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West 158th Street is a major thoroughfare that is utilized by vehicles entering and exiting the Henry Hudson Parkway from Broadway, ambulances, fire trucks, delivery trucks, and bicyclists and families heading to and from the Hudson River Greenway, as well as cars heading towards 155th Street to go to Yankee Stadium.


People are concerned about chaotic traffic, the inability of safety vehicles to pass through, and enormous backups of traffic that will inevitably happen.


Observing other construction sites, we see the major disruption that occurs on basic one-way side streets.


On May 3rd, during the construction of a small addition to the scaffolding in front of 634 West 158th Street, we witnessed chaotic traffic with cars veering around past other cars and into the bicycle lane to avoid the congestion.


On May 13th we witnessed an oversized Amazon truck crash into the traffic signal at the corner of West 158th and Edward Morgan Place as it proceeded to Broadway, causing confusion in its wake.


How will the disruption of traffic flow because of the construction be accommodated?  


Can West 158th Street can safely absorb the resulting impact that a 17-story tower will inflict upon it?


The community rightfully asks: What’s the plan?

May 3, 2024: traffic veering into the designated bicycle lane.


May 13, 2024: Amazon truck crashed into the corner traffic signal.


Call 311 to report potential violations

  • You can also go online at


  • Include the location
    638 West 158th Street


  • Reporting to 311 creates a paper trail.
    Be sure to note the number assigned to your complaint and share it with any follow up calls you have with DOB or MBP office


Department of Buildings (DOB)

Manhattan Borough President (MBP)
Mark Levine

The Impact of a
17-story Tower
Will Be Long Lasting.

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Though the developer may say that construction is temporary, how will we live with the addition of a 17-story building and the increased pedestrian and vehicle traffic once it’s completed? 


This is a high-traffic street with only one lane in each direction and no space for vehicles to park or stand. There are many pedestrians on the narrow sidewalks and a lot of  bicycle traffic in the bike lane.


One end of the street is access to the park and highway, the other is a five-point intersection with a history of traffic problems. 


The plans show the building with a narrow sidewalk and no driveway for dropping off passengers or groceries. (Note that the walkway depicted shows an elevated entryway along the front of the building, not a public sidewalk.)


Where will taxis and passenger cars wait for and drop off people and packages?

Where will delivery, Fresh Direct, Amazon, and UPS trucks unload? 

The community rightfully asks: What’s the plan?


Typical mid-day traffic on West 158th Street as seen on May 23rd.






Dear Neighbors,

In July of 2021, the Upper Riverside Residents Alliance submitted a request to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, to extend the Audubon Park Historic District to protect the area north of the existing historic district, but the request was rejected.

According to the YIMBY report of 11/15/21, permits were filed to demolish a historic townhouse and erect a 17-story mixed-use development at 638 West 158th Street.


This tower not only represents the loss of precious historic fabric but also sets a dangerous precedent for our neighborhood.

Just look across the Hudson and you will see the towering glass boxes that are coming to the very heart of our neighborhood if nothing is done to stop them.

As seen on May 1st, 2024:


640 and 642 W.158th Street
as seen on May 13th, 2024:


"The historic value of these buildings should not be relinquished."
– Marvin Middleton,
River Terrace

Full Demolition of 636 W.158th Street,
May 23rd, 2024


These, they will surely feel, were some of the enclave’s most beautiful buildings. “How was it,” they will ask, “that on both 158th Street and on Riverside Drive, every single one of these most vulnerable buildings, the district’s oldest and most unusual, vanished?”
–Michael Henry Adams

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Photo: New-York Historical Society

Excerpt from

Historic Districts Council


Audubon Park, Manhattan


This row of twelve houses embodies the first wave of residential development that accompanied the proposed expansion of rapid transit service to northern Manhattan, predating the apartment house boom.


Captain John Leo, a developer active in the area, designed and built Nos. 634-648 in 1896 before designing Nos. 626-632 for builder John Lilliendahl in 1898.


Among the block's first residents was engineer Reginald Pelham Bolton (No. 638), a dedicated preservationist who spent more than two decades trying to save Audubon's house at 155th Street.


These three-story houses with raised basements are faced with brick and limestone trim and feature eclectic designs that borrow from the Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival and Beaux-Arts styles.


Despite support from the local community and the historic connections between this row and the surrounding neighborhood, 626-648 West 158th Street was not included in the Audubon Park Historic District, raising concerns that developers could easily take advantage of current zoning to replace them with something much larger, thus erasing some of the only reminders of an important phase in the district's history.

