Who We Are - The Save Riverside Team
Michael Henry Adams
Joseph V. Amodio
Valerie Jo Bradley
John T. Reddick
Eric K. Washington
Web Design and Media
Peter N. Fritsch
Digital Cultural Heritage Preservationist
ABOUT US & OUR SUPPORTERS
Save Riverside - The Upper Riverside Residents’ Alliance
and the Harris-Newhouse Home
Sometimes all it takes is a little digging.
A small group of Washington Heights neighbors learned that lesson in August, 2020, when we formed the Upper Riverside Residents’ Alliance, unified by our concern for a small wood-frame house at 857 Riverside Drive, and the news that it was about to be bulldozed.
A developer who had purchased the house had applied for a demolition permit and won preliminary approval to replace this two-story, single-family home with a 13-story apartment tower—more than twice as high as any building nearby—jammed with 46 mini condominium units. A little digging revealed that one of the project’s developers appears regularly on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlords Watchlist, having racked up an average of nearly 500 open HPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) violations in 2019, and 620 in 2020.
We knew from a 1937 photograph by Berenice Abbott that the house, built in the Greek Revival–Italianate style, once boasted a wraparound porch and a cupola, and we hoped it might be restored.
In our research, we learned that the house has a remarkable history. Built in 1851, it was part of a little-known colony of abolitionists in northern Manhattan, then an area of woods and farmland. Its first owner, Dennis Harris, was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and at the center of a well-documented fugitive slave escape when he lived in lower Manhattan. After being suspended by his downtown Methodist church for anti-slavery preaching, the minister and entrepreneur moved his family, his business and his abolitionist fervor uptown.
In Washington Heights, he and his friend John Newhouse, who bought the home from Harris and lived there with his family for decades, established abolitionist churches in the area. They also built and ran a sugar refinery, pier and steamboat line. Harris had used his downtown refinery to smuggle escaped slaves to freedom. Historians say the uptown refinery, steamboat and this house, too, so close to the river in a sparsely populated area, were likely used in further Underground Railroad activities. In Upper Manhattan, where abolitionism is not thought to have flourished, little history—particularly little African-American history—has been recognized and preserved. The house at 857 Riverside Drive is the last surviving remnant of this explosive chapter in the story of New York.
Today, the Harris-Newhouse home is a symbol of our community—a tolerant and diverse place that remains one of the few affordable, livable, and relatively low-rise neighborhoods in Manhattan. The destruction of the Harris-Newhouse home, and its replacement by a 13-story sliver tower, would be a 135-foot-high assault on our community, casting a literal and figurative shadow on the diversity that is our neighborhood’s pride. It would give the green light to high-rise development all along our stretch of the Hudson River, and eradicate the memory of the brave residents who helped transform the area into the vibrant corner of the city it is today.
So we’re digging in. This house, this history, and this community are worth saving.
Go to the NEWS/DOCS/COMMENTS section to read important documents supporting designation of 857 RSD as a NYC Landmark: A letter co-signed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, CB12M, Council Member Mark Levine, Assembly Member Al Taylor, and State Senator Robert Jackson; Community Board 12M's Resolution; 36 page Request for Evaluation prepared for the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission by URRA member Joseph Amodio.
The preservation efforts of the URRA are supported by Community Board 12 Manhattan, Council Member Mark Levine, Assembly Member Al Taylor, State Senator Robert Jackson , Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and by The Historic Districts Council. Other supporters are listed below.
Statements below from Civic & Preservation Groups Supporting the URRA’s Efforts to Preserve 857 Riverside Drive
Audubon Park Alliance
Matthew Spady, Chair and Author of The Neighborhood Manhattan Forgot: Audubon Park and the Families Who Shaped It (Fordham University Press, September 2020)
"The Upper Riverside Residents Association, a volunteer group in northern Manhattan working to save and preserve the mid-nineteenth-century house sitting at 857 Riverside Drive, has uncovered convincing evidence that the house was part of New York State’s Underground Railroad."
Friends of the
Hopper Gibbons House Underground Railway Site and Lamartine Place Historic District
Fern Luskin, Co-Chair
"An extant 1851 wood frame house is in and of itself such a rarity in Manhattan, but one that was built by a known abolitionist, Dennis Harris, occupies a special place in New York City history and should not be demolished, only to be replaced by a 13-story tower. If the DOB and the LPC lets Sigmund Freund, who has previously engaged in numerous illegalities on his other properties, go ahead with this project, other developers will feel gleefully unencumbered to do likewise. New York City must prevent the destruction of 857 Riverside Drive so that future generations can see one of the few traces of the Abolitionist movement, and perhaps even an Underground Railroad Station, that are still extant."
Hopper Gibbons House Underground Railway Site and Lamartine Place Historic District
Julie Finch, Co-Chair
"857 Riverside Drive is an incredible part of New York City history, and part of Underground Railroad history."
President, Laurence Frommer
"We wholeheartedly support landmark designation of this important structure, for its inherent architectural quality and rarity, and the important lessons in New York City’s cultural history it can uniquely help teach. Its embodiment of the abolitionist movement and role in the underground railroad rise to national significance."
Andrew Berman, Executive Director
While the structure’s physical appearance has changed over time, its cultural significance in relation to abolitionist history and the history of the development of New York is beyond question. Documented extant sites connected to prominent abolitionists and the abolitionist movement in New York City deserve special recognition, and No. 857 Riverside is believed to be the only remaining such site north of 96th Street.
West Harlem Community Preservation Organization,
Yuien Chin, Executive Director
“The abolitionist history is significant."
Volunteers for Isham Park
Pat Courtney, Founder and Adviser to Historic Districts Council
"The extensive and excellent arguments made by the local community on behalf of the preservation of 857 RSD should certainly be sufficient to stop its demolition."
Lynn Ellsworth, Founder
"The wanton and pathological destruction of historic fabric in New York City is totally
unnecessary and without justification even with affordable housing as one of many public policy goals."
"We support this effort to save this house and its resident. This house is a really important piece of the neighborhood and the neighborhood's past. Destroying this house and residence to profit an infamous developer is without merit. Without preserving our past, we have no future."
Community League of the Heights (CLOTH)
Yvonne Stennett, Executive Director
CLOTH supports the development of affordable housing and preservation of historical landmarks that tell the story of our community’s rich past. We do not support the development of 100% market rate condominiums that do not meet the housing needs of the residents of our community."
Upper Riverside Residents Alliance
"We are committed to preserving 857 RSD, a two-story wood-frame house dating back to 1851, and currently under threat of demolition. The situation has become especially urgent because the building’s new owner has applied for permits to raze and replace this historic structure with a 13-story non-contextual condo tower. In addition to the structural rarity of this frame-house in the current streetscape, it is likely that 857 RSD is the only extant building in northern Manhattan known to have been directly linked to the anti-slavery abolitionist movement which took hold in the 30 years before the American Civil War. The preservation and designation of 857 RSD as a cultural landmark would give all New Yorkers—most especially those communities of color—a fuller, more nuanced and inspiring perspective which is arguably the most important human rights movement in American history."
George Calderaro, Preservation Committee Chair
Victorian Society Metro Chapter
The two-story house at 857 Riverside Drive is also historically significant. Community members have submitted a Request for Evaluation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) based on the building’s importance in the abolitionist movement.