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The Renny’s Historic Past

“The Renaissance opened in 1921. There was nothing like it.”


In a massive city like New York – where things always seem to be changing and newer, taller buildings seem to be rising – it is easy to forget about what once was.

If you visited the corner of West 138th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem a few months ago, you would have seen rocks, dirt, and weeds. Today the beginnings of a foundation are being poured and, in the future, a new 8-story affordable residential building will stand.

Abandoned building, before demolition - 06/09/2014

Abandoned building, before demolition – 06/09/2014

In the midst of all the excitement, it’s easy to forget the historic building that once stood at this site, the site of one of Brooker Engineering’s current projects. Completed in 1924, the Harlem Renaissance Ballroom was set to become a critical game piece in the vitalization of the area’s culture. “Prize fights, concerts, dance marathons, film screenings, and stage acts were held at the Renaissance, along with elegant parties and meetings of the most influential social clubs and political organizations in Harlem. The community’s elite gathered to dance the Charleston and the Black Bottom to live entertainment by the most renowned jazz musicians of the age.” If you could take yourself back for a moment, to the roaring 20s when so much change was coming to America, you can picture the atmosphere of “The Rennie.” Colored lightbulbs in gorgeous chandeliers once hung from the ceiling, illuminating the dance floor. Large signs regarding upcoming acts once graced the walls, exciting those who enjoyed the entertainment of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald.

But the exhilarating dancing and sensational performances weren’t the only historic thing that occurred here. The Renny was also the home of the nation’s first all-black professional basketball team, back in a time when they weren’t yet allowed in the NBA. The Harlem Rens, in their best season, “set a record with 88 consecutive wins that has yet to be broken.”

Of course, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And in the case of this vibrant and moving ballroom, it was a slow decent to closing. As integration opened many other clubs to African Americans throughout the 60s, business declined until it closed in 1979. In 1991, the Abyssinian Baptist Church purchased the mortgage with plans to restore it to its former glory. But those plans got delayed, landmark consideration was taken off the table, and the Church sold to BRP Development.

Though the building is “too dilapidated and unsafe to restore” and also not landmarked, BRP Development has worked with preservationists to do its best to commemorate the memory of the old ballroom. Architectural elements, including the same size and color bricks and diamond mosaics around the second floor, have been incorporated into the design. The Harlem Renaissance may be in the past, but its memory will live on in The Renny.






Increase in Affordable Housing

Brooker Engineering’s latest projects help to increase affordable housing in NYC.

New York City is currently the largest metropolitan area in the United States, and widely known as “the city that never sleeps” with its ever-changing skyline and never-ending activity. The city’s newest buildings – including its tallest residential tower at 432 Park Ave – aren’t the only things rising sky-high – rent prices in all neighborhoods have increased since 2009. In Tribeca, the 2015 median rent was $6,095, compared to $4,800 in 2009 – a $1,295 difference over the course of just 6 years. Even in Astoria, a neighborhood known to have semi-affordable prices, the median rent increased from $1,675 to $2,200 over the same increment of time. With these price increases come increased troubles for those who already struggled to devote such a high percentage of their salaries to rent. (Curbed)

As a result, the affordable housing market has taken off. While they may not be the most lucrative of investments, there are quite a few companies conducting business that focus particularly on buildings to contain affordable units. Only those within a certain salary bracket would be able to apply and live there.

Brooker Engineering is happy to have been involved with and also currently be working on many affordable housing projects throughout the NY metropolitan area. Some of our most notable past projects include:

  • Boricua Village, Bronx, NY: 770,000 square feet, 7 buildings, 698 affordable units (named the “Construction Project of the Year” by the NYSSPE in 2010)
  • St. Ann’s Terrace, Bronx, NY: 855,000 square feet, 8 buildings, 600 affordable units
  • Crossroads Plaza, Bronx, NY: 665,000 square feet, 3 buildings, 430 affordable units

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the site of one of our current projects last week, located at 950 Summit Ave in the Bronx, to give a speech on his plan to bring an even greater number of affordable housing structures in the future and how important it truly is. In an article written by Jennifer Fermino of the NY Daily News, he was quoted saying, “This is what we’re doing to make sure that people can stay in the neighborhood they love, in the city they love, that they have helped to create and build. This is our commitment.” De Blasio has made a 10 year goal to bring an additional 200,000 units of affordable housing to the city in the next 10 years, a goal he is on his way to beat. “The de Blasio administration built or preserved 20,325 affordable-housing units during the past 12 months, a 25-year record.” (Fermino)

While it may seem like the opposite, as so many luxury apartment buildings are in the news, the push for affordable housing is also growing.


12th Annual Lower Hudson Valley Engineering Expo

Engineering is all around us, even in places where most of us may not realize it. Engineers have played a huge role in shaping the way our society operates, from how we get around to the ways we entertain ourselves. For this reason, we find it essential that young students are exposed to what engineering really is – and how exciting it can be.

On March 22, our company participated in the 12th Annual Lower Hudson Valley Engineering Expo at White Plains High School. Over 100 engineering exhibitors participated in teaching young middle to high school students about the world of engineering through informational and hands-on exhibits.

Our staff had a great day talking to the students and their parents about what it means to be a civil engineer. However, the highlights of the day came from watching the students design their own bridges in our engineering challenge – utilizing only 6-inch rulers, 12 pennies, and 4 plastic cups. The longest bridge measured at an astounding 23 inches and supported the weight of a weighed down toy car.

It is our hope that the next generations are inspired by little things like this, and choose to pursue a passionate career in something that excites them.

What Do Civil Engineers Do?

If you look around, civil engineering is everywhere! Meet three civil engineers whose work is having a real impact on people’s lives. Whether involved in projects underground, on huge structures or meeting the water needs of developing communities, these engineers are making a difference. See if you have what it takes to be a civil engineer. – Video courtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)