Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Madame Walker Didn’t Live Here: Harlem Architecture After the Renaissance

Ivey Delph Apartments, 1951
Architect: Vertner W. Tandy

Lenox Terrace, 1957
Architect: S. J. Kessler & Sons

The architecture of modern Harlem, post-renaissance, from the late 1930’s through the post-war years has been defined as much by what it eradicated as by what it produced. The architecture of the Moderne, International Style and Post-Modernism for many Harlemites represents intervention by government and urban renewal more then any kindred or homegrown inspiration. An exception to this could be made for Harlem clubs of the late 30’s through the 1950’s. Surveying images of Small’s Paradise, “newly renovated and air-conditioned,” Sugar Ray’s or the sole surviving Lenox Lounge reveals Harlem club owners were supportive patrons of the modern, commissioning distinctive contemporary spaces to the apparent delight of their clientele. In looking for a similar architectural exuberance in residential and institutional architecture I went searching about Harlem for examples to recommend.

A rewarding find was the Ivey Delph Apartments, 1951 at 19 Hamilton Terrace. This modest, yet elegant Moderne styled apartment building is unique for its restraint and compatibility of scale with neighboring brownstones. Designed in 1948 by Vertner Tandy the first licensed African American architect in New York. Developed by Dr. Walter Ivey Delph, a prominent Harlem doctor and real estate investor who saw the apartments as an opportunity to provide a better and more healthy living environment for African Americans. The Ivey Delph Apartments was the first large-scale housing project by and for African Americans in New York backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage commitment. The six-story beige brick building retains its historic architectural details, including a series of curved projecting balconies that rise above the building’s recessed entrance.

For international-style high-rise apartment living my sentimental favorite is Lenox Terrace, 1957 by S. J. Kessler & Sons located on 135th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. Long before television’s George and Louise Jefferson gave definition to an urban African American version of “moving on up,” high-rise style, most Americans were glimpsing fantasies of it in movies of the 1950’s and early 60’s. Urbane “advertising executives” like Rock Hudson and Doris Day had sleek, modern “pads,” complete with balconies, automobile drop off and doormen at the ready. For the middle-class Harlem resident desiring a similar high-rise setting, Lenox Terrace was it! One can still feel a rush of 60’s Ebony glamour as you’re whisked off 135th Street and on to the cloistered circular driveway that deposits you under a cantilevered entrance of polished granite that connects to the building’s lobby.

Morningside Gardens, 1959
Architect: Harrison & Abramovitz

Schomburg Plaza, 1975
Architect: Gruzen & Partners

Other residential complexes noteworthy for their high-rise architecture and unique sighting are Morningside Gardens, 1959 by Harrison & Abramovitz set off the city’s street grid and within the rocky outcrops of Morningside Heights, and Schomburg Plaza, 1975 by Gruzen & Partners whose twin towers are positioned like giant octagonal pillars at Harlem’s gateway, the juncture of Fifth Avenue and Central Park North (110th Street) on Duke Ellington Circle.

Dance Theatre of Harlem, 1971 & 1994
Architect: Hugh Hardy

Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, 1965
Architect: Sabbath Brown

For post-modernists I have two out and out favorites. Dance Theatre of Harlem, 1971 & 1994 by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates at 466 W. 152nd Street. Originally a garage, the building through a series of renovations and additions culminating with the Everett Center offers a street front exuberance rivaled only by the company’s talented dancers. Banded in alternating rows of black and white glazed block, the building’s exterior mimics an un-built 1928 house design by architect Adolf Loos for another famed African American dancer, Josephine Baker. By contrast other corresponding walls are composed of a multi-toned pattern that replicates African, Kuba cloth. At the corner, in leaping profile, is an image of the company’s director, Arthur Mitchell, riding the pinnacle like a dancing weathervane. Though, currently lacking the “weathervane” like, crescent and star that crowned its peak, the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, 1965 by Sabbath Brown located at Lenox Avenue and 116th Street is no less exuberant. Working with basic commercial materials and traditional Islamic forms, Brown’s conversion of the former Lenox Casino is in ways both simple and radical. The brash façade captures in a complex and contradictory manner the mosque’s kindred desire to promote a physical and spiritual presence in Harlem that would rival neighboring Christian edifices for the souls of Black folks following the death of Malcolm X. - The Harlem Eye / Harlem One Stop

Article First Published in The Studio Museum in Harlem Magazine
Fall/Winter 2005-06
Text and Photographs
by John T. Reddick

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All the RAGE!!!!

Do you wonder why Black Artists fume and why Harlem Art Institutions are bewildered by what gets mainstream coverage? Well, then, this is the show for you!!! - The Harlem Eye / Harlem One Stop 1.17.2007

“Lester Hayes: Selected Work, 1962-1975” continues through Sunday January 21, 2007 at Triple Candie, 461 West 126th Street, Harlem; (212) 865-0783.

