Residents, historians work for landmarks

Historians in the News

The West Harlem that Grace Jones knew as a child in the 1940s barely resembles today’s bustling neighborhood north of 125th Street.

With a substantial reduction in crime, an upsurge in real estate prices, and an influx of retail chains, Harlem has become a completely different world for Jones.

“This used to be a block of nothing but African Americans and Caribbean Americans,” she said, pointing out the middle- and upper-class residents increasingly making their way into the area.

Relics of the past century—old brownstones, historic theaters, and street signs from the block’s construction dating back to 1891—still color the streets of Harlem today, but local preservationists and historians say that maintenance is increasingly difficult due to rapid development and the complex bureaucracy of designating landmarks. Now, though, as the aftermath of recession lingers and discourages developers from breaking ground on new projects, some say that there is an opportunity to preserve what remains...

... Michael Henry Adams, a local historian and graduate of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, agreed, saying, “Harlem is grossly under-landmarked, and so is every black neighborhood in the city.” He added, “If you look at the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, all the places where the richest people live, there’s the most landmarking.”

Landmarks Commission Preservation spokesperson Elisabeth de Bourbon contested these claims, saying, “I don’t see how anyone could conclude that it is an underrepresented neighborhood in terms of buildings that are landmarked.”

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