Fifty-two years after the New York City landmarks law was enacted, Morningside Heights has been designated a historic district. The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously in favor of landmarking the area and its 115 buildings, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, stretching from 109th to 119th Streets between Amsterdam Avenue and Riverside Drive.
“The Morningside Heights Historic District reflects of a rapid period of residential development that took place in this area of Manhattan during the first decades of the 20th century,” Meenakshi Srinivasan, chairwoman of the commission, said in a statement. She added that she was proud the commission it could include and protect the 125-year-old Cathedral of St. John the Divine and its six surrounding buildings in the designation.
The district has come before the commission before but, according to Curbed NY, a previously proposed version of the boundaries included two institutions that did not want to be part of the district: Congregation Ramath Orah at 550 West 110th Street and the Broadway Presbyterian Church at 601 West 114th St. For financial reasons, they asked that their buildings be excluded, which they were. The higher fees and the more complicated process required to do renovations or construction in a historic district can cause some building owners to protest a designation. Columbia University also — unsuccessfully — argued that a row of seven rowhouses on 114th Street be left out.
Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, a founding member of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee in 1996, said it was about time. “City government has historically ignored the needs of the people who live north of 96th Street,” O’Donnell said. He credited Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration with being more supportive of the push for a Morningside Heights Historic District, though it took frequent reminders and doesn’t cover everything the community is hoping for. “We have committed to have a phase two,” O’Donnell said. “I’ve always taken the position that everything from Morningside Park to Riverside Park should be included.”
Most of the area’s buildings were constructed between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Two of O’Donnell’s favorites are 400 and 440 Riverside Drive, the latter of which once housed a Supreme Court justice.
The new Morningside Heights Historic District will add to the significant existing portion of the West Side that is landmarked. Portions of the Upper West Side from 62nd Street to 108th Street are protected, and both Riverside and Morningside Parks are designated scenic landmarks. The commission’s approval made the new district the city’s 141st landmark.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org