West Harlem Development Corp. Looking to Build on NYCHA’s Grant Houses

HARLEM — The West Harlem Development Corporation wants to build 100 units of affordable housing in NYCHA’s Grant Houses.Kofi Boateng, executive director of the West Harlem Development Corporation, announced a plan to build 100 units of affordable h
The nonprofit tasked with distributing $150 million as part of their community benefits agreement for Columbia University’s expansion into West Harlem, sent a letter of interest to NYCHA on Sept. 18.
“We write to officially express our desire to be considered as a beneficiary of available underutilized land at the General Grant NYCHA housing in West Harlem, NYC, for the purpose of developing affordable housing units,” director Kofi Boateng wrote NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye.
The letter is not part of an official application to develop, just a letter of interest. The organization is also looking for land in other parts of the neighborhood, Boateng said.
He announced the development, part of a larger plan to leave a lasting legacy in West Harlem, during a Community Board 9 meeting in September while asking for their support.

The Housing Authority rolled out their “Infill Neighborhood” plan earlier this summer. Under the program developers would be able to build housing in order to bring more revenue to the cash-strapped agency.

So far only two developments — Wyckoff Gardens in Brooklyn and Holmes Towers in the Upper West Side — have been selected for new developments.

Boateng said he had been working with tenant associations in both Grant and Manhattanville houses.

NYCHA confirmed they received the letter but have not issued a response and did not answer questions about their plans for Grant Houses. The Community Board did not respond to questions about the letter of interest.

By Gustavo Solis | September 30, 2015

What’s next for Harlem’s Assembly member Keith Wright?

New York State Assembly member Keith Wright (D-70) has a slew of options if he decides to seek higher political office, uptown politicos said, whether that’s running for Congress, becoming the New York County clerk, or speaker of the State Assembly.

The 59-year-old Wright has been in the State Assembly since 1992, and has long been rumored as a possible successor to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in 2016. He is also the chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party, and a fixture in Harlem politics.

keithwrightWright may be waiting to become speaker of the State Assembly—former Gov. David Paterson said in an Oct. 17 Gotham Gazette article, “He is in line for other opportunities – I think he’d do very well as Speaker.”

But a New York Post article published the same day quoted sources close to Wright saying he was considering leaving politics altogether and becoming the New York County clerk.

Community Board 9 member Daniel Marks Cohen said that if the Democrats recapture Congress, running for federal office might become more attractive to Wright.

“He’s got a great leadership position in Albany right now,” Cohen said, citing his position as chair of the Committee on Housing. “That would be a lot to give up to be in the minority in Congress.”

Neither Wright nor his staff responded to multiple requests for an interview.

If he decides to run, Wright would likely face tough competition in a rapidly changing 13th Congressional District. Still, two-time challenger State Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D-31), armed with a new Hispanic majority in the district, came within 2 and 4 percent of unseating Rangel in the 2012 and 2014 Democratic primaries, respectively.

Rangel’s impending retirement after 46 years in Congress could lead to a crowded field for his seat in 2016. Other rumored potential candidates include Espaillat; State Sen. Bill Perkins (D-30); the Rev. Michael Walrond, who also challenged Rangel in the 2014 Democratic primary; and former City Council member Robert Jackson.

“If Rangel does retire … it creates this kind of flux that hasn’t existed in a long time,” political strategist Richard Fife said, adding that Wright should consider seizing the opportunity to run for an open congressional seat.

“Wright could be a strong candidate because he’s built a record, and people know that,” Fife added.

“I think he would love to be in Congress for a lot of reasons,” Curtis Arluck, a district leader of the Broadway Democrats Club, said of Wright. “But it would be a difficult race to win against Sen. Espaillat.”

Continue Reading

By Aaron Fisher


Spectator Staff Writer
November 13, 2014, 4:56am

Harlem Tops List of Neighborhoods With Streets in Bad Shape

HARLEM — The roadways of Harlem are in the worst condition among all of New York City’s streets, according to a newly released report from the Center for an Urban Future about the city’s crumbling infrastructure, which would take an estimated more than $47 billion to fix.

largerRoughly 66 percent of the streets in West Harlem’s Community Board 9 are in fair or poor condition. East Harlem’s Community Board 11 ranks second with 53 percent of its streets in fair to poor condition.

