display, which offers a rare glimpse into the  lives, activities and struggles of early Caribbean immigrants in New York, opens  Sept. 27

Edwina Ashie-Nikoi (l.), archivist with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, stands with Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society officers Mona Wyre-Manigo and Gina Philip (r.) during the 2010 transfer of the society’s historical documents to the center.

Edwina Ashie-Nikoi (l.), archivist with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, stands with Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society officers Mona Wyre-Manigo and Gina Philip (r.) during the 2010 transfer of the society’s historical documents to the center.

Those who think Caribbean immigrants are newcomers to New York really need to  think again. The 79-year-old Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society shatters  that untruth.

The Manhattan-based organization will have its history and decades-long  dedication to Caribbean culture and Harlem, and some of its artifacts, touted in  “A Lighthouse in New York: Opening Reception & Panel Discussion,” a free  exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X  Blvd. (at W. 135th St.), from 6 p.m to 9 p.m., in Manhattan, on Sept. 27.

Attendees at the Schomburg opening must register, so visit  The exhibit closes Jan. 4, 2014.

“Everything is going very, very well,” society spokeswoman Mona Wyre Manigo  said of the exhibition, which reflects the trials and tribulations of Caribbean  peoples — here and abroad — over the organization’s first 50 years of  existence. “It’s going to be an exciting moment for Antigua and Barbuda. I’ve  looked at the documents and every time I think about it, I get chills.”

For example, said Manigo, there are documents about an urgent meeting calling  “all Caribbean people in Harlem” to support a letter to Britain, demanding that  the head of colonial Antigua be removed from office for mistreating island  residents. Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from Britain in 1981.

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West Harlem church renovation plans met with concern, optimism

Community members and preservationists are concerned that the 109-year-old St. Thomas the Apostle Church, known for its unique architectural design, could be demolished or otherwise harmed in a redevelopment.

David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer

David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer

It’s easy for passersby to overlook St. Thomas the Apostle Church, on the corner of 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, which, covered by scaffolding, looks like any other West Harlem construction site.

But community members and preservationists are still concerned that the 109-year-old structure, known for its unique architectural design, could be demolished or otherwise harmed in a redevelopment.

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Heirs of Harlem Hero Call for Street, Pool Renaming

Madlyn Stokely, shown with her daughter Rochelle Hill, lives on West 123rd Street in the brownstone where her mother, activist Hilda Stokely, lived. (Photo by Andres David Lopez)

Madlyn Stokely, shown with her daughter Rochelle Hill, lives on West 123rd Street in the brownstone where her mother, activist Hilda Stokely, lived. (Photo by Andres David Lopez)

When Hilda Stokely decided her son should have skis, nothing got in her way. She went out and bought a pair, but she didn’t send him to Aspen or Vail. Instead, she grabbed a shovel and built her own slope on a hill in Central Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park.

“I was the only black kid in Harlem who had skis,” said Bill Stokely Jr., now 57.

“She would make a decision about what she felt her family should have and she went about doing that,” said his sister, Madlyn Stokely. “She always taught us that we had a right to be whoever we wanted to be.”

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Calling it a night?: Harlem Bars Slam Community Board Proposal

Barkeeps say 2am close would kill business 

HARLEM BAR AND RESTAURANT owners fear that a new proposal requiring local establishments to stop serving liquor at 2 a.m. could close the tab on their late night business.

The proposal, initiated last week by Community Board 10’s Economic Development Committee, would require new businesses seeking a liquor license recommendation from CB 10 to agree to stop serving two hours earlier than the 4 a.m. norm in the rest of the city.

“The entire city is open until 4 a.m. so if Harlem bars were to close at 2, it would put us at an extreme disadvantage,” said Sherri Wilson-Daly, one of the owners of the popular Harlem Tavern on W. 116th St.

“For them to put our businesses at a disadvantage like that is doing a real disservice to the community.”

Although CB 10 cannot change the hours of operations for existing businesses, the board can omit their liquor license recommendation for new businesses seeking approval from the New York State Liquor Authority.

CB 10 is still in the early stage of the proposal process and will further examine the effects of the plan before moving forward, said CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle.

“There’s still a lot of work being done looking at the economic effect and police reports by the community board,” said Lyle. “It is still in the early stages.”

As more bars and restaurants continue to pop up in bustling Central Harlem, CB 10 aims to limit the late night crowds that have appeared in other bar-ridden areas of Manhattan, like Murray Hill and the Meatpacking District.

“They’re nervous that Harlem will become like the Lower East Side or Meatpacking District with lots of people in the streets, but we are still very far away from that,” said

Susannah Koteen, the proprietor of the Italian restaurant Lido on Frederick Douglass Blvd. and W.117th th.

“We’re keeping people in the community, hiring people from the community and bringing money into the community, so it seems strange that would want to hinder business,” she added.

In August, CB 6 approved a similar proposal forcing bars and restaurants in the Murray Hill area to meet with the New York State Liquor Authority if they wanted to keep serving later than 2 a.m.

“It’s hard to do business in Manhattan,” said Koteen. “If businesses want to stay open a little later and make a few extra bucks, why not?”

BY Joseph Tepper

Community Board Considers Closing Bars Early

A Harlem community board is mulling whether to ask bars, nightclubs and restaurants to stop serving liquor two hours before last call.

Frederick Douglass Blvd south of 125 St in Harlem.

This week, Community Board 10 tabled a recommendation that would require establishments to stop serving liquor after 2 a.m. in order to get more information from its economic development committee, which proposed the rule.

