Designation Testimony

Proposed Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District

The Historic Districts Council is the citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods. We’ve long been interested in extending landmark protections to neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and has consulted with Community Board 10 over a decade ago when they were formulating their preservation plan. We are pleased that the plan has achieved some success in seeding the ground for preservation efforts in the area and immensely pleased that the Landmarks Commission is holding this hearing today. The proposed Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District has many parents; several longtime preservation advocates and more-recently involved community activists and residents have been instrumental in bringing this effort forward. This would not have happened without the efforts of Michael Adams, Angel Ayon, Valerie Bradley, Yuien Chin, the Dorrance Brooks Square Property Owners and Residents Association, Save Harlem Now!, Keith Taylor and the West Harlem Community Preservation Organization  to list but some of the key players alphabetically. Special thanks to Marissa Marvelli for drafting the neighborhood’s nomination to the State & National Register and to all the elected officials who have been so supportive over the course of this campaign.

This Harlem neighborhood is both architecturally remarkable and redolent with history. Built beginning  in the late 19th century for upper middle class professionals, it takes its name from Dorrance Brooks, a Black American soldier killed in World War One. Despite their presence in the city since its inception, there are few places in New York City named for Black New Yorkers, and even less which have had those names for almost a century. The area attracted a diverse population over the decades with a number of stand-out historic personalities who helped change our country, few moreso than Shirley Chisholm. The first Black woman elected to Congress, Brooklyn-based Chisholm became involved in childhood education in this neighborhood, working in educational programs at Mount Calvary United Methodist Church at 116 Edgecombe Avenue. This was the beginning of her career in children’s education, a career which eventually propelled her to serve in Congress and run for President, which was another first.

HDC applauds the Landmarks Commission for including 116 Edgecombe Avenue within the boundaries of this proposed historic district. We understand the extenuating circumstances of the intended demolition hanging over the site, but feel strongly that those permits do not negate the site’s historic significance. We also hold out hope that a solution can discovered which will save this beautiful structure and find solace in the knowledge that the LPC will at the very least be able to guide whatever development replaces the church into a form which complements the surrounding historic neighborhood.

This historic district is also significant as a test case for the Landmarks Commission’s recently launched Equity Framework. Although the LPC has a good, if often overlooked, history of identifying and protecting sites of cultural significance, more can always been done and the Framework sets out to encourage such action. By inclusively including 116 Edgecombe Avenue into the Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District, the Landmarks Commission is taking a strong stance that this Framework has real meaning. HDC encourages this action and looks forward to working with the Landmarks Commission to bring forward more sites of significance to acknowledged and protected, both in upper Manhattan and elsewhere.

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