“There are a lot of bad roads throughout New York City but Community Board 9 takes the cake,” said  Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “Not enough attention has been paid to resurfacing the streets in Harlem.”

In fact, Manhattan has the highest share of substandard streets with almost 43 percent being rated as in fair or poor condition. Six of the 10 community boards with the worst road conditions are in the borough.

The problem is particularly acute in Northern Manhattan, said Bowles who attributed the problem to neglect, likely due to a lack of money for repairs.

The streets of Harlem are not the only pieces of the city’s infrastructure in need of repair. Overall, New York City’s infrastructure would need $47.3 billion to repair or replace existing infrastructure throughout the city.

More than 1,000 miles of the city’s water mains are 100 years old or older. There were 403 water main breaks last year.

Of the 728 miles of subway signals, 269 miles are past their 50-year useful life and 26 percent are more than 70 years old. The city’s water system also delivers 24 percent less water than it takes in, due to leaks. This is almost double the standard industry loss of 10 to 15 percent.

“A lot of the agencies that oversee infrastructure in New York City are making tough decisions about where to put the limited money they have,” Bowles said.

That includes the Department of Transportation, which has focused on repairing the city’s bridge infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the number of lane miles of completely reconstructed, not just repaved, roads dropped to 80 in fiscal year 2012-2013 from 136 in the 2006-2007 fiscal year.

In 2000 the city set a goal of resurfacing 1,000 miles of lane per year but has reached that goal only three time since then, coming in at less than 800 last year, according to the report.

Many of the streets in Harlem are beyond the point of simple paving and need to be reconstructed, Bowles said.

DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said the agency disagrees with some of the statistics in the center’s report. The DOT resurfaced nearly 16 miles of road in CB 9 last year.

In terms of resurfacing 1,000 miles of lanes per year, Mosquera said the agency sets lane resurfacing goals each year based on its budget and has met those goals for the last few years. DOT plans to resurface 1,000 miles of road this year and has already repaired over 200,000 potholes.

CB 11 Chairman Matthew Washington says the board hasn’t received many complaints about potholes or rough road conditions, but they are working with DOT to improve traffic flow along Park Avenue where there was a fatal accident at 102nd Street last year.

“In terms of the road conditions the safety of individuals is our main concern,” Washington said.

The DOT recently unveiled a plan to make traffic improvements along Park Avenue, and Washington said he was happy about other recent road changes such as protected bike lanes along Second Avenue.

Among the recommendations to address the city’s infrastructure needs are improving the capital planning process, completing an accurate survey of the city’s infrastructure needs and identifying new revenue sources to pay for improvements.

With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s focus on inequality in the city, improving its infrastructure may also be a way to create middle income jobs and stimulate the economy, according to the report.

“I’m hopeful that the De Blasio administration and the Cuomo Administration will make this a priority and invest in infrastructure,” said Bowles.

Historic West Harlem RKO Hamilton Theater Could Become Luxury Condos

Balcony view of the RKO Hamilton Theater.

Balcony view of the RKO Hamilton Theater.

HARLEM — The historic RKO Hamilton Theater may become luxury condos in exchange for the preservation and restoration of the interior theater as a community performance space.

The possible deal comes as the owner of the landmarked theater, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, led by real estate mogul Ben Ashkenazy, sought support from Community Board 9 for its application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build a connector between the two buildings that make up the Hamilton Heights theater at Broadway and 146th Street.

At first, Ashkenazy, who purchased the building along with another building in Washington Heights for $19 million in 2012, considered creating retail space for a company such as Burlington Coat Factory in the former theater, which showed its last movie in 1958.

But the board and Harlem historian Michael Henry Adams proposed that the developer build condominiums on top of the theater instead, as a way of financing the preservation of the historic interior.

“Since the luxury towers are going to come anyway, we might as well get something back for having to suffer these banal glass boxes,” said Adams, author of “Harlem, Lost and Found.”

Recent zoning changes to West Harlem make the construction of a tower there more feasible. The interior of the building was never landmarked.

