NYC Landmarks Commission Testimony, November 12, 2015
Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewery Complex

Our city is always changing. That’s why there’s a landmarks law, and why it’s been such a success.
From the time a century ago, when New York City was the country’s biggest beer producer, with the world‘s largest brewery complexes, from the era when most New York Breweries were in Manhattan, now, most are elsewhere and all are deliberately small-scale artisanal concerns at best.

Industry, production, the Irish and German-American and Puerto Rican communities, have all left Manhattanville with few physical remnants.  The Mink Building lives on, even though, neither sets and costumes for the Metropolitan Opera, nor balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are stored here anymore.
Far, far from Harlem, another story concerns one of the most sensational homicides in New York history. The scene of the crime was in an elegant 51st Street apartment. But the millions partly motivating this mayhem had originated in Manhattanville.
Patricia Hartley Burton Lonergan, 22, winsome, willowy, willful, was an heir of Max Bernheimer, a German Jewish magnate whose Lion Brewery was in Manhattan Valley.

Anglicizing his name, the young murder victim’s father, William Anthony Burton, divorced 5 years after he married, was essentially gay, maintaining a succession of strapping studs whom he called his “protégées.”

Dead just a year after meeting 21-year-old Wayne Lonergan, Burton had helpfully passed him on to his only child. Seventy-two years ago, headlines titillated readers with a tale of folly: “A young heiress was brained with a silver candlestick. The prime suspect was a gigolo… He was her husband. And his lovers had included her late father.”

There are a million buildings at the hub of the universe. Each has its own story. This is but one small group. It is a unique survival from a vanished industrial past, it must be preserved as a city landmark.

NYC Landmarks Commission Testimony, November 12, 2015
Saint Paul’s Church, Rectory And School

Irish-American sons of East Harlem, it would hardly seem surprising that Thomas P. Neville or his partner George A. Bagge designed one of the area’s most prominent Roman Catholic churches, St. Paul’s Church. Why? Because the church is an example of their surviving work that is exceedingly rare. Neville & Bagge were highly prolific, helping to define the city in fact, as immigrant architects working on speculative projects. First planning mostly speculator-built row houses, before quickly switching to speculative apartment buildings, they were well-known as apartment specialist who were also involved in commercial partnerships for buildings like theaters.

Their church, rectory and school for St. Paul’s parish came about due to their association as communicants there. Their adaptation of the Romanesque, as opposed to the increasingly fashionable Gothic by this date, undoubtedly has to do mostly with their familiarity with the style so popularized by H. H. Richardson. A majority of their apartment buildings were neo-Romanesque and, as here, most combined brick and limestone as well. Rather reminiscent of their apartments is the school built of brick with masonry articulation.

Ordinarily, it might seem odd that the more modest rectory is best resolved, with its graceful arcaded fenestration, but not when one knew of the rarity of churches among this firm’s oeuvre. Nevertheless, David Dunlap still describes the twin towers of St. Paul’s as, “among the most distinctive ecclesiatical presences in Harlem.”

Such a church was financed largely with the pennies of the faithful, immigrants eager to create both focus of a community’s hope, as well as emblems of neighborhood and national pride. The latter encompassed both one’s new American home and the land of one’s ancestors as well. Appreciating this, it’s instructive to note, how stripped bare of sculptural embellishments to its essentials the porch here is, but a gabled adoption of the same entry found at St.-Gilles-du-Gard in Provence, that inspired Stanford White at St. Bartholomew’s Downtown.

NYC Landmarks Commission Testimony, November 12, 2015
The Lowes 175th Street Wonder Theater

Washington Heights’ United Palace Cathedral is a landmark of the rarest stature: it is a building like no other, a masterpiece without par even among similar buildings designed by Thomas Lamb. No matter how ignorant, naïve, young or old, no matter where one comes from, no one could fail to recognize the specialness of its architecture, a design wittily described by David Dunlap as, “Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco style.” Its appointments are all exceptional, from the lobby lanterns to the mighty Wurlitzer. The building’s history as a “Wonder Theater” is remarkable too.

Already, this is well known. But no less flamboyant than the United Palace’s saracenic splendors, no less impressive than the movie house’s distinguished history, is the life and legend of the man whose vision saved this landmark.

In 1969, Frederick Joseph Eikerenkoetter, II paid more than half a million dollars for the old Loew’s 175th Street and made it his headquarters. A controversial figure, Reverend Ike alienated some Christian traditionalist. Conversely, his message of self-determined salvation inspired abundant contributions and many imitators.

