Saturday, March 21, 2009

☞ PROTECT: The Renaissance Ballroom

Unlike most of the pre-war buildings that populate Harlem, the Renaissance Ballroom was built by African American entrepreneurs. Constructed in 1921, the combination ballroom, casino and movie theatre was touted as the first non-segregated institution of its kind. This Harlem gem declined during the Great Depression and has been closed since the 1970's. The Abyssinian Baptist Church, a powerful property owner in Harlem, had originally planned to raise nine million for its restoration in the 1990s, and the community had a landmark designation date finally set in 2007. Surprisingly, the Church had changed its mind, for they saw a condo development for the site and even had Mayor Dinkins speak against designating the building (the site of his own wedding) as a landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Committee voted 6-1 against the landmarking of the Renaissance Ballroom. There have not been any designs shown of the 18-floor condo building planned for the space, but some are hopeful that the lower base might incorporate the original facade. The ballroom can be seen at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 138th Street.


  1. great chow mein sign there, if you look at the north side of it.

  2. For those who want to know more about the history of the Renaissance Ballroom, the only major black-owned uptown theater in the 1920s: I've seen evidence that it was built in 1920, not 1921--either way, the man behind it was William C. Roach (one also sees Roche), an immigrant from Montserrat who became a major player in uptown real estate and a member of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. Located at 2341-59 Seventh Avenue, between West 137th and West 138th streets, close to the Abyssinian Baptist Church, it featured concerts and dances. Fletcher Henderson was one of the early features. There were also shows, and gambling, especially after Roach added a second-floor ballroom and casino in 1923. The Renaissance also became famous for its basketball team, the Renns, which compiled a 2,588-592 record over almost three decades of competing with black teams from elsewhere in New York City (including the Savoy Big Five) and from Chicago, Akron, Philadelphia, and Detroit.