Rucker Park, Home to NBA and Street Ball Stars, Could Become Landmark

By Jeff Mays on January 9, 2012 6:51am | Updated on January 9, 2012 7:29am

HARLEM — Rucker Park is already a landmark in the basketball world.

Now, Community Board 10 wants it to be officially recognized as a historic landmark in the city.

"We've got this amazing sports site that people around the world know about. You literally have people coming from all over the world to watch the tournament," said CB 10 District Manager Paimaan Lodhi.

"You look across the river from Rucker where the old Yankee Stadium used to stand, and you see that it's across the street from the old Polo Grounds and we don't want what happened to those places to happen at Rucker," he added.

Legends have long played at Rucker Park, from Dr. J to Kobe Bryant, and its legacy as Manhattan's epicenter of hoops continues to grow. NBA star Kevin Durant dropped 66 points at the Entertainer's Basketball Classic this past summer sending the crowd at 155th Street and Frederic Douglass Boulevard into a joyous frenzy.

Greg Marius, CEO and founder of the Entertainer's Basketball Classic, which has run the Rucker Tournament at the 155th Street location since 1986, was excited to hear about the idea.

"It's already a landmark. I just heard that they named a park in China Rucker Park," said Marius. "I would love for it to be an official landmark."

The effort to landmark Rucker Park is part of a larger movement by the board to preserve historic areas of Central Harlem as part of its new preservation plan.

After the 125th Street rezoning plan opened the street up for 20-plus story high-rise buildings, there was a realization that Central Harlem may actually be under landmarked compared to other parts of Manhattan, such as the Upper West Side and the Village.

Central Harlem currently has two designated historic areas, the landmarked buildings of Striver's Row at 138th and 139th streets between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, and the Mount Morris Park Historic District.

There is a plan underway to expand the 16-block Mount Morris Park Historic District which now covers the streets between Marcus Garvey Park and Lenox Avenue to include Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. Under the tentative CB 10 proposal, both sides of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard would be included in the expanded district and add buildings such as Graham Court.

National Basketball Association player Kevin Durant scored 66 points at the Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park in Harlem in August 2011.
National Basketball Association player Kevin Durant scored 66 points at the Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park in Harlem in August 2011.
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MJS23/Flickr

Other areas worthy for landmark status include neighborhoods East of Morningside Park and South of 125th Street where there are clusters of buildings built before 1900 and between 1900 and 1910.

"If you look at the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side and the landmarks we have, there are areas and buildings worthy of consideration," said Lodhi.

Rucker Park, named after Parks Department worker Holcombe Rucker who started a basketball tournament to keep disadvantaged children out of harm's way, would be eligible for landmark status according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"Parks can be landmarked by virtue of being inside a historic district or as an individual 'scenic' landmark," said LPC spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon.

CB 10 is working with an urban planning fellow from New York University to refine their proposal. The board expects to vote on a final preservation plan this spring.

"We've had 10 NBA scoring champs and many of the NBA's top 50 players," said Marius, 'so landmarking the site would be like a cap on top of all that history."

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