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The History of Harlem Brownstones: Hamilton Heights
LiveUptown.com: Hamilton Heights
In New York City, a "brownstone" is understood to be a terraced house (rowhouse) clad in brownstone. These brownstone apartments typically have stairways which lead from the sidewalk to a second-floor apartment entrance, a design originally intended to avoid bringing in the mud and horse droppings commonly found at street level, a problem that existed when these Harlem apartments and Harlem rentals were built and horses roamed the streets. In terms of Harlem real estate, brownstones are one of the most sought out by homeowners.
Harlem brownstones are abundant type of Harlem real estate in the Hamilton Heights, Mount Morris Park, Sugar Hill, neighborhoods and along Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (to name a few), where many have been converted to shops or Harlem apartments for rent. Harlem brownstones were built as luxury housing during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In addition, a number of these Harlem apartments were also rented as luxury housing. In the past, Harlem real estate owners are more likely to own a Harlem brownstones.
Stone and brick became the city's building materials of choice after the construction of wood-frame houses was limited in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1835. Harlem brownstones have a variety of textures and hues. New York obtains its building stone from a far-flung network of quarries.
Hamilton Heights is bounded by 135th Street to the south, the Hudson River to the west, 155th Street to the north, and Saint Nicholas Avenue/Bradhurst Avenue to the east. The community derives its name from Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who lived the last two years of his life in the area when it was still largely farmland; specifically, he lived in what is now known as Hamilton Grange National Monument.
Most of the housing and Harlem rentals dates from the extension of the elevated and subway lines at the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th Century. This fairly elegant Harlem real estate housing became less desirable to white residents in the 1930s and 1940s as the population changed from white to black, even though the black residents were just as affluent as the white residents. These are spacious Harlem apartments and Harlem rentals, and Harlem brownstones prominently lining the leafy eastern streets of Hamilton Heights, an area traditionally home to a substantial black professional class. The revival of Harlem brownstones in the 1960s and 1970s led to a new movement of middle-class blacks in the area. Latinos arrived in large numbers in the 1980s, with Dominicans making up the majority. Today the local population is changing again, with Hispanics constituting a majority of the population followed by African Americans, and remainders of earlier time's ethnic whites. Gentrification of Harlem brownstones since 2005 has dramatically increased the proportion of non-Hispanic whites. Many actors, artists, teachers, and other professionals now live in Harlem real estate rentals in Hamilton Heights.
For the last few years, the northern edges of Harlem have been abuzz with a sound rarely heard in these parts: the metallic music of rebuilding. Hamilton Heights, a small but historically significant area in northwest Harlem surrounding City College has been undergoing one of the city's first resident-funded, resident-operated urban renewals of Harlem real estate and Harlem rentals. From west to 135th Street to West 155th Street, newcomers are hammering away at decrepit Harlem brownstones whose last occupants had been four and five families at a time, cramped into the ramshackle Harlem apartments. Hundreds of new Harlem apartments have been renovated and rented.
The presence of raw materials is easing the transition from slums to suburbs. Around the turn of the century, architects designed dozens of French Provincial, Gothic, and Italianate Harlem brownstones in the Heights with a view to attracting well-to-do homeowners who would then commute to their downtown offices via the brand new IRT line. But along with the rest of Harlem real estate, the area fell into a steady decline through the 1950s and 1960s, discouraging potential tenants from living in these Harlem apartments and Harlem rentals.
This new surge of work on Harlem brownstones began several years ago with the help of Federal regulations requiring banks to offer local mortgage loans for Harlem real estate. Enterprising young couples, many of whom were upwardly mobile former residents returning to their childhood neighborhood, purchased Harlem brownstones at bargain prices and started renovating en masse in order to live in and/or rent out Harlem apartments and Harlem rentals.
What would elsewhere be just another episode of gentrification of Harlem real estate and Harlem rentals is, a tale of hope and dedication to the old neighborhood. A new generation of young professionals purchased Harlem real estate, most of them still working downtown. These doctors, lawyers, architects, entertainers and business executives who could well afford to live anywhere in the city or the suburbs, are by renovating Harlem brownstones, helping to rebuild the Harlem real estate and Harlem rentals market.
