When the National Black Theatre announced its intention to develop its current site, concerns about the interior (and exterior) artistic treasurers were of great concern. The property, which was purchased by the Theatre’s founder, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in 1969, houses the largest collection of Nigerian New Sacred Art in the Western Hemisphere. Hand carved wood totems and copper, aluminum and brass relief were created for the Theatre by traditional Nigerian artisans from the Sun-Oshogbo Sacred Grove. They carved these works using tools and methods which spanned seven generations. With its founder, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, dedicated to the preservation of this unique spiritual tradition, it is no wonder that the upcoming project, demolishing the current structure, and creating a new, would present questions about the preservation of the artwork.
Enter ~ Ray ~ a company whose mission states that it builds urban projects as vertical villages in a way that includes art along with architecture and design. Its founder, Russian-American businesswoman, art collector and philanthropist, Dasha Zhukova, established the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moskow 2008, Garage Magazine in 2011, and is also a co-founder of Artsy, the digital platform. Observing how people interacted with both art and architecture, she expanded her concept with the formation of ‘Ray’, space that meets the needs of a changing world. Ray has two projects in the works ~ Philadelphia’s Ray Fishtown and New York’s Ray Harlem, a joint venture with National Black Theatre.
The project appears to be keeping the integrity of Dr. Teer’s original concept, integrating West African mythology into a new, built space right down to the color of the brick on the exterior of the new structure ~ a pink-red hue referencing the Sun-Osogbo Sacred Grove in Nigeria, and the original artisans who worked on the National Black Theatre space. The National Black Theatre will occupy the first four floors of the building.
Since being made public five years ago, the project has heartily maintained the full endorsement of Community Board 11 and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — this support has bolstered the case for a rezoning and allowed for increased density. The site also sits within the Special 125th Street District, which provides a bonus of four square feet of extra floor area for every one square foot of cultural space developed.
Tapped to make this happen is the architect, Frida Escobedo, in collaboration with Handel Architects (Sendero Verde, East Harlem). In keeping with Ray’s philosophy of ‘community’, the ground floor (corner of 126th Street and Fifth Avenue) will house a Living Room, listed as a “cozy space open to the public and serving as a community gathering space.’ Interior Designer, Little Wing Lee (National Museum of African-American History and Culture) will “incorporate design gestures that speak to the history of the space, from the river that runs beneath the ground of 125th Street to NBT’s narrative.”
The 21-story Ray Harlem will have approximately 222 units comprised of a mix of studios, one and two bedrooms, home office and junior bedroom options, flexible spaces, and affordable units. Included will be an Artist Housing Initiative with housing for local artists and creatives. Residents will have access to some very cool amenities like artist studio, library, co-working lounge, wellness space, and community courtyard on the main amenity floor. The rooftop will include a community kitchen and terrace.
Ray Harlem will be located at 2033 National Black Theatre Way on Fifth Avenue at 125th Street, with ground breaking in February, 2022 and a scheduled completion in Spring of 2024.
Read more about the female-led team behind Ray and The National Black Theatre in Madam Architect.
In July, 2022, we noticed new fencing and a truck or two on the grounds. Follow along as we watch the construction.
The image above faces 126th Street, just east of Fifth Avenue.
In the image below, the view captures Fifth Avenue between 125th and 126th Streets, with the church/art studio, 2050 Fifth Avenue in the background ~ the former Mt. Moriah Church, currently owned by Swiss-born artist Ugo Rondinone.