Jack is a volunteer at the CCNY Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years. His articles have over 120,000 views.
This building sits on the corner of Convent Ave and 141st Street in the borough of Manhattan. At one time, it was the residence of the President of the City College. Later, it was used as office space for the Alumni organization. After a fire in the 1970s, it is boarded up to prevent any injury to trespassers. There were some attempts to restore it but all failed for various reasons. A very sad ending. Hopefully, it will rise from the ashes...
- Apr. 2019
280 Convent Ave.
A Bit of History...
Dalton Whiteside, Physical Plant Collections Specialist at the City College Archives", provided the following background -
The Alumni House was built from 1899 - 1902 by architect Henri Fouchaux as the bookend of a full set of rowhouses between 141St. and 142 St. along Convent Ave. The building was acquired by City college in 1918 serving as the President's Mansion until 1948, when it became home to the Alumni Association Offices and named "The Alumni House". The Alumni Association moved out of the building and into Finely Student Center in 1958. By the 1970's the building was used as the Financial Aid Office. At some point also in the 70's a fire damaged some of the interior. It was subsequently gutted and has remained empty since. Some of the original wainscoting and fireplaces were salvaged and remain wrapped for potential reinstallation in the future on the 3rd Floor.
It was in 2013-14 that the Colin Powell School hired Enead architects to create a design proposal to have the building turned into a headquarters for the Colin Powell Center. The building was going to be named for US Representative Charles Rangel as he planned to donate towards restoring the building into a museum for his collections he gave to the Archives at that time. However, an ethics investigation ensued into Rangel's position as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and the plans for the Alumni House fell through.
However, to update the building for educational use required additional egress stairs for fire safety. A glass addition at the rear with a stair and elevator was pitched but the community board hated it and the cost for the project skyrocketed. The Colin Powell School decided to reserve it's funds for other purposes. It also didn't help that President Lisa Coico had a financial scandal that put all college spending into question.
The building remains empty today and continues to decay.
Unfortunately, this building has been boarded up since the 1970s. Apparently, due to a fire, the internal structures have been gutted. There are some temporary planks and wood joists and plywood for inspectors to access the various floors. It is deemed unsafe for anyone to enter.
View From Convent Ave.
The building is owned by New York State. It is in a permanent limbo state until a plan can be drawn up. So far, it is very low on the priority list given the current budget crisis at the college and the lack of funding, and lack of interest.
It is a shame to let this beautiful structure sits idle in a prime location, right off campus. Something needs to be done. It is about time, after 40 plus years.
My suggestion is let’s start a real dialog here, on HubPages. Please take the poll. Use the comment section at the end of this article. Please send me your ideas on how to proceed. If you have some personal knowledge or expertise, please share it. Let’s start a grass root movement. Contact your local politicians. Write a letter to the governor or mayor... Write an Op Ed to the local newspaper...
Notice I did not mention anything about funding. That is deliberate. In any project like this, the first thing discussed is how are we going to pay for it. I take exception to that idea. The problem here is not about funding. Yes, it will require some funds to get it done. The bigger problem is having a viable project plan that is signed off by all stakeholders. Once we have that, raising the money to achieve it should be a piece of cake. Without a plan, this project will just be a pipe dream and a money pit.
A Personal Observation
I am a voluntary board member of the Asian Alumni group. I am fairly new to this position, only since 2017. In the two years being involved with the various groups at CCNY, I must say it has been an eye opener for me. As an alumnus, graduated in 1974 with an engineering degree, worked a long career in corporate America, and spent the last 10 years of my career in a non-profit organization, I have not experienced a working environment like CCNY.
The problem I see is systemic. It is a problem that transcends not just CCNY but across all CUNY schools. As bad as the current budget crisis is at CCNY, last known to be $19 million, the bigger problem is the structure that exists. I am not assigning any blame here but just pointing out the obvious. If we were to receive a ton of money from some wealthy donor tomorrow, it still won’t fix the underlying problems that I witnessed.
