The changes to Manhattanville wrought by Columbia University's new campus, documented through evocative photos and interviews by Nathan Kensinger, is the subject of a fascinating essay in Curbed NY.
For decades this western patch of Harlem right above 125th Street was an industrial area with its peak days long behind it. Today Columbia's hyper-modern science and art buildings are just the first wave of new construction that will completely reinvent the neighborhood. Kensinger takes stock of the changes with his camera, but also talks to a few people who remember what the area was like in the old days.
Ana Diaz, the daughter of the owner of the remaining auto body shop west of Broadway recalls a motley group of businesses: “It used to be a meat packing district. You would gag with the smell of the meat, which was rotting. There was a fish bait shop, where everybody would come to buy bait and go fish. There was a pizza shop, a stripper club.”
Kensigner interviews local historian Eric K. Washington, too, who laments the changes from a broader perspective: "There are so few neighborhoods that you walk in and they really tell you what they were all about, and you feel it immediately. It was a neighborhood that still had that.” He adds, “"It had a funkiness to it....I do not like to see things become completely sanitized, because you are washing away the soul of a place, when you do that.”
Whether you are for or against the changes (or fall somewhere in the middle), it's great that someone like Kensigner does the important work of chronicling this massive shift as people in the neighborhood try to make sense of it all.
I am doing my little bit, too. The top photo is of one of the more creatively advertised auto body shops still kicking just east of Broadway between 131st and 133rd Streets (there are about five or so in all). And the image directly above reveals what construction on the new Columbia Business School currently looks like.
Check it out for yourself: just take the elevator up to the Wallach Art Gallery (of which I am admittedly a huge fan) and head to the west-facing side of the building to get the astonishing full picture.