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11 Most Endangered Historic Places

The Cornices (and Buildings) of Harlem

Year Listed: 1994
Location: New York, New York
Threat: Natural Forces, Deterioration, Neglect

Significance

Once known as the "Black Capital," Harlem is the section of New York City where some of the greatest African-American writers, politicians, preachers and entertainers of the 20th century lived and worked. But in the 1990s, many of the buildings where giants such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Count Basie made history were threatened. A lack of funds and technical assistance led to misguided rehabilitation efforts, particularly the widespread removal of cornices. Often elaborate and always distinctive, cornices are moldings positioned at the top of the a building's outside wall; both decorative and functional, cornices direct water away from the building and help prevent structural damage. Although parts of Harlem are protected by a historic district ordinance which would prevent the unnecessary removal of these magnificent architectural details, much of the area has no protection. Ordinance protection must be expanded, and property owners assisted, or these landmarks of African-American history will be lost forever.