Schomburg Plaza

Up ten blocks from the Mount Sinai is this additional beauty from the 1970s called Schomburg Plaza (thanks to Julius for the hint!). The two towers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the past. Looking for information, I also stumbled upon an interesting exchange about how safe it is to live in South Harlem.


Schomburg Plaza, a 35-storey double tower development on 110th Street / Fifth Avenue in East Harlem was built in 1975. As Julius describes it, it’s a minor Brutalist gem, and I think that fits it pretty well. The two towers somehow reminded me a little of Motoazabu Hills in Tokyo.

The Plaza was the scene of a gruesome fire in 1987 that killed seven inhabitants. The handling of the case by the fire department was criticised widely, including by the New York Times.

The FDNY apparently failed in detecting severe faults in the sprinkler system during an inspection. The allegations went further and accused the fire department of systematically underserving ethnic minority districts.

More than twenty years later, the incident still reverberates around the city, for example when inspection standards came under renewed criticism a few years back.


Schomburg Plaza was in the news again when at the height of the real estate boom, an investment fund bought the two towers for almost one billion dollars. With many of the apartments rent-controlled, many thought that the investment fund wanted to quickly drive out the subsidised tenants so as to rent the flats out for much more on the open market. The alleged method for that was to systemically under-maintain the cheaper apartments as well as charge heavily for utilities.

Perceived Safety in Harlem

Under the title “How Safe is 110th Street at 5th Avenue?”, a young female asks New Yorkers for advice as she is interested in renting a place in the Heritage on Fifth (the name under which the Schomburg Plaza is marketed to the outside). She goes on to mention, in passing, that she’s white and thus dips right into the racial component of crime in New York City. As if violence doesn’t affect black women…

Many discussion boards are filled with similar questions which often receive the deserved rebuttal (e.g. here). Yet the forum entry is even more interesting regarding the “perception of safety” and how much that can differ depending on who’s answering that question.


Update: A dusk shot of the two towers from Central Park.


12 thoughts on “Schomburg Plaza

  1. I have very fond childhood memories of growing up in Schomburg Plaza which was a neighborhood onto itself. It is a wonderful central location on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park with wonderful views, a crossroads of sorts with easy access to multiple subways and buses and within walking distance of the Upper East Side, el Barrio, the Apollo Theater, numerous public housing developments, Lenox lounge and Museum Mile. I remember hours of fun after school and summers playing skellies, ringolevio, black crow , red rover, red light green light. The only thing I feared was not getting upstairs for dinner when it got dusk.

    Schomburg was one big family of mostly good, hard-working people. I knew the family who died in that fire. I also knew several of the boys falsely convicted of being the Central Park rapist who also lived in Schomburg. I never believed that they committed that crime. Schomburg was just not that type of place.

  2. I forgot to mention the halfway house which is the building with the caged roof in the bottom two shots.

  3. I also have very fond memories of Schomburg Plaza. The many Friday & Saturday night parties in the community center. The friends I gained over the year, living in Spanish Harlem.

  4. I remember back in 1973 when i use to take the 8th avenue bus from 143rd st down to 84th st to go to Louis D. Brandeis HS, when the bus us to get to 110th st and 8th avenue i can see the skeleton frame of the Schomburg under construction at that time and i said to myself that building is going to be tall.

  5. I knew the jenkins family personally.Stanley whom i often referred to as stan.I first met stan in elementary school,My family and i had just moved to east harlem
    From the bronx.Fascinating kid who had an old soul.I
    mean this guy knew so much to be so young and so little,from sports to music unbelievable.Instant friendship he became my brother.We did everything
    together he even slept at my house.i loved going over
    His his mom great cook,they kept refrigerator full and
    I was always welcome.Wonderful loving family.He showed me the ropes of harlem at an early age.his
    parents kept them well dress and groomed.some of
    The older guys use to call him little Stevie his older
    brothers name is Steven.Here i am moved to fast pace fast moving nyc.Very uncomfortable,insercure
    and i meet this amazing guy.I was so fascinated
    By thier lifestyle i mean this kid came to school in
    leather blazers, he wore shoes addidas pumas you
    name it.I use to love to ride in the caddy they had.mNight before tragedy we made plans and departed.He went home i went home three block differece.I was awakend by screams i see people
    looking in the direction he lives.some reason i get
    Up go outside still not a clue.I lived 107st. Lakeview
    Apts.So as i proceeded up madison ave.more scream
    More oh my Gods still no clue.when i reach 109st. I hear people saying they jumped.I look up it was then
    i knew.From the 33to 35 floors engulfed with flames.
    I reach 110st. start running towards the fire didn’t care about the glass nor the rubble flying in the air that was my buddies apartment.So frantic i ran right by the most horrific thing i’ve ever seen to this buddy
    and his sibblings Twan and Dwana r.i.p. Stan and twan
    laying on the pavement his baby sister wrapped around a gate horrific.Didn’t deal with it to well
    Oh how i miss stan my honcho,my brother and my
    Friend.May the lord continue to let them rest in peace.
    And may God continue to bless Mr.Jenkins and Steve.

