Harlem’s New Building Stock
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Mythology, for better or worse, has taken up residence in Harlem. I refer not to the mythology of the Harlem Renaissance, of Langston Hughes’s eternally indigent Simple pounding the icy pavements of Lenox Avenue, nor of Cab Calloway, in shimmering white tux, crooning “Minnie the Moocher” at the Cotton Club. Rather, I refer to the mythology of the real estate market, that indefinable something that, like a cloud of nitrous oxide, settles over a region of Manhattan (and parts of the other boroughs as well), causing giddiness in all who reside there and driving the condo-market into the stratosphere.
“There are no real bargains left in Harlem,” one real estate executive recently lamented. This is no news to anyone, since the “discovery of Harlem” by people from the southern part of the city has been ongoing for several years. But now, finally, the prices appear to have caught up with and surpassed the inherent value of the place. What engages the interest of the prosperous and largely white newcomers is the charm of the building stock, older, better preserved, and smaller than in most other parts of the city. Indeed, with its broad boulevards, Harlem often reminds us of the way much of Manhattan looked a century ago.
But because there are not enough townhouses for all who want them, and because these now fetch as much as $2 million a piece, developers have wasted no time in building large, boxy structures to answer the needs of the new-comers. Though most of these are mediocre, one of the better specimens of the trend is the Lenox, by William Quinton Brothers III, at 400 Lenox Ave. on the east side of 129th Street. Like most of the other new buildings in Harlem, it represents the trickle down aesthetic of that classical postmodernism, with its columns, its pediments, its vernacular brick facings, that was somewhat radical 20 years ago and has now become the default mode of most urban architecture. Nicely echoing the look of the new Mormon Church one block south, this all but completed structure is a bold affair of red brick, with accents intended to recall Christopher Wren’s Hampton Court. Taking up the entire block between 129th and 130th streets on Lenox Avenue, it rises 12 stories above a bifurcated midsection that is not entirely well planned.
But it is surely more accomplished than the Lenox Grand, a residential development just across the street. Despite its name, this is a far smaller and less grandiose structure. Its seven-story box is clad in undistinguished white stone with traces of rustication throughout. Other than that, however, its vocabulary is a modern one and Lenox Avenue is hardly better for having it.