Rehabilitation Project to Receive Highest Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy for preserving New York City’s architectural heritage
New York State investing nearly $15 million towards upgrades at the armory, part of a $52 million state and federal undertaking with the U.S. Department of Defense
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that a $2.2 million project to rehabilitate the entrance facade of the Harlem Armory, home to the New York Army National Guard’s “Harlem Hellfighters,” will be honored with the Lucy G. Moses Award. This distinction is the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s highest award and recognizes the outstanding efforts aimed at preserving New York City’s architectural heritage. The entrance facade rehabilitation is part of a $52 million undertaking to upgrade the historic building.
“The Harlem Armory represents a critical component of New York’s unique history and the storied past of the Harlem Hellfighters,” Governor Cuomo said. “This project will not only honor their sacrifice and legacy, but ensure the Armory remains an economic and educational asset for generations to come. I am proud of our efforts to preserve the Empire State’s important landmarks and thank the New York City Landmarks Conservancy for this award.”
The facade project replaced 300 pieces of terra cotta, which decorated the face of the building and reinforced the underpinnings of the parapet wall. The most noticeable work involved replacing two five-foot high Art Deco eagles – each comprised of 13 individual pieces – decorating the corners of the entrance tower. The replacement terra cotta decorative elements and the eagles were created by the western New York firm of Boston Valley Terra Cotta in Orchard Park, which has manufactured ceramic products for over a century.
The total cost of the facade work was split between the state and federal government, with the state funding $1.2 million and the federal government providing $1 million towards the rehabilitation effort. As part of the complete armory upgrade, New York State will invest $14.8 million while the U.S. Department of Defense will fund the remaining $37.4 million.
The project involved redoing the 5th Avenue facade of the armory that towers over the East River and Harlem River Drive. The armory was constructed in two sections to house the 369th Infantry Regiment: a medieval-style drill hall finished in 1924, and the Art Deco administrative and office complex completed in 1933.
Planning for the 5th Avenue facade restoration began in September 2012 and construction finished on Jan. 2, 2015. The next phase of the facade restoration will bring the 142nd street and 143rd street sides of the armory up to the same standard as the 5th Avenue side. Work on upgrading the armory began early in 2015, with the goal moving units back into the upgraded building in early 2017. Along with upgrading the overall building interior and heating and ventilation system, the project includes installing a modern data/communication system. In addition, the facility will have modern audio and visual equipment in select classrooms and administrative spaces.
The building was made a New York City landmark in 1985 and placed on the New York State and National Registers of historic places in 1994. Maintaining the look of the building was critical for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs and the Office of General Services. The Office of General Services served as the project manager working on behalf of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs. The architect for the project was the New York City architectural and engineering design firm, STV.
“Our armories are places for our Citizen Soldier to train, prepare for deployments, and also serve as bases of operation during emergencies so it is vital that older buildings be refurbished to suit the needs of a 21st Century military force.” said Major General Anthony German, the Adjutant General of New York. “But our armories are also part of their communities and we want to preserve the look of these historic structures that are part of New York City’s neighborhoods. This recognition from the Landmarks Conservancy shows we are accomplishing that goal.”
“It is a privilege to support The Division of Military and Naval Affairs with the preservation and renovation efforts for this legendary armory,” said Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito. “We appreciate the efforts and historic sensitivities of everyone involved with this restoration, which is a proud reflection on our State and all the military units that serve and have served in this building.”
Congressman Charles B. Rangel said, “I applaud Governor Cuomo for his efforts to restore this incredibly important piece of Harlem’s history and legacy. As a Korean War veteran I was honored to follow in the footsteps of the Harlem Hellfighters, who showed valiant heroism and patriotism despite facing racism at home. I was proud to secure a charter for the 369th Infantry Regiment whose contributions to our nation should be never forgotten. This $2.2 million upgrade will ensure that the story of Black soldiers who broke barriers will continue to inspire generations of Americans.”
STV Senior Architect Leonard Sherman said, "For those of us in the architectural and historic preservation professions, this is a very prestigious award representing outstanding preservation work. It's an honor to be a part of restoring and preserving such a significant part of Harlem's architectural history and cultural heritage, and to be part of an elite group of city landmarks to be recognized by the Conservancy."
The armory, built to house the 369th Infantry Regiment, is now home to the 369th Sustainment Brigade of the New York Army National Guard. That unit carries the history and honors of the Harlem Hell Fighters of World War I.
The 369th Infantry Regiment was an African-American New York National Guard unit which became famous during World War I fighting with the French Army. They served under French command because the segregated American Army did not want black Soldiers in combat. More than 100 members of the regiment earned the French Croix de Guerre and the unit served more than six months in combat. During their days in combat the men of the 369th never lost a trench to the enemy or retreated. The regiment was given the nickname “Hell Fighters” by their German opponents because of their ferocity in battle.
The most famous member of the 369th was Sgt. Henry Johnson who fought off a German attack against his scouting position on the night of May 14 - 15, 1918. Johnson and his colleague, Needham Roberts, were posted beyond the main trenches when they were attacked by a dozen German troops seeking prisoners. When Roberts was incapacitated in the struggle, Johnson fought on alone, armed with his bolo knife and killed several German soldiers in the process. While Johnson was awarded the French Croix De Guerre, he was not awarded any American military honors. This oversight was corrected in 2015 when Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Barack Obama.