This one small example of a building, the Alumni House, encapsulated all that is wrong here. Between the regulations and contracts and labor negotiations and cost overruns and project management, it is all here. You can make the excuse that this is what they had to deal with...their hands were tied...it is the ”system.” Or, you can take a new approach.
We can start by adopting “scrum methodology” to implement any new projects. Scrum is a project management methodology that has proven to work for any large projects that requires teamwork. The good news is this is not rocket science. It has been tried successfully on all sorts of projects for some 30 years. The key is to follow the plan exactly, no shortcuts or excuses.
A Simple Question?
I assume this building was insured back in 1970, just as all other building on campus at the time. Why didn’t the insurance company pay for the fire damage at the time? How could this tragedy have happen? I just have to wonder...
I came across this building almost by accident. Having visited the North Campus on numerous occasions this past year, I was not aware there was such a building called “Alumni House.” By coincident, I am helping the archive on a small restoration project as a volunteer. I happen to mention this to the Assistant Archivist, Dalton Whiteside about this building I had just walked past. He provided the long history noted above. He is a walking encyclopedia on many of the buildings that existed on the CCNY campus, not only the new buildings but many of the old buildings going back to the 1930s. He has taken up a personal interest in creating a virtual street view of the campus, almost like a time capsule. I am grateful for his expertise input for this article. He is one of the few unsung hero trying to save and preserve our long and prestigious history.
My hope in writing this article is to light a fire on the public and the community. Let’s all work in harmony to restore this building to a functional state, whatever form that may be.
In my effort to learn more about this building and its history and attempt at renovation, I received a number of comments and advice from various individuals which will remain anonymous. The gist of their argument is that this project is just too big to tackle by one person. It is deeply mired in the government bureaucracy. There are just too many moving parts. There are various agencies and local zoning board and the community of Hamilton Heights which will try and put up obstacles. The current funding crisis at the College is also a top priority and this building is just one of the casualties.
What am I to make of all this? Is there a common ground where all concerned can come together and resolve our differences?
Walking down this block, I saw several renovation projects underway, some small some very large. Obviously, this part of Hamilton Heights is undergoing a revival phase. I saw a real estate sign just down the block from the Alumni House. It was listed for $3.8 million. It was a 5 bedroom, 5 bath 4400 sq. ft. house of a similar design and in moved in condition. The Alumni House is a corner unit and should be able to command a higher price if repaired and brought up to current code. Why don’t we start from there as the minimum objective? At least, this space would be occupied and preserved. Alternatively, do we wait another 40 years...?
A Neighbor House - John Henrik Clarke
Some Related Info
- Daytonian in Manhattan: CCNY's President's Mansion -- No. 280 Convent Avenue
More history on this unique building...
- City College to Renovate Vacant Hamilton Heights Townhouse | The City College of New York
Alumni House to house offices and conference spaces for Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership The City College of New York is pleased to announce that Alumni House, a limestone townhouse it owns in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights Historic Dis
- City College to Renovate Vacant Hamilton Heights Townhouse | The City College of New York
Alumni House to house offices and conference spaces for Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership The City College of New York is pleased to announce that Alumni House, a limestone townhouse it owns in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights Historic...
- Historic City College building sits empty with no signs of life
NY Post article published in June 2018 by Melissa Klein.
A Simple Un-Scientific Poll
Some of My Other Articles...Related to CCNY
I also wrote an article for the Alumnus Magazine paying tribute to our fencing coach.
The Winter 2009 issue of Alumnus Magazine - "Memories of Our Coach"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jack Lee
Jack Lee (author) from Yorktown NY on April 10, 2019:
Let me start the discussion by proposing one option. I believe this house should be restored to the original residential house it was intended. The upgraded zoning code requiring a second entry/exit way should be added at a minimum. The internal renovation and restoration should be done at minimum cost. Upgrade should be made to the existing heating and AC system. The exterior grounds and garden and backyard should be landscaped. By restoring the house to a livable space, we can then entertain what to do with it.
If the house can be valued at $4 million, spend $1 million to restore it would provide a return on investment of 300%. That is a great ROI in any business transaction.