O’Donnell Condemns Columbia University as It Moves to Demolish Historic Rowhouses

O’Donnell Condemns Columbia University as It Moves to Demolish Historic Rowhouses

University continues to ignore community’s pleas and misrepresents the history and condition of the West 115th Street buildings

May 24th, 2010

Assembly Member O’Donnell has learned that Columbia University is following through on its threat to demolish three buildings that have been deemed historically significant by New York State’s Historic Preservation Office. The razing of 408, 410 and 412 West 115th Street will destroy some of the earliest and most striking structures in Morningside Heights. The University has hired a contractor to begin demolition and will install a surface level parking lot.

O’Donnell strongly opposes the demolition and has urged Columbia to find a creative solution that preserves the integrity of this residential block. Unfortunately, Columbia continues to misrepresent its efforts and history as owner of these buildings. Columbia refuses to provide evidence that the rowhouses are beyond repair, despite its claims to that effect.

On April 23rd, Assembly Member O’Donnell sent a letter to Columbia University directly confronting the false assertions:

“It is disingenuous at best to disseminate the falsehoods contained in [Columbia’s] letter dated April 22nd, 2010. Columbia University’s actions contradict [its] assertion that the institution has ‘taken the future of this site and its impact on the surrounding community very seriously.’

“My office is aware that 408, 410 and 412 West 115th Street were utilized until Columbia took ownership. Yet, instead of maintaining those buildings, Columbia shuttered them and left them to deteriorate through neglect. As the owner of those buildings since 2002, Columbia University alone bears responsibility for their current condition.

“I remain incredibly disappointed with Columbia’s lack of creativity and unwillingness to imagine another solution that could be considered a win for both the University and the community. Being a good neighbor and taking the community’s concerns seriously entails more than reiterating an intractable position at a few community meetings.”

The state’s preservation office described 408, 410, and 412 as a “distinctive row of three, five-story Renaissance Revival residences with brownstone facades,” and remarked on their “unusual design with undulating bays at the first and second stories reminiscent of low-scale rowhouse design but with three upper floors and cornice above.”

The buildings represent pre-subway era development in Morningside Heights which is significant because the vast majority of structures in the neighborhood were built following the northern expansion of the IRT subway line.

Assembly Member O’Donnell has advocated for the designation of a comprehensive historic district in Morningside Heights since 1996 as a founding member of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, and subsequently as a member of Community Board 9 and Chair of that body’s Land Use and Zoning Committee. The designation remains a priority to him as a member of the New York State Assembly.

Assembly Member O’Donnell has represented the 69th Assembly District since 2003. His district includes Morningside Heights, Manhattan Valley, and portions of West Harlem and the Upper West Side. He currently serves as the Chair of the Ethics and Guidance Committee and the Subcommittee on Criminal Trial Procedures. He is a member of the Education; Codes; Environmental Conservation; Judiciary; Oversight, Analysis & Investigation; and Tourism, Arts and Sports Development committees.

Posted Under: The Politics of Preservation, Uncategorized

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