For Immediate Release: June 15, 2021
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The Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District is an important reminder of both the early development of the neighborhood as well as the contributions of the African American community to the history of New York City.
The New York Public Library, Harlem Branch is an elegant Classical Revival style building that has served an important role in fostering the Black cultural life of Harlem.
New York – Today, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously voted to designate the Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District and The New York Public Library, Harlem Branch at 9 West 124th Street as an individual landmark. The Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District is an important reminder of both the early development of the neighborhood as well as the contributions of the African American community to the history of New York City. The New York Public Library, Harlem Branch is an elegant Classical Revival style building that has served an important role in fostering the Black cultural life of Harlem.
As we are approaching the 100-year anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance it is a particularly important and appropriate time to recognize and celebrate the significant cultural and social history of this neighborhood, along with its intact and meritorious architecture.
"I am thrilled and moved by these designations, which advance my equity goals for the agency to represent the city's diversity and community preservation," said Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll. "The Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District has beautiful, historically intact architecture and streetscapes and incredible cultural and historic significance. It's especially important as we recognize the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, that the Commission has designated New York City's first historic district named after an African American, Dorrance Brooks, and a district that has such strong associations with the notable figures in the Harlem Renaissance who made important contributions to the arts, social justice, and New York City's civic life. The architecturally distinctive New York Public Library, Harlem Branch has served its neighborhood for more than a century, providing resources and programs as well as space for civic and cultural activities."
The Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District consists of intact streetscapes of a striking variety of 19th and early-20th century row houses, multi-family dwellings, and institutions, designed by prominent New York City architects within two sections on either side of Frederick Douglass Boulevard between West 136th Street and West 140th Street. Anchored by Dorrance Brooks Square, named after an African American war hero whose actions helped to dismantle racist notions about Black Americans in military service, it has rich associations with the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights movements.
Among the prominent residents associated with the Harlem Renaissance were the intellectual and essayist W. E. B. Du Bois, stage and motion picture actress Ethel Waters, and celebrated sculptor Augusta Savage. Savage and other artists also had studios in the neighborhood, such as the Harlem Artist Guild and the Uptown Art Laboratory. In their home at 580 St. Nicholas Avenue, Regina Anderson, Luella Tucker and Ethel Ray Nance, fostered the careers of notable Harlem Renaissance artists Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and many others by hosting "the Harlem West Side Literary Salon," known simply as "580" to those who attended. Historian Charles Seifert founded the Ethiopian School of Research History on West 137th Street in 1920s, a collection of African art and artifacts and rare historical which later became the Charles C. Seifert Library.
In addition to Dorrance Brooks Square, several buildings in the historic district were the sites of important activist work. These include: The National Urban League, founded in 1910 to improve urban conditions for African Americans in New York; the W.E.B. DuBois Residence, home of the author, educator, and leader in the Pan-Africanist movement; the Walter F. White Residence, home of Walter F. White, who served as president of the NAACP; and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American trade union, which was headquartered here under the direction of Asa Philip Randolph in 1927.
"The designation of the Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District is monumental for the residents of Harlem," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "It is thanks to the tireless effort of the Dorrance Brooks Property Owners & Residents Association, Save Harlem Now!, Community Board 10, and so many others that we celebrate the first historic district in New York City named after an African-American. I thank the Landmarks Preservation Commission for designating this area and hope that this is part of a larger effort to designate other buildings and districts in Upper Manhattan."
"The Dorrance Brooks Property Owners and Residents Association is very grateful to all of the historic preservation organizations, elected officials, community residents and other stakeholders who worked very hard for a long time for this effort to succeed," said Keith Taylor, president of the Dorrance Brooks Property Owners & Residents Association. "We are especially proud that this will be the first historic district in the City of New York ever to be named after an African-American, hero Harlem Hellfighter Private First Class Dorrance Brooks. This designation will preserve Central Harlem's iconic cultural and architectural legacy for generations to come, in particular the many contributions of the African diaspora in the Village of Harlem to this country and the rest of the world."
"This is a great and well-deserved designation," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. "Congratulations to everyone in the community who worked so hard on this effort and to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for fulfilling their commitment to expand their work in communities underserved by preservation such as Harlem and Upper Manhattan."
The New York Public Library, Harlem Branch, located on West 124th Street, is one five Carnegie libraries in Harlem designed by the prominent firm of McKim Mead & White, all of which of are designated New York City Landmarks. Designed in the Classical Revival style, the library features a limestone facade with large recessed arched openings at the first and second stories, decorated with rosettes at the first story and alternating roundels and diamond-shaped lozenges at the second. Under the careful stewardship of the New York Public Library, the Harlem Branch's building has changed little over time retaining its elegant design.
In addition to its architectural significance, the library has served an important role in fostering the Black cultural life of Harlem. In the late 1930s, it played a role in the Black community theater movement supported by the Works Progress Administration program that constructed professionally-equipped theaters in the Harlem Branch and other area libraries. Today, it continues to serve the needs of community residents, providing access to print and electronic resources and librarian expertise. When it fully reopens following the pandemic, it will continue to offer a wide range of programs and classes, including exhibits, musical events, literary discussions, technology training, and more.
"The New York Public Library applauds the designation of our Harlem branch as a New York City exterior historic landmark," said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. "For well over a century the Library has been a proud steward of this important civic space, which has opened doors of opportunity for countless members of the Harlem community and played a central and unique role fostering Black cultural life. A beautiful and inspiring example of a McKim Mead & White-designed Carnegie library, the Harlem branch is a beloved and critical part of its community and our city, and we thank the Landmarks Preservation Commission for acknowledging its significance.""I am thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated The New York Public Library (NYPL) Harlem Branch," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "The NYPL Harlem Branch has been an educational and cultural destination in Harlem since its establishment. This designation will ensure that future generations will continue to have an institution that will continue to provide opportunities for its visitors to learn about and honor the history of Harlem."
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is the mayoral agency responsible for protecting and preserving New York City's architecturally, historically and culturally significant buildings and sites. Since its creation in 1965, LPC has granted landmark status to more than 37,000 buildings and sites, including 1,442 individual landmarks, 120 interior landmarks, 11 scenic landmarks, and 151 historic districts and extensions in all five boroughs. For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/landmarks and connect with us via www.facebook.com/NYCLandmarks and www.twitter.com/nyclandmarks.