A Piece of Harlem History May Be Gone Forever

Row housees in HarlemA disintegrating Harlem row house with an eminent history may soon become a victim of neglect, lack of money and bureaucratic intransigence. The building during the mid-twentieth century housed a charity started and directed by Adam Clayton Powell Sr.

The name Adam Clayton Powell is well-known and revered far beyond the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. is probably most recognized as the father of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the first Black congressman from New York City. Powell Sr., however, was an important figure in his community for decades. He was the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and later founded a charitable organization, the Adam Clayton Powell Sr. Fund Inc., providing training and counseling to young people, helping many attend college. The fund was later renamed the Intercultural Educational Fund Inc.

The organization, housed in a 1902 Harlem row house, survived until shortly after its last director died in 1989. The abandoned building, its historical significance forgotten, deteriorated. The roof caved in, a series of squatters inhabited the place, and several fires further damaged the property.

Complaints about the neglected building led to a Buildings Department inspection and subsequent order to demolish the structure. At this point neighbors stepped in and tried to save the historic house. Working with the city landmarks commission and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, interested parties attempted to stave off the demolition order, hoping to buy and restore the place.

Efforts appear to be too little too late. There is no firm plan in place to raise the necessary funds and refurbish the building. Meanwhile bureaucratic conflicts between the city Buildings Department and the state’s attorney general’s office resulted in an order to demolish the building. Apparently time has run out and the building will be torn down, a piece of New York City and Harlem history lost forever.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.