The History of Harlem Brownstones: Astor Row
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Astor Row is the name given to 130th Street between Fifth Avenue and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, in the New York City borough of Manhattan. More specifically, it refers to the semi-attached row houses on the south side of the street. These were among one of the first Harlem brownstones: built in Harlem, and their design is very unusual type of Harlem real estate. These Harlem brownstones are set back from the street and all have front yards, an oddity in New York, and all have wooden porches. The effect is southern, and the houses look as though they might have been airlifted in from Savannah, Georgia. They were built on land that had been purchased by John Jacob Astor in 1844 for $10,000, but the development was driven by his grandson, William Backhouse Astor, who hired architect and builder Charles Buek to oversee the project. The houses were all built between 1880 and 1883.
Ownership stayed in the Astor family until 1911, when the westernmost ten of the Harlem brownstones were sold to Harlem real estate investor Max Marx, who traded them in part for an apartment building in Washington Heights. The new owners of this Harlem real estate, the Brown Realty Company, defaulted on their mortgage and the Harlem brownstones passed to the New York Savings Bank.
Harlem apartments at The Astor Row Harlem brownstones rented originally for $1,100 per year, and were so popular that there was for years a waiting list to live there. The Astor Row Harlem brownstones were occupied originally by whites, but in 1920, 20 of the 28 Buek houses (the ten owned by New York Savings Bank, plus ten still owned by the Astors) were purchased by a Harlem real estate operator named James Cruikshank and leased to black tenants looking for Harlem apartments.
These Harlem brownstones were not maintained as Harlem decayed from 1930 - 1990, and the porches were gradually lost. In 1978, the second edition of the AIA Guide to New York City described the row as having "restrained beauty which has been tarnished by years of economic distress." In 1981, New York City declared the entire row of Harlem real estate to be landmarks and raised funds to restore their facades, and improve their plumbing, heating systems, and electrical lines where needed. The group overseeing and financing the work included the New York Landmarks Conservancy, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Vincent Astor Foundation, Manhattan Community Board 10, Abyssinian Development Corporation, Abyssinian Development Corporation, the Commonwealth Fund, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and several local banks. In 1992, Ella Fitzgerald performed at a benefit at Radio City Music Hall to raise money for the restoration. By the end of the 1990s, the porches and other decorative elements had been restored to almost all the Harlem apartments (buildings) on the block.
Today, Astor Row is racially integrated, and is one of the stellar architectural landmarks of Harlem real estate. The houses and Harlem apartments on the north side of the street are large, attractive Harlem brownstones of a more common design.
The History of Harlem Brownstones: Strivers' Row
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The term Strivers' Row refers to three rows of Harlem brownstones @West 138th and West 139th (Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard). They were originally called the "King Model Houses", after Harlem real estate developer David King, and were designed for upper middle class whites and constructed between 1891 and 1893.
These Harlem brownstones sit back-to-back with each other, which allowed Harlem real estate investor King to specify that they would share rear courtyards. The alleyways between them are gated off (some entrance gates still have signs that read "Walk Your Horses"). At one time, these alleys allowed discrete stabling of horses and delivery of supplies without disrupting the goings-on in the main houses. Today, the back areas are used almost exclusively for the parking of cars. Strivers Row Harlem brownstones are among the very few private homes in Manhattan that have space for parking.
Strivers' Row David King's speculative Harlem real estate development failed, and most of these Harlem brownstones were soon owned by the Equitable Life Assurance Society, which had financed the project. By this time, Harlem was being abandoned by white New Yorkers, and the company would not sell or rent the King brownstones to blacks. As a result, many of these Harlem apartments sat empty. When they were finally made available to black residents, for US$8000 each, they attracted hard-working professionals looking for Harlem apartments, or "strivers" who give the houses their current name.
"Between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, is 139th Street, known among Harlemites as "strivers' row." It is the most aristocratic street in Harlem. Stanford White designed these Harlem brownstones for a wealthy white clientèle. Moneyed African-Americans now own and inhabit them. When one lives on "strivers' row" in one of these Harlem apartments, one has supposedly arrived.
By the 1940s, many of the Harlem brownstones had decayed significantly and were converted to single room occupancies (SROs). With the post-1995 Harlem real estate, many of these buildings are being restored to something resembling their original condition. Every one of the Strivers' Row Harlem brownstones is a designated landmark.
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