Read the NY Times review of the exhibition.

Photo: Triple Candie
Foreground, “Beyond the Pail,” and, in back, “Self-Portraits,” by Lester Hayes, an unrecognized, influential and extremely elusive artist.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Welcome to The Harlem Eye

Harlem offers many insights and rewards. Through movement and sound, spirit and faith, joy and loss the village and its players reveal much to the Harlem eye that's truly watching!
In looking to select a title for this supplementary blog to Harlem One Stop's calendar of uptown activities we thought of many tags, hoping to provoke in a word or two, a sense of imagery and thought. Evocative titles like window and view, glance and snapshot... came and went. Finally, inspired by an image of an eye created by the artist, Sister Gertrude Morgan (above top) and its inscription... "there's an all seeing eye watching you," I contemplated, Harlem Eye, and googled to see if the title belonged to anyone. Two items appeared. One took me to a page that listed people who had passed away in 2003. There, hightlighted in a profile on Marvin Smith (above bottom) were the words, Harlem eye. Marvin, along with his twin brother Morgan had been legendary Harlem photographers, and as a feisty 90 year old, he'd also been a friend and neighbor, providing amusingly insightful stories on Harlem's history and culture. The other item found was a rambling thesis containing a line that ended... "much as of the harlem eye."

With that combination of hits I felt the rush that comes when a Harlemite whispers, "what's the number?" and their local barber or newsstand vendor replys by announcing the winning combo they've long been seeking! What's the title?... The Harlem Eye.

As Harlem One Stop explores Harlem and Upper Manhattan we hope to use The Harlem Eye as a point of focus, a virtual snapshot of the community, its people, history and activities. To start, we're posting several commentaries that have appeared earlier on Harlem One Stop and others published under different banners by Harlem One Stop staff. We hope you will enjoy these postings and we look forward to your comments, suggestions and readership as we continue to add more. - The Harlem Eye / Harlem One Stop

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Harlem's Social Dairy: 12.25.2006
A Tribute to James Brown (1933-2006)

I taught them everything they know,
but not everything
I know. - James Brown

Perhaps no 20th Century performer better tapped the aspirations and pride of post-war Harlem then the singer James Brown. As Harlemites mourn his passing there's the sadder realization that a little bit of Harlem passes with him. For the Apollo audiences of that generation and those that followed, Brown was that galvanizing performer... either they wanted to be him, or they were trying to re-define him.... whether from the Motown stable (Temptations or Supremes), the "British Invasion" (Rolling Stones), crossover pop (Michael Jackson) or comedy (Eddie Murphy), James Brown was forever, the reference and base-line.

As the undisputed, "Godfather of Soul," Brown built a following that far outstripped film land's Corleones in inspiration, loyalty and influence. To Don Corleone's, "it's not personal, it's business.".... Brown's response might have been, " if it ain't personal, it ain't soul... and that is my business!" To recall his "personally" sweat producing beat and vocals on, "gonna' have a funky good time..." was to possess his calling card. It was in knowing that James, was always going to be "Black" and uniquely James, that places him in the pantheon of African Americans that include the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.

Today, as the "personal" in Harlem juggles soaring real estate values with shifting cultural ones, Brown's, "Say it Loud, I'm BLACK and I'm PROUD" appears to be slipping more towards his later, "Livin' in America," penned for some numbered Rocky sequel. My hope is that his spirit, like one of his capes will envelop us, and that Harlem, like Brown from the Apollo stage, will rise up too... Leadin' America in a renewed urbanism that values a little bit of funk and a whole lot of soul! - The Harlem Eye / Harlem One Stop 12.26.06

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Willing to Be Lucky

Stanley Kubrick as a
young photographer
circa 1949

Willing to Be Lucky is drawn from the Museum of the City of New York’s collection of photographs from LOOK, one of the 20th century’s most influential pictorial magazines. Featuring more than 100 images from the 1940s and ‘50s, the exhibition focuses on individuals--both celebrities and ordinary people--who, in pursuing their dreams, were just offbeat enough, with a little luck, to land them in the pages of LOOK.

This small, simple and focused exhibition is a gem!... offering that rare revelation on an institution, it's collection and curatorial resourcefulness.

In one stroke, The Museum of the City of NY provides a window on a cultural time period in NYC (1940's-50's), an innovation in publishing, LOOK Magazine and the opportunities they provided one Bronx high school graduate, Stanley Kubrick to explore his craft, and find his art. Kubrick's photos of showgirls, and the boxer, Rocky Marciano render in black and white, ritualized beauty and brute strength, temptation and violence.... reflecting not only New York itself, but through lens and subject matter details that Kubrick would continue to focus on in motion pictures. - The Harlem Eye/Harlem One Stop

Kubrick's, "Killer's Kiss" (1955)