“What we want to see happen with this theater is to see it redeveloped and become a community resource,” said Arnold Boatner, chairman of CB 9’s Landmarks and Parks Committee. “There are a large number of performance artists in our community who don’t have space.”

The Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chairwoman of CB9, said the board would even support luxury housing at the site— often a contentious issue at Harlem community boards concerned about rapid gentrification.

The community board voted to support the new connector between the theater buildings, but with an unusually high number of abstentions.

“If they say they will restore the theater, we will have to bend if they do all market-rate housing,” said Morgan-Thomas. “This is about creating something that could be here 20 to 30 years from now.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission, which designated the exterior of the building as a historic landmark in 2000, approved an application last Tuesday to add an addition between the two buildings that will be set back from the street and clad in brick to match the rear building. That addition is necessary to make the building usable, whether it ultimately becomes a retail or residential building.

One of the factors in the commission’s approval was that the building once had a passageway connecting the two structures.

Jeffrey A. Chester, an attorney with Gonzalez Saggio Harlan-LLP who represents Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, called the residential plan an ambitious one that might be difficult to pull off for a few reasons.

Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation is primarily a commercial real estate company. The company has extensive commercial holdings with multiple buildings on Madison Avenue as well as Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston.

The company’s initial proposal was to renovate the interior of the building for retail and leave the landmarked exterior alone. If the company decides to pursue residential development, it would likely have to partner with another firm.

Secondly, restoring the damaged theater would be quite expensive. The entire bottom floor of seats is missing and the building has peeling paint and graffiti after suffering years of water leaks and neglect.

“The owner is looking at it but what they have proposed is extraordinarily ambitious and would require variances and approval from landmarks beyond what what we initially considered,” Chester said.

“The question remains: Is there a viable market to keep that theater busy enough to pay for itself? I don’t know if a nonprofit theater group will pay the freight to make this work.”

Yuien Chin, of the Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization, said she envisions a dynamic organization running the space who would be able to create the high-level programming and financial partnerships necessary to make it self-sufficient.

“I don’t think it’s a situation of ‘build it and they will come,'” said Chin. “The demand for a performance and visual arts space, not to mention a banquet hall for dances and receptions, is already here.”

The now-decrepit building and theater is worth saving because of its history, said Adams. Commissioned by vaudeville operator Benjamin S. Moss and theater developer Solomon Brill, the neo-Renaissance Revival-style structure was designed by Thomas Lamb, a prolific theater and cinema designer, and was completed in 1913.

Vaudeville acts performed at the theater, using the space between the two buildings to bring in sets. In 1928, the theater was sold and became one of New York City’s first movie houses.

Movies ceased to be shown at the 1,800-seat theater in 1958 and the space was then used as a disco, church and arena. The lobby of the theater was last used as a retail space for the El Mundo department store, which left a year and a half ago. The structure has been vacant since.

Matt Lambros, a Brooklyn photographer who gained access to the theater to take pictures in 2011 for his website After the Final Curtain, said he was pleasantly surprised to hear discussion about restoring the theater.

“I assumed that one was going to go down,” said Lambros, who has traveled the country photographing shuttered theaters. “It’s still grand and in pretty good shape, so it should be easier to save than most old theaters.”

Adams said there used to be several Lamb-built theaters on Harlem’s west side but most have not survived.

“These places survived close to 100 years and one by one they have all been wiped out,” said Adams. “The Hamilton is one of the most beautiful Thomas Lamb theaters ever built and it should not be allowed to be swept away.”

By Jeff Mays on February 24, 2014 9:24am |

St. John the Divine Campus Could be Landmarked in Deal With CB 9

St. John Devine Cathedral

St. John Devine Cathedral

HARLEM—The Cathedral of St. John the Divine could finally gain landmark status under a deal between the church, Community Board 9 and the developers of a new 14-story building set to be built alongside the cathedral.

Community Board 9 approved a resolution Thursday night that asks the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the entire cathedral campus except for a cut-out on a north lot where the Brodsky Organization is partnering with the church to build a 14-story, 428-unit apartment building that the church is counting on to fund repairs, upgrades and it’s ongoing operations.

In exchange, the Brodsky Organization has agreed to commit 35 percent of the building cost to minority, women and local businesses, said the Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9.

