Harlem’s 186 Lenox Avenue ~ its Slow Path to Demolition




186 Lenox Ave taken in 1940 as part of WPA Program ~ Streetview 119th/120th Street on Lenox Avenue, east side of the street.

Over the years, Harlemites watched the streetscapes on either side of Lenox Avenue between 119th and 120th Streets, with the hope that the owners had a view toward lovingly restoring these treasured buildings.

Built in the early 1900s, the buildings on the west side of the street attracted businesses, owners of townhomes and renters ~ all contributing to the renovation and preservation of the buildings.

However many of the buildings along that same strip, on the east side of the street, were not maintained, eventually vacated and boarded up. This month, neighbors watched as 186 Lenox Avenue was demolished.

Streetscape Lenox Avenue between 120th/119th Street in Harlem via Google Maps prior to the demolition.

As many communities have come to learn, preserving architecturally significant buildings retains the community’s historic character. It also attracts people to the area, giving a boost to businesses who hang out their signs on these visually attractive streetscapes.

Image from Frommer’s interactive street view map of pictures taken in the 1940s as part of the WPA Program. 119th/120th Streets on Lenox Avenue ~ picture is of the streetscape on the east side of the street.

Many of the townhouses and building in the Mount Morris Historic District (designated in 1971), have been lovingly cared for, with tourists regularly seen on walking tours on the side streets just off Marcus Garvey Park and the historic Harlem Fire Watchtower.

Lenox Ave between 119th/120th Streets taken from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Digital Map.

As reported by Patch, after a November inspection of 186 Lenox Avenue, it was found to be at risk of collapse. It was reported that the ceiling caved in, which left the sky visible through the third-floor window. It was also reported that the owner of 186 Lenox Avenue ignored orders to make repairs, and in September 2021, the Department of Buildings issued a full vacate order ~ even though it had been vacant for more than ten-years.

Lenox Ave between 119th/120th Streets taken from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Digital Map.

Buildings and townhomes can be a tempting purchase, with buyers not having to interview with co-op or condo Boards, and HOA fees, which would be maintenance, is really up to the owner, and not mandated. Also, the possibility of rental units can often offer the promise of offsetting some of the expenses. While not mandated, maintenance on older buildings can easily escalate, and owners can quickly find themselves in deep debt. Read more about what has come to be known as Zombie Homes.

Another interesting source is The Brownstone Detectives in their post about the Harlem brownstone lottery of 1982.

Surprised neighbors watching the demolition of 186 Lenox Avenue.

In the end, maintenance and upkeep is left to the owner. The City can’t force an owner to address repairs, although there are programs and grants offered to help those that wish to take advantage of these programs and low-interest loans.

November 29, 2022

Above, the demolition of 186 Lenox Avenue, taking place on November 29th. Below, the entire building is gone.

December 14, 2022

As of this date, we have no information on what will replace 186, nor do we have information on some of the other buildings on that block and their status. We will continue to update as information comes in.

December 14, 2022

Below are a few prominent loses ~ and some miraculous saves ~ in the Harlem community.

Taking a look at another notable demolition ~ Lenox Lounge. The demolition on historic Astor Row in 2021. The demolition of the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary building, overlooking Marcus Garvey Park, was a surprise.

Take a look at a grand save of a deteriorating historic building ~ The Corn Exchange Bank Building. The beautiful Victoria Theatre on 125th Street now has affordable housing, a hotel, space for The Apollo Theater, all while maintaining its historic facade. The National Black Theatre teamed up with Ray Harlem to allow for the Theatre to occupy the first four floors, and include an artist housing initiative within its 21 story structure.

Take a stand for Preservation. These places matter.

Take a walk through a recently landmarked historic district in Central Harlem

Read about Landmark East Harlem and their successful landmarking of three structures in East Harlem.

Want to see more of Harlem?