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Columbia Spectator Staff

You won't see him blocking the bulldozers, but surely founding father Alexander Hamilton is rolling in his grave as new proposals put the future of his former residence in question.

Hamilton Grange, Hamilton's former residence currently located on Convent Avenue and 141st Street, is an historical landmark that has also been used as a Hamilton Heights community center for receptions. It is slated to move to neighboring St. Nicholas Park, which would allow for the house's original porches to be reattached and for the Grange to undergo restoration.

But the proposed positioning of the Grange in its new location and use of the soon-to-be-empty Convent Avenue lot have been points of contention for Harlem Heights members and preservationists.

"It'll be a big empty hole in the middle of Convent Avenue," said Maritta Dunn, known around the neighborhood as the unofficial mayor of West Harlem.

Details of the move, which Community Board 9 Landmark Committee members have discussed with the National Park Service since the early 1990s, were settled on in 1995. An early draft of the plan proposed that the lot on Convent Avenue be turned into an information center, new national park ranger residence, and community center. The National Park Service agreed to meet this proposal, but a tight budget has forced the NPS to scrap earlier plans.

"Because of a lack of funding, that particular plan or proposal has been taken off the table," National Park Service spokesman Darren Boch said. "From some corners, and rightfully so, some of the community were a bit taken aback. ...We're working with them to come up with other options."

Carolyn Kent, co-chair of the Landmark Committee, said that the committee's early support of the NPS move had been contingent upon the agreed use of the Convent Avenue lot and geographical positioning of the Grange in St. Nicholas Park, promises the NPS had failed to live up to.

"It was a true agreement, a true pact that was made with them," Kent said. "We're kind of in a bind here if they keep going and keep chopping before we reach agreement."

The Landmark Committee also disagreed with the proposed orientation of the Grange house. In the proposed northeast orientation, the front of the house would be facing out toward the road, but for historical accuracy's sake, Kent argued, the house should be set facing southwest.

"We're hoping ... to resolve this, but in the meantime the work seems to be going forward," Kent said.

According to Boch, contractors will move the house in one full piece to the St. Nicholas Park lot after reviewing possible transportation methods. He said that while plans are still tentative, he expects the move to take place in late March or early April. Hamilton Grange is expected to reopen in its new location in 2009.

While plans for the soon-to-be-vacant Convent Avenue lot are still up in the air, Boch said that he was confident that there would be proposals for the property once the move was underway. "We just don't have the funds to build anything on
it right now," he said.

Boch said a possible option for maintaining aesthetic harmony between the lot and the rest of the community would be to restrict any future development that may occur on it from exceeding a given size or number of floors.

"We're calling not to have some battle with them, but for resolution," Kent said. "This is one of New York's great treasures. ... We're trying to slow everything down here and say, 'Look, let's care.'"

alix.pianin@columbiaspectator.com

History Displacement
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