“We helped the church and helped the community in doing it this way,” said Morgan-Thomas. “It may not be the ideal thing because none of us want to see anything but the cathedral and the campus but the reality is the cathedral and the campus won’t be maintained otherwise.”

Church officials have said that the 121-year-old Gothic Revival cathedral is in need of millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades that fundraising alone will never be able to match. After spending $8 to $10 million to develop service roads, the cathedral officials have said they will net $5 million per year from the new construction.

St. John’s has resisted efforts to landmark the entire campus for at least 10 years but has said the church itself could be landmarked.

During that time, the church leased land on 110th Street and Morningside Avenue that used to be part of the campus to developers who built Avalon Morningside Park, a 20-story luxury apartment building, in 2007.

Opponents of this new project, to be located on Amsterdam Avenue and 113th Street, say that it ruins views of the cathedral and disrespects a nationally recognized building.

“This new building is only 40 feet from the church and as high as the church. It’s out of place and outrageous,” said Walter South, former Landmarks Committee chair of CB 9 who voted against the plan which passed by a vote of 29 to 12.

South said he doesn’t buy the cathedral’s argument about needing funds to maintain the remaining campus.

“It’s like taking your wife’s engagement ring down to the pawn shop,” said South. “Why would you mortgage your future and not try national fundraising to save the building and campus?”

Handel Architects who designed the new building where rents will start at $1,700 has said the design of the modern glass structure will feature cutouts to create sight lines of the cathedral’s transept.

Another separate, smaller building, part of the north site development, will sit slightly east on West 113th Street and the two buildings will be connected by stairs.

But with this agreement, said Morgan-Thomas, the community will benefit from the construction of the building and have a tool to stop any future attempts of development on the campus.

Preservationist can also use the cathedral land marking to fight for a Morningside Heights Historic District, she said.

“If we don’t landmark this entire campus what’s to stop them from five to seven years from now saying we need to build something else?” asked Morgan-Thomas. “What we are looking to do is protect the campus, protect its majesty, so there won’t be continued development.”

By Jeff Mays on January 17, 2014 11:08am @JeffCMays

Rejuvenated development corporation gives $750K to youth employment program

The West Harlem Development Corporation, the organization allocating $76 million of Columbia’s money, took a major, tangible step on Monday, funding 500 summer jobs for local kids.

The West Harlem Development Corporation has funded 500 summer jobs for Harlem teens, pledging over $750,000 to support the city’s youth employment program on Monday. It’s one small step for kids, but one giant leap for the organization that’s responsible for allocating $76 million of Columbia’s money—the check is the largest single expenditure the group has made since it formed in 2009.

The development corporation has faced criticism from politicians for not taking swift action in distributing funds to the neighborhood in the wake of the University’s Manhattanville expansion. In November, the state attorney general’s office launched an inquiry to determine whether the WHDC was at fault.

Those troubles are a thing of the past now, said recently appointed executive director Kofi Boateng. Indeed, the fanfare of a press conference on Monday morning to announce the donation of $756,000 to the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program was the sign of a rejuvenated organization.

Held in the WHDC’s sparkling, week-old office, the announcement was the group’s very first public event, but belying this milestone was everything from the complimentary coffee and pastries to the presentation of the oversized check, with politicians and board members flanked by 25 smiling Harlem teenagers.

“This is the coming-out party of the West Harlem Development Corporation to show that yes we have a place, yes we have programs going, yes we are putting the money out, and yes we are building the partnerships and the collaborations,” Boateng told Spectator.

Until Monday, the WHDC had spent only $700,000 of the $3 million it had received from Columbia—with $400,000 set aside for consultants. The group did not establish a website until December and did not purchase the office—a modest but sleek storefront on 127th Street, between Amsterdam and Convent avenues—until April.

The $756,000 will allow local organizations to hire 500 more young people via the Summer Youth Employment Program, run out of the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development. The teenagers will receive nearly $1,200 for the seven-week jobs, while the organization that hires them gets a $325 cut per kid—so not a penny will go to the city’s overhead.

Boateng cited low youth employment statistics as the main reason the WHDC chose to fund the summer program—the small budget limited the program to accept only 20 percent of applicants last year.

