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Famed Architect George Ranalli Ditches Chelsea for Harlem

By Gustavo Solis | November 13, 2014 2:16pm
 The famous architect moved into the neighborhood earlier this year.
George Ranalli
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WEST HARLEM — Internationally renowned architect George Ranalli has ditched his Chelsea office for Harlem.

Ranalli, the dean of City College’s architecture school, who taught at Yale for 20 years, has had work featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has given lectures in Turin, Rome, Tokyo and all over the U.S., set up a new office at 447 West 127th St. this past June.

“I moved in here because I love the building,” Ranalli, 67, said of the summer move. “I wouldn’t have moved into a building I didn’t like.”

Ranalli's work in New York City includes designing the Chelsea Day School, the Saratoga Avenue Community Center, the Queens College Student Union and the Master Plan for the College of the City of New York.

The new Harlem office features exposed brick, high ceilings and massive glass doors that let in plenty of sunlight. Ranalli was drawn to the small details like the metal work along the walls, which give the building a bit of character, he said.

About a month into his move Ranalli, a Bronx native, began to recognize a lot of the streets but he didn’t know why. It wasn’t until he spoke with his mother that the famous architect remembered his connection to this part of Harlem.

“My father’s milk route was from 145th to 116th along Broadway and Amsterdam,” he said. “I used to go on the route with him when I was a kid. When he was done we used to stay in the neighborhood.”

That was in the late 50’s when Ranalli was a teenager. His father worked for the Sealtest Milk Company, and every Saturday, when he only had half a route, the two head out around 5 a.m. to deliver the milk, he said.

On their way back to the Bronx, they’d park their car on a bridge that overlooked the Polo Grounds and watch the New York Giants play.

“You could see Willie Mays at centerfield,” Ranalli said.

The decision to move to in the middle of West Harlem's Factory District, was an easy one, Ranalli said.

His lease in Chelsea was up and he was tired of having to commute between Chelsea and City College. He is also saving 40 percent on rent, he said.

“We’ll be able to hire another architect,” he added.

The space also makes it easier for his students to visit the office. He plans to hold events, like the release of his upcoming book, "In Situ," at the office.

Ranalli has warmed up to the neighborhood and uses local spots to entertain out-of-town visitors. He has taken people to Covo and Dinosaur BBQ down under the Viaduct and he also visits Harlem Maison, which is a little closer to the office, he said.

It isn’t the first time Ranalli ditched a high-profile neighborhood for cheaper rent. In the late 1970’s he moved his Midtown office to Chelsea. At the time, the neighborhood was a factory district, he said.

When he moved to Chelsea, a lot of architects moved from Midtown to the Village. Now people are ditching that area for the outer boroughs.

“A lot of my former students have offices in Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City,“ he said.

The starchitect has been getting a lot of calls from colleagues asking him about the neighborhood. He suspects more will join him in the coming years.

Ranalli is the second big-name architect to move into West Harlem recently.

Peter Gluck, the founder of GLUCK Plus who has won dozens of awards for his work, moved into the old Sweets Building from Union Square five years ago.