Angel on a mission to save uptown
Monday, July 16th 2007, 4:00 AM
Ask Carolyn Kent to talk about herself and she stuffs a résumé in your hand and says look at it later.
Kent has other things she wants to discuss. Foremost is her battle to somehow halt the construction of a 200-foot-tall, 300-unit luxury apartment building on a stretch of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine campus that sits on the northwest corner of theintersection of Cathedral Parkway and Morningside Drive.
Kent, a preservationist who, as a member of a variety of community groups including the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee and the Morningside Heights Residents Association, has saved numerous West Harlem buildings by securing landmark designation, is not at all deterred by the excavation underway at the construction site.
"Can't we just leave this world-renowned site alone?" Kent said as she walked through the cathedral campus near the diocesan house, the back wall of which abuts the construction site. "When I come here, I feel like I am in the land of God. Why disrupt this beautiful place?"
Noting that the condominiums will tower over the three-story diocesan house, she added: "I have nightmares that one day I'll look up and see people walking around in their bathrobes."
Kent has been active in West Harlem preservation efforts almost since she started graduate studies at Columbia University in the late 1950s.
Working with a variety of groups like Community Board 9, the Sugar Hill Preservation Committee, the 5 block Protection Association and the Hamilton Heights/West Harlem Community Preservation Organization, Kent has been involved in securing landmark status for buildings and communities uptown, including the Hamilton Theater and Lobby Building, the Croton Aqueduct 119th St. Gatehouse, Riverside Church, the Plant and Scrymser Pavilions at St. Luke's Hospital and the Claremont Theater building.
Last month, 85 people, including a bevy of uptown elected officials, gathered at a Hamilton Heights home to honor Kent for her preservation work with the first Preservation Angel award.
"I admire her ability to get major institutions like Columbia University and churches in West Harlem to appreciate their role in this community," said state Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem), who has worked closely with Kent on many preservation issues.
Hamilton Heights/West Harlem Community Preservation Organization President Ronald Melichar said his group created the Preservation Angel award in Kent's honor.
"I know no one who has given such personal attention to preservation issues in our community as Carolyn has," Melichar said. "If you walk down Broadway from 110th to 150th St., which is the spine of our community, I don't think there is a block that you can look down and not see something, big or small, that Carolyn was involved in saving for future generations."
Avra Petrides, artistic director of the Bridge Stage of the Arts on W. 78th St., said Kent helped her group find the Hamilton Theater, a shuttered vaudevillian theater the Petrides group plans to renovate into a performance space.
"Carolyn is a spirited and fierce defender of the architecture and communities of Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville," said Petrides, who organized the program honoring Kent. "She is unafraid to take on thorny issues, sometimes completely alone."
"That's why she got the first Preservation Angel award," said Perkins. "She set the bar pretty high."
Clem Richardson writes the City Beat and Great People columns. Prior to joining the Daily News in 1993, he worked for New York Newsday, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Atlanta Journal-Consitution and the Anderson Independent newspapers. The Duke University graduate is married and the father of two.