“This year we expect that we can increase it to 33 percent. There’s still some [unemployed], but it’s a significant improvement,” Boateng said.

“It’s about trying to create a platform for them … and to get them off of the streets, to give them opportunities to work in a structured program, like SYEP, that they can learn about workforce and job readiness, which is so often missing,” WHDC board chair Donald Notice said in an interview.

In attendance were several Columbia employees, community leaders, and politicians, most notably Rep. Charles Rangel—on the day before the primary in which he’s battling four opponents for a 22nd term in the House.

Rangel, looking healthy post-back injury, praised the development corporation’s choice to focus on youth employment, telling the crowd of 50, “This is not just a summer program. This is a ‘what do you want next?’ What do you want to build? And who do you have as partners?

“Well, having Columbia University in the City of New York as one of them is a big beginning,” he added, stressing that the WHDC’s facilitation of the program and the group’s ties to Columbia are setting children up for promising futures.

But the 82-year-old Democrat also lashed out against politicians who criticized the WHDC’s inactivity over the last few years. “So many people took such cheap shots at this community, and it’s easy to do when you see money coming,” he said. “Somebody has to say, ‘Some of it should be mine,’ and if it’s not, they have to be critical.”

Rangel took a clear shot at Vince Morgan, a one-time aide to the congressman who ran for his House seat this year until dropping out in April. Morgan was one of the most prominent voices in calling for the attorney general’s investigation.

“I want to put would-be politicians on notice,” Rangel said. “Don’t use this organization as a vehicle to compensate for what you don’t have. … We’re going to have programs in our community the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Boateng said that the investigation has been put to rest. “The attorney general has told us that there was no finding of any malfeasance,” he said, noting that the attorney general’s office does not have to sign off on the WHDC’s expenditures, nor can it prevent them.

Community Board 9, the body of 48 unpaid residents who represent West Harlem to the borough president, has played a pivotal role in the Manhattanville development over the years. CB9 vehemently opposed Columbia’s original zoning plan for its campus, and in meetings board members have frequently questioned the effectiveness of the WHDC, calling on it to disband entirely in February 2011. With Morgan, former CB9 chair Larry English led the wave of leaders who in November 2011 called on the attorney general to investigate the corporation’s activities.

But Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, who took over as CB9 chair a year ago, has taken a decidedly more supportive position than her predecessors, echoing Rangel’s call—and the WHDC’s new slogan, “solutions through collaborations”—to work in cooperation with the organization.

“We have to stand behind the institutions in our community that we’ve created to do a job, rather than pull them apart,” she said.

Columbia’s Community Benefits Agreement, signed by the University and by CB9 in 2009, promises $150 million to residents of West Harlem in return for the University’s development of a campus in Manhattanville. The WHDC is charged with distributing just over half the money.

The funds are transferred from the University to the corporation in increments over 15 years, and the WHDC will receive the next installment of $3 million after the fiscal year closes on June 30, Notice said.

“We are moving forward,” Notice said. “Today is an example.”

By Finn Vigeland

Spectator Senior Staff Writer

Published June 25, 2012

Major rezoning plan for Harlem geared to preserve brownstones by imposing height limits on new homes

Buildings would be capped at 4-6 stories on most residential blocks

Hundreds of New York City’s most glorious brownstones and majestic townhouses will be protected from developers and preserved for generations under a major rezoning proposed for West Harlem.

Mariela Lombard for Daily News    New zoning will preserve existing scale of historic brownstones, such as these along St. Nicholas and W. 145th St. in West Harlem.   The plan would safeguard an architectural treasure trove by imposing height limits in the neighborhood for the first time ever, radically transforming the zoning of a 90-block area.

If the sweeping proposal from the Department of City Planning is approved, it will mark the first time the neighborhood’s zoning has been updated since 1961 — when Robert Wagner was mayor and Nelson Rockefeller was governor.

The so-called downzoning will preserve roughly 95% of the 1,900 lots bounded by W. 126th St. on the south; W. 155th St. to the north; Riverside Drive on the west, and Convent and Edgecombe Aves. to the east.

That includes Sugar Hill, the affluent historic district named for the sweet life enjoyed by its residents, and Hamilton Heights, traditional home to such African-American luminaries as composer Duke Ellington, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois.

