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Carolyn Cassady Kent

Carolyn Cassady Kent

Carolyn Cassady Kent founded the Landmarks Committee of Manhattan Community Board 9 and actively campaigned for the preservation of many sites in upper Manhattan.

People: Michael Henry Adams, Robert A. M. Stern
Organizations: 5 Block Protection Association, Hamilton Heights/West Harlem Community Preservation Organization, Manhattan Community Board 9, Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, Sugar Hill Preservation Committee
Places: Audubon Ballroom, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Claremont Theater, Croton Aqueduct, Hamilton Grange, Hamilton Theater, Plant and Scrymser Pavilions at St Luke’s Hospital, Riverside Church, West 119th Street Gatehouse
Above: Hamilton Heights, West 144th Street between Amsterdam and Convent Avenues; Courtesy of Tamara Beckwith / NY POST

Carolyn Cassady Kent was born in 1935 in Rochester, New York. Her father was a professor of religion at the university there and later at Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, but after his death the family moved to Michigan, where Kent’s mother was Dean of Women at Kalamazoo College. Kent earned her undergraduate degree at Sarah Lawrence before completing her masters in 17th Century English Studies at Columbia University. Carolyn Cassady Kent died on August 22, 2009. She was 74.

Community Board 9
Founder and Chair of the Landmarks Committee

Carolyn Cassady Kent settled in Morningside Heights with her husband Edward Kent, where she became increasingly involved in architectural preservation while fighting an addition to her own 1909 building, 440 Riverside Drive.1 In order to advance the plight of preservation in her neighborhood, she joined Community Board 9 and, in 1990, founded its committee on landmarks. As chair she actively campaigned for the preservation of numerous sites throughout Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville, and Morningside Heights through landmark designation and appropriate development. Some of the sites for which she successfully campaigned for landmark designation include the Hamilton Theater, the Croton Aqueduct, the West 119th Street Gatehouse, Riverside Church, the Plant and Scrymser Pavilions at St Luke’s Hospital, and the Claremont Theater. Although the Audubon Ballroom was not within Community Board 9, she adamantly opposed Columbia Presbyterian Hospital’s proposed demolition of the building and their compromised retention of its façade.2

With friend and colleague Michael Henry Adams, Kent curated an exhibition of 320 photographs entitled “Heritage on the Heights” at The Surrogate’s Court Building from 1991 to 1992, for which she assisted with research and took many of the photographs.3 When the National Park Service proposed moving and restoring Hamilton Grange, Kent organized meetings to engage the community.4 In 1996, she was a founding member of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee. She was also an active member of the Sugar Hill Preservation Committee, the 5 Block Protection Association, and the Hamilton Heights/West Harlem Community Preservation Organization.5

Not afraid to tackle difficult issues, Kent often fought against her own alma mater, Columbia University. When Columbia proposed a new dormitory on Broadway, she convinced architect Robert A. M. Stern not to demolish Sigma Chi House.6 Its façade and some interiors were incorporated into the new building. While she admitted by 1999 that the University had made much progress in its treatment of historic sites over the decades, she soon thereafter launched into a campaign which would occupy her until her death: mitigating the effects of Columbia’s proposed 17-acre expansion into Manhattanville. She was equally vocal against the construction of a residential tower on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a battle she ultimately lost in 2008.

Within Community Board 9, Kent faced opposition from those backing development for greater economic prosperity. She was ultimately removed from the Landmarks Committee but continued to advocate for preservation.

In 2007, the Hamilton Heights/West Harlem Community Preservation Organization awarded Kent its first Preservation Angel Award. Ronald Melichar, its president, said of her:

"I know no one who has given such personal attention to preservation issues in our community as Carolyn has. If you walk down Broadway from 110th to 150th Street, which is the spine of our community, I don't think there is a block that you can look down and not see something, big or small, that Carolyn was involved in saving for future generations."7

Ed Kent, “Carolyn Cassady Kent, 1935-2009,” Blogger News Network, Posted on 23 August 2009. Article retrieved 2 March 2016 
Interview with Michael Henry Adams, 13 April 2011.
Suzanne Slesin, “Where Grandma Once Lived,” The New York Times, 15 October 1992.
Alix Pianin, “Founding Father Displaced,” Columbia Daily Spectator, 30 January 2008.
Clem Richardson, “An Angel On Divine Mission to Save Uptown,” New York Daily News, 16 July 2007, page 43.
Michael Henry Adams, “Recalling Carolyn Kent,” Huffington Post, 24 August 2009.     
  7. Clem Richardson, “An Angel On Divine Mission to Save Uptown,” New York Daily News, 16 July 2007, page 43.