The Renaissance Theater and Casino in Harlem has been vacant for more than 30 years. The doors and arched Palladian windows are covered in warped sheets of wood. The tapestry brick on the squat, blocklong two-story building is loose, and many of the mosaic tiles inspired by architecture in North Africa have fallen away. Tree branches pierce the roof.
One Sunday morning, an empty half-pint liquor bottle marked the ballroom entrance that Lindy hoppers, basketball fans and boxing enthusiasts once walked through. Down the street, the theater where Paul Robeson had performed is now a fenced-in dirt lot.
There are two competing visions about how to revitalize the Renaissance, which is along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at West 137th Street. One calls for demolition. The other, preservation.
As churchgoers and tourists walked by on a recent Sunday morning, the preservation campaign was on full display. A man wearing a bowler hat and round-framed glasses bellowed from the sidewalk a chant of three woeful words: “Save Harlem now.”