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.

Harlem Murals – Creative Art Works Projects

Not long ago I explored the campus of City College, looking for gargoyles or grotesques. (You can find that post here.) As I made my way from the campus back to the train, I stumbled on two special murals on 138th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Hamilton Place. The murals come from Creative Art Works, a nonprofit organization that engages young people through art. From what I understand from the Creative Art Works website, they hire youth age 14 to 24 to complete these public art mural projects, working under the supervision of a teaching artist.

The first mural, painted in 2016, was supervised by teaching artist Lunar New Year. The mural is titled “The More You Give, the More You Grow.” Here are photos showing some of this mural’s details.

The second mural on 138th Street is titled “Dreams of a Creative Revolution,” and it was created under the direction of teaching artist Maria Berrio in 2012. Two years later, the mural was restored by teaching artists Gera Lazano and Max Allbee’s crew. Here are some photos of some of the mural details. As you can see, it truly has a “dreamy” quality.

 

If you want to see these murals in person, the easiest way to get there is to take the subway. Take the 1 train to the 137th Street-City College station; the murals are only a short distance away. After you’re done viewing the murals, continue up the hill – the gargoyles are only about half a block away.

Subway Station Art: 125th Street Station

One of my favorite subway stations, in terms of art, is the 125th Street Station in Harlem. Artist Faith Ringgold’s mosaic murals, titled Flying Home: Harlem Heroes and Heroines, draws from the neighborhoods rich history and culture of her birthplace. The art is colorful and distinctive – there’s no chance that you will think you are anywhere other than Harlem.

Each section of the murals has an image of an iconic example of Harlem architecture (some no longer in existence), as well as historical figures associated with Harlem’s African-American history. For example, here’s the famous Apollo Theater, with images of Dinah Washington, Florence Mills, Ralph Cooper, Billie Holliday, and the Ink Spots.

Upon closer inspection, the murals details are spectacular.

This next one includes the Cotton Club, a nightclub from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as performers Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith, who performed at the Cotton Club regularly. (I learned in my research that the establishment unfortunately illustrated the highly segregated society of that era – although African-Americans performed at the venue, only whites were allowed in as customers.)

Here’s the Harlem Opera House, with soprano Mariam Anderson and singer and actor Paul Robeson.

And Yankee Stadium, with boxers Joe Lewis and Sugar Ray Robinson overhead.

Here’s Madame Walker’s Beauty Parlor, with Madame C.J. Walker hovering over it herself, next to Olympian Jesse Owens. Notably, Owens appears to be jumping out of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Marcus Garvey and Adam Clay Powell, Jr. float over the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

And Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X rise above the Theresa Hotel, at one time known as the “Waldorf of Harlem.”

Here’s W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune, associated with organizations they founded –  the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), and the National Council of Negro Women (N.C.N.W.).

Above the Schomburg Library, a New York Public Library Center devoted to the study of African-American history, literature, and culture, you’ll find writers Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston.

And Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Aaron Douglas keep the Studio Museum of Harlem company.

Finally, you’ll find tile work related to the station itself, including the historic 125th Street terra cotta station signs and trim, as well as a rather out-of-place modern mosaic and tile sign.

If you’d like to see Flying Home in person, take the 2 or 3 train to the 125th Street Station in Manhattan.

Harlem’s Community Murals

The Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem has a rich history as the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African-American literature, art, and music that began in the late 1910s. Today, visitors to Harlem can find a number of community murals celebrating that history, if they just know where to look.

One place to start is the Hope Steven Garden, located at 505 West 142nd Street, between Hamilton Place and Amsterdam Avenue. In 1986, Eva Cockcroft painted a mural titled “Homage to Seurat: La Grande Jatte in Harlem.” Over the years, the mural faded and paint began to peel because of exposure to the elements. The mural’s decay made its ultimate demise seem inevitable. But, in 2009, after pressure from the community, the mural was fully restored. It’s definitely one to visit if you make a trip to this neighborhood, and you can still see the mural clearly even if the garden’s gates are locked.

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Within a short radius of this site, you can find several other community-oriented murals. Just wander up and down the streets, and you’ll quickly find other treasures. On this particular walk, I spied a mural on the side of the building, just across the intersection, that I felt I had to see close up. Unfortunately, this mural  – as well as most of the other ones I discovered – don’t have a signature, and I have not been able to determine who the artists are.

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Here are the details from that mural.

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There were also a series of portraits of a few of the people associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Here is musician Billy Strayhorn, playing the piano, with a couple dancing in the background.

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I couldn’t find a label for this one, but it’s a beautiful portrait.

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This is a portrait of writer Langston Hughes.

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And finally, there’s this one of the famous jazz musician, composer, and band leader Duke Ellington.

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I’ll leave you with this one final mural celebrating Harlem’s musical history. Designed by artist Frank Parga, “The Melody of Harlem” was painted by a number of members of the local community.

