Designated February 21, 2017
The Morningside Heights Historic District consists of approximately 115 residential and institution buildings representing the district’s rapid transformation at the turn of the last century into a densely populated neighborhood.
The first institution to move into the area was New York Hospital, which began purchasing land in 1816 to establish the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum (on the present-day campus of Columbia University) and the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum (on the present-day campus of St. John the Divine) in 1821 and 1834, respectively. The stigma of an insane asylum, compounded by inadequate transit access to the area, hindered other development until the late 19th century, when the hospital auctioned off its real estate holdings and relocated to White Plains in favor of more space and fresher air. The asylum’s relocation prompted a flurry of development by other institutions intent on expansion, starting with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1887 and followed by St. Luke’s Hospital, Columbia College and Teacher’s College in 1892.
The introduction of the subway into Morningside Heights in 1904, coupled with the neighborhood’s magnificent parks and prestigious institutions, led to a frenzy of speculative apartment house construction, attracting middle-class residents who could now commute directly downtown to work. Even before the advent of zoning regulations for land use, developers erected rowhouses and modest apartment buildings on the side streets and grand apartment houses on the avenues, with particularly monumental examples on Riverside Drive, Claremont Avenue and Cathedral Parkway, and mixed-use commercial buildings along Broadway, giving the neighborhood a heterogeneous yet cohesive character. Morningside Heights’ unorthodox yet distinctive sense of place comes from the coexistence of residential and institutional clusters, as exemplified by elegant rowhouses and apartment buildings just steps away from renowned academic institutions and houses of worship.
STATUS Designated Historic District
“I don’t know what the City would be without HDC. [They] testified before LPC time after time and helped us focus on the right issues. We would not be an historic district without HDC! ”
Doreen Gallo: DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
“Use HDC as a resource because they know what they are doing and can offer advice on how to go about creating a district from every front: architectural, political, LPC, and the media. I had floundered prior to my involvement with this invaluable organization.”
Fern Luskin: Lamartine Place Historic District; Friends of Lamartine Place & Gibbons Underground Railroad Site
“HDC provided guidance and shared information during that process—we knew which Council members were going one way or another and we changed a few minds. I don’t think NoHo would have had as cohesive a district had it not been for HDC’s aid.”
Zella Jones: NoHo Historic District; NoHo East; and NoHo Extension
“I remember Richard saying at a meeting, we have someone here from HDC, Nadezhda Williams, Director of Preservation and Research, to help us. She said to us, ‘You are not the only ones going through this.’ HDC included us in an enormous community”
Erika Petersen: West End Preservation Society