The Harlem Stage Gatehouse: Giving Historic Architecture a New Life

Throughout history, an important part of any city’s growth was the development of a clean water source; reliance on polluted wells or fountains often resulted in the spread of disease. New York City’s solution to the water challenge was to build the Croton Aqueduct between 1837 and 1842, allowing the city to transport water from the Croton River in Westchester County to the North into the heart of the city. The Croton Aqueduct was so successful, in fact, that it provided New York City’s main water source until 1958.

Such a major public works project required infrastructure, and there were numerous pumping stations, reservoirs, and other aqueduct-related structures built throughout the city. As the city grew and transformed over time, many of those structures were torn down and replaced with modern buildings. Still, if you know where to look, you can find remnants of the old system. The New York Public Library, which I’ve written about previously here, has as its foundation the Distributing Reservoir walls from the old Croton Aqueduct. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, located in the middle of Central Park, housed part of the city’s water supply beginning in 1862. Recently I discovered yet another remnant of the old Croton Aqueduct system in Harlem: a retired 1890 pumping station remade into the Harlem Stage Gatehouse.

The Romanesque Revival building was designed by architect Frederick S. Cook. From looking at it from the outside, you wouldn’t realize that the building originally extended 75 feet into the ground, allowing the interior to be made into a multi-storied space when it was renovated to house the theater a little over a decade ago. Like many buildings in New York City, the Gatehouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated New York City Landmark. Although the interior is very modern, the theater’s architect was careful to maintain and restore the building’s historic exterior.

This next photo shows the building’s original main entrance, which is now just a side entrance to the theater. Above the door you will glimpse small square panes of stained glass, and each metal door has ornamentation.

This close-up view of one of the smaller doors on the building really shows off the decorative details of both door and railing.

Here’s a small stain glass window on the building’s turret.

Perhaps one of my favorite architectural elements was industrial rather than decorative: the old pipes still extending from the ground in several locations nearby.

Want to see the Harlem Stage Gatehouse for yourself? It is located at 150 Convent Avenue, near the corner of 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Perhaps while you’re there you’ll decide to see a play inside the theater. (The theater’s website is available here.) Or maybe you’ll stroll across the street to the City College Campus, where you can hunt gargoyles like I did one day recently. The closest subway station is the 137th Street station, accessible on the 1 train.

18 thoughts on “The Harlem Stage Gatehouse: Giving Historic Architecture a New Life

  1. I love repurposing that maintains plenty of the first purpose. Lovely details you’ve picked out. I share your liking for the pipes that look like a sculpture, and I’d love to see the theatre inside.

    1. I didn’t get to go inside, but my understanding is that the theater is flexible and can be reorganized in multiple different formats. The photos on the website were very modern looking. I’m like you – I love it when buildings are repurposed yet maintain something about their original character as well.

      1. Deirdre May

        Hi Susan,
        Thank you so much for this lovely piece on Harlem Stage!
        We invite you to attend a performance when our Fall season starts and also to join us for our Open House on Saturday, September 16.

      2. Deidre, thanks for the invitation. I definitely would love to attend a performance, and I will put the Open House on my calendar so that I can learn more about the theater. Best, Susan

  2. ah my MrB would love to see this . . .he has a thing about water works, although he would have love to have seen it when it was still a waterworks!! I’m happy though to see it re-purposed 🙂

    1. One of the accounts I read about it described people watching the running water inside – so strange to think about a place holding so much water now being a theater, but I love that they didn’t tear it down.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful and informative article. Please do come to a performance soon so you can experience the interior animated by great music, dance, theater and stimulating conversations.

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