Landmark Fire Watchtower in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park will get $4M makeover

The crumbling 19th Century structure is the last remaining cast-iron watchtower  in the U.S. it is the only one remaining of eight that once constituted  Manhattan’s emergency alert system

The landmark Fire Watchtower sits behind a fence in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. The crumbling structure is set to get a $4 million makeover.

The landmark Fire Watchtower sits behind a fence in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. The crumbling structure is set to get a $4 million makeover.

Most New Yorkers don’t even know it exists, but a crumbling 19th century  landmark in Marcus Garvey Park is about to be turned into Harlem’s newest  sightseeing destination, thanks to a $4 million makeover that will be announced  Wednesday.

The cast-iron fire watchtower — the only one remaining of eight that  constituted Manhattan’s emergency alert system before the days of fire alarm  boxes — has been ignored for decades.

The Parks Department, Borough  President Scott Stringer and Councilwoman  Inez Dickens will each contribute more than $1 million to help rebuild the  deteriorating landmark.

“It’s the only remaining cast-iron watchtower in the United State of America,” said Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro, whose office plans to spend $1.1 million on the project. “It’s a unique phenomenon in New York City.”

Contractors will spend the next 12 months dismantling the structure’s rusty  beams, mending the least-damaged spots and replacing the broken pieces with  fresh slabs of cast iron.

Dickens, whose office pledged nearly $2 million to rebuild the 47-foot  relic, called the allocation a “smart investment that will pay for itself many  times over.”

 “It is one of the highest points in Harlem and has special historic cachet  as the last existing structure of its kind,” the Councilwoman added. “This  project will draw visitors and serve as a community asset.”

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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.

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Harlem Merchants Band together to put Frederick Douglass Blvd. on Business Guide Map

Frederick Douglass Blvd., has become a prime culinary destination and … winner of the Best Neighborhood Award … in 2011.
Harlem’s trendy Frederick Douglass Blvd. is now on the map. Literally.

Merchants and community leaders from uptown’s new “it” neighborhood have created a colorful guide to market services and stores from W. 110th St., to W. 124th St., hoping to lure shoppers and tourists to “The Gateway to Harlem.”

Lia SanFilippo (left) and Selene Martinez (right), are the owners of 5 & Diamond restaurant, located at 2072 Frederick Douglass Blvd. in Harlem

“There are so many reasons to come to the neighborhood now,” said Lia San Filippo, co-owner of the hip new “5 and Diamond” restaurant and co-president of the recently formed Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance (FDBA).

“And that’s why the map is so important,” she said. “It helps people know that we are here and helps them find us easily.

The other night, we had customers who came from 110th St. and one woman said, ‘Oh my God, I have been living here 20 years and never walked in this direction.’ ”

The FDBA represents 45 of the businesses on the street, including Harlem Vintage, the first upscale wine store, hip new butcher shop Harlem Shambles and the first supermarket, Best Yet. There’s also Land Yoga, Harlem Children’s Zone, two beer gardens and the classic old gas stations and beauty salons that line the boulevard.

“The most important thing about the map is that there is something to put on it,” said Hans Futterman, who designed the upscale condo 2280 FDB and three more condos on nearby Harlem streets.

“For decades,” he said, “you could drive up and down FDB and there was little to attract your attention of any positive nature – just a lot of vacant, burned out blocks, drug dealers – things that made people feel they wanted to hurry through the neighborhood.”

The dramatic transformation was spurred by a 2004 rezoning of the boulevard which the paved the way for more high-rise residential construction and ground-level retail space at a time when 40% of the street’s 226 storefronts were vacant.

Today, Frederick Douglass Blvd. has become a prime culinary destination and was the winner of the Best Neighborhood Award given by the Curbed NY blog in 2011.

The Alliance plans to mail the map to 1,200 households and have it posted on Columbia University’s student and faculty websites.

Merchants say they are there to stay, and have been able to rejuvenate the historic boulevard with the joint help of the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center, the Harlem Community Development Corp., Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Office.

Marcelo Orve, owner of MB Dry Cleaners, was one of the first new businesses to open on the street 11 years ago, when crime and empty lots were the norm.

“When we first came in 2001 we had the doors locked all the time,” said Orve, relaxing behind the counter of his store last Tuesday night. “Little by little, more developers came. Now, everyone wants to be here.”

