What Could Have Been: Harlem Renaissance Ballroom, 2351 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard

Harlem Renaissance Ballroom redevelopment proposal, rendering by Rickenbacker + Leung

Last month, YIMBY brought you the first look at a new residential building coming to Harlem, planned for the site of the famous Harlem Renaissance Ballroom, an African-American cultural icon in its heyday.

The Renny (the one that will be built), rendering by GF55

The Renny (the one that will be built), rendering by GF55

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported on the redevelopment, writing:

In 2007, the development corporation tried to develop the property into a community facility at the base and apartments on top. Abyssinian officials advocated against landmarking the property, but indicated that they would preserve some of the facade, according to Landmarks Preservation Commission testimony from the time.

Abyssinian poured millions into pre-construction costs, such as demolishing part of the structure, but the project stalled with the recession in 2008.

The decision now to tear the building down entirely has angered residents and preservationists. But Karen A. Phillips, who spent two decades at the Abyssinian Development Corp. from the 1980s until 2002, trying to save the property said investor interest has come too late and the property has deteriorated too much to be salvaged. She is happy to see the property finally redeveloped.

There were a number of plans to redevelop the property but save some of the existing structure, and we shared one rendering for a redesign by Davis Brody Bond last month.

Rendering of a discarded plan for the site, by Davis Brody Bond

Rendering of a discarded plan for the site, by Davis Brody Bond

Now, we have an additional rendering for another ill-fated scheme. This one was created by South Brooklyn-based firm Rickenbacker + Leung, for a redevelopment proposal by Full Spectrum of N.Y. and L+M Development Partners (the same redevelopment team behind the Kalahari, on West 116th Street). The design was done in 2012, when the Abyssinian Development Corporation was in the earlier stages of reconsidering their pre-recession plans for the site.

Harlem Renaissance Ballroom redevelopment proposal, rendering by Rickenbacker + Leung

Harlem Renaissance Ballroom redevelopment proposal, rendering by Rickenbacker + Leung

While the L+M-led team felt that at least parts of the northern and western façades could be saved, they ultimately did not come to an agreement on terms with the Abyssinian Development Corporation.

Instead, the structure will be completely razed, to be replaced by a 134-unit rental building designed by GF55 Partners for BRP Development Corporation. We assumed that ditching the façade preservation was a move that would enable greater affordability, but according the Journal, it will be a normal 80/20 project – rents in 20 percent of the units will be far below market, accessible to families of four making $51,540 a year or less.

Harlem Renaissance Ballroom redevelopment proposal, rendering by Rickenbacker + Leung. Like many designs in New York City, its massing was heavily influenced by the zoning code and its diagonal sky exposure planes.

Harlem Renaissance Ballroom redevelopment proposal, image by Rickenbacker + Leung. Like many designs in New York City, its massing was heavily influenced by the zoning code and its diagonal sky exposure planes.

DNAinfo also wrote last week about a local professor’s dismay at the demise of the Renny:

On Sunday morning, Michael Henry Adams, a historian who has written two books on Harlem architecture, staged a one-man protest in front of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which once promised to preserve the historic structure but sold it for $10 million [ed. note: WSJ reports that it was actually $15 million] earlier this year.

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Posted in 2351 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard | Architecture | Full Spectrum of N.Y. | Harlem | Harlem Renaissance Ballroom | L+M Partners | New York | Renaissance Ballroom | Residential | Rickenbacker + Leung