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Ray Harlem (Luxigon) Ray Harlem (Luxigon)
Just over a year after construction commenced, Ray Harlem has topped out at 21 stories high at 2033 National Black Theater Way, a stretch of Fifth Avenue between 125th and 126th Streets named for its notable tenant. The lofty height and oversized windows are already evident; next to go up is the brick facade in a pink-red hue that references the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove in Nigeria and honors the original artisans behind the National Black Theater space. It is being designed by Frida Escobedo, whose design credits include the expanded Modern and Contemporary Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in partnership with Handel Architects.

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Ray Harlem, 2033 Fifth Avenue
Ray Harlem, 2033 Fifth Avenue East Harlem
The Harlem building is the flagship development of Ray, a firm dedicated to integrating art and culture into their residential projects. Founder Dasha Zhukova established Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008, and Ray Philly launched leasing earlier this summer. Ray Harlem is being developed in partnership with L&M Development.
Another member of the development team is National Black Theater, one of the site’s previous tenants and the nation’s oldest Black theater owned and operated by a Black woman. Dr. Barbara Ann Teer founded the theater in 1968; decades later, her daughter and son run the theater, which is getting a new, state-of-the-art home in the new building. It will include a 250-seat flexible temple space, a 99-seat flexible studio theater, a set-building workshop, classrooms, and offices.

The theater is not expected to come online until early 2026, but the commitment to the arts remains strong: A public art exhibition by Xenobia Bailey went up on the construction fence in spring 2023 as part of the City Canvas program, and the topping-out ceremony included a poetry reading, a live music performance, and a drum cadence upon arrival and dispersal.
National Black Theater entrance National Black Theater entrance (Luxigon)

“When we invest in culture, we invest in our communities – nowhere is that connection clearer than here at the future home of the National Black Theater” – Laurie Cumbo, NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner

The new theater will take place on the second through fourth floors, and the project will also include 222 mixed-income apartments on floors 5-20. Further details are not yet available, but a May 2021 Gotham to Go article suggests that households earning 40, 60, and 130 percent of the Area Median Income will be eligible to apply for the studios through two-bedrooms. The residential component is expected to open in late 2024.
In addition to the theater and apartments, Ray Harlem will bring new retail as well as a community gathering space dubbed the Living Room and situated on the ground floor corner of Fifth Avenue and 126th Street. Little Wing Lee, interior designer, founder of Black Folks in Design, and longtime Harlem resident, is designing the Living Room as well as the interiors of the building. In the process, she seeks to repurpose original architectural details, nod to the National Black Theater’s art collection, and create a color palette that complements the National Black Theater’s logo.
Ray Harlem is taking shape in a robust Harlem neighborhood. It is across the street from Harlem’s Shake Shack outpost and one block east of celebrated local favorites like Sylvia’s, Red Rooster, and Corner Social. It also benefits from easy access to Marcus Garvey Park, local conveniences, and the 2/3 and 4/5/6 trains, the latter of which will be part of the Second Avenue subway extension.
(Handel Architects)
2031-2033 Fifth Avenue Ray Harlem, October 2023 (CityRealty)
Ray Harlem 2031-2033 Fifth Avenue Ray Harlem, October 2023 (CityRealty)