Michael Henry Adams


Divergent building types and contrasting architecture are hardly, as you imply, reason to exclude the row houses from the district. Indeed, these houses are exemplary of the changing tastes and the progression of circumstances that exist in most sections of the city

April 1, 2024


Hon. Sarah Carroll, 

Chair New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission 

No. 1 Center Street, 9th Floor 

New York, NY 10007


Dear Chair Carroll, 

Thank you for your prompt response to my request that the Commission act swiftly to preserve the row of 19th-century townhouses on West 158th Street. Mine was yet another of several requests for their protection through designation. It would seem that my plea is to be among the last. 

This is why your response is so disappointing. Condescendingly dismissive, worse still, it’s dishonest: professionally, intellectually, and morally. You repeat the same rationalization that you and your LPC staff have offered on multiple occasions over the past decade. It’s even expressed in precisely the same way. You still refuse to grant landmark status to what is, by all accounts but yours, a worthy cultural and architectural landmark. 

For shame Chair Carroll! How sweetly you relate your insulting rebuke of our imperiled heritage. 

Why does your indifference remain the plight of New Yorkers who don’t happen to be white? “Inclusion Initiative?” Where is the interest of the People of the City of New York to which your website so eloquently refers? Is the LPC really safeguarding “the buildings and places that represent New York City's cultural, social, economic, political, and architectural history”? Where are you doing this? 

Not here. The modest sops of the new historic districts you note represent too little, realized far too late. Do you really mean that this is all that the death of George Floyd prompted? One might enumerate the legal mandate the New York City Charter requires of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but this is something you know only too well. 

I’m aware too that your active inaction, meant to expedite “The City of Yes!”, is an administrative order. It is a wrong-headed dictate, extending back at least as far back as “The Rich City.” 

But do not think that your inaction, compelled or not, viewed through the lenses of history, will be absolved. You are responsible for perpetuating the institutional racism that continues to afflict our common home of New York City. It will not fail to be noted, how it came to be that the newest, most banal and bad buildings in a future Audubon Park, occupy sites where once stood houses of renown. Historians and devotees of fine old buildings to come, discovering the concerns raised by the neighborhood about lost heritage and gentrification, are sure to single you out, as the person charged with acting on behalf of the citizens of New York to preserve their heritage, for special condemnation. 

These, they will surely feel, were some of the enclave’s most beautiful buildings. “How was it,” they will ask, “that on both 158th Street and on Riverside Drive, every single one of these most vulnerable buildings, the district’s oldest and most unusual, vanished?”

This is the legacy you are guaranteeing for yourself, and more so for the citizens of New York City who entrusted you - and trusted you - to look after their heritage.

From the close of the 19th century, the Edwardian row houses survived largely intact. Designed by a prolific local architect, John P. Leo, this row especially exhibits “special character” and “special historical or aesthetic interest or value…” Most assuredly, these houses “represent one or more periods or styles of architecture typical of one or more eras in the history of the city” and in a long-overlooked region.

Washington Heights’ leading scholar and community booster, Reginald Pelham Bolton lived here. As area demographics evolved during the Civil Rights era, Black professionals determined not to abandon Upper Manhattan moved into these houses, adding an important chapter to the cultural history of New York City.

Anyone even slightly familiar with the vagaries and inconsistencies of New York’s landmarks designation process recognizes your position as unsupportable. Pretending that nothing of significance existed here before the protected apartment buildings, or survives from any earlier time, is absurd. 

To be fully representative of Audubon Park, once the homestead of the naturalist John James Audubon, it would seem imperative to preserve those extant original elements that show the neighborhood’s development. This is the context that the 1851 wood frame house at 857 Riverside Drive and this row on 158th Street from the 1880s and 1890s provide.

By twice denying landmark designation to 857 Riverside, part of the Abolitionist colony created on the Audubon estate by Underground Railroad conductor Dennis Harris, you erase more than the history and evolution of Audubon Park. You also erase any physical memory of the social and racial history of the neighborhood, along with the contributions made here by people of color. On this Easter Monday, I can only wonder if you will deny it a third time?

Divergent building types and contrasting architecture are hardly, as you imply, reason to exclude the row houses from the district. Indeed, these houses are exemplary of the changing tastes and the progression of circumstances that exist in most sections of the city. Greenwich Village is one of the City’s largest and most diverse historic areas, where connected districts comprehensively show that neighborhood’s fascinating suburban-to-urban transformation. Why is that allowed in the wealthy, White precincts of Greenwich Village and not in a less wealthy and less White “Uptown”?