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To explore these murals (and others in the neighborhood) for yourself, take the 1 train to either the 137th Street – City College station or the 145th Street station. You can also access this part of Harlem by MTA bus. The M4 and M5 buses travel along Broadway and stop approximately every 2 blocks, and the M100 and M101 buses travel along Amsterdam Avenue. While you are in the area, you may want to check out the Audubon Project Murals as well. It is only a short walk to most of those murals. (I’ve previously written about the Audubon Project Murals here.)

Audubon Mural Project

Nineteenth-century naturalist, ornithologist, and artist John James Audubon lived the later years of his life in northern Manhattan, in what is now the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Harlem. Audubon is most known for his comprehensive book, The Birds of America, which was accompanied by beautiful, detailed illustrations of many of the birds. Today, visitors to Hamilton Heights will discover a series of amazing bird-themed murals that honor Audubon while bringing attention to the effects of climate change on North America’s bird populations. Known as the Audubon Mural Project, the murals are a collaborative effort of the National Audubon Society and Gitler &____ Gallery (yes, that’s the gallery’s actual name – there is an underlined blank space).

Here are some of my favorite murals from the Audubon Mural Project. (I’m not including too many photos – I don’t want to spoil things for those who want to explore the murals on their own!) This first mural, nestled into a window frame on the side of a building, is titled “John James Audubon contemplating the Cerulean Warbler.” The artist is Tom Sanford.

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Other window spaces nearby frame these two murals by Jason Covert, the “Brown Pelicans.”

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There is this striking Bald Eagle mural, painted on a metal gate, by Peter Daverington.

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And there is this thought-provoking mural of a wild turkey, painted by artist N. Soala. Soala’s painting was inspired by author Roald Dahl’s short story, “The Magic Finger,” and its theme about humans’ effect on our planet.

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This brightly colored mural is another favorite – a Tundra Swan painted by street artist Boy Kong.

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There are also some much larger murals. My favorite is this incredible mural by an artist known as Lunar New Year. The main focus of the mural is a swallow-tailed kite, but there are 12 additional birds as well. (The National Audubon Society’s website states that these are the additional birds in the mural: “Scarlet Tanager, American Kestrel, Black-and-white Warbler, Tree Swallow, Northern Harrier, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker,  Golden Eagle, White-throated Sparrow, Ring-billed Gull, Common Raven, and Baltimore Oriole.”)

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How do you get to the murals? The National Audubon Society’s website has an excellent map showing the location of each mural, and the murals’ proximity to various subway stations. Depending on where (and when) you start your explorations, you can take the A, C, or 1 trains to the vicinity. The website also serves as an excellent guide for a tour of the murals, as it gives much more information about each one, including an explanation of how the birds are being affected by climate change and some remarks by each artist about their art.

Federal Hall National Memorial

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Many visitors to New York City do not know that the city was the first capitol of the United States. New York City’s City Hall was located at 26 Wall Street in the 1700s, and the building served as the host for a number of important events during and after the American Revolution, including the Stamp Act Congress, the passage of the Northwest Ordinance, the drafting of the Bill of Rights for the U.S. Constitution, and George Washington’s inauguration as the first president of the United States. The city hall operated as the seat of the federal government until the capitol was briefly moved to Philadelphia in 1790, and then city offices moved back into the building.

That building no longer exists, but visitors can now tour Federal Hall National Memorial, which is located on the same site. The current building was built in 1842 and operated as a customs house for a number of years before becoming a depository for the U.S. Sub-Treasury (the Sub-Treasury system was replaced by the Federal Reserve System in 1920). Today, Federal Hall is a museum, free to visitors.

Federal hall has beautiful architectural details inside and out. Here are a couple of perspectives of the main hall, with its imposing columns and domed ceiling.

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Although the original building is gone, you can still view the stone that George Washington was standing on when he took the oath of office as president for the first time.

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There is also this replica of the desk that George Washington used as president when the national capitol was located on the site. I learned that the original desk is now located at the current City Hall building, in the Governor’s Room.

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Federal Hall contains multiple permanent exhibits that address the city and nation’s early history and the history of the current building. There is also a temporary exhibit that starts in the main hall and continues to the basement level. The current temporary exhibit celebrates the diverse cultural, social, and political history of New York City’s neighborhood of Harlem. If you wish to see this excellent exhibit, you should visit Federal Hall before the exhibit closes on April 15, 2016.

Federal Hall’s location means that visitors can also see the New York Stock Exchange building. Members of the general public cannot tour the inside of the Stock Exchange, but you can still get a great picture of the outside of the building.

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How can you get to Federal Hall National Memorial? The museum is located in lower Manhattan near numerous other tourist attractions. There are many subway stations within walking distance, but here are the closest ones. You can take the 2, 3, 4, or 5 trains to Wall Street, the J or Z trains to the Broad Street station, the 1 or R trains to Rector Street, or the A or C trains to Fulton Street.