Hamilton heights/Sugard Hill Historic Districts

The larger Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill neighborhood is located on the former site of Alexander Hamilton’s estate. The neighborhood, which extends from West 140th Street to West 155th Street, from Edgecombe Avenue to Amsterdam Avenue, remained undeveloped throughout most of the nineteenth century. It was not until the 1880s when the elevated train was constructed along Eighth Avenue that the neighborhood began to grow. Rowhouses and apartment buildings in the Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival and neo-Renaissance styles were built in the neighborhood from the 1880s through the 1920s.

Although the first residents of Hamilton Heights were primarily middle class whites, in the 1920s and 1930s, African Americans professionals began to move into the neighborhood and the area became commonly known as Sugar Hill. Famous residents of the neighborhood include Adam Clayton Powell and Duke Ellington and many other musicians, writers and civic leaders. Today Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill is a neighborhood of paramount cultural as well as architectural and historical significance.

Like many early historic district designations, the original Hamilton Heights Historic District, designated in 1974, was defined by conservative boundaries that did not adequately protect the traditional neighborhood. The district only included portions of the Hamilton Heights neighborhood and excluded the entire Sugar Hill area to the north.

In the mid-1990s, Community Board 9 in Manhattan and the Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization, with the help of the Historic Districts Council, began to pressure the Landmarks Preservation Commission for an extension to the Hamilton Heights Historic District. In particular, the neighborhood wanted the district extended to match the boundaries of an 1866 covenant that restricted development to residential or religious uses from West 140th Street to West 145th Street, from Amsterdam Avenue to St. Nicholas Avenue. In 2000, the LPC did just that when it designated the Hamilton Heights Historic District Extension.

The neighborhood organizations further wanted to extend the district north from West 145th Street to West 155th Street, from Edgecombe Avenue to Amsterdam Avenue, which is the area known as Sugar Hill. The LPC took the approach of designating several smaller districts in the area that in essence protect the entire Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill neighborhood. These districts include the Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill Historic District (designated in 2000), the Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill Historic District Extension (designated in 2001), the Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill Northeast Historic District (designated in 2001) and the Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill Northwest Historic District (designated in 2002). Thus Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill and its many historic districts extensions are an example of a recent successful campaign to extend significantly the inadequate historic boundaries that the LPC established nearly 30 years earlier.


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