Harlem – Charity helps itself

Another $trike against sketchy Harlem fund

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has launched a new attack on the Harlem group that’s supposed to distribute $76 million donated by Columbia University for community benefits, claiming that one of its board members “attempted to unilaterally authorize” an $85,000 expenditure without anyone else’s approval.

'Such conduct is egregious...and a demonstration of the complete crisis.' -Manhattan Beep Scott Stringer

“Such conduct is egregious, intolerable and a demonstration of the complete functional crisis of the [group] as an organization,” Stringer said in a Dec. 15 letter to Donald Notice, chairman of the West Harlem Local Development Corp.

The Beep demanded that the group “immediately dissolve the current constitution of the board and freeze all of its assets.

“The LDC has failed to uphold its commitment to responsibility by failing to create a mission statement, organizational structure, board composition structure, fiscal management plan, organizational standards or community engagement process,” he added.

Last month, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation of the nonprofit following a Post report that exposed how, five years into its existence, the group had no director, no Web site and no way for the community to apply for its funds.

Of the $3.5 million it has collected from Columbia starting in 2009, only $702,000 has been spent.

Columbia coughed up the community-benefits money as part of a deal that secured permission for its $6.3 billion expansion plan.

Juanita Scarlett, a spokeswoman for the group, was clearly taken aback by Stringer’s missive.

“We have not received the letter,” she said in a statement. “However, I had a lengthy meeting with the borough president last week to discuss the progress of the West Harlem [LDC], which includes our process for reconstituting the board.”

She added that the group is willing to have “an open dialogue with anyone who genuinely cares about the West Harlem community. We believe those discussions should happen directly with the corporation and not through the press.”

West Harlem officials further explained that its board on Aug. 9 had authorized the expenditure of $85,753 for improvements at the Grant and Manhattanville Houses, but at a later session decided to delay the expenditure until the Housing Authority could designate the proper receiving entity.

Unaware of the postponement, board member Maritta Dunn attempted to send the money. West Harlem’s fiscal agent blocked the move after checking with the board.

Officials conceded that Dunn made a mistake but questioned why Stringer was raising the issue now, when his own representative on the board was aware of the HA allotment and raised no objections. A Stringer aide insisted that wasn’t the case.

One source familiar with the situation said the West Harlem board needs to hire professionals in a big hurry.

“They’re not equipped to do this,” the source said. “They’re polarized, unable to make a decision because there are so many competing interests.”

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Restoration of Richard Rodgers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park Unveiled

Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe today joined Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; City Council Member Inez Dickens; Community Board 11 Chair Matthew Washington; Marcus Park Alliance President and Secretary/Treasurer Carla MacIntosh and Valerie Jo Bradley; City Parks Foundation Executive Director David Rivel; and Mary Rodgers Guettel, daughter of the composer Richard Rodgers and executive board member of the Rodgers Family Foundation, to cut the ribbon on $7 million in improvements to the restored bandshell and amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park.

The ceremony also featured performances by Laura Osnes and Colin Donnell from the Roundabout Theater Company‘s production of Anything Goes, a performance by trombonist Craig Harris who played an original composition called “Harlem,” and a performance by the P.S. 166 / Richard Rodgers School Fifth Grade Honors Choir.

“This is a great day to whistle a happy tune as the restored Richard Rodgers Amphitheater will revitalize this Historic Harlem park as a place to enjoy the outdoors and to celebrate the arts,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “We are extremely grateful to The Rodgers Family Foundation for its generous $1 million contribution to this project, provided through the City Parks Foundation, and to Borough President Stringer, State Senator Perkins, and Council Member Dickens for their funding allocations which will allow this amphitheater to come alive again with the sound of music.”

“The renovation of this bandshell is enormously good news for the long-term health of this park and this community,” said David Rivel, Executive Director of City Parks Foundation. “Increased programming in Marcus Garvey Park’s bandshell over the last ten years has been one of the most important methods of reclaiming this park as a vital community resource. A renovated bandshell, thanks to the strong leadership of the City, thoughtful input from the community, and the generosity of The Rodgers Family Foundation, will become a vital community and educational resource for decades to come.”

