Testimony before Landmarks Preservation Commission on the Morningside Heights Historic District



DECEMBER 6, 2016


Good morning, my name is Mark Levine, and I am the Council Member for the 7th District in Northern Manhattan. I am here today to speak in favor of designation of a portion of the Morningside Heights neighborhood as an Historic District.

Morningside Heights is defined by its history more than almost any other neighborhood in New York City. Its status as a bastion of public institutions dates from 200 years ago, when the New York Society Hospital’s Bloomingdale Insane Asylum relocated there. Today Morningside Heights is home to more world-class academic, cultural, religious, and medical institutions than any neighborhood in America.

The broad stock of residential buildings in Morningside Heights was erected in a remarkably compressed time period from 1900-1915 as the subway arrived to the neighborhood. The result is a coherent fabric of architecturally impressive apartment buildings along Riverside Drive, Cathedral Parkway, and Broadway.  More modest middle-class apartment buildings sprouted up during this period along Morningside Drive and adjacent side streets. Housing for lower middle-class families was built along Amsterdam Ave. and nearby side streets.

Morningside Heights’ unique architectural identity has survived remarkably intact into the 21st Century. This historic legacy is woven into community life there for local residents, and is a powerful draw for tourists from around the world.

But that unique identity is under threat like never before.

The combination of skyrocketing land values and the ever-increasing need for space by growing local institutions has created significant development pressure in the neighborhood. The recent construction of a large apartment building adjacent to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is just one of many examples of the kind of modern development which is chipping away at the historic character of Morningside Heights.

A plethora of historic districts in Hamilton Heights, Central Harlem, and the Upper West Side surround Morningside Heights on three sides. Our neighborhood thus stands as an island of vulnerability amidst the better-protected areas around us.

That is why we have so passionately pursued this historic district, as a means to protect our rich architectural history. The Morningside Heights historic district will have other benefits as well, including elevating the profile of the neighborhood as a destination for history-minded tourists.

It is no wonder then that residents of Morningside Heights have responded with overwhelming support for this proposal. That support is a reflection of the merits of the proposed district, and is also a testament to the two decades of advocacy by the grassroots leadership of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee. I am truly in awe of their vision, their persistence, and their strategic smarts.

I do also want to note that while approval of this historic district would be a giant step forward towards the goal of preserving Morningside Heights, it leaves out many vulnerable parts of the neighborhood. I therefore look forward to continuing to work with the Morningside Heights community and LPC on additional designations in the future.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony in support of this designation, and I thank you for your consideration.

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