“This is something that has been tabled by our full board,” said the chair of Community Board 10, Henrietta Lyle. “It’s a recommendation from our economic development committee. A recommendation. They brought that to the full board. It’s not under consideration at this time. We have tabled this issue pending information and better clarification.”

Bars licensed to serve liquor in New York can do so as late as 4 a.m., according to the state Alcohol Beverage Control law.

Most restaurants and bars that apply for liquor licenses come to agreements with their respective community boards before applying, said a spokesperson for the New York State Liquor Authority, which is in charge of granting licenses to bars in the state.

Harlem bar owners said they didn’t understand why the community board’s economic development committee would support such a move.

“New York’s a unique city,” said Gareth Fagan, one of the owners of Harlem Tavern on Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 116th Street. “People work 24 hours a day. People want to be able to grab a drink on the way home or grab something to eat on the way home. And that’s what made it great is that you’d be able to go into a diner or a restaurant and get a full meal at 1 a.m. or at 4 a.m. — whatever the case may be.”

He added that he hadn’t heard of anyone who was in favor of the recommendation.

“I don’t understand why one neighborhood would choose to close at 2 a.m. and another down the street would be allowed to open till 4 a.m.,” he said. “I think it would be detrimental to the neighborhood.”

Ousmane Keita, who is co-owner of Bier International, a beer garden at Frederick Douglass Blvd and 113th Street, said none of the people he’d talked to supported closing their tabs early.

“It’s definitely not a good idea considering that this neighborhood is starting to boom,” Keita said. “Some of our clients come in late just to have a drink and they don’t want to be rushed.”

The next general meeting of Community Board 10 will be held on Wednesday, January 4. The board’s economic development committee meets next on Thursday, Jan. 12.

Community boards on the Upper West Side, in Hell’s Kitchen and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn have recently opposed bar, restaurant and nightclub liquor licenses over noise, crowds and safety.

Harlem’s New Renaissance

125th Street and Lenox Avenue.

For much of the 20th century, private developers ignored Harlem, deterred by its high crime rate, profusion of subsidized housing, and long trek from Midtown. During the malaise of the 1970s, the city owned well over half of the real estate in this storied neighborhood, long regarded as the nation’s black cultural capital.

Then, in the past decade, everything changed. As property values in other Manhattan districts soared, Harlem became the new development frontier. City leaders helped spur the transformation, cracking down on crime and rezoning key arteries such as 125th Street to make them more developer-friendly. Meanwhile, nonprofit groups, like the Harlem Children’s Zone, continued to invest in the community.

New additions to Harlem include the modern Parc Standard located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard

The effects have been striking. Luxury condo buildings, bougie shops, and a surge of new residents have appeared. According to census figures, whites went from 2 percent of Harlem’s population to 9.8 percent between 2000 and 2010. People of all ethnicities and income levels now consider Harlem when hunting for a Manhattan home, due largely to its real estate bargains. The average sale price of a two-bedroom unit here is $694,000; in SoHo, it’s $2.1 million. “Harlem has become a viable alternative to markets in the south,” says Jonathan Miller, president of real estate appraiser Miller Samuel.

But with change inevitably comes conflict. And perhaps no urban metamorphosis is more incendiary than the one taking place in Harlem, where Duke Ellington took the “A” train, Langston Hughes wrote racially charged poems, and Marcus Garvey launched his “Back to Africa” campaign. Tied to these memories is Harlem’s milieu: housing projects, stately brownstones, soul-food restaurants, jazz lounges, hair-braiding shops, and churches large and small. With gentrification in full swing, Harlem residents don’t just fear losing their homes; they fear losing their history, their culture.

Architecture plays a role in this saga. “It’s starting to look like downtown,” says Jaylene Clark, a young Harlem native who critiques the neighborhood’s gentrification in her new play, Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale. A mile-long stretch of Frederick Douglass Boulevard reveals how quickly redevelopment can take hold. In recent years, more than a dozen condo developments, plus a chichi hotel and bevy of fashionable stores and eateries, have cropped up in the area, rebranded as SoHa (South Harlem). Architecturally, some recent structures refer to the existing buildings — mostly brick tenements rising five to eight stories. Others, however, contrast with their 19th-century counterparts in terms of scale and aesthetics. The Parc Standard, a modern, charcoal gray mid-rise designed by Architects Studio with Gene Kaufman, juts high above the roofline of two flanking buildings. The 28-unit Parc, with condos listed from $375,000 to $790,000, sold out within 11 months.

Surprisingly, Michael Henry Adams, a staunch local preservationist and author of Harlem: Lost and Found, is pleased with the new additions on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. For the most part, they “are quiet buildings that recede into the background and become good neighbors,” he says. “As a whole, it’s remarkably harmonious, particularly given what could have been there.” Once pockmarked with vacant lots, the area was rezoned in 2003 to promote residential and commercial growth. The new land-use regulations specified contextual design and capped building heights, preventing an invasion of glistening glass towers.

“You have to balance this need to develop properties and manage growth with a sensitivity toward what Harlem used to be, and what Harlem is to longtime residents. It’s not easy,” says Paimaan Lodhi, the district manager for Community Board 10, which covers central Harlem. The revitalization of Frederick Douglass Boulevard is a major success, he says, noting that crime has dropped 16.5 percent in 10 years and many of the new residential buildings contain affordable units. To critics of the redevelopment, he asks: “What’s the alternative? Vacant lots? Prostitutes and crack peddlers? We have a vibrancy there that we haven’t seen in decades.”

Even Clark acknowledges gentrification’s benefits. “I do feel safer,” the playwright says. But as for her preference for the old or new Harlem, there’s no simple answer. “In an ideal world,” she says, “I’d take elements of both and put them together.”