“This is huge!” says Manhattan Borough President and mayoral hopeful Scott Stringer.

“By limiting both height and density, it removes the incentive to demolish small buildings and townhouses and replace them with towers — and that keeps gentrification at bay.”

The rezoning will protect West Harlem’s low-lying scale and “guide future development” to mesh with the area’s prewar apartment houses and Beaux Arts, Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival brownstones, says City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden.

“If my house blows up today, a developer under current zoning could replace the four-story brownstone with a 10- or 15-story building tomorrow,” said Pat Jones, co-chair of Community Board 9’s land use committee. “That out-of-scale development will no longer be possible.”

Heights would be capped at four to six stories on almost all crosstown, residential mid-blocks. They could rise only to six to eight floors on St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Aves. and up to 12 stories on Broadway, a review of the plan shows.

The impetus for the downzoning: Columbia University’s upzoning of an adjacent, 17-acre parcel in Manhattanville, where it will erect a $6 billion, 16-building super-campus, north of 125th St. and west of Broadway, over the next 25 years.

Stringer and City Councilman Robert Jackson, who represents the area, had pressed City Planning officials to rezone the adjoining swath so West Harlem could co-exist with Columbia — and not be dominated by it.

“Columbia is humongous, its endowment is in the billions, and people have a real fear that housing costs will go up and they’ll no longer be able to afford their homes because the new campus will fuel gentrification,” Jackson says.

“Now, developers won’t be able to tear down those homes and build a 25-story tower.”

Under the city’s land-use review procedure, Community Board 9, as of May 7, had 60 days to review the proposal, after which it goes to Stringer, who has a month to review it and suggest changes.

Then it goes to the City Planning Commission, for a 60-day review, and finally, to the City Council, which has 50 days to approve, modify or reject the zoning proposal. Insiders predict it will take effect after some minor tinkering.

Public reviews generally last a maximum of seven months — and that’s a good thing, says state Sen. William Perkins, who represents the area.

“There are preservationists in my district who would chain themselves to those brownstones to protect them,” he says.

“Hopefully, that won’t be necessary now, but we always need to be vigilant and skeptical because there have been zoning betrayals in the past, and that’s why we have a public review process.”

Other provisions of the proposed West Harlem zoning plan would:

* Allow commercial uses in a light-manufacturing district between W. 126th St. and W. 130th St. to spur job creation. The so-called mixed-use zone could attract retail and arts companies or other non-profits.

* Direct future larger-scale development to a single block on W. 145th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. Only on this one site could a residential building rise to 17 stories, and only if it included a significant amount of affordable housing.

* Steer community facilities — like a gym, a library or a halfway house — to commercial and manufacturing corridors by reducing the amount of floor area they’re permitted in residential areas.


Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/major-rezoning-plan-harlem-geared-preserve-brownstones-imposing-height-limits-homes-article-1.1079409#ixzz1vRq6A4Il

Restored Home of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to Re-Open Saturday

HARLEM—Five years after it was shuttered and relocated, the National Park Service will reopen Hamilton Grange, the home of Alexander Hamilton, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The Grange, built in 1802, originally stood on Hamilton’s 34-acre estate on the site of what would eventually become West 143rd Street. As the street grid developed, the house was moved in 1889 to save it from demolition. The Federalist-style home was moved again in 2008 to the southeast corner of St. Nicholas Park at West 141st Street.

The once-neglected building, which underwent a meticulous $14.5 million renovation that restored many of the home’s historical elements, will open to the public Saturday. The home has been restored to resemble as closely as possible what Hamilton would have seen for the two years he lived in the home, including the original paint colors.

Hamilton Grange at its former site at 287 Convent Ave. (wallyg/flickr)

In restoring the home, the park service also hopes to reanimate the discussion about one of this country’s lesser know, yet influential founding fathers.

“Alexander Hamilton is not one of the founding fathers that the United States has traditionally spent a lot of time talking about in the last few generations,” said Mindi Rambo, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service. “You hear much more about Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Ben Franklin. But Alexander Hamilton was very important to how the federal government runs today.”

