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Morningside Heights Historic District Could Exclude St. John the Divine

By Della Hasselle | September 22, 2010 6:36am

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Imagine a historic district in Morningside Heights without St. John the Divine, Riverside Church or the picturesque brownstones near Morningside Park.

That's exactly what the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering.

At a Landmarks meeting Monday, tensions rose when residents of Morningside Heights clashed with the Commission over the potential plan for a historic district in the area, which, for the most part, would only include the Columbia University campus.

"Most people felt that the proposal the Landmarks Commission made was too small. It was just a sliver," said Walter South, a member of the neighborhood's Community Board 9. "You miss all these institutions that are incredibly interesting."

The Commission initially proposed a historic area from West 110th to West 119th streets, from Claremont Avenue and Broadway on the east side to Riverside Drive on the west.

South has been trying to establish a historic district for the area since 1996, and said that the area should extend farther east to Morningside Park so that it can include such landmarks as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue at West 112th Street.

Adding to the tensions, residents were upset that the Commission met only with Columbia University before Monday's meeting to discuss the campus property that would fall within the proposed historic district — they did not notify CB9 or any local political figures with an interest in the area's history, including Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell.

"What they did not do, and what I suggested, is a meeting with other players in the community," South said.

"They felt they have all the expertise, they felt they did all the research. But the reality is that they should have broadened their number of participants."

Lisi de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said that the meeting with Columbia was a very preliminary step for the potential creation of a historic district and added that the Commission was open to the expanded areas suggested at the meeting.

A spokesperson for Columbia University was not immediately available for comment.