The Rebirth of an East Harlem Firehouse Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

Founded in 1976, The Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) honors the diverse cultural contributions of communities from the African Diaspora through a range of exhibitions, performances, conferences, and artist residencies. Recognized as a catalyst for cultural and economic development, CCCADI was selected by The NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Department of Housing Preservation (HPD) to redevelop and occupy former municipal firehouse, Engine Company Number 36.

In 2007 the City announced that five decommissioned firehouses would be redeveloped into cultural institutions to serve as economic engines in their respective neighborhoods. In response to NYCEDC and HPD’s East 125th Street Firehouse RFP, CCCADI demonstrated a strong relationship to the surrounding community, cultural value, and economic viability.

With a clear intention of maintaining permanence in a neighborhood where the organization had a strong connection to the surrounding Afro-Latino population, CCCADI vigorously sought to ensure ownership of the site once selected as developers. As East Harlem’s rezoning ushers in new development opportunities causing the makeup of the neighborhood to shift, the need for socially contextual initiatives that celebrate the local community such as CCCADI are imperative more than ever. The firehouse property was transferred from the City to the organization in 2012.

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Denham Wolf served as CCCADI’s owner’s representative for the project, working alongside NYCEDC to ensure the successful redevelopment and renovation of the building. With Denham Wolf’s guidance, CCCADI transformed the 8,400-square foot City and National landmark into a space that vitalizes community engagement and preserves and advances the rich history of the Caribbean and African Diaspora communities. CCCADI now has the capacity to significantly expand its exhibitions, public programs, research, advocacy initiatives, job opportunities, and arts education programming.

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As a part of our firm’s commitment to advancing inclusive, socially equitable and sustainable outcomes, Denham Wolf worked with CCCADI to set standards for the renovation project that intentionally increased participation of women- and minority-owned businesses as well as local voices and labor. Thus, the building is set to achieve LEED Silver-certification and is participating in LEED’s new social equity pilot credits.

From the inception of the project, the project team engaged community stakeholders including representatives of the local Community Board, The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), and the Department of Cultural Affairs, who contributed essential initial research and input. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the needs, challenges, and opportunities for the project, the team also garnered input from neighborhood residents and business owners in addition to engaging local artists through their East Harlem Arts Symposium. The project architect, CSA Group, applied the resulting research, opinions, and advice in developing a community-centric, culturally enriched design for CCCADI.

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CCCADI joins organizations like the Apollo Theater and the Studio Museum of Harlem in becoming a key anchor of the vibrant 125th Street arts and culture corridor. Projects such as CCCADI’s East 125th Street Firehouse redevelopment celebrates the surrounding community and strengthens the existing neighborhood. Critically, the opening of another cultural institution of this stature underscores East Harlem’s identity as a major cultural hub in New York City and as a growing driver of the City’s economy.

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“Originally built to serve the local community, before being abandoned and becoming a symbol of blight, the firehouse has fittingly been restored for a public purpose. As a connector to arts, culture, and social justice, CCCADI brings the story of this building full circle.”

—Ronzard J. Innocent, Principal | Managing Director of Project Management Services at Denham Wolf

Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
East Harlem, NYC