HDC@LPC – Designation Testimony – Coney Island Boardwalk & Central Harlem HD – April 17, 2018

Statement of the Historic Districts Council

Designation Hearing

April 17, 2018

Item 1

LP-2583

BOROUGH OF BROOKLYN

CONEY ISLAND (RIEGELMANN) BOARDWALK (Scenic Landmark)

The Coney Island Boardwalk is arguably the most famous boardwalk on Earth and an obvious landmark. The Historic Districts Council strongly supports its designation as a New York City Scenic Landmark since by any measure, an accounting of New York City’s landmarks which does not include the Boardwalk would be irreducibly incomplete. We question, however, any other purpose which this designation might serve. 

As HDC understands it, current administrative interpretations of the Landmarks Commission’s policing power abrogates almost all authority the agency might exercise over this property. All future changes to the actual boardwalk, in style, material or even form will be reviewed in an advisory capacity without public testimony to help guide the Commissioners’ advice. The Public will have the opportunity to weigh in about existing buildings that fall within the bounds of the Scenic Landmark, but that was the case previously when the Art Commission had sole design review over the property. Issues of the historic context of this public property – the very Boards of the Boardwalk – still fall under the binding authority of the Art Commission and are ultimately controlled by the Parks Department, the very agency which replaced them with concrete in the first place. This is not even a case of closing the barn door after the horse has fled. Rather, this is an instance of putting up a sign identifying the empty building as a barn in the first place and calling it a job well done. Yes, we agree – the Coney Island Boardwalk is a landmark. Now please, treat it like one.

 

 

Item 2

LP – 2607

BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN

CENTRAL HARLEM WEST 130-132ND STREETS HISTORIC DISTRICT

HDC is thrilled that a Central Harlem Historic District is moving forward for designation. These blocks are not only stunning, but beyond their facades exists an incredible cultural history which shaped this city and the nation. Preserving these blocks offers a snapshot of the Harlem Renaissance, as census data from 1920 shows thirty-three residents employed in the arts. By 1930, there was a one-hundred and thirty-three percent increase of employment in the arts, including actors, night club entertainers, dancers, as well as a comedian and a photographer. There was tremendous talent, in only three blocks.

Within the proposed district is the Utopia Childrens’ House (170 West 130th Street), founded in 1926 by African-American women as a child care and recreation facility which doubled as a community center. Later renamed the Utopia Neighborhood Club House, it served the neighborhood as a cultural nerve center.

Artist Jacob Lawrence participated in youth art classes here, and would go on to create his 60 panel work, The Migration Series, which portrayed the African-American experience of the Great Migration. Lawrence’s family was a part of the migration, and settled in Harlem when he was a teenager. Lawrence attributed much of his artistic influence to the colors and shapes of Harlem itself. In 1941 his Migration collection was featured in Fortune magazine, and the same year he broke the color barrier and became the first African-American artist to be represented in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

In later years, the Utopia was the official headquarters and organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was the largest gathering for Civil Rights of its time and where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his ground-shattering “I Have A Dream” speech. HDC suggests designating Utopia as an individual landmark for its cultural impact of change to the nation, not unlike the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Its façade alteration, which is intact and includes the original stuccoed treatment, Juliet balconies and a coat of arms medallion, was designed by African-American architect Vertner Woodson Tandy.

Outside the district, West 133rd Street and the blocks west of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard share a visual cohesion and development pattern with the proposed district. More importantly, these blocks undoubtedly share the same criteria of the creative class found between 130th-132nd Streets and we ask LPC to consider this proposal today as phase one of landmarking in Central Harlem. While HDC understands that historic districts are contiguous, this district is such in plan only. To walk this historic district in its entirety, a pedestrian will have to leave the district several times to access each side street. For this reason, as avenues are being reserved as future development sites, HDC believes there is no reason to not allow an historic district to continue beyond avenues that are carved out.

While tremendous steps are being taken today to preserve some of Harlem’s treasures, there is more work to be done. With the recent tragic losses of the Renaissance Casino and Lenox Lounge, we implore the Commission to consider landmarking cultural institutions as well, so that we have a palimpsest of where the people lived and where the people spent time outside of the home. Minton’s Playhouse (206 West 118th Street), in operation since 1938, is the birth place of bebop and should be designated, as well as the New York New Amsterdam News Building (2293 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard) which has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976.

 

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