“It was just three years ago that I stood here with Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Benepe to announce plans for a new amphitheater,” said Mary Rodgers Guettel, daughter of Richard Rodgers. “On behalf of The Rodgers Family Foundation, I am thrilled that this beautiful new space is now alive with the sound of music.”

Funding for this $7 million project came from $4.9 million from mitigation funds provided to Parks by the MTA in connection with the Second Avenue Subway project; $600,000 allocated by Borough President Scott Stringer; $409,000 allocated by State Senator Bill Perkins when he was a Council Member, and $200,000 through his successor, Council Member Inez Dickens.
The Richard Rodgers Family Foundation, established by the composer Richard Rodgers and his wife, also donated $1 million.

The new amphitheater features a wider stage that is much closer to the audience, a large, multi-purpose area backstage with changing rooms and restrooms for the performers, an improved seating area with seatbacks built of a durable recycled plastic, and a fabric canopy to shield a large portion of the audience from the hot summer sun. The historic park setting coupled with the new amphitheater’s large stage, multi-purpose backstage area, improved seating with sunshade, and upgraded lighting and sound hookups, all work together to create one of the premier outdoor performance spaces that New York City has to offer.

Thanks to the Richard Rodgers Family Foundation, a pool of $25,000 in grants are being made available to support community performances in the space. Another pool of approximately $25,000 will be available to support the commissioning of new work by City Parks Foundation for the space.

The new bandshell and amphitheater was designed by Cooper, Robertson and Partners and the contractor was Triton Structural Concrete, Inc. The City Parks Foundation Project Manager for the construction was Tom McGinty. The Parks Project Manager was Paul Schubert and the Resident Engineer was Heidy Grullon.

“The new Richard Rodgers Amphitheater with its enhanced sightlines and acoustics creates a more intimate and direct relationship between the performers and audience,” said Scott Newman, partner of Cooper, Robertson & Partners and architect for the project. “Taken together with the Park’s magnificent canopy of trees and many historic features, the new Richard Rodgers Amphitheater breathes new life into one of the most treasured outdoor performance spaces in New York City.”

This summer, City Parks Foundation has a full schedule of programs at the Amphitheater including a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V from August 5-8, music performances with Ryan Leslie, Funkmaster Flex and others from August 9-11, dance performances with the Cecilia Marta Dance Company, Forces of Nature Dance Theater and others from August 12-13, and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on August 27. To view a video of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Marcus Garvey Park, please visit:

Composer Richard Rodgers (1902-79) enjoyed a spectacular career that spanned more than six decades. His hits ranged from the silver screens of Hollywood to the bright lights of Broadway, London and beyond. He was the recipient of countless awards, including Pulitzers, Tonys, Oscars, Grammys and Emmys. He wrote more than 900 published songs and forty Broadway musicals, including The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, The King and I, and South PacifiC. Rodgers‘ childhood home, at 3 West 120th Street, overlooked what was then called Mt. Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) and which the composer described as “one of the prettiest little parks in New York.” In 1970 he provided funding for the original band shell, which has now been restored and renamed “The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater.”

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The Harlem Hospital Is Not Closing, Repeat Not Closing

The first thing Google suggests when you type in Harlem currently is “Harlem Hospital.” So of course locals would be upset at the rumors that the financially troubled hospital would be closing. So let’s be clear everybody: Harlem Hospital is not closing. It is just, like most hospitals these days, going through a tough time.

To help squelch the rumors the Hospital held a town hall meeting last weekend and everyone was invited. Seriously, not only were State Sen. Bill Perkins and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer on hand but so was Rep. Charles Rangel (an admitted “Johnny-come-lately” to the concerns).

The hospital’s executive director, Dr. John Palmer, reviewed the causes of Harlem Hospital’s troubles for the audience—which include the budget deficits in New York, Medicaid cuts in general and the hospitals disaffiliation with Columbia University (the two had been entwined since 1962)—summing up “as you reduce funds coming in and revenues coming in, you can no longer provide the staffing and services you need. Part of HHC’s plan is to reduce and consolidate services, preserve necessary medical services and create centers of excellence to improve the quality of care provision.”

In the end though the core message seems to be “yes, the hospital is going through some pains right now but don’t worry. It isn’t going to be the next St. Vincent’s.