Potential 115-building district was largely developed in a short time frame following closures of two asylums that occupied area and extension of IRT subway line at turn of the century. On September 13, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to add the Morningside Heights Historic District to its calendar, formally commencing the designation process. The proposed district is composed of approximately 115 buildings in upper Manhattan, to the west and south of Columbia University’s campus. The district is almost entirely residential in character, with some institutional buildings, including Broadway Presbyterian Church, falling within its borders.
Until the late 19th century, the area remained largely undeveloped. Two large institutions, the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum, and New York Hospital’s Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, occupied or owned much of the land in the area. Furthermore, the area’s topography as plateau surrounded by steep cliffs discouraged development. The area also lacked access to public transportation.
The two asylums closed in the 1890s, and their properties were redeveloped by Columbia University and other educational institutions, eventually earning the neighborhood the moniker of the “Acropolis” of New York. The 1890s also saw the neighborhood’s first residential developments. Residential development began in earnest with the extension of the IRT subway to the neighborhood, with stations at 110th and 116th Streets. Sixty-four percent of the buildings in the district were developed between 1900 and 1910. Prior to the arrival of the subway, rowhouses and private townhouses were the norm for residential structures, while afterwards, apartment buildings predominated.
Built as homes for upper-middle-class residents, the district’s apartment buildings were designed by some of the era’s most prominent architects, including the firms of Neville & Bagge, Schwartz and Gross, and George & Edward Blum. Styles displayed by the buildings in the district include Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival and Tudor Revival. Landmark’s Research Department called the area a “cohesive residential district … distinguished by its fine early-20th-century architecture, with a high level of integrity.”
Chair Meenakshi Srinivsan led a unanimous vote to add the district to the Commission’s calendar, and stated that a hearing would be held in late November 2016.
Morningside Heights Historic District, Manhattan (LP-2584) (Sept. 13, 2016).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).