Street Fighters Too
THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD
George Carlin, passed on in 2008—he would prefer died—but the celebrated, foul-mouthed comic will live around the corner from where he grew up in the 1940s, the 500 block of 121stStreet in Morningside Heights. After months of disagreement, Community Board 9 voted last week to rename the 400 block of 121st Street after the controversial comedian.
The vote, 25-4 with 3 abstentions, comes after months of disagreement. Perhaps fitting for a man with an album called Class Clown, Carlin is still riling up his Catholic grade school, Corpus Christi, which is attached to Corpus Christi Church on the block between Broadway and Amsterdam that was almost renamed. Rev. Raymond Rafferty, the pastor at the church, had protested naming the street where the school is located after a well-known atheist and opponent of religion.
Gentrification has taken hold in every corner of the city over the past decade or two, but few places have felt it as acutely as Harlem. Demographics, tastes and prices are all shifting and skewing, for better and worse, often all at once. Last week at Harlem’s Studio Museum, a confab of the neighborhood’s business owners and power brokers came together to try and figure out what comes next for their community.
Hosted by the Harlem Park to Park Initiative, a self-styled community improvement association and business alliance, the conference brought together city officials, real estate developers and noted executives from the dining, hospitality and entertainment worlds. Among them were the CEO of the country’s largest African-American real estate development company, R. Donahue Peebles, and Tren’ness Woods Black, the third-generation owner of Sylvia’s Restaurant.
It’s the biggest show on the block since James Brown played The Apollo.
At the end of August, Danforth Development announced that it had found a partner to move forward with its plans to develop two 26-story towers above the century-old Victoria Theater. The project has been in the works for years now, a pet project of local politician Keith Wright. A new hotel and apartment building are meant to sustain a clutch of cultural institutions on the first few buildings of the complex, and things were well underway until the recession hit.
Now, Exact Capital is pitching in $100 million to get the project off the ground. Way off the ground.
Last Friday night, huddled together at the corner of 111th street and 5th Avenue in Harlem, a circle of about thirty individuals held hands. Their eyes were closed in prayer. The orange glow of the headlamps formed neon smudges against the black night sky. Two NYPD officers stood nearby, arms crossed, waiting. Opposite a church on the corner of 129th Street and 7th Avenue, a similar crowd looped around a stage, surrounded by blue lights and peace signs painted gold. Some youths lined up to perform raps and songs, which they had written themselves.
This was the last weekend of Occupy the Corners, an initiative created in response to the recent wave of shootings and organized by National Action Network (NAN), a not-for-profit civil rights organization. For the past four weekends, community activists, politicians, church leaders and local civilians have stood in solidarity at the most dangerous corners in New York, watching for any signs of violence.
On Friday, NAN founder and president, Reverend Al Sharpton, joined the campaigners.
Red Carpet Real Estate
Wading through the humidity and past a row of street vendors selling tchochkes and foot massages, The Observer arrived at Hue-Man Bookstore and Café on Sunday, greeted rather unceremoniously by a door smattered in closing notices. Once in, sparse shelves offered brand-new paperbacks like Cheetah Girls, randomly interspersed with time-worn hard covers such as The Ethiopian Famine and The History of Calvinism Volume III. Final sale flyers were scattered throughout. Once considered a part of the most recent Harlem renaissance, the cultural Mecca was on the last legs of its 10-year run—officially closing its doors at the end of the month—and looked as much.
“The closing is a confluence of things,” CEO and Hue-Man partner Marva Allen would later tell us. “It’s the publishing industry that’s gone into a free fall. It’s the fact that our lease is up after ten years and—with the new rent in Harlem—we would not have been able to sustain it. But most importantly I believe that any bookstore that wants to move into the future needs to address the [conflicting] dynamics of technology and the analog bookstore. So we decided why not step out now and take that opportunity to learn?”
But tonight they celebrated what had become a gathering ground for the neighborhood’s literary community. We looked around. Only a few customers sat in small groups at tables up front—the store was otherwise empty—had the celebration come and gone? We approached the front desk and asked for Ms. Allen, who had invited us.
“Marva’s at the party.” The cashier gestured towards the back of the store.
Bookshelves were pushed aside, leaving a large open space in the middle where old friends laughed and chatted while their grandchildren chased each other.
Ever dreamt of living the life of the most powerful man in the country but can only afford a railroad, two-bedroom share, third-floor walk-up? Look no further. Your presidential suite awaits you.
What was once Barack Obama’s crash pad in his Columbia University days is back on the market for $2,400/ month. Not a bad deal for an Upper West Side two-bedroom but back in 1981 Obama and his roommate paid a monthly grand total of just $360. Oh, the days.
We’ve already declared it the craziest building in Harlem, so how exciting to come into a whole cache of renderings of the new Diller Scofidio + Renfor tower for the Columbia University Medical Center. They particularly reveal the unusual “Study Cascade” that is the core of the building’s design.
This morning, The Observer published a column by culinary bon vivant, chef, restaurant-owner, and writer Eddie Huang on the matter of Red Rooster, the Harlem fine-dining restaurant serving the nu-soul food of culinary darling Marcus Samuelsson, whose memoir Yes, Chef comes out this week. The reaction has been—to say the least—fiery.
Now, Marcus Samuelsson himself has weighed in.
Plants and animals aren’t the only things that are endangered—buildings are, too! Or so says the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
And although the number of endangered historic buildings is nowhere close to the whopping 2,000 endangered plant and animal species, endangered anything is never a good thing, which is why the Trust releases a list of the top 11 endangered historic buildings each year.
Since the annual list was started 25 years ago, only seven New York sites and buildings have been classified as endangered—thanks to the city’s Landmarks Law, in part—though that seventh was just added this year.
With the exception of a deadly construction accident in March, things have been fairly quiet on the western front of Harlem. Starting nearly a decade ago, Manhattanville became one of the most hotly contested corners of the city, as Columbia University first worked to have the neighborhood rezoned for a new 17-acre campus, approved in 2007, followed by the state leading an eminent domain case on the school’s behalf to repossess the land of two local business owners, which culminated in 2010. (Since then, the city’s focus has shifted south, to another university-led redevelopment.)
All the while, Columbia has gone about the work of creating the most environmentally progressive neighborhood in the entire five boroughs, all from whole cloth.
Last week, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded Columbia’s new campus with LEED ND Platinum, the highest rating in the council’s new-ish neighborhood development program. It is only the fifth project in the state to earn such recognition, and the first to achieve LEED ND Platinum. The designation means that the project has embraced the goals of accessibility, density, design and environmental efficiency, creating a model for future development.
“We like to think of it as a three-legged stool: environment, economy, equity,” Jason Hercules, director of the LEED ND program, told The Observer. “Manhattanville excelled in all three.”