Identifying and designating a homogenous, cohesive historic district, though easily done, results in a highly artificial outcome.  As the luxury condo towers you are making way for arrive what you have done amounts to something abominable. All the power, prestige, and integrity of our Landmarks Preservation Commission will have been harnessed to socially engineer, to displace, and repopulate Lower Washington Heights and the environs of the entire Audubon Park area. This is no less harmful than ignoring until after it’s too late, other indisputable Black landmarks. Hotel Olga, Harlem Hospital, the Lenox Lounge, the Casino Renaissance and Theater, the Victoria Theater, the Audubon Ballroom and Theater where Malcolm X was slain and the Child’s Memorial Temple where his funeral was held, all might easily have been preserved. We only want what others have: to be seen and respected.  Much of what your agency still does is radical, egregious and discriminatory. 

Our effort is, foremost, to obtain commemoration of, and protection for, our diverse and inclusive history. It’s what makes Audubon Park exceptional and significant. Without these houses, and those on Riverside Drive, the historic district designation offers only a partial record of our community’s splendid story.  

Ours is sadly a time when government uses a chronic affordable housing crisis to justify scuttling zoning and landmark safeguards! With hope for little else, I call upon you one last time to honor your sworn oath to safeguard the buildings and places that represent New York City's cultural, social, economic, political, and architectural history.

If you refuse to do the job which you have been entrusted to perform, this City and generations to come will at least document the irony of the administration of Eric Adams, New York’s second Black mayor selling Black history to the highest bidder with your connivance, and record the perversion of your inaction. 


Michael Henry Adams

Al Taylor


These buildings are vital to our community's heritage and development.

Dear Neighbors,


I stand with our community in opposing the imminent demolition of the row houses at 636-646 West 158th Street in Washington Heights. Despite efforts for preservation since 2009, these historic structures face unwarranted destruction due to unjust exclusion from the Audubon Park Historic District.


These buildings are vital to our community's heritage and development. Alongside local organizations, we implore Artifact Real Estate to reconsider their plans. The loss would erase not only physical structures but also our cultural identity.


The dismissal of preservation efforts by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission is disheartening. We urge for more inclusive practices to honor our diverse histories.


Contact Wendy L. Olivo at for inquiries.


Let's protect our neighborhood's legacy for future generations.


Al Taylor 

New York State Assembly Member 

71st Assembly District

Michael Henry Adams


Not until they too are protected, will we be assured that the full story of this historic enclave will endure to enlighten and delight for all time.

What, that Michael Devonshire, John Freeman Gill, Christopher Gray, Matthew Spady, and other worthy historians, have already related, is there to say of West 158th Street’s superb survival of wonderful 1898 Edwardian townhouses? Gray called them aptly, “A tiny Alamo of a dozen houses…”, and praises the exuberant richness of their ornate articulation. 

Fittingly, the most opulent of all was occupied by Reginald Pelham Bolton, the noted local writer, engineer, and antiquarian. Bolton who so scrupulously examined the area’s history in Washington Heights, lived at No. 638. At his death in 1942, The Times said he was often called the historic neighborhood’s “No. 1 citizen...”

It’s fitting again then that the architect for 626-632 and 634-648 West 158th Street, was John P. Leo (1859-1923), among the most prolific and versatile designer-builders in Upper Manhattan of the era. 

A New York native, he was the son of Irish immigrants, but well-connected politically. John P. Leo became variously an architect, a builder, a property carter, a farmer and National Guard officer. Appointed head of the Board of Estimate in 1918, he’d served as an examiner of the Building Trades Board and later was named vice-chairman of the Committee on Taxation and Legislation.


In 1870 he began his architectural training in the office of George Browne Post. Newly on his own, in 1892, while a Captain of the company, Leo designed the Twenty-second Regiment's armory at Broadway and Sixty-sixth to Sixty-seventh Streets. He was particularly associated with Washington Heights, where he lived several decades at 475 West 143rd Street.  Leo is estimated to have designed and built 260 row houses and apartment buildings here.

Dramatically sited on a San Francisco-like waterfront hillside, picturesquely devised, arrayed with a profusion of embellishment, these houses are but one chapter in the living architectural and social history primer that is Audubon Park. 

