Written by Trilin Clavier for CNN
Before the recession, city neighborhoods across the US were drawing up plans to welcome massive suburban developments — a wave of high-rise apartments and parking lots to replace sprawl.
Despite some inherent racial divides, the urban development boom that was leading to neighborhoods in overgrown fields were considered far more important and “spacious” than any of the suburban developments that would be setting up shop in the suburbs.
But in the midst of the housing boom, those initiatives and design notions became increasingly obscured from sight as foreclosures and land values plunged and developers shied away from risk.
Eventually, real estate investment firm Preservation Partners decided to revisit these neighborhood dreams to find out if people were still interested. And they found out that many more — in fact hundreds of thousands — of residents wanted to live closer to their work, friends and families, rather than suburbsites who had fewer amenities and fewer amenities.
One of the first neighborhoods Heritage Black has restored was the Edenwald, in the heart of the city’s historically black neighborhood of East Harlem.
The dark houses of Columbus Avenue have been replaced by a cluster of 1920s brick townhouses, the most up-to-date decoration of the homes. The weather had left their charming facades and brick porticos looking flimsy at best, but still, the facade designers with Heritage Black had had their work cut out for them.
The central courtyard was a complete stretch of land that was not used before. To make use of the space, the designers laid out a public park, complete with a walking path, an observation tower, and park benches that encourage residents to use the space by allowing them to sit and have conversations.
After cleaning up the area and bringing in the streetlights, Heritage Black focused on preserving the character of the houses. They were updated to make them more uniform and used high-end materials to mimic the original. They were updated to add open finishes, updated wiring and windows, and new streetscaping to blend the homes with the surrounding area, much like the same streetscaping that is found around many parts of the city.
By focusing on historic improvements, Heritage Black has been able to take advantage of the quality and scale of the houses on the property as well as remove themselves from the potential for changes, even if there is still talk about changing the zoning to allow for a boutique hotel.
Next: A special mission
Finally, the Edenwald has a 1,000-seat theater. For years before the recession, the neighborhood had been a multi-purpose space but the only place people went was the famous Apollo Theater, its majestic bell tower in constant use.
After Heritage Black revitalized the property, it became a one-stop destination for Broadway shows, including “Hamilton” and “The Book of Mormon,” bringing both diversity and, perhaps more importantly, visibility for a community that needed all the attention it could get.
Edenwald has always been a community built around the basement of the Apollo, and its tour guides are still staples in the neighborhood. But after renovations, it is now a museum that brings back so many of the neighborhood’s history — stories of the neighborhood, of the Apollo, and of the Harlem renaissance.