The Harlem Renaissance Ballroom and Casino


February 25th, 2009 -

The Renaissance Ballroom and Casino is an imposing block-long Harlem ruin. A vital piece of the neighborhood's history, it was built between 1920 and 1923 and was a black owned and operated center of culture - a movie theater, a ballroom, a space for basketball games, dances and meetings. It was the "setting for all of Harlem’s most important parties," according to author Michael Henry Adams, but by 1979 the complex had closed down and "by the 1990s it had so deteriorated that it was used as a setting for Spike Lee’s crack den from hell in the movie Jungle Fever."

The New York Times describes the Renaissance Ballroom and Casino as "a Harlem landmark in all but name," citing a "Landmarks Preservation Commission... proposal, dating to 1991, to designate the Renaissance complex a landmark." However, the buildings were never landmarked. The property owner, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, used backers like the New York Landmarks Conservancy to convince the Landmarks Commission that landmarking the property would "have created intolerable delays" in their plans to build a "13-story apartment house" and a "community center" on top of the complex.

In 2007, demolition began. Today, the buildings are nearly empty, exposed to the snow. A few ghostly artifacts remain inside their darkened interiors.

Inside the Harlem Renaissance Theater



Theater Seats



Theater Mural



Mural and Demolition



The Harlem Renaissance Ballroom



Chandelier



From the Balcony



Box Seats

19 comments:

  1. Nice shots Nate! It's a bummer that the place is so gutted; I walked by it a few weeks ago on the way back from another location I had just photographed and was sad to see that I was too late. You got a good record of its dying breath!

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  2. It's a real scam that the owner, a division of the church of the same name, that has scarfed up so many Harlem landmarks has such disregard for the historic and cultural signifigance of its properties.

    A better use of their tax-free status would be to raise funds to restore this place for the benefit of the community -- there are almost none of these old places left!!

    Well, I suppose it's easier for a Black church's real estate holding company to get away with this than it would be for anyone else. This church is doing a disservice to its community!!

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  3. Your photographs are beautiful and sad. Thank you for documenting.

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  4. Great photos but I have to respond to Chris Flash and say that your comment about what should be done with the place ("raise funds to restore this place for the benefit of the community")is exactly what ADC is doing.

    The plans for use are open and available for anyone that wants to review them - just contact ADC.

    As for your comment "easier for a Black church's real estate holding company to get away with this than it would be for anyone else" not sure why you would feel its easier for a "Black" organization to "get away" with this - but I have to inform you that it was quite the opposite.

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  5. great shots as always. good use of natural light.

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  6. Good writing and photo work

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  7. It's a shame that a place like this casino, is in ruins, should rescue this building that can serve a lot ... thanks for the info

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  8. Chris Flash I have walked by this place on numerous occasions and have to tell you that it was a real hazard and saving it was not a realistic option, at best the facade might have been able to be saved but that's about it. It was a complete wreck inside.

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  9. The Renaissance Ballroom & Casino was an asset to the community when I was a child. I lived across the street above the "Sugar Bowl" where hamburgers & milkshakes were our fav. The "Renny" was the place to be, before I was born and during my youth in the 1960's. The movie house was our Saturday hang out. On Friday & Saturday nights the block was alive with the music that flowed from the Renny(s) windows. Jr. High Schools 136 & 139held their proms there. The bar below the ballroom served food during the 1970's. There was always something happening. No shootings, just good times!The "Renny" will always be beautiful to me. Im glad I have wonderful memories of The Renney. The photo is an insult to the beautiful place it once was. The chandelier lit up the entire room, the hard wood floor withstood all the dancers that crowded it. The Band swayed on the stage that was much higher than the dance floor. Each table horseshoed the dance floor, the each table draped with a white table cloth and spaced just enough not to annoy the table next to you, the booths were the first to go, they were just behind the floor and above on the balcony where you had a birdseye view. The brass railings were always shinning. When I entered those huge glass doors I could'nt wait to climb the stairs and start dancing! The coat room ladies always had to stop me to check my coat for a .25. All year long every weekend the Renny was jumping!
    The ADC, when it done with the renovation should display photos of its heyday. The Renny was only one of the many ballrooms we had in Harlem, but I must say it was the most beautiful. The Renny was a Grand Dame that died a horrible death.
    Adrian Irene Allen

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    1. I'm writing an essay on the Renaissance Ballroom. Would you be able to give me any more information you might have on the ballroom?

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  10. In historical photos there was a sign that said "DANCING" between two vertical signs that said "Renaissance" and "Casino Renaissance." I was curious, what was the exact location of these signs? On 7th avenue towards the 138 corner? 7th avenue towards 137th corner? Or was it on 137th street or 138th street that run into 7th avenue?

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  11. Hello Anonymous. The historic photo with the dancing sign of the Renaissance building is taken facing 7th Ave. The dancing was in the structure closer to W. 138 Street.(The Casino/ Renaissance sign) The smaller sign was in the middle of the block between 137 & 138 Streets, & was posted outside of the movie theater part of the Rennie. Hope this makes it clearer for you.

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  12. Adding to my previous comment to anonymous, the first forward facing car in the historical photo is right under the marquee of the movie theater.

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    Replies
    1. I'm writing an essay on the Renaissance Ballroom. Would you be able to give me any more information you might have on the ballroom?

      Delete
  13. Is there any part of the building still standing? (January 26, 2012)

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  14. To the last commentor. Yes Jim. The entire building is standing. West 138th Street & Adam C Powell Blvd. (old school: 7th Av). It's the interior that's a hot mess.

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  15. Actually, several parts of this complex of buildings have been demolished, including the movie theater. The ballroom building is still standing, however.

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  16. Thanks for the sad interior shots and the great remembrances of the Renaissance Casino. I recently saw a special on, I believe Showtime, that documented the Harlem Rens basketball team and their extraordinary successes and it gave praise to the "Renney" (as drewham's wonderful recounting called it) with fantastic photos of the interiors during it's heyday! Quite a place; very sad to see it in the condition it's in today.

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  17. However, the buildings were never landmarked. The property owner, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, used backers like the New York Landmarks Conservancy to convince the Landmarks Commission that landmarking the property would "have created intolerable delays" in their plans to build.
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