Get to know Dorrance Brooks Square, Harlem's proposed new historic district

Updated: Feb 4

Renaissance Revival row houses line W 137th Street in the proposed Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District.

On Tuesday the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission came one step closer to designating the Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District, voting to decide whether to give it landmark status in the spring.

Due to the pandemic, the public meeting was conducted on Zoom (where it's still available to watch; start at 16:05 for the Dorrance Brooks Square discussion), allowing people at home to immediately glean many interesting details about the district and its preservation.

Here are some of the most notable:

• The potential new historic district encompasses two huge swaths of Central Harlem, stretching from St. Nicholas Avenue to Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard and from W 136th to 140th Streets (the actual square is on the district's southwestern edge).

The proposed Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District is outlined in red.

• It is named after Dorrance Brooks, a Black soldier who died while serving in the segregated military during World War I. It would be the first historic district in the city named after an African American.

• The area is a residential neighborhood consisting mostly of Renaissance Revival- and Queen Anne-style row houses built in the late 19th and early 20th century.

• The proposed district was home to many notable African American thinkers, artists, actors and doctors during the Harlem Renaissance (approx. 1915-1940), including intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, performer Ethel Waters and sculptor Augusta Savage.

The Gothic Revival doors of Mt. Calvary Church in the proposed Dorrance Brooks Historic District.

• After a number of neighborhood groups sounded the alarm, the Landmarks Commission decided to include Mt. Calvary Church at 116 Edgecombe Avenue—bought recently by developers and slated for demolition—within the boundaries of the new historic district.

• The church could still be demolished before the area is officially landmarked in the spring, though the commission is in discussion with the developers and hopes to persuade them to save the building.

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