    • I have so many fond memories of Schomburg Plaza. I grow up on 111th of Lenox before moving to Schomburg Plaza. I knew Stanley, and little brother Antwon very well. As kids, Stan, my brother and I would ride our bike downtown, sometimes him joining us to meet our mother. His older brother Steve was in the military at the time and dad was not home. Sad, sad day. I was actually born in Mt. Sinai, when to PS 185 and PS 208, right there on 11th St. I can go on and on. William Perkins, now NYS Senator is also from Schomburg Plaza. I left NYC, over 16 yrs. Ago but go back when I can. I miss NYC and my neighborhood a lot because of all those memories. Well, thanks for reading and God bless you all!


    Today building 1295, apartment 29D caught fire around 6am. Residents in this apartment and on this floor were not aware of the danger until the smoke had engulfed the entire area. Fortunately some were awakened in time by their neighbors to take the emergency stairs to safety – others were not. The residents of 29D, a pregnant mother of three young children and her elderly parents, remained trapped inside until FDNY arrived. They were all rushed to the hospital with two of the children and the elderly father in critical condition. The neighbors on floor 29 were also hospitalized due to excessive smoke inhalation.

    This tragic story could have been prevented had The Heritage at Schomberg Plaza not disabled the fire alarms in the months prior to the incident. Even when the floor was entirely consumed by smoke the fire alarms were not actived to notify the sleeping families.

    When residents asked management (specifically Angela) why the alarms were not active, she advised that alarms are no longer a requirement by FDNY and that a silent alarm notified the authorities. This was not only an obvious lie, it was an action that displays this company’s disregard for human life.

    Many complaints have been lodged regarding electrical safety, health code standards, and additional living concerns in these buildings. None of which have been resolved.

    Do not move here. These buildings are death traps and the acts of the owners – Brookfield Properties, management, and supervisors are recklessly endangering their residents. Do not become a victim.

  7. My love for NYC grew out of my visits to a friends apt in Schomburg plaza in the 70’s. I met a friend when she came to the Poconos for a junior achievement convention. I believe the family’s last name was Ortega. I think her mom’s name was Angie Ortega and she ran for an elected office during the time I would visit. I would take a bus into the city from the poconos and spend weekends or extended vacations with her and her family. The people I met there were all great and very inviting. I felt like a bird let out of a cage. I remember a specific time when I went outside for a walk with everyone and over a few streets there were kids hanging out and one yelled at me, “dont you feel like a grain of salt in a pepper shaker?!” All I remember was saying something like, pepper is not all one color, there is every shade from black to white all in one shakes.
    I have always wondered what happened to that family who took me in and taught me so much about multiculturalism. It’s great to reminisce about it.

  8. I grew up in Schomburg in the early 90s I love living on 5thave overlooking Central Park and being able to see Manhattan it was a beautiful place playing on the playground and sitting on the front benches which are no longer there that’s where the community came together in the afternoon but once they took the front benches away there goes the community I wasn’t saddened to see them gone when I revisited Schoenberg where my Grandmother still lives she’s been there since the late 70s My mom auntie and uncle was raised in Schomburg and the feeling just isn’t the same as it was #bring the benches back…….,

    • Do you remember the murder of burt in 1309 ,his stepson was Robert aka bobby Bert was killed by a crack smoking neighbor whom he welcomed into his home and was caught because ge went thru the parkingblot and was caught on camera with a shopping cart full of stolen good from berts apt? I m sorry but I don’t remember the last name, I lived on the same floor and Bob was my good friend,I have been searching for that case and nothing seems to appear anywhere it happened a believeafter the Jenkins family tragedy,btw Stan went to school with my brother and we were all good friends as well as the central park 5 kids and their older siblings

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