Inwood Residents Push for Preservation

By Lindsey Wagner on Nov 17th, 2011

Inwood was chosen as one of the "Six to Celebrate" with the Historic Districts Council

Inwood, nestled at the tip of Manhattan, is a neighborhood filled with an iconic history that many of its residents are unaware of.  Every year, the Historic Districts Council accepts submissions from neighborhood groups that feel their neighborhoods are worthy of preservation.

Inwood was chosen by the Historic Districts Council as one of the “Six to Celebrate” New York City neighborhoods that warranted preservation of its landmarks earlier this year after the Volunteers for Isham Park submitted the neighborhood.

In May, Chelcey Berryhill, a Pratt graduate student in historic preservation, volunteered to compile a historical inventory of the neighborhood. With the help of five other graduate students, archeologist Alison Boles and the Volunteers for Isham Park, a survey was compiled of almost all of the neighborhood’s structures. They created a custom database organized by block and lot number, with each structure’s name, the date built, type of construction, style and architect. Photos accompany the records.

“New York City in general is such a fascinating place to conduct historical research and typically you can find others who are interested in the area who have written about it,” said Berryhill. “This has not been the case in Inwood.”

Many people are unaware of the history of Inwood, according to Cole Thompson, one of the volunteers. In the mid-1800s, industrialists moved into the area transforming it into a summer getaway, something like the current-day Hamptons. Isidor Straus, who owned Macy’s, had a home with his family in Inwood.  James MacQuarie also had a residence there.

Over the years, buildings have been leveled, but many original structures still stand. “There wasn’t much time between the undeveloped and developed periods in Inwood,” said Thompson. The industrial boom happened fast and today, many of these structures are falling apart or being altered without notice.

 

WILLIAM HURST HOUSE

Built in 1912, the same year Isham Park was dedicated, and originally occupied by an equipment supplier to stock market related firms, the William Hurst House has had its doors boarded up since the 1980s. Located at the northeast corner of Isham Park, the structure once housed a family with 10 children and several servants.

“Over the years, it has been occupied by drifters, drunks and junkies,” Thompson said. “In theory, this building could be turned into a perfect community center. It’s beautiful, but an eyesore at the same time.”

Tiles have begun to slip off of the Hurst House’s roof. With no other house of its size and stature in the area, it remains a major concern for Inwood residents. “It would be nice to maintain and use it,” said Pat Courtney, one of the volunteers who began working with Parks in June 2009.

 

SEAMAN-DRAKE ESTATE ARCH

The Seaman-Drake Arch today. (Photo by Cole Thompson)

Upon entering northern Manhattan, situated on Broadway, just below 218th, sits one of the oldest Inwood structures: The Seaman-Drake Estate Arch. “The arch still survives, but it’s in a terrible state,” said Courtney. Built in the 1850s, the arch was the entrance to a pristine estate. Over the years it has been transformed into a car dealership and become a ghost town of boarded-up businesses littered with trash.

“Our main worry is that these buildings surrounding the arch do not get a lot of use,” Thompson said. “If a developer would buy this land, they could knock it all down.”

According to the volunteers, the arch has been mistreated for years. “It is situated at the top of Manhattan island, surrounded by gas stations and automobile related businesses, so its situation is not really very surprising,” Courtney said.

The arch has undergone minor structural changes over the years. Made with soft, Inwood marble, the structure has maintained it’s shape, but is now covered with graffiti.

In 2003, an effort backed by New York City Councilmember, Robert Jackson, was made to help save the Seaman-Drake Estate Arch, but nothing has been done since. “This is an emotionally charged issue in Inwood,” Courtney said. “It’s being mistreated and something needs to be done.”

 

INWOOD & ART DECO

A stroll through Inwood reveals dozens of art deco buildings and structures.

“101 Cooper Street is a beautiful deco building, and still has its original casement windows,” Berryhill said. “It’s a great example of what this neighborhood looked like when it was first developed.”

About five years ago, an effort by the Audubon Partnership for Economic Development partnered with Isaac Kremer, a historic preservationist, on a project to create a report on the Art Deco buildings of Washington Heights and Inwood. It was funded by the Citigoup Foundation.

Everything from the Henry Hudson Memorial Bridge to the benches and bleachers in Isham Park were designed in an art deco style. Originally painted white, their modern design stood out against the park’s green oasis. Recently, the Park’s Department painted the art deco structures green.

“This was a change made without warning of something from the 1930s,” said Courtney. The Volunteers for Isham Park feel that this aesthetic decision does nothing to preserve Inwood’s art deco past.

“After the recent landmarking of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, we believe a historic district in Inwood is possible due to the strong similarities between the two neighborhoods. The buildings share architects and similar styles. We hope this will bring more positive reinforcement towards our efforts,” Berryhill said.

“It’s important to learn about how your community works,” Courtney said. “What can happen and what you can do about it can make a difference.” The Volunteers for Isham Park are planning the centennial celebration of the gift of Isham Park for September 2012.

 

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