Popularizing a doctrine he named the Science of Living, Reverend Ike espoused the notion that God resides within all human-kind. He boasted, “I am the first black man in America to preach positive self-image psychology to the black masses within a church setting.”

He was not the first. The Reverend George Wilson Becton, Father Divine and Daddy Grace are but three examples from a crowded field of adherents to what some dismiss as the “gospel of greed.” What is undeniable was the degree of Reverend Ike’s success. He preached over 1,770 radio networks and on a half-dozen TV stations. Reverend Ike’s positive, self-affirming message of personal responsibility for earthly rewards appealed to an estimated 2.5 million people across the nation. “It is not the love of money that is the root of all evil,” Rev. Ike liked to tell his followers, “It’s the lack of money. A poor man has nothing to bribe the gatekeeper with.”

NYC Landmarks Commission Testimony, November 12, 2015
Harlem’s First Negro Young Men’s Christian Association

The Colored Branch of the Harlem Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), built during the First World War, was among the strategies implemented to establish a black “promised land” within the very confines of America’s greatest city. Initially President Wilson forbade blacks from fighting. But with implementation of a draft, depleting factories of white workers, New York manufacturers found willing black replacements, readily recruited from the South and the Caribbean.  The ensuing “Great Migration,” both swelled Harlem’s population and sealed its fate as the “Black Mecca!”

From nearly the beginning, African Americans were involved in the social uplift movement of the YMCA. Ironically, black membership in the Y was most stringently restricted. Blacks were segregated from whites in separate branches. In 1853 Anthony Bowen, a United States Patent Office worker, born a slave, organized the first colored YMCA. Its housing component was particularly appealing to unmarried men.  In this way, Harlem’s colored Y, was to become the first Harlem home of some of the men who became its most celebrated citizens.

In his new book, Race and Real Estate, Kevin McGruder explains the black YMCA’s momentous move from midtown to uptown was resisted by the YMCA’s decision makers. They were hesitant to place a black organization on a predominantly white block, and even relenting, urged a two-story structure, as opposed to the six floor building that was built. Thanks to the black building committee’s enterprise, a total of $375,000.00 was raised including a $25,000.00 contribution from Julius Rosenwald, doubling the budget recommended. Opened on Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, its facilities included a swimming pool, a lecture hall, and a gymnasium, making it the most modern and largest colored YMCA.

All too soon, the Harlem Y was woefully outgrown. Its successor, a tower built across the street, gives a good indication of just how much Harlem grew. By rights, encompassing the nearby onetime homes of A. Philip Randolph and his wife, novelist Nella Larsen, Paul Robeson and many other notables, all of 135th Street, black Harlem’s original Main Street, ought to be declared an historic district. But short of that, long neglected and still threatened, Harlem’s original Colored YMCA must be preserved as a New York City landmark.

NYC Landmarks Commission Testimony, November 12, 2015
The Church Of St. Joseph Of The Holy Family

Some landmarks, arguably the most conspicuous and magnificent, are expressions of the attainment, taste and resources of the rich. More rarely, as in this case, do landmarks exemplify the quieter hope and faith of ordinary people. Somewhat subdued, sounded in a lower key, in more prosaic brick as opposed to limestone or marble, representing a community’s collective reverence, they are no less compelling than the showier sort of structure more commonly recognized with designation. Completed on the eve of the American Civil War, the Romanesque Revival style church of St. Joseph of the Holy Family was dedicated in 1860. A parish meant to serve mostly working class congregants living in the industrial park-like settlement of Manhattanville, it is the oldest Roman Catholic church building in Harlem.

An exception among Manhatanville’s German-American residents of modest means, was well-to-do publisher Oswald Ottendorfer, producer of New York’s leading German-language newspaper, Staadt-Zeitung. His estate overlooked the Hudson mere blocks north of St. Joseph’s.  As a devout Roman Catholic, Ottendorfer patronized this parish as well as other Catholic enterprises located in the vicinity, including Manhattan College that educated men, and Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart that educated women.
At the close of the 19th century, New York was the nation’s leading supplier of beer and ale. A major local employer, breweries led St. Joseph’s to undergo a series of enlargements. The extension of 1889 was undertaken by the notable German-American firm of the Herter Brothers. In the chancel, St. Joseph’s German-American heritage is indicated by a bronze memorial monument fashioned by renowned sculptor Karl Bitter.

Apart from resident Irish-Americans who increasingly worshiped here after 1900, a sizable number of Puerto Ricans were St. Joseph’s communicants in the 1930s and 40s.  However much things might change in the future, so far as the area’s German-American associations are concerned, the Church of St. Joseph of the Holy Family is Manhattanville’s salient surviving landmark.