Hamilton, who was born out of wedlock in the West Indies, was instrumental in helping to get the Constitution adopted. He founded the agency that would become the U.S. Coast Guard and served as the first Treasury Secretary from 1789 to 1795.

The only New Yorker to sign the Constitution, he was an advocate of a free press and founded the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves. He also founded the Bank of New York.

“In many ways, his was the quintessential New York story. He was an immigrant from the Caribbean who came here with little more than his skills, ambitions and his mind who made a name for himself,” said Rambo.

The Grange is the only home Hamilton was known to have owned. Hamilton only lived in it for two years before he was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804.

The restoration includes reorienting the house so that the front entrance to the home is back in its original location. The original staircase to the home has been restored, in addition to the parlor room, which includes some of the original chairs.

The dining room and Hamilton’s study also includes historical furnishings. The original, but non-working, piano played by Hamilton’s daughter Angelica is also present.

The over-sized mirrored doors of the dining room, which are the same size as the windows in a design touch meant to bring the outdoors inside, have also been restored. The dining room windows are triple hung and designed to be used as doorways to the side porches.

“You step into the foyer where Hamilton would have met his guests,” said Rambo. “It was a meticulous process that involved 18 months of architectural investigation.”

Architects opened walls and reexamined some of the previous restoration plans conceived before the move. They looked for the home’s structure to tell the house’s history.

The investigation was crucial because it allowed some of the home’s original pieces to be rediscovered. During a previous renovation, the tops of the oversized dining room doors had been sawed off. Architects found them being used as a brace elsewhere in the house and restored the doors.

“The restoration took longer than anticipated but this was worth it because the house told us what it looked like and it allowed us to bring it much closer to what Hamilton would have seen himself, said Rambo.

Actors portraying Hamilton and 18th century New Yorkers will be on hand Saturday in full costume to give visitors a taste of what Hamilton’s life was like at the Grange.

Savona Bailey-McClain, executive director of West Harlem Art Fund has curated a work by artist Abigail Simon that allows visitors to see and hear a historical representation of the sites and sounds of the Grange using their smart phones.

“A lot of people don’t know this history,” said Bailey-McClain.

“The site is such a huge improvement over the previous site that its reopening is a great thing for West Harlem,” said Brad Taylor, vice chair of Community Board 9 who has worked on issues regarding the Grange over the years.

“It will will bring more prominence to Hamilton, his legacy and his immigrant background because we are a community of immigrants,” said Taylor.

The previous site of the home at 287 Convent Ave. will remain as a garden. After seeking suggestions from the public, Rambo said the overwhelming majority of respondents wanted to retain the garden.

“The National Park Service recommendation is to leave the Convent Avenue site as green space for the community,” said Rambo.

Taylor said many West Harlem residents will be pleased to hear the news.

“With this solution we don’t lose any open space and we gain a permanent garden on Convent Avenue in a historic neighborhood,” said Taylor.

A few years ago, talk of removing the home from the neighborhood was met with stiff community opposition. Now, integrating the home into the Hamilton Heights neighborhood, which is named after Hamilton, is a major goal of the National Park Service, said Rambo.

The Grange contains a new visitors center and exhibit space that will feature a time lapse film of the home’s move and a history of the neighborhood. Soon, area residents will be able to make an appointment to give their oral histories of the neighborhood and talk about what the house means to them.

“Because of a lot of the things happening in the economy and financial markets people are talking about Hamilton again. This is our opportunity to say he was more than economics. We wanted to honor Hamilton’s legacy and his importance to the neighborhood and the United States,” said Rambo.

Hamilton Grange, located in St. Nicholas Park at West 141st Street, will re-open to the public with a celebration from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. On Sunday, Sept. 18 from noon to 4 p.m., there will be a lecture series featuring speakers discussing the house, neighborhood and Alexander Hamilton.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20110916/harlem/restored-home-of-founding-father-alexander-hamilton-reopen-saturday#ixzz1YFsi4bnJ

Citarella Eviction From Disputed Harlem Site Upheld by Court

HARLEM — A court has upheld the city’s eviction of gourmet grocery chain Citarella from the former Taystee Bakery site on West 125th Street in Harlem.

