Thursday, April 3, 2008

Harlem biz owner wants building relocated

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Harlem biz owner wants building relocated

The City Planning Commission recently approved a Columbia University proposal to construct a 17-acre arts and science campus in West Harlem displacing hundreds of longtime residents and businesses. The former Sheffield Farms Stable on Broadway, included on the National Registry of Historic Places, is slated for demolition if the project moves forward. (Dave Sanders / April 2, 2008)

By David Freedlander,
amNewYork Staff Writer

April 3, 2008

The owner of a building in the footprint of Columbia University's planned expansion is giving new meaning to the phrase "standing firm."

Anne Whitman, whose family has operated an antiques moving and storage company in a 1903 former dairy stable, is negotiating to get Columbia to move the building four blocks to the south instead of being forced to sell the structure to the university.

"When we started out we at least wanted to save the façade," Mary Habstritt, an industrial archeologist who has researched the history of the area, said of the ornate, beaux-arts and Mansard roof front of the structure."Then we thought, why not see if we can move the whole thing," she said. "It's not easy, but it could be done."

Because negotiations with Whitman on the sale of the building are ongoing, university representative refused to comment. But a university official familiar with the planned expansion dismissed the idea, saying, "This is dream land stuff."

It is unclear how much such a move would cost.The seven-story masonry structure would not be alone among old structures searching for new digs.In 2001, the National Park Service moved the 208-foot Cape Hatteras Lighthouse nearly 3,000 feet inland.

Closer to home, Hamilton Grange, the home of Alexander Hamilton is being moved to nearby St. Nicholas Park, and both the Parachute Jump and Empire Theater have been uprooted from their birthplaces.

"Nothing is attached to the soil, it's all built on it, so if you can figure out the weight, and get the necessary steel or rollers, and coordinate with the utilities to get past the wires, it can be done," said Gene Brymer, editor of Structural Movers Magazine.

Sheffield Farms Stable was originally built to serve the burgeoning milk processing plants in the area 100 years ago and to deliver fresh milk to New Yorker's homes before the era of refrigeration.

"Moving the building would let Columbia have the land and let me keep on using the architecturally beautiful and historic building which I love," Whitman said.

The space Whitman is eyeing -- at 125th Street and Broadway -- is a piece of Columbia-owned land where the university is planning to build a school to benefit local residents.

The stable is currently on the state register of historic places, and moving it would cancel that designation.

A spokeswoman for the New York State Historic Preservation Office said that it would be eligible to go through the application process again, and advocates of the move believe that keeping the building near its historical context is critical to regaining the designation.

UprootedStructures in New York City that have been moved include:- Hamilton Grange will be moved across 141st Street in Hamilton Heights later this spring to place it in a park setting.

- The Parachute Jump displayed at the 1939-40 World's Fair in Queens was moved to Coney Island in 1940 to preserve the spirit of the fair.

- The Empire Theater in Times Square was rolled 170 feet down 42nd Street in 1998 to protect its landmarked façade and lobby from a developer that wanted to turn it into a multiplex.

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