Building 1644 on Park Avenue is gone. So, too, is building 1646. These two buildings, like the many surrounding ones, housed NYC's poor and low-income families in an enclave known as Spanish Harlem.
On March 12th witnesses and residents of the area all reported hearing an explosion before the buildings exploded leaving plumes of dust where they once stood. Tremors from the fiery blast were felt more than a mile away. The night before the conflagration the smell of gas was detectable.
News spun of a possible terrorist attack, but the story had no legs. Life-long Harlem residents knew better.
With landlords refusing to repair their buildings and blatantly violating building codes - especially in rent control buildings - news of a possible terrorist attack or accidental explosion divert attention from any suspicion of arson as a tactic to expedite gentrification goals. Park Avenue even at 115th and 116th Streets is prime real estate in a shifting landscape brought on by gentrification.
In expressing his outrage that so many Harlemites felt, Keith Boykin, a renowned African American gay activist, tweeted, "This is the 3rd building collapse in Harlem in the past 5 years."
In the past five years, Harlem's empty lots and burned-out buildings have sprouted luxury condos, upscale restaurants, boutique shops, hotels, B&Bs, and unimaginably improved services in an area the city had long forgotten - and the resentment of this shift has targeted both Harlem's recent and life-long LGBTQ communities.
"Obama has released the homo demons on the black man. Look out black women. A white homo may take your man." read a towering sign that hung for months outside of ATLAH World Missionary Church on West 123rd and Lenox.
The pastor of ATLAH, Rev. James David Manning, opposes the gentrification of Harlem and has implored its residents and his congregants to boycott the new luxury condos, upscale restaurants, boutique shops, and hotels. According to Manning the boycott would maim the "white homo" where it hurts him the most - his pockets.
Manning expounded as to why on the church's online video, saying, "Black woman let me say something to you: you have a very hard time competing against a white homosexual male. He's usually got money - a white homo usually has an American Express card. He usually has an opportunity at the theater - homos love the theater. They love to go out to dinners, parties, they love that kind of a thing."
Raymond Madson of New Mexico corroborates with Manning about gays being the crux of the problem, and shared his sinister thoughts with me in an email on how to resolve the matter.
"It's about time someone spoke to the bad effect 'gays' are having on housing, commerce, culture and all the other facets of American Society," he said. "Save Harlem. Kill the Gays. Or at least relegate them to their own ghettos and don't let them out."
If Manning and Madson were merely lone gentrification opponents whose homophobic expressions were perceived as being on the lunatic fringe, they could simply be dismissed. Unfortunately, their public diatribes are what many are not just expressing but, sadly, are also harboring.
For example, let's not forget the murder of Islan Nettles. In the pre-dawn hours of a Saturday in August, Nettles, 21, was strolling and lollygagging with a group of her sister-friends on Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 147th and 148th Streets in Harlem. When she and the girls were recognized as transgender women, Paris Wilson, 20, began spewing homophobic epithets. Enraged by the sight of the women, Wilson crossed the street and savagely pummeled Nettles to death, because he'd allegedly been teased for flirting with a transgender woman.
The query raised by many Harlem residents is why is their long forgotten neighborhood, one that has been completely ignored by both businesses and real estate investors, suddenly a hot land grab?
The prevailing thought today in the area of urban development and city planning is that if you want to revitalize a decaying city and get rid of its urban plight you create gayborhoods. New studies reveal that these enclaves have overall positive economic and cultural effects.
For example, in February I was on the HuffPo Live show "Why We Still Need Gayborhoods." Also on the show was Janice Madden, a professor of Regional Science, Sociology, Urban Studies, and Real Estate at UPenn, to discuss her new book "Gayborhoods: Economic Development and the Concentration of Same-sex Couples in Neighborhoods Within Large American Cities." Madden revealed that gay white men on the northeast and west coasts had significantly greater income to create gayborhoods that are "close to or have easy access to the downtown and had older housing."
Not every African-American and Latino who opposes gentrification in his or her neighborhood blames white gay men. Filmmaker Spike Lee's beef with gentrification in black and brown enclaves throughout NYC is the permanent dislocation not only of the people but also of the inimitable culture and lifestyle they created.
Truth be told, Harlem is not only being gentrified by the demographic group Reverend Manning labels "white homo." African American professionals - straight and LGBTQ - are moving in too.
"I've seen empty lots get filled with condos. I was fortunate to purchase one," media professional Barion Grant told The Root. "I'm a college-educated person from New Jersey who has moved to this community, so I'm fine with identifying myself as a gentrifier. But at the same time I'm re-investing in this community, mostly via my church, First Corinthian Baptist Church."
Buildings 1644 and 1646 on Park Avenue are now empty lots. A luxury condo, upscale restaurant, boutique shops, hotel or B&Bs will almost certainly be placed there. The people who once resided in those buildings have been relocated to what most likely will now be their new permanent address.
Since the fire, however, Manning has taken down his sign to replace it with another that reads: "Jesus Would Stone Homos. Stoning Is Still The Law."