On November 1, 1974, then Mayor Abraham Beame formally dedicated 1199 Plaza. The dedication marked the completion of one of New York’s most "architecturally significant" cooperative housing projects and also one of its most troubled. Although plagued by design changes, red tape and structural problems the Plaza remains an imposing landmark overlooking the East River.
With demand for housing in the city as great then as it is now, the Plaza's 1594 units, built under the state's Mitchell-Lama law, were seen as a partial solution to some of the housing problems in the East Harlem community and the answer to some apartment-seeker' s dream .
There has always been something a little special about this housing complex of four "U-shaped, dark brick stepped-down buildings" on the East River between 107th and 111th Streets. For a decade row, the cooperators of 1199 Plaza have struggled to realize their dream. For some, it's a dream come true. For others, it's a dream deferred. But for all, it’s home.
It all began in 1963 when the Ruberoid Company sponsored a design competition for low-income housing in East Harlem. Thomas H. Hodne, a Minneapolis architect, was announced the winner. His design introduced a mix of high-rise and low rise sections, a daring idea in 1963 that is now part of common wisdom.
In 1968, District 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Workers Union was selected as sponsors of this six year-old project to build low and moderate income housing in East Harlem. The move by District 1199 has been characterized as a unique and ambitious undertaking by a progressive labor union. They formed 1199 Housing Corporation in July 1970 naming Doris Turner, a Vice President of District 1199, as President of the Board of Directors. Other directors on that original board were : Edward R. Bragg, Leon J. Davis, President of District 1199; Humberto Cintron, Philip Kamenkowitz, Ramon Malave, Theodore Mitchell, Peter Pascale, Harry Quintana , Lorenzo Santiago, William J. Taylor, and Rev. Alfred Di Terlizzi. Although some consideration was given to naming the development, The Arthur Schomburg Plaza, the Board of Directors quickly moved to name the project 1199 Plaza. For the purpose of apartment sales and management of the Plaza, the Board of Directors hired the real estate firm Webb, Brooks & Brooker, Inc.
Needless to say, housing was a new experience for the union; a learning experience. But there were other profiles in courage as well. That courage was exhibited by the 1199 Plaza Tenant Advisory Board. This group of cooperators, whose names were drawn from a hat in June 1974, was the body with no policy-making powers that were responsible for organizing the four buildings, responding to the cooperators frustrations and working in an advisory capacity to the sponsoring board of directors and management. That first council included: Joan Austin, Mary Blades, Isabelle Blakeney, Ada Bowles, Leona Boyd, Genevieve Brooks, David Cunningham, Catherine DeCasseres, Joann Henry, Willie Mae Hines, George Richards, and Patricia Wilson.
Early on enthusiasm was high. Cooperators readily volunteered to join commit tees, they became floor captains, and they worked to realize their dream. When apartment sales were slow the board of directors announced they would offer a free black & white television to any cooperator who recommended perspective buyers to the sales office.
One of the first major tests of cooperative cohesiveness came in April 1977, when a hearing was held in regard to the application made by the New York City Housing and Development Administration for an increase in carrying charges. The hearing took place at Jefferson Park Junior High School. To an overflow audience of cooperators Doris Turner of the Board of Directors, Genevieve Brooks as Chairperson of the 1199 Plaza Advisory Council and the other professionals presented their case for the Housing Corporation. They pointed out that before any increase could even be considered, HOA must fulfill its obligation to have construction defects corrected, mortgage refinancing explored, and the Housing Company’s projections of income and expense consideration. The hearing resulted in a carrying charge in crease to take effect October 1978.
In September 1978, the mortgage on 1199 Plaza was refinanced. Prior to refinancing the Plaza was operating at a deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Refinancing gave the Plaza a fresh financial start. It reduced mortgage payments, created a reserve account, provided for an art fund, and paved the way for the election of the first resident Board of Directors.
On December 16, 1978, new leadership emerged at the Plaza. The first resident Board of Directors was elected with William R. Dames serving as Board President. The other directors on the eleven member board were: William O'Brien, Thomas Oliver, Don Pettiford, Gertrude Samuels, Hazel Sealy, James Torres, Robert V. Washington, Leroy Williams, Flubye Wright, and Abdullah Yoba.
Although not elected to the board of directors at the time, Eugenia McCants and Floyd Washington were actually the first residents to serve on the board. In 1978, they were appointed to the sponsoring Board of Directors by Doris Turner.
In a move that had been rumored, but nevertheless took many cooperators by surprise, was the August 1981 management change. The Board of Directors replaced Webb & Brooker, Inc. with Grenadier Realty Corporation, a division of Starrett Housing Corporation, the builders of 1199 Plaza. In addition, the board approved a 33% increase in carrying charges, resulting in hardship for many cooperators.
Over the last six years however, our resident Board of Directors has gotten progressively better. They have learned to make those tough unpopular decisions that would benefit the entire development. And in spite of rocketing fuel and electric prices, they have managed to control costs.
1199 Plaza has, for ten years now, been a stable, productive addition to a changing East Harlem community. And along the way it has received a few architectural awards; they include: 1963-National Design Competition, 1975'."" New York City Municipal Art Society's Certificate of Merit and Minnesota Society of the American Institute of Architects' Honor Award, 1976-The City Club of New York Bard Award- Honor Award for excellence in architecture and the Design and Environment, N.Y.C. Design Excellence Award, and in 1977 -The American Institute of Architects' Barlett Award and the prestigious National Honor Award.
It took twelve years of red tape and so much redesign that the present scheme bears little resemblance to the original design, but it was all worth it. And more important, it's home.
Prepared Courtesy of