The Historic Districts Council of New York City’s Executive Director Frampton Tolbert penned a rebuttal letter in response to Ginia Bellafante’s New York Times article, “Why Has This 258-Year-Old Mansion Been Left to Fall Apart?” concerning decay at the Morris-Jumel mansion in Upper Manhattan.
Morris-Jumel Mansion, built in 1765, is Manhattan’s oldest surviving residence. Constructed for the Morris family, the original property comprised fifty modern city blocks. The house would later serve as the headquarters for General George Washington as well as the British military and Hessian troops during the American Revolution.
After serving as a tavern for a number of years, Stephen and Eliza Jumel purchased the house in 1810, and embarked on a series of major renovations, reflective of contemporary nineteenth-century tastes. The home became a museum in 1904.
In the article, Bellafante lays blame for the mansion’s deterioration on its landmarked status, and goes on to assert that landmarking both impedes affordable housing and obscures the history of landmarked sites.
In his rebuttal letter, Tolbert draws a distinction between the city’s landmark review process, and the city’s capital funding process, which he identifies as the underlying cause of the slow pace of repairs at Morris-Jumel.
He goes on to tout preservation and adaptive reuse as necessary tools in the fight for affordable housing, citing “new large affordable housing buildings [that] have been approved on landmark sites including at St. James Episcopal Church in the Bronx and at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on the Lower East Side,” and “the reuse of historic buildings for new housing, such as the conversion of the Triborough Hospital for Tuberculosis in Jamaica and the reuse of the central building at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bushwick.”
You can read Tolbert’s letter here.
Upcoming Virtual Event
The effort to restore the Morris-Jumel mansion is ongoing. On Wednesday, December 20th, Morris-Jumel Mansion will host a free virtual event on the Morris-Jumel Mansion’s exterior restoration and accessibility project.
The event will feature “an expert panel” including representatives from each partner in the project: MJM, Historic House Trust, Page Ayers Cowley Architects, and NYC Parks.
Photo of Morris-Jumel Mansion provided.