Saving a Landmark in the Bronx

DJ Kool Herc, one of the founders of hip-hop, which got its start at the General Sedgwick House in the Bronx
DJ Kool Herc. Photo courtesy Raif Heid, Creative Commons BY-NC

The deteriorating building at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, also known as General Sedgwick House, is credited as being the birthplace of hip-hop, where DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) first played his breakbeats in all-night parties in the building’s rec room, but it’s also the location of a mortgage partnership that is expected to put the address on the road to repair.

Since being removed from the city’s Mitchell-Lama program that provides affordable rental and cooperative housing to moderate- and middle-income families in 2008, 1520 Sedgwick has been in a steady state of decline, a decline that has been widely attributed to the building’s ownership by real estate investor Mark Karasick and other investors. But now, the sale of the building’s $6.2 million mortgage to a partnership between Workforce Housing Advisors and WinnResidential, with the help of $5.6 million loan from the city’s Housing Development Corporation, is expected to improve conditions. The partnership purchased the mortgage from Sovereign Bank, with the city’s financing coming from a $750 million municipal fund for the rescue of multifamily buildings from unsupportable debt.

“It had gotten to a point where nothing was being done properly around the building,” Gloria Robinson, president of the Sedgwick tenants’ association, told The New York Times. “The garbage wasn’t being picked up, the floors weren’t being cleaned. It just got really, really bad. It’s like we’re starting fresh now.”

To be sure, it’s a victory for tenants of the building, as well as for the neighborhood that had been eyed by speculators before the real estate bubble burst. But it’s also a victory for a building that has immense cultural significance.

In a recent article in Shelterforce, Nancy Biberman, the co-founder and president of the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCo), places heavy emphasis on the role of community development in preserving history in neighborhoods that face the challenges of decay, redevelopment, and more decay in the Bronx:

“Without the recreation centers, thriving schools, theaters and shops that had made the Bronx attractive generations earlier, the harsh memories of leveled neighborhoods persisted, even among newly raised residential buildings.”

The article continues:

“While the destruction of the Bronx spanned more than a decade and was not a single cataclysmic event such as Katrina, it was nonetheless equally traumatic and profound. It shredded the social fabric of tens of thousands of lives, and resulted in a terrible loss of memory and an enduring and wholly unwarranted sense of shame and responsibility among today’s residents about what happened in and to the Bronx.”

The promise of renewal at General Sedgwick House offers hope for myriad tenants occupying those units, but also for the neighborhood, where a building with cultural and neighborhood significance will be preserved.

Matthew Brian Hersh served as senior editor at Shelterforce from March 2008 to October 2012. He studied English at Rutgers University and has spent his professional career in journalism, policy, and politics.


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