Designation rejected for Harlem ballroom

Landmarks accepted promise that community group will restore building as part of development plan. On February 13, 2007, Landmarks removed the Harlem Renaissance Ballroom and Casino from its designation calendar to allow a redevelopment plan by its current owner, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, to go forward. Built between 1920 and 1923 as one of Harlem’s first entertainment complexes, the Renaissance now sits in extreme disrepair with trees growing out of its partially caved-in roof. Abyssinian would convert the buildings into a mixed-use development with commercial uses, a community center and a 17-story residential tower with market-rate and affordable housing.

At the earlier public hearing, representatives from Abyssinian, elected officials and community members testified against designation, and preservationists split on the issue. 4 CityLand 10 (Feb. 15, 2007).

Landmarks Chair Robert Tierney opened up the comments, saying he felt confident that Abyssinian and its architect Max Bond would restore the buildings’ distinct architectural features as part of its redevelopment plan. Tierney added that opposition from the community and elected officials weighed greatly on his decision against designation. Commissioners Joan Gerner, Stephen Byrns, Thomas Pike and Margery Perlmutter all agreed with Tierney, citing the community’s opposition to designation and saying that Abyssinian’s plans made each feel more comfortable rejecting designation.

Only Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz opposed the action, saying the buildings could be categorized as historical and architectural landmarks. Gratz called removal from the calendar “an unfortunate direction to take,” arguing that Landmarks had come far on its approval of adaptations to designated buildings and could do so with Abyssinian’s plan.

At the close of comments, Landmarks voted by 6-1 to permanently remove the two buildings from consideration.

Renaissance Ballroom and Casino, 2341-2349 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (LP-2218) (Feb. 13, 2007).

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