That is all to be expected in respect to so decorous a grouping of row houses. But redlining, the use of biased reasoning to bar middle-class People of Color to live here, that is  not typical of houses like these. Instead some developers preferred to allow the steady decay of these once prized dwellings as SROs and flophouses. It was not merely an exercise of White supremacist privilege at play though. A bid to prevent  Blacks from buying and rescuing houses on West 158th Street in the 1960s and ‘70s, was mostly a matter of gaining the greatest profit, with a minimum of maintenance, bother or investment. So the row, built in 1897-98, had devolved and declined before these families reclaimed them as single-family residences. Not until they too are protected, will we be assured that the full story of this historic enclave will endure to enlighten and delight for all time.
– Michael Henry Adams

Michael Henry Adams is an architectural-cultural historian and historic preservation activist.


Contextual Zoning
will help prevent
the invasion of
outsized towers
that we're already
seeing adjacent to
Trinity Cemetery.

Community Board 12 Manhattan
Land Use Committee Meetings
are held on the first 
of the month at 7:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

To register for meetings via Zoom, use this link:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

In response to Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine’s recent report Housing Manhattanites,” Community Board 12's Land Use Committee is reviewing rezoning options for the area west of Broadway between 155th and 165th Streets.


Currently, it is zoned R-8, which has no height limits and encourages the invasion of outsized towers like those we're already seeing adjacent to Trinity Cemetery on the south and planned for West 158th Street and 857 Riverside Drive.

As noted in the Borough President’s plan, rezoning this area to R8B, would provide contextual zoning in keeping with the neighborhood’s existing built environment.


Along with that, however, the Borough President is proposing a mixed-use rezoning for the commercial corridor between 155th and 158th Streets that would raise the allowable height for those buildings.


The Land Use (LU) Committee needs community input on these proposals and support for its recommendations.


CB12’s Land Use Committee usually meets the first Wednesday of each month at 7:00 p.m.


Please mark these meetings on your calendar and plan to attend as often as possible. If you can only join for part of the meeting, you can still send a message to the committee via chat, registering your opinion and support.  



March 13, 2024

Washington Heights & Inwood

Community Board 12 Manhattan
Stands Against the Demoli
of Historic Row Houses at
636-646 West 158th Street:
A Call for Improved Practices
from NYC Landmark
Preservation Commission

New York, NY - Community Board 12 Manhattan (CB12M) expresses its dismay and outrage regarding the imminent demolition of the historic row houses at 636-646 West 158th Street in Washington Heights. Since 2009, CB12M has overwhelmingly voted in favor of their preservation and inclusion within the Audubon Park Historic District. These homes hold historical and architectural value to this neighborhood and tell a significant story in the urbanization and development of northern Manhattan.

We call upon Artifact Real Estate to reconsider its demolition plans for these row houses before it takes this irreversible and hugely regrettable action.

The demolition of these houses not only robs our community of tangible links to its history but also perpetuates the systemic erasure of significant historical, architectural, and cultural sites in low-income and majority communities of color. As the landscape and architectural character of the district continue to be impacted by new development projects that are insensitive to their neighborhood context, we see an urgent need to preserve sites that embody the stories and struggles of generations, serving as a testament to the resilience and heritage of Washington Heights/Inwood.

Over the years, multiple Requests for Evaluation and potential designation submitted to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) with support from residents, organizations like the Historic Districts Council, and elected officials were rejected for dubious reasons. Despite our persistent appeals and advocacy efforts to LPC and local officials, the repeated disregard for the preservation of these homes is deeply troubling and speaks to LPC’s failure to adequately address matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion in its designation of landmark buildings and districts.

As an official City agency committed to amplifying the voices and needs of the Washington Heights/Inwood community, we urge LPC to better engage residents and stakeholders in developing improved practices towards equitable preservation efforts that celebrate the rich collective memories and heritages of all New Yorkers.

For media inquiries or further information, please contact


Several years before the Upper Riverside Residents Alliance formed, three of its current directors – Vivian Ducat, Josette Bailey, and Matthew Spady – asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to extend the Audubon Park Historic District (designated in 2009) to include the twelve row houses on West 158th Street.


WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan (PIX11) — They were among the first homes in Washington Heights, but now a row of nearly 130-year-old structures is scheduled to be demolished:




According to the YIMBY report of 11/15/21, permits were filed to demolish six historic townhouses and erect a 17-story mixed-use development numbered
638 West 158th Street.


