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Cultural Center Begins Renovating Landmarked East Harlem Firehouse

By Gustavo Solis | September 16, 2014 4:23pm
  The vacant firehouse on 125th Street will become the Caribbean Cultural Center's new headquarters.
The Caribbean Cultural Center – African Diaspora Institute
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EAST HARLEM — A cultural group that has hosted music greats ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to A Tribe Called Quest is starting renovations on its future home — inside a landmarked 125th Street former firehouse.

The Caribbean Cultural Center – African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) broke ground Tuesday at the FDNY's Engine Co. 36, a vacant four-story firehouse at 120 E. 125th St. that was built in 1889 and decommissioned in 2003, officials said.

“After seven years of putting this project together we are finally starting the process,” the organization’s founder, Marta Moreno Vega, said during the groundbreaking ceremony. “We’ve been planning it on paper and in meetings for such a long time. It’s amazing, it makes it feel real.”

CCCADI is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Afro-Caribbean culture. They host concerts, gallery tours, workshops and conferences and offer professional development sessions, spiritual gatherings and residencies for teaching artists, according to their website.

In 2007, the city decided to repurpose the firehouse and "sold" it to CCCADI for $1. Since then the nonprofit has raised $7.5 million in capital funds for the project. The money came from federal, state, and local government as well as private donations, CCCADI spokesman Jonathan Slaff said.

After the breaking ground ceremony Tuesday, people danced to the music of an Afro-Caribbean band and looked through a small exhibit set up on the first floor.

"It really does belong here," said Myrta Cuadra-Lash, who grew up with Vega on East 102nd Street.

CCCADI has been temporarily using facilities at Park Avenue and East 125th Street, after selling their former headquarters at a brownstone at West 58th Street, officials said.

The renovation plans include creating a multi-use facility that will be able to host concerts, exhibits, workshops and conferences. The first three floors will host community events and the top floor will have offices and meeting rooms. Organizers hope to have the venue open by September 2015.

Admission to events at the center will be by donation. Entry fees for public programs and special events will be priced on a sliding scale to ensure they will be accessible to the entire community and especially young people, CCCADI officials added.

“How beautiful that the firehouse is now resurrected to serve the community again,” said Angelina Fontanez, who a spiritual leader who has worked with CCADI for years.