The city filed suit against the high-end grocery chain, saying it failed to fulfill its agreement to develop warehouse space when the property was purchased for $850,000 in 1999. The city won its case last year and earned the right to evict the chain from the space it has occupied since 2005, but Citarella owner Joseph Guerra appealed the ruling to the State Supreme Court, Appellate Division.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, confident that it would win the new case, had already issued requests for expressions of interest to develop the property in November.

“We are pleased the court has upheld this decision,” said EDC spokesman Kyle Sklerov. “We are still reviewing responses to the request for expressions of interest and we look forward to activating that site as soon as possible.”

The chain, which was purportedly developing a multi-use facility, vacated the store on April 18, stripping it clean of all equipment. Outside, it posted a sign saying that it would be “abandoning its attempt at developing affordable housing at the former Taystee Bakery property, because of a lack of municipal support for that project.”

“It was a pleasure to serve the Harlem community and we are disappointed to leave,” the note continued.

Citarella representatives did not respond to a request for comment. The store has three other locations in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, Upper East Side and Greenwich Village. The court proceedings have yet to conclude and city officials believe the store is likely to appeal the most recent ruling.

The former Taystee Bakery site is a six-building, 134,000-square-foot complex located at 461 W. 125th St. and 426-458 W. 126th St. Recent proposed zoning changes to the area may make it possible for residential housing to be built on the West 126th Street side of the project.

Community Board 9 chair Larry English demanded a say in choosing the new developer, calling the site one of the most crucial developments in West Harlem.

EDC president Seth Pinsky agreed to work more closely with a task force from the community board but denied them final say on the project, saying it might cause conflicts of interest and would set a bad precedent and clog projects in the pipeline.

English said that EDC is in the process of paring down five of the remaining 16 submissions to three finalists. The board’s executive committee is meeting with EDC this month to hear about the three finalists.

EDC has discussed only the nature of the project with the task-force, leaving out details on the names of developers and any financial arrangements. Some CB 9 board members criticized the upcoming meeting, saying it should be “more transparent.”

However, English says EDC has allowed the CB 9 task-force to provide “lots of input.”

“It’s not a perfect process but its moving forward. I wanted to make sure someone from the community was at least in the room,” English said.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20110503/harlem/citarella-eviction-from-disputed-harlem-site-upheld-by-court#ixzz1LR92Tzq3

Columbia University alters plan for promised moves it to other neighborhood school in West Harlem,

West Harlem residents are angry that plans for a new public school pledged as part of Columbia University‘s massive expansion have been scaled back.

Columbia promised in 2007 to create a new pre-kindergarten to eighth grade school as part of a benefits agreement for residents affected by its plans to build a new campus in Manhattanville – but officials said last week the school would only include kindergarten through fifth grade.

And the school, called Teachers College Elementary and set to open in the fall, will be located for its first year in East Harlem – across town from the affected neighborhood.

“A deal is a deal,” said Community Board 9 chairman Larry English. “It’s a violation of the spirit of the agreement.

“This project will forever alter West Harlem,” he said. “Columbia owes a greater debt to the community.”

Teachers College and city Department of Education officials said they had to scrap plans for a pre-K-8 school because there’s no space available big enough to house it.

“It really is all about space,” said Teachers College spokesman Jim Gardner.

He said Teachers College Elementary would only be in the East Harlem space for a year, and then hoped to open in a permanent spot in West Harlem.

“It is a temporary site. That’s temporary in capital letters. It was space that was assigned to us by DOE. We had no hand in this,” he said. “It is our hope and our expectation that the permanent site will be in West Harlem.”

Locals, who were presented with the plan at a CB9 meeting last week, also griped that the school would only take kids from District 5 – which covers a chunk of West Harlem but is mostly in East and central Harlem.

“It was a shocker,” said board member Vicky Gholson. “It’s not that Teachers College is the enemy or that Columbia is the enemy (but) it just makes no sense.”

The city’s Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the 300-student school today. Even without the much-needed middle school and pre-K seats, Gardner said “it’s going to be a great school and it’s going to deliver and create an enormous community benefit.”

The school, for which Columbia pledged $30 million, was part of a $150 million deal Columbia agreed to in 2007 to gain support for its controversial expansion plans.

BY Erin Durkin