This tower not only represents the loss of precious historic fabric but also sets a dangerous precedent for our neighborhood.



The 2024-2025

wall calendar,

featuring archival photography of Washington Heights, is still available
for purchase!

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$15 + $3.75 postage

Proceeds from the sale of the calendars help pay for the greening of the area surrounding Riverside Oval and for neighborhood events.

Calendars can be purchased directly from
Vivian Ducat, Co-chair of the Riverside Oval Association.
Her contact information is 
Please write
CALENDAR in the subject line,
or call 
(917) 301-1120.

This is the 17th year of the Riverside Oval calendar.

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157th Street looking west from Broadway.
The Riviera, 790 Riverside Drive, is under construction on the left, c.1910.
New-York Historical Society/New York Transit Museum

A mother and child riding on the Harlem River Speedway, a dirt road from West 155th Street to West 208th Street that was used as a racetrack and exercise track for horses, c. 1900.
New-York Historical Society.
Photo by George E. Stonebridge

Our History Matters.

The Abolitionist House at 857 Riverside Drive is in imminent danger of being demolished.

Please help preserve it as an educational center focused on the Abolitionist movement and the continuing fight for equality and social justice in the United States.

Now, more than ever, we must work together to ensure we understand, teach, and preserve basic rights and freedoms for all.


How It Started:

Sometimes all it takes is a little digging.

Upper Riverside Residents Alliance & 
The Harris/Newhouse Home

857 From across RSD.jpg

A small group of Washington Heights neighbors learned that lesson in August 2020, when we formed the Upper Riverside Residents Alliance, unified by our concern for a small wood-frame house at 857 Riverside Drive, and the news that it was about to be bulldozed.

​A developer who had purchased the house had applied for a demolition permit and won preliminary approval to replace this two-story, single-family home with a 13-story apartment tower—more than twice as high as any building nearby—jammed with 46 mini condominium units.


A little digging revealed that one of the project’s developers appears regularly on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlords Watchlist, having racked up an average of nearly 500 open HPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) violations in 2019, and 620 in 2020.

We knew from a 1937 photograph by Berenice Abbott that the house, built in the Greek Revival–Italianate style, once boasted a wraparound porch and a cupola, and we hoped it might be restored.


Built in 1851, it was part of a little-known colony of abolitionists in northern Manhattan, then an area of woods and farmland.


Its first owner, Dennis Harris, was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and at the center of a well-documented fugitive slave escape when he lived in lower Manhattan.


After being suspended by his downtown Methodist church for anti-slavery preaching, the minister and entrepreneur moved his family, his business and his abolitionist fervor uptown.

In Washington Heights, he and his friend John Newhouse, who bought the home from Harris and lived there with his family for decades, established abolitionist churches in the area.


They also built and ran a sugar refinery, pier and steamboat line.


Harris had used his downtown refinery to smuggle escaped slaves to freedom.

Historians say the uptown refinery, steamboat and this house, too, so close to the river in a sparsely populated area, were likely used in further Underground Railroad activities.


In Upper Manhattan, where abolitionism is not thought to have flourished, little history — particularly little African-American history — has been recognized and preserved.


The house at
857 Riverside Drive
is the last surviving
remnant of this
explosive chapter
in the story
of New York.

Today, the Harris-Newhouse home is a symbol of our community — a tolerant and diverse place that remains one of the few affordable, livable, and relatively low-rise neighborhoods in Manhattan.


The destruction of the Harris-Newhouse home, and its replacement by a 13-story sliver tower, would be a 135-foot-high assault on our community, casting a literal and figurative shadow on the diversity that is our neighborhood’s pride.


It would give the green light to high-rise development all along our stretch of the Hudson River, and eradicate the memory of the brave residents who helped transform the area into the vibrant corner of the city it is today.

So we’re digging in.





Sites related to abolitionists and the Underground Railroad are rare in New York, and this historically Greek Revival–Italianate house is arguably the only one known to survive north of 96t​h​ Street in Manhattan.


 PROPOSAL TO EXPAND THE Audubon Park Historic District.

Our Mission and Goals bright blue.jpg


For our Introduction PDF, link to the HDC Audubon Park booklet, and team bios: ABOUT US.

Upper Riverside
Residents Alliance

Josette Bailey, President
Vivian Ducat, Vice President
Matthew Spady, Treasurer

Joe Amodio
David Freeland
Peter Green

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