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© 2019 by The Curious Uptowner

8 Harlem spots that capture the 1896 New York of The Alienist

January 29, 2018

 

Fans of The Alienist, the crime novel set in 1896 New York, are finally getting the screen adaptation they've been waiting for since the book came out more than two decades ago: the 10-part series premiered on TNT last Monday.

 

Although critics have given the first few episodes mixed reviews, much of the fun for the rest of us will be seeing how the show's designers bring to life a quainter, recently-electrified New York. (Most of the action in the book takes place in Greenwich Village and Gramercy Park.)

 

It turns out the production team had to go all the way to Budapest to recreate the city's 1896 vibe. According to an interview in New York magazine with production designer Mara LePere-Schloop (who also art directed the first season of True Detective), there just weren't enough period-appropriate corners of the city to make it work.

 

Still, it's amazing to think how much of New York from that era exists today and can easily be tracked down, thanks to organizations like the National Register of Historic Places and detail-obsessed bloggers like Daytonian in Manhattan. If the production had stayed in New York, here are some Harlem gems from around the same time period that might have served them well. (Listed from north to south.)

 

James Bailey House, 1888

 

 

This turreted mansion was famously owned by James A. Bailey of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame. Although it's not in Bailey's family anymore, the house is still in private hands and was recently lovingly renovated.

 

Croton Aqueduct GateHouse, 1884

 

 

Resembling a castle, this gatehouse was built to distribute water from the Croton Aqueduct to New York City. Today it serves as the home for the performing art center Harlem Stage.

 

Striver's Row, 1891-1893

 

 

Designed by three different architects to offer home buyers a choice of styles, these two blocks of immaculately-preserved row houses on 138th and 139th Streets (also known as the St. Nicholas Historic District) feature buildings in the Georgian Revival, Colonial Revival (above) and Italian Renaissance Revival styles.

 

Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1889-1890

 

 

Originally built for the New York Presbyterian Church, this granite building with a massive cone roof was acquired in 1918 by one of the first African-American congregations in Harlem. Today it is the Metropolitan Baptist Church

 

Koch & Co. Building, 1891

 

 

The very first department store in Harlem, this five-story emporium was commissioned by owner Henry Koch to serve as a "dry goods establishment" closer to Harlemite's homes. Koch & Co. has long since been replaced by many smaller businesses, but the name lives on at the top of the building.

 

Mount Morris Bank Building (Corn Exchange), 1883

 

 

In 2009, after years of neglect, only two floors remained of this impressive Romanesque Revival brick building (the city had deemed it unsafe and demolished the top). A developer has since rebuilt the former bank in a similar style and it is now a New York City landmark seeking new tenants.

 

The Edward Roberts mansion and neighboring row houses, 1887

 

 

Part of the Mount Morris Historic District, these iconic brownstones on Lenox Avenue between 122nd and 123rd Streets were developed by architect A. B. Van Dusen. The largest on the northwest corner of West 122nd Street was first owned by wealthy businessman Edward Roberts. It recently became home to Dapper Dan's new Gucci-backed, by-appointment-only atelier.

 

Harlem Courthouse, 1891-1893

 


A detail-rich example of the Romanesque Revival style, this building in East Harlem was originally intended for the Police and District Courts. Today it houses the Harlem Community Justice Center.

 

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