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Features

Rendering of Ray Harlem (Ray) Rendering of Ray Harlem (Ray)
All too often in New York, the appearance of a beloved theater and a big-name developer in the same sentence involves the theater being demolished to make way for a charmless condominium. However, we are happy to report that the opposite is happening at 2031-2033 Fifth Avenue, longtime home of the National Black Theater: A key component of Ray Harlem, a new 240-foot-high, 20-story building planned for the site, is a new, state-of-the-art home for the theater.
The development is the flagship for Ray, the developer of residential spaces “at the intersection of art and culture, community, and accessible pricing.” Founder Dasha Zhukova established Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008 and brings that experience to her firm’s work. L&M Development is another development partner on this project.
Renderings of the new building, designed by Frida Escobedo in partnership with Handel Architects, depict a tower rising from a four-story podium. The pink-red brick facade references the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove in Nigeria. The site of the previous building has been cleared, and completion is estimated for spring 2024.
2033-Fifth-Avenue-01 Theater entrance (Ray)
2033-Fifth-Avenue Building site, May 2022 (CityRealty)
The ground floor of Ray Harlem will offer retail space, a residential entrance, and the Living Room, a community space on the corner of 126th Street and Fifth Avenue. The second through fourth floors will be entirely devoted to the National Black Theater, featuring a 250-seat flexible temple space, a 99-seat studio theater, classrooms, and offices.
Ray is working with the National Black Theater on an Artist Housing Initiative that will create better access to housing for local artists and creatives. That program will be central to the residential component of the building, which will offer 222 studio through two-bedroom apartments. A portion of units has been designated affordable, and a May 2021 Gotham to Go article suggests that households earning 40, 50, and 130 percent of the Area Median Income will qualify. Amenities are expected to include an artists’ studio, library, coworking lounge, wellness space, courtyard, and rooftop terrace and kitchen.
Site map (via NYC DCP)
Manhattan Community Board 11, the City Planning Commission, and then-Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have all spoken in favor of the project. It is in the Special 125th Street District, which provides developers a bonus of four square feet of extra floor area for every one square foot of arts space within the development. This initiative was created to support 125th Street’s role as an arts, entertainment, and business center, which is exactly what the new project is set to become.
The National Black Theater was founded by Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in 1968 and has since become one of the oldest Black theaters in the country, not to mention the oldest Black theater owned and operated by a Black woman. Dr. Teer’s vision for her theater extended beyond productions by and about Black Americans – after the building was damaged in a fire in 1983, Dr. Teer bought the building with the idea that the real estate could subsidize the art. Dr. Teer died in 2008; her daughter, Sade Lythcott, is now the theater’s chief executive.
Dr. Teer founded the National Black Theater at a pivotal time in American history, and The New York Times observes that the new building is taking shape at a time when prominent voices have called for change amidst problems with racism and inequity in the theater industry. Over the years, the National Black Theater has hosted artists like Maya Angelou, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone. This summer’s programming includes Fat Ham, a co-production with the Public Theater, and Dreaming Zenzile, a co-production with New York Theatre Workshop.
 
 
 
 
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Additional Info About the Building

 
Content Specialist Michelle Mazzarella Michelle is a contributing writer and editor for real estate news in New York City