City Council Approves Landmarks Designation For Harlem YMCA

March 31, 2017

After sitting in a backlog of applications for decades, Harlem’s historic YMCA building is a step closer to becoming a New York City landmark.

The City Council voted unanimously to approve landmarks designation for the building located on West 135th Street between Adam Clayton Powell and Malcolm X boulevards. The next step for the Harlem YMCA is to have Mayor Bill de Blasio sign off on the landmarks designation.

During the Harlem Renaissance, the YMCA served as a critical space for the black literary and political movements. The original YMCA brach for black residents of New York was located on West 53rd Street, but was relocated to 181 W. 135th St. in 1918 as african-american residents began to move into Harlem.

“By the mid-1920s, the area around West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue had become the hub of black intellectual and social life in New York City, and the YMCA building became the focal point of black political and literary activity,” read an LPC report from 1991.

In the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Claude McKay and John Henrik Clarke gave lectures at the YMCA, according to an LPC research file. The YMCA also served as the headquarters for organizations such as the National Coordinating Committee on Civil Rights, the Negro Technical Association and the Harlem Writers’ Workshop.

By the 1930s the YMCA had become so prominent in the neighborhood that a larger second facility was built across the street. Today the original building is known as the Jackie Robinson YMCA Youth Center.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has had the building listed for consideration for decades, but it sat in a backlog which the body is now trying to clear.

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