August 2017
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MAS Position on George Bruce Branch & 125th St. Branch of New York Public Library

Both of these New York Public Library branches on 125th Street are worthy of designation by the Commission. The George Bruce Branch, designed in 1914 by Carrere & Hastings, architects of the main branch of the public library on 5th Avenue, finely represents the use of Georgian Revival in civic architecture in the early twentieth century. Today, the exterior remains intact, and the building still serves as a public library. The 125th Street branch, on the other hand, was one of 67 branches funded by Andrew Carnegie and was designed by another prominent New York City architecture firm of the era, McKim, Mead and White. In this library, McKim Mead and White display their understanding of the Renaissance Revival style.

These two libraries are not the only buildings along 125th Street that merit preservation. With the recent rezoning of the famous thoroughfare, threats to the street’s historically, architecturally, and culturally significant buildings will without a doubt increase tenfold. It is critically important for the LPC to go further with additional designations on 125th Street. In our statement to City Council regarding the rezoning, MAS urged that the important historical resources in Harlem be preserved before they are lost to redevelopment.

One such building MAS urges the LPC to protect is the Marion building, at 290 Lenox Avenue, at the southeast corner of 125th Street. The building, built in 1904 and Beaux-Arts in style, is not only architecturally significant, but also has a cultural history that reflects the rich twentieth-century cultural history of Harlem. From 1937-39, it was occupied by the Harlem Community Art Center, a WPA-sponsored institution originally envisioned for the instruction of African Americans in the arts by the local artists of the Harlem Artists’ Guild. Eleanor Roosevelt attended the opening ceremony for the center, which was particularly unique at this time because it was conceived by and intended to serve the local African American community at a time when most businesses along 125th Street were owned and operated by whites intending to serve whites despite the African American population of the neighborhood. The building continued to be a cultural part of 125th Street and Harlem even after the Harlem Community Art Center moved, and should be protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

In conclusion, I urge the LPC to designate not only these two libraries, but the Marion building and other significant buildings along 125th Street as well.

[This article was originally given as oral testimony before the Landmarks Preservation Commission.]