The Last Fireplaces

On Earth Day in 2014, as part of a clean-air initiative, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that as of July 1, 2014 the construction of new wood-burning fireplaces would be banned in New York City.

Under the new regulations, residents who already have wood-burning fireplaces or who have reconstructed their fireplaces prior to that date, would be allowed to use them, but with the requirement that they only use firewood that has a low amount of moisture (20 percent or less), which are less smoky when burned, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Although considered by most to be a low-cost method of heating a room, traditional, open-masonry fireplaces create the reverse effect on the rest of your home. While burning, these fireplaces can exhaust as much as 300 cubic feet of heated indoor air to outside your home per minute, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s 18,000 cubic feet of heated air lost each hour through your fireplace’s chimney. As the warm air travels up your chimney, cold air from windows, doors, and other parts of your home are drawn to the fireplace. The room may stay warm, but the rest of your home is actually getting cooler.

Older Harlem brownstones and tenements often still have fireplaces from the 19th or 20th century, but they may no longer vent up/out, or may improperly vent up/out (in any case, never light a fire in a fireplace that hasn’t been inspected and approved by a chimney sweep). Newer, 21st century Harlem buildings may still have fireplaces if they were built before 2014. The distinctive chimneys on these buildings (all condos – no landlord wants the risk or the added cost of insurance if a fireplace was in a rental) pictured here show a few (dwindling) examples of working fireplaces in our community.

Ghost Farmers’ Market

When patronizing Sister’s Restaurant for their amazing roti recently I noticed a sign for a Farmers’ Market that doesn’t exist.

After checking with Carey King from Uptown Grand Central, she was just as baffled but speculated that it could have been from an aborted farmers’ market sponsored by the adjacent Ralph Lauren health center. If you have any insight, please share.

Public Hearing for the Proposed Florence Mills Plaza

Savona Bailey-McClain from the West Harlem Art Fund notes that the public hearing for the proposed Florence Mills Plaza will be held on Wednesday, February 2nd at the CB9 Parks meeting at 6:30 pm.

This is your chance to support naming a plaza in St. Nicholas park after the legendary entertainer.

Florence Mills

At our January HNBA meeting, we heard from Savona Bailey-McClain about her effort to name the plaza at St. Nicholas Ave and 135th street after Florence Mills. Savona is looking for letters of support from you.

Below are the email addresses for letters of support as well as a draft letter that can be modified. Attached are documents that have links where you can hear music or information on the Harlem theaters that Florence performed in. The more letters we can send might convince the Board that Harlem residents care.
Thank you.

The Honorable Barry J. Weinberg,
Chair, Manhattan Community Board 9,
16 Old Broadway, New York, NY 10027
Honorable Barry J. Weinberg:
[email protected]
The Honorable William Castro
Manhattan Borough Commissioner
NYC Department of Parks and Recreation
24 West 61st
New York, NY 10023
Honorable William Castro:
[email protected]

The Honorable Jonathan Thomas
Chair, Parks and Landmarks Committee
Manhattan Community Board 9
16 Old Broadway
New York, NY 10027
Honorable Jonathan Thomas:
[email protected]


As a member of the jazz community, I am writing in support of honoring the American singer and dancer Florence Mills by the creation of the Florence Mills Plaza in St.Nicholas Park in the vicinity of 135th Street.

Florence Mills was a star performer during the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance. She was the lead in Shuffle Along, the musical composed by Eubie Blake with lyrics by Noble Sissle and book by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. According to the Harlem chronicler James Weldon Johnson, Shuffle Along marked a breakthrough for the African-American musical performer. The show opened in 1921 and ran for 504 performances, and was credited with inspiring the Harlem Renaissance. of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Ms. Mills danced in Plantation Revue on Broadway and then opened in London in 1923 in the show Dover Street to Dixie. In 1924 she headlined at the Palace Theater in London, the most prestigious booking in vaudeville and in 1926 opened in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds, which ran for more than 300 performances in London.Upon her early death in 1927, more than 10,000 people visited the funeral home to pay their respects. Duke Ellington memorialized her in his composition “Black Beauty.”

Naming the Plaza in honor of Florence Mills will pay tribute to her pioneering achievements. It will insure that knowledge of this great performer and her role in the Harlem Renaissance will be highlighted and will be an inspiration to future generations.

Vigil for Yao Pan Ma

For video of the vigil for Yao Pan Ma, please see:

We were saddened to see that city council members from across the city were able to show up, and yet our city council members from East Harlem and from Central Harlem failed to appear. Please take the time to ask them why.

Photos from the Vigil