Gentrification continues to seem inevitable in city like New York were real estate . At only four years of residency, I’m still a recent transplant to Harlem and, with the numerous Oberlin grads I’ve talked into following me to the area, technically part of the gentrification problem. I struggle with what that means, knowing that change can be good, but that in Harlem it’s often coming at a cost.
This time change wants to destroy one of my favourite buildings. The dilapidated Harlem Renaissance Ballroom, also known as ‘The Renny’, should have been preserved years ago. Completed in 1922, the building hosted everyone from Duke Ellington to Zora Neal Hurston to Cab Calloway. The Times gives further details:
Owned by William H. Roach, the Renaissance was a leading hot spot in Harlem and the city. Known as the Renny, it hosted Joe Louis fights. Big bands led by Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Duke Ellington performed on its stage. The Renaissance was also the home court, at a time when blacks were barred from the National Basketball Association, for the Black Fivesbasketball team known as the Harlem Rens, regarded as one of the best of its time. The adjacent 900-seat theater featured movies by Oscar Micheaux, the first African-American to produce a feature-length film. The casino was used for a 1923 anti-lynching meeting held by the N.A.A.C.P. In 1953, David N. Dinkins, who went on to become the city’s first black mayor, and his bride held their wedding reception there.
A rendering of the replacement complex via Curbed
Like the former Savoy Ballroom (just over and up a few blocks), the ballroom is scheduled to be razed and replaced by an apartment complex that, as far as the renderings show, retain nothing of the original structure, historical or cultural value.
A campaign to save the ballroom has been started with a petition here that I’m encouraging anyone who gives a damn about cultural preservation to go ahead and sign. Pictures below will show that the building needs a lot of work, but it’s also so easy to imagine what it once was and what it could be again with even half the care I’m sure they’d put into the apartment complex that’s currently meant to replace it. Such an important building should never have been allowed to get to this condition in the first place.
The ballroom from behind, where it’s often used as a parking lot for church on Sundays
What’s left of one of two chandeliers hanging on the second floor
The full ballroom
The main stage with a scale comparison for size.
The Renny needs a lot of work put into preservation, but you can definitely see what it once was.