Six to Celebrate: Expanding the Audubon Park Historic District

In 2009, when New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) reviewed the proposal for an Audubon Park Historic District, it considered several configurations that would have included apartment buildings and houses built between 1897 and 1934. Some of the buildings were within the historic Audubon Park footprint and a few were outside it. The final designation included all of the apartment buildings constructed between 1908 and 1933 along with the double house that Nathan Berler and Charles Levy constructed in the early 1920s—all within the area that had once been Audubon Park—and two buildings with complementary architecture just outside that footprint.

The designation did not include the twelve row houses along 158th Street, even though they were in that historic footprint, predated all of the designated buildings, and represented an alternate phase of development anticipating the arrival of rapid transit in northern Manhattan. Now, a group of neighborhood residents would like to reverse that omission and expand the Audubon Park Historic District to include the architecturally cohesive group of row houses that sit along 158th Street adjacent to the current Audubon Park Historic District.

APHD Expansion Map

Six to Celebrate

As a first step, the Audubon Park Alliance working with the leadership of the Riverside Oval Association, applied for a place among the Historic Districts Council’s “Six to Celebrate” program and won a spot. While selection to be one of the “Six” does not guarantee that the LPC will review or approve a Request for Evaluation, having access to the Historic Districts Council’s skilled staff and their deep experience gathered over decades of preservation advocacy will be a distinct advantage during the many stages of the process, from writing and submitting a RFE through lobbying for its acceptance and approval.

“The purpose of the [Six to Celebrate] program is to provide strategic resources to neighborhood groups at a critical moment to reach their preservation goals. The six selected groups receive HDC’s hands-on help on all aspects of their efforts over the course of the year and continued support in the years to come.  The program helps community activists learn to use tools such as documentation, research, zoning, landmarking, publicity, and public outreach to advance local preservation campaigns.”

Six to Celebrate Launch Party

The Historic Districts Council is throwing a launch party for the new “Six to Celebrate” on January 28, 2016 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the South Street Seaport Museum’s Melville Gallery located at 213 Water Street, New York, NY 10038. Tickets are $25.00 Click for more information.

Stay Tuned . . .

Reginald Pelham Bolton in common garden area behind his home
Reginald Pelham Bolton (circa 1938) in the “community garden” behind his home at #638 West 158th Street

Over the coming months, Audubon Park Perspectives will bring you updates on the proposal process and let you know how and when you can help, particularly when the time comes to submit letters of support for an expanded Audubon Park Historic District. These pages will also feature historical vignettes about the block and profiles of some of the notable people associated with it, including:

Reginald Pelham Bolton. The first owner of #638 West 158th Street, Bolton was an engineer by profession and an archaeologist, historian, community activist, and preservationist by avocation.

Guy Bolton. Architect by training, Guy Bolton was living with his parents at #638 158th Street when he began a writing career that spanned novels, stage adaptations, screenplays, and more than 50 plays and musicals in collaboration with the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and P.G. Wodehouse.

John and Isabelle Leo. Architect/builder/developer John Leo bought street-front property on 158th Street from German immigrant August Cordes in 1897, registering it in his wife’s name. He then designed and built the first eight of the twelve row houses in the block. While Isabelle Leo was selling those eight houses, John Leo designed four more for John Lilliendahl, who had bought the adjacent property, so the row of twelve represents the work of one architect.

August W. Cordes. In 1893, architect Cordes bought street-front property on 158th Street from Shepherd Knapp and after several years, sold it to architect John and Isabelle Leo. Cordes and his wife Martha then bought and moved into one of the houses Leo had designed (#634). Cordes might easily have designed his own home, but he and his partner Theodore W. E. De Lemos specialized in much larger structures: the Fulton Building, Armeny Building, and Macy’s Department Store at 34th Street.