Late-19th-Century Residential Area to be Considered as Historic District

Courtesy of Landmarks Preservation Commission

Proposed 164-property historic district constructed in late 19th century for upper-middle-class housing; served important role in Harlem and history. On December 12, 2017, Landmarks voted to add the Central Harlem West 130-132nd Street Historic District to its calendar for possible designation. The proposed district consists of the interiors of three blocks on 130th, 131st, and 132nd Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue. Landmarks staff identified the potential historic district while surveying the area for historic resources related to the Civil Rights movements, and were struck by its architectural integrity and consistency.

The area was developed speculatively as infrastructure and transportation improvements made the area attractive and accessible to middle and upper-middle class New Yorkers seeking to escape the crowded conditions of lower Manhattan. After the turn of the century, the African-American population increased, and by the 1920s, the area was predominantly Black middle-class neighborhood, and a center of African-American cultural life in the City and country.

The proposed district consists mostly of rowhouses, built between 1880 and 1900, primarily in the Neo-Grec style, interspersed with Queen Anne, Renaissance Revival, and Romanesque Revival buildings. A few apartment buildings and institutional structures fall within the proposed district’s boundaries.

These rowhouses not only served as residences, but housed cultural organizations, offices, and meeting spaces.

Landmarks’ Research Department stated that the district “encapsulates over one hundred years of Harlem’s cultural history.” The concentration of African-American professionals, intellectuals, clerics and artists fostered the conditions leading to an array of organizations and associations focused on different aspects of cultural and civic life.

Notable organizations for which the proposed district was home to include New Amsterdam Musical Association, the oldest such association in the country, and the Alpha Physical Culture Club, the nation’s first all-Black athletic club. Ragtime composer Scott Joplin and Jazz musician Eubie Blank resided in the neighborhood. The lost Lafayette Theater, a center of music and culture, also was located in the area.

The district also has a history of social activism. It was home to the headquarters for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a pivotal event in the Civil Rights era. The Friendship Baptist Church, at 144 West 131st Street, had strong associations with the NAACP, and operated Friendship House, a community educational and cultural center.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan led a unanimous vote to add the district to the Commission’s calendar, calling it a “fascinating area,” with an “amazing layer of cultural history” on top of its “gorgeous” architecture. No date was established for a hearing on designation.

LPC: Central Harlem West 130-132nd Street Historic District, Manhattan (LP-2607_ (Dec. 12, 2017).

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).

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