Vigil Remembers Hartley House, Hopes for Its Return to Hell’s Kitchen - Manhattan Express | Manhattan Express

Vigil Remembers Hartley House, Hopes for Its Return to Hell’s Kitchen

At the Mar. 3 vigil, Michelle Diaz held up photos of Hartley House from the 1960s. | Photo by Nathan DiCamillo

BY NATHAN DICAMILLO | For Hell’s Kitchen natives, Hartley House was their second childhood home. The recently shuttered settlement house at 413 W. 46th St. was a place where Tom Wagner found an outlet for youthful energy and creative expression.

“This was when kids roamed the streets,” Wagner recalled of decades past, “when you could get two candies for a penny.” His father left him at an early age, and he lived with his grandparents and his mother.

He has fond recollections of working in woodshop class with “Mr. Pete,” and participated in arts and crafts classes as well as gym. Memories such as these were shared by Wagner and about 20 other Hell’s Kitchen residents who gathered outside Hartley House on the early evening of Sat., Mar. 3 to hold a candlelight vigil — because the brownstone settlement house, serving the Hell’s Kitchen community since 1897, is being sold.

With aging infrastructure, the nonprofit’s board of directors concluded the Hartley House mission was more important than the cost of maintenance.

“It was a really difficult, emotional decision to sell the property — but unfortunately, the buildings are 120 years old and they come with their 120-year-old problems,” Nicole Cicogna, executive director of Hartley House, said. “It’s no longer strengthening the mission of the organization.”

The privately funded nonprofit plans to reduce expenses by relocating to a sustainable facility in Hell’s Kitchen so that it can use those extra funds to expand its mission.

The staff has moved into temporary offices at 1441 Broadway, between W. 40th & 41st Sts., but Hartley House’s services will continue uninterrupted — including an after school program at Manhattan High School (317 W. 52nd St.) and Bingo at Fountain House (425 W. 47th St.). Case Management for seniors will continue in client homes, and various sites throughout the neighborhood will still offer immigration and adult education services (as they have in the past).

At Saturday’s vigil, residents brought hot chocolate and graham crackers in honor of how Hartley House used to offer them the same snack — for three cents, or for free if you had nothing — when they were kids coming in from the cold.

Michelle Diaz, a fifth generation Hell’s Kitchen resident, organized the vigil. Her great-grandparents came to the area in the 1860s. “I remember that I was in the backyard with my sister and her boyfriend and we would go up to the gym to play dodgeball two or three nights a week,” Diaz said.

When Diaz heard of the buildings closing, she invited residents to the vigil through facebook.com/GenerationHK — the “Generation Hell’s Kitchen” Facebook page.

Hartley House recently shuttered its longtime 413 W. 46th St. home. Efforts are underway to find a new location able to serve the same residents who have come to rely on its presence in Hell’s Kitchen. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

“There was no money in the heart of the city,” recalled James McDonnell, who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen and lives in the same apartment complex his grandparents moved into in 1929. “They provided a safe environment,” said McDonnell of the Harley House of his youth. “They had a Hartley Farm upstate that was free and a way to get out of the city, providing a spirit of community that we would not have gotten being inner city kids… It was an oasis and shelter from the trials and tribulations of New York City.”

McDonnell wants the building to be landmarked, so that the city is forced to keep it running.

Joan Noveck came to Hartley House when she was five.

“It was a wholesome atmosphere… you got integrated with the community,” she said.

Noveck hopes to see a developer come to revamp the building. Through this transition, Hartley House has been in contact with both Community Board 4 (CB4) district manager Jesse Bodine and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (whose District 3 area of coverage includes Hell’s Kitchen).

“Hartley House is a long time resource for Hell’s Kitchen residents,” Bodine said in an email. “CB4 is dedicated to making sure all of their services remain in the neighborhood for future generations. We look forward to working together with Hartley House in the upcoming months to achieve that goal.”

Johnson urged Hartley House to stay in the same neighborhood it has long served.

“My colleagues, Community Board 4 and I are working diligently to ensure that services are uninterrupted and that a new physical space is identified as soon as possible,” he said in an email, also noting, “We still have many questions for Hartley House about the extent of their community outreach and about their plans for the future… It is absolutely essential that Hartley House makes every effort to maintain a physical presence in Hell’s Kitchen that is equal to, or greater than, its current space.” Working together, Johnson said, “we must secure a new home for Hartley House in Hell’s Kitchen that can continue to serve the community for another century.”

Plans are in motion to ensure that happens. Johnson’s office has scheduled a Fri., Mar. 9 meeting at City Hall that will bring together representatives from Hartley House, CB4, and other local electeds “to discuss their move and how we can help.” Hartley House representatives are also expected to attend the next CB4 Housing, Health, and Human Services committee meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thurs., Mar. 15 in the Community Room at 353 W. 30th St. The public is welcome to attend. For more info, visit nyc.gov/mcb4. To learn more about Hartley House, visit hartleyhouse.org.

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